Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Twilight Zone: The Shelter (9/29/1961)

During this time of crisis, you may be tempted to turn to The Stand, The Crazies, 28 Days LaterThe Last Man on Earth, or The Omega Man for some cathartic viewing, but before you blow your anxiety level through the roof, I recommend drinking from the fountain of wisdom that flows freely from Rod Serling instead. For who better to recognize the foibles of humanity and inspire us to reflect on the best course of action to benefit ourselves, as well as the community and world at large, in such a time of despair? It is time to revisit "The Shelter."


This episode introduces itself with a jaunty birthday tune in suburbia as jovial neighbors gather together around the dining room table to celebrate the birthday of cherished neighborhood physician, Dr. Bill Stockton, who's enjoying a healthy after dinner smoke. The decimated cake and raucous laughter is an indication that many libations have already been poured, as the good doctor is regaled by his neighbor, Jerry, for providing care to several generations of their families. His neighbors good naturedly razz him for the neighborhood disturbance he has caused by his construction of a bomb shelter, but assure him of their deep and abiding love for him, despite the nuisance.


Dr. Bill's son, Paul, interrupts the happy gathering to alert them to an announcement on TV instructing them to tune in to the CONELRAD station on the radio.


The cheerful noise dissipates as they learn that the president has declared a yellow alert after unidentified flying objects were detected on radar flying southeast. The group is silently stunned, so we can only guess they must be assuming that nuclear missiles have been dispatched from the Soviet Union.


The radio announcer instructs them to immediately go to their shelter, if they have one, or to bring supplies to their basement. The neighborhood couples quickly dash out of the house to sequester in their homes as jet engines can be heard buzzing overhead.


Rod Serling appears onscreen to prepare the viewers for an anxiety inducing half hour and sleepless night ahead:

What you're about to watch is a nightmare. It is not meant to be prophetic, it need not happen. It's the fervent and urgent prayer of all men of good will that it never shall happen. But in this place, in this moment, it does happen. This is the Twilight Zone.

The Stockton family is busily preparing for an imminent attack, gathering water and supplies to bring into the shelter. Grace is nervously filling bottles of water at the the sink, and when one slips from her hand and smashes on the ground, Bill tells her to imagine that it's expensive perfume to help her make a feminine connection that would enable her to understand the importance of having stores of water on hand. As the power threatens to go out and the water dwindles from the tap, Grace and Bill grow more irritable and anxious. The family heads down into the shelter and Bill asks Paul to get his toolkit from the garage so he and Grace can discuss hypotheticals.


Grace becomes visibly upset and Bill tries to calm her, assuring her that if it's a bomb it won't land near them. She reminds him that New York is a target that's only 40 miles away and if it is hit, they will get radiation poisoning. Bill says they'll survive in their shelter with food and water to last two weeks, but Grace demonstrates she's not the dumb broad she was made out to be by asking why it's necessary to survive only to emerge into a wasteland amongst their friends' corpses. Bill says they need to survive for 12 year old Paul's sake.


While Bill goes upstairs to collect the rest of the water, Jerry comes over to ask if he and his family can hunker down in Bill's shelter with them, since their modern home is not equipped with a cellar. Bill offers the use of their basement since the shelter is designed for the use of three people and there is not enough air or supplies for more.


He apologizes and says he has to look out for his family, while Jerry responds that he can't stand by and watch his family suffer and die. Bill reminds him of how he warned them to prepare instead of having card parties and barbecues, but they did not heed his warning and now have to face the consequences.


Marty arrives with his wife and kids, and asks Jerry if Bill is in his shelter. Marty says he has to let them in his shelter as Jerry leaves. The power goes out and Marty begs Bill to let his family in, reminding him that he's a doctor and supposed to help people, but Bill tells him to get out.


As Marty's family makes their way out of Bill's house, they come across Jerry and his family at the door as his wife is demanding that he ask Bill again to let them in. Frank's family shows up at the door and Jerry tells them that Bill is not letting any of the 12 of them in to his shelter and that they should go work on one basement together and pool their supplies. Jerry's wife claims it's not fair that he's in a bomb shelter while all their kids have to sit around and wait for bombs to drop. The kids seem nonplussed by this information.


Frank suggests they go break down the door, but Jerry stops him to say they couldn't all fit and they'd be killing everyone for no reason. Marty appeals to Jerry to ask Bill to let one family in and they can draw lots to choose. Frank claims Marty intends for his family to be chosen and then gets really ugly, saying that's how it is with foreigners who come over acting as pushy, grabby semi-Americans. His wife doubles down by saying Marty is at the bottom of the list. Jerry says they won't need a bomb to destroy them if they keep up the fighting and animosity.


Jerry and Frank hear jets overhead and begin to head out the front door to see what's going on as another neighbor approaches. Frank claims again that he's going to go force Bill to let them in, and rushes back to the shelter. He tells Bill he can open up and discuss how many of them can come in there or else they will break in. Bill says they are wasting precious time when they could be figuring out a way to survive. They talk about getting a pipe to use as a battering ram from a neighbor, but then decide they don't want any other neighborhoods to be aware of "their" shelter. Jerry claims they are all acting like a mob without any brains.



Frank maintains they should get the pipe from the neighbor and not tell him what it's for, while Marty says he agrees with Jerry. Frank responds that nobody cares what he or his "kind" think, and that the first thing they should do is get rid of him, which he attempts to do by punching Marty in the face and knocking him down.


As air raid sirens go off, Frank and the neighbor rush out to get the battering ram. Grace asks who those people are, and Bill says they are their friends and neighbors of 20 years. He and Paul begin to barricade the door.


Frank and two neighbors come running down the street with a very long pipe while their wives and kids follow them in to Bill's house. They begin to batter the door, eventually breaking it in just as a message comes over CONELRAD announcing that the UFOs have been identified as satellites, that no enemy missiles are approaching, and the state of emergency is called off. The relieved couples embrace.




Frank hesitantly approaches Marty and claims he was scared and didn't mean what he said to him. Jerry says Marty won't hold it against him, just as he believes Bill won't hold their bad behavior against them.


Jerry tells him they'll pay for the damages and Marty suggests they have a block party, which Jerry says will help them get back to normal. Bill says he doesn't know what normal is, and that he's not sure what the damages really are, but thinks one of them may be finding out that his neighbors were willing to claw each other to death just to stay alive. He says that while they were spared a bomb, they may have been destroyed nevertheless.


The stunned, shamefaced neighbors begin to file past the Stockton's demolished dining room and out of the house as Rod Serling provides the voiceover closing to this suburban nightmare:
No moral, no message, no prophetic tract. Just a simple statement of fact. For civilization to survive, the human race has to remain civilized. Tonight's very small exercise in logic from The Twilight Zone. 


BOOM! How's that for a bomb drop? I first saw this episode when there was still a Cold War raging and the threat of nuclear annihilation remained a clear and present danger, and while that environment provides a unique perception of events in this episode, it's not necessary in order to understand the real horror, which is less about nuclear destruction and more about the intense desire for self preservation that inspires the kind of fear that can drive people to acts of stupidity. It is the same fear that has store shelves depleted of toilet paper and other basic necessities.

Rod Serling does not shy away from exposing the intolerant beliefs of some that others are less worthy because of their ethnicity or country of origin. He would be dismayed, though maybe not surprised, to know that those attitudes continue to exist today. Serling has no moral message or judgement to offer, but has us considering what will be revealed about our own true nature when we're stripped down to our core by an intense level of fear, and survival mode kicks in. Would we also claw our friends to death just to survive?

Something to note about the Grasshopper-and-the-Ants-like aspect of the story is Bill's self righteous attitude towards his neighbors. Clearly, there would not have been enough room in the shelter for another family, stressing not only the air reserves, but also whatever latrine facilities were available, so his decision seems just, but his suggestion that they deserve to be obliterated by a bomb because they didn't adequately prepare may have been somewhat insensitive at the time.

Grace has the ultimate point to make in considering whether or not it's worth it to avoid the instant death of the initial blast only to suffer a prolonged and horrible death due to radiation poisoning. It's not surprising that Bill dismisses her notion so eagerly since the whole point to building the shelter disregards that possibility. After seeing how easily a long, thin pipe could break down the door to the shelter, it would have been a moot point anyway.

The Monsters on Maple Street is a companion to this episode in examining how fear can make people act in abhorrent ways, and one I will surely be revisiting soon.

As we make our way through our own contemporary crisis, it is helpful to remember Rod Serling's timeless words. Be civilized, people, and we will get through this.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Just Dropped In

You'd think that sheltering in place would give me ample opportunity to be watching movies and posting more frequently. While I am getting that Henry Bemis "Time Enough at Last" vibe, I have been intensely preoccupied with learning a whole new set of skills to manage my new work-from-home occupation the past few months. I am grateful to be able to do so, but managing work-life balance has not been going well, as it's been more work than life, though I'm about to reclaim my time, and am feeling the itch to get back to posting on my fits and starts blog.


And I've got big plans. BIG plans! I've also got some stale posts that are looking to finally see the light of day. I am about two years behind myself. That's what happens when you sign up for a five year project which then inspires you to go off the rails on another side project. But something's got to be done around here! I can't just sit around grooving to old Kenny Rogers songs when now's the time to immerse myself in the great escape of movies!

To kickstart my return to posting, my friend Nichelini encouraged me to join a Disaster Blogathon, hosted by The Midnite Drive-In and Dubsism, which I just couldn't resist, being that I love disaster movies, especially when a disaster is in progress! If you are looking for a means of catharsis, then you won't want to miss out.


I've got a date with Rod Serling coming up first, because who better to turn to in times such as these? After that, the sky's the limit. I've got several hundred movies around here that I have yet to see and I am about to go on staycation! Let's get to it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

New Acquisitions

It's that time of year again, when Criterion beckons to me with their 50% off flash sale. The sale ends at noon ET on February 26th, so get yourself over there if you'd like to add to your collection. Here is what I picked up this time around:



Godzilla is a monster from my childhood, so this is a nostalgia based pick. While I have seen a few of these movies in my youth, they were American versions edited for TV, so I look forward to seeing the original movies in their complete high-definition splendor.




I had to pick this one up for the restorations, as well as some nice special features. I got 3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg at the last sale in October, so I may be having a von Sternberg marathon some time soon.




In my early days of film collecting, I started exploring Bergman, and found his films interesting. I haven't explored his later works, but these early works appealed to me. 


Also, just received today for release day delivery from Amazon:



This is a great film by Henri-Georges Clouzot, and I can't wait to see the 4K restoration! Louis Jouvet is one of my favorite French actors. It's a must see for film noir fans.




The skeleton caught my attention, but really they had me at "Mexican black comedy." I can't wait to see this one!




I enjoy Mexican horror, so I look forward to seeing if I love Mexican film noir just as much.




I may have gone overboard here when I was checking out all the new Clásicos del Cine Mexicano, since melodrama is not usually something that interests me, but this film seems to be highly regarded, and I was interested in finding out why.

So many movies, so little time...

Monday, November 11, 2019

Kathryn Leigh Scott goes nuts in the Hammer House of Horror


Visitor from the Grave (11/22/80)

After spending the past few years immersed in daily Dark Shadows, I have become interested in seeing our well known actors outside of their DS roles. I have never seen Kathryn Leigh Scott outside of Dark Shadows since watching the soap opera, but with the many appearances she has made in film and on TV, it's likely I saw her before I knew who she was. The woman is a dynamo who continues to act to this day! I have also never seen the Hammer House of Horror series, a British TV series from 1980, which I trust will carry on the Hammer Horror tradition of providing copious amounts of red gore along with a bevy of beauties.


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Criterion Flash Sale-ing again

The sale ends in four hours at the time I am writing. 'Tis the season for horror viewing, so be sure to stock up on these essentials:



These are just some of my favorites, but there are many more horror selections available that are equally good. Haxan is quite the interesting oddity to check out, and looks so much better than when I first saw it, now that it's been lovingly restored. It's also available on the Criterion Channel, which I recommend tuning in to if you are a fan of Criterion like me.


Now that I've finally knocked down the cobwebs on this blog, I will be working on making time to actually write about all these movies I'm acquiring. I will have a post featuring our dear Kathryn Leigh Scott from Dark Shadows fame up very soon, and I'm ready to start my seasonal horror viewing. Let the Season of Horror begin!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Great News for The Man Who Laughs

My dreams have finally come true! Flicker Alley will be releasing a 4K restoration of The Man Who Laughs in May! Check out the trailer below to get a sense of this film, or you can also peruse my lengthy spoiler filled write up from a few years ago. I am thrilled to see this film finally get a proper restoration, and look forward to seeing it with a new score, though I'm also glad the original score is included as an option. If this good news is evidence that someone over at Flicker Alley has been taking a peek at my posts, then I do hope that The Unknown and The Magician will be next on their to-do list. I'm not really delusional enough to believe that, but I thought I'd drop some hints just in case.

In other exciting news, they are also releasing another Universal Pictures film directed by Paul Leni, The Last Warning. You can read more about these releases from Flicker Alley's announcement. Thanks, Flicker Alley! I love you more with each new release!


The Man Who Laughs (1928) - Trailer from Flicker Alley on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Another Year on Dark Shadows

1967 was not a good year for Victoria Winters, but 1968 turned out to be even worse. During her sojourn to 1795, Reverend Trask finally apprehended her, with the help of Angelique's burning tarot card tower, and she was subsequently jailed on suspicion of witchcraft.


It seemed like things were looking up for her when she met her dreamboat jail house guard and ardent protector, Peter Bradford. She was destined to fall in love with him when she had no one else to turn to in her foreign surroundings under such desperate conditions.


He was destined to fall in love with her because, as we learned much later, his only other prospect was a married woman who was renowned for being the most evil woman in the 18th century, Danielle Roget. Hooking up with a woman accused of witchcraft was a step up for him.


Unfortunately, Bradford made a series of inept decisions that led to Vicki's conviction at trial, and while he tried to help her escape, she was eventually recaptured and went to the gallows to hang for witchcraft.



Fortunately, she was whisked back to 1968 with only a few rope burns to show for it, and Barnabas wasted no time putting the bite on her to establish their engagement.


Just as they were running off to start a new undead life together, who should show up in the middle of a deserted cemetery road, but the reincarnation of Peter Bradford, which caused Vicki to drive off the road, injuring the eloping couple.


Jeff Clark had been working for Dr. Lang, digging up cadavers for his experiment to create life, and didn't remember his former life in the 18th century, getting rather irritated when Vicki tried to suggest he was Peter Bradford. While treating the injured couple, Dr. Lang discovered Barnabas' affliction and cured him of it in the course of one evening.


Free from Barnabas' vampire powers of persuasion, and believing that Jeff was her reincarnated boyfriend from 1795, Vicki dumped Barnabas and eventually got engaged to Jeff Clark.




Their relationship went sour when he fell victim to vampire Angelique and was required to do her bidding, ditching Vicki on their dates and then lying to her about it, which led her to break off the engagement.


She eventually reconciled with him and he rushed her into a wedding ceremony at Collinwood, then left her at the altar after Eve, who housed the spirit of Danielle Roget, gave him reason to believe he truly was Peter Bradford.


After digging up Bradford's grave and finding it empty, he was finally convinced that he was Peter Bradford, which led him to tell Vicki that they couldn't be together, since he thought he might be drawn back to the past at any given moment. He changed his mind after he and Vicki discovered Eve's corpse in his closet, and she insisted she wouldn't leave him, though the next time she appeared, she was completely changed.


He was charged with Eve's murder, but was released after Roger provided him an alibi. He then used some funny herbs that he obtained from Professor Stokes in an attempt to discover how he came forward in time, but found himself being pulled back through time until Vicki showed up to hold onto him in the present with the power of her love. They decided to get married in the middle of the night and woke Liz to act as witness to the ceremony.


As the newlyweds were popping corks and celebrating, Jeff ended up getting sucked back to 1796, leaving Vicki alone and distraught.


As she obsessed over her loss, convinced his spirit was trying to communicate with her, she begged him to return and take her back to 1796 with him, which he did, leaving Barnabas devastated.



1968 was the year all hell broke loose on Dark Shadows, when the monster population suddenly exploded to include numerous vampires and witches and ghosts, along with reanimated corpses and a werewolf. It had truly become a Universal Monsters fan paradise, and Vicki's role as a central figure on the show was waning as the focus shifted to Barnabas.

Back in 1795, as Vicki's trial dragged on, we learned the events that led to Barnabas becoming a vampire. Angelique finally succeeded in forcing him to marry her, but when she threatened to kill his sister to keep him from running off with Josette, he shot her. As she lay dying, she invoked the vampire curse on him, and he was bitten by a bat. Fortunately for us, Angelique turned out to be unkillable, but was unable to reverse her curse, and Barnabas became one of the undead.






His first order of vampire business was to choke his wife to death, though she returned as a floating head to continue to seek vengeance on Barnabas and his family.



While Barnabas did not seem to enjoy the vampire lifestyle, he snacked on quite a few ladies down at the Collinsport docks, as his loyal servant Ben assisted him in keeping his new way of life secret.


His sister, Sarah, saw him after one of his evening meals and freaked out, running off into a storm, which caused her to contract pneumonia and die.


Angelique pretended to be Barnabas and convinced Josette to meet him at Widows' Hill to elope, but when she got there, she gave her frightful visions of being a vampire, so that when Barnabas showed up, she threw herself off the cliff.



Barnabas resurrected her against her wishes, but after seeing the results of her face eating the cliff, decided he should let her rest.


He channeled his anger towards seeking vengeance on Reverend Trask for wrongly convicting Vicki for witchcraft, by walling him up in his basement.


His dad found out his supernatural secret, and when he realized he couldn't kill him, he elicited help to try and have the curse removed from him, which was unsuccessful.


Meanwhile, Barnabas' former friend, Lieutenant Nathan Forbes, convinced Barnabas' cousin Millicent to marry him and then gaslit her after learning she transferred all her money to her brother Daniel. Barnabas didn't help matters when he chomped on her neck, which drove her already fragile mind to insanity.


After discovering her son was a vampire as a result of Nathan Forbes' interference, Naomi Collins drank poison and died.


He repaid Forbes by strangling him to death, and while Joshua claimed he would finally end his curse by shooting him with silver bullets, he lost his nerve and had Ben chain Barnabas in his coffin instead, not considering that Barnabas would be undead and conscious of his confinement for all eternity.


There was no respite upon Vicki's return to the present day as she was immediately inspired to purchase a portrait of Angelique, which housed her spirit, allowing her to exert an influence over Roger, and enabling her to return to Collinwood as his wife, in order to continue to mess with Barnabas.



Meanwhile, crazy Dr. Lang enlisted Barnabas' support to help make his experiment to create life a success, as well as help Barnabas achieve a permanent cure from the vampire curse, by using his life force to bring his creature to life.


Angelique, as Cassandra, sought to reinstate the vampire curse on Barnabas, and used the roundabout method of making many of the folks in Collinsport experience a terrifying dream that would eventually lead to Barnabas becoming a vampire once again.


When she found out that Lang was going to help Barnabas become immune to the curse, she killed him off before the experiment could be completed.


Fortunately, he left really good notes for Julia, who was successful in carrying out the experiment which brought Adam to life, and provided Barnabas protection from the vampire curse.


Julia and Barnabas found parenting the newly born corpse difficult, and Willie was released from Windcliff to help babysit the immature creature.



Barnabas tried to get Angelique off his back once and for all by paying Sam to alter her portrait to age her to death. When she showed up to get her portrait back and he refused, she caused him to go blind.


Meanwhile, the spirit of Trask returned to pay Barnabas back in kind for his Poe-like demise.


Blind Sam befriended Adam after his leap from Widows' Hill, but when Maggie showed up and provoked him, Sam was forced to defend her and was then mortally wounded by Adam.


Trask found out that Angelique was the real witch he sought and he exorcised her.


The mysterious Nicholas Blair arrived at Collinwood, claiming he was Cassandra's brother, and secured himself an invite to stay at Collinwood so he could find and restore Angelique.


Blair was able to bring Cassandralique back, causing him endless consternation as she continuously meddled in his grand scheme to create a race of master beings with Adam.


He punished her disobedience by making her a vampire, and she attacked newbie hunk, Tom Jennings.


She then went about biting the necks of every hot guy in the town of Collinsport.


Julia finally got some vampire action from vampire Tom Jennings.


Angelique persuaded Jeff Clark to use her in the experiment to create a mate for Adam in an attempt to cure her vampirism.


She was nowhere to be found when Barnabas and Julia successfully ran the experiment, with the soul of evil Danielle Roget provided by Nicholas Blair, thereby creating the ill tempered Eve as a mate for Adam.


Meanwhile, Nicholas gave away his power to Maggie by falling in love with her.


Angelique had the opportunity to bring Barnabas back under her control.


Eve stupidly taunted Adam and he killed her.


Angelique appealed to her boss, Diabolos, to have her vampire curse removed by tattling on Blair for falling in love with Maggie.


Diabolos punished Blair, and with the end of the storyline, Adam fell off the face of the earth.


David and his new BFF, Amy, went ghost hunting in the West Wing and ended up being possessed by the angry spirit of Quentin Collins and his mysterious companion, Beth.


Maggie was hired as the new governess for the possessed children after Vicki returned to 1796 with Peter Bradford.


Vampire Tom Jennings' brother Chris came to town and things got a little hairy at the time of the full moon.


After Joe Haskell was attacked by Wolfy Chris, he went batshit crazy.


Eventually, he was sent for an extended stay at Windcliff.


Cassandra returned to make sure that Liz hadn't forgotten that she was afraid to be buried alive, reinstating her curse on her, and causing Elizabeth to appear to be dead. The year ended with the possessed children causing mayhem, and Barnabas believing that Vicki was trying to contact him from the past.



It seemed to me an essential part of the show was lost with the departure of Alexandra Moltke in the role of Victoria Winters. The show will continue on just fine without her, but especially after watching the show from Episode 1, when she initiated the narrative, it felt that the show fundamentally changed with her exit. Losing long time cast members, Joel Crothers and David Ford also served to usher in a new era with new characters on the show.


It certainly was a whirlwind of events in 1968, and there's no sign of slowing down in 1969, as it promises to be even busier as we get to know more about Werewolf Chris Jennings and the malcontented spirit of Quentin Collins. I look forward to more time travel in the year ahead on the show, and can't wait to see what the monsters have in store for us. Come join John and I as we delve into another year of daily episodes over at Dark Shadows Before I Die.