November 18, 2010

The Legendary Billy B. (The Hitchhiker)

Show: The Hitchhiker (HBO; 1983-1991)
Episode: The Legendary Billy B.
Grade: B

A particularly enjoyable episode of HBO's The Hitchhiker, The Legendary Billy B is a story about a tabloid reporter names Jane L. (Kirstie Alley) who is desperate to find the huge story that will launch her into the big times. As the episode opens, Jane and her photographer Hodie (The Police's Andy Summers) attempt to break the story of an actor's extra-marital activity, only to have it blow up in their faces when the wife of the actor commits suicide. Completely undiscouraged by the incident, Jane one day finds what appears to be recent pictures of the legendary Billy Baltimore (Brad Dourif) in Hodie's darkroom. In the Hitchhiker universe, Billy Baltimore was the pre-Hendrix American guitar god, a legendary acid rocker who in 1967 was assassinated on a stage in front of thousands during a concert in San Francisco. Hodie claims to have been following him for a couple of weeks now, having gotten a tip that the rocker was alive and well and living on a secluded estate. Sensing her big break, Jane persuades Hodie to take her to Billy's very private and heavily secured home, where she can snag an interview with the legend that will almost certainly catapult her to the top of the tabloid world. Once they've broken into his house, the pair find Billy playing his guitar in an almost museum-like setting, looking youthful as ever and spouting out hazy cliches ("You wanna know what fame tastes like? It's like chewin' all the time.") as well as answering all questions with stock responses that Hodie recognizes as answers from famous interviews Billy had conducted decades earlier. Have they indeed stumbled upon the legendary Billy Baltimore, or is something more sinister afoot?

There are tons of things to love in the episode. While the first 5-10 minutes or so kind of drag before Billy enters the picture (Alley and Summers are unfortunately far from captivating screen presences), once the pair break into his house the episode really comes alive. Billy's old, baroque, decrepit home is bathed in all kinds of eerie lighting - it's something that could have been ripped right out of an Argento movie - and paints an appropriately ominous mood as the two reporters begin to sense that something really wrong is going on. Dourif is fantastic in the role of Billy. He's always had one of the more interesting faces and peculiar deliveries in the business (there's a reason Herzog likes him so much), and once his character enters the mix, Dourif completely steals the show. I haven't seen close to every episode of The Hitchhiker (though I'm slowly making my way through them all), but The Legendary Billy B. is probably one of my favorite episodes, and having seen it now a few times, one of the things I like the most is how as the episode progresses, you're almost certain there's going to be some kind of supernatural bent to the obligatory twist ending, which ends up not being the case at all, and probably all for the better as it's one of the more genuinely unsettling endings I've seen in the series. It's definitely an episode to put on the list if you plan on delving into the wonderfully creepy world that is The Hitchhiker.

November 15, 2010

Chocolate (Masters of Horror)

Show: Masters of Horror (Showtime, 2005-2007)
Episode: Chocolate
Grade: D

Showtime's Masters of Horror was, in my mind - and we're talking strictly in television terms here - one of the great disappointments from this past decade. The initial announcement  of the show roused all kinds of buzz on the internet and naturally whet the appetite of horror anthology fans everywhere.  It had been a long time since we had anything of quality to tune into on a regular basis, and here finally was the show that was going to bring the scary back to television. Showtime was - is - a great network, with (mostly) very fine programming, and all of the pieces were in place for something seriously promising. And then it aired, and the first episode got really good ratings. It aired again. And again. And people kind of talked about it, and seemed to enjoy it (at least the few I talked to who watched it did.) It aired for two entire seasons, got a DVD release, and that's it, the story just kind of ends there. The point being, if you're going to tap some of the great minds of the genre for a horror anthology show you've had the gumption to label Masters of Horror - a show that's going to be airing on cable no less - well, you'd better damn sure bring it. And the fact is that Masters of Horror just didn't. Not really. Sure, there were a few bright spots, like John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns, and Stuart Gordon's Dreams in the Witch House (which I maintain is visually one of the purest Lovecraftian visions ever filmed), but just as often the show fell flat on its face with silly, uninspired episodes that were frequently hampered by excess slack, a function of the show's ill-advised one hour format (the hour has rarely done a service to anthology shows; few have pulled it off.) And ultimately Masters of Horror just never delivered on its promise, never delivered the fresh jolt of energy to the genre that was expected of it. A reincarnation of the show (same creators) titled Fear, Itself aired on NBC in mid-2008, and farted through its handful of lackluster episodes before being taken off the air presumably for good, leaving behind in its trail nothing but a vast aura of disappointment from many a horror fan.

Ok, now that I've gotten that off my chest (don't expect other reviews to be nearly this long, I needed to vent that), this past weekend I decided to break out my MoH box set, with one particular episode in mind, Mick Garrison's Chocolate, which had the distinction in my memory of being the single worst episode of the entire series (or at least of what I saw - I didn't bother with the last few from the second season.) So why would I ever care to see it again? Well, in short, I wanted to know if it was as bad as I remembered it being. I figured that if I kicked off this blog with one of my favorite anthology episodes of all time, I might as well follow it with one that I find entirely disagreeable, and lord knows I'll probably never have anything remotely resembling good reason to watch it again. So, was Chocolate as bad as I remembered? Unfortunately, it pretty much was.

The plot of Chocolate: Jamie (Henry Thomas), a culinary engineer who makes artificial flavors for a living, one day out of the clear blue sky begins randomly tasting chocolate. He also begins to experience other senses becoming impaired at the most inopportune times, such as losing his hearing while talking to a lady at a club, or losing his sight while driving at night. Soon, Jamie starts receiving visions that accompany these oddities. The visions, Jamie comes to discover, are that of the perspective of an unknown gorgeous blonde woman. He sees what she sees, both small meaningless moments - like visiting a zoo - as well as more important things, such as the abusive behavior of what appears to be her boyfriend, and her sexual encounters, which Jamie himself can feel and enjoy (in a not-so-subtle riff on the infinitely superior in every possible way Being John Malkovich.) One day he witnesses something particularly disturbing in one of these visions, and having now fallen in love with the mystery woman, sets out to track her down. Now, to be fair, that is a fairly interesting set-up. One could argue that the story could follow any number of interesting paths from here. The main problem with Chocolate is that the movie never extends itself beyond this premise. Without giving any spoilers away (as I will always try not to, without a warning at least), nothing happens. Jamie tracks the woman down, she acts about the way you would expect someone in her shoes to act when presented with his story, a violent climax ensues (along with one last "ironic" manifestation of Jamie's visions), and just like that it's over, with nothing explained, no loose ends tied up, and more importantly no sense that this ambiguity is supposed to be in any way, shape or form thoughtful or deliberate; the whole thing just feels sloppy and backed into a corner. Fortunately for the viewer, this isn't as offensive as it could have been, because there was no real tension or real sense of mystery in the first place. There's certainly nothing distinguished about the movies photography (it's rather ugly in all honesty.) There's just an interesting premise stretched miles too thin, with loads of banal exposition and more hackneyed dialogue than you can shake a stick at. In short - the exact opposite of everything that a show called Masters of Horror should have been. But as is, Chocolate stands as a firm encapsulation of every mediocrity that by-and-large plagued the entire baffling, underwhelming series.

November 12, 2010

Planely Possible (Perversions of Science)

Show: Perversions of Science (HBO, 1997)
Episode: Planely Possible
Grade: A+ 

Planely Possible is an episode from the short lived late-90's HBO anthology show Perversions of Science, which itself was basically a sci-fi counterpart to the hugely popular horror series Tales From the Crypt. Perversions lasted only one short season, was clearly working on a comparatively meager budget, and was probably doomed from the start (it aired in the ominous late-night Friday time slot, following another equally esoteric and luckless but awesome show - Ralph Bakshi's animated cyberpunk anthology Spicy City), but it nevertheless employed a distinct visual approach - an anxious 50's sci-fi comic-book aesthetic - and managed to operate pretty consistently outside of the box with its stories and ideas, and thus enjoys something of a respectable cult following these days despite having never been officially released on any format.

My very favorite episode of the series is easily Planely Possible, a deliciously maniacal and twisty story involving a man named Walter (George Newbern) who, after his wife (Elizabeth Berkley) has been killed, meets a crazed engineer (legendary character actor Vincent Schiavelli) who believes that he can transport Walter to an alternate plane of existence where his wife is still alive. Yes, yes, all standard sci-fi fare, and yet the episode plays out with such restless unpredictability and macabre wit - as Walter jumps through the various planes of existence and is greeted by one nasty surprise after the next - that it gains a special kind of energy and ends up transcending its fairly textbook genre plot and hokey acting and becomes easily one of the most entertaining half hours of television I've ever seen. We may not be talking high art here (though the thing does have panache and atmosphere to spare), however as a lost gem of both HBO programming and anthology television, Planely Possible is well worth noting, and seeing for that matter (if you can get your hands on a copy.)

November 11, 2010

Introduction Post

Where I drop a few lines just to let you know what's what over here.

My other blog, The Blue Vial, has operated for a little while now as a kind of film journal, where I've been able to write about and/or (as has been more the case lately) post images from movies that I love, or just anything cinema-related in general that's made a strong (for better or worse) impression on me. I have also at times on that blog admitted my love of anything anthology related - whether it be in the form of horror/mystery/sci-fi/drama television or poetry/short story books or even (obviously) movies.

But yeah, the first thing, the tv shows, is really what I am into the most. While the cinema has always been a great passion for me, since I was quite young I've also always been drawn to the anthology format on television, specifically the darker, more horror and mystery related fare, and have loved watching and collecting everything from old episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits and Alfred Hitchcock Presents to Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Tales from the Crypt, and even the more obscure anthology shows that have slipped under the radar of most, stuff like HBO's The Hitchhiker and Perversions of Science, and ABC's Gun. Seeing as how it seems that whenever I'm not watching a movie in my spare time I'm always throwing in some random anthology episode, the idea for this blog popped into my head, and what I hope to do here at Planely Possible is really pretty simple: to just post some thoughts on the random episodes from various anthology television shows that I watch. There will likely be no method to the madness, as I pretty much generally watch whatever strikes me at the moment, whether it be a new episode of something I've never seen before, or a favorite I've seen many times. So I won't be doing any projects like methodically making my way through entire seasons of any given show (at least that's not on the horizon), but rather just simply documenting some of the various episodes of these shows I happen to watch, meaning posting a few screenshots, writing a paragraph or two, and assigning a grade (standard F - A+ grading) to each episode.

I have no way of knowing how frequently I'll be updating over here; I would like to think that I could manage at least a few posts a week, but I guess we'll see. I will say this: if the idea of this blog appeals to you, then stick around for at least a little bit. I have a feeling I'm going to enjoy posting about these episodes, and would love it if eventually some discussion ensued with other fans of these shows. You can also probably expect for me to at times occasionally cover book or movie-related items. Every so often I will come across a short story or something that I love, in which case I will maybe post about it here. Ditto for movies of that same nature.

Oh yeah, and in case anyone is wondering, both the name of this blog and the banner image comes from one of my very favorite anthology episodes of all time - Planely Possible from HBO's short-lived but outrageously out-there and enjoyable Perversions of Science. I've just posted an entry on this episode over at The Blue Vial as a part of my "Five From A Favorite" series, which I will be cross-posting over here as the first official "review" or "capsule", or whatever the hell you want to call it, and this should give you roughly a good idea of the kind of content you can expect here.