Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Double Helping of 80s Horror TV X-Mas Episodes (A 25 Days of Shitmas Post from Manny Serrano of Massgravepictures.com)

Here we are again, with another year of Shitmas! Another year, we’re forced to listen to the endless barrage of holiday music, festive greetings, and watch people fight over a fuckin’ red coffee cup. And the worst part is, this damned holiday seems to last longer and longer every year! Most stores are putting up their Christmas sections in mid-October now. Can’t we enjoy Halloween without being force-fed the consumer driven abomination masquerading as a religious holiday?

It’s the only time of the year half the general populace doesn’t look at us horror fans like we’re a bunch of Satan-worshipping, red-headed, degenerate step children (even though many of us are, it’s still not nice to stereotype!), and you want to pre-empt it with your fake holiday cheer! Well I won’t stand idly by and let our bread-and-butter get trampled on by soccer moms and the uptight majority!

In years past, I’ve written reviews for Rosemary’s’ Baby, P2, Silent Night Deadly Night 3, and The Ref. All movies which work to illustrate the ruining of the holiday spirit.

...Okay, so Rosemary’s Baby doesn’t exactly ruin Christmas cheer, but the 2014 remake certainly did nothing to cheer me up!

So anyway… this year I've decided to do a double feature review that reminds me of a time when horror was welcomed. I’m taking you back to a time when horror was accepted. I’m taking you back to a time when horror was everything and everywhere, by featuring two of my favorite TV shows, in a hat trick of horror! A triple play of terror! A hankering of hellfire! A bevy of blood! A trio of trepidation! A mass of madness! A cacophony of… alright, you get the point…

On this journey, we have two Christmas episodes of what is our (most of us, anyway) favorite shows from the 80s; Monsters and Tales from the Darkside!

And, in a surprising twist, the connecting triumvirate not being the stories themselves, but the beginning of the career of one Jenna Von Oy, with whom we all fell head-over-heels for in the 90’s, as Six on Blossom! What are the chances our favorite girl-next-door is part of two Christmas episodes, of two of our favorite shows? Oh, this one is gonna kick you right in the nostalgia!

I'm gonna start things off with the one that doesn't get as much recognition as its heavyweight cousin; Monsters! On February 4th, 1989, the 13th episode of the series premiered: "Glim-Glim". Odd that they would air a Christmas episode in February, but we’ll take what we can get…

In this episode, an 11-year-old Von Oy plays Amy, hiding out in the basement of a library with her (unnamed) father, and another survivor, Carl. I say survivor because as we find out, there is a large phallic-shaped alien (seriously, this guy makes Ron Jeremy jealous) named Glim-Glim (somehow Amy knows his name, even though he seems to only speak in an unintelligible, ear-piercing falsetto) who is responsible for the death of everyone in town, upstairs. The men and the little girl seem to be immune to the plague, which killed everyone in a matter of days.

As Glim-Glim studies the books in the library, confused as to how the humans were not affected by the virus, he has erected (see what I did there?) a force field around the town to keep the virus, and the humans, from spreading (it’s starting to seem like a commercial for contraceptives).

Concerned the military will soon penetrate the perimeter (I could go on all day), Glim-Glim studies the human immune system. Amy forms a bond with him, assuring her father and Carl that Glim-Glim won't hurt them (because AIDS can only be transmitted through fluid! I get it now!). As it turns out, Glim-Glim is here to save the planet, feeling guilty for the deaths he caused after accidentally releasing the virus (insert socially-relevant commentary here). Now he is trying to find a way to successfully contain it before the battery of the force field dies.

Finally figuring a way to communicate with Amy, Glim-Glim tells her he needs some of their blood to create an anti-virus, since the three are seemingly immune. Meanwhile, Carl and Amy's father are convinced the alien is here to destroy them and the rest of the planet. Thinking he has taken Amy, they rush upstairs and kill him before realizing he was friendly and only trying to help, effectively dooming the human race to death.

Now, as much as I loved this series when I was young, it doesn't age well at all. Many of the episodes come off as dull and silly, especially with what seems to have been a very limited FX budget. Even having Dick Smith as the FX consultant didn't seem to give it the punch they really needed. The kicker of the series being the name-sake, and having stuck strongly to it, every single episode contains a monster of some sort. This is definitely one of the better episodes of the show, following the formula of many similar stories of its kind: A group of people locked in a confined space, hiding from the impending evil outside, eventually discovering the true monster lives in the heart of man. Night of the Living Dead, The Mist, The Divide, as well as numerous episodes of The Twilight Zone have shown us this in spades.

As for the DVD itself, it definitely leaves something to be desired. The episodes aren't enhanced at all, still presented in full frame, and no special features whatsoever. There aren't even any subtitles on the discs. But, all that seems to be routine for network TV horror anthologies from the 80’s, as we move onto (segue!) our second title of the day!

Tales From The Darkside, Season 3, Episode 11: Seasons Of Belief.

Airing on December 29th, 1986, we find (an even younger!) Jenna Von Oy, playing Stefa; sister to Jimbo, and daughter to the immortal EG Marshall! How can you go wrong with this lineup?? Although I must admit, as much as I love E.G., the casting here is just ridiculous. Marshall is 72, the wife in her mid-30’s, and the kids are 9 and 10 years old. Unless this guy is stinkin’ fuckin’ rich (which he doesn’t seem to be) and extremely healthy for his age (Viagra didn’t exist yet), the aforementioned insemination definitely tests the limits of your suspension of disbelief. In fact now that I think about it, in a bit of bad acting later on, (or intentional directing?) Mom seems to be more attracted to her brother Mike, than she does to old E.G.! But, I digress...

Stefa and Jimbo, bored on Christmas Eve, ask papa Marshall to tell them a scary story, and he imparts on them the legend of The Grither. The story encompasses a creature which lives in a cave near Santa’s' workshop; a creature who doesn't like when people talk about him; a creature who will come for those who speak his name!

As the parents ad-lib their story (surprisingly well, I might add) of the Grither, Jimbo doubts their truthfulness and young Stefa becomes increasingly frightened. Marshall tells the children he must finish the story before the Grither arrives, then proceeds to procrastinate on the phone to scare the children further. Mom continues to update them on the location of the Grither, who is flying ever so much closer to them.

Soon, we hear banging at the front door, as we hear someone singing Grithers’ song (which mom & dad also ad-libbed, but seemed way too in sync with each other for them to be making this up on the spot). The door swings open!

Don’t worry! It's only a red-herring; Uncle Mike. Whew! That was a close one…

Dad explains the Grither is no more real than Santa Claus or the tooth fairy, and the children are safe (a little over-explanatory), but the kids insist they still need to finish the story. Sure enough in typical folk-tale (and horror movie) fashion, just as we are ready to settle down and have a fun-filled, Christmas family gathering, their fears come true and The Grither arrives (after a second red herring), unleashing his fury on the storytellers.

A very fun, albeit predictable, episode of this show, it takes a lot from the story of the Krampus, and comes off as almost a precursor to Trick ‘R Treat, with The Grither seemingly punishing those who trample on the tales of Christmas.

Unfortunately as with most of this series, the scariest part of is the opening credits sequence. I think we all remember the music, the voiceover, the darkened image of the forest... It made us all hide under the covers back then, and definitely invokes that childhood fear of the dark in our memories now. But, being produced by George Romero, this hardly comes as a surprise.

There is nothing we children of the 80’s loved more than curling up under our covers at night, flipping on the TV and watching shows like this, and there was a serious abundance of them; Freddy’s Nightmares, The Hitchhiker, Nightmare Café, Friday the 13th The Series, Tales From The Crypt, Goosebumps, Eerie Indiana, Are You Afraid Of The Dark, along with regular re-runs of The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery. The Twilight Zone, The Addams Family and The Outer Limits each had a series redux in the 90’s. Of course, The Outer Limits came a bit later, but by then we had more horror-based series’ like Poltergeist: The Legacy, The X-Files and American Gothic. Even Twin Peaks, Amazing Stories, and Strange Luck appealed to the horror-kids in us all.

I’m getting a little off-track here, but the fact is, regardless of how cheesy, campy, silly and sometimes downright bad these shows sometimes were, it's still fun to revisit them and remember how we grew up during, quite possibly, the most amazing time for horror. So get up, throw in your favorite old horror TV show, and binge a bit of your youth back into your life. It definitely helps to keep the horror going, in this dreadfully chipper holiday season!

Merry Shitmas Everyone!
-Manny Serrano

I am the co-owner of Mass Grave Pictures, director of ‘Blood Slaughter Massacre’ and the upcoming film ‘In the Shadow of the Imp’, and I host a bi-weekly podcast, ‘What Lurks on Channel X’, where we discuss all things dark, disturbing and strange. You can find us at FACEBOOK and all major podcast apps.

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