Category: Retro Fix


Review by C.J. Bunce

In her most prolific year–at age 13–actress Jodie Foster made five movies, including two big hits, the Disney comedy Freaky Friday, and Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver.  Along with two forgotten films, Alan Parker’s kid musical Bugsy Malone and the Richard Harris drama Echoes of a Summer, the fifth Foster film from 1976 debuted.  Sometimes in horror, a little creepy goes a long way.  And it’s a good thing.  That’s the case with Hungarian director Nicholas Gessner′s The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane.  I was about Foster’s age when I first saw this movie and the movie holds its own 43 years later–that same sense of confusion, not knowing where the story was going–that dread–coupled with a moody seaside New England setting on Halloween nets that feeling that autumn has at last arrived and it’s time to prepare again for the movies of the season.

As with the similarly paced and similarly brilliant The Watcher in the Woods (released four years later), Gessner’s film deftly juxtaposes sinister secrets against a pastoral town we all think we’d like to visit.  Foster is Rynn Jacobs, a 13-year-old girl who is living alone in Wells Harbor, Maine, when we meet her.  She dodges a 30-something pervert played by Martin Sheen, who keeps coming by her house, well aware she’s usually home alone.  His mother, played by Alexis Smith (The Age of Innocence, Dallas, The Woman in White), is a hateful woman who claims to be leasing the home to Rynn’s father, and enters the house without warning, moving furniture and Rynn’s belongings and riling young Rynn.  The woman is a snoop, and she seems to make more than an ordinary effort to try to meet the man of the house.  Rynn’s story of being alone changes a bit depending on who stops by, sometimes her father is upstairs asleep, sometimes he’s locked himself in his den working, other times he’s meeting with his publisher in New York.  Rynn befriends a local police officer along the way, who is also suspicious of the local pervert prowling around.  She’s kept up some kind of secret for at least three months now, but it’s becoming clear her world is about to spiral in on her.

Where are her parents?  She only divulges the truth when she meets a boy who rides by on a bicycle.  Played by Scott Jacoby (Return to Horror High, To Die For) Mario is a slightly older boy, ostracized for his limp, and a different kind of loner than Rynn.  The dread looms heavy.  What does Rynn have in store for another person wandering into her life?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Plumes are cool.  I wear a plume now.

This week the Doctor and friends turn up at the very event that was the real-life origin point of Doctor Who, the series, and in fact all of science fiction: Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s summer at the retreat at Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva in Switzerland in 1816.  It was the historic “year without a summer,” believed the result of volcanic ash in the atmosphere.  More importantly for the future of science and technology and science fiction, it was the convergence of celebrity that resulted in Mary Shelley’s spark to write her novel Frankenstein, the first science fiction novel and–notable for fans of all things borg–the first borg novel.

Only this is Doctor Who, and so something is different, as one of the famed guests of the villa is missing.  In its 56 years some of Doctor Who’s greatest episodes have featured a re-look at historical places and events, and the fantastic new episode, “The Haunting of Villa Diodati” may top them all.  The events of 1816 are well documented and writer Maxine Alderton (The Worst Witch, Emmerdale) used them to create the perfect blending of Doctor Who and history.  Directed by Emma Sullivan, Alderton’s story is expertly designed to weave together even the obscure historical facts and figures with the fantastical, while foreshadowing the focus of the season’s remaining episodes (find a peek at that below).  Just as the story of the creation of the first science fiction story takes center stage (also one of the early Gothic horror tales), so does the world inside Shelley’s novel peer into the world of the Doctor.

Save the poet, save the universe.

In a word, “The Haunting of Villa Diodati” is perfection, as the seed of all science fiction meets its latest incarnation both from within the universe of Doctor Who and viewing Doctor Who from the outside as a work of science fiction itself–delivering a perfect threat to a single point in time that, if altered, changes everything thereafter and could obliterate the world as the Doctor–and the viewer–knows it.  Plus… a haunted house, ghosts, and a decision that could throw the future into chaos?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the failings of many creators for kids is talking down to them.  If you treat children from the very beginning like adults, they will step up to the task and embrace acting like adults.  Kids know when adults are speaking down to them.  They also will be excited when you give them the straight dope.  So if you’re creating anything for an audience that includes kids, whether they are seven to seventeen, don’t hold too much back.  And that applies double for relationships–kids are smarter than you think and they listen to everything and absorb everything.  One of the best parts of Troop Zero is that you can’t tell if its a coming of age movie for adults or kids.  And that’s a great thing.

Troop Zero is a new Amazon Studios direct-to-streaming release, and a great movie to watch while sitting at home with your family this weekend.  We love coming of age movies (scroll through several we’ve discussed over the decade here at borg), and Troop Zero easily makes our top 20.  This is the more nostalgic, sweet, genuine brand of coming of age film (the best kind), part The Bad News Bears, part Paper Moon, and it’s obviously a little bit Moonrise Kingdom and maybe even enters Shirley Temple territory like in The Little Princess.  It also ties into one of our favorite NASA accomplishments, the Voyager space probes and golden records prepared by Carl Sagan with voices and music from Earth (also add the PBS documentary The Farthest–Voyager in Space to your must-watch list, reviewed here).

The movie stars the then-12-year-old actress McKenna Grace, who performs like someone with 20 years of experience.  This girl has done everything, from playing young Sabrina in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, to young Captain Marvel in last year’s hit film, young Tonya Harding in I, Tonya, and she’s the star of the coming summer release (we hope), Ghostbusters: Afterlife.  Plus Independence Day: Resurgence, Ready Player One, and a regular on The Haunting of Hill House (the list goes on!).  In Troop Zero she plays Christmas Flint, a girl with that same awkward but adorable appeal as Tatum O’Neal in her Oscar-winning performance in Paper Moon.  Christmas has the reputation at school for still wetting the bed, she wears red galoshes so no one notices one leg is longer than the other, and no matter how much bad is thrown at her she responds with this incredible positivity.  She also loves space, and thinks her dead mother is looking back at her from the stars.  When she learns a member of NASA is in town to select a girl to voice the greeting on the Voyager space record, she assembles a ragtag team of girls (and one boy) to join the local scouts, and earn the minimum merit badge each to qualify to go to Jamboree where the troop with the best performance routine will have their voices recorded.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

How often does a television series stay powerfully compelling for the entirety of its run?  Most series, especially science fiction series, have a freshman and sophomore season full of bad episodes and clunky storylines.  With a fourth season now one for the books, Amazon Studios’ The Man in the High Castle is the exception, and nothing short of cinema magic that the final season of the series didn’t miss a beat in its final ten episodes.  The series has been a slow burn from the first season, but if you enjoy the idea of an alternate universe that doubles as an alternate history story–and nobody made them better than author Philip K. Dick–then this is the series for you, waiting for you to stream its 40 episodes right now.  It all began with a first-rate pilot (first previewed here at borg) set in a gut-wrenching world where the Axis beat the Allies in World War II, created five years ago for Amazon’s first run at a series format.  From the meticulously re-created sets, buildings, landscapes, costumes, props, and vehicles, to a script that may very well reflect the smartest and most tense science fiction ever to hit television sets, The Man in the High Castle proves Amazon Studios can match (and beat) the quality of programming of any of its competitors.

The themes are unfortunately current, grand and weighty like the best science fiction should be, and Santayana’s warning was probably never better illustrated in fiction form, asking the question: Could Nazi leadership of the homegrown American variety be worse than a threat from foreign invaders?  The show also explores other big ideas, like the idea that you may not be the very best possible version of yourself (and what you could do about it).  Most series are top-heavy, relying too much on the lead characters to drive the story.  The writers of The Man in the High Castle took the time to completely flesh out dozens of key supporting characters, each one critical to the story, and all an example of world-building detail that every writer should take notes on.  Every thread they created gets nicely tied up by the final episode.  The very best, most complex and creative character arcs on any series this decade happened here.  And the series’ climactic scene is simply goosebump-inducing.  The pool of candidates for anyone’s best TV actor and actress this year?  They should begin with this series.

Back again is Alexa Davalos as the world-bending, judo teacher-turned resistance strategist.  She was joined by last year’s new suave, rogue soldier, played by Jason O’Mara.  They have the knowledge to potentially save their world and infinite others, but how do they decide what is the right way to do it? Leading the bad guys on the American front again is Rufus Sewell′s Reichsmarshall John Smith, whose performance as the rising Nazi leader is so convincing viewers will never see what’s coming next, and his wife Helen, played by Chelah Horsdal, gets to step into the spotlight in nerve-wracking ways this season.  Joel de la Fuerte, as Japan’s Emperor’s leader in San Francisco, is so versatile he should be the most sought-after actor on the planet.  This year they are joined by new good guys played by Frances Turner and Clé Bennett, who bring a welcome, late-breaking twist to the outcome of the world, plus the return of Quinn Lord as the alt world’s Thomas Smith.  Even the kids playing the daughters–Genea Charpentier and Gracyn Shinyei–are scary good (meriting inclusion on our ever-growing horror film “creepy little girls” list).

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Classic favorite trading card company Topps is teaming up with Dynamite Entertainment to bring back your favorite little creepy aliens.  Mars Attacks is back again, this time in a new series from writer Kyle Starks (Rick and Morty, Rock Candy Mountain) and artist Chris Schweizer (The Creeps, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl).  It’s coming this Fall to a comic book store near you.  Dynamite released the covers for the first issue as part of its San Diego Comic-Con announcements.

The pairing of Topps and Dynamite promises to reflect the tone of the original 1962 trading card series.  It all begins again when a kid named Spencer approaches his dad for a loan.  They wind up on the run from those helmeted fiends from space and their famous space rays and flying saucers.

    

Look for several cover variants for the series’ first issue.  Tom Mandrake (The Spectre), Ruairí Coleman (KISS/Army of Darkness), Eoin Marron (James Bond: The Body), Robert Hack (Dr. Who), Chris Schweizer (The Creeps) all have created covers (see above and below).

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luke cage

Ten years!  That’s ten years reviewing TV series in the decade that streaming services began to dominate TV viewing– and binge-watching was born as Netflix began releasing entire seasons at once in 2013.  How do you pick the best series?  As with yesterday’s list of movie recommendations, our theory from the very first day of publishing borg has been reviewing only those things we like, things we think are fun, imaginative, or just plain cool—because if we think they’re cool, maybe you will, too.  What makes a great TV series?  Great writing—great storytelling.  Also we looked to difficulty level and technology innovation—TV productions tend to get a fraction of the budget of big-screen features, so what they do with their time and money is critical, and some television series in the past decade were all-out feats.  The third factor we looked to is re-watchability—we’ll be watching the best series for years to come.  The big difference between ranking movies and TV is the change between seasons, that force that inevitably causes most shows to decline with each season.  So consistency is a factor.  Finally, as with movies the most important factor is the fun—why would you devote so many hours of your valuable time if you’re not going to have a great time?

Manda

One more thing: Ten years is a long time so we narrowed the series we’re including to those recommendations that fall primarily within the ten-year window.  We covered several fantastic, re-watchable series that cemented their status in reruns or syndication, many beginning before borg began publishing and finishing in the years after, including Burn Notice, White Collar, Warehouse 13, Leverage, House, MD, In Plain Sight, and three landmarks among the best pop culture-packed series of all time, Chuck, Psych, and Community.  We were disappointed that some of the best series were canceled and left to only a single season, otherwise they may have gone on to fare better against our top recommendations, shows like Jason Isaacs’ psychological police procedural Awake, Sarah Shahi’s all-for-fun Fairly Legal, Lauren Cohan’s action/spy series Whiskey Cavalier, the Doctor Who spin-off Class, the adaptation of Max Allan Collins’ popular noir novel series Quarry, the slick animated series Tron: Uprising, and the cyborg future-world Almost Human starring Karl Urban, to name a few.

Grimm

So here are the Top 40 series we recommend, spanning 2011 to 2021.  These are our favorites.  How should you use lists like this?  If you like what we talk about at borg, you’re probably going to like these shows.  If you’ve missed any, odds are you have some new series to take a look at.  Let’s start at #40 and move our way to #1.  As with everything borg, we’re stressing genre series.  Title links are to one of our previous borg reviews.

Let’s get started!

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Crime novels tend to include an element of mystery.  Usually the attraction for the reader is going along for the ride with the detective, the cop, the private eye, or the wrongly accused.  Some novels have variations on the theme, but few are purely character studies that begin with the reveal of the murderer and then take readers on the pathway of whydunit.  That’s not 100% what’s going on in Oakley Hall′s So Many Doors, but it’s close.  First published in 1950 and reprinted by Hard Case Crime for the first time in 60 years, So Many Doors centers around Vassilia Baird, a teen girl who, despite her father’s best efforts, ends up in the arms of a bad boy, resulting in a downward spiral that leads to her death.  Hall’s writing has a storytelling quality that may make it a good study for writers, but, despite his quick prose, it is bogged down with ugly characters in the obscure world of Depression era bulldozer operators.

At first Baird is the obvious character whose cause needs championed–an innocent.  But without explanation, she’s transformed overnight into a femme fatale.  Hall does not give the reader enough access to her to understand anything personal, any motivation, any reason other than she’s in the position of the novel that a reader should ordinarily be sympathetic toward, until she isn’t.  Hall never gets into her head, instead choosing to provide access to others who were part of her life, including an odd father, a would-be friend, a creepy much older neighbor, and her murderer.  Readers will not likely find those characters as particularly real either, or follow common sense (or decency toward others in many cases), or participate in the average person’s experience with the human condition.  And the single twist is predictable.  It’s unfortunate, because the set-up is brilliantly introduced upfront: A public defender is assigned to the bad boy, who refuses his services and admits to murdering Baird (known throughout the story as “V”).  But that’s followed by 300 pages of waiting for something exciting to happen and the action never again matches the first chapter.

The fact that So Many Doors saw acclaim in 1950 is unfortunately telling about the era, a story full of shockingly smarmy or cowardly men on the one hand and stock naïve and stock evil women.  It wants to be Vera Caspary’s Laura, but isn’t.  Instead the leads are caricatures of characters with little chemistry out of The Great Gatsby, embedded in a setting from The Giant and East of Eden and unpleasant interactions and relationships like those found in On the Waterfront and Dangerous Liaisons.  That kind of tale may very well still have an audience out there, but the sum of the parts may not add up for modern readers.

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The first instinct of diehard fans of any classic book, song, TV show, film, or anything else, is to flinch at the notion of a remake or reboot of a beloved original.  For years we here at borg.com have included The Watcher in the Woods as a favorite recommendation of a ghost story.  It’s a Disney film unlike any other Disney film–the rare instance of a movie being stronger than its source material (the novel by Florence Engel Randall), a Gothic ghost story (or is it?) that may be the creepiest and scariest story the studio released, certainly the spookiest of the 1980s.  So a remake that is being released this year for the Lifetime channel being previewed at San Diego Comic-Con this year is going to hit our radar.

As a kid, the film bridged being surprising enough to get you to jump out of your seat without being an adult horror movie. As an adult, I have recommended The Watcher in the Woods to friends for children’s Halloween parties, and it’s proven still to be a hit for kids into their pre-teens.  Melissa Joan Hart, known best for her Sabrina, the Teenage Witch series, is directing the remake, and as with the original, she enlisted one of the best to ground the film, Anjelica Huston, who takes on the role made famous by Bette Davis.

The result?  Hart has at a minimum completely nailed the trailer.  In an interview below she discusses concepts kept and concepts updated.  But when you get to the trailer, any concerns for the remake pretty much vanish, like the key image of the trapped, blindfolded girl in the film.  And the creepy woods as a singular character.  In the original, “Bond girl” actress Lynn-Holly Johnson (For Your Eyes Only, Ice Castles) and Kyle Richards played the sisters with Richards at the height of her child-actor career between Halloween and Little House on the Prairie.  In Hart’s new movie, these roles are played by young actors Tallulah Evans and Dixie Egerickx.

Even if you don’t agree Hart gets this one exactly right, you’re going to watch it because it’s on cable, and why not?  Check out this nicely spooky trailer from Comic-Con:

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Tomorrow October arrives at last!

Your annual list of scary, ghostly, spooky, creepy, slashery, and generally monstrous films is back.  The goal?  Not to miss your favorite Halloween movies in October, and maybe find some new favorites.  Below we’ve provided hundreds of movies scheduled to air–hundreds to choose from with a mix of classics and modern fare.  Syfy′s “31 Days of Halloween” is back (only the first 10 days of the month have been released so far), along with Freeform′s “31 Nights of Halloween.”  AMC has its “Fear Fest” again, and as with last year you can get caught up on The Walking Dead airing throughout the month.  Disney+ has the new Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales streaming beginning October 1.  Horror streaming service Shudder is… always… horror, although it has a “61 Days of Halloween” event for the season, which seems to reflect the worst of the back of the old video store horror wall.  Luckily TCM is also back with your favorite classics, and if you’ve subscribed to the free Peacock streaming service, you’re really in luck–check out our rundown of their big Halloween movies and shows here.  You’ll find this year all the usual suspects: Stephen King, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Michael Myers, Blumshouse, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Kruger.

New content out since the pandemic you might have missed includes this year’s Zack Snyder zombie flick Army of the Dead, also on Netflix the new movies There’s Someone Inside the House, and No One Gets Out Alive, Disney Plus’s new Muppet movie Muppets Haunted Mansion, newer series Alice in Borderland and the similar, soon to be reviewed Squid Game, new Australian supernatural series The Gloaming and Glitch, the fantastic, murky Swamp Thing (free on the CW app), the fun supernatural Truth Seekers and the current Syfy series SurrealEstate, and highlights from prior year dark tales like Love and Monsters, the remake of Hitchcock’s Gothic tale Rebecca, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Ratched, the brilliant zombie series Kingdom, the monster-filled October Faction, or The Babysitter, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and Enola Holmes on Netflix, The Vast of Night on Amazon, Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island on Starz and Vudu and Blumhouse’s Happy Death Day and sci-fi/horror sequel Happy Death Day 2U, Freaky, and 2019’s Ready or Not all on Vudu.  If you missed 2018’s Halloween movie with Jamie Lee Curtis, or Get Out, find them streaming on Vudu and other services (and you can catch all the past entries in the Halloween series on AMC), plus the sequel to the 2018 HalloweenHalloween Kills–will be coming straight to Peacock on October 16.  Don’t forget classic horror series on Netflix like iZombie, Haven, and Grimm, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer on various platforms.  Also, if you missed Netflix’s latest seasons of Stranger Things or Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, now’s a great time to catch up, with season 4 of Stranger Things coming next year.

All month long on streaming services and premium channels like Netflix and Starz you can watch horror movies including Shaun of the Dead, Jaws, Rear Window, The Lost Boys, The Boy, Cloverfield, Coraline, Van Helsing, John Carpenter’s The Thing, They Live, and Ghosts of Mars, Young Frankenstein, Resident Evil, House at the End of the Street, Zombieland, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, Sleepy Hollow, Hollow Man, The Craft, and many more, plus series like The Twilight Zone, Ash vs. Evil Dead, Requiem, Bates Motel, and The Frankenstein Chronicles.  1979’s When a Stranger Calls is on Amazon Prime.  Everything you see in AMC’s listings are offered via their on-demand services, so you should be able to watch those whenever you’d like.  If all else fails, you can find your favorite ghost story or other horror classic on Vudu and Amazon Prime, where you can buy or rent our recommendations like The Fog (both versions, with the original on Amazon Prime), Crimson Peak, Attack the Block, The Birds, Let Me In, The Others, Winchester, The Watcher in the Woods, The Woman in Black, The Woman in White, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Ring, and the great family classic, Charles Schulz’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  Need even more recommendations?  Check our borg lists of past recommendations here–Halloween doesn’t arrive each year until we’ve watched The Watcher in the Woods and Silver Bullet.

So take notes and put your watch list into your DVR now so you don’t miss anything, especially useful for many of the marathons, which still frequently air in reverse order (?!).  We’ve bolded some of our recommendations.  All times listed are Central Time:

Friday, October 1, 2021

6:00 a.m. – King Kong (1933), TCM
8:00 a.m. – Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, AMC
8:00 a.m. – The Most Dangerous Game (1932), TCM
9:15 a.m. – The Vampire Bat (1933), TCM
10:00 a.m. – The Crooked Man, Syfy
10:30 a.m. – Pet Sematary, AMC
10:30 a.m. – The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, TCM
12:00 p.m. – Shut In, Syfy
12:30 p.m. – The Crazies, AMC
12:45 a.m. – White Zombie (1932), TCM
2:00 p.m. – Leprechaun 4 in Space, Syfy
2:00 p.m. – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932), TCM
3:00 p.m. – Friday the 13th, AMC
3:45 a.m. – Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), TCM
4:00 p.m. – The Addams Family (1991), Freeform
4:00 p.m. – Leprechaun 2, Syfy
5:00 p.m. – John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), AMC
5:15 p.m. – Doctor X (1932), TCM
6:00 p.m. – Addams Family Values, Freeform
6:45 p.m. – Freaks (1932), TCM
7:00 p.m. – Halloween 2 (1981), AMC
8:00 p.m. – Tyler Perry’s Boo 2: A Madea Halloween, Syfy
8:00 p.m. – Hocus Pocus, Freeform
10:00 p.m. – Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, AMC
10:02 p.m. – Leprechaun in the Hood, Syfy

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Craig in SPECTRE

Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’ve been too busy buying your advance tickets for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and forgot to get to the theaters to see the latest James Bond film, here’s your wake-up call.  Get thee to the theatre before it’s gone!  For every new Bond actor there is a handful of films that are forgettable.  SPECTRE is not one of those Bond movies.  In fact SPECTRE is on the heels of being as good a James Bond formula piece as Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale.  It will be hard for any Bond movie to top that one, since it was as close to perfection as an action vehicle can get.

So why is SPECTRE a cut above the rest?

Let’s start with the required action scene opener.  We begin with Bond and his attractive companion Estrella, played by Stephanie Sigman, at the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City.  Bond is in pursuit of an assassin, for a reason yet to be disclosed to the viewer, and the result is some of the best action in any Bond movie.  Ever.  Bond in a skeleton suit is still unmistakably Daniel Craig’s Bond.  We get an inadvertently blown-up building.  A foot chase through a parade culminating in a hand to hand fight in a helicopter over the crowded festival.  Want exciting?  This scene has it all.

James Bond Day of the Dead

Gone is the tired, old, worn-out Bond emphasized in the plot of Skyfall.  Gone is the disheartened Bond of Quantum of Solace.  This is Bond as he is supposed to be–confident, cocky, and calm.  And physically Craig could still out-match all prior Bond actors at any age.

Bond’s main “Bond Girl” is a well-developed character this time around.
Léa Seydoux’s Dr. Swann is compelling and interesting, closer to Eva Green’s engaging Vesper Lynd than any Bond Girl since.

The villains are perfect, starting with Dave Bautista’s Mr. Hinx and his Groot-like single word of dialogue, and Christoph Waltz’s mastermind is as classic a Bond villain as you’ve ever seen.  He’s creepy, but not too creepy like Javier Bardem’s villain in Skyfall.  Also well-written are the classic Bond supporting roles: Ben Whishaw’s Q gets more, key screen time than any prior Q, Naomie Harris’s Moneypenny gets more backstory, and Ralph Fiennes’ M gets to take on his own parallel fight against villainy.

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