The news keeps spilling out like an open wound of dreadful information, people are stuck at home in quarantine, and horror fans are talking about Captain Trips, aka the superflu, aka the man-made virus in Stephen King’s novel The Stand. This coronavirus thus far is nowhere near as deadly as the superflu. But we can see some parallels between real life and fiction: a collective state of anxiety and helplessness, the governments’ responses (or lack thereof), quickly filling hospitals, no known treatments, the dread of the cough. The Stand is basically the worst-case scenario of our current state of affairs mixed with supernatural elements, including one of King’s most notable villains: The Dark Man.
This 1994 miniseries, directed by Mick Garris and written by King himself, is a classic. Some fans love it, some hate it; that is bound to happen with any book-to-screen adaptation. I have a love/hate relationship with the show. There are moments where I find it frightening and thrilling, emotional and, at times, comical. Other times it is completely frustrating and cringeworthy.
The Stand miniseries is six hours long and still, understandably, can’t include everything in the 1152 page uncut book. All that said, I’m not going to compare the show to the book because, despite their relationship, they are two different entities. Rather I will review the show on its own, occasionally pointing out some iotas relating to the novel.
Okay. Enough of my ramblings. Let’s get started.
Everything is fine until it isn’t. On a California military base protected by a razor wire fence and officer Charles Campion (Rick McKinnon) in a security booth, a biological virus has breached. Everyone inside the base is dead. Campion, the only survivor, panics and drives as far away as possible, taking his wife Sally (Hope Marie Carlton), their daughter, and the virus with him.
As Campion travels, the virus spreads rapidly. People die left and right. But the government refuses to acknowledge their fault in the matter, downplaying how serious the disease actually is. Citizens riot, desperate for some kind of response. Only when the government starts losing their own members do they recognize the gravity of the situation.
Campion makes it all the way to Arnette, Texas, where he utters his last breath to Stu Redman (Gary Sinse). For weeks, the military holds Stu and others who came in contact with Campion in quarantine. Only Stu survives.
The hospital puts him under many tests until the entire staff acquires the disease and dies. Stu escapes quarantine and runs outside to a new world. As he lays on the grass, trying to take everything in, he has a vision of Abagail Freeman (Ruby Dee), a 108-year-old prophet best known as “Mother Abagail.” Abagail asks him to come see her, to come home. There’s not much time left.
The Rest of the Crew (So Far)
Larry Underwood (Adam Storke), the vain, egotistical rock star who only sees his mother when he needs money. Living in California, he travels to New York and meets Rat Man (Rick Aviles), whose significance has not yet come to light.
Another of our few female protagonists is Frannie Goldsmith (Molly Ringwald). She is compassionate and strong-willed, living with her father and dealing with the pesky admirations of Harold Lauder (Corin Nemec).
Nick Andros (Rob Lowe), a sweet young man who is deaf, non-speaking, and the constant victim of Ray Booth (Patrick Kilpatrick). Nick is the first to meet Abagail.
Lloyd Henreid (Miguel Ferrer) has a career dedicated to committing crimes. While the cops arrest him for murder, he sees a mysterious man perched on a telephone wire. But that man turns out to be a crow.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar plays the Monster Shouter, a minor character who foreshadows the apocalypse and Larry’s fate.
And, finally, out of the shadows in the middle of the night emerges none other than Randall Flagg, The Dark Man (Jamey Sheridan).
“Folks, I’ve just been ordered by my uninvited fascist guests to shut down.”
I adore (adore!) Rae Flowers (Kathy Bates). Her short scene guts me every time. Though the show does not credit Bates, she puts on one hell of a performance as a sardonic radio host who takes no prisoners. We don’t get to see much of her, but she is so well written that it feels like we’ve known her forever.
The Stand starts out with a bang. After Campion drives away, the camera leads us into his booth where we dive into the security footage and land in the military building. Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” plays as we float over the myriad of dead bodies piled on top of one another. One man kneels against a door, fingers inches away from the handle while a woman sits straight in her chair, neck cricked to the side, eyes white and dead. A game show is on the TV in one break room, the jovial contestants unaware of their future demises. Lunch trays are splattered across the floor, blood drips down the victims’ mouths. Lights in another break room sputter on and off. There isn’t a single place absent of death.
This scene is the perfect introduction to the series: the arrangement of the bodies, the number of deaths, the music. We are seeing the multitude of this man-made virus and the undoubtable aftermath to come:
The world is astronomically fucked.
As with the book, the cast in the miniseries is predominately white and male. One could argue they were recreating what King wrote, but that’s not a good excuse considering creative license exists. And this story is about the apocalypse. You’re telling me all the survivors are mainly white people? No. Just no.
I also want to mention Abagail Freemantle. She is one of the most important characters in the story, perhaps one of King’s most notable ever. And Ruby Dee is amazing in this role. But Mother Abagail as a character is stereotypical towards Black women. (This trait is very common for several Black characters in King’s early works, including The Shining and The Green Mile.) As much as I love The Stand, this stereotype is an issue that is impossible to ignore.
Then there are moments when things get very cheesy. Adam Storke’s acting sometimes leaves something to be desired (e.g. Larry’s reaction when The Monster Shouter tells him “he’s coming for you” looks like Storke just woke up from a nap and forgot he was in a television show). There are some small continuity errors you might catch if you watch very carefully, including the occasional camera in the window.
Oh, and there’s this:
I have some issues with the show, but I still fairly enjoy watching The Stand. There’s something a little bit comforting about the fact that we haven’t gotten as bad as King’s world. It is cheesy, yet also disturbing, action-packed, and exciting. You can watch this episode on YouTube; keep in mind a lot of the music is muted because of copyright (the death montage is completely silent because of “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”).
“The Plague” get’s 3 out of 5 Cthulhu. (3 / 5)
Until episode two, check out what else we’re watching here at Haunted MTL.
First image after cover photo from the graphic novel. All other photos from YouTube.
Movies n TV
Consecration, a Film Review
Consecration is a 2023 horror mystery movie directed by Christopher Smith, who also co-wrote the script with Laurie Cook.
Consecration is a 2023 horror mystery movie directed by Christopher Smith, who also co-wrote the script with Laurie Cook. This R-Rated film includes Jena Malone, Danny Huston, and Janet Suzman as its starring cast. The film is currently available on AMC+ and Shudder.
After her brother dies, Grace (Jena Malone) goes to Scotland to investigate the circumstances. At every step of the way, Mount Saviour Convent seems to interfere with her investigation. Father Romero (Danny Huston) seems eager to help her, even if Mother Superior (Janet Suzman) resists her, but a strange fear seems to direct their actions. Worse yet, Grace endures visions of the past, present, and future.
What I Liked
A surprise performance steals the movie for me, that being Eilidh Fisher’s Meg. This nun-in-training remains consistently inconsistent, forever making me unsure of what to expect. With uncertainty and mystery at the heart of the film, Meg expresses that instability by keeping Grace and the viewer on edge.
Mother Superior and Father Romero have perfect friction with each other. Both manage the supernatural situation in their own way, acting as enemies and supporters toward Grace as needed. This friction also adds to the uncertainty that surrounds Grace’s investigation.
The mystery itself surprises me, though there is barely enough to add the context one needs for this mystery. However, it still earns credit for creativity and deception. Most twists and reveals become apparent and often underwhelm me, but Consecration deserves credit for catching me off guard.
Consecration showcases some alluring visuals, CGI not included. The setting and designs really add to the movies. At times, these visuals purposely contrast their environment as the narrative requires. Usually, it complements the central vision. The film gives off a pleasant aesthetic throughout its runtime–barring the CGI.
As a horror, Consecration has haunting moments. The mystery remains the central selling point. However, it leaves the viewer in constant uncertainty that helps the horror thrive.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Self-harm and suicide reoccur throughout the film, across several scenes and characters. Aside from ensuring the audience remains uncertain of events, there are no larger discussions or much focus on the issue.
Child abuse defines the backstory of certain characters. Unlike the point mentioned above, this earns more of a narrative focus. However, it’s still not exactly the point of the mystery. Don’t expect the film to explore this with sensitivity or depth. If these seem like dealbreakers, Consecration might be a skip.
What I Dislike
I briefly touched on a CGI problem, which hinders the otherwise interesting and alluring practical visuals. There are no ways to understate how distractingly bad one scene’s CGI is and how it upsets that quality. This scene, no spoilers, happens to be the most open use of CGI. There are other CGI moments, but none distract or hinder like that first scene.
The monster reveal underwhelms in a specific way. The twist perfectly aligns and sets up the foundation for this reveal to make the monster work. However, several reshoots add context to prior scenes to show this “demon” in action, and it somewhat upsets the effectiveness of those scenes.
Thoren Ferguson’s DCI Harris shows up sporadically throughout the film. He acts as the force of law, often hostile but completely underutilized. I suspect DCI Harris had a larger role, but somehow this plot was reduced. I assume this because he plays an important scene at the end that doesn’t seem earned. This isn’t to undermine Ferguson’s performance, as he does everything he can with what he’s given.
Consecration hooked me in and kept me engaged throughout its runtime. While the horror is middling, it has merit. The mystery remains the strength of the film, though it’s somewhat underdeveloped. If your mystery films tend to keep you in suspense through shifty characters and secret religious orders are your thing, Consecration might evoke your interest.
(3 / 5)
Movies n TV
You Reap What You Woe
Episode five of Tim Burton’s Wednesday was very busy. A lot is going on here, and most of it is quite fun. So let’s not waste any time getting into it.
First, we must discuss the fate of poor Eugene. If you’ll recall, the last episode ended with Wednesday finding him in the woods, covered in blood.
Despite Principal Weem’s insistence that he’s resting up and healing, he’s actually in a coma in the local ICU. But maybe she has reason to gloss over that unfortunate fact. It’s parents’ weekend, after all. Probably not the best time to admit that a student was grievously injured.
While there are certainly some Nevermore students who are happy to see their parents, none of our main characters are among them. We know that Wednesday isn’t thrilled to see her family, as she’s still resentful that they left her there.
Still, she’s not exactly pleased when Gomez is arrested for the murder of a man named Garrett. This devastates the family and forces Morticia to reveal a secret she’s been keeping from Wednesday.
Morticia also finally gets a chance to talk about Wednesday’s visions with her. She tells her that Goody Addams, who’s made psychic contact with Wednesday several times, is there to teach her about her visions. But Goody Addams is also super vengeful, and not to be trusted. I wonder why.
While much of the episode is about freeing Gomez from jail, the subplots are no less interesting.
Let’s start with Enid. As we know from the first episode, she has yet to grow into her full werewolf potential. If she can’t do this, she’ll be shunned by her kind and likely abandoned by her family pack. Her mother wants to help her, by sending her to a summer camp meant to help werewolves wolf out. Enid refers to these as conversion therapy camps. Which is clearly a problem.
The story that shook me was Bianca. She’s outright afraid when her mother shows up. And the reason is soon made clear.
Her mother is part of a cult called the Morning Song. Bianca’s mother is married to the leader. She’s been using her siren song to trap people in the cult. But her powers are fading. She wants Bianca to come take her place. If she doesn’t, she’ll reveal a terrible secret of how Bianca got into Nevermore Academy in the first place.
I honestly don’t have a lot of bad things to say about this episode. Except that wolf out is a ridiculous term and I cannot take anyone who uses it seriously at all. The characters were fun, the storyline was interesting, and it was satisfying to start getting answers. It helped that this episode included some real-world bad guys, like conversion therapy and cults. If every other episode of this season had been as good as this one, the show would be top marks from me all around.
This episode was a dramatic example of exactly how parents can fail at their job of raising their kids. And, thankfully, how they can succeed. We see Enid’s mom refusing to let her grow at her own pace. We see Sheriff Galpin ignore a clear cry for help from his son Tyler. We see Bianca’s mother, involved in a cult, using her child for her siren powers. And of course, we don’t see Xavier’s parents at all.
But we also see Morticia being a good mom to a difficult kid who’s rebelling against her. We see Enid’s father supporting her, exactly as she is. We see Eugene’s moms by his side at the hospital. At the bedside of their son, they are still able to give comfort to Wednesday. That is some strength right there.
Overall, this was a fun episode. We got some answers and were introduced to even more questions. I had fun watching it, and I’m looking forward to the next episode.
(4 / 5)
Movies n TV
Solace, a Film Review
Solace (2015) is a mystery thriller directed by Afonso Poyart. This R-rated film stars Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Morgan and Abbie Cornish.
Solace (2015) is a mystery thriller directed by Afonso Poyart. This R-rated film includes Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Abbie Cornish, and Colin Farrell. As of this review, it is currently available to Netflix and Hulu subscribers.
As a string of murders leave FBI agents Joe Merriwether (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Katherine Cowles (Abbie Cornish) perplexed, Joe turns to an old FBI contact and friend, Dr. John Clancy. Dr. Clancy possesses psychic abilities that make him an essential asset, but tragedies in his personal life leave him distant and broken. Fearing a person with similar gifts as himself, Dr. Clancy cannot help but lend his assistance.
What I Like
This cast is great, with notable legends living up to their reputation. While by no means career-highlighting performances, they work well together and provide a weight that pushes past lackluster character roles.
As the main character, Anthony Hopkins’s Dr. Clancy stands out above the rest. Given the most screen time and plot relevance, this opinion comes easily. His role has the most opportunity to make us care for his character.
Solace creates fun and engaging scenes that tie directly to the characters’ psychic abilities, adding tension in unique ways. While other movies with psychics utilize similar strategies to convey this power–the movie Next comes to mind–the scenes add variety to otherwise lackluster cinematography. This decision also adds a somewhat strategic nature to the psychic battles.
Originally intended to be a sequel to Seven, this idea, thankfully, does not follow through to the final product. The story behind that is the typical Hollywood shuffle and brand recognition. I can’t exactly figure out a place to put this interesting fact, but the choice remains a benefit to the film.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Slight spoilers ahead! Read this section with that in mind.
A closeted man contracts AIDS and infects his wife. As this goes into rather old homophobia and fears, I felt it needed mentioning. Considering the film’s release date, 2016 (US), the plot point feels uninspired.
Some gratuitous sex scenes tie into the above reveal. The dramatic reveal and voyeuristic nudity (of the wife) make for an odd viewing experience. When the reveal isn’t shocking, it doesn’t exactly add much weight to the elongated scenes.
What I Dislike
There are no tactful ways to go about the low effort of the film. It’s surreal to see the names attached, the concepts addressed, and how it all fumbles. I imagine this discrepancy has something to do with the original sequel idea, but that remains speculation. Ultimately, the film feels awkwardly low budget for the cast it possesses.
Adding to this weakness are the underdeveloped characters and rushed plotlines. The film feels unfocused in direction, revealing things as they become relevant with fluctuating degrees of foreshadowing. Some of these revelations work, with some speculation, but adding them all together makes Solace weaker as a film.
This film isn’t scary, despite the premise being extremely promising. The idea of a potentially psychic killer does evoke a lot of possibilities, added with the exceptional cast, and it seems destined for success. Yet, the horror is middling at best.
Solace wants to be more and achieves some success in certain areas, but its inability to build and support these ideas hinders the overall quality. Perhaps Solace desires to upstage the twists of the typical mystery thriller that makes the film grasp too many new and interesting ideas. Regardless of the reason, the film suffers, and the viewing experience becomes underwhelming.
For a thriller killer, Solace doesn’t hold much water to competition. While the cast performs their roles perfectly and works well with each other, the notable weaknesses in writing and lackluster visuals don’t do the acting justice. A surprisingly exciting cast becomes a disappointing letdown. (2 / 5)