SF Obscure: Requiem

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Requiem is a supernatural drama Netflix original released in 2018. It’s a six part serial, one season. I don’t know if there will be more seasons, although the ending is ambiguous. It stars Lydia Wilson as Matilda Gray and Joel Fry as Harlan Fry. It took me an episode or two to place him, but Joel Fry is one of the Mereen from GoT. It does contain some language and sex. And some really creepy scenes.

Summary: It starts off with a scene in an estate house in a country town where a man commits suicide. Then it cuts to Matilda Gray a soon to be famous cellist. She’s preparing for a major concert with her pianist and friend Harlan Fry. Her mother is scheduled to see it. Her mother is haunted by frightening images which she doesn’t tell Matilda about. Later, after meeting with Matilda, her mother walks out of the concert hall as if in a trance. Matilda follows her and witnesses her committing suicide. 

After her mother’s death, she discovers her mother’s obsession with young girl who went missing in the village of Penllynith, Carys Howell.  Believing there is a connection to her mother’s suicide and Carys disappearance, Matilda decides to visit the village. Hal reluctantly follows her…even though he thinks her grief is making her act in strange ways. They cause a scene and turn the village against them when Matilda confronts Rose, the mother of the missing girl. As the story goes on, we find out that Matilda may have some connection to the family of the missing girl. We also discover that other people have concerns about some disturbing experiences in the town. There is a colorful cast of characters: a psychiatric patient who has visions; an antiques dealer who informs them of occult connections to the town; an heir to the estate that hides secrets. Each episodes reveals some new secret, slowly building up to a climax.

It is an engaging story.  I watched all the episodes eager to find out what the real back story was to each character and that keeps it going. That’s also part of the problem as per the horror aspect-it gets a bit bogged down in everyone’s personal drama that you almost lose the thread of the story. The story, by the way, the occult paranormal visions and what they really mean. The lead actress does a decent job, but her character tends to have emotional extremes. She CRIES. She SCREAMS. It’s a bit over the top. Hal’s character spends a lot of time moping over her. Despite this, it doesn’t drag the show down. Most of the supporting cast is great-the woman who plays Matilda’s mother was really convincing (she’s in flashbacks too); Rose the mother of the missing girl gives a strong performance; and the psychiatric patient steals the scenes (often from Matilda).  When the final episodes get back on track to the paranormal aspect, it’s really good. 

On the whole, it’s worth putting on your Netflix cue and checking out.

Classics: The Stone Tape

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I previously discussed Nigel Kneale’s Beasts. I watched The Stone Tape a few years ago-never wrote about it-but decided to watch it again mainly because I read on Mike Glyer’s File 770, a new audio version of Nigel Kneale’s lost play The Road is currently available online. 

The Stone Tape was a television play broadcast by the BBC in 1972.

The Stone Tape begins with a man named Peter who is head of a research team for an electronics company. Like many of the characters in Beasts, the protagonist is not a pleasant person. Peter Brock, though likely very skilled at his job, is arrogant, self-absorbed, sexist, and condescending. Whereas some of the sexism and the bigoted comments may be a representation of the realities of the the business world (and TV) at the time, you are clearly meant not to like Peter Brock as a person which only amps up the unease surrounding the main plot.

Peter and his research team set up shop in an old abandoned Victorian mansion which as been refurbished for their use. His team is working on creating a new recording device.  It’s all men except for Jill Greeley (played very well by Jane Asher) a computer programmer whom Peter seems to have more than a working interest in. (Whether there is actually an affair or just Peter’s sexism isn’t quite clear). In any event, Jill feels uneasy the moment she drives up to the mansion having strange blurry visions. As the story transpires, Jill hears the sound of a woman screaming and sees the ghostly vision of a women falling to her death in one of the rooms. 

At first, Jill is dismissed as being ‘oversensitive’. As the story progresses, it turns out that Jill is not the only one to be affected. Only Jill sees the full spectral images, but others hear the screams or pick up on the unease. A few, experience nothing at all. Peter decides to use the team’s research equipment to record the ghost. It’s not entirely altruistic-Peter is convinced that the stone walls act as a recording device of past events and wants to use it for possible research into a breakthrough recording device.

The playback of the recording is just static; although a few researchers swore they heard the screaming and Jill saw the  ghost. Another scientist tries to convince Jill to forget about it. He heard the screams too, but he worries that Jill will destroy herself and her career if see keeps pursuing the issue.  Jill investigates on her own and discovers that a priest was called in to perform an exorcism at the spot before the mansion was even built.  There is a malevolent power affecting the mansion and the grounds.

Jill comes to believe that the screaming woman was only the most recent victim of a deep rooted evil; and therefore her death was ‘recorded’ in the walls of the house. Peter Brock is dismissive of Jill’s claims and tells her she has to leave the work group. Jill returns to the haunted room; and is attacked by the dark force; and dies. 

Peter Brock tries to explain away Jill’s death as an accident; and paint her as mentally unstable. Her research is destroyed. In the final scene, Peter returns to the room-and hears Jill screaming his name as she dies.

I thought The Stone Tape was worth the watch. It’s a little dated so it may not be as terrifying as it would have been to its contemporary audience, but it’s still haunting. The characters are fully developed and well-acted.  With minimal special effects-and a truly disturbing scream-it manages to be unsettling. If you like classic horror or SF, this is a good one to add to the watchlist.

And check out The Road while it’s still online.

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October 1768 – a scientist and a philosopher clash whilst investigating a ghostly outbreak in the woods. Nigel Kneale’s legendary lost 1963 TV play, adapted by Toby Hadoke

 

SF Obscure: Ace of Wands

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Ace of Wands is an ITV fantasy show broadcast in 1971 to 1972. It’s technically a children’s/ family show, but it’s fairly sophisticated and one that held my interest. Ace of Wands ran for three series, however, only the third series remains. At the time, ITV wiped old series due to the high cost of production materials and storage.

Ace of Wands focuses on a stage magician named Tarot who also has psychic powers and works to develop his paranormal skills. In series three he is assisted by a sibling team Chas, a photographer, and Mikki a journalist. Mikki is interested in studying the paranormal and she is more readily able to accept the various paranormal happenings. She also appears to have rather strong potential abilities herself. Chas is the resident skeptic. I felt like his character was a bit extraneous  (perhaps a third wheel in the Tarot/Mikki dynamic) but I didn’t dislike him.  There is also an owl named Oxymandius. The Tarot character made me think of the show Jonathan Creek and I wondered if those writers were influenced by it.

There are six stories in season three, running about three or four half hour episodes each. The two that stood out for me were Peacock Pie and The Beautiful People. Peacock Pie features a man with very strong powers of suggestion: making people dream certain images, imagine blank paper is really banknotes, and getting people trapped in their own illusions. Mr. Peacock is a fascinating villain because he’s complex; you actually empathize with him in feeling trapped in a world that can’t really understand his power. What makes this show effective, despite few props and limited effects budget, is the acting-creating full bodied characters that move the story along. It’s almost like a stage play in its sparseness but effective.

The Beautiful People is another one that I like; mainly because it’s so odd with an unexpected ending. Tarot and company encounter a group of siblings who run invite -only street fairs for elderly people and people in need. It’s not nearly as altruistic as it appears. The siblings are pleasant on the surface with an ominous tone that underscores everything they do. This episode was written by PJ Hammond who later wrote for Sapphire and Steel so it has that sort of style.

I have to admit, I also like the Ace of Wands  theme song. It’s got that catchy hippies early seventies vibe and sticks in your head. The show ended abruptly to be  replaced by the original UK version of The Tomorrow People.  (which I covered in an earlier post) I liked this show better than The Tomorrow People.  It’s a bit dated, but I had a good time watching.

SF Obscure: Cosmic Slop

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Cosmic Slop was a 1994 TV anthology series on HBO featuring three short black science fiction movies. (I have also seen the broadcast date listed as 1995.) It features three short “Space Traders” based on the Derrick Bell short story; “The First Commandment” and “Tang”. It’s kind of a Twilight Zone vibe with George Clinton of Parliament Funkadelic during the intros. (It’s as bizarre in the way only George Clinton can be.)

Space Traders is probably the most well known mainly for its political satire, star studded cast, and is the strongest to of the three. Robert Guillame plays Golightly, a black conservative cabinet member, who is asked to join the President’s discussion of a trade agreement. Aliens have come to Earth and offered gold, technological advances, etc to the US if it will turn over all of its black people to the aliens. A national referendum is held to decide the fate of the US black population. There is a resistance movement let by civil rights pioneers as well as another attempt by corporations to use advertising to swing the vote. It is a deep, thought-provoking discussion confronting the political realities of black life in the US. At times its distressing to watch; at other times its almost over the top satire. If there is one criticism, I think its that some actors seem to go with a dramatic interpretation of their roles and others go for broad parody which makes it a bit uneven. Robert Guillame keeps it all together because he’s a fantastic actor. It’s definitely worth watching.

The First Commandment focuses on a catholic priest  and a statue of the Virgin Mary that comes to life. This is a commentary on the cultural conflict within the church-being European in origin; yet largely third world in its parishioners and its traditions that incorporate tradition African beliefs. (Vodun). It’s interesting especially if you know something about religious rites, transatlantic slave trade and religion; otherwise it may not have as strong of an impact.

Tang, based on a story by Chester Himes, involves a couple in an abusive relationship and a mysterious package left at their door. It touches on the complex issues of racism and misogyny. It’s hard to watch, although the actors are brilliant. Chi McBride playing an unpleasant character was a shocker-I don’t usually see him in these type of roles.

*Thanks to author PJ Dean for telling me about Cosmic Slop. She write futuristic/SFR as well as multicultural historical romances. Check out her work.

(https://pjdeanwriter.weebly.com)

**It’s taken a while to post. I have been watching the new Lost in Space. Will take some time to see how I feel about it. They’ve cast a Captain Pike for the next season of Star Trek Discovery. Infinity War left me emotionally spent. I will go see the Solo movie. I might regret it, but I will go. Because.

***Nothing to do with SF but I love the Peaky Blinders.

SF/PARANORMAL Obscure: BITTEN

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BITTEN ran for three seasons 2014-2016 and is fairly new. It is based on the OTHERWORLD series by Kelley Armstrong. The series uses a variety of narrators, and this one is based on Elena, the female werewolf. (The witches plot line picks up in Season Two). I am a fan of the series and Armstrong’s writing in general. I was not able to watch the series in its initial run, but now had a chance to watch it on Netflix. Like many book to TV adaptions there are some differences, but on the whole, I felt like BITTEN captured the spirit of the series and didn’t stray to far from the basics of Elena’s character.

In brief: BITTEN follows the story of Elena Michaels, the only female werewolf known to have survived the change. There are born werewolves and turned werewolves and the survival rate is low. Elena lives a ‘regular’ life after leaving her werewolf family/clan in Stonehaven. A series of murders in the local town means the pack alpha, Jeremy, asks Elena to return as she is the best tracker. It also means she returns to Clay, Jeremy’s son and Elena’s former lover. Like most urban fantasy there is a heavy dose of relationship talk, sexual tension, as well as mystery. We get familiar with some of the other werewolves in the pack as well as rogue werewolves and the politics of the hidden world. And, of course, Elena’s two worlds begin to collide.

I enjoyed BITTEN. It started out a bit slow, but I think the pacing evened out as the series progressed. It does have a lot of the standard love/sex plot lines of most urban fantasy and no real surprises on that end (the hottest people always get to be the couple; 99% of the woman in town are young super model looking) but it’s not overboard. I think what makes it stand out from many of the urban fantasy TV shows-it did an effective job on the dark paranormal elements. The bad guys are truly disturbing. I say this because often in urban fantasy, it seems as it the bad guys are less frightening and more  just complicated and brooding. BITTEN, though, has truly violent and dangerous criminals; as well as the conflict within the ‘good guy’ wolves. In the end, all werewolves are killers to some degree and this show doesn’t shy away from their inherently violent world.

I think it’s worth a watch. I found it to be better than expected. I can get defensive when a book I like has a TV or movie adaptation falls flat- this one didn’t for me. It has some episodes that don’t quite grab you-but the characters are well defined and grow deeper. I liked the actor’s portrayal of Jeremy, the Alpha. In many ways he dominates the show. But hey, he is pack Alpha.