Last Update 3/30/17


Life (2017)

Although this was an entertaining thriller, it will not be going on my favorites list. Some minor spoilers here. The plot holes are relatively small, but there are enough of them that I got restless more than once. The story is about a form of life discovered in a soil sample from Mars. Although it is supposedly confined to a laboratory on a space station, it escapes and thereupon hangs the subsequent story. The creature is somewhat interesting and a few scenes are very effective. Others, not so much. But we are told that that capsule bringing the sample is off course because of a very unlikely encounter with space debris, but not so much that a minor alteration of the station's orbit puts it within reach of a grapple. The station, incidentally, seems to have very little fuel considering that it is used to change orbits and keep from falling to Earth. The containment system is a joke. When the emergency klaxons go off, the crew has to close each exit route manually and in sequence, which provides plenty of time for the critter to get away through one of them. Nor is the door locked - one of the crew members opens it to attempt a rescue. The containment allows the creature to be touched only through rubber gloves, but there are sharps inside that area, which easily puncture the plastic. It is frequently unclear what is going on. At one point the creature somehow gets inside an area we were told is hermetically sealed. When the external communications system fries because the Martian ate the cooling fluid, there is no overheating alarm and the station has no backup communication system. The escape capsules have a very bizarre control system that I can't describe without a major spoiler, but it would only be designed that way to support the plot. Only one person aboard the station knows the emergency protocol, which is ridiculous. What would happen if this person was incapacitated? There appears to be no monitoring of the research from Earth, even during the several days when nothing is going wrong. So I was caught up in the thrills of the moment, though occasionally confused, and sometimes troubled by questions to which no answers were provided. 3/31/17

Hellraiser Bloodline (1006)

Fourth in the Hellraiser series. With this one, the series descended into stupid incoherence. It attempts to present the origin of the puzzle box, ignoring everything from the first three movies, and uses a cast of unknown and largely untalented actors to show how the family from the past through the future has dealt with the fact that one of their ancestors inadvertently opened the doorway to Hell. Except that he didn't. It was clearly someone else who did it. And the demon released in the past isn't remotely similar to the ones from the other movies. This was pretty much garbage from beginning to end. 3/30/17

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)

Despite some plot problems, this wasn't a terrible entry in the series. A night club owner buys a statue that contains the spirit of Pinhead, which has now become independent of the human who was the basis for his creation. A television reporter wants to know why an emergency room victim virtually exploded - but neither she nor we actually ever find out. Pinhead is playing by different rules now. He can kill the innocent, even if they haven't touched the puzzle box, and he can manifest himself in the real world with powers that make him invulnerable. He also has company - other humans transformed into demons. This leads to an apocalyptic battle in which the reporter uses the puzzle box to send him back to Hell, but there is a cheat at the end that breaks the rules again. 3/29/17

Shadows of the Dead  (2016)

High school kids throw a secret party in a remote cabin. What could possibly go wrong? The high school kids, naturally, are all in their mid-twenties. They wake up a gooey CGI monster that we've earlier seen burst out of the body of an elderly man. It takes possession of one of them and attacks a second. The body goes to the morgue where it switches to another body. More carnage follows. Not a particularly original story and most of the production values are just okay, but the acting was competent enough to keep me watching and there were actually some creepy parts for a change, rather than just jump out at you scares. At times, however, things don't make sense. Why is the protagonist hallucinating? Why does the creature mark and target the faux teenagers when there are lots of easier targets? At one point it's in two bodies simultaneously, even though it isn't supposed to be able to do that. And it's supposed to be killed by light, but sometimes light doesn't affect it.  A story without rules is almost always going to fail. Could have been a lot better with a little effort but apparently they were content to be mediocre. 3/20/17

Bad Kids Go to Hell (2012)

I recently watched the remake/sequel to this so I thought I should take a look at the original. A group of snobbish, overly privileged students are given detention, and someone starts killing them with contrived accidents. The cast looks about ten years too old, which was not true of the remake, but they play very similar characters. The tone is somewhat less serious, which is an accomplishment in itself. Locking the students into the library would be a major violation of the fire code, but obviously that would hinder the plot. None of the characters are remotely realistic, the dialogue is dull, and it was painful to watch parts of this one. Unlike the remake, this one involves the supernatural. The CGI roach attack is not very convincing. Seriously lacking in suspense as well. 3/18/17

Sparrow (2010) 

A succession of completely uninteresting people get killed in the woods by a mysterious stalker. This was lacking in originality, obviously, but also in virtually every other area, soundtrack, photography, acting, dialogue, story line, special effects, etc. I watched the first half on momentum and read a book during the second half, with few reasons to look back at the screen. Why do they bother? 3/16/17

Bad Kids of Crestview Academy (2017) 

Although a bit over the top, this was surprisingly good. The sister of a victim of a high school massacre believes that the student imprisoned for the crime was not the real killer, so she gets herself sent to detention to get a better view of her rich suspects. It’s a spoof, although not exactly since there are some very serious parts.  The ending is a bit confused. The cast is quite good, however, and while I didn’t think there was much mystery about what was going on, it was still fun. 3/15/17

Backwater (2013) 

A couple on a camping trip suspect that they are being stalked. The first half hour of this movie is mostly about that and without any actual evidence that they’re right. The performances are less than overwhelming and I was very close to stopping the movie at this point. Although not a found footage film, it feels very much like one. The story picks up a bit after a while, but the acting is so stiff that I just couldn’t get involved in the story. The sound is also oddly off kilter. There might have been a good idea somewhere here, but it was buried in mediocrity.  3/14/17

Doomwatch (1972) 

A scientist investigating pollution on a remote island discovers that all of the inhabitants are plotting against him to protect a secret. The pollution is causing malformations among the populace and causing people to become violent. The premise is rather implausible. Why wouldn’t someone ask for help from the mainland? He eventually figures out what’s going on, of course. Illegal dumping of an artificial growth hormone is the cause. Not bad at all. 3/13/17

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

King Kong is back, sort of, in this set up for his upcoming battle with Godzilla. Despite the good cast, this really isn't about the actors - it's about the giant ape, who is now a hundred feet tall, a guardian against the evil monsters that dwell inside a hollow Earth. An expedition to the island where he lives is accompanied by a military group led by a demented officer - Samuel L. Jackson. The island is full of monsters, of course, as well as a mysterious native tribe. There are a few minor problems with the plot. How does a human being get carried off by a pterodactyl less than half his size? But thiings happen so fast that you're probably not going to notice most of them. This is designed to set up a future confrontation between Kong and Godzilla, of course. Nice scenery, generally good special effects, competent acting. Fun if not really a great film. 3/12/17

The Sacred (2009) 

This one is somewhat clichéd – what horror movie isn’t? – but it has an effective opening sequence and reasonably good acting, although the three students exploring a Native American burial ground are typically annoying. The locals tell them the area is dangerous and cursed, but of course they ignore it all. The land allows the dead to return to life and avenge themselves on the living, but it’s not a stereotyped zombie film either. Nevertheless, despite the claims, these people are clearly not archaeologists and know nothing about the subject. That said, there are some very effectively creepy scenes and the plot was tight enough to hold my interest. Big plot hole though – if a thorough investigation was conducted into murders committed at the site years earlier – why was so much physical evidence left behind?  Still pretty good, but it could have used some thought. And what are the odds that three of the five people would have committed murder in their past? 3/11/17

Midnight Lace (1960) 

Doris Day and Rex Harrison star in this minor classic. They are married and have recently moved to London, where she starts receiving frightening telephone calls and other threats. Her husband seems unperturbed and may believe that she is hallucinating the calls. Eventually she begins to wonder not just about her own perceptions, but about the motives of everyone around her. Myrna Loy and Roddy McDowall are among the cast. There are a couple of plot holes. How could anyone have known that she would walk home through the fog rather than take a taxi in enough time to set things up to intercept her. There are hints early on that Harrison may be involved in something shady, which immediately made me suspect this was a variation of Gaslight. It is, but not as well done, though still fun. 3/10/17

Freshwater (2016)

One of my favorite movies is Lake Placid (not the horrible sequels), so I'm always on the lookout for another good movie about alligators in a lake. This was nowhere near as good, but the acting was mostly competent at least, and that's a positive sign in the current crop of bad horror movies. There is also some excellent scenery and the photographic work is well done. Zoe Bell is a park ranger of some sort who doesn't believe the reporters of a giant alligator, although smaller ones are quite common in the area. The CGI gator isn't great but it's not actively dreadful either. The inevitable group of rich yuppies comes to the area to vacation at a lake house, and they find themselves on the menu. The scene where the sheriff pulls a boy out from in front of a truck is truly embarrassing, however. The dialogue varies a lot as well - some natural, some really awkward. There are plot holes later on. After the first open attack on the island - where cell phones don't work - the satellite phone suddenly breaks down and the electricity fails. I don't suppose an alligator managed that. Their boat accidentally gets cut loose and the backup is broken. Rather than wait for help, one of the yuppies tries to swim to the boat, with obvious consequences. There's a twist. Even though we have seen an alligator attack one of the victims, evidence suggests that someone is mimicking the alligator's attacks to commit a series of murders. And what state is it where a reasonably sized town cannot be reached by the state police in less than several hours when someone makes an emergency call. And for that matter, who puts the fuse box on the outside of their cabin? And how does the sheriff dismember multiple bodies without getting any blood on him?  Falls apart in the closing minutes. The sheriff raised the alligator as a pet? Really? Continuity stinks as well. Wounds and other marks disappear from one scene to the next. 3/9/17

Pretty Dead (2013) 

Subpar film about a woman who gives in to cannibalistic urges and discovers that because of a parasitic infection, she is slowly turning into a George Romero style zombie. I cannot adequately convey how dreadful this is, not only because of the predictable bad acting, bad special effects, and bad script, but also because it is mind numbingly boring. Some of the scenes are so silly that I thought they must be trying for comedy, but apparently that’s not the case. This one feels like it was written by two ten year olds who somehow coerced grown ups to act it out. I doubt they got many grownups to watch it all the way through. I quit after 45 minutes. 3/6/17

The Lights (2009)

This very bad horror movie starts off even worse than most movies of its type, with a woman telling her husband she's been having an affair and is leaving him, while they both pretend to be acting. Years later, the mandatory group of yuppies are stalked by a mysterious killer. For one thing, the movie is really boring. Nothing much happens in the first half, and no one was watching this for the acting and character development, which are practically nonexistent. They could at least have made an effort to get the details right. For example, why don't the cheerleaders wear the same colors as the players? Isn't that normal? The camera work is bad - all the faces are blurry much of the time. The teenagers - who look about ten years too old - can't even get stereotypes right. The budget was too tight for extras, so we actually only see a couple of cheerleaders and a couple of players. It's not even clear exactly what's going on. Apparently one couple are going steady and the other have just met, but they all drive off together. Dumb from beginning to end. 3/5/17

The Lake on Clinton Road (2015)

I knew this was going to be crap when it said that even though there are supernatural events, this movie is based on a "true story." That's a baldfaced lie, obviously. A group of typically obnoxious young people go to a remote lake that is rumored to be haunted. They start disappearing one by one, and none of the others appear to be particularly concerned about it. That would mean they might actually, you know, leave and get help. Bad acting, bad writing, bad camera work, awful soundtrack, inane dialogue, and zero special effects. 3/2/17

And Then There Were None (1945)

Classic version of the best selling mystery novel of all time, by Agatha Christie. Ten people are lured to a remote island by someone who wants to punish them by death for crimes they committed that the law cannot prove. Lots of sparkling dialogue, a complex plot, and a clever twist at the end. Although there are a couple of elements in the story that I found a bit of a stretch to accept, they all ultimately work together at the end. For no apparent reason, the doctor, the soldier, and the playboy have been given different names. The others are all taken from the book. Outstanding cast. Although necessarily compressed, the story is fairly loyal up until the ending. No one survives in the book, but Hollywood couldn't have that.  They do make the general senile, but it works in this context. There's been a recent remake but I can't imagine that it would be as good. 3/1/17

Bunnyman (2011)

Low budget horror movies rarely have great acting, but they are also rarely this awful. The opening sequence involves a truck driver harassing a group of young travelers, and in addition to being a cliché, it's horribly done. It is quite clear that the car is traveling so slowly as to make it look scary when it's actually not and they are making no effort to get away. The acting is horrible. The situation is implausible, and apparently not one of the six young adults owns a cell phone. The driver wears a bunny suit!!!! He also grunts a lot. This is supposed to make him scary. They eventually crash because they see him parked by the road, but it's not enough of a crash to render the car inoperable. The six prospective victims are not as awful as people as they usually are, but they are incredible stupid. After the crash, they don't just try to restart the car, don't even get out of the car to assess the damage, don't even talk about it for a long time. And the sound levels keep going up and down unpredictably. Not worth your time. 2/24/17

Yoga Hosers (2016) 

This horror comedy has about as many laughs as a funeral. Two high school sophomore girls with ambitions to be singers discover an evil presence in their town. Stupid lines and deliberately offensive situations are not synonymous with humor. They’re also into yoga, presumably to justify the title. You would think that in a full length movie at least one line would be funny, if only by accident, but they manage to pull off a complete loss. One of the stars is Johnny Depp’s daughter and she obviously has chosen the wrong career if this is representative of her acting talent. 2/19/17

Wavelength (1983)

This very minor SF movie starring Robert Carradine and Cherie Currie is one of those odd little films for which I have an enduring affection. They stumble into a secret government project which is concealing the fact that they have recovered living but comatose aliens from their crashed ship. The evil military is experimenting on them. Currie, however, is able to link with the aliens telepathically and the twosome help them escape. A rescue ship shows up to take them away. Simple minded, mediocre effects, and the ugly government story is way over used, but there are a number of touching scenes in this and I still like it. 2/18/17

Hellraiser II (1988)

Although this sequel wasn't awful, it was far less composed and sensible than the first. Christie is in an asylum because no one believes that she really saw demons. The doctor in charge of the hospital has a nefarious purpose of his own, so he ends up in Hell. The story essentially reprises the first with nothing new to differentiate it. A lot of time is wasted recapitulating the first movie, including lots of clips. Parts of the plot made no sense to me either. I have never been comfortable with the idea that innocent souls can be condemned to hell simply because hell is nasty. And since the rules are never explained, it's really impossible to follow the logic of the story. 2/16/17

Hellraiser (1987) 

This Clive Barker inspired movie became a franchise, several of which were very good, although they became repetitive after a while. The first movie is a minor horror classic. A man who solved a puzzle box that provides access to Hell itself returns to the world of the living where he menaces a woman and her grown daughter. There are some genuinely creepy scenes and a positively eerie atmosphere that includes Pinhead, the chief demon and something of an archetype himself. I think the best part of the film is that it doesn’t just reprocess existing tropes. 2/13/17

Dark Amazon (2014) 

Another crappy found footage movie that doesn’t tell you what it is in the packaging. It’s about an expedition to the Amazon, although it’s not clear that the people making the movie really knew what it was about. Bad photography is unable to conceal the bad acting. Like most found footage movies, it includes lots of irrelevant scenes to make it seem real, although it fails horribly even at that. I was bored throughout, the characters never even began to have any depth, and the acting was so stilted and artificial that it felt like I was watching a rehearsal.  This is even bad of its type, and by the time the supernatural elements began to appear I was no longer even remotely interested. 2/12/17

Moontrap Target Earth (2017)

This movie probably set a record for putting me off within less than thirty seconds of starting. The opening - which involves the discovery of a statue of a woman that for some reason suggests an ancient mysterious civilization even though it is a perfectly ordinary statue - is followed by an overly cutesy and really irritating conversation between a professor and his girlfriend. I almost ejected the disc at the two minute mark. Then there is the discovery of an ancient spaceship, which is really really badly done. Bad acting and script mate with a really profound misunderstanding of how the world works in a scene so amateurish that I was stunned. The reactions of the characters make no sense, the plot makes no sense, the aliens make no sense, the story makes no sense. The production values are so low that they are insulting. I have seen student films that were better than this. I would list this as a contender for worst film of all time except that it isn't really a film, it's a con job perpetrated against the public. 2/11/17

The Monster (2016)

A woman and her young daughter - who have a seriously dysfunctional relationship - are driving to the girl's father's house when they hit a wolf in a forest, their car is damaged, and they discover that they are not alone. They call for help, that takes a rather long time to arrive. The tow truck shows up but not the police or the ambulance?  The flashbacks showing the mother's alcoholism and other problems are well done, but they do disrupt the story at times. The presence of an oversized tooth and the disappearance of the wolf's body tell us something is up. The story picks up considerably when the tow truck driver is carried off by something we don't see. The absence of police or ambulance becomes increasingly implausible, which is a shame given that the other elements of the film go quite well. We never see the monster very clearly, but it is some kind of oversized lizard. The monster is obviously a metaphor for the demons that plague mother and daughter, and the ending is predictable. Not a classic but enjoyable. 2/9/17

Stabbed in the Face (2004)

Another amateurish slasher film. A group of repulsive, over sexed teenagers - played by actors who could almost be the parents of teenagers - spend a night in a haunted house and get variously killed, usually with lots of blood. Bad dialogue delivered woodenly by bad actors. The editing is particularly awful, with scenes that go on for too long, or don't seem to have any point, and sometimes the camera drifts off the subject. The characters are all exaggerated but they're more like labels than characters because the cast doesn't even attempt to make them different. The sound recording is odd and the lighting is awful. I only managed to get halfway through. 2/3/17

Star Trek (1966)

I finally found the original series for a reasonable price. The set opens with “Man Trap” although that wasn’t meant to be the first episode. A visit to a scientific mission becomes complicated when everyone in the landing party sees a different woman from their past. The picture quality is probably better than it was in the original program. Despite the inferior effects and indifferent acting, I found this surprisingly entertaining. Uhura makes a pass at Spock, which I didn’t remember at all. Hard to believe the captain and first officer would be part of the same landing party, but the practicalities of television made it necessary. The shapechanger gets aboard the Enterprise. “Charlie X” is about the rescue of the only survivor of an expedition to an alien world who has trouble adjusting to human companions. But Charlie has picked up some superhuman powers from aliens hidden on that world. “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was supposed to be the first episode, which was radically redone as Star Trek: The Motion Picture. An ancient beacon is found in space. I never liked this episode, in which two members of the crew are transformed by a strange phenomenon in space. The dialogue in particular is below par. I was surprised that in these first three episodes, Sulu and Scottie only make cameo appearances. Yeoman Rand is much more in evidence. The bridge crew consists of Mitchell and Kelso, although Kelso dies this episode. 

“The Naked Time” follows the same pattern. A visit to a planet about to break up infects a crew member with a self destructive urge. It spreads through the crew, even making Spock emotional, This was a pretty good episode. “The Enemy Within” opens with a transporter malfunction that creates two very different Kirks. Shatner really mugs it up as his evil twin. The good vs evil dichotomy is rather crudely done, but it’s an okay episode. It also points out the vulnerability of starships with no backup system and no landing craft. In one scene, the scratch on Kirk’s cheek switches sides! “Mudd’s Women” is another that I never really liked. A suspicious character with three women passengers who have odd effects on males get taken aboard the Enterprise. It does on too long and the plot is boring. There’s another duplicate Kirk in “What Little Girls Are Made Of,” this time an android. One of the best episodes – written by Robert Bloch. 

“Miri” takes Kirk to a duplicate of the planet Earth, but populated only by children who are all affected by a fatal disease before they reach adulthood. No one finds it strange that they speak English?  “Dagger of the Mind” involves a penal colony where something is definitely going wrong. “The Corbomite Maneuver”, despite some casual misogyny, is pretty good. There’s also some pretty bad acting in this one. A bit clumsily done but the use of bluff is interesting. Deteriorates toward the end. The two part “Menagerie” is a good one. The former captain of the Enterprise has been crippled in an accident. Spock, loyal to his former captain, commits mutiny and diverts the ship for his own purpose. The Trek universe has too many godlike aliens, however. “The Conscience of the King” opens with one of Kirk’s friends recognizing an actor as a wanted war criminal. I didn’t remember this episode at all and it’s possible I never saw it. This one is a bit of a murder mystery. Kirk’s insensitivity is quite out of character. Some of the acting is distinctly overwrought. 

“Balance of Terror” introduced the Romulans, an off shoot of the Vulcans with a Roman Empire styled military empire. The idea that humans fought a war with them without knowing what they looked like, and that the Vulcans are unaware of them, is not plausible. A Romulan warship violates the treaty and begins destroying human outposts. It’s basically a submarine battle. Very good episode as is “Shore Leave,” written by Theodore Sturgeon. The crew takes some rest time on an uninhabited planet where unconscious thoughts manifest themselves. I did wonder why two men running through an open field that has one rock both chose to divert their course to jump over it rather than run past it. “The Galileo Seven” is about a shuttlecraft that is being drawn into a quasar, though why the ship’s doctor and chief engineer would be aboard is something of a plot problem. Kirk’s decision making in this one is questionable, and Spock’s are even worse. There also seem to be a lot of insubordinate crew members. And the existence of shuttles that can land on planets retroactively makes some earlier episodes nonsensical.          

“The Squire of Gothos” is another episode I didn’t like. There are too many alien races with godlike powers. “Arena,” adapted from the Fredric Brown short story, is pretty well done other than bad alien effects. Yet another godlike race though. Kirk defeats a Gorn captain in equal combat but the Gorn promptly disappeared from the Trek universe. But why is there a road on an empty planet? “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” was the first time travel story. The Enterprise is inadvertently sent back to 1960s Earth where it is presumed to be a UFO. I raised my eyebrows when it was suggested that a fighter plane might have nuclear weapons, but otherwise this was an effective episode, although the time travel description makes no sense. If going back in time wipes out the Air Force pilot’s memories, why doesn’t it do the same for the rest of them?   

“The Return of the Archons” is about a lost colony where the Archons are enigmatic creatures who enforce a universal calm acceptance except during brief periods of freely expressed emotion.  “Space Seed” is, of course, the inspiration for The Wrath of Khan. I never really liked this episode, in large part because the crew member’s infatuation with Ricardo Montalban always seemed fake. Khan’s evil nature is also overstated. “A Taste of Armageddon” has a fascinating idea, an interplanetary war fought by computer simulation, the results of which are accepted by the two civilizations even though nothing actually happens. “This Side of Paradise” involves a colony that should have succumbed to fatal radiation but which somehow has managed to survive. Some extraordinary alien plants are the source of the problem. 

“The Devil in the Dark” is one of the better episodes. A silicon based lifeform objects to human mining operations on its planet. This was the first instance of the Vulcan mindmeld. “Errand of Mercy” introduces the Klingons, who are expected to launch a surprise attack in the near future. Kirk and crew are sent to defend a planet should it be attacked. Rather implausibly, Kirk and Spock both go down to the planet even though there is a Klingon fleet nearby. The Klingons are indistinguishable from humans. Continuity problem. The Organians have a perfect culture with no crime or violence. So why do they have a dungeon? “The Alternative Factor” involves a man who can generate enough  power to affect the entire galaxy, and he insists he’s fighting a creature no one else can see. Not a great episode. “The City on the Edge of Forever,” written by Harlan Ellison about time travel back to pre-space Earth, is easily the best of the season. The final episode of season 1 was “Operation: Annihilate!”  Several planetary civilizations have been destroyed by a plague of insanity. A race of mind controlling aliens is responsible – an okay but not great episode that includes an irritatingly stupid attempt to solve the problem. Of the 433 crew members, 39 die during season one. 

Season 2 opened with “Amok Time,” also written by Theodore Sturgeon. It’s also an excellent episode although one wonders why the periodic descent into raw emotionalism of Vulcans isn’t widely known. It doesn’t present the Vulcans in a very favorable light, however. “Who Mourns for Adonais?” is not one of my favorites.  It opens with some misogynistic dialogue between Kirk and McCoy, then takes us to a newly discovered planet. They are held captive by a being who claims to be Apollo, the Greek god. We also learn that the ship’s complement has increased to 435. The ditzy female guest star character reinforces the misogyny.  “Catspaw” was written by Robert Bloch. Shapechanging aliens in a fair episode that ends with some really silly creature effects. 

“I, Mudd” is another episode I could have done without. I dislike the character intensely. This time he lures Kirk to a planet run by androids who won’t let them leave.  “Metamorphosis” has Kirk and friends trapped on a world with a human who should have died more than a century earlier. This one is pretty corny and there are really too many superhuman aliens in the Trek universe, which is one of the reasons why Star Was is so much more interesting.  The logic of the stranded man’s rejection of the alien’s affections makes no sense.  “Journey to Babel” has the Enterprise transporting a disparate group of ambassadors. One of the Vulcans turns out to be Spock’s father, who disapproves of his son’s career choice. The presentation line with poised phasers is rather silly but the episode is one of their best.  

“The Changeling” features Nomad (who later became V’Ger in the movies), a lost probe that merges with an alien probe and becomes intolerant of all imperfect forms of life. One of the best episodes. “Mirror, Mirror” is the Jekyl Hyde story. A magnetic storm causes Kirk and three others to swap places with their counterparts from a universe where they are evil. I’m not sure why but I never liked this episode. “The Apple” is an apparent garden planet, but there is an intelligence there that can seize starships and summon lightning. I was getting tired of superhuman intelligences at this point. This one is very preachy as well.  “The Doomsday Machine” is similar to Fred Saberhagen’s berserker stories although it was written by Norman Spinrad.  There’s a nice battle but it is destroyed a bit too easily. 

“Friday’s Child” is irritating. Humans and Klingons are both negotiating with a neutral planet. One of Kirk’s crew is killed after drawing his weapon on a Klingon, unprovoked, and Kirk reacts badly. “The Deadly Years” concerns a scientific outpost where everyone has aged decades in a very short period of time. Several members of the crew succumb to the same thing. It is actually interesting to see how much the artificially aged crew members do NOT look like how the actors themselves looked years later. The assumptions that elderly versions of the characters would be prematurely senile and vindictive seem completely out of sync with the characters. This was the worst episode in the first two seasons. “Obsession” involves Kirk’s fascination with an alien whose body is gaseous. This was the second in a row where Kirk’s judgment is clearly questionable and his disciplinary action later is arbitrary, disproportionate, and illogical.  

“Wolf in the Fold” pits Kirk against the disembodied spirit of Jack the Ripper, and it’s another excellent episode.  “The Trouble with Tribbles” is not only a very funny episode but it was a great change of pace from the seriousness of the previous few episodes.  There’s another super race in “The Gamesters of Triskelion,” with Kirk, Uhura, and Chekhov abducted and enslaved. Not one of my favorites.  Our heroes visit a planet full of 1930s style gangsters in “A Piece of the Action.” The original population patterned their society after a book about Chicago gangs.  “The Immunity Syndrome” is an encounter with a giant energy sucking amoeba in space. “A Private Little War” pits Kirk against Klingons on a world protected from outside intervention. It’s a horrible episode, with bad performances of a bad script. 

“Return to Tomorrow” involves another super powerful race, this one technically dead but with a lingering presence under the surface of a dead planet. How is it that Kirk doesn’t know one of his more significant crew members? Three survivors want to take control of Kirk and Spock’s bodies. They want to build humanoid bodies, but why didn’t they do that before? A really bad story and Shatner really eats the scenery this time. “Patterns of Force” was the inevitable Nazis in space episode.  “By Any Other Name” has the Enterprise hijacked by visitors from another galaxy with superior technology. Not a stellar episode. “The Omega Glory” is also pretty bad. A Federation captain goes rogue when he thinks he has found the secret of immortality. Parallel evolution would not cause another planet to have a word for word duplicate of the Declaration of Independence. 

“The Ultimate Computer” involves war games including an experimental new computer. The intent is admirable but the plot is implausible. Why would a routine test be conducted near an unexplored planet? Obviously it goes wrong. And how does a computer build defensive weapons with no moving parts? Really bad script. A lost ship is found wrecked near an uncharted planet in “Bread and Circuses.” The local culture is modern except that it has slaves and gladiators. They have also developed colloquial English by parallel evolution. A renegade officer is working with the repressive government. Apparently everyone forgets that a transporter beam could rescue the landing party easily enough, and Scottie violates the prime directive while saying that what he is doing is not violating the prime directive. “Assignment Earth” introduces purposeful time travel to set up a spinoff that never happened. It’s really not a Star Trek episode at all. And if Scottie is scanning from space, how come he can see objects from the ground up? Season 2 ends with the loss of only 19 crew members.

Season 3 was notoriously bad. It opens with “Spock’s Brain,” which features yet another super race. A mysterious woman abducts Spock’s brain, after which we are subjected to some of the worst dialogue in the series. “The Enterprise Incident” opens with McCoy concerned that Kirk is having a breakdown. He orders entry into Romulan space and the ship is captured by the Romulans. It’s all a clever subterfuge, but the fakery is largely unnecessary and some of the acting is subpar. The story goes downhill fast as well, and it wasn’t that high to start with. “The Paradise Syndrome” takes Kirk to a planet model after Native Americans where he loses his memory and is worshipped as a god.  Not an awful episode, but full of small errors. The boy who has just drowned is perfectly dry, for example. Oh, and another super race.  “And the Children Shall Lead” involves a planet where all of the adults have killed themselves and the children seem unaffected. There’s an ancient alien who thrives on emotional turmoil. Really bad and the alien is particularly dumb looking. 

“Is There No Truth in Beauty?” starts with a ridiculous premise, an alien race so ugly that any human who sees one goes insane. Given that premise, the story is even worse. Since the alien is completely enclosed in an opaque box, why the elaborate precautions to isolate him?  One of his staff members does go mad and the Enterprise is taken out of the galaxy and is totally loss, which also makes no sense. Strong contender for the worst episode. “Spectre of the Gun” is notorious as one for which there was little budget. A landing party – consisting insanely of the captain, first officer, chief engineer, ship’s doctor, and helmsman – land on a planet against the express will of its inhabitants. They find themselves in a kind of abstract representation of the Old West. The story is rather silly but I liked it anyway. “Day of the Dove” is so bad it is embarrassing. A human colony is wiped out. Klingons believe the humans have attacked them. The plot summary is so silly I can’t go on. Jerome Bixby wrote this abomination. This would be my choice for worst of all episodes. It gets worse as it goes along. “For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” is a pretty bad episode in which McCoy has a fatal disease but is cured after an encounter with a strange spacegoing civilization.  

“The Tholian Web” is the first time we see the away party use spacesuits, in this case to board a derelict ship whose crew apparently killed each other. The ship begins to dissolve and the transporter is conveniently not working. This one starts off okay but rapidly runs downhill. It also contradicts statements made in other episodes. And it is completely implausible that the ship’s officer can remove the captain because he disagrees with his decisions rather than for medical reasons. “Plato’s Stepchildren” continues the succession of awful episodes. A supposedly uninhabited planet is actually home to a race with psionic talents who want McCoy to remain and apply painful pressure on others to compel him. “Wink of an Eye” involves another super race. They move at a faster rate than humans and are effectively invisible. Starts well. Gets awful very quickly. “The Empath” has the three main characters trapped in the laboratory of an alien empath who wishes to experiment upon them. Very boring episode. At this point I became amazed at how consistently bad this season had been, and it didn't end here.

"Elaan of Troysius" is a little better. An arrogant woman is being conveyed to another world as part of a diplomatic mission. Kirk's infatuation caused by exposure to her tears spoils what would otherwise have been a good episode. France Nuyen, who played the princess, is actually an interesting character who later became a psychiatrist. "Whom Gods Destroy" is set on a planet that is essentiallya lunatic asylum. The idea that an entire planet would be devoted to the treatment of fifteen people is obviously absurd. Kirk is delivering a new medication and discovers the lunatics have taken over. The facility has only one staff member? Dreadful. While in confinement, the chief villain learned to change into a duplicate of anyone he wants to be, and also a weapon to which the Federation has no defense. In a cell fit with a bed and no other furniture! Apparently his clothing learned to change as well. "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" involves two silly aliens battling each other on the Enterprise. Bad, though it was meant to be a commentary on racism. Kirk gets trapped aboard a fake version of the Enterprise in "The Mark of Gideon," which has some good moments but is generally dull.

"That Which Survives" is another implausible story in which an unknown force sends the ship into an unknown part of the galaxy where there is, as usual, a beautiful woman. "The Lights of Zetar" are another strange form of life but the episode is uneven. "Requiem for Methuselah" should have been better than it is. While searching for an exotic medicine, Kirk finds a recluse living with a robot servant, and discovers a mysterious threat. "The Way to Eden" is another candidate for worst episode ever. The ship takes aboard a party of rather exaggerated and implausible hippies whose leader has some rather exotic ideas. "The Cloud Minders" is somewhat better, though rather didactic and anti-intellectual. The artists and aristocrats on one world have created a floating utopia, but it depends on the virtual slave labor of those on the surface to survive. "The Savage Curtain" is just silly. A resurrected Abraham Lincoln helps Kirk defeat a host of villains as part of a mental exercise for a powerful alien being who is trying to understand human nature. "All Our Yesterdays" isn't very plausible, but it had a potentially interesting concept. While investigating a world whose population has disappeared, Kirk experiences brief visits to various periods in their history. Finally we have the ludicrous "Turnabout Intruder," in which Janice Lester, once Kirk's lover, exchanges bodies with him against his will so that she can take over the Enterprise. It is amazing to me how consistently bad the third season was. 1/30/17

Train to Busan (2016)

Time for a Korean zombie movie. A divorced man is escorting his daughter to visit his wife when a zombie apocalypse breaks out. The introduction of various characters prior to the fireworks is done quite well and the production values are high as a few warning signs are introduced. There's an outbreak on the train early on, which they manage to contain, but the stations along the way are all infected. Dad is pretty much a cad but the little girl is cute. The effects are very well done and there are few dull moments as they rapidly run out of options for surviving. There are the usual clichés, but they're done well, and the cast are all quite good. One of the best of its type. 1/20/17

IZombie Season 2  (2015) 

The second season gets off to a rocky start. Liz couldn’t donate blood to her brother because she’s a secret zombie and her family blames her, even though he survived.  Her boyfriend has been coerced into becoming a zombie hunter in a sequence I found completely implausible. Liv and her boss at the morgue continue to do a good job despite inferior material. Her nemesis is now running a funeral home as a front for his drug operation. The premise starts to disintegrate a bit. Why kill the zombies if they’re not hurting anyone? Why aren’t people more aware of what is going on? Ignoring that, there are too many subplots. The boyfriend, who is being forced to kill zombies, is also a drug addict. The businessman is clearly on the wrong side of the law, and for no obvious reason. The ex-zombie villain is now selling drugs. The head of the morgue is looking for a cure. The businessman’s daughter is Liv’s new roommate. All of these subplots reduce the time for the actual individual stories. This is unfortunate because the acting is generally excellent and some of the characters are genuinely interesting, but they are often wasted on inferior stories. The superhero episode is actually pretty good, but the romantic relationship that doesn’t work is really getting old. This was really frustrating to watch because there are moments of excellent writing and even clever plot ideas, but they are largely lost in mediocre and repetitive situations. 1/19/17

Holidays (2016)

This is a collection of eight short horror films, each connected to a different holiday.  The first is about the girl who doesn’t fit in at school and has a crush on her gym teacher. The acting is deliberately over the top and when she kills her main tormentor, it’s not much of a surprise. The second also involves the student who doesn’t fit in. It has some interesting imagery but the story doesn’t make much sense and it feels like it goes on forever. The evil Easter bunny creature was an interesting idea but the film doesn’t work very well. The episode about the woman he gets pregnant whenever she has sex is just awful. The one about the missing father sending a tape to his grown child isn’t much better. The Christmas episode is ok, but otherwise the rest are pretty boring. 1/12/17

The Ring 2 (2005)  

The sequel to the first movie has nothing to do with the sequel to the book. The evil ghost has some new powers this time, which actually don’t make any sense in context, like her ability to appear to people who are not doomed, possess animals, etc. This kind of defeats the purpose of the original. Rachel, who survived the first movie, is back and has discovered that other copies of the cursed videotape exist. The evil ghost is after her, for no discernible reason. The kid in peril plot gets old pretty fast as well. This is another case of an unnecessary sequel inferior to the original. 1/11/18

Ouija3 (2016)

I was suspicious of this because the title on the print, Charlie Charlie, is not the title on the cover. The fact that the opening sequence was unusually stupid and pointless should have been a giveaway. The premise is that a haunted house owner whose business is failing rents the place out so that yuppie types can try to invoke a supposed urban legend demon. The acting starts at barely competent and descends rapidly toward not even trying. It tries to be funny at times, and fails there as well. Inane dialogue, and the story doesn’t even play by its own rules. Supposedly you have to participate in the game to become vulnerable, but the demon claims victims from the staff who were not involved. The dialogue is beyond inane. It’s also not clear why the five prime victims are even there since four of them didn’t want to come. And not to nitpick, but the five are walking down a narrow corridor – no room to pass – but the order they are in changes from shot to shot. And there are times when lines of dialogue must have been cut, because what’s left doesn’t make sense.  1/10/17

2Lava 2Lantula (2016)  

Sequel to Lavantula, in which Steve Guttenberg battled lava spitting giant spiders.  He’s back in this silly sequel to a silly original. The latest breakout is in Florida so our hero is off to rescue his stepdaughter, armed with new weapons. Bad special effects, bad jokes, bad dialogue, and lots of shooting and explosions. Guttenberg is often funny and that’s the movies only real justification for existing. The supporting cast is colorful but of indifferent quality. Special award for probably the absolutely worst movie title of all time. 1/9/17

Fire Twister (2015)

Another scientifically illiterate disaster movie. A group of protesters are incorrectly blamed for an explosion that ruptures a tank of experimental fuel and creates a tornado of fire that threatens to destroy the entire city. Really bad CGI is, of course, a necessary part of the mix, along with mediocre acting and dumb dialogue. And, naturally, no matter which way are heroes run, the twister follows them – multiple times. Not to mention the evil people who want to murder our heroes for no apparent reason. Believe it or not, this movie is even stupider than it sounds. The villains have detailed profiles on the heroes, even though they never saw them from close enough to identify them. The tornado is traveling through heavily populated areas, but no one knows where it is.  Despite the damage, no emergency vehicles ever appear. Nobody comes out of the houses to see what’s going on. Complete garbage. 1/8/17

Lucy (2014) 

Scarlet Johansson inadvertently takes an experimental drug that enhances her mental powers in this thriller. She has been kidnapped by drug dealers – who are rather over the top evil – and forced to act as a drug mule, but a pouch breaks inside her body. The premise that we only use ten percent of our brains is false, of course. Morgan Freeman’s lecture, while entertaining, soon becomes nonsensical. There is no possible way to predict the effects of increased mental powers. Anyway, she has no compunctions about killing innocent people who get in her way as she seeks revenge on the gangsters because she figures the drug will kill her soon. The ending is transcendental and not entirely clear. Fun, but minor. 1/7/17

Plan 9 (2015)

This is a very peculiar quasi-remake of the famously bad SF movie Plan 9 from Outer Space by Ed Wood. The opening sequence is the prelude by Criswell, but it’s self referential. They’re filming the remake with a temperamental actor playing the psychic. Then the actual movie starts with a meteor hitting the town of Nilbog – goblin spelled backward. The aliens want to resurrect the human dead to form an invasion army. It’s sort of a spoof mixed with a remake and it’s very inconsistent, essentially a zombie movie. Not unwatchable, but lots of missed opportunities. Great soundtrack. 1/6/17

Ring0 (2000)

This is the prequel to the classic Ringu. Sadako is a student and part of an acting company but for various reasons the other members of the troupe don't like her. She keeps to herself and has premonitions and they find her creepy. They are also jealous because she seems to have more talent than they do. When members of the cast start having fatal accidents, the crisis boils to the top. Although not as tightly plotted as the first, this adds to the story and has some genuinely scary moments of its own. There has never been an American remake. 1/5/17

The Ring (2002)

This is the American version of the Japanese horror film and it diverges even further from the original book. It opens about the same way, with a teenager who saw the tape reaching the end of her allotted week. There is much more emphasis on the televisions in this one, with the ghost that crawls out of a screen full of static. The supernatural element is stronger, and sometimes misconceived - e.g. the young boy sees something ghostly even though he has not seen the videotape and the friend who was with one of the victims is driven insane by the event. Watts finds and views the tape, so she has seven days to solve it or she will die. I'm not sure that the family or doctors of the insane teen would allow a journalist to interview her, particularly unsupervised, only days after her collapse, but it was dramatically useful. There's a failure of plot logic. Why all the foreshadowing supernatural events for Watts when none of them happened to any of the other victims? 1/3/17

Ringu (1998)

This is the original Japanese movie based on the novel Ring, by Koji Suzuki. It uses the basic premise but changes a lot of the details, making the original characters younger. The idea is that a cursed VHS tape kills everyone who views it exactly one week later. A reporter - male in the book but female in the movie - becomes curious. One of the death occurs while a friend is nearby and she is driven insane by the experience, with an obsessive fear of televisions. The biggest difference is that many people know about the cursed video, which is not true in the book. The rather horrible friend from the book is replaced by a more likable one, although he has the same name. The movie adds a wrinkle. Anyone who is cursed appears with a blurred face when a picture is taken. This is actually a nice addition to the movie. Rather stupidly, she allows her young son access and he watches it. So they have to solve the clues in time to avert their multiple deaths. A very effective horror movie.  The subtitles are very well done and the movie is a lot more watchable than a good portion of recent direct to video releases.  1/2/17