Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Casts a Dark Spell

A strong-willed teenage girl, half witch and half mortal, must choose between the world of magic and the ordinary in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018 – ), the latest adaptation of the Archie Comics series Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Written and developed by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the series embraces a much darker tone than previous incarnations. Its incredible style, intense visual effects and action, and talented cast keep its social justice subtext from becoming too annoying.

As Halloween and her sixteenth birthday approaches, Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) is torn between loyalty to her high school friends, Rosalind “Roz” Walker (Jaz Sinclair) and Susie Putnam (Lachlan Watson), and her boyfriend Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch), and loyalty to her family and the Church of Night. Sabrina’s aunts, Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto), raised her after her parent’s died in a plane crash, and desperately want her to continue the family tradition, undergo the Dark Baptism, and sign her name in the Devil’s book.

Sabrina’s misgivings grow as she battles her patriarchal high school principal, Mr. Hawthorne, and a trio of witches called the Weird Sisters, who believe a half-breed like Sabrina shouldn’t be allowed to attend the Academy of the Unseen Arts. Father Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle), High Priest of the Church of Night and Dean of the Academy of the Unseen Arts, assures Sabrina their religion is about free will, but it seems the Dark Lord has other plans.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, which seems like a fitting choice. It’s almost always raining and dreary. The cinematography is great, with a chilling play of light and color, especially in interior scenes. My only gripe is that it’s often filmed with a very shallow depth of field, making it look like someone smeared grease around the lens.

Of course, no show is complete these days without some kind of “woke” politics. Sabrina and her friends form a group cleverly titled WICCA (get it?): Women’s Intersectional Culture and Creative Association, after she casts a spell on Principal Hawthorne, terrorizing him with spiders and making him absent from work so the assistant principal can approve the club. They do this to protect a transgender friend from jock bullies.

Continue reading “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Casts a Dark Spell”
Advertisements

Unsolved Mysteries was Terrifying

This program is about unsolved mysteries. Whenever possible, the actual family members and police officials have participated in re-creating the events. What you are about to see is not a news broadcast.

From 1987 to 1997, Unsolved Mysteries was the scariest thing on television. My parents wouldn’t let me watch it as a kid, so I had to sneak over to a friend’s house after dinner on Wednesday evenings. The format was simple. Each episode featured interviews and reenactments about two or three mysteries involving missing persons, lost loves, unsolved murders, alternative history, and occasionally something supernatural. My favorite episodes featured ghost stories, of course, particularly Chicago’s Resurrection Mary.

It aired on NBC from 1987 to 1997 before being canceled due to declining popularity. CBS picked it up from 1997 to 1999, Lifetime from 2001 to 2002, and Spike TV from 2008 to 2010. None of these continuations had the raw, spine-tingling impact of the original. The show was interactive–featuring a tip line where viewers could call in with information on the cases. Sometimes these tips helped solve the mystery.

Robert Stack (1919-2003), from Los Angeles, California, hosted the show from 1987 until 2002, when he fell ill. Stack was a veteran actor of more than 40 feature films and numerous TV shows with a characteristically deep voice. Stack’s voice, together with the show’s theme music, were genuinely terrifying. To this day, there’s nothing like it on television. What happened? Actor Dennis Farina took over as host on Spike TV, but it just wasn’t the same.

My Favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer Seasons

buffy1Few people remember the 1992 film Buffy the Vampire Slayer staring Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Paul Reubens, and Luke Perry, but the television show based on it would go on to become hugely popular. Buffy is one of my favorite horror comedies from the ’90s. Joss Whedon wrote it as a serious vampire film, but the studio turned it into a comedy. In a stroke of luck, he was able to return to his original vision when he created the TV series.

The series retained the essential elements of the film: a teenage “Valley Girl” destined to become the chosen slayer of vampires, her watcher, and an ancient evil that unleashes a plague of vampires on her hometown. The TV show occasionally references the events of the movie, but not explicitly. Buffy the Vampire Slayer the series starred Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, and Alyson Hannigan had a seven season run, from 1997 to 2003. It quickly gained a cult following. The following is a list of my favorite seasons, ranked from best to worst and why.

1. Season Six

buffy-season-6-review
Willow gets revenge

At the beginning of season six, Willow resurrects Buffy, who died at the end of season five. Although her friends believe they rescued her from Hell, Buffy had actually been in Heaven. This causes her to be depressed for most of the season, and leads to her giving in to Spike’s affections. Willow becomes addicted to magic, and a new set of antagonists, a group of nerds called “The Trio,” are introduced. When one of the Trio accidentally kills Willow’s girlfriend, Tara, Willow is consumed by revenge and rages out of control. She attempts to destroy the world to end everyone’s suffering. By reminding Willow of their friendship, Xander is the only one who can bring her back from the brink.

Season six is my favorite because I like Willow’s character and liked to see her progression over the course of the season. In past episodes, we caught a glimpse of what “evil Willow” might be like, and season six shows her as a formidable opponent. Of all characters on Buffy, Willow is the only one to undergo a significant evolution and the only one besides Buffy who ever had an entire season’s story arch devoted to her. In this season, Buffy and friends find their relationships tested like never before, which makes for great drama. In the end, Xander is the one who saves the day, not through great strength or magic, but simply through friendship, devotion, and love. Although I personally disliked the musical episode, “Once More, with Feeling,” it is a fan favorite.
Continue reading “My Favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer Seasons”

Suburban Gothic in The X-Files and Eerie, Indiana

the-x-files-t-1920x1080_v2Suburban Gothic is a form of Dark Romantic storytelling set in a suburban environment. Traditionally associated with aging Victorian mansions, crypts, and other macabre settings, the neat rows of white picket fences, manicured lawns, and modern tract housing of the suburbs may seem like an unusual home for Gothic tales. The suburbs, however, are a logical place for writers and filmmakers to express American Gothic sentiment, and episodes from two television shows in particular, The X-Files (1993-2002) and Eerie, Indiana (1991-1992), help us understand why.

American Gothic is our unique expression of Dark Romanticism, a broader nineteenth century literary and artistic movement. In early nineteenth century America, Romanticism gave rise to two opposing artistic and intellectual movements: Transcendentalism and Dark Romanticism. Transcendentalists believed in the inherent goodness of both people and nature, and that humanity is perfectible. In contrast, Dark Romantics like Edgar Allen Poe (who described Transcendentalism as a disease) believed humans were inherently fallible and prone to sin and self destruction. The modern Suburban Gothic tale is essentially a Dark Romantic argument against Transcendentalism.

In the nineteenth century, some Transcendentalists tried to put their ideas into practice by building utopian communities away from what they considered to be the corrupting influence of modern society. The idea that a carefully planned community could create a new, happier, and more productive life lived on into the twentieth century. As cities become overcrowded, the growing middle class sought refuge from high crime rates, congestion, and unsanitary conditions in nearby planned communities. These housing developments were designed to alleviate  inner city problems through strict zoning laws and community standards. Economic growth after World War 2 made it possible for millions of people to buy mass-produced homes and seek out the “American dream” in the suburbs.

Continue reading “Suburban Gothic in The X-Files and Eerie, Indiana”

What’s Wrong with the Suburbs? American Beauty and Desperate Housewives As Gothic Tales

There is a duality in American popular culture. On one hand, we idealize modern domestic life as safe, comfortable, and technologically advanced. On the other, we are aware that we’ve been unable to fully conquer our baser instincts. Writers and filmmakers often express this duality by criticizing a symbol of postwar American progress: the suburb. Carefully manicured lawns, safe neighborhoods, state of the art technology (for both security and cleanliness), and a car in every garage hold the promise of uninterrupted domestic bliss.

Yet the morning newspaper carries daily reminders that all is not right with the world. Despite ideal physical surroundings, dark human impulses remain. Murder, lust, betrayal, jealousy, and madness rear their ugly heads. Both the film American Beauty (1999) and the television series Desperate Housewives (2004-2012) tapped into this sentiment and portrayed the Janice-faced suburbs as a deceptively dangerous place.

american_beauty_posterWhile suburbs have technically existed for hundreds of years, the dramatic growth in modern suburbs began in the late nineteenth century as a consequence of rural residents moving to urban centers. As cities become overcrowded and began to experience high crime rates, congestion, and unsanitary conditions, the middle class sought refuge in nearby planned communities. These housing developments were meant to alleviate crowding, crime, and other inner city problems through strict zoning laws and community standards. Economic growth after World War 2  made it possible for millions of people to buy homes and seek out the “American dream” in the suburbs.

TV shows like Leave it to Beaver (1957-1963), The Brady Bunch (1969-1974), and Family Ties (1982-1989) portrayed the suburbs as largely idyllic and ideal for domestic family life. Pretty moms and wise, handsome dads taught lessons and safely guided their children to adulthood. Not everyone agreed with this portrayal, however. Ira Levin’s 1972 novel The Stepford Wives suggested suburban tranquility and conformity had a dark underside. Both the film American Beauty and the television series Desperate Housewives further capitalized on this sentiment.

Continue reading “What’s Wrong with the Suburbs? American Beauty and Desperate Housewives As Gothic Tales”