Santa Clarita Diet: So Then a Bat or a Monkey – You Are (Review)

Drew Barrymore in Santa Clarita Diet

Netflix have joined the zombie craze with their latest offering, Santa Clarita Diet. The first episode, “So Then a Bat or a Monkey” starts things off with a major character dying by throwing up what looks suspiciously like an organ. A vital one mixed with the “insane” amount of vomit that comes jetting out of Sheila’s mouth.

Sheila and Joel Hammond are estate agents who live and sell houses in Santa Clarita, CA.  Their seemingly idyll existence is disrupted when she dies in the middle of showing the Peterson house. After spending hours at the local hospital’s emergency room, Sheila and Joel head home.

Despite being dead, Sheila feels great. She has focus and is, in Joel’s words, exuberant. Their teenage daughter Abby is not overjoyed to learn of her parent’s sexual escapades and suggests seeing a local “nerd” to find out what is happening.

The new real estate agent from Sacramento Gary West makes moves on Sheila and ends up being consumed by his recently deceased co-worker in the back garden. Joel walks in on the grisly scene and is justifiably horrified.

Santa Clarita Diet is an interesting, and funny, comedy horror offering on Netflix. Is it blazingly original? Not necessarily, iZombie got there first, although so far Sheila is not craving brains and eating West did not change her.

In many ways this new series could be seen as “iZombie with grownups.” The idea also seems to be a comic re-imaging of  the 2006 horror film “The Hamiltons.” (Or at the very least a comic riff on the theme of the film.)

In Santa Clarita Diet both Sheila and Joel, in the beginning, are quite boring in their little real estate lives. (And nothing equates to being a grownup quite like boring…) The sudden death of Sheila changes the formulaic existence of the couple dramatically.

Joel’s wife becomes more exuberant, as he tells their daughter, not just with sex but everything. She is more confident, assertive and impulsive. Her husband has trouble keeping up with the new Sheila. After she kills and eats Gary, it looks like Joel’s problems are just beginning.

It was interesting to see Nathan Fillion as a character who is, to say the least, a bit of a bully. He forces himself on Sheila and threatens, somewhat inanely, Joel: “You are.” One wonders whether his casting was in response to the “Castle” rumors that flooded the Internet when the show was cancelled.

(Fillion was said to be very unkind to his co-star Stana Katic and his cryptic and somewhat taciturn Twitter post when she left the show did not help his tarnished image.)

The character being played by Fillion was a deviation from his normal roles, apart from Monsters University in 2013. He voiced a character that was also a bully. In this instance Fillion managed to make his douche character amusing, which is his gift as an actor.

“That was an insane amount of vomit!”

Regardless of the rationale behind Nathan’s playing a somewhat dislikable character, it was brilliantly funny. (Showing yet again that Fillion has still got those comic chops that he displayed early in his career.)

Fillion was not alone, this series is full of comic performers who have got chops for days. Barrymore, Olyphant, Mary Elizabeth Ellis (a personal favorite) and guest star Ramona Young filled out a cast full of actors who know how to do comedy.

This 13 episode series is available to stream or download in its entirety on Netflix. Stop by and check this one out, it may not be overly original but it is pretty funny. It also has a lot of familiar faces in it.

Cast:

Guest starring Nathan Fillion as Gary West and Ramona Young as Ramona.

The OA: Champion – Learning (Review)

The OA Logo

The OA “Champion” gives more backstory to Prairie’s time in captivity.  We learn that Dr. Hunter, despite his degree, is not the sharpest tool in the shed. There is also some question as to whether or not he actually catches Prairie after her short abortive bid for freedom.

In fact the entire episode seems to indicate that Prairie’s fellow captives are not the sharpest tools in the collective shed either. Homer, who is paranoid that his “son” will believe he has deserted him is far too fixated on his unborn child to make any real sense.

The chap with the beard “Why the hell did you ruin it with mustard,” is obnoxious and also not a real clever clogs. At least the other female is not as aggressive or as single minded as the other two members of Hap’s “zoo.”

It is interesting to note that Dr. Hunter becomes conditioned quite easily by the blind Prairie, aka The OA. Like a case of Stockholm syndrome in reverse. He clearly believes that she poses no threat and allows her to act as “chief cook and bottle washer” while the other three captives stay in their humid little glass cells.

He gets so carried away with having her upstairs that he forgets to mention that he is allergic to tomatoes. When she attempts to poison him, with a load of crushed up sleeping pills, the effort goes awry when he has a reaction to the “stew” she made him.

Hap sends her to retrieve his backup epipen. She discovers the dead body of her predecessor laying in a bathtub filled with pinkish/lavender fluid. The not-so-good doctor explains that her death is not his fault after injecting himself with the epipen.

Later, Prairie shoves Hap backwards down the stairs to his holding cells. She then uses the cast iron skillet to break the kitchen window and climb outside the house.

As she stands on a precipice overlooking an odd landscape, she is knocked unconscious.  This may well be what “cures” her blindness. The hands holding the rifle must not belong to Hap as he could not have recovered from falling down those stairs that quickly.

In terms of “learning” Steve, still the most unpleasant of Prairie’s witnesses, finds that the kid he could beat up when they were younger is now tough enough to choke the meanness right out of him.

We also learn that the teacher has recommended the school bully and drug dealer for an alternative method of schooling.

In this episode much is revealed about the day-to-day existence in those glass cubicles. However, the almost reverential memories that Prairie has of Homer seem terribly misplaced.  So too are her earlier recollections where all the captives seem to be banded together.

As the story of The OA continues to unfold, it is becoming clear that some things here do not add up. Have the “supernatural” elements that interceded in Prairie’s earlier life in Russia stepped in once more? Or has Prairie “self-edited” her recent experiences?

The OA is streaming on Netflix and can be downloaded for viewing offline. All eight episodes are available for viewing.

Cast:

Crazyhead: Beaver With a Chainsaw – Balls Out Together (Review)

promotional image for Crazyhead

Crazyhead “Beaver With a Chainsaw” (“What does that even mean,” asks Amy.) is the very short season’s finale.  Raquel does indeed open the gates of Hell releasing a legion of demons.  Amy saves the day, along with a little help from Mercy, and Jake is possessed. By the time the end credits roll, however, the two demon hunters are back together; extendible batons at the ready.

In the last episode, Raquel learns that Harry is actually a demon and that Dr. Weaver is the big leader of all the escapees from Hell.  Amy tries to warn her friend and even threatens to get Tyler; Raquel’s brother,  involved to keep the “key to Hell” from going to see Harry.

Raquel drugs everyone and as they play Jinga on Halloween, Tyler, Jake and Amy collapse and pass out. (Tyler loses the Jinga game by knocking over the wooden tower with his head as he passes out.) Amy wakes up and gets Jake to drive after Raquel.

Both of her potential saviors are colossally messed up from the combination of vodka and prescription medication. Jake insists he can drive and takes off at a snail’s pace to catch up with Raquel. After a short, but very funny, journey, they arrive in time to see Raquel being taken away.

After getting Halloween costumes, in order to blend in at the big party and Hell gate opening, they chase after Raquel again.

At the mansion, Callum is gloating about releasing a legion of demons. Raquel asks for, and gets, a cigarette. Immediately after lighting it, she shoves the lit end into Dr. Weaver’s ear. “Can we get that painkilling spray,” he asks Harry later.

Mercy is not pleased that her son is set up to be possessed by demons and while Callum and Harry get things ready, she spends a lot of time with her boy. Amy and Jake arrive and Mercy gives her a demon kiss rendering the young woman unconscious.

Raquel learns that Harry was a demon all along and her fury at being lied to creates a little meltdown action. The gates of Hell open and demons come flooding into the mansion and the innocent party goers.

Amy, who had a vision showing her dying at the Halloween party, stops Raquel’s rage fueled grief by telling her friend  she loves her. Kissing her pal causes Raquel to calm down and this closes the gates of Hell.

Callum is furious. He and Amy struggle and they plunge off the edge of the balcony. Amy, seen falling in slow motion, lands on a zombie decoration. Raquel screams her friend’s name and Amy’s eyes open. She has been saved by an inflatable zombie decoration.

The three friends leave the mansion. Jake turns out to be possessed. After a quick chase through the woods, which ends with the young man being zapped by Raquel’s taser mobile phone, Amy performs an exorcism.

Later she tells her friend that Jake is back and that he was extremely excited that she urinated on him. At the end, Suzanne – drinking what looks suspiciously like blood from a  five liter plastic bottle – watches as the two demon hunters go after their latest prey.

This was a brilliant end to the six episode season. Everything about this series worked well. From Kiwi songstress Gin Wigmore’s  Kill of the Night theme song to the raunchy, aka earthy, slang for all things sexual from Raquel, this was funny and entertaining.

The scene where everyone apart from Raquel are stoned while playing Jinga is hysterically funny. So too is the low speed chase with a loaded Jake and Amy going after Raquel. Rather interestingly, Mercy’s last moment change of heart was touching.

Misfits creator Howard Overman has given us an irreverent and amusing look at two English demon hunters who have little in common. There appears to be a good chance that the show will come back for a second season as it seems that E4 put the series on with an eye on Netflix acquiring the show.

With an ongoing mission to find all the demons that Raquel released into that mansion, the two heroines are going to be very busy for at least another six episode season.

Crazyhead is available on Netflix to stream or download for offline viewing.

Cast:

Travelers: Aleksander – Challenges (Review)

Promotional picture for Travelers

Travelers “Aleksander” continues to be unlike most time travel shows. Not only do the future “saviors” have to adjust to their host’s lives, but they have to change to fit the times. Some of the adjustments are amusing, such as Trevor’s hesitant taste of sweetcorn and his subsequent delight at this new treat.

Others, like Philip’s host’s addiction to heroin threatens his sanity, his conscience and, later, the group’s mission. By violating protocol 3, which equates to neither taking nor saving a life, he endangers not only himself but the purpose of their visit.

Each traveler is affected by the lives that their hosts led before taking over their bodies. Maclaren turns out to be a crack shot with a handgun, something that amazes his partner at the FBI. Amusingly, he also cannot tie a necktie, so he wears the same one for three days.

It is also pointed out, almost in passing, that he was not changing his underwear either. When his wife jokingly poses the question, he says, in a throw-away murmur, “underwear.” In the future, apparently, people do not wear undergarments or, at the very least, do not have to change them.

Trevor, whose host was a bit of a bad lad, changes dramatically. He is now nice, except to his “girlfriend” who is a bully. So too was Trevor before he was taken over.

Marcy is now staying with her social worker and all premises of being mentally challenged, as a result of her terminal illness, has been dispensed with. David is still having issues with the whole thing but he does lie to the cop who comes to question him about his ward.

Philip is not just suffering because of the heroin. He attends the funeral of the friend of his host who died on the same day. His mate’s mother goes off on Philip who then feels guilty. Using his knowledge of the past, he has bets placed on certain things and has the money sent to the parents.

The heroin addict also lies to his fellow travelers telling them that they have a new mission. A Romanian boy has been kidnapped; his name is Aleksander, and his body will be found in a basement if they do not rescue the lad.

The team get together and collect firearms. The lad is located. There are dead bodies in the basement showing that Aleksander is not the first boy that the crazy couple have taken. They call the lad Patrick and Maclaren asks the boy in Romanian if that is really his name. The youngster says no.

A brief shootout ensues. The man and woman are shot dead and Philip is wounded. Marcy fixes him up and as Grant gets angry at the  lies and intrusiveness of Philip’s actions. She explains that he is addicted to heroin and that she can, in time, get him off the stuff.

Travelers is not the normal cliched story about time travel. Each character is looked at from two standpoints. The traveler who is there to save the world and the host they must inhabit and emulate. Each episode gives the viewer more insight into how difficult this balancing act is.

However not all characters are being delved into equally. Carly, the single mum, has not had a lot of screen time. She has not been focused upon too much as a result.  That may well change as the series goes on but for now Ms.Shannon is a bit of a mystery.

Travelers creator Brad Wright has stepped right outside the box for this time travel tale with a difference. His decision to leave what have become tropes in this particular category of science fiction has delivered a show that entertains while making the audience think and talk about the events as they transpire.

The series is streaming on Netflix and can be downloaded for offline viewing. Head on over and check this one out. See what challenges this group of time travelers still face.

Cast:

Guest starring David Raynolds as Aleksander/Patrick.

At the Devil’s Door (2014): A Twist on the Robert Johnson Myth (Review)

At the Devil’s Door takes the Robert Johnson myth, the musician reportedly sold his soul to the devil to enhance his guitar playing skills, and takes it in a completely different direction.  From the moment the precocious teen passes the test and completes the $500 transaction; heading down to the crossroad to speak her name, the atmosphere becomes darker, unsettling and full of foreboding.

The location is not Mississippi and the time is the present.   The young lady is co-erced by her lover to sell her soul. As the film progresses we learn more about the girl; Hannah (played by Ashley Rickards) who vanishes until real estate agent Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno) stumbles across her at a house she is selling.

It is interesting to note that the girl appears only after Leigh uncovers the mirror in the bedroom. (Another bit of mythology here with the superstition that mirrors should be covered after a death to keep the spirits from coming back through…)

At the Devil’s Door is a slow burning horror film that seems to borrow from a number of other movies and or books.  The “birth” of the devil (which the film sets up as the arrival of the new Anti-Christ) mirrors, rather closely, Rosemary’s Baby and peripherally Ju-on: The Grudge 2, where Kayako comes back via a pregnancy.

Also, it bears mentioning that Hannah wears a red hoodie in the film. This, combined with her diminutive height of 5’3,” is a clear nod to Don’t Look Now. Another film that has less in the way of classic jump scares and  much more in the area of atmosphere.)

(What the film does not rely upon, or allude to, is the 1976, or the 1996 remake, of The Omen. A film that deals primarily with the coming of the Anti-Christ.)

Written and directed by Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact, Holidays – Easter segment) At the Devil’s Door is a dark, moody horror film that manages to sneak in a couple of “jump scares” and leaves the viewer slightly off balance and unsettled by the end.

The film, inspired, McCarthy says, by a Chilean cab driver’s story in New York, is a mix of selling your soul and then involving sisters a’la Psycho.  It is an interesting notion. The story, as told to McCarthy, was that after selling his soul, the cab driver then had to tell the witchdoctor his name; so the devil would know who to call.

Another variation on the superstitious belief that giving one’s true name to a demon, or evil entity, is to give them power over the speaker. With all these superstitions and nods to other stories about the devil, the “big bad” is never mentioned by name.

This is an excellent second project that features much of the same jarring aspects of McCarthy’s 2012 horror film The Pact. At the Devil’s Door can be seen as a cautionary tale at its core except for the fact that (Somewhat like The Grudge.) the entity jumps from woman to woman until it gets what it needs.

The film is not rated, but there is very little graphic violence and literally no sex at all.  The language is not offensive and there is no drug use whatsoever.  Apart from the scary nature of the film, with its atmospheric tenseness and sense of foreboding, it could be rated G.

At the Devil’s Door is a solid 4 star film. It is offbeat and, in places, quite intense. McCarthy has managed, with a minimum of muss and fuss, to give us a film that is creepy, slightly scary and, at times, very unsettling. It is streaming on Netflix at the moment and can be downloaded for watching offline as well.

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