The Walking Dead, S1, Ep4 – “Vatos”

Opening scene: Uh, what is up with the Lifetime movie-of-the-week dialog? Oh, this episode was written by comics’ own Robert Kirkman. Of course, part of how badly that played for me was the fact that both women were so heavily made-up. Who wears lipstick and mascara to go fishing? That said, Kirkman nails how to turn these things around without relying on somebody saying “Isn’t it funny how the women have become the hunters in this new paradigm?”

They did a swell job of making Merle more a force to be reconned with then just a wacko with a snarl and a KKK membership card. The entire ‘hunt for Merle’ aspect of the first half was pretty great. By the time they find the van missing and suspect Merle of the crime, I felt that there was reason to fear this dude.

And, yes, I’m now joining the Merle Will Be The Governor camp, although how he’d amass an army like that in the time frame of the series is a big question-mark. But I’m sure they can tweak that whole scenerio.

“The only reason I got away was because the dead were too busy eatin’ my family.” – As far as dialog, that’s Kirkman at his best right there.

“They took Glenn!” – Funny how one line can add some colors to a character. They’re going out of their way here to make Daryl more reasonable than his brother. Wonder how that dynamic will play out.

Oops, wrong about Ed! Thank god.

Most upsetting part of the conclusion? Carl’s tears. That reaction was the right stuff; we don’t see nearly enough child actors in horror films being allowed to melt down like that.

A strong episode that made me wish Kirkman was writing the whole damn series. Yes, there were at least three of his patent “listen while I drop some nugget of wisdom on you” moments in the episode, but I don’t mind that so much.  It’s shorthand, and not entirely elegant, but it works just fine. Sure as hell beats what Darabont was giving us for characterization in episode two.

This still isn’t “must see” television for me, but it has evolved nicely over the second episode. The horror is still on the weak side (there were some good zombies in that final attack, but the blood letting itself didn’t hit me very hard), and there haven’t been any moments to rival the most haunting shots in the pilot. Still, they’ve got me until the season ends. Let’s see how it plays out.

Other takes:

Sean T Collins

Curt Purcell

The Walking Dead, S1, Ep2 – “Guts”

This episode really didn’t provoke much from me beyond the following:

1) What dramatic purpose does it serve for us to dislike Lori? Shane, I get – I don’t agree with it, but I get it. I simply don’t see the advantage to the story in portraying Lori the way they have for two episodes now.

2) If the Michael Rooker character, Winn Dixie or whatever his name was, is any indication, we’re in for a real treat when they get to the Governor. Given the writing and tone established here, I would go with Al Pacino myself, or maybe Paul F. Tompkins.

3) I think that slow motion dive for the key is pretty telling of how they’ll handle the most shocking death(s) in the comic – lots of tortured slo-mo reaction shots and, given the music selections to date, I’m guessing the sequence will likely be scored to Chris de Burgh’s “Lady in Red.”

4) “I’m going to tell them about Wayne.” Be sure to mention how Glenn wore Wayne’s intestines like a meat boa.

5) Agree with Curt here on two counts: the zombies weren’t very memorable/scary, and longform television is a perfect medium for nuanced characterization if the creators can be bothered to take the time and do it; there are examples a’plenty of shows where this is done, even in the horror/fantasy/sci-fi genres. Two episodes in, it’s looking like the Walking Dead is not going to be one of those shows. Maybe with the extra breathing room of a second season.

All smartassery aside, I have a decision to make: the pilot had some good character beats and some fine horror imagery. If this episode is more indicative of how the series will play, then I’m not sure I’ll keep on past Episode Three. I may tune in for the season with the Governor just to see how far they take it, but having zombies alone doesn’t scratch any particular itch for me; there are about nine dozen zombie movies on Netflix streaming alone were I so inclined. I started watching for some tense drama and effective horror, and there was neither in “Guts.” My backlog of unwatched programs is so large that I really won’t miss something that isn’t giving me anything I can’t miss, if you get my drift.

The Black Cat

(movie) This 1934 blockbuster is an early battle of 20th century celluloid Death Gods. Karloff’s make-up makes him the living personification of cold death compared to Lugosi’s barely contained seething violence. Occult architect Hjalmar Poelzig’s (Karloff) home is all Bauhaus deco with Caligari shadows built on top of an unconsecrated graveyard of the war dead – a monument to futile sacrifice. His prize possessions are his dead lovers, suspended in glass coffins, their pale forms suspended in air like spirits trapped on their ascension to heaven. This begs the question of what kind of women were these to be attracted to Karloff’s gallows mystique in the first place? That Poelzig worships the devil is incidental – what he really worships is undeath, the unchanging beauty of things that defy decay.

“Are we not both the living dead?” Poelzig asks Verdegast (Lugosi), a comment that reaches beyond the confines of the narrative. Karloff’s resplendent home and luxurious furnishings stand out in the historical context with the depression going on right outside the theater. Karloff’s Poelzig represents nothing so much as the sort of morbid greed that led the world into collapse not more than five years earlier – Verdegast’s vengeance is the vengeance of everyone “sold out” and wronged by the cold, unfeeling architects of the misery of others. And what vengeance! Lugosi’s revenge is absolutely satisfying, if only for the sadistic glee he brings to the moment when he snarls in Karloff’s face “Have you ever seen an animal skinned alive?” The silhouette horrorshow of Lugosi using a scalpel to scrape the flesh off Karloff’s face is one of the most savage images in 30’s cinema.

The Walking Dead, S1, Ep1 – “Days Gone By”

Some spoilers below:

The last shot of “Days Gone By,” the first episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead, is of the living dead swarming and coagulating on a dead horse, the camera rising steadily into an aerial shot high enough that the throngs of the undead become maggots wriggling on the grey flesh of the rotting corpse of the city of Atlanta that itself is now suffering a living death. Yet the effect is diluted, damn near sabotaged, by the juxtaposition of the Wang Chung song “Space Junk (Wang Chung’97)” playing over the sequence. This encapsulates my feelings about the entire episode; it’s a Frankenstein monster of mismatched and sometimes incompatible and irreconcilable parts stitched together to create something that’s neither alive nor dead itself, a patchwork thing that’s both fascinating and repellant in equal measure.

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