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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Spooky Star Trek

Ha! Back... and fully charged.

Star Trek
is a TV series that isn't exactly known for its tales of horror.

Ever since that one episode of TOS that was trying explicitly to be a Halloween-themed entry made Kirk and Co. go up against black cats and highly questionable witches, the series had tried to stay away from the realm of Doctor-Who-like monsters. And it's been all the better for it, I say: the less you depend on the foam-rubber monsters, the harder you have to try to tell a good story. This inevitably led to the Star Trek Renaissance, in which episodes of TNG were not limited to sequels to TOS episodes and other shows about aliens posing as gods, humans posing as gods, your imagination posing as a god, and computers posing as gods.

This isn't to say that there aren't any moments of fantastic flight or interstellar horror starring Data and crew. It just means that, like all media, Star Trek has had to be a bit more cerebral in its portrayals. Rather than outright scary, or even spooky, Star Trek has had to try for creepy.

Here are three moments from the Star Trek universe that actually succeeded in freaking me out. These scenes rely on atmosphere rather than gross-outs or jump-scares, and that makes the images stick with you long after you've seen the episodes.

Torres Has an Encounter With Bleeding Metal

Trekkies have always had a hard-on for Klingons. I never got this, quite frankly. Oh, I tried - back when I was playing the Star Trek CCG in its early days, there were only three groups you could play as, and I latched onto the only group I had enough cards to actually play: the Klingons. And so I started to claim that the Klingons were my favorite alien race. But, I mean, really: once you got beyond that contrived "honor" bullshit, there wasn't a whole lot to like about the klngons. They were violent, often smelly, and I must have missed the class where honor was defined as conquering those weaker than you in order to build a vast interstellar empire, as well as settling any and all grievances, no matter how trivial, with a big curvy knife. Seems kind of primitive, is all.

But like I said, the majority of fans friggin' love Klingons. So, Rick Berman tried to squeeze as many forehead-ridges into the show as he could back in the day when he was running things. And that was how we got the episode, early into the sixth season of Star Trek Voyager, called "The Barge of the Dead."

B'Elanna Torres is the chief engineer aboard the U.S.S. Voyager, and she's also half-klingon. Her mother was the proud warrior type, and her human father seemed like he was probably the one sewing up tears in B'Elana's Klingon cheerleading uniform. Occasionally, when the writers were out of ideas and Berman shouted from his office that ratings were slipping and they needed a Klingon episode, B'Elanna would run into conflicts with her "Klingon heritage." You should read that line as "Sometimes she would worry about whether she was being quite as violent as she could be."

Anyway, "Barge of the Dead" involves B'Elanna suffering a hallucination while in a coma after a shuttlecraft accident, which makes her believe that she is on the aforementioned barge of Klingon Mythology. Here, she is charged with saving her mother's soul from Grethor, i.e. Klingon Hell. It's supposed to be a character-building episode, I guess, but it strays too far into woo-woo territory for me to care all that much.

On the scale of "the human condition" stories, this one ranks pretty low. We've already seen Worf go through all of this, and, hell, even Spock can be counted as among the many aliens that had to try to deal with the little bit of human that was infecting their blood. But I'm not here to review how well the B'Elanna character was handled - I'm here to show you images that will shock and disturb. Behold!

Bleeding metal! In the first moments of B'Elanna's hallucinations, she imagines that her shuttlecraft was damaged by a piece of debris from a hunk of metal from a Klingon space-vessel that, by the logic of the series, shouldn't be there. When she takes it back to her quarters (because, really, a girl's gotta have her knick-knacks) and goes to fiddle with the food replicator, a rising crescendo of the moans of the damned swells in the background, and the metal begins to ooze blood. It's all very Nightmare on Elm Street.

It's the sounds that really get me. You've got to see it for yourself to understand how bloody freaky it is.

Voyager Wants to Kill and Eat You

Another Voyager episode creeps me the hell out in "The Haunting of Deck 12." In this one, Neelix (the obligatory annoying alien character) is charged with keeping the children on board (there's only five of them, but trust me, that's five more than were really necessary) occupied when the ship has to run on minimal power as it heads through some weird-ass nebula (which, in it's own scary-ass way, turns out to be mostly alive). This means that the ship has to be kept almost entirely in the dark for around three hours.

To accomplish his duties, Neelix decides that it'd be a good idea to (keeping in mind that the entire ship is dark, claustrophobic, and there may or may not be any number of alien stowaways aboard) tell the kids some camp-fire ghost stories. He settles on the eponymous "Haunting of Deck 12," in which the ship is invaded by a nebula alien that can control electronic systems and will flood the decks with poison gas unless you turn that ship around right now and take it home this instant.

And that's the scary part of it all. It's the haunted house story, but a whole lot worse - it's more like the haunted submarine, mixed with a little techno-phobic terror. Once the alien gets tired with using subtle methods to try to return home (making Paris look like a jackass by flying the ship in circles is its main strategy here), it gets angry and begins to turn off the lights, make the atmosphere poisonous, and just generally turn the U.S.S. Voyager into a giant death trap. A sentient death trap, in which there is no escape.

Oh, but it gets worse. See, you may already know that in the Star Trek universe, all of the computers talk. And as 2001 and Portal have taught us, there is nothing more frightening than a piece of technology suddenly acquiring free will and deciding, in its flat, monotonous voice, that it wants to murder you.

And then you realize that it totally has the capability to do so. I dare you to watch this and not be spooked when Captain Janeway tells the nebula creature that she's not going to take anymore of its crap by saying "You'll have to kill me!" and then hearing the ship respond with a simple, direct, "Acknowledged."

Dead Tired

The downright creepiest scene that I have ever seen in an episode of Star Trek isn't from Voyager. It's from my childhood favorite, The Next Generation.

By the fourth season, TNG had finally gotten its legs, and was on the way to becoming one of the most popular shows on television, paving the way for Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. And it was because of writing that gave us scenes like this one, in the episode "Night Terrors."

In "Night Terrors," the Enterprise encounters the U.S.S. Brattain, a starship that was reported missing. When they investigate, they find that they entire crew have murdered each other, and they have no idea why. As the Enterprise stays within the area to study the ship and the surrounding space, they discover that something unusual is happening: they are unable to enter REM sleep, that is, they've lost the ability to dream. And then the shit hits the fan.

The crew begin to go insane, seemingly from the lack of REM sleep. Riker hallucinates that is bed is full of snakes (ahh, "Indiana Jones Syndrome"), Worf tries to off himself, and Doctor Crusher? Well, Doctor Beverly Crusher, CMO of the starship Enterprise, gets to experience this:

And really, if you don't know what scary about the recently deceased, still covered in body bags, sitting straight up and silent in a morgue (of which you are in the middle of, surrounded by said body bags), then I can't talk to you anymore: You lack the capability to be frightened.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Reports of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Just in case you were waiting for something to happen...

the posts will continue in earnest tomorrow, for tonight brings migraines with it.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Spooky Cereals

(Just ignore the totally-inappropriate Christmas Fruity Pebbles commercial at the beginning of this one)

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Night Fights: We Need an Exorcist...

...because Reagan's posessed!

But we all know that the DCU has a dreadfully soft spot for the Gipper, so they'd never really let anything happen to him. And since it's almost Halloween, who better to stop Evil Reagan than the Phantom Stranger...

...and Reagan himself!?

Take that, Commie scum!

Who're you voting for, Bahlactus?

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Literate Yourself: Ray Bradbury Narrates The Halloween Tree

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ya'll know what settles on badness don't ya?


(images from The Comic Book Database)

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

NO-air Extravaganza? CBS, Zombies, and Babylon Fields

Halloween season continues unabated here at Blackmarket Pies, and tonight I give you a look at the show that CBS decided we didn't want to see: Babylon Fields.

Babylon Fields was a drama (and it is a drama drama, with nary a chuckle in earshot) that features two of the hottest subjects at the moment - death and zombies. I'm guessing Pirates and/or Ninjas were out of the range of the budget. I say "was" because while a pilot was ordered by CBS for the fall 2007 season, the exec's decided to pass it up for the vampire series "Moonlight" instead. So this may be your only chance to get to know what a TV show about zombies would have looked like on a major television network. Go you!

Sounding like a spin-off from the idea behind the French movie They Came Back, Babylon Fields explores what happens when the dead return from the grave, and really aren't that keen on brain-eating: they just want to return to their old lives, even if the people from those lives had decided to move on long ago.


Jamey Sheridan ... Ernie Wunch (undead husband)

Kathy Baker ... Shirley Wunch

Amber Tamblyn ... Janine Wunch

Ray Stevenson ... Carl Tiptree (police chief)

Our story begins with a shot of a recently re-animated corpse clawing his way back to the world of the living - except he's not coming out of a cemetery, he's emerging from within a fenced-off lot marked "Private Property." Keep this in mind, it'll be important later.

Then we're introduced to two of the protagonists: the surviving Wunches, Janine and her mother, Shirley. They're doing what those about to be attacked by zombies typically do: the banalities of every day life. There's not a whole lot here other than typical mother/teenage daughter banter, so it's probably best if we move on.

Cut to: a small-town police station. Carl Tiptree (played by Ray Stevenson, he was in HBO's Rome, don'tcha know) the only police chief in the world who lacks any kind of personality whatsoever, is introduced here, as well as his girlfriend/sex-buddy, Louisa Ramirez (played by Leila Arcieri). They, uh, "flirt," I guess, and then go about their business.

Meanwhile, the dead-man-walking seen earlier has been shambling his way through the town, and the Wunches arrive home just in time to discover that he's cracked open a cold one and made himself at home.

It turns out that the dead man is Ernie Wunch, ertswhile husband of Shirley, and something of an ambiguous "monster." I'm guessing he was just a wife beater, although we are dealing with zombies here, so he may have actually been a vampire and/or werewolf. It is disappointing that we may never truly know.

Carl also has an encounter with the dearly departed. He's been called to his sister's home, where he discovers that her dead husband, Dick, has returned from the great beyond. And let me tell you, for a guy laid to rest way back in 1998, he doesn't look half bad. Dude even brags later about how he can still get it up.

You read that correctly, gentle reader: there is implied pseudo-necro-philia goin' on in Babylon Fields. At this point, you may be wondering why the show was not green-lit within seconds of viewing this scene.

Dick tells Carl to go down to Greenfield Cemetary, and "he'll see." And boy, does he ever.

Not only have dozens of the dead gotten up and started wandering around, but he even discovers that his dead wife's grave is now empty. That might get a little awkward.

After a few more scenes in which the two Wunches encounter the standard paranoid survivalist types who have taken to barricades and home-made weaponry, the police station is reported to be (but never seen) under siege from frightened citizens (and not, sadly, flesh-hungry zombies), and everybody's favorite dull Police Chief gets to play hero by saving a dead man from a mob of angry church-goers, we discover what was undoubtedly going to be the big mystery of the series (you know, besides why, or even how, the dead have come back to, uh, "life"): Ernie Wunch discovers that he was actually struck down by a blow to his head - with an axe. He implores Carl to discover who's behind his murder, and that's where our introduction to the idyllic town of Babylon Fields comes to a close.

Refreshingly, the show doesn't take the tone of a Tim Burton movie, or something like Dead Like Me or Pushing Daisies - in the town of Babylon, death is no laughing matter. When the dead return in the first fifteen minutes, there aren't any cutesy zombie moments, or scenes played for jokes: it's what we'd expect it to be if this actually happened. Everybody freaks out, most people lock themselves in their houses, and some grab rifles and commence "removing the head or destroying the brain" when they encounter people who should still be six feet under.

Another theme that was planted in the pilot was the idea that it would not necessarily be the zombies that are the problem, but that we would be our own worst enemy. The zombies don't exactly cause any trouble, but the living citizenry shoot at them, swarm them, and entirely lose their cool. In fact, it's the zombies who appear rational, despite the fact that they were just dead. This is a little perplexing, since the archetypal zombies, those of "Night of the Living Dead," were already supposed to act as a metaphor for people throwing each other to the wolves.

It also raises an interesting question: if you kill a zombie - but it's, like, a nice zombie - does it count as murder? Even worse - what if they don't die after that? Does it still count as attempted murder? Inquiring minds demand satisfactory answers.

It does drag on a bit. They spend far too long showing how people react to the dead returning then actually, you know, doing something. And it's all the visceral reaction: shock, anger, fear. Only one person ever starts to get to know their dead loved one again (remember that zombie intimacy I mentioned earlier?), everyone else is too busy freaking out for 45 minutes.

It would have been nice if we had gotten a little "day in the life" image of the town of Babylon before the shit started hitting the fan. Maybe they could have established who was dead before they came back, just so that we'd have a connection with the characters and be able to see things through their eyes. For example, we know from a few snippets of dialog that Shirley and Janine Wunch know Carl the detective, and that they were actually the ones who killed Ernie (well, guess it wasn't that big of a mystery after all then, huh?), and it would have been nice to see the relationship between the chief and those two, and if he had assisted in covering-up Ernie's murder. I would have also cared to see how much Carl missed his wife, and maybe finding out that it was especially difficult for him to finally let go, and how freaking horrible it's going to be for him to have to face her again.

So I can see why the show wasn't picked up. It's too meandering, too talky, and I didn't give one iota of rat's ass about any of the characters. I am perplexed, though, as to why they didn't decide to release the pilot to iTunes or a similar online service. When they made Aquaman available for download, it was snatched up eagerly by waiting comics fans. The inexplicable allure of the zombie in popular culture at the moment would have guaranteed some return on investment - and hell, it might have even given the series a second chance.

Favorite lines:

"Like the bible says: 'When there's no room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth.' "
"That's from a movie."
"Not even; it's from the poster."

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Monday, October 22, 2007

The Haunted Short Bus

Greetings, internet! This being the last week and a bit of October, I have decided to dedicate the following 10 days to Halloween spookiness of all sorts. Much like a favorite site's Halloween Countdown, I will be posting new content of a spooky nature EVERY DAY. Can your mind handle the stress?

Today, I'll give you a little bit of my love for both Halloween and Nintendo, and also dare you to try to come up with a funnier image:

And what's best is that Boo just seems so happy to be a part of Super Mario Strikers: Charged.

You kids be careful now.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday Night Fights: Sucka Punch, Round 4

Marvel's Very Useful Scientific Facts #1

It is unwise to sneak up on a Demon from Hell.


Hey, GR - that old lady looks like she could use some help.

KRROOOMM!'s... is there anything they can't fix?

Will you return the serve, Bahlactus?

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A History Lesson

...from your pals at DC comics.

In the 1980's, it was generally considered to be good foreign policy to refrain from fucking with Reagan. Some, evidently, did not heed this warning.

The consequences of FUCKING WITH REAGAN can be seen in DC Comics' Legends #6 (collected in Legends: The Collection), by Ostander, Wein, Byrne, and Kesel.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Friday Night Fights: Sucka Punch, Round Three

Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.
That is all.

The supreme martial arts mastery taught by senseis Howard, Fine, and Howard can be witnessed in the pages of Manhunter #28. Ted Kord returns in this one! Sort of.

They have yet to release a trade that includes #28, so why don't you just pick up Volume 1, instead?

What now, wiseguy Bahlactus?

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