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Non-Review Review: The Little Stranger

The Little Stranger could do with being a little stranger.

Gothic horror stories about haunted houses are often about more than just the building or the estate itself. They often serve as something at once larger and smaller; a prism through which the storyteller might examine both the society around the haunted house and the family unit trapped within. This is true of most haunted house stories, no matter where or when they are set. The Amityville Horror is about much broader familial anxieties than a mere spectre.

Stranger Things…

At the same time, it feels particularly true when applied to the more traditional and old-fashioned gothic haunted house stories, the kind of tales about old family estates in the middle of nowhere, that had once served to anchor political and economic power in a particular area, but had since watched modernity pass them by. These are the sorts of creepy houses frequently glimpsed in period pieces or older stories, whether in tales set in the England of Wuthering Heights or the New England of Edgar Allan Poe.

The Little Stranger belongs to this particularly strain of haunted house horror, unfolding on a once grand estate that is slowly surrendering itself to a rapidly-changing world. It is the story of a house in decay and decline, falling apart as it struggles to find its place in a world that might slowly shed the trappings of class hierarchies and where power might no longer be anchored exclusively in those families wealthy enough to own and maintain these grand estates.

A sorry estate of affairs…

The Little Stranger works better as a mood than as a story, a slowly unravelling portrait of a household coming face-to-face with its own obsolescence, unsure both of whether it can do anything to arrest this collapse or even whether it wants to. The tale maintains a steady sense of unease across its runtime, largely down to a tremendous performance from Domhnall Gleeson as a character who remains ambiguous and unsettling even as he positions himself at the centre of the narrative.

The Little Stranger suffers from a fairly conventional and predictable plot, with little novel or insightful to say, relying on a series of revelations that are quite clear even fifteen minutes into the two-hour runtime. The Little Stranger is a little too familiar for its own good, a little too comfortable and sedate to really pack the necessary punch.

Farraday is far away.
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Doctor Who – Knock, Knock (Review)

“That’s what they’re called, Driads?”

“That’s what I’m calling them, yes.”

“You’ve gone crazy.”

“Well, I can’t just call them lice, can I?”

Performance is a bit wooden.

Knock Knock is a solid, if unexceptional, episode of Doctor Who. It occasionally feels more like a grab bag of idea welded together, more than a single cohesive story.

Knock Knock is essentially three very different episodes sutured together in a decidedly haphazard fashion. Knock Knock is, in quick succession: an episode focusing on Bill’s life outside the TARDIS, an old-school haunted house adventure, an intense familial psychodrama with a powerhouse guest performance. There is a strong sense that Knock Knock would work better if it chose to be any two of those three episodes, but that it simply cannot hold itself together trying to satisfy all three masters.

Dial it back, there.

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Star Trek (Marvel Comics, 1980) #4-5 – The Haunting of Thallus!/The Haunting of the Enterprise! (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Marvel certainly had an unconventional approach to publishing Star Trek.

The company had licensed the comic book rights following the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. They had released a successful adaptation of the film as part of their Marvel Super Special line and had re-package the three-part adaptation as the first three issues of an on-going Star Trek comic book. Written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by Dave Cockrum, it was clear that Marvel had big plans for Star Trek. However, it also quickly became clear that they had no idea where they wanted to go with the comic.

Here there be monsters...

Here there be monsters…

After all, they immediately followed up the big three-issue opening arc with a comic where the Enterprise discovered a haunted house floating in space. While it was certainly a catchy image, it wasn’t exactly a quintessential Star Trek premise. It seemed that Marvel had no idea what to do with the comic. Writer Marv Wolfman wrote the first of the two issues comprising the storyline, handing the second issue over to Mike W. Barr. He would only stick around for two issues before handing the comic over to Tom DeFalco. DeFalco wrote a single issue before moving on.

It is a rather disjointed comic book, one which lacks the strong narrative voices that DC would give to their late-eighties licensed Star Trek comics. Then again, it is probably easy enough to deduce all of this from the fact that the first original Star Trek storyline published by Marvel featured a haunted house floating in space.

In space, everyone can hear you scream...

In space, everyone can hear you scream…

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Doctor Who: Ghost Light (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Ghost Light originally aired in 1989.

Sir, I think Mister Matthews is confused.

Never mind, I’ll have him completely bewildered by the time I’m finished.

– Gwendoline and the Doctor may as well be talking about the audience

Ghost Light is rather infamous as the “impossible to follow” story from the final year of Doctor Who, the episode that doesn’t quite make sense or fit together as well as it should. Although there’s an element of exaggeration here, there’s also a grain of truth. As with Silver Nemesis, there’s a sense that Andrew Cartmel’s approach to three-part adventures is simply to structure a four-part story and start whittling it down.

Of course, there’s one massive difference between Ghost Light and Silver Nemesis. While Silver Nemesis was a retread of ground that had been covered with more skill and thought in the season premiere, Ghost Light is something altogether different. As difficult as the episode is to piece together – and it’s far from impossible, even if it requires an increased level of engagement from its audience – it is quite brilliant.

Shine on, you crazy survey dude...

Shine on, you crazy survey dude…

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Non-Review Review: Insidious

I’m of two minds about Insidious, the latest entry in the “haunted house” horror subgenre. On one hand, I definitely respect its attempts to return to the roots of these types of films without dwelling on gore for the sake of gore. On the other, it doesn’t seem like the film is entirely certain what to show you when it can’t fill the screen with fountains of blood and guts erupting. Film is obviously a visual medium, but horror is very much an exception to the old maxim “show, don’t tell.” The problem is that Insidious shows too much.

A (para)normal family?

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