Steven Millhauser – In the Reign of Harad IV

reignharad01Another fun story right in Millhauser’s wheelhouse.

The first sentence pretty much sums it up:

In the reign of Harad IV there lived at court a maker of miniatures, who was celebrated for the uncanny perfection of his work.

As with Thirteen Wives, it is somewhat predictable how the story will play out, but the journey is such fun that it doesn’t matter.

The unnamed Master is richly rewarded by the King.  In addition to 2 apprentices, he has a residence in the palace, and an ermine robe that entitles him to take part in official ceremonies.

For a toy palace, he had created a miniature orchard including a basket of apples which was no larger than a cherry pit.  Upon each apple was a delicate stem, and on one stem, a perfect tiny fly.  This achievement opened up a new world to him.  In his next carving, he was driven to reduce the entire basket to the size of a cherry pit, its contents still ornamented by stem and fly.

The tale of his “invisible” fly makes him even more renowned.  Special lenses were required for the creation and appreciation of his masterpieces.  Astounding as these were, the Master could tell that the King was ready for him to get back to more traditional works.  The Master, however, was committed to constructing a miniature of the entire toy palace — itself already miniature of the King’s home, standing chest-high — which would be so small as to be invisible to the naked eye.  Each of its 600 rooms would be precisely miniaturized, down to the silver utensils in the drawers.

After discovering that his apprentices could satisfy the King’s more pedestrian carpentry needs, the Master was liberated to retreat further into his his shrinking world.  Soon they had their own apprentices, and the Master pursued his dream of an entire miniature city.

One day the new apprentices came calling to see the new city.  The Master allowed them to view the city through the special lens.  He had by now, however, moved beyond the visible world and there was nothing they could see.  Still, they lauded him for his craftsmanship, and took their leave.

The maker of miniatures, knowing that they had seen nothing, that their words were hollow, and that they would never visit him again, returned with some impatience to his work; and as he sank below the crust of the visible world, into his dazzling kingdom, he understood that he had travelled a long way from the early days, that he still had far to go, and that, from now on, his life would be difficult and without forgiveness.

I guess it’s pick-your-metaphor.  Is the Master descending into madness?  Has he just gotten old, humored by younger people, and is just turning inward to his own thoughts? Or is just a dude who makes really small stuff?


Still available online as of this date.

Almost Human (2013)

almosthumanposter0179 minutes, including 8 minutes of credits.  That’s the reason I chose this.

On the oddly specific date of October 13, 1987, Seth Hampton frantically arrives at the home of his friend Mark with a story of their friend Rob being abducted by aliens. Understandably Mark and his out-of-his-league wife Jen are skeptical.

There is a lot to like about this movie, but also some minor irritations that arise almost immediately.  Either writer Joe Begos or actor Graham Skipper have made the rookie mistake of thinking that constantly saying “fuck” is interesting or intense or edgy or funny or real.  In fact, it is exponentially more boring each time it is used (unless it is on The Sopranos).  Of course, Martin Scorsese is still making this mistake, so it isn’t purely rookie.  In his case, it seems more like an old man giggling at his own naughtiness when his nurse isn’t looking.

almosthumanmark01Also, Mark has a manly-man beard that is so obviously fake that it must be real.  Begos proves himself a good enough director that he would not have allowed his make-up person to get away with this beard job.

Seth excitedly tells them about the abduction when suddenly the lights go out, and there are crazy ear-piercing sounds.  Mark goes outside, is hit by a beam of light a la Travis Walton and abducted.
Two years later, on the day Seth wakes up with a nosebleed, hunters find Mark nekkid in the woods.  Begos smartly skips this two year stretch, only cutting into the opening credits with a few news reports.

One of the hunters nudges Mark with the rifle, and he springs to life.  After letting out a Godzilla-like scream, he kills both of them and steals their clothes — this despite one of them being a bro in the manly-man beard club.  Begos again shows his skill, having Mark then do something mostly off camera.  Only later do we know what the growl and the hunter’s shaking foot signifies.  Good stuff

almosthumanmark02Seth goes to see Jen who doesn’t remember anything, and says he believes Mark is coming back.  He is pretty forgiving considering Jen had told everyone that he had killed Mark and Rob.

Mark walks into gas station, knifes a gas-pumper, shoots the clerk — both really well executed; so to speak.  He throws the one that still has a head in the back of the gas-pumper’s truck and heads to his old house.

At the ol’ homestead he sees the circular still-charred patch of grass where he was abducted.  Good times.  He peeks in a window and sees a woman vacuuming.  The phone is ringing, but is almost inaudible under the noise of the vacuum.  So when the woman picks it up, it seems like it is in response to Mark cutting the phone line — I had to rewind a couple of times to get what was happening.

The current man o’ the house, another member of the manly-man beard fraternity, is chainsawing some logs.  Mark shoots him and finishes him off with a beautiful axe to the head.  His wife screams, runs back indoors, and we get a short, nicely choreographed chase involving the house, the car, and a slashing.

Mark lines his victims up in the cellar and and impregnates them by giving the growl, shooting a tube from his mouth to the victim’s mouth, and passing an eggy lump through the tube.

He then goes to Jen’s new house and, in a great switcheroo, her fiance Clyde kicks Mark’s ass.  However, this is Mark’s story, so he does his growl, disables the guy, and breaks his neck.  Clyde has one of those pencil-thin strings of beard with no mustache, so really this can’t be much of a loss.  There’s a reason no one ever wrote a song about a pencil-thin beard.

The story is pretty well set up at this point and follows Mark as he pursues Jen.  She and Seth both put up a good fight.

I was shocked by how well done this movie was.  The score was great, with simple but effective stingers.  The kills were well-done.  And the acting was about as good as you can expect from a small production.

If I had to make a criticism, it would be the portrayal of Mark.  Josh Ethier just did not impart a sense of “otherness”.  While he didn’t come off as a regular garden variety serial killer, there really was nothing to suggest a possession or alien influence.  Maybe it was the beard — In the history of movies, has there ever been an alien with a beard?

I rate it 75 minutes out of 79 minutes.


  • IMDb says this takes place in Derry, Maine, site of many Stephen King stories. Derry gets a mention, but the action seems to be in Patten, Maine (a real city unlike the fictional Derry).
  • I am not a fan of after-credits scenes.  What is going on?  Is that Rob?
  • Other goodness not mentioned above: Podpeople, and a hacksaw.
  • The reveal of the last kill actually got a verbal “Oh shit” from me, it was so well done.  Just to be non-spoilery clear — the last kill / impregnation made by a possessed human.

Manly-Man Beard Club. Not so fast there, Clyde.


Outer Limits – The Choice (S1E6)

The good news is that this episode starts off with the great Thora Birch.  The bad news is that she is playing a 10 year old, and was probably 12 when the episode was filmed. Despite being a child, there is no mistaking it is Thora.

After an incident in school where she has induced a nose-bleed in a bully Carrie-style, her parents are called to the principal’s office.  Clearly she did not lay a hand on the bully, and there were a dozen witnesses.  But despite being played by Fox Mulder’s mother, the principal is not curious about the phenomenon; she suggests that Thora should be put into a special needs class.

As you do for every conflict in life, the parents get a lawyer; and the lawsuit makes the newspaper.  The article catches the eye of new-age bookstore owner played by another famous mother, Ma Calvin.  She makes a call and says she has another “prospect” in Oregon.  Minor coincidence as this is the location of Mulder & Scully’s first assignment.  But maybe Boston would have been more on-point.

The parents had decided to hire a nanny, and thanks to Ma Clavin, the perfect one has shown up on their doorstep.  Unfortunately 3 other candidates are also on the doorstep.  The nanny Karen is able to psychically encourage the others to walk off.  When Thora’s father opens the door, only Karen is left.


That’s more like it!

Aggie is resistant.  When Karen tries to get her attention with some antics more suitable to a 5 year old, Aggie finally speaks out.  Karen blows her mind by making one of her dolls dance.  Maybe I was just tired, but it kind of blew my mind too.

Now we learn that the government has an agent tracking down people like Karen and Aggie.  He is talking to another couple about their missing child who also was also had the power.  He also visits Ma Clavin to pump her for info on the missing child.

Eventually the G-Man confronts both Aggie and Karen, and he operates about as efficiently as any government employee.

Nothing special, but Thora makes the show so I rate it an American Beauty.


  • For whatever reason, and there are many conjectures, Thora’s career has just about crashed.  She deserves better.  I’ve seen her in some crap movies, but she is always entrancing.  Meanwhile, Lindsay Lohan is working on her 15,000th 2nd chance.
  • Apparently “change gears” was the 1980’s word for “multitask.”
  • Sorry, Hollywood, you chose poorly:



My Bloody Valentine (1981)

mybloodyvalcover01Within the first 2 minutes, the film presents us with an ghastly image so repulsive as to churn the stomach of any normal human being.  Or maybe it’s just me — tattoo’s are generally not a good idea, but especially not on the breast of a young blonde.

I have to credit the writer, though, it is there for a reason; actually he milks it for two points.  In some bizarrely fetishistic role-play, a couple has gone down into  coal mine wearing coveralls and gas masks.  Long story short, the heart-shaped tattoo 1) drives the man into a rage, and 2) provides a nice target for the pick-axe.

After a nice opening, the main story begins at the mouth of the mine during the shift change.  A wee little train brings the miners to the surface and takes the next shift down.  The guys are a little too over-the-top friendly in a 1980’s beer commercial kind of way.  Especially in the shower.

It is nice for a change, however, not to watch a bunch of 30 year olds playing high school students.  Although basically they still act like high school kids, just ones who work in a mine.


Ya might immediately think this guy was the killer since he clearly has a screw loose, picking his girlfriend up by the head!

After the gang-shower, the guys head over to the union hall which has been decorated for the prom, er Valentine’s Dance.  The girls also act like high-schoolers. Apparently not having jobs, they are making banners and paper hearts as their boyfriends come in.

A local geezer objects to all this jocularity, recounting the story of why there has not been a Valentine’s Dance in 20 years.

During the last dance, 7 men remained in the mine.  The 2 supervisors bailed for the party without checking the methane levels.  A huge explosion killed the 5 in the mine.  After several days, however, one survivor was found — Harry Warden, insane and chomping on a co-worker’s arm.  One year later, Harry returned to kill the 2 supervisors.  He cut out their hearts and left a note warning that if another dance was ever held on the 14th, there would be more murders.

And what kind of name for a slasher is Harry Warden?  Voorhees and Krueger have some pizzazz.  Although Michael Myers is also pretty boring, sounding more like a slip-and-fall lawyer.

The sheriff receives a box of candy which turns out to contain the heart from the girl killed in the first scene.  He also finds the owner of the laundromat stuffed into one of her dryers.  Like the tanning booth in Trancers, it apparently had a “cremate” setting.  Of course, the de-hearting would have killed her anyway; but at least left the open-casket option available.

Convinced that Harry Warden as returned, the sheriff cancels the Valentine’s Dance.  Displaying the cunning of a slip-and-fall lawyer, the kids, er miners decide they won’t have a dance . . . they’ll have a party!  Totally different.  Surely Harry Warden would not hold them responsible for the difference.

And where better to have a party than at the mine?  Won’t the gang at the sewage treatment plant be jealous!  To their credit, the party is kept above ground in the rec room.  Not that this prevents several of them from being killed.

Inevitably one of them gets the idea to take the party down into the mine.  One character points out that it is against the rules for women to go into the mine.  Thank God we no longer live in the dark ages where women do not have the same opportunity for pneumoconiosis and being trapped in cave-ins as men.  You’ve come a long way, baby.

Going subterranean was not the brightest idea. After several more kills, the culprit is revealed to be one of the partiers.  Turns out Harry Warden has been dead for years.  The killer’s name is Axel, which could be a great name for a franchise killer if matched with an appropriate last name.

It was clear from the editing that many scenes had been trimmed for gore.  A director’s cut has been released restoring at least some of the cuts.  MBV was good enough that I now want to see it intact.

I rate it a 12 out of 14.

Post-Post Leftovers:

  • I thought “slip-and-fall lawyer” was a pejorative.  After Googling, I now see that many attorneys proudly advertise using just that phrase.
  • How can “Googling” not be in spell-check?
  • Strangely Don Francks gets a “Special Guest Appearance By” credit despite being in several scenes, and arguably being the lead in the movie.
  • Nice to see a pick-axe actually used as opposed to some films I could mention.
  • According to IMDb, when the town in Nova Scotia found out they were going to shoot a movie there, they spent $50k to clean up the mine. The producers then had to spend $75k to dirty it up again.  I suspect this is, like most wacky production anecdotes you hear, a complete lie.

Ray Bradbury Theater – The Small Assassin (S2E6)

Killer baby!  Always a hit.  No way to screw this up, no sirree!

Pregnant Alice is rushed to the hospital.  In the ambulance, she is screaming, “It’s trying to kill me!”  She is clawing at her belly as if she expects the baby to burst out at any time.

When the new-born baby is brought to her in the hospital, she asks, “Is it alive?”  When told it is, she replies, “Oh, what a shame.”  Hmmmm, I don’t recognize the actress, why does the mother seem so familiar to me?

Husband David comes to see mother and child and everything seems normal.  Back at home, Alice is a wreck.  She says the baby screams and cries whenever David is not at home.

That night, Alice leaves the bedroom and sits on the stairs.  David follows her and she says the baby is trying to keep her awake to make her weak.  It listens to them them talking, waiting for David to leave so it can try to kill Alice.


One of many baby-eisenstein POV shots.

At work, David receives word Alice tried to smother the baby after it had cried for 3 hours.

She confesses to David she has no love for the baby.  We get a tracking shot and see shadows indicating the baby is on the move.  Alice thinks it is a prowler.  She goes to the baby’s room and is suspicious that he is perspiring.

David is going down stairs to the kitchen when he nearly trips on a teddy bear.  Alice believes the baby put it there to kill him.  David says babies don’t do that.  Alice says maybe he’s a genius.  At this point, it is impossible not to think of Stewie Griffen.  David storms out, the baby starts crying.

Alice tells the doctor she remembers her own birth.  She did not want to be born and resented her mother for birthing her out of that warm place and into the cold, bright world.  She believes her baby was also born with that self-awareness and is taking out his resentment on her.

rbsmallassassinbaby03In the most unlikely occurrence of the episode, the doctor makes a house-call.  He finds David in a heap at the bottom of the stairs where he has fallen and broken his neck.  At the top of the stairs is the toy bear that he almost tripped on earlier.

Seeing a movement upstairs, the doctor goes up looking for Alice.  She has been electrocuted in her bed.  It is not clear how the deed was done.  It involves a safety pin, an electrical cord and possibly the metal frame of the bed.

The doctor looks in the baby’s room and finds an empty cradle.  As he descends the stairs, he locks eyes with the baby and understands that Alice was right.  Knowing what must be done, he pulls out a scalpel and gives him a 4th trimester abortion.

I rate it 5 out of 9 months.

Post-Post Leftovers:

  • The idea of the self-aware baby is great, and because the story was published in 1946, this must have been one of the first killer-babies.
  • Wisely, the baby is never shown roaming the house or making the kills — I can’t imagine any way to do it.  It is all done though shadows, POV shots and a lot of gurgling.
  • David is pretty forgiving and trusting, leaving his wife alone with their baby so soon after she had tried to smother him.
  • Unfortunately, these European productions are killing me.