Tuesday, May 09, 2017

THE TWILIGHT BINGE #018: THE LAST FLIGHT

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S01E18 – The Last Flight

“A World War I flying ace flies through a mysterious cloud - and lands at a modern U.S. air base in the year 1959!”

Although Rod Serling had previously adapted one of Richard Mathieson’s stories for the Twilight Zone episode And When The Sky Was Open, The Last Flight represents the acclaimed (and for good reason) author’s first self-penned screenplay for the show. It also happens to be the first episode to take the show’s title somewhat literally.

According to the Twilight Zone Archives

The original phrase "twilight zone," came from the early 1900's, used to describe a distinct condition between fantasy and reality. The phrase then evolved into a term used to define the lowest level of the ocean that light can reach, and then as an aeronautical term used by the U.S. Air Force. When Rod Serling was asked how he came up with the title The Twilight Zone, he replied, "I thought I'd made it up, but I've heard since that there is an Air Force term relating to a moment when a plane is coming down on approach and it cannot see the horizon. It's called the twilight zone, but it's an obscure term which I had not heard before."

So, while not exactly in sync with the USAF’s use of the term “twilight zone,” this tale of a strange cloud in the sky that disorientates pilots is pretty close. Of course, said cloud doesn’t just discombobulate them. There’s a bit of time travel involved as well, a component which (unless they’re not telling us something) is not included in the Air Force’s definition. But while the time-hopping aspect of this episode might not apply to real life servicemen, the fear of dying during combat displayed by the main character certainly does.

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The military does its best to prepare their troops for the stress of combat, but even seasoned soldiers can have moments of panic, extreme anxiety, or utter indecision. This type of short-term behavioral disorganization is officially referred to as Combat Stress Reaction (CSR), though ‘combat fatigue’ is the more common moniker amongst the rank and file. So it’s hard to completely fault Flight Lieutenant Decker when he momentarily freaks out and abandons his fellow airman in the middle of a dogfight. It could happen to anybody.

However, the fact that Decker’s done it more than once and keeps covering it up so that no one will look down on him, that’s a problem. As Walter Farrell, O.P notes in his Companion to the Summa Theologica…

It is not, of course, wrong to feel fear. A good ghost story should cause goose flesh and shivers; a mysterious noise at night might well make our knees knock and our teeth chatter. There are things that should be feared, things like snakes, broken legs and tornadoes; but we should fear those things reasonably, not suffering damnation in an attempt to escape snakes. For if, feeling fear as every man does, we allow that fear to take command of our action, then we are cowards.

Decker knows that each time he enters combat he is going to turn tail and run, thereby increasing the odds that his comrades will die. And yet he keeps doing it, excusing his actions because there was a good chance those who perished were going to do so anyway. It is war, after all. But his little jaunt to the future shows Decker that his cowardly actions have ramifications far beyond the battlefield, that untold numbers of people who would otherwise have lived will now die prematurely because of Decker’s continued cowardice. No person’s choices rarely affect only themselves. This lesson learned, Decker is finally able to choose the path of courage and do what is necessary. He dies a hero. More importantly, as Farrell might put it, he doesn’t suffer damnation in an attempt to escape snakes.

Overall, The Last Flight is a solid episode and a strong debut for Mathieson, though his best are yet to come. It’s also an interesting one because Mathieson, despite his Christian Scientist upbringing, is usually considered much less of a moralist than Serling was. Maybe so, but you couldn’t tell it from The Last Flight.

Twilight Tidbits: The 1918 Nieuport biplane used in this episode was something of a star itself, having previously appeared in such films as The Dawn Patrol, Men With Wings, Lafayette Escadrille, and The Last Squadron.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

SHORT TAKE: THE WASP WOMAN

Wasp Woman, The

Vanity, thy name is woman…

…is something William Shakespeare never wrote; he actually used the word frailty. Still, that hasn’t stopped people from using the misquoted ‘vanity’ line to disparage women for ages now. And that’s despite a rash of recent studies which have shown that men care more about their appearance than women do, take more selfies of themselves than women do, and look at themselves in the mirror more than women do.

All that’s minor league stuff, though. As we learn in The Wasp Woman, only a female has the testicular fortitude to go so far as to steal a scientist’s untested youth potion made from the jelly of a queen wasp and inject herself with it on the off chance it might make her look a few years younger.

Now, to be fair, there’s a little more to Janice Starlin’s choice to risk becoming a wasp-headed monster than just seeing some crow’s feet and frown lines in the mirror. You see, Janice also happens to be the head of a cosmetic empire whose success, in part, has been based on having her image plastered all over its products’ packaging. But now that Janice has the ravaged face of a woman in her forties (really?), it was considered necessary to remove her ancient visage from all advertising. Unfortunately, doing so turned out to be just as bad for sales as having a hag on the box, so profits are sagging anyway.

The film seems to imply that, along with all of the usual stuff, society places an extra burden on women to maintain their physical attractiveness more so than it does men. if they don’t, there will be emotional and financial consequences. Because of this, a number of reviewers have heralded The Wasp Woman as one of the first feminist monster movies.

I suppose if we view Janice as symbolic of all women, then there is something to that notion. But on a more individual level, what Janice is going through is pretty common to just about everyone, man or woman. Writing for The Atlantic, Joseph Burgo, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and the author of Cinderella: A Tale of Narcissism and Self-Harm, Why Do I Do That?, notes…

“In his [eight] stages of psychosocial development, the psychologist Erik Erikson identifies the ‘crisis’ of middle age as a conflict between generativity and self-doubt. Generativity means we come to place increasing value on guiding the next generation—as parents, educators, artists, or social activists. A person who instead remains self-centered, unable to accept the changing of the generational guard, grows increasingly dissatisfied and stagnant.  People who make contributions to the younger generation and to society at large tend to feel good about themselves at this stage and find it a consolation for the loss of top billing. They will grow old with a sense of grace and acceptance. Those who can’t bear the shift to a supporting role may become increasingly narcissistic in the unhealthy sense of the word. Even adults who haven’t seemed particularly narcissistic for most of their lives may become so as they age. They will ape the behaviors, clothing, and attitudes of the young, trying to preserve their sexual appeal. They may opt for plastic surgery. Socially, they become more self-absorbed and insensitive, demanding to remain the center of attention.”

In other words, people who live their lives in service to others tend to be happier as they age, while those who remain self-centered become increasingly miserable as time goes on. Heck, they may even start making stupid decisions such as injecting themselves with wasp queen jelly and turning into homicidal monsters. You know, it’s almost as if all those times the Pope has harped on the necessity of serving others (like here, here, and here, for example), he might have actually been on to something.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

SHORT FEATURE: LEANING

Another day, another depressing poll. According to the most recent Gallup survey on American’s perception of honesty and ethical standards amongst various professions, things are still looking dour for the clergy. According to the study…

“Americans' ‘high’ or ‘very high’ ratings of the clergy slipped to 44%, its lowest point since Gallup first asked the question in 1977. The clergy rating first dropped below 50% in 2013 to 47% and slipped one point to a new low in each of the past three years.

Clergy ranked at the top of the list in 1977 with a 61% rating when Gallup first included the profession in the list. In 2001, almost two-thirds of Americans rated the honesty and ethical standards of the clergy as ‘high’ or ‘very high.’ But the sexual abuse scandal that engulfed the Roman Catholic Church in 2002 brought the rating down to 52% that year. By 2013, after a series of further revelations of abuse, less than half of the public gave the clergy a ‘high’ or ‘very high’ rating.”

So, yeah, perception of the clergy would seem to be at an all-time low. But you know the problem with perceptions, right? The initial ones aren’t always the most accurate, as the short film Leaning aptly demonstrates. (Content warning: there will be blood.)

Perceptions can change. Even Gallop’s survey hints at it. For instance, go further into the data and you find this tidbit:

“Among those most likely to give the clergy a ‘high’ or ‘very high’ rating this month were Protestants (59%), those aged 65 and older (58%), those who attend religious services at least weekly (57%), and Republicans (56%). The groups least likely to rate the clergy's standards as ‘high’ or ‘very high’ were the nonreligious (22%), 18- to 29-year-olds (30%), those with annual household incomes under $30,000 (31%), those with a high school education or less (37%), and liberals (37%).”

In other words, those who rate clergy low on the trustworthiness scale are those unlikely to interact with them on a regular basis. Those who do, such as regular churchgoers, tend to rate clergy much higher. Just as in Leaning, perceptions change once you see what the clergy is actually up to. The truth is, once you get to know the majority of clergy (there’s always a few duds), the more you discover just how much these people devote their lives to serving others. So, if we want to increase the positive perception of the clergy, the solution is simple. Help get more people into the Church. And we do that by becoming better Christians. Somehow, it always comes back to that, doesn’t it?

Sunday, April 02, 2017

HAPPY 10TH ANNIVERSARY!

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I’ve been so ridiculously busy lately that my anniversary completely slipped my notice. No, not my wedding anniversary. What do you think I am, suicidal? I mean my blogging anniversary. As of February 2017, it’s been 10 years since I started The B-Movie Catechism.

Now, that hardly makes me the longest running Catholic blog around (I’m pretty sure The Curt Jester has been going strong since before Al Gore invented the Internet), but 10 years is still a pretty good run considering the subject matter here. After all, how many other Catholic sites do you know that are offering essays on Scream Blacula Scream and Gymkata? Of course, my particular taste in movies has guaranteed me a niche position as a bit player in the big picture that is St. Blogs. So, while many of my contemporaries have gone off to book deals and radio spots and the like, I’m still sitting here trying to sound intelligent while talking about stuff like Frankenstein Island.

And you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. If God’s happy with me here, I’m happy with me here. Plus, the well never runs dry when it comes to religion or bad movies. I’m pretty sure I have at least another ten years worth of material to get to. So, as long as all of you keep showing up, I will too.

Thanks for a great first ten years, everybody!

SHORT TAKE: AMITYVILLE EXORCISM

Amityville Exorcism, The

Last year it was announced that the 19th motion picture to bear the Amityville name would soon make its way to theaters. Produced by the unstoppable Blumhouse Productions, the creative force behind the Paranormal Activities and Conjuring franchises, and featuring such recognizable faces as Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bella Thorne, and Kurtwood Smith, it was hoped the movie would be the one to reinvigorate the Amityville brand.

This is not that movie.

This is Amityville Exorcism, the 18th movie to bear the Amityville name. It’s produced by Polonia Brothers Entertainment, the creative minds behind such films as Triclops, Muckman, Peter Rottentail, and Splatter Farm, and features Marie DeLorenzo and Jeff Kirkendall, actors you would only recognize if you’ve watched movies like Empire of the Apes, Sharkenstein, or Bigfoot Vs. Zombies (and Lord help me, I have).

You see, producers of low budget schlock learned long ago that the name Amityville can’t be trademarked. So, not only do we get high profile productions like the original The Amityville Horror and the supposedly upcoming Amityville: The Awakening, but we also get tons of slipshod knock-offs like The Amityville Asylum and The Amityville Playhouse (not to be confused with the slightly superior The Amityville Dollhouse).

All I can say is that it’s a good thing for such movies that Amityville is a town and not a person, otherwise they would definitely be guilty of breaking The Eighth Commandment. That’s the one which forbids any falsehood that does injury to one's neighbor, including unjustly ruining their good name. Heck, despoiling someone’s reputation is considered so loathsome that some of the Church Fathers have even likened it to being akin to murder. Watch something like Amityville Death House and you’ll understand what they mean (Oh, Eric Roberts, why?).

But anyway, back to Amityville Exorcism. The story is a simple one. Cursed lumber from the original Amityville house has been used to construct another residence, and it isn’t long before the young(ish) woman residing there becomes possessed by a demon dressed in red and develops a bad skin complexion. Fortunately, the somewhat frumpy Father Benna has been tracking down the cursed wood ever since his brother, also a priest, died while fighting the Amityville demon. The good father arrives just in the nick of time and, aided by the girl’s pickled paterfamilias, attempts an exorcism to drive off the evil Amityville spirit once and for all.

Now, it would be easy to criticize Amityville Exorcism for being cheap, poorly acted, and barely scripted. Easy, because it is all those things, in spades. For example, every ‘special’ effect in the film was obviously picked up at Party City, from the zombie makeup kit used to create the girl’s possessed look, to the red plastic masquerade mask worn by the demon. I looked it up. You can get both those items for $8.98 plus tax. Throw in another 20 bucks for the priest shirt and you’re ready to go.

Ultimately, though, such criticisms are futile. Director Mark Polonia has been churning out these kind of no-budget homemade films since the mid-80s, and everything in them that appalls the average movie viewer is exactly what Polonia’s long-time fans clamor for. If you count yourself among them, Amityville Exorcism is more of what you’ve crave. If you don’t, you’ve been warned.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

SHORT TAKE: DON’T KILL IT

As mentioned in my previous post, my day job is severely limiting my writing time here at the ol’ B-Movie Catechism. That’s regrettable because as much as I enjoy reviewing films for Aleteia and Scenes, I don’t often get to cover the kinds of movies over there that I do here. Apparently, long-winded ruminations on stuff like  Reptilicus and Hard Rock Zombies just don’t generate the same number of page views a review of Logan does. That’s fine, but I still miss discussing low budget and cult cinema. So, until I can get back into full swing here, I’m going to start putting up the occasional short take on movies tailor made for this site, a sort of B-Movie Catechism lite, if you will. Let’s start with…

Don't Kill It

Did you ever watch Fallen and wonder if it wouldn’t be just a little bit better if they replaced Denzel Washington with Dolph Lundgren and added lots and lots of head trauma? If so, then have we got a movie for you!

Don’t Kill It features everybody’s favorite chemical engineer turned beefcake bad boy (it’s true, look it up) as Jebediah Woodley, a deep-south demon hunter on the trail of a body hopping baddie. It seems Jebediah has been after one particular fiend ever since he was a little demon hunter in training and witnessed it cause his father’s death. Now, at last, Jebediah has the hellion in his sights and can exact some sweet revenge. The catch is, anytime this particular demon’s host body is killed, it immediately jumps into the body of the person who did the killing. What’s a guy to do in a situation like that?

Not to worry, as over the decades Jebediah has developed an impressive arsenal of non-lethal weapons for just this situation. Unfortunately, nobody else has, and since no one believes a word of Jebediah’s warnings, everyone tends to immediately open fire anytime one of the possessed goes on a killing rampage. You’d think after the first few massacres, everyone would learn their lesson, but no, skepticism rules the day. Who cares that just about every religion on the planet since the dawn of time has recognized the existence of malevolent spirits, let’s just ignore that possibility because a few drunk atheists have written best selling books saying such things are make believe. Just keep turning a blind eye to the obvious even as you’re having your face bashed in.

Which happens a lot in this movie! Don’t Kill It is a gleeful throwback to all those late 80s/early 90s direct-to-video action romps which were short on plot, but long on carnage. I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen a movie with this many head wounds in it. It’s all cartoonish fun, though, which is just what you would expect from the director of Big Ass Spider! and Lavalantula. In fact, given the vibe this movie gives off, it makes me wish some studio would throw some money their way and give Mike Mendez and Dolph Lundgren a shot at adapting Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International series. Since that will probably never happen, though, Don’t Kill It will have to suffice. It’s cheap, silly, and fun, and you can’t ask for much more than that.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

NOW SHOWING AT A BLOG NEAR YOU

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My job that actually pays the bills is keeping me on the run these days, so posting has been light around these parts. Of course, if you follow my Facebook page or Twitter feed, then you know I’ve managed to review some movies for Aleteia and Scenes, from super-sized blockbusters like Kong: Skull Island to micro-budgeted efforts such as SavageLand. Still, it would be nice to get back into the swing of things here. Until then, though, there’s still plenty to read out there when it comes to movies and religion.

For instance, the National Catholic Register’s Fr. Harrison Ayre recently went off on an interesting Twitter rant explaining why he believes Joss Whedon undermines Western civilization. Quite aware of how such a theory might be received, the good father has subtitled his tweet-storm “How to get half of Catholic Twitter to hate you.”

Speaking of hate, or perhaps just intense disliking, atheist Jake Everett asks the burning question, “If God is both all-good and all-powerful, why did he allow the Star Wars prequels?” Undeterred by such skepticism, but equally unimpressed with the prequels, everybody’s favorite Bad Catholic, Marc Barnes, explains how Rogue One represents a return to reverence in the beloved movie series.

While we’re on the topic of opposing viewpoints, we may as well note that Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast has finally hit the big screen. Thanks to the filmmakers plastering some choice comments all over Twitter, all the media attention seems to be focused on one brief ‘moment’ in the film. However, Disney uber-fan Jacob Popcak noticed a completely different moment during his viewing of the movie, one he considers exclusively Catholic. Oddly enough, the media is barely mentioning that one at all.

One thing everyone can agree on is that Val Lewton’s Cat People is an undisputed classic. If you don’t believe me, ask The Happy Catholic, who has a few brief words to say about it.

And finally, for what it’s worth, the Conjuring spinoff, The Nun, is now in pre-production. The sinister sister is due in theaters July 2018.

And with that, we’ll leave you to your reading. See you next time.