Friday, June 10, 2016 


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Saturday, June 04, 2016 

Fission chips.

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Friday, May 27, 2016 

Drop it.

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Monday, May 23, 2016 

Good bad film club #4: What Have You Done to Solange?

(Previously: Nightmare City, Burial Ground and SexWorld.)

(Expect potentially a fair few more of these over the next month, as if expected politics over the four weeks to come turns into one long scare-athon, I really can't be doing with pretending to be interested in or attempting to referee between one side claiming house prices will fall by 18% if we leave and the other saying the EU makes it illegal to sell bunches of bananas in twos and threes.  A plague, frankly, on both their houses.  I'm also not here the week of the referendum, just as I wasn't for the Scottish vote.  Good timing, eh?)

This will probably be taken as proof of my lack of credibility on Italian genre cinema, but I really don't care for a good number of Dario Argento's acclaimed earlier works.  Sure, I'm quite partial to his first three films, the ones that picked up effectively where Mario Bava had left off with the all but creation of the giallo, but when it comes to Deep Red, Suspiria and especially Inferno, I'm just left cold.  Deep Red fails to satisfy, and Inferno I simply find tedious.  Yes, it opens well with Rose Elliot plunging into water in the basement of her apartment complex, has the usual striking visuals and looks gorgeous, but the surrealism does nothing for me.  I'm the same with Lucio Fulci's films from the same period: everyone usually raves about The Beyond, which is by far his most Argento-like work, whereas I just see a mess of gory setpieces without anything really connecting them together.  Sit me down in front of either Zombi 2 or City of the Living Dead though, or when it comes to Argento his 80s films Tenebrae and Phenomena, and I'll lap them up.

So it is with 's 1972 giallo What Have You Done to Solange?  By the standards of the giallo, it's a fairly straightforward, relatively lacking in outright sleaze little number.  To describe it in such terms is undoubtedly to do it a grave disservice: by the standards of 1972 it's still a really quite nasty picture, while also being very much of its time.  The BBFC rejected it outright back in 1973, around the same time as they were letting through films such as the Exorcist, A Clockwork Orange, Straw Dogs and no doubt some others I've forgot uncut, if with very much in the way of controversy.  Even in 1996 it was still being cut for video release by 2m 15s, no doubt lopping off practically everything that explains why the killer is murdering his victims in the way he is.

Anyway, we're getting ahead of ourselves.  Dallamano is probably best known for his work as a cinematographer, lensing two of Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns starring Clint Eastwood, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More.  He most certainly brings a cinematographer's eye to Solange, as from the very opening of the film, as we watch the two stars Fabio Testi and Christine Galbo, playing Enrico and Elizabeth respectively through the leaves of trees on the bank, pawing at each other in a punt as they float down what we soon learn is meant to be the Thames, this is a giallo that takes great care with its composition.  Shot in 2.35.1 ratio, it never looks anything less than beautiful, the colours eye-popping.  The cinematographer responsible below Dallamano is none other than Aristide Massaccesi, aka Joe D'Amato, notorious shlock director behind the Black Emanuelle series, the video nasties Absurd and Anthropophagus, and in later years, a huge number of hardcore features.  That he was supremely talented, if not at directing, will come as a shock to some.

Enrico and Elizabeth's heavy petting session comes to a halt when Elizabeth is sure she caught a glimpse of something happening on the bank.  With the frustrated Enrico unable to find anything amiss, he drives his younger lover back into the city.  For yes, this is a giallo set in the London of the early 70s, although it's not exactly clear why, being an Italian-German co-production.  Set mainly around Kensington and Chelsea, with the obligatory shots of the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and other landmarks, it nonetheless even in these limited circumstances infinitely cranks up the interest level, at least for this Brit.  Enrico it turns out is more than a bit of a cad: not only is he cheating on his wife Herta, played by a dressed down Karin Baal, he's also a teacher at the exclusive Catholic girls' school attended by Elizabeth.

Now, while it's never made clear precisely how old Elizabeth and her schoolfriends are meant to be, although one guesses 17/18, we are obviously in distinctly dodgy territory.  Films based around the exploits of barely legal schoolgirls were very much the rage at the time, and this is one of the tamer examples.  Nonetheless, that the entire film is based around the very sexual murder of teenage girls, whatever their age, even if in the denouement this is rationalised, the film could very easily be classed as misogynist.  It definitely has a conservative view of the world, that's for sure.

Indeed, the way things pan out, you could almost define it as a Catholic work as a whole.  Enrico starts out as this lothario, apparently determined to split from his frumpy German wife to be with the nubile Elizabeth, only for the pair's marriage to be rekindled and saved by err, Elizabeth's untimely demise, drowned by the killer in order to cover his tracks.  Enrico is predictably fingered as a potential suspect after her murder at their flat for just such liaisons, only Herta is convinced that her straying husband, while a bastard, isn't a killer.  Galbo's death comes as a shock, despite it being an obvious take from Psycho of the killing off of one of the main stars.

From this point on, the film flips on its axis into familiar giallo tropes: Enrico is the amateur sleuth working alongside the police, determined to both clear his name and find the slayer of his almost lover, as we're soon told that Elizabeth was in fact still a virgin, unlike the other classmates already murdered.  This is despite us being shown a scene that clearly shows Enrico and Elizabeth in the presumed midst of sex.  But hey, this is a giallo, we're not looking for everything to make perfect sense, are we?

Everything is in any case wrapped up neatly by the end.  Solange herself, in something only an Italian genre of this type could probably ever get away with, isn't so much as mentioned until we're three quarters of the way through the film.  Never mind What Have You Done to Solange, Who The Fuck is Solange?  Solange once she turns up is played by none other than a mute Camille Keaton in her first film role, best known for playing Jennifer, the rape victim turned avenger in I Spit on Your Grave, one of the video nasties still cut by the BBFC to this day.  Without giving any further spoilers, there's a reason why Solange is the way she is, rather than being born in the state we see her in, and it involves all the previous victims.

...Solange is by some distance the best film I've covered yet in this series, to the point where it's a bit of a cheat to even include it.  There are a whole host of things wrong with the film, most of which are amusingly pointed out by Alan Jones and Kim Newman on their superb commentary track featured as an extra on the similarly brilliant Arrow Blu-ray release, yet none which really detract from it so much that it prevents it from being one of the finest giallos I have yet seen.  Jones says it's easily in his top ten, which is praise indeed from the author of a book on Argento.  Everything about the Arrow release exudes class: the film has been given a glorious transfer, there's a visual essay on the film and its semi sequels by Michael Mackenzie, and then there's the newly commissioned artwork, which manages to top even the original exceptional poster art.  Whatever your taste in films, give this one a go.

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Friday, May 20, 2016 

Shadow Boxing VIP.

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Friday, May 13, 2016 

Burn down Babylon.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016 

Good bad film club #3: SexWorld.

(Previously: Nightmare City and Burial Ground.)

To be a fan of exploitation cinema, and by fan I mean the kind of scuzz lord who finds there to be redeeming qualities to some of the most irredeemable films ever committed to celluloid, it's pretty much a requirement to be either extremely forgiving or to have a highly attuned sense of bad taste.  Even so, there are still films that even your friendly neighbourhood gorehound is likely to detest, that could never be described as even remotely approaching art, and yet chances are such a title can bought in HMV, sourced online or streamed at your leisure.

Whereas one of the features from the so-called golden age of porn, when storylines, plot, lavish sets and reasonably high production values will either have to be downloaded (illegally) or imported from overseas.  With a few notable exceptions, the BBFC denies features "whose primary purpose is sexual arousal or stimulation" a normal 18 certificate, instead classifying them at R18, meaning they can only be sold in registered sex shops.  While you can then buy In the Realm of the Senses, The Idiots, Baise-Moi, 9 Songs or even Caligula easily, as all have been passed at 18 despite either featuring penetration, hardcore scenes or in the case of 9 Songs being one long advert for actual porn, the Devil in Miss Jones or the Opening of Misty Beethoven are verboten.  In practice this distinction has been moot since the internet became the biggest sex shop in the world, but it has meant that a UK-based company has never established itself as the number one destination for smut.  With such barriers put in the way of distributors, Deep Throat is around the only film from the "porno chic" era to have had even a rudimentary release on DVD in this country.

Yep, in America during the 70s, that strangest of decades, for a short time and even only really in the cities, going to see a porno at the cinema was a thing for people other than the dirty raincoat brigade.  No one has any idea how much money Deep Throat made, but suffice to say it was a lot.  The Devil in Miss Jones took even more.  The Washington Post named its Watergate source after Gerard Damiano's mob-funded picture.  Bob Hope and Johnny Carson made jokes about it.  Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver takes his date to see a porn film.  The stage had obviously been set by the skin flicks of the 60s, the rise of exploitation, European mould breakers like Denmark legalising all pornography, mondo pictures and so forth, and yet Deep Throat, a feeble film even by porn standards, for just a moment looked like changing everything.  Helen Mirren in her commentary track on Caligula makes clear what seemed possible: the potential that name actors themselves might have to go all the way on camera.

It of course didn't happen, and nor has there really ever been an actor to make the crossover and go on to be a huge star.  Marilyn Chambers, Traci Lords, James Deen, Sasha Grey, all have tried to do it and none have properly succeeded.  Sure, some porn actors might have come close to being household names, but actually go beyond infamy or sniggering to be an A-lister?  No chance, surely.

And yet for an audience enjoying the shock of the new, helped along by the various obscenity cases brought against Deep Throat, the idea clearly wasn't absurd.  In truth, a fair number of the performers of the period, Linda Lovelace sadly excepted, were either amateur thesps or had been in theatrical productions.  Georgina Spelvin, star of TDiMJ, was a chorus girl, featured on Broadway; Robert Kerman, the guy who does Debbie in Debbie Does Dallas, was a trained actor turned one of the most unlikely fixtures of the late golden age.  Frustrated straight actors unable to pay the bills or wanting to be able to get their own theatrical projects off the ground were persuaded to make a quick buck.

By the time SexWorld debuted in 1978, the era had already almost passed.  Video, which would do for the by now often squalid grindhouses screening the new releases, was just around the corner, making it far cheaper to shoot and also providing punters with the opportunity to yank it in the comfort of their own home.  AIDS was about to cut down a number of directors and actors, the latter of whom often made both gay and straight features.  A few producers carried on shooting on film into the late 80s, and even today there are still a few studios that attempt to build a plot around the sex, but any real money remaining either goes to the niche producers or the porn networks, Brazzers, RealityKings, BangBros et al, churning out scene after scene day after day.

All the more reason then for these films from the golden era to be preserved, even if they are never going to be cherished except by a select few.  Enter Vinegar Syndrome, a US distribution company taking it upon themselves to finally do full justice to as many of these features as they can get the rights to.  After building a head of steam with their Peekarama double-bill DVD releases, they've started releasing their most popular and best titles on Blu-Ray, of which SexWorld is the most notable.  Directed by Anthony Spinelli, SexWorld does not by any means make a TDiMJ-style case for porn most definitely being art, but is nonetheless a world away from the plastic rigidity of today's gonzo pornography.

One feature it does share with some of today's output is that it's almost a parody of Westworld and Futureworld.  Almost in that it really only shares the idea of a resort where the customers can live out their desires; the sex partners conjured up by the scientists, after our motley gang have detailed their wants and needs to counsellors most certainly do not rebel.  The film is though in step with the changing times, as though it could be otherwise; a shy girl who can only get off by donning a blonde wig while phoning up sex lines (yes, really) is paired with a black man, who is the sensitive lover she always needed, while a racist bigot played by porn stalwart John Leslie is seduced and converted by the gorgeous, voluptuous Desiree West.  A couple on the brink of separation thanks to the husband's perverted obsessions are brought back together thanks to him being taught by SexWorld how to satisfy his wife, while more prosaically Annette Haven, the most classically beautiful of all the golden era stars, less feasibly tries a man after tiring of her long-term lesbian lover.

Just as important as the sex is the look of the film.  While you can't say no expense was spared, especially when the exact same shot of the SexWorld bus travelling along a highway is used twice, the sets most certainly look the part, and naturally there is some very 70s decor: the boudoir of one of our couples features a mural that shouts BEEF.  As for the performances beyond the ones in the bedroom, Kay Parker is especially persuasive as the disgusted partner, while Leslie and Haven, usually good value, are on the level here also.

More impressive than the film itself is that it has been released on Blu-Ray at all, looking absolutely stunning, probably better than it ever has other than at its première.  You will sadly have to pay through the nose for it, whether by importing, going on eBay, or sourcing it from somewhere like Strange Vice, a reality that will only change if the BBFC is forced to change its policies, but those with a taste for this sort of thing are no doubt used to that by now.  Don't expect change to come soon, mind: it wasn't until 28 years after the release of Deep Throat that hardcore was formally legalised in this country.

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Friday, April 29, 2016 

Deep soul.

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Friday, April 22, 2016 


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Friday, April 15, 2016 


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Friday, April 08, 2016 


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Monday, April 04, 2016 

Septicisle's good bad film club #2: Burial Ground.

(Previously: Nightmare City)

What a difference a year makes in rip-off terms.  After the runaway success of Romero's Dawn of the Dead led to the Italian industry quickly knocking out Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 in 1979, known to us here as Zombie Flesh Eaters and subsequently banned under the video nasty panic, 1980 brought the lower-rent but still great fun Nightmare City, helmed by Umberto Lenzi.

Another 12 months down the line, and rot on top of, well, rot was becoming the order of the day.  Burial Ground is on the very cusp of being so bad it's just plain bad.  With the best will in the world, director Andrea Bianchi is not a Fulci, or even a Lenzi.  His finest work is without question Strip Nude for Your Killer, a particularly sleazy even by the standards of the giallo sub-genre picture.  Starring the stunningly pulchritudinous Edwige Fenech as a fashion photographer and model while your usual black-gloved homicidal maniac kills the rest of the cast off one by one, it's by the numbers stuff finished off with a layer of gloss.

Burial Ground by contrast makes up what it lacks in glamour by upping the pure nastiness and it has to be said, downright cheapness.  At this point in the cycle of Italian DotD homages/rip-offs the idea seems to have been that if Zombi 2 made a colossal amount of money despite costing practically nothing, if you spent even less then the reward would be even greater.  All but needless to say, this logic was faulty.  Almost everything about Burial Ground, also known as The Nights of Terror, as well as being released as Zombi 3 in some territories, which isn't that far of a leap, looks tacky.  Not here do we so much as have an Ian McCulloch or the sister of Mia Farrow.  Nor do we have a shark and a zombie in a fight for the ages.

No, instead the real star of the picture is the location: an Italian villa which if expense had allowed could have been dressed that little more attentively and truly looked the part.  Rather than follow the ambitions of Lenzi in Nightmare City, Bianchi instead takes inspiration far more from Romero's first undead template, Night.  Our less than bright sex mad revellers have been summoned to a mansion where Professor Ayres, a bald guy with a beard that puts our current day hirsute hipsters to shame, has made a discovery involving a crypt.  He can't of course resist one last look before his guests arrive, and he naturally disturbs the slumber of the papier-mache anti-heroes we'll shortly be cheering on.

Bianchi's zombies are not on the level of Fulci's, nor Lenzi's.  They've been dismissed as Halloween costume like, which is a bit unfair: sure, they're laughable, but if someone did turn up to a party with a mask like the above plastered on you'd be impressed.  They seem if anything more inspired by the undead Templars seen in the Spanish Blind Dead series, which the alternate title itself seems to allude to.  They are also like Lenzi's zombies smarter than your average shambler, retreating when attacked, climbing through upper floor windows, attracting the attention of maids and then decapitating them with scythes, etc.

Indeed, if it wasn't for the so-bad-it's-good make-up, the unabashed gobbling of offal and the presence of Peter Bark, then Nights of Terror would be on the level of the actual Zombi 3.  Yes, that's Peter Bark, or Pietro Barzocchini as he was known on the school register.  In his only credited film role, the then 27-year-old Bark plays a deeply creepy 10-year-old with a bowl cut, high-waisted jeans and ahem, mummy issues.  According to the audio commentary, Bark unlike his Argentinian compatriot Lionel Messi didn't get the hormone treatment he needed, leaving him looking an adult while remaining a child's height.  Quite why Bianchi thought it necessary to throw an incest sub-plot into an already more than exploitative enough picture only he can answer; nor does it naturally make the slightest sense as to why his mother, who has already seen Bark dead with one of her friends chewing on his severed leg, would take him to her breast when he reappears.  Yes, the obvious happens.  Yes, I am ashamed to still be recommending this film even as worth watching for a cheap laugh.

To add to the fun, the film simply... ends.  Just as it seems we're about to be treated to a circular saw-stravaganza, the male lead's head being pulled towards the outsize blade, up flashes the "Profecy (sic) of the Black Spider".  "The earth shall tremble... graves shall open... they shall come among the living as messengers of death and there shall be the nigths (sic) of terror...."  Roll the credits.

(Burial Ground has just been released on Blu-ray by 88 Films, looking far better than it truly warrants.  Also included are a "grindhouse" transfer of the film, and a featurette on Bianchi's films titled, brilliantly, What The Fuck.  Quite.  Worth £8.99 of anyone's money, anyway.  Get it from HMV rather than Amazon, mind.)

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Friday, April 01, 2016 


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Friday, March 25, 2016 

Too close to see.

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Friday, March 18, 2016 

Four four claps.

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Friday, March 11, 2016 


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Friday, March 04, 2016 

Ride with you.

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Friday, February 26, 2016 


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Wednesday, February 24, 2016 

The X Files: my part in its downfall.

(This is long, and if you'd prefer not to read about my adolescent love of The X Files, you can skip to halfway through where I review the new series.  If that's your bag.  Oh, and spoilers.)

I honestly cannot recall how I first came to watch The X Files.  I've got a nagging feeling that it might well have been when it was repeated on BBC2 late on a Friday night, although I might be confusing that with how I'm fairly sure the BBC repeated the first season later in the 90s.  My failure of memory seems fitting for how the show itself always held itself in a sort of vagueness: you could never truly trust what it seemed to be telling you was happening, just as Mulder and Scully couldn't trust anyone except themselves.

It's become something of an obvious go to that The X Files is symbolic of the 90s.  A decade that began with the dissolution of an empire, the crumbling, apparent extinction of any ideology other than ones that regarded the market as sacrosanct and unquestionable, the turn away from certainty towards the conspiratorial and the cynical, why wouldn't a show that contended we were all being lied to on a grand scale by governments and corporations and yet eschewed politics almost entirely be a smash hit?

On a personal level, though, The X Files to me truly is the 90s.  Memories fade of your actual day to day life, but the television shows, the films and the music you love remain, available not just to remind you but for you to relive.  It was a time before life, before I, got serious.  Quite why I somewhat precociously loved the show, as I must have started watching it when I was around 11, I again can't put my finger on exactly.  That said, I definitely identified with Mulder: the heroic, brainiac outsider, laughed at by his colleagues, toiling away down in the basement, trying to find the evidence that would prove him to be right.  In the first year of secondary school I put "Mulder" as my middle name on exercise books, and drove the English teacher up the wall with my constant reviewing of the novelisations of episodes, as well as naming characters in stories Fox and Dana.

And of course, you can't be an almost teenager on the cusp of puberty and not also have more than a bit of a crush on Scully/Gillian Anderson, as I'm sure a whole generation of boys (and girls no doubt too) did.  Unlike with other characters in shows that are often there to be little more than eye candy, or the token gorgeous woman among the males, there's not really anything to be embarrassed about in retrospect either.  Scully is attractive most of all because she develops into by far the most rounded character on the show, thanks not just to the writing but to Anderson's remarkable acting ability; she plays a character originally not much more than a foil to Mulder with such nuance, bearing and determination that after the first season she truly is his partner, rather than the sceptical subordinate following in his wake.

As for how when you think The X Files you think aliens and the paranormal, which angered a few of the more literal minded critics who saw it as being part of the Mumbo Jumbo takeover, that was never the important part for me.  I didn't then and definitely don't now believe in the supernatural, at least not the supernatural phenomenon they investigated.  I was far more interested in the "mythology" of the show than the possibility there could be some truth to the conspiracies featured.  Why would I want to get involved in looking to see if there's something more to our very dull reality when the one depicted in the show needed such deciphering on its own?

Looking back now, what once was satisfying because it didn't end, because nothing was ever truly, fully explained, is the show's biggest flaw.  The mythology doesn't add up, and those episodes centred on Mulder's pursuit of the truth, regardless of the danger it puts him and Scully in, resulting in the murder of his father and Scully's sister Melissa, Scully's cancer and miracle recovery, start to drag after you reach the fifth season.  By contrast, grown exponentially in my estimation have been the "monster of the week" episodes, the self-contained shows, the best of which are very special indeed.  Vince Gilligan, who as any fule kno got his start proper on The X Files before he went on to create Breaking Bad, is easily the most consistent, capable of both the deadly serious, as in Pusher or the light-hearted, such as in Je Souhaite.  What Darin Morgan started with his comedic episodes Gilligan perfected with Bad Blood, the 5th's season magnum opus, a vampire tale told from Mulder and then Scully's very different perspectives, and where you can see just how much fun everyone was having without it impacting on the quality as it so easily can.

As with so much else in life, the difficulty is in knowing when to let go.  The X Files really should have ended with season 7, as it was thought for a time would be the case.  Accordingly, the loose ends were sort of tied up: the syndicate behind the conspiracy involving the alien takeover of the planet was destroyed by the rebel aliens; Mulder discovered "the truth" behind his sister's disappearance; and in the last episode, Mulder himself is abducted and Scully reveals she is pregnant, despite having been rendered barren by her own abduction in the second season.  As it turned out, the show went on with David Duchovny, who having clearly tired of his role as can be seen in his performances, only appearing in a few of the 8th season's episodes. Robert Patrick, aka the T-1000, took over, with Scully becoming the believer and Patrick's character Doggett the sceptic.

While season 8 was in fact a significant improvement on season 7, this was the point where the "mythology" ought to have been stopped by the Colonel from Monty Python for having gotten too silly.  Mulder is returned, dead, half way through the season.  Only he's not dead, and is dug up, alive, after Scully realises their mistake.  Scully's pregnancy progresses, only for her to discover that her pregnancy is clearly incredibly special, such are the people who want her unborn child either dead or alive.  The season finishes with Scully giving birth witnessed by "super soldiers", actually alien replacements of humans, whom are under the impression that her son will be the leader of the resistance to their rule once the invasion begins.  They leave having decided this is not the case, only for it to turn out come the 9th season that William is indeed a special baby, so special indeed that he can turn the mobile above his cot purely with his mind.  Unable to protect him, and with Mulder on the run due to Duchovny leaving the show proper, she gives this telekinetic child up for adoption.

The series concluded for what is now the first time with Mulder on trial before a military tribunal for the murder of one of the "unkillable" super soldiers; duly found guilty, he somewhat easily escapes their clutches, the Cigarette Smoking Man receives a hellfire missile right up him, and Mulder and Scully put their faith in God preventing the alien invasion from taking place, religion having increasingly become an influence on the series courtesy of creator Chris Carter.

With it always having been the intention for there to be a series of X Files films, 2008's I Want to Believe wasn't the greatest shock when it came about.  Despite its critical reception, it's also rather good: a self-contained story about a psychic paedophile priest and his connection with one of his victims, it ends with Mulder and Scully in bed, again, apparently together and happy as the "shippers" always wanted.

Why then a new "event" series in 2015, other than for ratings and the money?  Are there still stories to be told about these two characters, indefatigable and apparently immortal as they are?  Is the time right, this far removed from 9/11, which by itself seemed to cleave the the justification for The X Files still existing in two, even while the series itself struggled on for another year and a bit?

The answer is possibly, so long as Carter does a George Lucas and gives someone else full control of any follow on.  For sadly, the reboot/event/whatever just about worked so long as he wasn't the person doing the writing.  The three episodes written by James Wong, Darin Morgan, and Glen Morgan, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively are decent, brilliant and good.  James Wong's sort-of follow on from Carter's reintroduction episode is quick paced, features classic X Files motifs and themes with the genetic experimentation on children with rare diseases and syndromes plot, and has some satisfyingly nasty special effects.  Darin Morgan's Were-Monster episode is a complete joy, as though he and Mulder and Scully have never been away.  Filled with references to his past work, it's funny, makes fun of the show and the characters respectfully without for a moment mocking them, and is an answer in itself to the questions as to why all involved are still keeping on keeping on.  His brother's episode would have been a solid monster of the week back in the day: those familiar with It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia might not be able to get by how the monster is known as the Trashman, a being willed into existence by a graffiti artist opposed to the displacement of the homeless and which takes revenge on those responsible, but otherwise it's as fine an entry into the canon as we had any reason to expect at this remove.

The same cannot be said for Carter's episodes.  The first show was always going to be partially about reminding of us how things were left off, and does have a few good lines.  Duchovny and Anderson are straight back into their roles, and well, that's about it.  As incomplete, contradictory and confusing as the "mythology" often was, why on earth would you suggest, yet again, that Mulder and by definition we also had been wrong all along?  Why would you make the deliverer of this truth a smarmy Alex Jones/Bill O'Reilly hybrid, and why would Skinner have ever taken him seriously enough to contact Mulder in the first place?  Why would Tad O'Malley have not just gone public with the alien replica vehicle he's constructed?  Surely the proof would have been enough regardless of the messenger?  Why would you apparently knock all this down again at the conclusion only to then reveal it was the truth all along in the event finale?

But we're getting ahead of ourselves.  The penultimate episode sees Carter decide to introduce jihadism to The X Files, for reasons known only to himself.  A suicide bomber miraculously survives the blast, and the FBI wants to extract any information it possibly can from the comatose fundamentalist, by any means necessary.  In what can only be put down to Carter writing the episode while on something himself, Mulder's proposed method is to trip on magic mushrooms, get on the same astral plane as the bomber and converse with him there.  We also meet two young FBI agents, and wouldn't you know it, but one's female, a redhead, a scientist and a sceptic, and the other's male, handsome and wants to believe.  Oh, and in a you really can't get away with this Chris palm to the face moment, the female agent's name is Einstein.  No, honest, it is.  Their existence can only be ascribed to Carter holding out the hope of continuing the series with these two if either Duchovny or Anderson decide not to go on, despite neither showing anything to suggest they could equal Doggett and Reyes, let alone Mulder and Scully.  The conceit turns out that Mulder goes on a clichéd journey into his mind in spite of only being given a placebo by Einstein, and he naturally does talk to the bomber, preventing a much larger cell from carrying out their attacks.  Someone I respect described it as the worst episode of the show full stop.

That accolade really should go to the finale instead, so lacking was everything about it.  What seems like a good half of the episode we spend with Scully explaining what's happening, or rather what isn't to Einstein, as though the two actresses are trying to convince themselves that the plot makes sense.  We must act quickly, Scully says more than once, reminding of Mark Kermode's review of Revenge of the Sith and his escalating anger at Lucas's own reliance on exposition.  Tad O'Malley it turns out was right all along, and rather than an alien invasion, as we thought was meant to happen on the 21st of December 2012 as the mythology previously implied, instead the takeover is to be heralded by a mass extinction of human life via DNA implanted in everyone through the smallpox vaccination, achieved once activated by the collapse of the immune system.  This is meant to explain why the invasion didn't happen and we're here now but just doesn't work, not least because Scully we learn via the re-emergence of Agent Reyes is one of the "chosen few" to survive, her DNA having been altered during her abduction.  This makes absolutely no sense, as Scully's survival along with the rest of those abducted and subjected to tests by the military in an attempt to current an alien-human hybrid depended on the chip implanted in her neck, with most of those subject to multiple abductions having had them removed and succumbing to cancer as Scully so nearly did herself.

Thankfully, Scully realises that her alien DNA can be used to create a vaccine against the now activated part of the err, smallpox vaccination, activated we're told via Tad O'Malley's show by chemtrails and possibly microwaves also.  Mulder meanwhile has been for the umpteenth time in the lair of CSM, who somehow managed to survive the massive explosion that happened right in his face and is still apparently in control of events.  Each meeting and showdown between Mulder and CSM since he first confronted him proper way back when Scully was returned in season 2's One Breath has been less climactic, and the pattern remains here.  With Scully having apparently saved the world, she rushes to find Mulder, himself stricken despite having also been abducted and tested on, only for an alien ship (or is it?) to appear overhead and the event to end on a completely miserable cliffhanger.

Could it have been any different?  Would it have been possible to resurrect the series without discounting the old mythology to an extent?  Perhaps not, but it could have been so much cleaner, so much better executed, not so seemingly lazy while also feeling strained.  Carter, it's sad to say, just seems to have ran out of ideas.  The show previously didn't, couldn't rely on him as much, not least when the shortest season was the ninth and which still came in at 18 episodes, and it meant that if you didn't enjoy the mythology then other writers with different ideas would be along shortly.  Here, and constrained to just the six episodes, there was barely any escape.

The X Files event was then a failure, albeit a noble one.  Mulder and Scully might be as strong personalities as ever, played with the same skill as was the case for the majority of the original run by Duchovny and Anderson, and yet they don't feel right in the middle of the 2010s.  The world has changed, and where our cellphone and internet using heroes were once ahead of the curve back in the 90s, they feel out of time now.  I hope this really is the end as the title legend of the concluding episode said, that characters I and so many others grew up with are allowed to go out with some dignity remaining, only that lack of ending suggests they won't be allowed to do so.  We never want to say goodbye to our friends and loved ones, but as we ought to have learned, in the end we have to.

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Friday, February 19, 2016 

Black pearl.

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