Varying degrees of horror

Exactly how it’s already April is a mystery, given January wasn’t that long ago – unless it’s the weird & wacky weather that’s made January-March one big chilly gray blur.

The latest DVD reviews have been uploaded in separate waves due to weird & wacky scheduling, but we’ve covered two of seven entries in Maple/Lions Gate’s After Dark Horrorfest box. Wicked Little Things dips into verdant Bava montages, and includes a small and odd appearance by Ben Cross as a mountain man who raises pigs to keep carnivorous moppets away from his own epidermis.

Unrest (2006) is a more interesting shocker, as its director spent time in medical school and really wanted to impress upon viewers the hands-on nature of gross anatomy class. It’s less flashy, loud, and sexy than Germany’s Anatomie/Anatomy (2000), but delivers a good measure of grossness and black humour in the final reel.

Also from Maple/Lions Gate is The Lost Room, a limited series that aired on the Sci-Fi Channel and posits some interesting special-time-continuum thingamajig ideas, though there’s some liberal inspiration from the old Twilight Zone series.

Lost Room is also an example of how tough it is to develop a show that has the potential to run a full season. The trick is to balance pacing and filler scenes within a series’ defined narrative design - something that’s been arguably more successful in limited cable shows unfettered by ad breaks and the scheduling games that’s affected some of the recent hit network series on the idiot box.

A colleague passed on this report from Entertainment Weekly regarding the “Nikki/Paulo debacle” on ABC's Lost, though what’s really of interest is the producers mirroring Fox’ 24 scheduling by airing Lost’s 4th season episodes in chronological order in January of 2008. You could see it as a vital means to set aside a swath of time so all of the writers and producers can map out a proper game plan with a hard series end-date; but the move also shows a decidedly unique shift in network programming strategy.

It began when ABC delayed airing new Lost episodes last fall for two months (or was it 20? Seemed rather long) so they could air repeats and insert Taye Diggs’ intriguing but clumsy series Day Break. NBC pulled the same stunt this year with Heroes by withholding new episodes for more than a month (or was it 10? Seemed also rather long), and now ABC's playing the same game with Grey's Anatomy, airing repeats for several weeks, and teasing viewers with lame flashback episodes of ‘past wacky moments’ as hosted by dead guy Denny.

(Flashback episodes are the ultimate el cheapo production, which Desperate Housewives and Lost both practiced in their first and second seasons, but it goes back decades. Remember when Kelly got shot in her noodle, and the rest of Charlie’s Angels sat in the hospital waiting room playing the Remember When Game? That was 50 minutes of waste-my-time footage in the episode “Let Our Angel Live.” A pioneering effort in dangling a plastic carrot in front of viewers.)

Lost’s repositioning in January '08 certainly means some of the dual viewers of 24 and Lost will be able to catch the series in straight runs, but are the rest willing to wait 7 months for their once-favourite show?

One advantage long-running series have is a backlog of shows on DVD or for download, so newbies can catch-up in time to see the latest season over the summer and fall; but for younger series, it’s a risky game: disrupt a viewing habit, and it’s possible a chunk of potential loyal viewers might not bother to return, particularly if there’s another show they’re hooked on, due to regular airings, or plowing through rental DVDs of cable shows that are even more addictive and free of 18 minutes of pure commercials. (Remember when there were only 10 mins. of ads?)

Networks may well be trying out a more unique strategy by taking hit series and airing them uninterrupted (at least those with serial sagas) in January, leaving the fall months for new and weaker series, but networks should realize a lot of viewers aren’t that patient anymore. TV on DVD means no ads; downloading shows from ‘those other places’ also means no ads, and entire seasons crunched and packed into entire seasons are downloaded not to have, but to watch, and feed viewer fixes; stretch it out for too long, and it might backfire.

Of course, an exception lies in 24, which garnered good reviews after its first season, but drew more viewers when word of mouth and the first DVD set got people hooked. Fox was super-smart in airing new episodes in order so the serial design wasn’t interrupted; that might help Lost’s writers and producers refocus and tighten the 4th season, but teasing viewers for too long with condescension is a no-no; that adversely affected 24 as well: Year 1 was Excellent, Year 2 Pretty Good, Year 3 a singular exceptional episode among Rubbish, Year 4 had a good half episode among Utter Crap, and Year 5 marked a Return to Form because the writers dumped daughter Kim and her tank tops, stopped depending on message board and fan chatter (at least that’s the assumption I’m making), and ensured CTU stopped behaving like Keystone Agents incapable of carrying a bowl of milk across an empty flat parking lot without spillage.

Less ambiguous about its focus is Cult Epics’ Cinema of Death anthology that address death in 5 potent short films: “Pig” and “Hollywood Babylon” (both directed by Nico B.), “Le Poem” (by Bogdan Borkowski) which presents in full colour the dissection of a real cadaver, the Lynchian “Dislandia” (directed by Brian M. Viveros and Eriijk Ressler), and “Adoration” (from Olivier Smolders) that took its take of murder, poetry, and cannibalism from the headlines.

Also new is Who Killed the Electric Car? which documents the shocking rewriting of automotive history by GM of its EV1 electric vehicle. (We’ll have a quartet of additional doc reviews up shortly, each addressing some outrage that’s happened in recent years.)

Coming up: Death of a President from Maple/Lions Gate, Jorge Cervantes’ Ultimate Grow DVD from MVD, film music goodies (including an interview with The Reaping’s John Frizzell), and vintage smut, but you can also check out my review of two films in Criterion's stellar Paul Robeson box, Borderline and Body and Soul, at Music from the Movies' online edition.


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