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Stranger Things 2 Ep. 6 – “The Spy”

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Welcome back to Dread Central’s daily recap/reviews of the second season of Netflix and The Duffer Brothers’ “Stranger Things”. You can find our recap/review of the previous episode right HERE. Now let’s get to it!

The previous episode of “Stranger Things 2” titled “Dig Dug” ended on a high note, to say the least. And the sixth episode of the Netflix original series “The Spy” picks up with just as much speed. We begin with Will still freaking the f*ck out and being rushed into the ER of the energy plant on the hill. An intense beginning to say the least.

We then jump to Steve Harrington and Dustin crushing to Queen and being a generally awesome pair. The two show up at Dustin’s house to deal with Dart in the cellar and Steve – armed with his signature spiked-bat – finds a gooey skin Dart left behind in his epic growth spirt. Not only is it obvious now that Dart has doubled in size but he has dug a tunnel right the out of Dustin’s basement Shawshank Redemption-style and into the wild woods beyond.

Cue the synth music and glowing red titles.

We then enter the story good and proper to find Winona Ryder’s Joyce telling an entire room of scientist, including Paul Reiser’s Dr. Owen, to go right ahead suck it. Turns out not a single one of these geniuses can figure out just what the hell is wrong with young Will. I mean, my little sister figured it out, but these guys? Nope.

Meanwhile, we rejoin Nancy and Jonathan at conspiracy nut Murray Bauman’s lair of crazy. The three celebrate their new plan to rat out the powers that be and chug vodka like frat boys who don’t know any better. And in what is one of the best scenes Nancy and Jonathan will ever have together, Murray straight up calls them out for not pushing through the sexual tension and just getting it on like Donkey Kong on his pull-out couch.

Murray then slinks off to bed setting the two teens on a collision course of f*cking that doesn’t take them long to hit head first. Their awkward sequence of should we/shouldn’t we was an utter delight and I all but cheered with Jonathan finally showed up at her door and planted his kisses of love.

Because this show is for kids, unfortunately, we cut away at this point and join Hopper up at the energy pant of the hill. Dr. Owen takes Hooper down into the bowels of the building and shows him that the Upside Down has been growing like a cancer outward from the gateway in the lab and creating caverns of evil under the city of Hawkins.

Cue ominous synth track.

Meanwhile, at Will’s bedside, Joyce lets Samwise in on the whole mess. Again, since Joyce isn’t Lucas (call back to yesterday’s recap/review) Samwise believes every word and is all-in to help. Gotta love, Sam. Always there till the end. Let’s just hope he thinks of the eagles a little sooner in this story.

Next up we rejoin Nancy and Jonathan for breakfast at Murray’s house of love. The three nom eggs in silence until Murray gives out the best sexual innuendo the series has ever, or will ever attempt. As the teens eat their breakfast, Murray smiles on like a scheming nutcase and politely asks Jonathan how “the pull-out” was.

Record scratch.

He meant the pull-out couch, of course.

Or did he…

Murray then gives the teens a bottle of vodka for the road (not kidding) and tells them to f*ck off forever. What a sweet, cordial host. I can only hope this is not the last we see of Murray. Fingers crossed. While this is going down, Lucas shows up at Max’s house and convinces her to join him on his adventure to the junkyard to meet up with Steve and Dustin to engage in mortal combat with Dart. Max agrees and they’re off the races.

Back at the sinister energy plant of the hill, Dr. Owens believes that poor little Will Byers is now possessed by the Upside Down (duh) and brings in a science experiment to demonstrate. Dr. Owens has a techie take a blowtorch to a bit of living tentacle from the pumpkin patch and sure enough, as the fire hits the tentacle, Will feels the burn. In a big way. This is going to cause major problems in the future.

While all of that plot development b.s. is going on across town, we rejoin Dustin and Steve on the train tracks for a little Stand by Me fun. The two are chumming for Jaws– I mean Dart and share one of the funniest, most charming, and badass scenes in all of “Stranger Things.” Including Steve finally letting someone (Dustin) in one just how the hell he keeps his hair so luxurious. Hint: Farrah Fawcett spray and love.

Hopper then attempts to get ahold of Eleven via CB radio but she doesn’t answer. This is due to the fact that she is f*cking miles away from the cabin in the woods and currently chilling at her mom’s house. Hopper doesn’t know this though – he would be piiiisssseed – and thus gives a truly heartfelt speech to the absent preteen anyhow.

Gotta love Hopper.

As Hopper is in the parking lot pouring his heart out to deaf ears, high up in the energy plant’s tallest tower, Dr. Owens and his team of white males talk about how they’ll have to, in the end, sacrifice Will to kill off the Upside Down. Dr. Owens protests and it seems like he might not be the season’s villain after all.

Wait, so then who will be? Will? Eleven? Samwise?

I guess we’ll see…

Now let’s cut back to the Scooby gang getting back into the action with Lucas and Max meeting up at the junkyard with Steve and Dustin. Once there, Lucas and Dustin get into a bit of a spat concerning Max and Dart and Steve breaks it up in glorious fed-up babysitter fashion. I love this new dynamic Steve’s got going on. Let’s hope they keep the ball rolling.

As Steve and the gang get the junkyard all Home Alone booby-trapped, Will tells the scientists at the energy plant that the Upside Down’s weakness can be found in a particular cavern in the labyrinth below ground. A team of soldiers then heads down into the darkness armed with machine guns for a showdown with… what exactly? Dart?

We’ll find out soon.

While we all anxiously await the fate of this group of random scientist-soldiers (deadly combo right there), back at the junkyard, Dustin gets into a fight with Max which sends her into the metaphorical arms of Lucas. Amateur move, Dustin. Hope he still gets the girl. Speaking of the girl, just as Max is letting us all in on a very personal tale, Dart emerges from the thick fog that surrounds the junkyard. Hungry for human meat.

It’s then up to hero Steve to go out and meet Dart head-on for some noggin-bashing spiked-bat style. But, oh sh*t. There’s a catch. It seems that Dart can multiply. Wait, what? Muh, who cares at this point. Sure, I’ll go with it.

Let’s move on.

Dart and his posse of Darts almost eat the ass right off Steve, but thankfully he gets back to the Bus Fortress just in time. And speaking of just in time, right as Dart and friends are about to breach the bus’ walls and chow down, the demon gods are called away.

To where? Well, the tunnels of course. Dinner is served and it’s not gonna taste like teenagers and Farah Fawcett spray. Oh, no. These Dart Dogs are gonna eat like kings. Feasting on the sweetmeats of soldiers and scientists.

Yes, this episode wraps up with the Dart Dogs dropping the mighty smackdown on the soldier-tists (waka, waka) and then breaking their way up through the tunnels and into the lab where all of our main players lie unguarded.

And the kicker? Will orchestrated the massacre and resulting invasion. Oh, snap. Guess Will is all set to be this season’s villain – even if he doesn’t mean to be. After all, it’s obvious little Willy style is possessed as f*ck.

As the Dart Dogs rise up from the hell below the facility on the hill we cut to credits on the absolute, hands-down best episode of “Stranger Things” we have seen thus far. Fast-paced and filled with humor, heart, twists, and turns this episode took us from casual fans of the series to full-on fanboys in 45 minutes flat. Impressive considering how middle of the road we found the first season to be.

Plus, this episode gets major bonus points for featuring exactly zero scenes with Eleven. What did we do to deserve this, TV Gods? Whatever it was, it was well worth it. Bring on the next episode – right now! Hoor-ray Netflix!

Check back with us tomorrow for our recap/review of “Stranger Things 2” Ep. 7 – “The Lost Sister”.

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Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone

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Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters

Directed by Jeff Houkal


Sometimes, relying on the kindness of strangers is the thing that’ll do your gullible asses in – kindness? Strangers? Come on – think about it! Even further proof of said warning comes in the form of director Jeff Houkal’s brutally blatant film, Edge Of Isolation – won’t you come inside and grab a seat? You see! You fell right into another trap – jeezus, people…don’t trust just anyone, will ya?

Set up in a simplistic format, we’ve got a traveling couple (Lance and Kendra) whose Jeep, conveniently enough decides to shit the bed along a desolate stretch of roadway, leaving them at the mercy of the Polifer family, a slightly odd bunch of backwoods residents. This particular clan isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly, and they’re not afraid to let their freak flags fly, that’s for sure. You see, the family has been deeply-rooted in these here woods, and their “hospitality” has kept them fed for quite some time, and with a fresh supply of unsuspecting commuters stopping in at varying spells, their stomachs never truly seem to growl out of sustained hunger…oh, that kindness will bite you in the ass every single waking moment.

As I mentioned earlier, the film is constructed fairly simple, yet effective in its barbarism, and those who dig survivalist-horror will be wringing their mitts in anticipation for this one. While some editing does look a bit hokey, the practical effects more than make up for an at-times bit of strewn-about plot navigation, but who’s keeping score? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. I absolutely revel in low-budgeted films that don’t necessarily have the looks and feels of such, and Edge Of Isolation is one of those presentations that is certainly worth its weight in blood and guts – do yourself a solid and give this one a look when it becomes available to the masses, and for f**k’s sake, don’t take up anyone’s offer to chill at their place when your ride breaks down – get AAA and save your life (the previous statement was in no way affiliated or endorsed by the Triple A Automotive group – just sayin’).

  • Film
3.5

Summary

Edge Of Isolation doesn’t need a full-blown allocation to keep future stranded motorists from losing their heads – all they have to do is push “play.”

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Threads Blu-ray Review – The Horror of Nuclear War Hits Home Video

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Starring Death, Destruction, Famine, Unimaginable Suffering

Directed by Mick Jackson

Distributed by Severin Films


Although not quite reaching the tense heights felt during the Cold War, talk of nuclear annihilation has nonetheless been on the tips of tongues following a recent public spat between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. The difference being that unlike the decades-long stalemate between America and Russia, this kerfuffle feels more like two boys breaking out the ruler to measure package size. Regardless, the truth remains that as long as nuclear weapons are held by any country the risk of a catastrophic event is always on the table – and their use should never be used as a casual threat. The world has seen firsthand the level of devastation that can be wrought with their use; a reminder none want to endure again. This seems as fitting a time as any for Severin Films to breathe new life on home video into Threads (1984), a frightening portrayal of what could happen in the U.K. following nuclear war. Similar in concept to America’s The Day After (1983), Threads is a chilling, bleak vision that showcases the breakdown of society prior to, and after, the detonation of nuclear weaponry. Nothing is glamorized; there are no heroics. By the time the credits roll viewers will be left chilled to the core, having witnessed so much destruction that should never be allowed to occur in a modern society.

The action is centered in Sheffield, U.K. where we follow the lives of a few distinct families and citizens who represent different sectors of the populace. The events leading up to nuclear war are depicted via television and radio broadcasts, with anchors reporting on increasing tensions in Iran following a coup allegedly backed by the U.S. In response, the Soviet Union moves troops into northern Iran to protect their own interests. The standoff becomes increasingly strained when the U.S. reports the submarine USS Los Angeles has gone missing in the Persian Gulf. Soon after, a collision between Soviet and American battle cruisers forces the U.S. President to issue a warning to the Soviets that any further action may lead to armed confrontation.

As all of this is occurring the citizens of Sheffield are attempting to go about their normal lives… until a melee involving nuclear-tipped weaponry prompts the government to assemble emergency operations groups. With the U.K. now completely gripped by fear, the threads of society begin to rapidly unspool, with citizens divided over local government response while runs on grocery stores and looting become widespread. Finally, in the early morning a few weeks after this skirmish began air raid sirens are sounded and within minutes a nuclear warhead is detonated over the North Sea, emitting an EMP and knocking out all communication in the country. The attack wreaks havoc, decimating the country and wiping out millions of lives in one swift blow. Those are the lucky ones.

Those who survive the initial blast are met with highly-radioactive fallout, disease, famine, radiation sickness, crumbling infrastructure and streets littered with rotting corpses. Society has suffered a complete breakdown. Money no longer holds any value. Nuclear winter brings about a dearth of crops and a massive drop in temperatures. Food is the only commodity with any value – and it is long before any can be produced. Population levels reach those of the medieval times. Even a decade after the blast, the areas devastated by nuclear war have only rebuilt to a level on par with the Industrial Revolution. Children are still born. Language is limited, due to the lack of proper schooling. Little hope looms on the horizon as those left alive scrounge and scavenge, eking out a miserable existence.

Director Mick Jackson made a smart decision by shooting Threads using a neorealist lens, employing unknowns in place of familiar faces. This gives the picture a documentarian feel while also scuttling the notion of seeing famous faces either survive the catastrophe or become heroes. There is no silver lining to be found. The initial blast rocks the U.K. on a grand scale, brought to visceral life by Jackson’s use of miniatures and montage to convey a massive scale of destruction. Fires rage, Sheffield is in ruins, charred corpses line the streets, and radiation poisoning leaves survivors roiling in pain and vomiting endlessly. The brutal verisimilitude is gut-wrenching; Jackson ensures every bit of pain and perseverance is palpable.

Threads should be mandatory viewing, serving as a warning of the very real potential outcome should civilized nations resort to using nuclear weaponry on a global scale. No good can come of mutually assured destruction. All of the posturing and battling between the U.S. and Russia pales in comparison to the annihilation of millions of lives and decades of industry, all wiped out in the blink of an eye. This is true horror.

Given its low budget and television roots, it should come as no surprise that Threads looks on a rougher side of HD. Severin touts the 1.33:1 1080p image as being a “new 2K remaster”, though the provenance of the elements used is not mentioned. Truthfully, the grainy, rough-hewn picture is a perfect complement to the gritty imagery seen throughout and anything more polished might have lessened the impact. The film was shot on 16mm and blown-up to 35mm; again, a smart aesthetic decision given the documentarian feel Jackson wanted. The cinematography reminded me of Harlan County U.S.A. (1976), an American documentary on coal workers. Damage can be seen throughout, as well as plenty of flecks and debris but, again, none of this was particularly irksome because it feels organic to this decaying world.

Audio comes in the form of a simple English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. First off, I highly recommend turning on the subtitles because the English accents are thick and plenty of U.K.-specific colloquialisms are used; it helps – a lot. This is a thin track without much direction, employing a workmanlike sound design to get the point across. Explosions have a bit of roar and oomph, but the biggest impact is made by a scene of total silence post-attack. Dialogue is clean and well set within the mix. Subtitles are available in English.

An audio commentary track is included, featuring director Mick Jackson, moderated by film writer Kier La Janisse & Severin Films’ David Gregory.

“Audition for the Apocalypse” is an interview with actress Karen Meagher.

“Shooting the Annihilation” is an interview with director of photography Andrew Dunn.

“Destruction Designer” is an interview with production designer Christopher Robilliard.

“Stephen Thrower on THREADS” finds the author and film historian discussing the production history and impact of the film.

A “U.S. trailer” as well as a “Re-release trailer” are included.

Special Features:

  • NEW 2K REMASTER of the film prepared for this release
  • Audio Commentary with Director Mick Jackson, Moderated by Film Writer Kier–La Janisse and Severin Films’ David Gregory
  • Audition For the Apocalypse: Interview with Actress, Karen Meagher
  • Shooting the Annihilation: Interview with Director of Photography, Andrew Dunn
  • Destruction Designer: Interview with Production Designer, Christopher Robilliard
  • Interview with Film Writer, Stephen Thrower
  • U.S. Trailer
  • Threads
  • Special Features
3.5

Summary

Brutal and unflinching in its desire to convey a story true to reality, Threads is a difficult and necessary viewing experience that shows firsthand the level of terror wrought by man’s hand.

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Annihilation Review – A Fascinating, Gorgeous New Take on Body Horror

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Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac

Written and directed by Alex Garland


Have you ever walked out of a theater and thought to yourself, “That was more than just a movie. That was an experience!“? It’s only happened to me a handful of times, the last one I remember being Mad Max: Fury Road. Last night that sensation washed over me as the credits for Annihilation began their crawl after a near two-hour runtime. I remained in my seat until every name slipped by before I found it within myself to stand up and leave the theater. All I could think was, “I’ve just witnessed something incredible.

An adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s first book in his The Southern Reach trilogy, Annihilation follows Lena (Portman), an ex-soldier-turned-biologist professor at Johns Hopkins whose husband, Kane (Isaac), has been missing for a year after leaving on a covert mission about which Lena has been able to get zero information. When Kane mysteriously returns and almost immediately falls gravely ill, Lena finds herself in a secret government facility that is monitoring a strange and potentially cataclysmic phenomenon: a strange shimmering dome that appeared in a remote region after a meteorite landing, a dome that grows larger with each passing day. Realizing that the answer to her husband’s malady may very well lie within that area, Lena joins four other women as they embark on an expedition into what is called “Area X.” However, it’s quickly realized that nothing is quite what it seems to be and that the laws of nature no longer apply.

The majesty of Annihilation is the time it takes to build the story and to ramp up the tension. While it has no problem with frenetic scenes, the film moves at an almost poetic pace, every moment adding something to the overarching narrative. From showing the relationship between Lena and Kane to the interactions among the five women who venture into “Area X” to the action sequences, every part of the movie feels necessary. This is even seen in the climax of the film, which is a 10-minute scene that features almost zero dialogue and yet feels fraught with danger.

Visually, the movie is absolutely gorgeous. The jungle that takes up most of Area X is lush and beautiful. Crepuscular rays break through the leaves and tease a rainbow iridescence thanks to the “shimmer.” A wide variety of flowers impossibly blossom from the same source, a result of the genetic mutations occurring within the dome. Strange fungal patterns explode across the walls of abandoned buildings, their patterns a tumorous cornucopia of colors and textures. Even when the movie brings gore into the equation, it does so with an artist’s gaze. Without ruining the moment, there is a scene where the team comes across the body of a man from a previous expedition. For as macabre as the visual was, it was equally entrancing, calling to mind the strangely beautiful designs of the “clickers” from The Last of Us.

Each setting in the story has a visual style that sets it apart from one another but still feels connected. The governmental facility feels cold and sterile while the jungles of Area X are warm and verdant. As the team ventures further into the contaminated zone, we are taken to the beach next to the lighthouse that acts as “ground zero” for the mysterious event. Here we see trees made of crystal and bone-white roots clinging to the nautical beacon. In this third act, we’re taken into the basement of the lighthouse, which can only be described as Giger-esque, with strange ribbed walls that feel like they pulsate with a life of their own.

The characters of Annihilation feel real, and the exposition given doesn’t feel forced. When Lena is rowing a boat with Cass, the sharing of information feels like camaraderie, not awkward plot reveals. Additionally, no character is without his/her flaws. Even Lena has her own issues that burden her with guilt, making her journey into Area X all the more understandable. As the stress of the mission wears on these women, the seeds of distrust begin germinating into deadly situations that have very real consequences, including the appearance of a bear that would be right at home in the Silent Hill universe. Also, kudos to Garland for writing the film in such a way where the gender roles not only feel natural but are never focused on in a disingenuous manner.

Musically, Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, who scored Garland’s previous film Ex Machina, create a soundtrack that is atmospheric, haunting, and hypnotizing. The music elevates the dreamy phantasmagoria of the film without overpowering any scene. Meanwhile, cinematographer Rob Hardy, who also worked on Ex Machina, helps create a film where nearly every frame is a work of art.

Those entering Annihilation expecting a clearly defined sci-fi/horror offering will be disappointed. There is certainly a great deal of both to be had, but the movie doesn’t want to offer something fleeting. Instead, it uses those genres as a foundation to create a film that will stay with viewers long after they leave the theater. When you get to the core of Annihilation, it’s a body horror film that pays homage to the work of David Cronenberg while carving an entirely new path of its own. Just don’t expect it to hold your hand and answer all of its mysteries. Some questions are left for you to see through on your own.

I do not say this lightly, but I truly believe that Alex Garland has offered audiences one of the best genre films in recent years.

  • Annihilation
5.0

Summary

Annihilation is a bold, gorgeous, and stunning melting pot of horror, sci-fi, and drama, culminating in one of the most fascinating films I’ve seen this decade.

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