Sunday, October 25, 2020

Cathode Ray Mission 25 - Nightmare Cafe - Dying is the Best Revenge

"I'm watching this boring episode of Nightmare Café"

Nightmare Café
S01E02 – Dying is the Best Revenge

Dying is the Best Revenge has Frank get involved with a married woman who fears her husband. He certainly seems to be tied up with organized crime. Frank has the hots for her and gets really involved, Fay acts intensely jealous about the whole thing, which all seems really strange since this is only the second episode and these two have not had time to build any chemistry. Robert Englund announces that his name is Blackie which I don’t recall him saying in the pilot episode. He mostly hangs around the café and makes smart-ass comments, which is to say, those are easily the best parts of the show.

Episode 2 of Nightmare Café shows the biggest weakness of the series but also its biggest strength. For most its run of Dying is the Best Revenge feels like a typical crime drama of the era, complete with PG rated steamy making out and just tiny bit of violence. There is nothing new or particularly interesting about the pot boiler story. The strange mystical elements of Nightmare Café are pushed to the side. However, the supernatural elements make a last-minute twist straight out of Tales from the Crypt. This hints at a nimbleness this series could have for switching up genres. We’ll have to see if they can deploy it to greater effect.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Cathode Ray Mission 24 - Nightmare Cafe

Nightmare Café (1992)
S01E01 Pilot

Nightmare Café was a short-lived series that ran on NBC for just six episodes. It stars Robert Englund and has ‘Nightmare’ in the title, but if you are expecting something like a slightly more classy ‘Freddy’s Nightmares’ you are going to be disappointed. This isn’t strictly a horror series and Englund is charming but he’s deliberately playing against type as a more mischievous and lighter character.  I can see horror fans walking away after the first episode and that’s probably a large reason for the show’s short lifespan, or at least that exactly how I felt when watching this at 17. Still, I decided to give it another chance after all this time and found it to be rather fun.

The pilot sets up the whole premise but takes a long road to get there. Frank Nolan (Jack Coleman) and Fay Peronivic (Lindsay Frost) are to people who find themselves washed up on a riverbank, soaked and confused they wander into the titular Nightmare Café. There they find uniforms that fit and a strange old television set into the wall. After figuring out something is strange about the place, Robert England saunters in and teases them about where they are. Then both Frank and Fay are off reliving the moments that brought them to the café but now with a chance to set things right. It’s the first episode so of course, they succeed but they are now employees of the café and must attend to future customers.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Cathode Ray Mission 23 - Dracula: The Series - Double Darkness


Dracula: The Series
S01E05 Double Darkness

Out of the previous four episodes, three of them have used some kind of physical object as the center of the plot. Double Darkness immediately changes things up with a shock opener as we watch a vampiric Uncle Gustav take a bite out of a stranded motorist. We know the odds that Gustav was bitten off-screen since the previous episode are pretty slim, it’s still an intriguing way to begin. Thankfully it’s not the only surprise Double Trouble has in store. 

The biggest revelation here is that Dracula isn’t the only top-tier vampire. Someone has been wiping out companies and land that Drac owns (conveniently and cheaply off-camera). It is revealed that Dracula has a rival in another famous vampire, Nosferatu (Denis Forest) whom he imprisoned decades ago. This opens up the world considerably and adds a new layer to what has been a pretty standard vampire set-up. Nosferatu isn’t the gnarled bald monster of the films, but instead is a skinny white guy with thinning hair, but I’ll take what I can get and if that includes a vampire fight then I am all in.

We get a further twist when Max ends up saving Dracula from an ambush which also creates a whole new space for the show to explore. Is it possible down the line that Dracula must join forces with Uncle Gustav and crew to fight off a greater evil? Well, the show only ran one season but we can dream.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Cathode Ray Mission 22 - Dracula: The Series - The Boffin

Dracula is at his most vulnerable when hailing a cab.

Dracula: The Series
S01E04 The Boffin

The Boffin is perhaps the silliest episode of Dracula: The Series so far. This one introduces Dr. Benedict (Lee MacDougall), a bungling scientist who is always wearing a bowtie and a lab coat like some kind of cartoon character. Dr. Benedict has developed an anti-vampire laser gun which creates a couple of questions. Are vampires well-known enough that someone can just up and make a laser gun specifically for use against vampires without much question? What is the research based on? A regular laser gun seems like it would be just as effective.

None of this really matters because Lucard is the one funding the vampire laser gun research. This results in a decent showdown with Max in Dr. Benedict’s lab and a final reveal about the effectiveness of the laser gun that makes no sense, but I thought it was a fun note to end the episode with. This episode leans far more into comedy which is fine as a change as long it doesn’t become a trend. Dracula: The Series really walks a narrow line between mild horror and mild camp and as long as it keeps that up it works.

At this point, they still haven’t explained how a billionaire like Dracula has easily wiped out this house filled with young kids and an old man, but maybe that’s something we will get to eventually.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Cathode Ray Mission 21 - Dracula: The Series - The Vampire Solution

"I've been wearing wools socks and rubbing my feet on the carpet all day!"

Dracula: The Series
S01E03 The Vampire Solution

Dracula: The Series remembers that it is a low budget show about kids fighting Dracula and it isn’t afraid to be pretty silly yet with a slightly dark edge. Case in point, The Vampire Solution, this story has Uncle Gustav and a friend creating a potion that can supposedly cure vampirism. They accidentally switch the drink with an energy drink that belongs to Max and then they promptly get bitten and start to become vampires. Max, on the other hand, drinks the potion and gets the power to shoot anti-vampire lighting from his hands.

The episode is all kinds of ridiculous yet it still does a few interesting things. It is revealed that a single bite from a vampire can turn someone into the undead which ups Dracula’s threat immensely. There is an unexpected betrayal that could have blossomed into an interesting villain had things not been wrapped up so neatly. The story also does not forget that there is an anti-vampire cross in Gustav’s house, so it is nice to see a world-building and continuity.

Fans of late-night TV imported from Canada with also spot Geraint Wyn Davies here playing Klaus Helsing, a vampire lackey of Dracula. Geraint would go on to bigger vampire fame in Forever Knight as Nick Knight, vampire detective.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Cathode Ray Mission 20 - Dracula: The Series - Double Cross

"I said, do you have Prince Albert in a can, blah blah."

Dracula: The Series
S01E02 Double Cross

With the preliminaries out the way, the second episode of a series can give us an idea of what a typical story is like. Double Cross lays out the blueprint for most of the season. In the pre-credit sequence, it introduces us to the central thing, in this case, a cross in Uncle Gustav’s house that keeps vampires out. Roll credits. Then we are introduced to the problem as Max thinks the cross needs to be blessed to keep it working and takes it out of the house to hand it to the nearest creepy groundskeeper at a church. Dracula catches word that the house is unprotected and decides it’s time to pay a visit.

The important things to take away from this episode is that Max is not a very bright child and that Dracula has an exercise bike that he likes to use in his free time. We get a mildly tense race against time to replace the cross in the house before Dracula shows up. Like I mentioned in the previous review, this show seems pitched at a young audience so there isn’t much in the way of bloodletting or death but it provides some low rent thrills on a Saturday afternoon.

I am curious to see how many episodes they can keep up with Dracula failing yet still make feel like a menace. The Big D is going to need a victory sooner or later.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Cathode Ray Mission 19 - Dracula: The Series - Children of the Night

The opening theme kicks ass.

Dracula: The Series (1990-1991)
S01E01 Children of the Night

Dracula: The Series is an odd footnote in the television horror renascence of the late 1980s/1990s. The look and sound of it feels right at home with Friday the 13th The Series, Freddy’s Nightmares, and other syndicated horror shows of the time. The tone is slightly lighter than those shows and the whole thing feels pitched at a younger audience. Dracula: The Series is free of the gore that flowed freely in many shows from this time and the short 22-minute runtime usually wrapped things up by the end.

The pilot episode sets everything in motion, and it feels a little rushed but that is understandable given the time constraints. A mom (Lynne Cormack) and her two kids (Joe Roncetti and Jacob Tierney ) move to a small city in Europe to live with their uncle Gustav (Bernard Behrens). Also residing in town is a wealthy industrialist named Alexander Lucard (Geordie Johnson), who, shockingly, is actually Dracula. Uncle Gustav comes from a long line of vampire hunters. The two groups have a small conflict and things are set in motion. 

The two things to take away from the first episode of Dracula: The Series are first, the constant pop culture references that haven’t aged well at all. The other brother shouts, “I want my MTV,” when he meets Lucard for the first time. The second is Dracula’s true nature is revealed when he’s stuffing his face with poppy seeds someone dropped on the floor.

I told you it was odd.