Archive for May, 2017

Once upon a time, there was a school of thought in various quarters of the largely self-appointed “intelligentsia” that posited that David Lynch was something of a fraud. It was never more than a minority opinion, of course — certainly nowhere near as large as the chorus of voices that said much the same about Lichtenstein, Warhol, John Cage, or even James Joyce — and it’s one that pretty much disappeared in the wake of the near-universal praise heaped upon The Straight Story and Mulholland Drive, but it was something that dogged his tail for a good couple of decades prior to reaching his currently-enjoyed plateau of (more or less) unanimous acclaim.  The argument, such as it was, essentially boiled down to this : the guy simply slaps a bunch of weird imagery up on the screen and none of it actually means anything, but it’s done in a clever enough way to make the gullible believe that there’s some elusive “hidden meaning” behind it all that’s forever just beyond their grasp.

I never bought into it, but I did notice a fair number of fraudulent Lynch fans glomming onto his work when he first became a “hot property” in the late ’80s/early ’90s, and they bailed on him quickly — and completely — the minute it became fashionable to move (hell, run) in the opposite direction. Think about it : Wild At Heart won the Palme D’Or at Cannes in 1990, and a mere two years later Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me was roundly booed at its premiere there. But which film is more talked about — and lauded — now? And why the sudden change “back in the day”?

Well, the soft underbelly of Lynch pseudo-fandom began bailing on the director fairly early during season two of Twin Peaks, pissed off that the Laura Palmer murder mystery supposedly dragged on for too long — but when it finally was solved (at the network’s insistence), that seemed to piss this suddenly hyper-critical rump of viewers off even more, and when the show had the temerity to shift gears in another direction afterwards with the unfairly-maligned Windom Earle storyline, that seemed to be the final nail in the coffin. It was the very definition of a “can’t-win” situation for both Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost, and as ratings tanked, ABC’s schedulers began to fuck with the program mercilessly, first relegating it to a Saturday night “death slot” and then airing it irregularly at various times when they simply had nothing else to plug into their lineup. In the end, the final two episodes were broadcast as a two-hour “movie of the week” on a Monday night in June (back when the summer months were a veritable graveyard for network television programming) nearly two months after the show had last been seen or heard from. At that point, it’s safe to assume that a fair number of people had already assumed that Twin Peaks was over with and weren’t looking for it in the pages of TV Guide (remember those?) anymore. And so a series that had arrived with one of the loudest “bangs” in history exited the stage some 18 months later with a whimper so quiet that almost no one even heard it.

For the Twin Peaks 2017 revival — or, if you prefer, Twin Peaks : The Return — Lynch and Frost have wisely decided to run the pretenders off as quickly as possible. Trust me when I say that if the first two parts  weren’t enough to send the hopeless nostalgia-hounds and pathetic bandwagon-jumpers packing, the opening twenty-ish minutes of part three will almost certainly finish the job, because the surreal odyssey that marks the return of Special Agent Dale Cooper to the “real” world is absolutely unlike anything else that’s ever appeared on a TV screen, to the extent that it makes even the hallucinatory final episode of the series’ first go-round look like child’s play.

Coop in space? Believe it. The brief return of Major Garland Briggs (the deceased Don S. Davis) cryptically stating “Blue Rose” before disappearing back into the ether? Believe it. The most visually arresting — and confounding — thing Lynch has done since Eraserhead? Believe that, too.

And yet for all the wonderfully rich “high weirdness” on display, things are actually playing out in a fairly straightforward manner : we finally see how inhabitants of the Black Lodge travel by means of electrical currents (something previously hinted at in Fire Walk With Me), we get a fairly quick explanation of the “253 — time after time” bit of cryptic numerology laid on us last week, and when a third iteration of Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan’s sporting a paunch and hairpiece this time) named “Dougie Jones” is thrown into the mix, his origins (and purpose) are deciphered in short order by one-armed man Phillip Gerard (Al Strobel).

Okay, yeah, I absolutely can’t explain Dougie’s rapid-fire demise — or what the hell is up with the woman with sewed-shut eyelids who sacrifices herself to grease the wheels of Cooper’s return trip home — or the sudden appearance of a second woman who takes her place — or the big number “15” on the even bigger electrical outlet that Dale travels through — or why it’s taped over with a “3” when next we see it — but hey, we’ll get to all that in due course, I’m sure.

The extended sequence that takes place in the “world between worlds” that Cooper finds himself waylaid at/in is absolutely gorgeous — complete with purple-tinged skies, flickering stop-motion movement, and a more successful appropriation of A Trip To The Moon-style imagery than largely talentless future conspiracy theory nutcase Billy Corgan (you wanna talk about artistic frauds —) could have possibly dreamed up back when he was ripping off that same aesthetic for his wretched “masterwork” Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness — but it’s much more than a mere example of Lynch flexing his admittedly powerful visual muscle : nope, everything we see and experience here plays right into the next step of the “real world” storyline that’s slowly and inexorably taking center stage in the proceedings. Following his re-emergence, Cooper assumes Dougie’s life more by default than choice — complete with Naomi Watts for a wife and a young son named “Sonny Jim” — but not before winning one slots jackpot after another thanks to some timely Black Lodge/Red Room intervention, cruising around Vegas in a hooker’s Jeep, narrowly avoiding an assassination attempt, and not avoiding a run-in with an annoyingly gregarious Ethan Suplee. Oh, and did I mention that he’s basically catatonic the whole time?

I’m sure it sounds hopelessly cliched to say “it’ll make more sense once you’ve seen it,” but nevertheless, it’s absolutely true. Maybe not a ton more, mind you, but enough — and besides, Twin Peaks fans are well accustomed to the notion of having unanswered questions rattling around in our brains, sometimes for decades.

For all that, though, it appears as if many of our long-standing queries really are on the cusp of finally being answered, particularly the ones left over from Fire Walk With Me. Besides “Blue Rose” and electrical-grid physical transference, part three of The Return also re-introduces us to the green Owl Cave ring and the creamed corn motif (mixed with poison and expelled in the most violent and disgusting way possible by both Dougie and the “Doppleganger Dale” we met in parts one and two), so who knows? Maybe we really are getting closer to figuring out — I dunno, something.

The tail end of part three, and the bulk of part four, showcase the genius sense of timing that Lynch and Frost employed so effectively early on in Twin Peaks‘ initial run — having taken us pretty far “out there,” we’re now reeled back in to that which we knew before, albeit with a completely different, and expanded, perspective. The FBI offices are our first stop, where Cooper’s old boss, Gordon Cole (played, as ever, by Lynch himself) and frequent sidekick, Albert Rosenfeld (the late Miguel Ferrer) appear not to have changed a whit over the last two-and-a-half decades, although they are now joined by lovely “third wheel” agent Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell) as they head for South Dakota to interview newly-incarcerated Cooper/BOB, an assignment personally signed off on by the Bureau’s new chief of staff — Denise Bryson (David Duchovny)!

So, yeah, it’s “Old Home Week” at the J. Edgar Hoover office building, but don’t worry, some new faces turn up, as well — most notably none other than Richard Chamberlain in the role of Denise’s second-in-command — and the same is true once we find ourselves back in Twin Peaks proper, where we finally meet Sheriff Frank Truman (played with typically stunning “deadpan panache” by the inimitable Robert Forster), learn that Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) is now employed as a deputy tasked with tracking down the very same drug dealers that he used to be/run with, and Michael Cera even turns up in a beyond-memorable cameo as Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) and Andy (Harry Goaz)’s son, Wally, talking and dressing like Brando and living like Kerouac. In short, if you felt like the “old-school” quirky charm of this series was missing in parts one and two (apart from Michael Horse’s Deputy Hawk, of course), rest easy — it’s present and accounted for now, and sliding back into it feels as warm and comfortable as a favorite pair of slippers.

Perhaps what’s most exciting — and intriguing — about Twin Peaks 2017, though, is that Lynch and Frost are using the familiar and “safe” as a counter-balance to, and enhancement of, the new, the unfamiliar, and the potentially dangerous. For every character who seems to be more or less exactly as we remembered them, there’s an Agent Cooper or a Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) who are clearly anything but. For every fan favorite locale (like the Sheriff’s station or the Bang Bang Bar — speaking of which, is everyone loving the “live band” musical sequences at the end of each segment as much as I am?), there’s a mysterious and foreboding far-off setting, including outer fucking space. The tried and true, then, may indeed be the soul of this new series, but it’s most assuredly not its backbone, and I don’t know about you, but I’d say that’s a refreshingly gutsy move.

At this point it’s more than fair to say that, much like our intrepid “showrunners,” I’m far more concerned about looking forward than I am backward, as well. Part five of Twin Peaks : The Return can’t come soon enough, and while events seem to be leading us back home, I think we’re about to discover that it’s a place we never knew as well as we thought we did.

Well, whaddya know — sometimes those three-and four-page previews they run in the back of comics actually work.

Case in point : the new Aftershock Comics series The Normals is probably not something I would have picked up from my LCS shelves armed with little to no foreknowledge about it. Its writer and creator, Adam Glass, is not somebody I’m terribly familiar with beyond some vague awareness of the fact that he’s a “Hollywood guy” (specifically he’s currently employed as an executive producer on one of the numerous Criminal Minds shows) and that he’s the brains behind the Rough Riders series (and its recently-published sequel) which, rightly or wrongly, strikes me as being more or less a League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen rip-off featuring historical, rather than literary, personages; artist Dennis Calero is a name I vaguely recall seeing credited elsewhere from time to time but I couldn’t tell you specifically where; and colorist Adriano Augusto? Gotta confess, I’ve never even heard of him before. But hey, one of those aforementioned previews was included in some other Aftershock titles a couple of months back, I read it, and I thought to myself “hey, this seems pretty good, I think I’ll give at least the first issue a go.”

That being said, somewhere along the way I think I forgot all about it again, but when I saw the striking cover by Juan Doe (who’s getting a lot of work at Aftershock these days, which is reason enough to follow this publisher’s output) staring back at me from the new release racks last Wednesday, I was like “oh yeah —,” and took the plunge. Turns out that was a pretty good move.

Glass relates the story of the hopelessly, well, normal Jack and Mary Normal via means of wildly effective and at times even disarmingly charming first-person narration, and does so in broad- and appealing- enough strokes to rope you in more or less immediately with a minimum of fuss or muss. In fairly short order, a standard-issue (no surprise there) household accident reveals something quite disturbing about their son, and soon the three of them, plus their typically (of course) quasi-rebellious teenage daughter are packing into the family sedan (what else?) and heading for their former hometown looking for answers about just what the heck is going on — but “what’s happening to us?” is a pretty basic and easy question compared to “who are we, anyway?,” and by the time this first chapter ends, that’s exactly what our protagonists are wondering.

really like Dennis Calero’s art on this book — it’s as pedestrian as it needs to be, but just sketchy and ill-defined enough in places to drive home a sense of false complacency and equally false reality. Everything looks like it should, sure, but it’s incomplete. It’s sketchy. It’s not all there — and Adriano Augusto, for his part, amplifies this low-key sense of unease with bold and gutsy coloring choices that completely “blank out” faces with rich, dark shadow at just the right points and juxtapose these mysterious images with plenty of brightly-lit, everyday suburban sunshine when the script and line art call for that, as well. I said earlier I’d never heard of this guy —well, now his is a name that I’ll be following for sure.

One knock I feel obligated to draw attention to, though, is the cliffhanger — once you get a reasonably solid handle on what’s going on you’ll see that there are only a couple of places the story can really go, and it definitely goes in one of them, but even though he leaves things on an obviously surprising (there’s any oxymoron for you, I know) note, I don’t think Glass has shown us all his cards yet by any stretch. Besides — even if The Normals turns out to have a bit of a “been there, done that” vibe to its “mind-fuck” premise, it’s well-enough executed on every level to keep readers intrigued. If it turns out that we’ve seen this all before, fair enough — but we don’t usually see it done this well, and as long as future installments maintain the same standard of quality on display in this one, I’ll be sticking around for more.

 

 

 

I’ve never been there, so I had no idea, but apparently Istanbul is a city of cats. I mean lots and lots of cats.

Which means two things : my wife would probably love it there, and there’s a heck of a documentary just waiting to be made about this whole situation.

Okay, fair enough, I probably wouldn’t have guessed the latter to be the case, either, but Turkish director Ceyda Torun knows better than I, and late in 2016 he proved it by releasing his new film Kedi, which has gotten some pretty strong (and frankly well-deserved) notices from around the world, and recently made its way to the eclectic discount house (that would be the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis) just up the street from our house, so any excuses I may have once had for giving it a pass are, obviously, long gone.

I freely admit to being a cat-lover (and owner) myself, but the set-up in Istanbul might be a bit much even for me : I mean, there are barely-domesticated felines everywhere. None of ’em are fixed, none of ’em are strictly anyone’s “property,” none of ’em are chased down and taken to the pound — they just do their thing, while people do theirs. And it all seems to work out pretty well.

Kedi follows the to’ing and fro’ing of maybe a half-dozen cats in particular, my favorite being a cuddly little fellow named Bengu, but more generally it’s about the relationship between humans and animals in an urban setting, and how the daily ritual of providing for so many of these furry friends shapes the character of a city. I mean, seriously — a pair of sisters profiled in the film cook up 20 pounds of chicken a day in order to feed some 60 neighborhood cats. And the idea of complaining about it, much less missing a day, has apparently never occurred to them.

It’s not like the cats don’t give something back, of course — we meet one who chases off mice from a restaurant, another is favorite draw at a deli where he paws at the window until he’s fed, yet another “guards” a fish market (and helps himself to a fresh meal when no one’s looking) — heck, one gentleman even talks about how taking care of so many of them helped him to rebuild his life after a nervous breakdown. It’s a remarkable state of affairs that’s taken hold, and makes for a story that’s equal parts inherently charming and weirdly fascinating.

It’s also a way of life that’s under very direct threat : Turkey’s current socio-economic and political woes are well-known, and as foreign investment pours into the country (and lines the thuggish Erdogan’s pockets), the malignant forces of gentrification are seeing entire neighborhoods leveled in order to make room for ostentatious (and most empty) high-rises with little to no concern for the people being displaced, much less the cats. Torun doesn’t beat you over the head with this sad new reality, but once the topic is broached, its hangs over the proceedings like a silent and sharp scabbard, informing all that we subsequently see with a kind of gentle-but-persistent eulogy for a social order that is slowly but surely on the way out.

For all that, though, Kedi is still a joyous celebration of the love that exists between creatures that amble about on two legs and those who get around on four. As one shop-keeper in the film says, “Cats are a bridge between man and God. Dogs think people are gods, but cats know better, and so by understanding cats, we can better know God.” If you get what he’s talking about and agree, then this is a flick you absolutely must see, the sooner the better.

How, exactly, does one begin to process all this?

The only way one can, I suppose — one scene, one instance, one moment at a time.

After all, it’s been 25 years and,  despite Laura Palmer’s promise, until it was first cryptically hinted at via twitter, then officially announced what already feels like countless months ago, I think it’s fairly safe to say that none of us thought this would happen. And yet, happening it is — “again,” as its promotional materials point out. David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks has, indeed, returned to television. And it’s been a “pinch yourself to make sure it’s real” night all the way.

Damn, but they did a good job of keeping all the details under wraps, didn’t they? In a world where the president of the United States feels compelled to spill classified info to the Russians in order to prove his dick still works (and that Mr. Putin’s money was well spent), it may be hard to believe that anyone can keep a secret anymore, but up until that red carpet (or should that be Red Room?) Hollywood screening the other night, nobody beyond the principals involved had any idea what was in store for us. No leaked scripts or rough-cuts or dailies. No wayward comments during interviews that hinted at just a little too much. Nothing. We went into this one as blind as we all did — scratch that, as those of us who were around did — when the original Twin Peaks first aired on ABC way back in 1990.

The fair question to ask, then, after all this time — is this even the same show?

Well, yes and no. In much the same way that the maligned-at-the-time-but-celebrated-now “prequel” film, Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me marked a distinct tonal change from its small-screen progenitor, Twin Peaks circa 2017 both looks and feels entirely different than each of its forebears, and that’s as it should be : technology has moved on (this one’s shot in HD by the great Peter Deming), actors have aged, the budget’s bigger (Lynch having temporarily abandoned the project — God, remember that? — when it wasn’t), and being on Showtime means you can show tits, ass, blood, and viscera — all of which are reasonably well-represented in the two “part” (don’t call ’em episodes!) premiere “event” that just finished airing.

And yet those are all superficial changes. What strikes me as the greatest departure of all is the overall shift toward a slower, more measured, and decidedly more somber brand of storytelling than us old-time fans may be  accustomed to. The pacing of these first two parts is more akin to Lynch’s still-criminally-underappreciated Lost Highway than it is to “old-school” Twin Peaks, each rather lengthy scene dripping with both import and inherent tension in a way that simply can’t be faked. As we progress from Red Room/Black Lodge to the town of Twin Peaks “proper” to New York City to Buckhorn, South Dakota — and back, in turn, to each again, at least once — the daily minutiae of the various fictitious “lives” on display is given more-than-ample breathing space, and seemingly “unimportant” events, such as setting up an array of video cameras or waiting for someone to come to the door, play out very nearly in real time. This is, I admit, something that takes some getting used to — particularly as far as the scenes with the dude in New York who’s hired to observe a seemingly empty glass box go — but it ensures that when things do happen, they pack an enormous wallop. I’d tell you to ask that kid in the Big Apple I just mentioned, but alas, he’s in no shape to answer questions right now.

Death is, in fact, a constant specter hanging over the proceedings here — the inimitable Catherine E. Coulson, better known as “The Log Lady,” gives a heart-wrenching performance shot shortly before her demise that bravely incorporates aspects of her own illness; David Bowie’s Phillip Jeffries and Don S. Davis’ Major Garland Briggs both play significant roles by way of mere mention in the same scene; the late Miguel Ferrer will be along before too long — and, of course, there’s Laura Palmer. There’s always Laura Palmer. Is she alive? Is she dead? Is she both and neither at the same time? Actress Sherly Lee is shown as having aged naturally, and when she finally plants a kiss on Agent Cooper’s lips it consummates what for many of us was the real, if entirely unspoken, love story at the heart of Twin Peaks as we knew it — but then she undergoes a transformation that further reinforces the idea that this isn’t, nor will it be, the Twin Peaks we thought we knew at all.

Except, of course, when it is. Paradoxically, the “unreal” world of the Red Room is where we find the most familiar faces — The Giant (Carel Struycken) kicks off the nostalgia parade followed in short order by Laura, Philip Gerard, the one-armed man (Al Strobel) — hell, even Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) turns up eventually. Change, evolution, and metamorphosis seems to be the through-line connecting all that goes on/has gone on beyond the scarlet-colored veil — exemplified most noticeably by “The Arm” (which sure ain’t an arm anymore) — so be forewarned :  if you thought that time stood still for anybody trapped in this parallel (un?)reality, think again.

And that seems doubly true for Kyle MacLachlan’s Special Agent Dale Cooper, who’s apparently spent the better part of the past quarter-century sitting in the same chair. Or at least one of him has — his “BOB”-possessed doppleganger, last seen bleeding from the forehead and saying “How’s Annie?” over and over again front of a broken mirror, is busy raising all kinds of hell on our side of the dimensional divide, and his story provides the nearest thing to a straightforward and completely accessible plotline so far. That doesn’t mean we know where things are headed for him yet — not by any stretch — but his motivations are clearly spelled out in a way that little else here is, and MacLachlan just plain acts his ass off in this starkly uncharacteristic role. He even goes toe-to-toe with the great Jennifer Jason Leigh (his head and hands, mind you, being at entirely different level vis-a-vis her form) and dominates the screen to the point where you do a hey “hey, wait, isn’t that—?”-style double-take after she first makes her appearance. Put simply, he’s real good at being real bad.

My theory — and keep in mind, it’s only a theory — is that the emergence of “BOB” into our world via Doppleganger Dale is going to prove to have been the catalyst for a sort of “overall darkening” that’s taken place. Ya see,  2017 Twin Peaks, at least to date, seems to exhibit almost none of the charming quirkiness that endeared so many to the show last time around, the noble-but-brief efforts of Lucy Moran (Kimmy Robertson), Deputy Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz), and Horne brothers (blink and you’ll miss Ashley Judd as their new secretary) Ben (Richard Beymer) and Jerry (David Patrcik Kelly) notwithstanding — and in its place we have a town where the mill stands in ruin, Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) orders heavy equipment for a paranoia-fueled secret project deep in the woods, neither of the Sheriffs Truman (could a surprise appearance from Michael Ontkean at some point down the road be this series’ best-kept secret of all?) bother to show up for work, and Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie) has graduated from “Invitation To Love” to graphic, “law of the jungle” nature documentaries. The ever-noble Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) seems, as ever, to be the only one who just might have at least an intuitive understanding of what’s going on, but to this viewer, at least, it seems pretty clear that somewhere along the way, something went seriously wrong.

And yet, just when all seems ireevocably lost, we’re treated to a final scene at the “Bang Bang Bar” roadhouse, where Jacques Renault (Walter Olkewicz) still tends bar, Shelly Johnson (Madchen Amick) still drinks and gossips with her girlfriends, James Hurley (James Marshall) still stops in for a beer, and the nearest thing to a young version of Julee Cruise sings on stage. It’s all wrapped in a wistful, nostalgic glow that Lynch delivers with something akin to what I can only, and no doubt inadequately, describe as beauty tinged with sadness, and for those who were feeling out of their depth and/or comfort zones in the first hour-and-forty-five, it’ll most likely reel ’em back in — snap! — just like that.

As a study in contrasts, then — both with its previous version and, most interesintgly, with itself — the first two parts of Twin Peaks 2017 border on the downright breathtaking. Whether we’re looking at a grisly (to put it mildly) quasi-ritualistic murder scene in South Dakota, watching the black-and-white flooring of the Red Room shift, rise, and fall, seeing “Bad Dale” drive a muscle car in the middle of the night, or even just staring into that (usually) empty glass box again, it’s impossible to turn away. Joe Bob Briggs once said that  the cardinal rule for what makes a great drive-in movie is knowing that “anyone can die at any time” — Lynch and Frost one-up that here, though, by giving us a show where anything can happen at any time.

It’s happening again, indeed — and for the very first time.

 

Another new one for Graphic Policy website —

Graphic Policy

A couple of years back, the cartoonist formerly known as Al Frank, new moniker of Casanova Frankenstein in tow, burst back onto the alternative/independent/underground scene with the sixth issue of his long-dormant (how long? Try two decades) series The Adventures Of Tad Martin, and my mind was flat-out blown. A harrowing, brutally honest, emotionally naked, scream-from-the-gut autobiographical tale of the hellishly bad marriage, drug addiction, health problems, and psychological issues that had consumed his life in then-recent years, drawn with anything that was handy on anything that was handy (mostly composition book pages, but restaurant guest checks, napkins, and even the back of prescription labels would do in a pinch), it did considerably more than scratch the itch many of us had been suffering from for years with the absence of new autobio material from masters of the form such as Chester BrownJoe Matt

View original post 1,065 more words

Review : “Luke Cage” #1

Posted: May 21, 2017 in comics

My latest review for Graphic Policy website —

Graphic Policy

Like a good number of folks, I was sorely disappointed when Marvel Comics decided to pull the plug on David F. Walker and Sanford Greene‘s superb Power Man And Iron Fist series after an all-too-brief run, but at today’s “Hollywood First, Comics Second” iteration of the so-called “House Of Ideas,” I guess it was too be expected — after all, Luke and Danny both have “stand-alone” series going on at Netflix, and are apparently only “allowed” to team up as part of the forthcoming The Defenders, so it only stands to reason that the same set-up would would be making its way over to the printed page. On the plus side, Walker is still writing the new solo Luke Cage book, but still — you knew damn well going in that the light-hearted, comedic tone of PMIF would probably go by the wayside in favor of a more…

View original post 613 more words

Sufficiently convinced that I had a solid handle handle on the oeuvre of no-budget UK filmmaker Richard Mansfield thanks to his decidedly lackluster 2014 effort The Mothman Curse, I nonetheless decided that my constitution was probably resolute enough to handle at least one more product of his imagination, so a mere 24 (or so) hours later, I logged onto Amazon Prime and, noticing that his latest, 2017’s The Demonic Tapes (also, it would seem, streaming in some markets under the title of Fright Christmas — though at least, as of yet, not available on Blu-ray or DVD with either name attached to it) was right near the top of the “recently added” horror queue, rather reluctantly pressed that little “play” arrow and hoped for the best. Or at least for better.

The story in this lean (as in 71 minutes) number, reportedly made for the princely sum of four hundred pounds, focuses on an unnamed man (portrayed by one Darren Munn) who, alone for Christmas, decided to force some holiday “cheer” upon his home by digging out the old artificial tree from the basement, only to have his attention diverted by a dusty old box he finds down there that seems to have faint,almost moaning, noises coming from it. Who can resist a find like that, right?

The box contains an old-school dictaphone machine and a bunch of micro-cassettes, and of course he listens to them, only to become immersed in a tale of supernatural intrigue relayed by semi-renowned London-area psychic medium Claire Reynolds (played/voiced by Alice Keedwell, who actually does double duty here as — well, more on that it a minute), who has quite a story to tell even though she’s dead  — a yarn about a spooky and vengeful entity known only as “Mr. Sheets” who, as luck would have it,  just happened to be haunting our nameless protagonist’s very own house way back in the hazy past of 2003. And at Christmas time, no less!

A return visit is no doubt in order — ghosts, as a general rule, tend to show up whenever somebody’s investigating them — but he kind of keeps to a safe distance until our “hero” decides to track down Claire’s identical twin sister, Sarah, who warns him to give the whole thing up and maybe find himself a new place to live while he’s at it. He does neither, of course — we wouldn’t have much of a movie otherwise — and that’s when Mr. Sheets (who is, quite literally, a dude wrapped in a bedsheet) decides he’d better make his move and get this nosy bastard out of the picture for good.

Folks who’ve read my review of The Mothman Curse — or, even worse, actually seen the flick — will undoubtedly spot more than a few plot similarities between that earlier movie and this one, but the good news is that this flick is far more successful when it comes to exploiting admittedly age-old horror standards. Mr. Sheets is surpsingly creepy in his utter simplicity, he comes and goes with suitably-staged mysteriousness, and Mansfield seems to have developed a solid handle on when and how to deploy his necessarily-minimal array of sound effects in a manner that accentuates the understated power of his visuals. Competent-bordering-on-good performances from his tiny, and quite obviously amateur, cast make The Demonic Tapes a far more watchable affair than its predecessor, it’s true, but it’s our writer/director’s much more confident approach to his craft on a stylistic level that makes the greatest difference here. We’re still dealing with a fairly basic, even time-worn, premise this time around, sure, but the “art-house movie minus the resources” aesthetic that Mansfield seemed to at least be trying to go for earlier is something that he actually achieves this time around, and the end result, while far from revelatory, is a well-worth-your-time ghost story that might even freak you out on occasion.

I guess the lesson here, then, is never give up on even the most seemingly-hopeless micro-budget horror director. Richard Mansfield circa 2014 looked like a guy who would be better off hanging up his hand-held camera and seeing if the local hardware store was hiring. Richard Mansfield circa 2017, by contrast, looks very much like a guy who just might have a bright future in this business after all.