Archive for December 27, 2018

Just when we thought we were out — he pulls us back in!

The third (and, to date, best) installment of writer/director/actor Nigel Bach’s filmed-on-his-iPhone-in-his-own-goddamn-house Bad Ben series was supposed to be “The Final Chapter,” but here we are, one year and two more films later, and it still shows no sign of being anywhere near over. I can’t say I blame Bach — Amazon Prime keeps picking these things up, they cost nothing (or next to it) to produce, they can be cranked out fairly quickly, and they presumably turn at least a modest little profit. Just because you can keep doing something, though, doesn’t mean you should.

Let’s just call it like it is right outta the gate here : this is a remarkably unlikely indie “franchise,” and Bach deserves a lot of credit for his tenacity and belief in himself — but it’s also a franchise that’s entirely out of gas. It was bound to happen, of course — there’s only so much that can be done with a bog-standard “haunted house” premise and no money, and again, Bach should be commended for milking the whole thing for far more than anyone (myself included) ever thought possible, but still — viewers are generally aware of when a given premise has run its course, even if the filmmakers themselves are blind to it.

And, to rise to Bach’s defense once again, as lousy as Bad Ben 4 : The Mandela Effect was, I can see why he maybe thought he could go back to the well one more time once he’d put that one “in the can.” After all, that flick was pretty much a “solo venture” again — a “return to roots,” so to speak — and if it didn’t work out, what the hell? He’d done his best work with a larger (relatively speaking) cast, so maybe he could just go down that road again if part four landed with a thud. And so he has.

To that end, The Crescent Moon Clown — or, if you prefer, Bad Ben 5 : The Crescent Moon Clown — is not focused on Bach’s Tom Riley character (by and large, at any rate — he does pop up in what can fairly be termed a cameo), but the focus here is still tight and insular, the lone “star” being Jetta Tionne Anderson, who plays Renee, a college-age kid who’s spending her fist night alone in her parents’ new house — which just so happens, of course, to be Tom Riley’s old house. Cue things going bump in the dark.

Anyway, long story short, we’ve been here. We’ve done this. And the well is dry. Bone dry, in fact.

Anderson is likable enough, but not a tremendously competent thespian — you can tell she’s trying, and I give her all kinds of credit for that, but she struggles with that fine line between “emoting” and “exaggerating,” and the script’s “scares” are so fucking tepid that someone of her marginal ability is pretty well set up to fail as she tries, without success, to make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear Bach has written. With some decent material, she might be able to pull off a smaller role, but as things are — well, let’s just say she’s out of her depth and lacks the tools and training to hide that fact.

Still, despite the fact that a film of this nature is going to rise and/or fall on the shoulders of its lead, the fault here lies — just to be perfectly clear one more time — not with Anderson, but with Bach himself, who put an inexperienced actress in a bad position just because he couldn’t let go of an idea that’s well past its expiration date. He’s shown flashes of being a genuine no-budget auteur in earlier installments of this series, so I’d be game to watch something new with his name attached to it, but that’s the rub : it has to be new. A haunted clown doll in a dusty old box may be a new “wrinkle” in the Bad Ben “mythos,” but it’s not a new concept, much less a new lease on life.

The jury, then, may be out on Bach himself as a filmmaker, but as far as his pet franchise goes, it’s crystal clear : The Crescent Moon Clown proves that you can put a fork in Bad Ben. It’s done.

Or, at least, it should be.

 

Damn, but it’s been awhile since I did one of these “Trash Literature” columns — a good few years, in fact. A brief skim through this site’s contents shows the last one to be a review of Peter Sotos’ “Tool.,” so I’m not sure whether or not freelance investigative journalist Joseph L. Flatley is going to consider himself to be in distinguished company now that he’s “next up” in the queue, but — things are what they are, right? And since Flatley was amenable to my “outreach” efforts after I heard his interview with Pearse Redmond on Porkins Policy Radio (a show that, full disclosure, I’ve also been a guest on a couple of times), once I got my copy of his latest book, Stan Goes To The Mind Control Convention — subtitled Manchurian Candidates, Recovered Memories, And The Dark Side Of Conspiracy Culture (And Other Stories) — I got right down to the business of critically analyzing it with an eye towards an eventual (as in, this) review, and was entirely unsurprised to find myself devouring it as eagerly as I was expecting it to, which is to say : I read the whole thing in one (admittedly extended) sitting. And ya know what? I feel pretty safe in betting that, should you purchase it, you’re likely to do the same.

What’s loosely-termed “conspiracy theory” is everywhere these days, of course, but Flatley makes it clear in his introduction that he’s not the sort to lump ’em all together. Many perfectly reasonable folks find plenty of holes in the official narratives of the major assassinations of the 1960s, for instance, but if you believe that Hillary Clinton runs a world-wide Satanic child abuse/sacrifice ring from the basement of a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor that actually has no basement, well — you’re either crazy, stupid, or (most likely) both. The much-reviled “mainstream media” packages every “conspiracy nut” in a tidy package, but there really is a qualitative difference between the research of, say, the late, great Mae Brussell, and the mouth-foaming hucksterism of professional grifter Alex Jones. Flatley gets this, and proceeds in his investigative work with that premise in mind.

That work, of course, takes him to some interesting and, frankly, disturbing places, and while the “Other Stories” that make up the back third (or so) of the book are uniformly enlightening and well worth a read (my favorite being Flatley’s dipping of his toes into the internet cesspool of those who believe the Boston Marathon bombing was a staged incident played out by so-called “crisis actors” — probably second only to Sandy Hook “Trutherism” in terms of being the most offensive “alternate history” out there), it’s his main expose of the shadowy netherworld of “Satanic Ritual Abuse” and “recovered memories” that most directly hammers home the real danger so many of these bogus beliefs represent.

Yeah, I know, I know — I thought that the wave of the so-called “Satanic Panic” that crested in the 1980s with the collapse of one bogus prosecution after another (the most infamous being the McMartin preschool case) had pretty well retreated by now, but dubious “therapists” have kept its basic precepts alive and unwell into the current century — and, perhaps surprisingly, not all of them have slithered out from underneath the mildewed rock of “Christian counseling.” In fact, some of these folks are even — don’t ask me how or why — generally respected in their field for having duped gullible patients into believing that they were subject to unconscionable physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse at the hands of shadowy devil-worshiping cults when they were kids. The fact that they can’t remember any of this shit. or that their “memories” only emerged under the “guidance” provided by hypnosis, or that the details of their accounts often vary wildly with each telling — well, that doesn’t really matter when there’s money to be made.

And, rest assured, there is money to be made. In fact, this is a fairly lucrative little “cottage industry,” especially for the likes of fraudsters such as Colin Ross, a shrink who was preying upon vulnerable women with fanciful tales of their “ritual abuse” in his home country of Canada until his peculiar brand of “therapy” came to the attention of local licensing boards — at which point he simply picked up stakes and moved down to Texas, where his outlandish methods and dubious conclusions do much to re-affirm the conspiratorial beliefs of a certain subset of that state’s evangelical population. Hell, he’s even something of a “rock star” in the “recovered memory movement,” despite the fact that there are a good few one-time patients who are more than willing to blow the whistle on the real manipulation and abuse they’ve suffered — at his hands.

It’s a tangled web that Flatley is tugging at, and a pretty damn incestuous one with many of the same names popping up over and over (and over) again, but he writes in a clear, engaging, “non-flashy” style that draws you in to both his process and his findings, the end result being a breezy, uptempo read about some decidedly heavy subject matter. Needless to say, authors of self-published labors of love such as this one rely on the support of their readership to literally put food in their mouth and keep a roof over their head, and at $12 (or, if you prefer, $4.99 as a Kindle “e-book”), Satan Goes To The Mind Control Convention is a steal the likes of which Beelzebub himself would no doubt approve of. Find out more by going to Flatley’s website, https://www.lennyflatley.net/