There’s a battle brewing, and it’s being fought by streaming services, cable TV and primetime television. If you’re too weak to resist, “UnBinged” is here to help, telling you what to hate, what to love and what to love to hate. In pandemic times, we need it more than ever.
This week: Ryan Murphy’s hot medical menace, Ratched for Netflix; HBO’s HP Lovecraft anthology, Lovecraft Country; the return of subversive superhero satire The Boys and Etheria’s shocker shorts– both on Prime.
Ratched / Netflix
Murphy’s #1 leading lady Sarah Paulson stars here and a bevy of American Horror Story heavy hitters join her, exploring the infamous nurse’s early work at the Lucia State Hospital, a sanitarium off the California coast. Set in 1947 before she took on McMurphy at the Salem State Hospital, the prequel follows Ratched as she embarks on a personal mission and God help anyone in her way. Along for the ride are delicious dames Sharon Stone, Judy Davis, and Cynthia Nixon, to name a few.
Do we really need an origin story for a villain that’s rarely been referenced outside of a 1975 movie or is Ratched just filling time with a retro fashion show as fans wait for Horror Story’s new season? That depends on your point of view, but the series is a fun frolic regardless. Beyond the homosexual subtext that’s inherent in all of Murphy’s work these days, the storyline is simple, and it’s all drowned out by the bright, pretty colors and unnecessary violence, in any case. But this isn’t a bad thing. Gore doesn’t always need to serve a greater good; sometimes it can just exist because people are gross and they like to see gross things. In Ratched‘s case its ice-pick lobotomies and LSD trips gone bad.
This is not an important piece of television, but rather a mindless romp for people who like a little blood and guts with their glamour. The eye-catching sets, the luxurious costumes, and the over-the-top acting from its stars all serve as a fun distraction for people who like to eat their dessert before dinner. It will fill you up with inconsequential garbage, but boy, it sure is tasty.
The Boys / Amazon Prime
As the subversive superhero genre continues to grow by leaps and bounds, each addition to the category must find a way to stand out among all the other cussing assholes with a cape complex. Another schmuck in a mask with a dark backstory isn’t going to cut it anymore.
Before the losers of HBO Max’s Doom Patrol, the dysfunctional family of Netflix’s Umbrella Academy, and the hardcore messaging of HBO’s Watchmen there was Amazon Prime’s The Boys, tackling consumerism, racism, sexism, evil marketing execs, and all the pseudo-religion bashing one could ever want.
Billy Butcher and the gang have return in season 2, but new enemies threaten to make their battle against the Supes and creator Vaughn Industries all the more dangerous. The knowledge that his wife is not only alive, but being held against her will as she cares for her super-powered son makes the struggle more complex, as these heroes represent all that he despises. And Butcher’s not alone- each character wrestles with stuff that could potentially destroy themselves, each other, and the world.
Newbie superhero Stormfront, a mysterious character with a long history of being unpleasant, adds a new layer of menace and her presence makes everything much worse for everyone involved. Side note: if Boys keeps up with the neo-Nazi jargon, the name alone should tip you off that this hero is, like the others, anything but.
One of the better superhero series grounded in reality, The Boys portrays a very shitty reality indeed. As we watch former heroes fall to their darker urges and Americana subverted to fit the agenda of others, it feels less far-fetched than it should. But this was never meant to be a feel good romp. It’s feel bad journey that’s funny, but gruesome, with humor that softens the horror and reminds us to keep laughing even when we feel hopeless.
Lovecraft Country / HBO
Based on the book by Matt Ruff, which was based on the works of renown writer and human horror show HP Lovecraft, HBO’s Lovecraft Country pulls from the annuals of sci-fi literature, creature features and American history to create a unique anthology series with a powerful message.
The series features Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors), an African-American army vet who returns home from the Korean War to find his father (Michael K. Williams) missing. Along with this Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and childhood friend Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett), the trio embark on a quest to find his father. But this is just the beginning to the tale which opens a Pandora’s box of cryptic creatures and monstrous marvels that plague the lives of the trio as well as their loved ones.
But the tentacled terror that lurks in the dark shadows is the least of their concern. It is nowhere near as frightening as the white men wielding torches, bats, or badges. This is Jim Crow America where justice is dolled out based on skin color and survival can depend on the time of day in which a car passes through a county.
Like most anthology series, not all of the episodes are going to be winners. And there are other missteps that might make it hard to buy in for some. For example, the show’s music incorporates modern tunes with songs of the period. Given the attention to detail in most of the episodes, the use of Cardi B can be a distraction that pulls the viewer out of the 1950s mindset.
Despite some small problems, the show marks another solid effort from HBO, but like a lot of the network’s programming it isn’t “tune-in, tune-out” type of entertainment. As with the Emmy-winning Watchmen series, HBO wants you to put in the work and pay attention here, because as HP himself once said, “there are horrors beyond life’s edge that we do not suspect, and once in a while man’s evil prying calls them just within our range.”
Etheria Film Fest Season 2 / Amazon Prime
Etheria Film Festival just unleashed a second season of spooky shorts to get gore-loving masses in the mood for Halloween. More than just She-Ra’s home world, Etheria is a genre film fest that celebrates female filmmakers. Usually held in the heart of Hollywood, the fest moved to the Shudder streaming service this Summer and for season two, a new slew of frightful shorts can be found on Prime.
Spoiler: A whole lotta men die in gruesome, terrible yet entertaining ways. Filled with murderous strippers, ominous music, creepy neighbors, good girls gone bad, and oodles of blood, the second season of shorts is a mixed bag of horror tropes that spotlights tricks of the genre trade. From homages to Tarantino to heavy Train to Busan vibes, these shorts make for an entertaining binge fest as each entry ranges from 10 to 20 minutes. Don’t like it? Move on in mere moments to the next scary story.
With a diverse selection of filmmaking and storytelling styles, fans of the horror genre get a mixed bag taste of fearless femme filmmaking. And though not every twisted tale is a treat, there are enough cool tricks in this bag to keep any horror lover happy. The pics vary wildly from creepy to campy and the standouts do a great job of highlighting Etheria’s vision. Standouts include the Bangkok-set Cowboy Kill Club, the cackling comedy Witches, and a Little Red Riding Hood-themed tale called Slut.
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