Wednesday, April 1, 2020

April Fool's Day

"The Hanged Man" from TAROT DADA, ™ and © Duck Soup Productions, 2020.

As today is the last day that Mainers can legally leave the house for "less than essential" reasons, I feared that there would be another run on the stores.... waking at 5:55, I threw on some clothes and went out to catch "senior hour" at the supermarket. 

Aside from the personal disgust at the fact of being old enough to partake of such a thing, I actually felt less safe shopping with the geriatric crowd than I did last week during normal hours. But under the circumstances, I was afraid they would run out of eggs -- if they even had any. And I need eggs to make Whitey's Magic Tummy Mixture.

I needn't have worried, the supermarket had tons of eggs, and really, they have done a smashing job re-stocking everything: which reinforces the fact that THERE ARE NO SHORTAGES. THERE IS PLENTY TO GO AROUND, if you just don't panic and buy up a shit-ton more than you really need.

But they were out of hand-sanitizing wipes for the carts and I was glad I was wearing gloves. Even then, I panicked when I absent-mindedly touched my cheek because it was itching. I thought, "It's all over. I touched the side of my nose. Contagion will surely follow."

Returning home was not the happy experience it usually is, because I knew that I needed to go back out again in a few hours. Not enough time to do anything productive, too much time to have on your hands. And I did worry about what I had brought back on my hands. I washed my hands and face intensely, killing my iPhone (which I'd absent-mindedly left in my shirt pocket) as a result.  Pussyquats being the perceptive creatures they are, both Whitey and Hunny picked up on my distress. 

I did venture back out into the war zone after about 2 PM. The mailman did deliver my last paycheck for my freelance job, bless him -- and really, bless and keep the U.S. and Worldwide Postal Services for keeping the world up and running. Imagine how bad this would be without a basic service like the mail. I have heard rumblings that the USPS will be forced to shut down within three months. Folks, if that happens, especially without a viable replacement service, it's literally the end of Civilization as we know it. Burn the set: it will all be over. 

Part of the reason for my going out this afternoon was to ship out the tiny handful of Tarot orders that have trickled in. The Post Office was open, and the folks there were safe and friendly behind new plexiglass panels. Clearly marked intervals on the floor showed the safe distance to stand in all areas, and with mechanical door openers in place, I didn't have to touch any surface at all while I was there. Honestly, it felt like the safest place in town.

So, once again, raise a cheer for the mail system: keeping the whole world going in a time of genuine crisis.

In other areas of the town, traffic was about close to normal as the people of Maine took advantage of their last day as Free Range Cattle. The local bank has wisely closed its lobby. All business now being transacted at the drive-through. This made me feel good about the safety of the people inside. And if they're safe, I am too. 

The vet was shuttered. Not a big, deal, I have enough meds to last Whitey a few days, and because I have a good relationship with them, I know I can drop them an email and pop down to pick up the pills Whitey needs sometime in the next few days.

If the first part of my day had been as angst-free as the second part, I'd be feeling pretty complacent by now. Unfortunately, ANY trip out these days means that the infection clock re-sets. Covid-19 has a 2-14 day incubation period, with 5 days the average. No matter what, I'll be a little bit on tinter-hooks until next Monday rolls along. By then, the numbers should be getting genuinely alarming. Stay at home, folks, and stay safe.

--Thorn.
www.tarotbyducksoup.
www.ducksoup.me

Friday, March 27, 2020

A REPORT FROM THE FIELD: WATERVILLE, ME: LIFE UNDER COVID WEEK THREE



Just back from venturing Out for the first time in a week.

It's looking more and more like LOGAN'S RUN out there. Last week I reported that the traffic was down by probably about a third, to about 65 percent. This week I think those numbers are about reversed: traffic only about 1/3rd of normal.

Except at the stupormarket, of course. That felt very normal.

CONVERSATION BETWEEN BRAIN AND GUT, 
JUST BEFORE ENTERING THE SUPERMARKET:

BRAIN: Calm down. Relax. Most of the people in there are probably not infected.

GUT: And THAT'S supposed to relax me? Do you HEAR yourself?

BRAIN: They're taking all kinds of measures to keep it safe.

GUT: Are you INSANE? I can FEEL myself getting infected just from LOOKING at the place!!!

BRAIN: Go on in. Look: See? They have hand sanitizer wipes so you can mop down the handles of your cart, and they have hand sanitizer in a dispenser.

GUT: GIMME THAT!!!!!!!!

BRAIN: See? It's all very normal in here. No one is dying in the aisles.

GUT: I'm STILL not touching the cart handle.....

Anyway. The supermarkets are doing a great job of keeping things in stock despite the panic-driven run on things. After last week, it was most re-assuring to see the meat counters full up again. I was able to get dishwasher detergent at last -- not a moment too soon! (Why would there be a run on dishwasher detergent? Go figure.)

You won't be able to get absolutely everything on your list, and you might not have your pick of brands, but the essentials are all there (so long as you don't buy more than your fair share) and produce and meat were available in abundance.

At the registers, they've put up plexiglass barriers between customer and cashier: a good idea. At the post office (which looked like a Ghost Town inside, if not in the lobby and parking lot), tape has been put down at six-foot intervals to show how far you need to stand back from each other.

I don't plan on going out now for another week. We shall cross that bridge when we come to it. 

Hopefully I managed to transact my chores without swallowing a whole bunch of Covid-19 germs. 

Life Goes On.

-- Thorn.
www.tarotbyducksoup.com
www.ducksoup.me

Sunday, February 23, 2020

No Soup For You

I don’t understand why nobody cares that Popular Culture is dead. I don’t understand why nobody seems particularly interested even in marking its grave. 

People just look at me funny when I tell them that mass media burned itself out about 15 years ago, that Popular Culture was completely wiped out by the internet and replaced by a new era of PERSONAL Culture. 

In the age of Popular Culture, we had just three TV networks in the U.S. of A., four if you count PBS, so if your neighbor wan’t watching the same show that YOU were watching on a Tuesday night, you at least knew what they WERE watching. The news came from Walter Cronkite or Huntley-Brinkley. Music came from one of a handful of local radio stations. People regularly read paperback books and magazines and subscribed to their local newspaper.

Despite the inherent limitations, we got a pretty good variety of content and, especially during the 60s and 70s, experienced a vibrant counterculture that offered alternatives to the mainstream and encouraged dialogue on the important issues. 

It was a culture that allowed us to be on the same page for the important issues, but also encouraged creativity and difference. It was a culture that united us, even when we weren’t always united. 

It took a good solid twenty years or so, but the rise of the internet and first cable then streaming media put an end to all that. Pop Culture, defined and derived from the word “Popular,” is not just dead: it has been annihilated. 

Our culture no longer serves to connect us, but instead offers millions of smaller pipelines that feed our individual and personal mind-set. Far from offering connections, these steaming pipelines feed billions of us whatever it is that we want to hear.

And if you don't think that's an important change, think again. THIS is how a catastrophic thing like The Don could happen, THIS is why neo-Naziism, fascist and hate groups are on the rise. The mass media would never have tolerated a Rush Limbaugh or a Sean Hannity: mass media encouraged blandness, after all… and sometimes blandness is not a bad thing. Many critics insisted that we were being fed pablum: but at least we weren’t being fed a diet of cold undiluted hate.

For just about a solid century, the rise of mass media had us in an opportune place where humanity could more or less all be on the same page, without having to all agree on every issue. It was an opportunity for humans to succeed as a race. It failed. Now we are seeing the rise of cultural feudalism. No good can come of that. 

While I am enjoying the New Age of Personal Culture, having more than enough of everything at my fingertips, and allowing me to play the fun game of being my own Programming Director, the wider picture is not a good one. Climate-change deniers and Holocaust deniers alike are free to live in their dangerous fantasy worlds, because they can always find a feeding tube for their demented diet of lies. Conservatives and Liberals alike will grow more extreme, but also less effective. The middle ground will occupy whatever space the one percent allots to it. Individualism, ironically, will fade, as the world grows more and more tribal. “Standards” will vanish. To a great extent, they already have. 

-- Thorn.

Friday, January 24, 2020

A Lament for Sanity


Heavy sigh.

I am having a harder and harder time being civil about that cretin in the White House, and treating with respect the people who support him.

And I do believe that everyone deserves to be treated respectfully even if they're ... let's be polite and call them "gullible."

But the fact is that I don't understand. I've known what Donald Trump was since the '80s. In fact, I thought we were safe from him, because I didn't believe that the American people could be so stupid as to vote for such an obvious con man, such an obvious caricature of self-centered evil and stupidity. If you'd told me then that he would one day be President, I'd have said it was too ridiculous a concept even for a science fiction story.

What are they not seeing? Does a person have to have the word "GANGSTER" tattooed across their fucking orange forehead before people can spot an obvious gangster when they see one? 

And yet just tonight, someone typed this as a reply to one of my more impolite statements about that Rat Bastard and the people who are Too Goddamn Stupid to see what he is: "You are the moron and brainless if you can’t see all Trump has done for this country and changed the destruction that Obama caused including the split he did with his racist actions. You lack intelligence needed to survive."

This is a person who has swallowed the Kool-Aid. This is a person who is so deluded that if Donald Trump told them to jump off a bridge, they'd do it.

And I do NOT understand. I CAN'T understand. I can't accept that ANYone can be so flat-out, and I'm sorry but there's no polite word for it -- STUPID.

It's like I'm living in a world where Up is Down and Down is Up and the basic facts of Reality Itself are being denied by millions of people, AND THERE'S NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT IT.  I feel completely helpless as I watch the world headed straight off of a cliff.

"Moral Compass?" What's that? The dials are spinning out of control. The person now occupying the White House is someone who makes Richard Nixon and Huey Long and all the political villains of the past look like freakin' SAINTS. Hell fire, he makes Don Vito Corleone look like a saint!

AND THEY DON'T SEE IT. 

I've been saying right along that this isn't about politics anymore, and it isn't. I'd take Richard Nixon any day of the week over this dangerous, idiotic clod that the Republican party has, against all reason and rationality, made into their deity.

I'm not even sure any more that we can safely get rid of him. His ego is so warped that if he loses the election I'm convinced he'll push the fucking button.

I cannot recall any period in my lifetime when things have been so bad as they are now. The One Percent have it all worked out exactly as they want it: look at how easy it was for them to create a state of perpetual war: all they had to do was wreck the economy and get rid of the draft to make millions of young people line up to throw their lives away.

I've always believed the best about people and until now I always wondered how Nazi Germany happened. But it turns out that it was probably more stupid and naive of me to believe that humans were inherently good hearted and could recognize a Snidely Whiplash, a villain dressed all in black with a sign on his back saying "VILLAIN," when they saw one. 

It hurts to be wrong about that. But it hurts more having to watch it all play out like a bad episode of THE TIME TUNNEL. You can't even REASON with these people. They will knowingly lie and bend reality all out of shape rather than admit that Donald Trump isn't even a smart villain. They are prepared to blow up the world rather than acknowledge a mistake. 

I don't see any way out. Republican Senators are going All-In to support this piece of Human Filth, and the next Presidential election is something that I am too terrified even to contemplate. We couldn't be in a worse position than if Doctor Doom was president in Rump's place. In fact, we'd be better off if that was the case: because then we would be living in a comic-book world, and that kind of world is at least more comprehensible the one we actually are faced with.

-- Thorn.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

No Elegies for Thorn.

And so another year down the tube. Another year of incident; highs, lows, water over the dam, designs run up the flagpole, accomplishments made, setbacks endured, some laughs to be had, a fountain of tears shed; just your average annual whack at life. But as I started to type this, I realized something important: unless my advancing age has already started to sap my short-term memory, I don't think that the year 2019 robbed me of any beloved family members or friends.

That makes it a unique year indeed, and one to be treasured forever in memory. It's true that important people, influential people, people who impacted my life in various ways, continued to drop like flies: but unless pain has masked the event from my recollection, none of those people were actually close to me.

So 2019 goes down as the year of No Losses. That makes it almost unique in the past decade or so. And it's not something that I expect to become a trend.

It means that as this year closes out, I don't have to raise a glass (in my case, of iced coffee) in a toast to (newly) absent friends. Instead,  I can raise it to friends and loved ones who are still with me. As in recent years I have made a kind of profession out of mourning, this is a realization that comes with no end of relief. It's kind of a small miracle. And thank goodness for small miracles.

For those of you who have lost friends and loved ones in the past year -- I know that nothing can take away your pain. But one day you'll have a year of no losses, too, and you'll be able thank the ones who are left just for still being there. And maybe, no, probably... we should have been doing that right along.

Happy Happy, Joy Joy, and Stay Strong in the New Year.

-- Thorn.
www.tarotbyducksoup.com
www.ducksoup.me

Thursday, October 24, 2019

"Grab it All, Own it All, Drain it All."


CORALINE -- adapted from the novel by Neil Gaiman -- is not just a great Halloween movie. It is a work of genius. Don't take my word for it. Just get it. Watch it. The story is quite traditional, if given a modern spin by Gaiman, but it's how that story is brought to life and the marvelous visions created by the filmmakers that rip you out of your own circumstance and into a world of magic and horror.

Unfortunately, on the release of CORALINE writer/director Henry Selick (who also gave us THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH) made the terrible mistake of leaving LAIKA and signing a deal with Disney. And in this century, that's the exact same thing as signing a deal with the devil. It's been a decade since CORALINE was released, but Selick hasn't been able to bring a single film to completion, simply because the Disney Devil keeps shutting down his projects "due to unspecified concerns over future costs and benefits."

Translation: the projects don't fit the cookie-cutter sameness of the Disney Machine. That's right -- if they can't compete with genius, they buy it and stuff it in a closet. I would bet you any amount of money that they never intended to release anything that Selick produced. It's called "Making our crap look better by eliminating the competition."

Meanwhile, Walt is spinning in his grave.

Now there's a good Halloween story for you.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Wizard of Kangaroo


Bob Keeshan’s name has come up in a number of social media discussions that I’ve participated in lately. He’s been dead now for just 15 years; and yet, as was pointed out to me the other day, most adults under the age of 40 have no idea who he was or what he accomplished, or how important he was in the lives of those of us over the age of 40.

However, there are still a few places on the internet where the history of CAPTAIN KANGAROO (and MISTER MAYOR and THE HOWDY DOODY SHOW, in which Keeshan was the first of several actors to play Clarabell the Clown) can be gleaned, and there are even a few early episodes up on YouTube that give a good round sense of what the show, and the character, were like; and why they were important to the medium, and to a generation of young TV fans.

So I’m not here to write an appreciation or a history of the man and the show — you can get that elsewhere. I’m here today to write about a single thing: a Great Moment in Television History that is not widely remembered; indeed, it seems to be all but completely forgotten. I witnessed this Great Moment when it happened, and so (I assumed) did millions of other kids. But it was pointed out to me by a friend that a great number of those millions of other kids may not have been as impacted by the moment as I was, may not even have been able to see it as I did… and perhaps this is why that Great Moment remains apparently completely undocumented to this day.

Color was a long time coming to American television and American Homes. Walt Disney was the first producer, in 1961, to shoot and broadcast his TV show entirely in Color; most of the rest of Prime Time programming (that is, 8-11 PM EST) did not catch up to Disney until the fall of 1965. Even then, much of what was broadcast out of prime time remained in black & white; in fact, color TV sets did not become the standard in most American homes until the very late ‘60s. It was 1970 or ’71 before all American programming was produced in color, with PBS, then known as ETV (Educational Television) being one of the last to fully update to the color standard.

In the category of Children’s Television, black and white remained the norm longer than in other genres. Bob Keeshan and CBS were Early Adopters: and the way that Keeshan presented the change on CAPTAIN KANGAROO, by borrowing a page (it must be said) out of THE WIZARD OF OZ, was a brilliant, classic use of the medium. I know: I was there: I saw it.

At that time, Keeshan was doing an hour show of CAPTAIN KANGAROO every weekday morning at 8:00 AM. By 1966, this had been his regular gig for eleven years. On September 9, 1966, the show opened just the way that it always had: with the theme music playing over a black & white panel painted with some decorations and the show title. The Captain greeted us by opening the panel and admitting us into the Treasure House: a place that was part museum, part library, part circus and part toy shop. Again, this was broadcast, as it always had been, in black & white. The Captain jangled his keys as always, then throw the key-ring onto a nail, which caused the theme music to stop. Then, in his gently easygoing manner, speaking as he always did directly to us, the audience, the Captain told us that this was going to be a very special day, because the Treasure House was moving.

He didn’t say where. Or how. Instead, he wandered over to the left side of the set and exchanged a few words with Grandfather Clock — who, if you haven’t guessed it, was a “real,” living Grandfather Clock who could talk and give the time, but who was always dropping off to sleep in the middle of a conversation. This was normal. But then Captain Kangaroo, without any kind of show or fanfare, did something he’d never done before: he opened Grandfather Clock’s cabinet door… and stepped inside.

And there was no time to even think about what this might mean, because the camera cut, and the Captain immediately emerged on the other side of the wall, though the cabinet door of a Grandfather Clock who was now situated on the right side of the room. We had entered a mirror universe! As the Captain came through, the camera pulled back and we found ourselves in an all-new Treasure House, where everything, including Grandfather Clock and the Captain himself, was in full color. It was fully as magical a moment as that similar moment when Judy Garland opens the front door of her Aunt & Uncle’s recently displaced house and sees Munchkinland through the doorway instead of Kansas.

Perhaps because he knew that a great number of his viewers still did not have color TV sets, the Captain did not make much of this change; he simply went on with the show as normal, pointing out a few key differences between this Treasure House and the old one, differences that had more to do with set upgrades that everyone could see, whether they had color or not.

But it was a great, magical moment that I have never forgotten. Over the years, I’ve sometimes wondered why TV historians didn’t mention it at all, and why I never encountered anyone else who remembered seeing it. And now I understand. On the one hand, most kids weren’t watching on a color TV set as yet. And on the other: the episode aired just that one time, and no one thought that they had done anything special. Although pre-recorded, no tape or kinescope of the episode exists today. The tape was probably wiped and used again a week later. Like most kid’s TV shows of the day, and all real magic, it was temporary. History is made and whooshes by in a flash, before disappearing forever, leaving only a memory… if that.

— Thorn.
www.tarotbyducksoup.com
www.ducksoup.me

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Groovy Ghoulies . . . and one Big Dud.



October of 2019 has already been exceptionally good to this Old Geezer who thought he’d seen all the good Horror Movies that were there to be seen. In addition to some old favorites, my nightly Fright-Film Fest has already turned up THREE (count ‘em!) new-to-me screamers that may not be classics, exactly, but which do the genre up right as a rain of pumpkins!

First was William Castle's gimmicky, harmless 13 GHOSTS — filmed in Illusion-o! Castle is considered the master of Contrivance, and the Contrived Contraption that he personally reveals in a fourth-wall-shattering introduction is nothing more than a classic ’50s 3-D viewer, shaped like a ghost and with the blue and red filters stacked one on top of the other instead of side-by-side. Fortunately, the DuckHaus counts several pairs of old-style 3-D eyewear among its protected possessions, so viewing the picture as it was meant to be viewed was not an issue. 

No, the film is not a 3-D headache-fest, but uses the process in several isolated sequences to accomplish its ghost effects. For no reason other than to give the viewer fair warning, the screen goes dark at various times to allow the audience to select from the “believer” or “non-believer” spectrums of ghost-watching. Inevitably, you’ll want to try both — and watch as the actors react either to empty space, or to, say, spooky ghostly lion tamers. It’s your choice… and it's a pretty good gimmick.  Castle finds a couple of ways to work it into the plot: for not only did a dead eccentric scientist leave one such pair of Ghost-Viewers for the characters in the movie, but why is it that one ghost in the girl’s bedroom (easily the ghastliest ghost in the whole picture) can be seen by us without the viewer? Hmm? Why is that? The whole thing is goofy, silly, Halloween fun — and not scary in the slightest. Among the cast of talented actors (either climbing the Hollywood ladder or coming down it), squeaky-clean Martin Milner is cast effectively against type, and Margaret Hamilton seems perfectly happy to be in on the joke when Junior refers to her as the witch that comes with the house! 

Thirteen Ghosts was later re-made in the depraved modern manner, filled to the brim with messy studies into the many disgusting ways that human body can be taken apart. Be very very certain when you check out of the movie store that you’re getting the 1960 version. It’s as good-natured as Leave It to Beaver, but with a vintage funhouse appeal. Like many another picture from bygone days, it has been restored to a condition that belies its age. It’s good, funny, seasonal fun, and its only serious flaw lies in the set decoration: such a spooky home exterior (apparently Castle used stock footage of a side entrance to the Winchester mystery house — more on that in a moment) deserves an equally spooky interior, but all the sets are '50s-bland. Still — these 13 Ghosts, vintage 1960, are keepers!

 

The interwebs have been whispering about BUBBA HO-TEP for years now, but increasingly in our self-defined culture it is difficult to decide when recommendations are valid and whether or not one should  trouble to call something forth from the Stygian Depths, Because Reasons. High Concepts can sometimes cover bargain basement ineptitude or intellectual twaddle, and BUBBA HO-TEP’s High Concept is not only prodigiously high, but of a uniquely Bounce-Off-The-Wall Weirdness. There are a million and a half ways that a picture of this sort can go off the rails, and most of them do just that. BUBBA HO-TEP manages somehow to stay on the Funhouse track. 

It is much more than just an inventive pop-rocks take on the old Mummy saw. Some of its humor walks dangerously close to vulgarity, while some of its horror just skirts the issue of gore, but in the end it’s a balancing act that pays off in style and enjoyably spooky fun. Don’t watch the trailer: it reveals too much, as do most reviews. BUBBA HO-TEP is best approached from a state of purity and ignorance. Relax and let Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis do that thing they do in the leading parts, and open your mind to possibility. Y' gotta take this one on faith, monster and pop culture fans... run, do not shamble. BUBBA HO-TEP is the Real Deal.


The corporate-owned and neatly muzzled critics of the shill media were not kind to last year's WINCHESTER, starring Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke — and that should tell you something. Critics don’t have to think anymore, and rather resent it when they are required to do so. The big corporate conglomerates that own the papers and pay the salaries know that they can count on their critical Igors to lavishly praise the latest hollow Big Studio Product to the skies, and churn out “reviews” that are nothing more than press releases lacking both credibility and integrity. Not even audience reviews can be trusted anymore, because audiences are increasingly made up of the born-yesterday crowd who have the cultural knowledge and sensitivities of a tapeworm.

WINCHESTER was almost certainly not violent enough or depraved enough for that crowd: it is a horror movie in the old style, returning the form to the days when suggestion and dread and implication were valued over shock and sick sadism.

In the manner of blogs, I now dip into that most egregious of critical devices, the Personal Backstory. My one regret in two visits to the West Coast is that I have never visited the Winchester house, the real, honest-to-gosh place upon which this movie hangs its extravagant fiction. Really, the Winchester house is much more than just a structure: it doesn’t have a story, it is a story; and a great story at that.

At this point there are so many different versions of that story that one can forgive the departures from factuality that were a necessity to make this an out-and-out horror movie. As in THE WOMAN IN BLACK, a film with which this one has a lot in common, the picture relies on jump-scares that are plentiful enough but not very jumpy. It is also wonderfully tactile, a beautiful Time-Travel sort of movie that takes us palpably back to the time period in which it's set. And it’s the atmosphere of vintage dread that WINCHESTER creates that drives this film. Like the great old Universal horror movies where the monsters come out of the fog and pose for for you, WINCHESTER makes a stylish presentation of its monster: and the monster in question, as it really should be, is the uncontrolled possession and manufacture of firearms.

That makes WINCHESTER about as topical a horror movie as they come. Its conscious decision to dial back on the gore is in line with its principles about gun violence. There are parallels here with some other great modern horror films that are also worth your attention: THE ORPHANAGE and THE BABADOOK and WINCHESTER have more on their minds than just wanting to scare you. Their real theme, all three, is human grief; how to face it, how to acknowledge it, and even how we must tame it. Grief is the Monster in the Room that we must all confront, sooner or later. This is the sort of theme that requires Real Actors, not just screamers, and everyone in WINCHESTER is up to the mark, most especially the great and almost ageless Helen Mirren. 

 

Alas, not all my forays into the macabre this season have been happy ones. 

There's not much of John Bellairs left in the film version of his juvenile gothic thriller THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS. About 35 minutes in, a giant topiary chimera takes a huge shit into the garden pool — and that's when you realize that this first-ever adaptation of a Bellairs novel was directed by Eli Roth, the genuine, certified Sick Fuck behind HOSTEL, HOSTEL PART II and THE GREEN INFERNO: all of which worship at the alter of sadistic depravity, viscera and Beyond Graphic gore. With a resume like that, one has to wonder why in god's name Steven Spielberg hired the depraved Mr. Roth to direct a children's movie. 

At first, the thing shows a sense of style: although the fantasy has been ramped up to the Nth degree, into gimmicky Harry Potter territory, the picture does have a smashingly stylish design. Well — that’s almost the only thing we can count on from Hollywood these days: that it will always look good. You don't begin to notice something wrong until Roth finds a way to make jokes at the expense of a crippled kid. That's offensive enough: but it isn't until we get to the Dumping Topiary that Roth begins to pile vulgarity on offense. And at that point, I was out. I'm too much a fan of John Bellairs to see his books treated in such shabby fashion by a man whose other movies present torture as entertainment. There's a special place in hell for Eli Roth, and now Mr. Spielberg is fully qualified to join him there.

— Thorn.
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