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Something Weird on TV: Monsters Part Four – Monsters in Motion

Tonight, we will be finishing out the first season of Monsters, starting with “Rain Dance,” a forgettable episode directed by Richard Friedman (Scared Stiff, Phantom of the Mall, several episodes of Tales from the Darkside and Friday the 13th: The Series). At least the monster is memorable enough, a pop-eyed “stone” idol that comes to life to get vengeance on a pair of con artists who exploit Native American tribes, and the villains turned victims themselves are brought to life by Predator 2’s Kent McCord and Teri Copley, who played Marissa Orlock in Transylvania Twist this same year.

“The Cocoon” is a surprisingly atmospheric slice of semi-noir from a teleplay by series regular Edithe Swensen, who also penned some ten episodes of Tales from the Darkside. The result is perhaps a little more convoluted than it strictly needs to be, involving a psychic, a youth-stealing succubus, and Billy Drago as a hardboiled detective – so really, what more could you ask for? Helmed by John Gray, who also directed the gorilla whisperer family flick Born to be Wild and the Steven Seagal/Keenen Wayans joint The Glimmer Man, it’s got more going for it than you might expect from that pedigree.

As does “All in a Day’s Work,” a semi-comedic episode featuring a New York witch (Adrienne Barbeau) who helps a stranger shake his doppelganger by summoning a demon, possibly at the expense of her own young son. Oddly enough, despite its jokey premise, the episode is mostly played straight, with the only comedy relief coming from the demon, played by Eddie Velez, who was Frankie Santana in the final season of The A-Team.

While the episode itself is an odd mix of tones with, again, a perhaps needlessly complicated plot, besides boasting some interesting talent in front of the camera, it also has a pretty gnarly-looking creature, in the form of the doppelganger’s true shape. The story is by sci-fi/fantasy writer Maureen McHugh – credited as Michael Galloglach – who also worked on the Halo 2 video game, and the episode is directed by frequent TV director Allen Coulter, who helmed the 2006 flick Hollywoodland, starring Adrien Brody and Ben Affleck.

Directed by Warner Shook, who was also behind several comedic episodes of Tales from the Darkside, “Satan in the Suburbs” is more what we’ve come to expect from a comedy relief episode of one of these shows – essentially a sitcom with a supernatural premise. In this case, the premise is that a widowed housewife and frustrated writer of romance novels is visited by a devil who wants her to write his memoirs. The episode stars Deborah Strang and Sex and the City’s own Mr. Big, Chris Noth, and the script is by Jule Selbo, who also penned “All in a Day’s Work,” not to mention some nine episodes of Tales from the Darkside.

Next up is the last solid horror episode of the first season. Once again, “Mannikins of Horror” is adapted from a short story by Robert Bloch, this time with a teleplay by TV producer Josef Anderson (Sliders, Dr. Quinn), who will also pen two more episodes in subsequent seasons. The same story had previously been adapted to film in 1972 as one of the segments in the Amicus anthology film Asylum.

This is another example of Richard Rubinstein’s “horse-trading.” Emmy-winning director Ernest Farino is an old hand at special effects, having worked on such films as the original Terminator, The Thing, The Abyss, and many more, not to mention the Pillsbury Doughboy. That Farino frequently works in stop motion is perhaps unsurprising, given that this is one of the rare episodes of Monsters that make use of that technique.

In this case, it’s to bring to life the “little clay men” crafted by Dr. Collin (William Prince), a former surgeon who is now locked up in an institution by the authoritarian government of a dystopian future that we never really see or understand. Collin believes that, by creating these anatomically perfect clay sculptures, he can bring them to life and put his own essence into them to carry on after he dies of a mysterious illness.

The rest of the cast includes Glynis Barbor (Norman J. Warren’s Terror) and occasional B-horror actor Brian Brophy (Project: Metalbeast, Brain Dead, Freaked). Ultimately, though, the stars of the show are the little clay guys. They don’t move around much, and when they do, it’s pretty standard “killer toy” stuff, but the episode pulls itself out with a particularly creepy (and grisly) ending that is somewhat unexpected, even while it is inevitable.

That’s pretty much it for season one. The final episode of the season, “La Strega,” has an interesting pedigree, at least. It’s the first of only two series episodes written by Michael McDowell, who we talked about a lot when I was writing about Tales from the Darkside. Here, he acquits himself somewhat less admirably, and his episodes aren’t series standouts.

However, McDowell is far from the most famous name attached to “La Strega.” The episode stars Rob Morrow and Linda Blair, who the entire story seems to be structured around. In it, she plays a witch who has possibly cursed a man’s mother. He comes to her shop with the intention of knocking her off because of said curse, and she convinces him to give her a chance. The director of the episode isn’t famous herself, but she borrows an infamous name – Lizzie Borden.

As I said, that’s about it for tonight, but next time we’ll start into the second season of Monsters, where we can expect guest turns from aging actors like Darren McGavin and Soupy Sales, Ernest Farino bringing us more stop motion, and a variation on the ol’ “farmer’s daughter” story, to name a few.