Season 2, Episode 1: “Doorway to Hell” (William Fruet, director; Jim Henshaw, writer)
Is the doorway to hell for Uncle Lewis or the viewer?
Watch the FULL EPISODE below:
The Goods: On the first anniversary of his death, Uncle Lewis (and Satan!) attempt to escape Hell and open a nice bed and breakfast. Kidding. To wreak Satanic havoc, obviously. Shenanigans, involving both the Curious Goods crew and a couple of robbers on the run, ensue.
The Cheese: Too many instances to enumerate, as is the case in pretty much every episode in which Uncle Lewis plays a large role.
The Sins: Uncle Lewis (and Buddy, one of the robbers) are greedy bastards, of course.
Kristopher: Why on earth do we need a recap of the horrendous “Bottle of Dreams,” which is in itself a recap? Oof. Yet, do I detect a distinctly different framing here of the series as less semi-anthology and a tilting a little more towards a season arc format? Or it’s possible that they just want to start the new season with an echo of the context that started the first, so they can shift back to a more episodic structure for the rest of the season. Jack returns from the “realms of darkness” via Rashid’s incantations, and all is wrapped up at the end, with only the intimation of the return of Lewis with Jack’s final comment.
Another episode with a kind of hybrid tone: the crime story and the haunted mansion story. You mentioned the series stepping it up with “Pipe Dreams.” A further step might be to relocate the team to Vendredi’s mansion, which is a pretty cool setting. It’s also prime real estate. Selling it might give the Curious Goods folks some income; how do they survive, by the way?
Definitely getting a queer vibe from the young hottie being pulled back into a life of … crime … by his crimelord buddy. Their dialogue at the beginning has undercurrents of a past “relationship.” And then they go shack up in a haunted mansion.
Erin: Dude, yes. It did not help that Buddy’s shotgun-concealing duster looks like he borrowed it from The Lost Boys’ Sam Emerson’s wardrobe.
K: Hahaha! Totally!
Am I horrible for finding the Lewis V. backstory tedious? It’s largely because they haven’t developed the Lewis-Jack past very well, and mere mentions of Lewis’s occult past aren’t enough—they need an episode or two or three devoted to exploring this. That said, I don’t like the actor who plays Lewis, so it’s difficult to care. It would help if he came across as more sinister than a creepy old uncle who thinks he’s cool but who’s really just a buffoon.
E: No, I’m with you. Also, the southern-fried accent and attire really grates. (Man, I’m all about the fashion today.)
K: My first thought upon Micki seeing the eggs frying is “Jinkies! What would a ghost need with fried eggs?”
So, according to what we see of the guy being pulled into the mirror by Uncle Lewis, the “realm of darkness” that Jack mentions is essentially a funhouse set with fake leafless trees and cool red backlighting.
E: And creepy insulation! Don’t forget that.
K: And when you get pulled in and possessed by Lewis, you become a ghoul with bad Mr. Hyde makeup that looks peculiarly like brownface. Possessed by Lewis: another homoerotic note in that Lewis keeps saying “I’ve got this body …”
Okay, the cool part of Micki and Ryan’s being trapped in the hell dimension is that they’re like lost children with Jack the surrogate father searching for them. But when Jack is in there with all the screams, the funhouse aspect feels out of place again. In the Wax book, writer Jim Henshaw talks about the first season having exhausted everyone with its ambitions. He also says they tried to inject more “logic” into the stories (161). The idea was to tie the cursed objects more to a logical connection to character and to a psychological realism. If this episode is supposed to be an example of that, then they’re running out of the gate behind.
Overall, this one is a beautifully shot stinker.
E: Dear Friday the 13th: The Series: Why would you think that immediately reminding viewers of your worst episode would be a good way to start the season?
What a weird episode, and one that 1) breaks the narrative pattern of the cursed object, and 2) relies more so than most on viewer knowledge of previous episodes. Like the Doorway to Hell hot house, this episode is quite sweaty...both the characters and the narrative itself. Everything is dialed up to 11 here, and nobody quite sells it. (Also, pro tip, Micki: Never wear white when going to abandoned houses.) It’s absolutely stuffed and therefore a hot mess. You’ve got Buddy (the tempter) and Eddie (reformed criminal trying to put his life together); the anniversary of Lewis’s death; and the opening of hell and possible apocalypse. Geez, episode, save some for the rest of the season! The fact that it starts with Eddie seems to imply it’ll be his story, but nope. Poor Eddie is just a pawn, first of Buddy, then Lewis...but most of all the writer.
E: There is a theme here: can you escape your past? that should have been highlighted but gets lost in all the theatrics. It’s too bad, because there’s actually something here that surprised me. This might be the first “meta” episode of the series, in a subtle way. You’ve got numerous references to “this isn’t TV,” combined with most of the cast watching things through mirrors...as well as Eddie and Jack being pulled or stepping through mirrors into a different realm (think, too, of Ryan being pulled into the TV in “Double Exposure”). Finally, Rashid’s final line: “I did it with mirrors” is, of course, a reference to Agatha Christie’s They Do it With Mirrors, in which the bad guy is named Lewis...among a few other similarities.
K: I didn’t know this. I just chuckled at the intimation of Rashid’s auto-voyeuristic sexual proclivities.
E: I would mark this episode as a failure, with a better episode trying (and failing) to get out of this episode’s mirror.
Season 2, Episode 2: “The Voodoo Mambo” (Timothy Bond, director; Agy Polly, writer)
Family reunions are about to get AWKWARD.
Watch the FULL EPISODE below:
The Goods: The wastrel son of the owner of a plantation in Haiti comes across a mask—with an attached spirit—that promises him power and wealth. The spirit, however, has her own agenda.
The Cheese: The return of Ryan acting like a creep around women. Yay? / The amazing healing of Ryan’s neck wounds. / How the object was defeated was sadly anticlimactic.
The Sins: Greed and Lust for power and privilege.
Kristopher: This is Agy Polly’s only writing credit, and there’s no information on her otherwise. Because this episode has such a didactic history-lesson aspect to it, it seems like she might have been a scholar or expert on voodoo. The Wax book offers nothing; she spends nearly the entire writeup talking about how she fears snakes, and then interviewing Suzanne Coy, who played Laotia about how she’d never done horror before. Wow, this book just doesn’t get it.
Interesting that they insert black-and-white documentary footage of voodoo rituals while Jack explains the origins. The episode right away frames itself as an antidote to misunderstandings of voodoo. Tying the secondary story to a spoiled white rich kid (Karl Walters) who’s squandered family money based on coffee plantations in Haiti, echoes of slavery that we’re all too familiar with now, and that likely flourished in Reagan’s morally bankrupt 80s.
Ryan’s predatory gaze on the daughter of the voodoo priest is disturbing. The interesting parallel here is that after the first death (which is really quite gory and well directed, with cutaways to a screaming Black woman’s face underwater), the voodoo goddess attached to the mask by curse (“It is I who made your father’s plantation flourish”) initiates a kind of relationship with Walters, just as scenes of Ryan on a date with voodoo daughter are occurring. The intercutting here makes it clear that the two relationships between white men and Black women aren’t so different, despite Ryan’s (ostensibly) more evolved sensibilities. But still, that look he gives her. Yeesh.
Erin: I second that “yeesh” and raise you a blargh.
K: The scene following the second death is cut in a curious way as to largely privilege the male voices explaining the backstory. Micki is nearly cut out of the scene (she gets one close-up after she asks a question). Stacey enters to tell the story of the voodoo priestess, Laotia, a threat to men. The dynamics here are interesting: the editing largely cuts the women out, but the threat is of a feminine curse. Stacey and her grandfather, Hadley, stand on interesting sides of a dynamic—he, denying that she saw anything supernatural, and she, fully believing in what she saw during the ritual.
I find bird attacks really unnerving, and the attack on Ryan doesn’t disappoint. When he shows up later, though, he says, “a crow got me, in the neck,” and one second later he has a little scratch on his face and his neck looks just as deliciously smooth as ever. Ahem.
The social integration of white and Black is interesting here, especially since the Haitian community seems otherwise so segregated. Ryan and Micki and Jack are like the only white folks walking through the ceremonies; yet the camaraderie between Jack and Hadley (Hedley?) is natural.
Once again, the logic of the curse makes good sense here. Four elements, four voodoo guardians of the elements, and the holder of the mask must destroy them to give Laotia her “new body.” Things get a little fuzzier though when Laotia captures Stacey—I guess because she represents the next generation of guardians?
Kind of a dud climax for a rather good episode otherwise.
E: Well, that was a VAST improvement on the previous episode; it broadened the story world and those in it; I’m curious if this is something that will continue as the story moves forward. One thing that was a challenge in season one is, to a great extent, the isolation of the Curious Goods trio; they had one another, but there was no real sense of a broader community (except the one Halloween party and the occasional old friend of Jack’s or boyfriend of Micki’s).
There is a massive critique of colonialism here; although the past referenced here is fairly recent, it suggests, quite rightly, that the scars left by slavery and exploitation are not easily cured. I found myself massively uncomfortable with entitled white douche (EWD) being called “master,” even though in both instances (father and son), she is conforming to their stereotypes in order to get what she wants. Yet power dynamics and powerlessness are an ongoing theme; one could certainly garner more sympathy for Loatia than Leslie (the murdering mom from “What a Mother Wouldn’t Do”); she too is willing to sacrifice others for herself, but how big a role to the circumstances of her life and those around her play? (I may be giving this more thought than it warrants.)
K: I don’t think you are. The dynamics here are in some ways as interesting as they are in Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie, with white “masters” presiding over what is essentially a slave plantation, yet also where the voodoo tradition and Black culture ultimately really do pull the strings, despite even the mother trying to infiltrate and puppet them with her science-based manipulations.
E: Generations play a huge role here as well. Note that Stacy’s attempts to warn the other Legbas (all of whom are older than she is) is dismissed to their peril. Laotia wants more life at the expense of her granddaughter (among many others). EWD is pathetic and lame and wasted the family fortune (remind you of anyone?); he has no interest in working for anything, and yet sadly, that’s clearly more preferable than his father, who was clearly horrible and did anything to make money and wield power. On both sides, then, you have an older generation with no sense of responsibility to the younger, and focused entirely on their own needs and wants, regardless of cost.
Structurally, this also worked really well. The curse was logical, Laotia was a smart villain (she knew exactly how to manipulate EWD, calling on his sense of entitlement, flattering him, and assuming he was racist and/or sexist enough to dismiss any thought she might have an agenda in getting him to put on SCARY DEATH MASK. I mean, DUH). The interspersed black and white scenes were a good touch (I looked it up; they are from a 1947 documentary called Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti).
K: I knew the footage looked familiar. I love Maya Deren. Watch Divine Horsemen below.
E: The resolution was a bit weak; Ryan pushes the mask out of her hands? Also, I can’t speak to the accuracy of how Haitian culture or voodoo was presented, but at least the characters of color got to tell their own story, rather than having it filtered through Jack (mostly; he does have a long monologue at the beginning).
Watch Divine Horsemen by Maya Deren below:
Critical Rewatch #1
Friday the 13th: The Series aired in syndication from 1987 to 1990. It boasts a large fanbase but almost no scholarly commentary. This episode-by-episode critical blog on the series is part of a research project by Erin Giannini and Kristopher Woofter that will include the series in a scholarly monograph on horror anthology TV series in the Reagan era.