The Scariest Thing On TV

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When you think of haunted televisions, you might think of Carrie Ann being dragged into the static in Poltergeist, or the creepy girl from The Ring clawing her way out of one. However, as outlined in this fantastic article on Mysterious Universe, there are actually a number of reported cases of actual TVs being haunted by actual spirits. Perhaps such stories are the result of fear of technology, an uneasy relationship with an object that can sometimes seem like an enemy, sucking our time or turning our loved ones into brain-dead pod-people. Or maybe there is actually something supernatural going on. There are a number of theories that the dead can manipulate electromagnetic fields, which is the idea behind EVP (electronic voice perception), where the voice of spirits show up on audio recordings. Is it possible for a spirit to similarly manipulate what appears in the static of a TV not tuned to any specific channel? Or can TVs be haunted in the same way as other objects, such as dolls or cars or houses?  I know I’m going to be a little uneasy around my TV for a while…

Making the Atrocious Appetizing

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The NBC show “Hannibal” is one of my current obsessions.  The story of the gentleman cannibal Hannibal Lecter has been a part of pop culture since 1981: from his introduction in Thomas Harris’ novels, to four movies, the most notable being the masterpiece that is the Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs.  Hannibal Lecter is Anthony Hopkins for many people, in the same way James Bond is Sean Connery.

“Hannibal” is the newcomer, the first foray of the story into television, and it is amazing, due in no small part to Mads Mikkelsen’s turn as the monster in the man-suit, a performance that rivals Hopkins’.

More remarkable, though, is the aesthetics of the show.  Writer and executive-producer Bryan Fuller is well known for creating visually lush television, such as the imaginative and whimsical “Pushing Daisies.”  That artistic sensibility is what pushes Hannibal beyond the bounds of genre.  It is not a police procedural, or an anti-hero piece.  We know who the villain is, and there is never any doubt that he is a villain.  What the lush artistry does is take the horrible and make it beautiful.  Hannibal Lecter is as utterly morally reprehensible a person as can possibly exist, and yet the “person suit” he wears is as well tailored as his business suits, as elegant as his suave manner and cultured accent.  He is distilled evil, and yet he is attractive.  And that juxtaposition doesn’t stop with Hannibal.  The visuals of the murder scenes, the morgue, the asylum…they are all, in a word, lovely.  We are simultaneously attracted and repelled, a reaction that finds its apex in the cannibalistic culinary scenes.  In one recent episode, we watch Hannibal transform a human leg into an elegant main course.  My stomach turned and my mouth watered.

This sort of cognitive dissonance is common in literature, of course.  I am reminded of Madame de Farge in Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities, who uses the motherly, comforting act of knitting to record the names of the condemned.  Its use in “Hannibal” is remarkably skillful, however.  If you haven’t seen the show yet, check it out.  It’s on NBC on Fridays 10/9 cst.

[Note: I am in no way involved in the production of “Hannibal!”  I just love it tons.]

Movies and TV That You Only Want To See Once

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[Note: I refer to the episode of The Walking Dead that aired this past Sunday.  Other than indications of the general impact of the episode, there are no spoilers below.]

My husband is in Switzerland right now, visiting with one of his collaborators after a conference in Germany. He’s missed the last two episodes of The Walking Dead, and he’ll doubtless want to watch them once he gets home.  And he totally should: the last two episodes were great.  I’ll gladly watch the first with him.

But there’s no way in hell I’m rewatching the second.

There are a number of movies in this category of “glad I saw it, never watching it again.” Schindler’s List is a big one. Requiem For A Dream and Trainspotting are in the category for basically the same reasons. (I won’t even rewatch Trainspotting to pay attention to the performance of a young Jonny Lee Miller.  Sorry, Jonny.)  There are some movies that are right on the cusp of rewatchability.  E.T. for instance.  Great movie, but good god, does it tear your heart out and stomp all over it!

Before last night’s Walking Dead, I don’t think there’s ever been an episode of television in that category.  The closest was, interestingly enough, probably the season two episode of the show where they open the barn door (No spoilers: if you’ve seen the show, you know exactly what I mean).  It had a similar punch to the gut, and left me literally gasping for air.

But last night?  Last night had me crying.  And not the silent, tears rolling down my face kind of crying.  I mean actual noisy sobbing.  I’m glad the kids were asleep, because they probably would have been upset by seeing mommy cry like that.  Of course, they would never, ever be in the living room while The Walking Dead was on, but that’s beside the point.

I’m glad I saw it.  It’s a very powerful, very raw and honest, very well done episode.

But I am never watching it again.