Leatherface, Hooper/Henkel, & incestuous Texas family trees

Leatherface

It’s Halloween soon, and also it was Friday the 13th the other day, so I think it’s only natural to discuss Texas Chainsaw. Leatherface made a good impression on me at FrightFest a couple of months ago, and I went in unsure what to expect; the horror sequel machine churns out a lot of garbage on the one hand; on the other, Lionsgate made the ballsy move of hiring the two guys behind Inside, the brutal home-invasion thriller from the French neo-extreme movement. So it could have gone either way really, but I was pleased with the end result, which was well-characterised, nicely paced, well-shot, unpredictable and nasty in the right places. What it’s not, though, is a Texas Chainsaw movie, at least not a stereotypical one. Instead, it belongs to the long line of twisted romantic crime drama road Westerns. You know the ones: Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands, Wild at Heart, True Romance, Natural Born Killers and The Devil’s Rejects, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2; where TCM2 took on a divisive comedic tone, Leatherface plays things straight and doesn’t really get going with all the familiar imagery and tropes until pretty near its end.

I’d call that a good thing; the last three films in this ignoble franchise have been so samey you might have trouble telling them apart. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was the remake of the original, and spawned all the other classic horror remakes, all of which were pretty hard to tell apart from one another. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning was a prequel to the remake. It was also superior, but that isn’t saying much. Texas Chainsaw 3D was a direct sequel to the 1974 original, establishing a new and humdrum continuity in which Leatherface also takes place. Those three films are incredibly similar, not just tonally and structurally, but also in terms of plot developments. All three feature corrupt sheriffs, twisted matriarchs, Vietnam trauma and Southern Gothic-style melodrama. Curiously, as much as these pictures try their darnedest to be nothing but formulaic Chainsaws, none of these are features present in the original.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is still, to my mind, one of the most astonishing films ever made. It’s famous for its brutality (which has been greatly exaggerated) and its relentless energy (which hasn’t), but I think what’s often overlooked about it is the eerie, off-kilter atmosphere which you can’t really find anywhere else in cinema before or since. Night of the Living Dead maybe comes close with its intense nightmare logic, as does the obscure Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood. But neither are quite so unforgettable, surreal or haunting (they also both predate Texas Chain Saw Massacre). I have a hard time defining what exactly makes it such a unique picture. I think part of it has to do with how beautifully shot it is for such a nasty, downbeat film, part of it has to do with its mostly-daytime setting (note every sequel takes place mostly at conventional nighttime), part of it with how minimalist its storytelling is; it really recreates the quality of a nightmare in a way few films can be said to. Ultimately, it’s just a picture that’s more the sum of its parts, a lightning-in-a-bottle type of thing that came out of the collaboration between director Tobe Hooper and co-writer Kim Henkel, neither of whom went on to replicate their success here (Hooper did helm some other horror classics, like Salem’s Lot and Poltergeist, but both are successes on a considerably more conventional level). There’s a certain tension created by Hooper’s hazy, head-film atmosphere (his debut, Eggshells, was thoroughly hippie and “head”) with the apocalyptic imagery Henkel inserts. It’s like a bad trip, the real death of the 60s.

The horror classics of roughly the same era aren’t the same at all; Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street and Hellraiser are all great films, and Friday the 13th is a movie too, but these are all harmless fun, ghost-train movies that spawned sequels sticking more-or-less exactly to formula. The first batch of Chainsaw sequels, the ones that came out prior to the remake, nobly each try their own thing, each redefining in turn what the series was really all about. First Hooper made a reluctant return to the series with 1986’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, sending-up his own previous work, killing off the entire cannibal clan, and giving us the series’ first corrupt lawman in Dennis Hopper’s (awesome) Lefty Enright, who unlike later lawmen is not portrayed as being just as bad if not worse than the murderers he pursues. Many of the elements first introduced here would be picked up on by later instalments, even as they ignored its events. Those elements include the appropriate family name, Sawyer, not mentioned in the original.

New Line then acquired the rights to the series and made an attempt to turn it into a Friday the 13th-style moneyspinner with Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. Despite the number in the title, the only acknowledgement it gives to the second film’s events is a brief and ambiguous acknowledgement in its opening subtitle. Making the movie’s name further misleading, Leatherface doesn’t really earn the top-billing the title gives him. Presumably the intent was to make him a bankable icon like Freddy, Jason or Pinhead (neither of the latter two were the main villain in the first film of their series, either). While he’s the only family member to feature in every film of the series, he’s not a main concern in any of them, acting instead as more of a henchman or attack dog for the main villains, with TCMIII being no exception. In the first film, that main villain is probably the Hitchhiker; in the second film, it’s the Hitchhiker’s twin brother Chop Top, played by horror legend Bill Moseley. Here, it’s Viggo Mortensen as Tex Sawyer, an unaccountably handsome scion of the inbred Sawyers. Despite some reasonably effective chase sequences and some enjoyably unhinged doomed teens who make a change from the usual flat slasher characters. But, while it may be more enjoyably executed than most, TCMIII is nonetheless a formulaic slasher.

When Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III failed to ignite the franchise “buzz” New Line had hoped for, they gave the series back to its old co-creator, Kim Henkel, for one of the oddest horror sequels ever filmed. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, filmed under the moronic title of The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, once again ignores continuity, with another surprisingly good-looking young man, played by Matthew McConaughey with a screwy robotic leg, leading the clan, whose family name is now Slaughter (ridiculous). It’s all pretty generic until the finale, which reveals that the Slaughter clan are employed by the Illuminati, who run the government, planned the JFK assassination, and were apparently responsible for the events of the film. Apparently, true terror leads to spiritual enlightenment, but in this case it turned out horrible*. The Illuminati’s representative Rothman, who may not be human, rescues final girl Renée Zellweger and apologises for the horrible experience he put her through. Henkel was apparently interested in further exploring the conspiracy-theory symbolism he wove so subtly into the first movie, but this may be taking things a bit far. If it’s intended as meta-commentary, the only discernible message is “Sorry this film turned out a bit shit”. It languished on a shelf for two years until Columbia cashed in on the sudden stardom of McConaughey and Zellweger by finally releasing it, causing a minor stir when McConaughey’s camp attempted to prevent its release, not unreasonably fearing embarassment by the association.

And after that point, we got three generic Chainsaws and then Leatherface. While Leatherface avoids pandering by paying homage to every famous moment of the original, it still mixes ideas from all of its predecessors into its formula. As is so often the case with these long-running film franchises, it feels like a kind of Pop Cultural Osmosis has gone on, whereby the formula becomes a bastardised version of the original, supplemented with small parts and ideas from each of its successors. But Leatherface actually tries to do something new with that formula. In that respect it reminded me of Psycho II, which might be the most commendable sequel ever made, and it similarly managed to work a mystery that familiarity with the original didn’t give away; it’s not until the film’s final act that we’re sure which of our main characters is actually going to grow up to become Leatherface. If directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo are to be believed, they even toyed with making a female character become Leatherface, which would retroactively have made the Leatherface of Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Texas Chainsaw 3D female also. Now that’s daring.

*Says Henkel: “Of course, it does produce a transcendent experience. Death is like that. But no good comes of it. You’re tortured and tormented, and get the crap scared out of you, and then you die”. Er, yeah.

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Twin Peaks: The Return, “2016, Twin Peaks, & which characters are probably back”, & the perils of prediction.

Well, that’s that for Season 3 of Twin Peaks (subtitled The Return). That could even be that for Twin Peaks, full stop, but let’s hope not. Instead let’s time travel to 2014 when I first tried to predict what might be in store from the new season, and see where I got it right (and where I screwed up!). Sections in italics, like this, will be my commentary on what my past self thought. This article will be utterly riddled with spoilers, so if that bothers you, leave it alone!

FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan)

The peculiar heart of Twin Peaks & the character most likely to talk about coffee, cherry pie or Douglas firs, only Audrey Horne competes with him for the title of most popular Peaks character. The infamous cliffhanger with Coop trapped in the Black Lodge will be the first thing fans will want to see resolved, & while Lynch seems likely therefore to tease the fans a bit, there are also indications that he doesn’t intend to keep him in the Lodge forever, with plans for the aborted third season apparently revolving around Garland Briggs working with the Sheriff’s department to save him, & scenes released as part of Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces expanding on the circumstances of his imprisonment as well as showing the immediate aftermath of his evil double’s bathroom freakout (Dr. Hayward puts him to bed, apparently, which is an extremely poor decision for a patient with a head wound). MacLachlan has also recently tweeted pictures of himself having lunch with David Lynch, who obviously adores the actor, given his nipple-baring appearances in both Dune & Blue Velvet. Obviously MacLachlan has aged more naturally than the rather eerie “25 Years Later” makeup from his dream sequence – perhaps they’ll ignore that discrepancy; maybe we’ll even see a strange situation whereby he’s made up to make his aging look less natural. But then, if we believe the “25 Years Later” subtitle from the International Version of the Pilot, then we know Cooper remains in the Black Lodge until at least 2014, & there’s no reason other than fan backlash that the writers can’t force him to stay there indefinitely. In that case, Cooper’s doppelgänger could still appear in the new episodes, but I find the doppelgänger’s reappearance unlikely – for one thing, it’s a bit of a cheesy plot, & the idea of BOB-as-Coop escaping detection for twenty-five years stretches probability. However, I also think MacLachlan is unlikely to be the main character like in the old show – I can see him with a rôle roughly the size of that he played in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Probability of return: 9/10

Easy peasy, come on. 1 point

FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole (David Lynch)

Partially deaf & fully eccentric, David Lynch’s increasingly frequent appearances as Gordon Cole are probably either the unintended result of a silly joke, or a long-term plan to score a kissing scene with Mädchen Amick. Either way, David Lynch never seemed to me to be fully committed to playing Cole, & I doubt the character will even be referenced twenty-five years from the date he headed the investigation into Laura’s murder. Probability of return: 3/10

Well, I couldn’t be wronger here. Gordon Cole became one of the few regulars in Twin Peaks: The Return‘s shifting cast list. Lynch clearly doesn’t mind acting as much as I thought. 0 points

FBI Special Agent Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer)

Almost the sarcastic & aggressive polar opposite of Agent Cooper, Albert Rosenfield was later revealed to share Coop’s sense of spirituality. Despite his limited number of appearances, the character was always memorable, & Miguel Ferrer’s arrogant delivery was a career highlight for a man who once played drums for Keith Moon (for some reason). On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be much reason for the character to have hung around Twin Peaks when he loathes the town, unless it’s to rescue Cooper. Probability of return: 3/10

Wow, see above. One thing I did get right is that there’s little reason for Rosenfield to hang around Twin Peaks. I just didn’t predict how little of the new Twin Peaks would take place in Twin Peaks. Glad we got this little extra bit of Rosenfield before Ferrer passed away. 0 points

FBI Special Agent Phillip Jeffries (David Bowie)

I don’t think anyone really knows what Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was getting at with Phillip Jeffries’ disappearances, shunted back & forth between Philadelphia & Buenos Aires. Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces gives him about double the screen time, but all we learn is that his appearance causes the shit to come out of the ass of a hotel guest. There’s a compelling mystery surrounding Agent Jeffries, but will they be able to get David Bowie again? Probability of return: 3/10

I’ll split the difference here. I said it was unlikely for Bowie to return, and I was sadly right, but we did get more of Jeffries – as a kettle. 0.5 points

FBI Special Agent Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak)

Another Fire Walk With Me character, & one who exists only to fill in for Cooper, since Kyle MacLachlan felt his small part in the film was too large, & opted to take a tiny one instead. The film’s depiction of Chester Desmond investigating the Teresa Banks murder creates internal inconsistencies, but the character is an intriguing counterpart to Cooper – Twin Peaks rip-off/homage Deadly Premonition features an FBI main character who seems to be modelled after Desmond rather than Coop – & his Jeffries-like disappearance in the film is another intriguing mystery. On the other hand, it’s possible that he actually doesn’t exist at all, & is merely a representation or other identity for Cooper, a narrative device Lynch also uses in Lost HighwayMulholland Drive. Probability of return: 3/10

Chester Desmond did, pleasingly, get a reference in the new series though. 1 point

FBI Special Agent Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland)

If Chester Desmond exists as a topsy-turvy Cooper, then Sam Stanley is a topsy-turvy Albert with a mild & humble persona. Again, the character probably wouldn’t have been introduced if a last-minute rewrite of the Teresa Banks investigation hadn’t been necessary, & Kiefer Sutherland would probably be too expensive these days for the character’s return to be worth it. Probability of return: 2/10

Sutherland was a bit busy with 24: Live Another Day and MGSV. 1 point

FBI Agent Roger Hardy (Clarence Williams III)

The agent responsible for Cooper’s suspension, the character made few appearances & was seemingly the only FBI agent with no memorable eccentricity. Internal affairs must be a boring division. Probability of return: 2/10

I think this might have been the easiest guess I made. 1 point

DEA Agent Denise Bryson (David Duchovny)

A trans woman who assists Cooper during his suspension, David Duchovny went on to achieve much greater fame as an FBI agent in The X-Files, a show which probably owed something to Twin Peaks. Duchovny, like Kiefer Sutherland, would probably be too expensive now to be worth bringing back, & the character, while likable & competent, never did much of note plot-wise. Probability of return: 2/10

Duchovny most certainly did make a return, and on the same night as his X-Files costar appeared in American Gods playing a man (sort of). Most of Twin Peaks‘ actors seemed really keen to return to it, even those who’ve gone on to much greater fame, which is really nice (but see below). 0 points

Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean)

Misleadingly given second billing in every episode of the series, Michael Ontkean played the kind & dependable Sheriff of Twin Peaks, who refreshingly didn’t clash with the FBI agent sniffing around his town. Sheriff Truman played a useful Watson to Cooper’s bizarre Holmes, & provided needed exposition, especially in the pilot episode, but was never given interesting subplots of his own beyond his secret relationship with Josie, who is now trapped in a drawer handle in any case. If he returns to the show at all, I picture him having retired to make way for a new Sheriff; probably, like Deer Meadow’s Sheriff Cable, that new Sheriff’s techniques & demeanor will contrast with Truman’s. Probability of return: 5/10

I got this right, but the way Robert Forster appears as Sheriff Frank Truman in the new episodes gives the feel of a hurried rewrite. Sadly Michael Ontkean just didn’t feel like doing any new episodes, and he’s missed. The new Sheriff’s techniques & demeanor certainly don’t contrast with Truman’s! 1 point

Deputy Tommy “The Hawk” Hill (Michael Horse)

The competent one out of Sheriff Truman’s two deputies, Hawk was visible in the pilot episode for about two seconds, but later in the series he would almost always appear in scenes involving the Sheriff’s Department. Michael Horse speaks fondly of Twin Peaks, citing Hawk as a positive portrayal of Native American people onscreen, but the character is still something of a stereotype, & was never given even a small subplot of his own; besides which, Horse has largely retired from acting to focus on painting. Probability of return: 4/10

Happy to have gotten this one wrong, & that Hawk is given quite a lot more to do in the newer episodes! 0 points

Deputy Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz)

The incompetent one out of Sheriff Truman’s two deputies, Andy was one of Peaks‘ few pure comic relief characters. His on-off relationship with Lucy, fatherhood rivalry with Dick Tremayne, & propensity for amusing injuries wouldn’t have been out of place on a crap sitcom, but his purity of heart & increasing bravery in the line of duty deepened his character somewhat. I picture him as a devoted husband & father, & while that doesn’t sound terribly dramatic, the possibility that the child is Tremayne’s exists in the background, along similar lines to Ben Horne’s fathering Donna. Probability of return: 6/10

Yep, but after having seen Michael Cera’s turn as Wally Brando I’m confident that Andy’s the father. 1 point

Lucy Moran (Kimmy Robertson)

Lucy’s distinctive voice & dreamy-yet-grounded personality made her instantly memorable, & she often seemed more of an asset to the Sheriff’s Department than Deputy Andy did. Kimmy Robertson has also remained active with, for instance, the Twin Peaks festival, even if she has aged terribly. Also, with Twin Peaks‘ return, we’re presumably going to be introduced to a whole new generation of characters, otherwise the show will be nothing but a bunch of old people reminiscing about the early 90s, & since Lucy is the only character to become pregnant during the show’s original run, it seems logical for her child, now grown-up, to feature in the new episodes. Probability of return: 6/10

Yes, and yes, her child did indeed feature in (one of) the new episodes. 1 point

Dick Tremayne (Ian Buchanan)

Possible biological father to Lucy’s child & insufferable snob, Dick Tremayne is neither fondly remembered nor involved in any important storylines, though with his job at Horne’s Department Store it’s just possible he’s aware of the sex ring operated out of it. Even if the new episodes do continue the fatherhood drama of the second season, Dick doesn’t seem to me like the type to stick around Twin Peaks, especially if there’s a risk of responsibility. Probability of return: 2/10

Headcanon: Tremayne left Twin Peaks, to go and be a snob elsewhere. I’d find it cool if it got worked into the show somehow. 1 point

Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee)

Twin Peaks‘ central character despite having died before the pilot episode, Laura’s murder drives the show even after it has been solved. David Lynch was so fond of Laura Palmer he made her the main character in the prequel film as well as getting his daughter to write a spin-off novel about her, & was so fond of Sheryl Lee he brought her back repeatedly, in dream sequences, tape recordings, old video footage, & finally as Laura’s identical cousin Maddy Ferguson. Earlier this year he filmed new scenes with Sheryl Lee in character as a dead Laura Palmer in the interview piece Between Two Worlds, & according to Lee he even planned to have her play a third character in Season Three. Sheryl Lee has always been proud of her Twin Peaks work, especially Fire Walk With Me, & it seems incredibly unlikely that she won’t make some sort of appearance, even if it’s just hanging out at the Black Lodge; however, while Maddy is also shown within the Lodge, I imagine Maddy will be ignored in favour of Laura. Probability of return: 10/10

Correct! Not until the very end, though. 1 point

Leland Palmer (Ray Wise)

Laura’s father & (spoilers!) murderer, Ray Wise has to be given credit for giving one of the very strongest performances in a show just full of them. While the character dies in custody after his arrest, he is shown in the Black Lodge along with a number of his victims, & Ray Wise also reprised the character for Between Two Worlds. Probability of return: 7/10

Yep, just briefly. 1 point

Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie)

Sarah’s emotional reaction upon realising her daughter is probably dead was one of the key scenes in the pilot, & her character only became more tragic from there with the revelation of her husband’s guilt for that murder & his subsequent death. Grace Zabriskie in Between Two Worlds plays her as a broken woman & it’s easy to imagine the new episodes dealing with the impact of the abuse & death within her family. Probability of return: 8/10

“dealing with the impact of the abuse & death within her family”. God, and how. 1 point

Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle)

Laura’s naïve but loyal best friend, Donna had a complex & interesting personality, & it would have been interesting to really see the traumatic impact Laura’s death would have had on her. Unfortunately, her character was given some pretty stupid plotlines, & shared with James Hurley the worst dialogue in the show. Behind the scenes Lara Flynn Boyle was demanding & seemingly jealous of Sherilyn Fenn’s popularity as Audrey; she declined to appear in the prequel film, where Donna was portrayed, more weakly in my opinion, by Moira Kelly. Given this, Boyle seems likely to turn down appearances in the new episodes – if offered – & to me it seems even less likely that Kelly will be offered the part. Besides, Donna seems like she’d probably be the type to leave Twin Peaks & its traumatic associations behind. Probability of return: 4/10

Thought so. Still wonder what Donna’s up to, though. 1 point

Dr. Will “Doc” Hayward (Warren Frost)

Donna’s father & almost a second father to Laura, Doc Hayward was another of the many kind & gentle inhabitants of Twin Peaks. Played by Mark Frost’s father Warren Frost, the character may have gone to prison after the last episode for the manslaughter of Benjamin Horne. On the other hand, I’m not the first fan to point out that Doc Hayward appears, not in custody & not at all shaken up, during the last scenes with the evil Coop, which might indicate that Ben’s head wound wasn’t as nasty as it looked. Probability of return: 5/10

Warren Frost managed to film one scene as Doc Hayward before passing away. It’s really sad how much of the cast have died, before or during the filming of the new episodes. 0 points

Eileen Hayward (Mary Jo Deschanel)

Donna’s wheelchair-bound mother, Eileen Hayward made infrequent appearances on the show until towards the end of its run, when Donna discovers a past affair between Eileen & Ben Horne, during which Donna may have been conceived. Probability of return: 4/10

No Eileen. 1 point

Harriet & Gersten Hayward (Jessica Wallenfels & Alicia Witt)

Donna’s two younger sisters, Harriet, who was in her early teens in 1989 & writes poetry; & Gersten, who was pre-teen in 1989 & plays piano, seem to have been forgotten by most of the Twin Peaks staff, appearing rarely even in scenes set in the Hayward household. Mind you, many characters who were extremely minor later became more prominent, & as with Lucy’s son or daughter, the show will probably need more young-ish characters. Probability of return: 3/10

It was a bit cheeky of me to list these two as the same character, wasn’t it? It didn’t work out very well for me as, while Harriet’s nowhere to be seen, while a grown-up Gersten’s having an affair with Steven, which isn’t wise considering the kind of man he is. 0.5 points

James Hurley (James Marshall)

Boyfriend of both Laura Palmer & Donna Hayward, James is frequently mocked by fans for his lack of charisma, bizarre singing voice, & for being central to Season Two’s worst subplot. The last that is seen of James, he is leaving Twin Peaks on his motorcycle, as he has frequently threatened to do, & it is unlikely that he will ride back into town, especially since Marshall is now more focused on his music career. Probability of return: 4/10

Marshall certainly is focused on his music career, and he’s clearly a great sport! Two of my favourite scenes from the new episodes. I still do wonder what motivated him to ride back into town, though. 0 points

Evelyn Marsh (Annette McCarthy)

Wealthy older woman living in a town outside of Twin Peaks, Evelyn Marsh’s seduction of James Hurley & elaborate murder schemes wouldn’t have been out of place in some Gothic potboiler or stage melodrama. While Evelyn, unlike her husband Jeffrey or lover Malcolm, survives Twin Peaks‘ worst subplot, there is no reason the writers would seek to remind viewers of her existence, especially when she doesn’t even live in Twin Peaks. Probability of return: 1/10

I considered this even less likely than the return of FBI Agent Roger Hardy. 1 point

“Big” Ed Hurley (Everett McGill)

Gas station (or “gas farm”-?) owner & apparent cowboy, James’ uncle Ed is one of Twin Peaks’ decent sorts, engaging in a secret affair with Norma that is, in fact, rather blameless, since Ed’s spouse is abusive & Norma’s, in prison. Ed & Norma’s scenes together were some of the sweetest & most tender in the series, & the amnesia-love-triangle-divorce plot with Nadine still has yet to be resolved. Probability of return: 8/10

“the amnesia-love-triangle-divorce plot with Nadine still has yet to be resolved”. Well, not any more! 1 point

Nadine Hurley (Wendy Robie)

Super-strong wife of Ed Hurley & would-be inventor of the silent drape runner, Nadine attempted suicide, woke from her coma with amnesia, & engaged in an affair with Mike. While the whole plotline was thoroughly silly, there is perhaps scope for examination of why she has super-strength, & the question remains unresolved as to whether Ed ever finalised his divorce from her. Probability of return: 7/10

Digging herself out of the shit! Well, good for you Nadine. 1 point

Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton)

Owner of the Double R diner, mother figure to Shelly, & former beauty queen Norma always struck me as perhaps Twin Peaks’ kindest resident, & it is all the more heartbreaking that the world seems to conspire against her. I can see her continuing to run the Double R until her death – whereupon Shelly will perhaps inherit it. Probability of return: 8/10

And Peggy Lipton still looks so good! You could take her & Shelley for sisters in the new episodes. 1 point

Henry “Hank” Jennings (Chris Mulkey)

Career criminal, husband of Norma, & thoroughly nasty piece of work, Hank usually does a good job of looking sweet & devoted in front of Norma. Given that he is in prison prior to the start of the show, & might be headed back there, crippled from a beating by Nadine, after its end, his return is less likely than that of his wife; however, there could be a nice embittered revenge angle to be exploited there. Probability of return: 7/10

According to The Secret History of Twin Peaks, Hank was killed in prison. That’s not a great loss to the world. 0 points

Vivian Smythe “M.T. Wentz” Niles (Jane Greer)

Norma’s rather bitchy mother worked as a food critic under the name M.T. Wentz. Given Jane Greer’s 2001 death, & the character’s relative unimportance, Vivian will probably have passed away in the time between old & new Peaks, if she is referenced at all. Probability of return: 1/10

Well yeah. 1 point

Ernie “The Professor” Niles (James Booth)

Vivian’s husband & a criminal associate of of Hank’s, Ernie is sent in to Dead Dog Farm wearing a wire; when it is discovered he becomes Jean Renault’s hostage; Jean agrees to a hostage exchange for Cooper, with Ernie last seen being returned to police custody. Due to his cooperation he was probably allowed to go free, whereupon he would have left town with Vivian. Given James Booth’s 2005 death, the character, who is as old if not older than Vivian, can likely be assumed to have died while Twin Peaks was off-air. Probability of return: 1/10

Again. 1 point

Annie Blackburn (Heather Graham)

Norma’s former nun sister Annie falls in love with Cooper, which Windom Earle takes advantage of as part of his plan to gain access to the Black Lodge. The programme shows Cooper sacrificing himself to save her, & a deleted scene from the film had her waking up in hospital with a message about the evil Coop. While the character does not feel fully fleshed-out, & is something of a substitute love interest after Audrey, her centrality to Cooper’s ongoing plot means there is a good chance of her playing some kind of part in the pick-up of the plot. Probability of return: 7/10

Surprisingly, no. Coop’s love interest is now apparently Diane, with Annie never even addressed. 0 points

Thadilonius “Toad” Barker (Kevin Young)

Recurring patron of the Double R Diner, Toad seems to exhibit something of a manchild-ish quality, with poor impulse control leading him to steal food from the kitchen. Improbably enough, Toad was written into Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, but even so, there seems a low chance of his character returning again. Probability of return: 4/10

I got this right, although one thing I got wrong is that the Toad of Fire Walk With Me, a skinny chef, is a different character from the overweight patron. Two Toads. What are the odds? 1 point

Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick)

Double R waitress & secret lover of Bobby, Shelly Johnson was another Twin Peaks character to achieve early popularity, & her sweetness & beauty combined with her horrible marriage to abusive Leo Johnson lends her an angelic quality. In her 2007 appearance in the interview piece A Slice of Lynch, David Lynch seems enraptured by her, especially the kissing scene they shared. Regardless of whether Leo Johnson survived the spider trap set for him by Windom Earle, Mädchen Amick, who still looks beautiful, is likely to play a major part in the new episodes. Probability of return: 9/10

Yep. 1 point

Leo Johnson (Eric Da Re)

Abusive husband & low-level criminal Leo Johnson was perhaps the show’s most unpleasant character, although he suffered severe decay in the second season, where he seemed to be treated as an ineffectual joke character. He is last seen in a frankly ridiculous trap Windom Earle has set involving a tank of tarantulas which, while certainly unpleasant, would be unlikely to kill anyone in real life. Probability of return: 5/10

Presumably the tarantulas killed him, or some other more realistic fate befell him. 1 point

Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn)

Sexy teen femme fatale, & likely the second-most popular character after Dale Cooper, Audrey’s initially significant rôle in the series became diminished after her intended love plot with Coop was vetoed, & Sherilyn Fenn declined to appear at all in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. She took a starring rôle in the flop Boxing Helena, by Jennifer Chambers Lynch – daughter of David & author of The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. It is possible that Audrey Horne died in the bank explosion engineered by Thomas Eckhardt to kill Andrew Packard; however, were there to have been a third season, Audrey was to have been revealed to have survived. David Lynch obviously remained interested in the character of Audrey, conceiving Mulholland Drive as a pilot for an Audrey-centric spinoff. This indicates perhaps that her return is unlikely, since Lynch obviously imagines her leaving Twin Peaks for Hollywood or elsewhere, & Sherilyn Fenn has notably aged poorly. Probability of return: 6/10

Audrey came back, eventually. What’s up with her scenes, though? 1 point

Johnny Horne (Robert Bauer)

Audrey’s mentally handicapped brother, often looked after by Dr. Jacoby &, before her death, Laura Palmer. Like Donna’s younger sisters, Johnny occasionally seemed to have been forgotten entirely by the writers, & was portrayed by a different actor (Robert Davenport) in his first appearance. Probability of return: 4/10

And now a third actor’s played Johnny. 0 points

Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer)

Starting out as the show’s big nasty baddie, Laura’s presumable killer in many people’s heads prior to the reveal, Ben Horne later experienced financial setback, then brief insanity, followed by a resolution to do only good. While it is possible that he dies in the final episode, there is evidence suggesting he didn’t, as discussed under Doc Hayward’s entry above. Parts of Ben Horne’s arc, notably the Civil War madness, were handled poorly, but still there is definite potential in seeing, 25 years on, how his devotion to good has worked out, & Richard Beymer has aged admirably, too. Probability of return: 7/10

I really liked the new Ben Horne scenes. 1 point

Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly)

Ben’s shorter & even sleazier younger brother never got to step out of his brother’s shadow in the series’ original run, but there were hints towards such a storyline towards the end, as he never seemed on board with Ben’s new devotion to goodness, & tried to take control of Ben’s affairs during his temporary insanity. Probability of return: 6/10

Yes. What did he find in the woods, though? 1 point

Sylvia Horne (Jan D’Arcy)

Ben Horne’s wife, who is so scarcely a presence in the show that, the first time I watched, I forgot I had ever seen her, & assumed that Audrey Horne’s mother was most likely dead. If Ben Horne returns, & remains good, then Sylvia will likely get to play a small part again, though I wonder that she has yet to divorce him. Probability of return: 5/10

I got this one wrong. What an unpleasant scene! 0 points

John Justice Wheeler (Billy Zane)

John Justice Wheeler, like Annie Blackburn, is a suspiciously perfect replacement love interest written in after the veto of the Coop/Audrey relationship. Given his departure from the series in his private ‘plane, it seems unlikely that he will return even if Audrey does, & we probably wouldn’t expect her to have spent her entire life with her first love. Probability of return: 3/10

So long, John. Will we ever get to learn what became of you? 1 point

Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook)

Boyfriend of Laura, boyfriend of Shelly, & criminal associate of both Mike Nelson & Leo, Bobby Briggs, from an unlikable start, grew into one of the show’s most complex characters, with The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer & Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me depicting his cynicism & occasional cruelty as coming from a vulnerability & sense of sweetness wounded by the effects of addiction & promiscuity. It would be both fascinating & painful to see where the character has wound up 25 years on, especially given his attempts to smarten himself up later in the show’s run. Probability of return: 8/10

Fascinating, but pleasantly unpainful. Proud of Bobby. 1 point

Major Garland Briggs (Don S. Davis)

Bobby’s caring if conservative father & a major in the air force, Major Briggs was one of the characters to be fleshed out in the second season after extremely minor appearances in the first. The plotlines in Season Two involving secret military UFO projects seemed to pre-empt The X-Files, & his speech to Bobby regarding his dream was one of the programme’s most tear-jerking moments. Unfortunately, since Davis died in 2008, the character is unlikely to return – one hopes Bobby remembers him fondly. Probability of return: 1/10

I suppose this one’s a half-point, since he’s now a blobby version of his own head. 0.5 points

Betty Briggs (Charlotte Stewart)

Major Briggs’ wife & Bobby’s mother Betty was never given much to say in the show; she & Garland seemed to love one another deeply, & she would usually agree with his sentiments regarding Bobby’s upbringing. Probability of return: 6/10

Was 6/10 a typo there? 0 points

Pete Martell (Jack Nance)

One of Lynch’s favourite actors, Jack Nance, played the patient & long-suffering Pete, husband of Catherine & discoverer of Laura’s body. The final episode implies, but does not confirm, that Pete is killed in a bank explosion; since Jack Nance passed away in 1996, this will likely be accepted as the character’s final fate, but one hopes to see him commemorated somehow. Probability of return: 1/10

Certainly commemorated, and the sort-of appearance that he did make was brilliantly done. The Secret History of Twin Peaks confirms the bank vault explosion to have killed him. 1 point

Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie)

Gleeful, soap opera-ish villain & wife of Pete Martell, the apotheosis of Catherine’s scheming was to fake her own death & return as an East Asian man. Piper Laurie, at 82, is still going strong, but one wonders what the character can still be given to do on the show. Probability of return: 6/10

Sadly, nothing. Piper’s still going strong, though! 0 points

Andrew Packard (Dan O’Herlihy)

Brother of Catherine & husband of Josie, Andrew Packard was assumed to have died before the start of the show, but it was later revealed that he faked his own death, trying to get the upper hand in a struggle with his business rival/partner Thomas Eckhardt. Eckhardt conspired to kill Packard once & for all with a bomb placed in the bank vault, & it is likely that the attempt succeeded – however, this was never definitively shown to be the case. Probability of return: 2/10

That’s right. 1 point

Josie Packard (Joan Chen)

The first character to appear in the pilot episode, & the most beautiful woman in the state according to her lover Sheriff Truman, Josie was slowly revealed to be living a double life, with a dark past involving Chinese organised crime. Some would say that this past eventually caught up with her when she literally died of fear in a room of the Great Northern Hotel, but her soul was shown trapped in a drawer-handle, & it would be extremely interesting – & really very David Lynch – to show her spirit still trapped there. Probability of return: 4/10

Well, we did see a little tiny bit of Josie technically. 1 point

Dell Mibbler (Ed Wright)

Manager of the bank in which Andrew Packard, Pete Martell, & Audrey Horne may have met their deaths at the hands of Thomas Eckhardt, Mr. Mibbler is one of a great number of decrepit old men in Lynch’s filmography. The shot of the character’s glasses flying through the air after the bank explosion was likely designed to confirm his death, although it is peculiar that this was given more priority than confirming the deaths of Andrew, Pete, or Audrey, when Mibbler had only been introduced earlier that episode. In any case, actor Ed Wright passed away in 1995, further cementing the likelihood of Mibbler’s death. Probability of return: 1/10

1 point

Ronette Pulaski (Pheobe Augustine)

Friend/fellow-victim of Laura’s, Ronette survived the night of Laura’s murder before falling into a coma. She features more rarely than one might expect, given her importance as a friend to Laura & witness of her murder. Some believe that she makes an appearance, along with Laura Palmer, at the Black Lodge-like Club Silencio in Mulholland Drive, which could indicate that she has died &/or become trapped in the Lodge in the time since her last appearance in Twin Peaks. Probability of return: 3/10

Again, we did get brief archival glimpses of Ronette, earning Phoebe Augustine a credit under the new series’ idiosyncratic credits system. 1 point

Mike “Snake” Nelson (Gary Hershberger)

Initially a criminal associate of Bobby Briggs, & briefly a boyfriend of Donna Hayward, Mike seems to go straight to an extent later on, focusing more on his school life & his romance with Nadine Hurley, who has mentally regressed to the age of eighteen. While Mike is introduced with the same apparent significance as major teen characters such as Bobby Briggs, he appears very rarely until Nadine falls in love with him, with his most memorable moment coming when he whispers into Bobby’s ear “what an experienced woman with super-strength can do”, causing Bobby to react loudly. Probability of return: 3/10

He now owns his own business, and turns down Steven for a job! 0 points

Dr. Lawrence Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn)

Laura’s psychiatrist Dr. Jacoby has a near-obsessional interest in Hawaii & was considered a key suspect in Laura’s murder early on. Russ Tamblyn, best known for West Side Story, has recently made small appearances in Drive & Django Unchained, though for me the character’s return in new episodes would stretch credibility: why hasn’t he moved to Hawaii yet, since he loves it so much? Probability of return: 5/10

Didn’t see that coming, did I? 0 points

Mayor Dwayne Milford (John Boylan)

Mayor Dwayne Milford started appearing regularly in the second half of the show’s run, after a brief appearance in the pilot. His Statler-&-Waldorf grump act with his brother Dougie came to an abrupt end with Dougie’s death, & his character likely died of old age, like his actor John Boylan did in 1994. Probability of return: 1/10

1 point

Lana Budding Milford (Robyn Lively)

Supposed nymphomaniac & black widow serial killer – possibly accidentally – Lana married both Milford brothers one after another. The character isn’t well-remembered by fans & had an improbable Southern accent. Probability of return: 2/10

She was only in that town for fifteen minutes. 1 point

Emory Battis (Don Amendolia)

Emory Battis works at Horne’s Department Store, recruiting girls into a prostitution ring over the border at One-Eyed Jack’s. His most memorable appearance was when Audrey Horne blackmails him into a job on the perfume counter. Probability of return: 3/10

1 point

Nancy O’Reilly (Galyn Görg)

Blackie’s sister & the only member of the criminal family who run One-Eyed Jack’s to survive the series, Nancy is last seen overpowered but not killed by Cooper when she attacks him with a knife during Audrey’s rescue. Probability of return: 2/10

1 point

Roadhouse Singer (Julee Cruise)

Julee Cruise’s performances onstage at the Roadhouse were among the signature scenes of Twin Peaks, & David Lynch has rarely made films without similar scenes. Credited as Roadhouse Singer, Julee Cruise co-composed her songs & included them on her own solo albums, making it unclear as to whether she was playing herself***. Probability of return: 7/10

I wondered whether “Roadhouse Singer” would be the final act to be shown playing the Roadhouse. 1 point

Margaret “The Log Lady” Lanterman (Catherine E. Coulson)

The Log Lady is often used almost as a mascot for the series: in syndication, new introductions by The Log Lady were recorded for every episode, & it is very rare for Twin Peaks parodies not to include her. Known for her wisdom & closeness to the forest, it is nonetheless difficult to pin down a time she ever did anything useful on the show. Probability of return: 9/10

Really impressive how many actors struggled through illness just to put in appearances on the new episodes. Shows you how much loyalty the show earned. 1 point

Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh)

Evil counterpart to Dale Cooper, seeker of arcane magical knowledge, master of disguise, & replacement villain after the early reveal of Laura’s killer, Windom Earle was brought in to give the show direction again, & while he achieved that to some extent, his personality & portrayal was reminiscent of a villain from the 60s Batman, resulting in a campy feel that didn’t suit the show. He is last seen trapped in the Black Lodge by BOB, his soul stolen, but many characters have been depicted within the Black Lodge, after their deaths or otherwise, so it is only good taste keeping him from making an appearance in that context. Probability of return: 3/10

Not even mentioned. 1 point

Killer BOB (Frank Silva)

Twin Peaks’ Big Bad, & the evil spirit possessing Leland during his acts of incest & abuse. While Frank Silva passed away in 1995, Killer BOB, unlike all other characters whose actors have died, is still very likely to play a part in the new episodes. There are a number of ways this could be achieved: they could cast a lookalike actor; or go Doctor Who & have BOB change his form to look completely different (he’s a spirit after all); they could choose not to have him “appear” in his true form, but only through possessed characters – such as the evil Cooper; or they could only hint at his presence with owls, ceiling fans, &c. – done right, it could be even creepier than having him appear in person. Probability of return: 10/10

Evil Cooper. Although how much control did BOB really have? 1 point

The Man From Another Place (Michael J. Anderson)

Along with The Log Lady, the small dancing man in the red suit is a staple of Twin Peaks parodies & homages. However, unlike his servant Killer BOB, The Man From Another Place is not necessary for the story’s continuation: he has never worked directly to influence events in Twin Peaks, & is a very abstract character whose rôle could easily be fulfilled by other characters from the spirit world. Michael J. Anderson already looked aged in Mulholland Drive in 2001, & while I’m sure Anderson would be keen to return, I can’t help but think that the character’s mystique would be diminished by the realisation that he is not an eternal spirit, but ages at just the same rate as regular humans. However, as with Killer BOB above, there is no reason the spirit needs to keep the same form. Probability of return: 4/10

Nope, he’s a tree now. 0 points

Phillip “One-Armed MIKE” Gerard (Al Strobel)

One-armed shoe salesman Phillip Gerard, possessed by the spirit One-Armed MIKE, turned out to be a handy ally against Killer BOB, his former associate. MIKE cut off his evil arm after seeing the face of God, though the arm continues to exist in the form of The Man From Another Place. As useful as the character was to the heroes during the show’s original run, I wonder how likely the spirit-possessed shoe salesman is to have stuck around in Twin Peaks. I wish him all the best. Probability of return: 4/10

0 points

Señor Droolcup, The Elderly Bellhop (Hank Worden)

Nicknamed “Señor Droolcup” by Albert Rosenfield, The Elderly Bellhop is a character of ambiguously spiritual nature, who may in fact be “one and the same” as The Giant. It’s also possible that the character is The Giant’s familiar. In any case, since Hank Worden passed away in 1992, The Elderly Bellhop specifically is unlikely to return, though the spirit of The Giant might well. Probability of return: 2/10

I got this right, and I got it right about The Giant, or “Fireman”. 1 point

The Giant (Carel Struycken)

Seemingly benevolent spirit with apparent ties to The Elderly Bellhop & the White Lodge, The Giant first appeared in the Season Two premiere assisting a wounded Dale Cooper. Probability of return: 6/10

As “Fireman”, or ???????. 1 point

Pierre & Mrs Tremond, the Chalfonts (Austin Jack Lynch & Frances Bay)

Mrs Tremond – or Mrs Chalfont – & her grandson Pierre first appeared in the second season but were never given any significant material despite their apparently supernatural nature & obvious link to the spirit world. Both characters appear in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me – wherein Pierre wears a mask to disguise the replacement of Austin Jack Lynch, son of David, with Jonathan J. Leppell – but again, neither of them does anything significant. With Frances Bay’s 2011 death, & the fact that Austin Jack Lynch will be 33 by the time of the new episodes, these characters are likely to remain forever ambiguous. Probability of return: 2/10

No indeed, but we met an Alice Tremond, who bought her house from Mrs Chalfont. Something’s up. 1 point

Total: 44.5/62, which isn’t too bad. One thing I didn’t expect was how much loyalty the new episodes had to even the plot aspects of the old show that I never got the impression sat right with Lynch or Frost, or seemed ephemeral which they could have chosen to simply ignore. They usually didn’t, while also making a show that was tonally very, very different.

David Bowie, sci-fi, & creative randomness

IT’S hard to believe, but it’s already been a year and a half since David Bowie unexpectedly passed away, leaving us with the highly acclaimed ★ album – and, of course, one of the best catalogues in pop. He’s a highly acclaimed songwriter, not least for his extraordinary way around a tune. You only have to hear numbers like “Life on Mars?”, “Space Oddity”, “Changes”, “Starman”, “The Jean Genie” or “Heroes” once and you’ll never forget them for the rest of your life. What makes it more impressive is that these songs aren’t generally based on classic riffs* or repetitive hooks or choruses like most of the catchiest songs, but rather on melodies that are constantly moving forward and developing. Think of “Sound and Vision”, aptly described by Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos as being like a rollercoaster where it isn’t the big drops that get you, but the little bumps.

That being said, for one of the most revered songwriters out there, Bowie’s lyrics weren’t always necessarily up to scratch. It’s frustrating that a lyricst capable of something like “Five Years” (“Think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour, drinking milkshakes cold and long/Smiling and waving and looking so fine, don’t think you knew you were in this song”) would so often turn out something half-cooked like “Keep your electric eye on me, babe/Put your ray gun to my head/Keep your space face close to me, babe/Freak out in a moonage daydream, oh yeah”. That lyric makes me cringe which is unfortunate, because it’s set to one of Bowie’s best choruses.

I think it all comes from Bowie’s love of some of the more out-there sci-fi writers like William Burroughs. A favourite technique was cutting up magazines and arranging the words at random, which is easier than sitting down with a pencil to come up with lyrics I suppose. Less facetiously: techniques like that are brilliant ways of cutting through clichés, creating unexpected juxtapositions that can be an interesting point to work from when writing. But you do have to work. Bowie collaborator Brian Eno was famous for his “Oblique Strategies”, a set of cards with various ways of tackling problems printed on them, intended to be drawn at random in order to find new angles from which to attack creative or business obstacles. Eno made use of many other such techniques for harnessing the power of randomness. The Beatles were the same, especially John Lennon: think of the serendipity of the King Lear snatches heard during “I Am The Walrus”‘ epic fade-out. Lennon was tuning a radio dial at random (John Lennon/Yoko Ono’s Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions contains “Radio Play”, a less successful instance of the same technique) and got lucky with Lear. Slips of the tongue, improvisations, and other oddities (the resonating wine bottle that closes “Long, Long, Long”, for instance) make up a sizeable part of the Beatles catalogue. But these artists knew how to work creatively from random elements; randomness isn’t the goal. I imagine Bowie in life was rather like his appearance in Extras, songs constantly spilling out of him. In that state lyrics may well have been an afterthought or even an inconvenience, which is unfortunate because on the occasions where you can tell he’s really trying, he’s capable of some extraordinary lyrics (“Kooks”, “Five Years”, “Heroes”, “Young Americans”, “Ashes to Ashes”). Extra-extra-special credit goes to “We Are the Dead”, an evocation of the tender scene in Nineteen Eighty-Four just before Winston and Julia’s capture by the Thought Police which is, as U2 would sing on their Bowie-revering Achtung Baby album, “Even Better Than the Real Thing”: Orwell’s scene has nothing close to the passion or the horrendous tension Bowie’s lyrics evoke.

France David Bowie

*Except for “Fame”, admittedly

The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien, & the impression of agelessness

Tolkein toking

HERE’S A NICE bit of character description from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: “The face of Elrond was ageless, neither old nor young, though in it was written the memory of many things both glad and sorrowful. His hair was dark as the shadows of twilight, and upon it was set a circlet of silver; his eyes were grey as a clear evening, and in them was a light like the light of stars.” It works on a few levels: it surrounds the character of Elrond with the same aura of ageless beauty and mystery shared by so many of Middle-Earth’s legendary inhabitants (Gandalf, Galadriel, Treebeard, et cetera); it plays nicely with themes of dusk, night, gathering darkness, and the light of hope shining through, that crop up everywhere in the rest of the book; and, in a way, it works as a metaphor for Tolkien’s writing itself, “ageless” and “written [with] the memory of many things both glad and sorrowful”.

I always surprise myself by remembering just how young The Lord of the Rings really is, so successfully does it create the idea of itself as an ancient myth, an archetype. It also feels like the birth of the fantasy genre, probably just because its high-fantasy descendants have dominated the market in the 60-odd years since its publication from 1954-55.

Nevertheless, there was much fantasy before it, and it bears remembering. Three great pulpy strands predate it by half a century: the heroic fantasy of Robert E. Howard, the cosmic horror of H. P. Lovecraft, and the planetary romance of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the last of which would, of course, inspire the later (but still earlier) Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials, and older yet are the scientific romances of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne. Those are only the major subgenres of pulp fantasy writing, and there’s plenty more outside of pulp fiction that it still feels odd to remember came first.

The entire Golden Age of Science Fiction, for instance, had come and gone. So had many important works of the New Wave of Science Fiction, such as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, Robert A. Heinlein’s The Man Who Sold the Moon, and Isaac Asimov’s entire Empire and Foundation trilogies. Ayn Rand, the rum old bugger, had already published We the Living, Anthem, and The Fountainhead, and was probably hard at work on Atlas Shrugged.

James Bond had already had three literary adventures and his first film (albeit a telefilm) by the time LotR‘s publication had finished. Rock ‘n’ roll, if we date it from the appearance of Elvis’ “That’s All Right” single, was ten days old when the first volume appeared, and Godzilla would be born between the publications of the first and second volumes. Kong was already an old-timer from over twenty years ago, but American monster movies were getting hot again, with The Beast from 20, 000 Fathoms, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Them! already released, and It Came from Beneath the Sea shortly to follow.

Superheroes had already dominated comic books for a decade, fallen out of favour, and would in a couple of years be making a comeback. Batman was old hat when The Lord of the Rings came out.

And Tolkien wasn’t the first popular scholar to revive interest in hero-myths, either. That would be Joseph Campbell with his work The Hero with a Thousand Faces, published in 1949. And Tolkien’s friend C. S. Lewis was on his fifth Narnia book.

So how does it manage to convince us all of its age? Well, it draws a lot on some legitmately ancient, pre-Christian literature and mythology which, even if it remains obscure to most to this day, surely triggers some reflex in our Jungian collective unconscious. Surely. Also, it consciously avoids reflecting the attitudes, concerns, or even language of its contemporary time, and could just as easily fit in amongst the novels of the 1920s or even 1860s. Perhaps more so: Tolkien doesn’t write like Graham Greene or Iris Murdoch, and he certainly doesn’t write like Ernest Hemingway or John Steinbeck.

He must have seen a lot of himself in his characters, an old-fashioned anchor in a sea of modernism. I bet he’d be pleased with the impression of timelessness his books created, not that he was the first to do so; it gives me pause to think that the King James Bible is younger than most Shakespeare, while most of the Scottish, Irish, and English folk ballads are no older than the 18th century (and sometimes significantly younger).

Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad, & Walter White the super-villain

Breaking BadIF YOU HAVEN’T been watching Better Call Saul then, you know, you should really get on that. With Season 3 it seems Netflix have finally taken heed of what I’m always saying in idle conversation, which is that rather than release new seasons of their shows in giant, intimidating chunks, they ought to release them one episode per week: all the flexibility and convenience of streaming, without losing the water-cooler “What did you think of this week’s? What’ll happen next week?” that comes with traditionally broadcast television.

But if you haven’t already watched Breaking Bad then you might miss out a little bit with Better Call Saul; that said, who hasn’t watched Breaking Bad, right? Well, I hadn’t until last year, which I’m sure would shock many on the Internet but, look, there’s just too much good TV, OK? Rather edgily of me, I didn’t find Breaking Bad to be the very greatest TV show ever made; more of a very tight soap opera for people who would turn up their nose at soap opera. Far from the devastating, multilayered understanding of socioeconomic forces at every level demonstrated by The Wire, Breaking Bad rather lazily concludes that Albequerque’s drug problem is the result of a handful of bad eggs and a comic-book supervillain.

Of late plenty of shows have existed in the middle of the Venn diagram between the superhero-movie boom and the gritty drama boom: Heroes, Arrow, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Gotham, Daredevil, Agent Carter, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage et cetera, all take the opposite approach to their larger-than-life big-screen counterparts and seemingly do their damnedest to convince us we’re not really watching a show about superheroes (or supervillains) at all. And Breaking Bad does it so successfully that you’re more likely to see it compared to The Sopranos and The Wire than any of those superhero shows.

But really, when you break it down, here’s what you have: a character named Walter White who is, by day, a mild-mannered chemistry teacher but, following a freak diagnosis of lung cancer likely caused by exposure to deadly lab chemicals he becomes a supervillain by night, using his exaggerated scientific supergenius to craft elaborately implausible plans that nevertheless almost always go off without a hitch. For this second life, he adopts a new persona, taking on the thematically-appropriate name “Heisenberg” and assuming a (rather lazy) supervillain costume for the purpose. He has a younger, comic-relief sidekick in Jesse who, lacking book-smarts, is forever being scolded and lectured by Walter like they’re Pinky and the Brain. All this while, by the way, “Heisenberg” is being tracked by the closest thing Breaking Bad has to a superhero: the DEA’s Hank Schrader who is, unbeknownst to him, Heisenberg’s brother-in-law.

Along the way, Walter/Heisenberg acquires a Lex Luthor-esque Bald of Evil and, later, a Beard of Evil to go with it.

Later on, Heisenberg will even get to have his own evil lair in the form of a super-sophisticated meth lab hidden under an industrial laundromat. It’s granted to him by another villain, one who is even higher up the Sorting Algorithm of Evil. However, just like the frequent Enemy Civil Wars among Batman’s Rogues Gallery, Heisenberg can’t take being No. 2 in town for long and hatches a plan to blow that other supervillain up, which coincidentally leaves him looking exactly like Two-Face, albeit only for moments before he dies.

And, after clearing a few initial moral hurdles, Heisenberg has a great time ruling Albequerque (another point about comic-book supervillains their ambitions rarely stretch outside of their home turf, be it Gotham City, Metropolis, Hell’s Kitchen or, in this case, ABQ) but, whether the bad guy gets to rule for five minutes, two weeks, or a thousand years, they’re always defeated in the end, and so it is with Heisenberg, defeated by that humblest of all God’s creations, the common cancer. Thus ended his reign of terror…until we find out he was using Lazarus Pits, or was a Doombot all along, or something.

Logan, the X-Men, & the beauty of data

THE LAST FILM I went to see at the cinema was Logan and, I implore you, definitely go see it if you can find a place still showing it. But don’t do like I did and get lost contemplating the various intricacies of the inconsistent X-Men film series. Instead, just make use of this handy series of charts I’ve created and compiled for you!

Look, it’s got everything you might possibly need to know, charting which of the X-Men films…

  1. Are actually about the X-Men

are about the X-Men

2. Take place in which timeline…which timeline

3. Take place in the future…

past or future

4. Posit a Bad Future

posited futures

5. Feature Wolverine…

featuring Wolverine

6. Feature Wolverine fighting his double…

Wolverine fights his double

7. Feature Storm…

featuring Storm

8. Have a plot centred on human-mutant relations…

human-mutant relations

9. Introduce mutants via an underground fighting ring…

mutants introduced via fight ring

10. And sorted by score on Rotten Tomatoes.

sorted by RT score

Licence Revoked, Licence to Kill, & bad Bond luck

Tim Dalton

IN MY LAST BLOG POST, I was chatting about how the 16th Bond film, Licence Revoked, suffered an undignified and expensive last-minute name change to Licence to Kill. That wasn’t the only thing going wrong behind the scenes on one of the least inspired, least successful entries in what is, for the most part, a reliable series.

To begin with Timothy Dalton, who had made his début in 1987’s The Living Daylights, was certainly the 007 with the rottenest luck. First approached by the producers in 1969 to replace Connery for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Dalton’s conscience or sense of purism wouldn’t allow him to accept the part, believing himself to be too young. In 1981, however, he was all set to take over in For Your Eyes Only; a condition of accepting the rôle was that the script take Bond in a darker, more gritty direction that took more cues from the Fleming novels and short stories. In the end, Dalton didn’t end up appearing in that film either, but the script intended for him supplied Moore with one of his best, and certainly his darkest, outings as Bond. By the time Dalton was finally ready, in 1987, the tables were turned, and The Living Daylights sees him awkwardly making his way through a script intended for Moore. The resultant high-camp doesn’t sit well with the character Dalton is playing, and the picture is largely confused and forgettable, with a few honourable bright spots. GoldenEye, an exceptionally sharp scipt written especially for Dalton, would eventually star Pierce Brosnan, and in the meantime Dalton was lumped with the only script written for him that he would ever actually appear in, something called Licence Revoked.

In many ways, it was to be the tentative first modern Bond, in the sense that many series mainstays were either gone or on their way out. The early entries are magnificent pictures due to their good fortune in having a wonderful production team behind them. It was time to prove that the formula could outlast its creators: it was the first film not to bear a title from Fleming, and the last for some time to use any Fleming elements in its script. It was the last to star Timothy Dalton. It was the last written by Richard Maibaum. It was the last directed by John Glen. It was the last with titles by Maurice Binder. It’s the last to depict Bond as a smoker, and the last in which the original version of Felix Leiter appears. It’s the last outing for second Moneypenny Caroline Bliss, and second M Robert Brown; it will be the last appearance of a Male M until 2012’s Skyfall. It was the last Bond production by Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, though he would be retained on GoldenEye as a consultant producer. Harry Saltzman and Peter R. Hunt had long since left the series, and it was the first film following John Barry’s departure. It was also the first to feature a photographic, rather than a painted, poster; would receive a novelisation, just like all of Brosnan’s entries, and unlike most of the previous pictures; and it was the first to subject Bond’s masculinity to scrutiny, something that has been retained in all eight subsequent films.

You have to admire Dalton, for his devotion to the Bond literature, his willingness to put artistic integrity before commerciality, and the fact that he’s a damned fine actor, not to mention that his overlooked status in the franchise makes him automatically sympathetic. But I’ve always found that Sean Connery’s ability to play high charm with a threat of violence that may explode from under the surface at any moment to more authentically capture the character of Bond than does Dalton’s portrayal, which is a perpetually ticked-off but ultimately not very dangerous type of rogue. The Licence Revoked script picks up on the worst aspects of that characterisation, stripping out even the tenderness that makes up for the many flaws of The Living Daylights.  Here, Bond is as totally cold as he ever got, going up against a bunch of drug-dealing lowlives responsible for various acts of rape, torture and murder, including putting his friend Felix Leiter in a coma. Naturally, Bond goes into a full-on white rage, murdering his way through a script full of such horrors as shark feeding frenzies, maggot tanks, viscerally exploding heads, bad guys burnt alive, crooked televangelists and huge clouds of cocaine dust. He even attacks his old friend M, going rogue without a Licence to Kill (it’s never explained why he escapes prosecution for going on a murder-spree, nor what strings could possibly have been pulled to see him reinstated by the time of GoldenEye).

A Bond script is a plastic thing, though, and surely a series of rewrites could have salvaged Licence Revoked, were it not for the unfortunate timing of the 1989 Writers’ Strike. Director John Glen was on his fifth Bond outing by this point; a former second-unit director, he made efficient, satisfying and cheap Bond pictures with none of the grandiosity of Guy Hamilton, the cool of Terence Young, or the humour of Lewis Gilbert. One of those directors might have found some hidden inner charm or flair that would give Licence to Kill an identity. Glen’s approach is workmanlike and drab, doing nothing to compensate for the lack of an engaging script.

Another sorely felt loss to the Bond formula was sex, vetoed due to AIDs. The Living Daylights reformed Bond; he’s a chaste, yet deeply romantic and tender figure. It’s one of only a handful containing a convincing romance, along with From Russia with Love, The World is Not Enough and Casino Royale. Licence to Kill doesn’t lack sex; depicted or implied sexual violence is commonplace, but its already unlikeable protagonist is made more inhuman yet by his seeming sexlessness. There are women for him in the picture, two of them in fact, but the bizarre culmination of their flirtation is that he pushes both of them into a pool, like some kind of sensually asexual psychopath able only to get his jollies through humiliation. It should be noted that he blows off Felix Leiter, the friend that all this revenge was supposedly in aid of, to do this. Not to fuck either girl, or even both at once, but to push them into a pool while a fish winks at the audience. Even the cringing nature of Moore’s romance with young-enough-to-be-his-daughter Tanya Roberts in A View to a Kill is preferable.

Something else A View to a Kill had that Licence lacks is a great theme song. “Licence to Kill” is probably the worst of the lot, histrionic, synthetic and ultimately forgettable.

Floundering to find a market and making do without classic elements and without writers able to write around that absence, the producers looked to American audiences to secure a future for Licence Revoked. The change of title was made to court American audiences, who apparently found the existing one comical, it being a phrase commonly used by the DMV, a favourite fallback target of American humour. Changing the title at this point, however, with much promotional material already printed, cost the producers not just in cash but also in marketing momentum.

The issue may not necessarily have been in changing the title partway through production, but in gearing up the marketing machine before a sensible title was settled on. There’s something dark and enticing to my ears about the Licence Revoked title, but at least Licence to Kill more clearly connects with the Bond brand. That brand was less in evidence given other tweaks to the established formula also presumably tailored to please American audiences; Licence to Kill plays out as an American action film of the 80s, an influence underlined by the hiring of Lethal Weapon and Die Hard composer Michael Kamen. There’s an anonymity to Licence to Kill‘s violent revenge fantasy, as if it could just as well be Dirty Harry, or Death Wish, or any number of similarly mean-spirited, hard-boiled flicks. It’s that approach which earned Licence to Kill a 15 certificate, further hurting its commercial potential though adequately warning kids away from the amped-up violence* of a series already more adult-oriented than its legions of kid fans would lead you to believe. The Sunday Times‘ Ian Johnstone was put off, finding that the film had eradicated “any traces of the gentleman spy” envisaged by Fleming; Bond here is “remarkably close both in deed and action to the eponymous hero of the Batman film”.

He makes an apt comparison. Either Jaws or Star Wars is usually cited as the birth of the Summer blockbuster, but in truth it’s not a phenomenon that arrived fully-formed, as evidenced by the conflicting citations of two different pictures from different Summers. Batman was huge in an unprecedented way, not a word-of-mouth success like Jaws or Star Wars but a marketing juggernaut, impossible to avoid even months in advance of the release date. You can see why Licence to Kill chose to borrow elements of its approach. But going up against it in the box-office is a decision that smacks of hubris. In fact 1989’s whole Summer season was a brutal gauntlet, with action audiences pulled in different directions not just by Batman, but also Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade**, Lethal Weapon 2 and Ghostbusters II, all of them not just better films than Licence to Kill but also healthier representatives of their respective franchise.

All told, you can’t fault audiences in 1989 for not connecting with Licence to Kill. It failed both at bringing Bond convincingly up to date and at paying tribute to the series’ well-loved roots, both tasks managed seemingly effortlessly in GoldenEye . Of course, that film would have its own painful birth, after six years of legal and financial stresses and the loss of Tim Dalton, who would even express an interest in Kevin McClory’s Warhead 2000 A.D.. Still, Bond was saved, and would never find himself in any trouble again…until Quantum of Solace appeared, an underwhelming Bond which fails to connect with the classic formula due to a rushed production schedule, a name that audiences hated, a writers’ strike, and a sad desperation to piggyback on popular action tropes. It even lacked a proper romance for Bond, and its failure meant we wouldn’t see another outing for four whole years, leaving its successor the difficult task of reinvigorating the franchise all over again. If only the producers had had an example to learn from, there…

*Milton Krest’s horrible death scene certainly lingered with me as a child, as did Benicio del Toro’s jeering rapist: “We gave her a niiiiice honeymoon!”

**Complete with meta-Bonding Sir Sean Connery