Friday, September 20, 2019

Halloween TV: Spooky Documentaries

Well, here we are folks! We're about shin-deep in the Halloween season. I'd say the true kick-off for most enthusiasts is September 1st or so and I know I started dipping my toes in even earlier than that in August, but with only a few days away from the true start of Fall, there's no denying it: Halloween is coming!

One of my favourite traditions around Halloween since I was a little kid was taking in the seasonal fare on television. Now, I don't just mean the usual suspects, like the cartoon specials, or the Halloween episodes of your favourite sitcoms. Channels like A&E or History used to be rife with Halloween or horror-related documentaries and biographies and this stuff was honestly where I cut my teeth on the macabre.

I could've easily just chosen five episodes of Biography for this list, but I tried to vary, and the following is a selection of five spooky documentaries for you to check out this Halloween season. They're guaranteed to overload your nostalgia and give you those creepy vibes you're searching for until October 31st!

Pagan Invasion: Halloween - Trick or Treat?

I might as well get this one out of the way right now, because it's actually a big cheat! You see, to the best of my knowledge, this show has never aired on TV. If you had asked me a few years back, I would've sworn I saw this on Vision TV back in the day, but I can't find any proof of that. It does have a tenuous attachment to another program we'll talk about down the line, though.

Pagan Invasion was a 13-video series produced by Jeremiah Films in the early 1990s, which is a Christian company that intended to (and I quote), "promote patriotism, traditional values, and the Biblical worldview of [the] founding fathers". I presume the "founding fathers" refers to the United States, where Jeremiah Films is based.

The series tackled all sorts of the world's "evils", including evolution, paganism, and the occult, and of course they made sure to highlight one of the most nefarious issues attacking America in their premiere episode: Halloween.

This video is Satanic Panic at its prime, folks. It is an extremist view of how our culture is letting evil and Satan into our lives by practicing a dark and pagan ritual like Halloween. There's a segment on how horror movies is promoting copycat killers across America (I feel like I've heard this one before *cough* video games *cough cough*) and all sorts of footage of neo-paganists performing rituals in the woods, which they try to edit in such a way to make the whole thing look ominous and it just doesn't pan out. They even have an interview with a man who says that he was forced into Satanism as a child and that every Halloween night occultists the world over are out slaying babies and young children right under our noses.

It's a really heavy-handed attempt at taking a holiday that is about kids trick 'r treating, bobbing for apples, dressing up for fun, and having parades and twist its image into devil-worshipping for the purpose of fear-mongering.

So, why do I suggest it?

Well, it is absolutely laden with clips of old video rental shops, film media events with VHS tapes and posters, and awesome Halloween stores, with lavish costumes and amazing decorations, like die cut cardboard cutouts, blow molds, and signs.

You can have a good laugh at the low-rent CG production values and content, but at the same time enjoy the nostalgic ephemera trickled throughout and that checks a lot of boxes in my book!

The Haunted History of Halloween

This one is a must-watch for me each year!

Initially released in 1997 for the History Channel, The Haunted History of Halloween is a really cool hour long doc that goes back 3000 years to Ireland and walks through the history of Halloween from its very beginnings to (relatively) where it is today.

I come from an Irish background and have studied some Gaelic, so I immediately find all this Celtic history fascinating, but I still think that this is for just about anyone that calls themselves a Halloween fanatic.

It breaks down a lot of the different celebrations of Halloween, like trick 'r treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, and wearing costumes and shows how these traditions were changed by the introduction of Catholicism and how they ultimately found their way to North America.

There's even a blurb where they mention Pagan Invasion! Maybe this is why I was sure I'd seen that special on TV before? It's brief, but you'll see it, and I wouldn't say they mention it in a positive light.

This special is loaded with great imagery, from spooky old paintings of the pagan Samhain, to stock footage of Halloweens past in America and everything in between. You're going to want to set aside some time to watch this one! I've heard there is an updated version that came out in 2012, but I'd say just stick with the 97 version, so you get that nostalgic video vibe, to boot.

Hammer: The Studio That Dripped Blood

This was a new-to-me title this year, but I'm so glad I found it and I just had to share.

You see, every year around this time I get really nostalgic for the old black and white Universal horror films from the 1930s and forward. I mentioned before that my obsession with the horror genre started with a lot of the content that A&E put out in the 1980s and 90s, like biographies on the actors Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi, and that lead me to their many films beginning with Lugosi's Dracula and Karloff's Frankenstein in 1931.

I get my fix for these films on Turner Classic Movies each October, when they drop a ton of classic horror movie content. The last few years, to spice things up, I've noticed they've been reaching into a different classic horror movie vault: Hammer Film Productions, a company which basically single-handedly revived gothic horror in the late-50s with their takes on the classic monsters Universal made famous 25 years earlier.

This 1987 BBC production titled Hammer: The Studio That Dripped Blood (oh, don't ya love it!?) takes a deep look into the humble beginnings of Hammer through their heyday and finally to their demise in the late-70s. It goes without saying (and yet here I am) that as this film was produced in '87, there's no mention of the revival of the company in '07.

The show focuses heavily on the biggest stars in Hammer's cadré - Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee - but it does feature a few films outside of their influence and I know I learned a lot about the company I hadn't known before.

So, if you're accustomed to Hammer's films there's some great insight here or if you've never seen a Hammer production here's your gateway! And it's loaded with footage from their many, many films that are perfect for this time of year. It is made for Halloween, even if it first aired in June!

Biography: Vincent Price - The Versatile Villain

I had to have at least one episode of Biography in this list.

To keep things fresh, I decided to try and think of a horror icon that maybe doesn't get as much of the spotlight and I settled on the incomparable Vincent Price.

The honest truth regarding this pick, however, is that unlike someone like Karloff, Lugosi, or Lon Chaney Jr., whose careers were - for the most part - embedded in the horror genre, Vincent Price fell into the spooky movies over time. It's 20 minutes or so into the special before there's even mention of a horror film!

That said, you get such a candid look at Vincent Price in this show, which of course talks at length of his career in horror, that it is so worth the watch.

The special has all the accoutrements of a horror-themed Biography; the classic organ music (I'm sure Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is in there somewhere), the gothic set pieces, skeletons, bats, and monsters, oh my! So for Halloween, it does have you covered, but if you want something a little more mired in the macabre, you might want to settle on some of the names I dropped above. But why not spice things up? I mean, did you know Vincent Price appeared on Hollywood Squares 900 times!?

You're not going to find that just anywhere. You can thank me later.

Rivals: Frankenstein vs. Dracula

I had to have one deep cut.

Rivals was a 1995 series produced by the newly minted Discovery Channel, which never shied away from great Halloween content back in the day. The show was hosted by veteran character actor, Gerald McRaney, and took a look at different rivals throughout history. I have to assume this particular episode aired during Halloween of '95, but I can't be sure without a TV guide handy.

Now, Discovery is a Canadian station and Rivals only aired late on Fridays and Saturdays, so it was a pretty short-lived affair that I'm sure not many people are aware of. I personally had no idea it existed and only ever found it while I was searching for new videos to watch about Karloff and Lugosi.

The show documents the careers of both actors from the very beginning, through their launch to stardom at Universal, and ultimately their deaths in the 70s and 80s. It definitely hams up their rivalry to some extent (which it kind of had to, I mean look at the title), but it does offer up some candid information on each of the veterans that I personally hadn't seen and thought was very interesting.

For a show that had nothing to do with horror outside of this one episode, they made the effort of dressing it up right. McRaney hams it up in a Dracula cape a few times and there's appropriately spooky music throughout. It just goes to show with just a little bit of effort you can add a little Halloween into anything!

And that's the whole point of this, right? Let's grab these few short weeks in Autumn before the craziness of Christmas settles in and enjoy the Halloween season. So, light your pumpkin candles, enjoy the cool weather, throw some fake spider webs on the windows, and let's do this!

Keep it spooky,

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

VHyesterdayS: Godzilla (1998)

I intended this to be a more timely release and to coincide with the latest Godzilla movie to hit theatres, Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), but I have never been one to actually land deadlines nor have I had the chance to see the new Godzilla movie.

That's the kind of professionalism you get here, folks!

All that aside, we're not here to talk about the latest and greatest kaiju flick to land in American theatres. We're here to talk about the first American take on the beloved Japanese phenomenon; Godzilla (1998)!

Godzilla was a TriStar production, one of Sony Entertainment's film companies, and began its life in 1992 when they purchased the rights to do a Godzilla film in North America from the owner of the franchise, Toho of Japan.

As is the case with these mega huge franchises, the intent was to create a new trilogy of films and production really started to gain traction around '94, but with budget concerns this initial version was dropped and Roland Emmerich was brought on board in '96. After penning a script with producer Dean Devlin, Emmerich was ready to film by May of '97. The movie was finally released in May of the following year as Sony's expected big budget summer blockbuster.

Just to frame up the kind of fare at the box office at the time Godzilla '98 was released, the teaser trailer, which featured Godzilla stomping on a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton (a direct jab at 1997's The Lost World: Jurassic Park) was first played before select showings of Men In Black, Sony's box office behemoth the previous year. A full trailer debuted before Starship Troopers in November of '97.

So, this was the kind of company Godzilla '98 kept; sci-fi fantasy films that relied heavily on sophomore CGI special effects.

In an effort to distinguish this Godzilla from previous incarnations, Emmerich hired Patrick Tatopoulos, whose designs were featured in many big Hollywood productions, including Independence Day and Bram Stoker's Dracula. He was tasked at creating a giant monster that was more of an animal. The final design ended up being like a giant, irradiated Iguana with a lantern jaw.

The film featured, in my opinion, a super-interesting cast. The lead roles were Dr. Nick Tatopoulos (that's a lot of Tatopouli!) played by Matthew Broderick, Philippe Roaché played by Jean Reno, Audrey Timmonds portrayed by Maria Pitillo, and Victor "Animal" Palotti who was played by Hank Azaria. The rest of the cast was rounded out by a solid cadre, which included industry vets like Kevin Dunn, Michael Lerner, Vicki Lewis, Glenn Morshower, and Azaria brought along Harry Shearer from The Simpsons for the ride. Oh, and I can't forget that the incomparable Frank Welker actually voiced the monster.

Even though the movie brought in almost $380M from the box office it was considered a commercial failure. It made $55M during opening weekend when Sony execs had banked on $100m. Even though it did make money it was panned by the critics and totally derided by fans of the Godzilla franchise.

Toho was also very derogatory of the American version of their beloved monster. They felt they had just made him a giant animal and the soul of Godzilla was lost. Initially, this Godzilla was called G.I.N.O. (Godzilla In Name Only) or "American" Godzilla in Japan, but is now known abroad simply as Zilla (Godzilla that is no longer a "god").

Regardless of the reception of the film, I've always had a soft spot for it. The marketing was pretty intense, including a soundtrack that actually hit #2 on the Billboard and received Platinum status. It had an original song by (at the time) Puff Daddy featuring Jimmy Page, which sampled heavily from the Led Zeppelin song "Kashmir", titled "Come With Me", The Wallflowers hit "Heroes" in which the music video actually featured footage from the film, and a previously unreleased Rage Against The Machine song, "No Shelter". That's not to mention hot tracks from Jamiroquai, The Offspring, fuzzbubble, Ben Fold Five, Silverchair, Days of the New, Fuel, Foo Fighters, and a remix of "Brain Stew" by Green Day, which featured the sound effects of Godzilla.

I was - and still am - a sucker for sci-fi creature flicks and Godzilla was high on my must-see movies for the '98 blockbuster season.

A funny story, though, is that I actually would have sworn to you for years that I saw this movie around my birthday in '98. My memory of that birthday was that I went to Sam The Record Man (the flagship Canadian record store at the time) and picked up the "Gasoline" single from Moist's Creature album, zipped by Zellers (the once mighty Canadian department store) and snagged a copy of Final Fantasy Tactics for the PlayStation - a game I had been dying to play for months - and that my friends and I took in a showing of Godzilla right after.

Godzilla came out in May, but my birthday is in January. Guess which movie we did see? Deep Rising! It also features and underwater sea creature, so I guess you can forgive me the confusion?

I digress, for whatever reason I've connected Godzilla in my psyche as being a part of one of my best birthdays ever, so to this day I just can't hate the movie.

I have the standard VHS release of the film. For all its apparent shortcomings in Sony's eyes it did receive a widescreen VHS release in 1999, but I have the standard version which hit store shelves in November of '98. This is because the VHS release of Godzilla did gangbusters at rental, scoring over $8M bucks. It also sold substantially well on DVD. As a result, you can typically find the standard VHS for Godzilla at about any flea market or tape lot on reseller sites.

There were no teasers or trailers to speak of on the tape. Instead it was loaded with advertisements. There is a really short ad for an (at the time) upcoming TV adaptation of the popular Animorphs book series, a commercial for Agfa Film, an advertisement for Godzilla: The Album soundtrack, and another TV ad for Godzilla: The Series, the animated Fox Kids take on the Godzilla '98 film.

Make sure to let the whole playlist above roll to see all the clips from the tape!

Oddly enough, this cartoon series gets more respect than the film in Japan. It features a Godzilla of the same features as those found in the Tristar film, but it has some of its predecessors trademark abilities, like his Atomic Breath. The cartoon actually had a fair life of about two years, but from what I've read sub-par toy sales lead to its eventual demise.

The quality on my release is pretty fair and the audio is very top notch when enjoyed in stereo, having been mastered in Dolby Surround Sound. You kind of have to forgive the CG for its time. The images of adult Godzilla really standout from the scenery, even though the monster was coloured so it would blend in well with the urban environments of the film (Godzilla destroys New York City in the movie, by the way). I almost felt like the computer effects were running at a different frame rate from the film or something. Its actually kind of jarring, even on VHS which hides a lot of the faults. The practical creature effects look solid and both the CG and practical effects are on-par with their contemporaries at the time. I still find myself wondering what the CGI looks like when viewed on the Blu-ray that released in 2009.

The pacing of the film is kind of hard to take - it goes at a breakneck speed, not giving any of the characters time to breath. That may or may not be a good thing, because Broderick is at his most "Broderick-y" in Godzilla and just seems so out of place with what's going on in the film. I still gotta love that ragtag cast they put together, though, and having Hank Azaria is a main character is just too cool to ignore.

For all its faults, I had a lot of fun with Godzilla and the standard VHS release is easily worth the price of admission; like I said you should be able to find this thing for $1. The widescreen VHS would be cool to have, but I'm not going out of my way for it. This is a big, overblown action sci-fi monster movie and if that sentence alone doesn't at least kind of sell you on the movie then I don't know why you're here reading my stuff!

Hope you enjoyed this edition of VHYesterdayS! I could drop the old cliché and say, "be kind and rewind", but you know what? You shouldn't rewind your tapes right away. Wait until they cool down, alright? You're ruining them! Sheesh.


Monday, September 2, 2019

The Future of VHyesterdayS

Hi everyone,

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I had some issues a while back with Lionsgate and my Terminator 2 video for VHyesterdayS. It was flagged and removed from public viewing, because they claimed it contained too much footage from the film.

I tried to fight it and countered their strike, citing that the footage in the video was of a trailer, which is widely available on YouTube itself, and contains no audio, but my motion was denied and the video won't be back.

I'll be honest, I'm not heartbroken about it.

I got really into YouTube when it first launched even though I didn't partake in making videos right away. I started by posting a "vlog" sporadically, but in 2008 I decided to give it a real whirl and started posting a lot of videos and it was a ton of fun.

The thing is, I never put any production value in whatsoever. It was me and a webcam. I'd slap a title card on it and post the thing. These days, you have to have production values up the yin yang to be relevant and I'm not really enjoying it.

My aim with the VHyesterdayS video series was to quickly highlight some of the tapes in my collection in five minutes or less, but to produce those five minutes was taking me way too long. I would watch the movie, take a ton of notes, and then try to jam all those thoughts into the video, which resulted in me jumbling everything up more times than not. I also "tried" to give it a-go and make the videos look at least a little bit more presentable, by lighting myself and running some content on my many monitors in the background, which is why we're now here.

I think I'm done with the videos.

With my current lifestyle - #IveGot3Kids - its nearly impossible to get the time to even watch a movie let alone write out my notes and record the video. The whole thing was taking up too much time and I think the output was sub-par.

I've heavily gotten into writing for Retro-Def again and now Pixel Elixir, as well, and it just makes sense for me to convert VHyesterdayS into a written article. I squirrel away time during my day to sneak off and write - which I love - and since that's where the passion lies, that's where the content goes!

So, if you're new to Retro-Def, you've stumbled upon VHyesterdayS, and you're wondering why it started out as a video series and morphed into a written one, you've got the whole story. Capeesh?

Now with that out of the way, I've got another edition of VHyesterdayS on deck and it should be out later this week. I've changed things a bit - I'll no longer just talk about the tape, but give a little background into the film, too. You know, flesh things out a bit. I'll still try and post any trailers or cool ephemera that might be on the tape to my VHyesterdayS YouTube channel, which hopefully won't get flagged, but we'll see!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading the musings of a 30-something as he taps away at his keyboard about old dusty video tapes. If that's your thing, then boy have you hit the jackpot!


Friday, August 2, 2019

Nostalgia Bomb! - Hostess Taquitos

What were they?

Doritos were first introduced into US markets in 1967 and hit small Canadian markets in the 1970s, but it wasn't really until 1987 that Doritos hit their stride in the Great White North, due to a partnership between Hostess and Frito-Lay. Before this - and into the 90s - Hostess had their own flavoured nacho chip brand, known as Hostess Taquitos.

When were they available?

It's hard to pinpoint exactly when they first launched, but I believe it was in 1985. It's also hard to say when they were finally phased out. Hostess Potato Chips themselves were slowly removed from the market in 1996, after Frito-Lay bought the company and decided to bring Lay's Potato Chips in as their main brand (more on that here). It's safe to assume they existed into the early 90s, but I'm not 100% they lasted until 1996, either.

What about today?

Unfortunately, Hostess Taquitos went the way of the Do-do many years ago. Frito-Lay had a hit in the US with Doritos and decided to focus on that brand across the border. That said, one of the Hostess Taquitos flavours still lives on to this day!

Why do I remember them?

Well, pretty much because they were delicious! Although they were way greasier and messier than Doritos, they packed way more flavour and crunch.

The way I remember it is that Doritos really started making gains when they introduced Cool Ranch into the Canadian market. Usually when kids bought nacho chips around here they'd get Taquitos unless they didn't want a cheese flavour. Then they'd buy Cool Ranch. I think they'd probably exist to this day if Frito-Lay hadn't made the decision to go with their American brands over the Hostess counterparts.

It's hard to impress how popular Taquitos were at the time, but Hostess really pushed them as one of their big brands. They even had their own mascot. Their potato chip brand had The Munchies, but Hostess Taquitos had El Taquito, a nacho chip shilling monkey!

Now, here's one thing that I have found weird over the years. I remember there being three kinds of Hostess Taquitos early on, but then eventually there were only two. There was Nacho Cheese, Zesty Cheese, and Crisp n' Cheesy. They were all distinct cheese flavours. I wasn't much of a cheese guy, so I always went for Nacho Cheese, where Zesty had a very strong flavour. I always considered Crisp n' Cheesy to just be like a Hostess Cheese Stick flavour, or as we called them, "Cheesies".

Eventually Crisp n' Cheesy was dropped and there was only Nacho Cheese and Zesty Cheese. If you were to try and look up Hostess Taquitos, however, you'll see that most posts online refer to them having only ever having two flavours: Zesty Cheese and Taco. I don't recall every having Taco flavoured Taquitos. The first flavour of Doritos was Taco, so I don't know if this is just some people mixing things up or if it was a difference in markets here in Canada, but I only saw cheese flavoured nacho chips.

I have recently found a commerical, however - thanks to - from 1985 that validates my memories and shows the three cheese flavours! Watch it in all its 80s glory! It's amazing.

I mentioned that one of the flavours still exists, right? Well, when Frito-Lay decided to push Doritos and get rid of Taquitos they made the smart decision of keeping the Zesty Cheese flavour, which I think was the best seller. So, if you've had Zesty Cheese Doritos, you've technically tasted these short-lived Canadian nacho chips! Doritos have always been a less messy, less greasy option, so they don't taste exactly the same, but it's as close as you can get these days.

Hostess Taquitos were something bold and new in the world of potato chips and salty snacks in the mid-80s. The were absolutely packed with flavour that would turn your parents off instantly, which made them all the more alluring to us kids, and that's why they're a blast from my past!

Now go get some Zesty Doritos!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Stranger Things - Season 3 (2019)

Image result for stranger things season 3 banner

Well, here we are! I finally managed to finish Stranger Things 3 a few days ago.

It's been a really fun run. I'm so glad I went back and watched Season 1 and Season 2 before settling into Season 3. It wasn't just a great refresher, but it was fun watching all the characters grow into who they are in the summer of 1985.

It's also allowed me to see how the show has matured along with its characters. The first season was a solid package that had just enough depth, but didn't step too far out of its wheelhouse. The second season stretched its legs a little on a journey of growth and discovery, but that ultimately culminated where the story began, closing up all the threads created by its predecessor.

The third season had that compact attention to detail that was there in Season 1, but just by shifting things slightly managed to open the world up to all new possibilities.

I should say this now: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!

As I mentioned Stranger Things 3 takes cues from both previous seasons in that it keeps things compact like Season 1, but also engages characters in interesting groupings like they did in Season 2.

But where to go after Stranger Things 2? Eleven closed the gate and cut off the Mind Flayer from our world, right?

Well, cue those rascals the Russians! This is '85 and President Reagan has taken a strong stance against Gorbachev's Soviet Union. Worries of a secret Russian invasion or on everyone's minds. In the story, it turns out the Russians are working on some kind of machine that can access the Upside-Down. Whether that's inadvertent or not isn't exactly known. My thoughts were that they wanted to create a portal from Russia to the US and that they had no idea they were actually cutting a hole to the Upside-Down.

But they were!

And remember the piece of the Mind Flayer that had inhabited Will in Season 2? Well, it turns out it never had a chance to leave Hawkins before Eleven closed the gate. As a result, it lied dormant in our world. That is right up until the Soviets turned on their machine opening up the gate once more!

I must say, this is some clever writing. I really hadn't considered that the story for Season 3 would so closely connect to the prior seasons. I sort of expected it would be a whole new tale from the Upside-Down, but I had my suspicions the Mind Flayer would play a role, seeing as the final seconds of Stranger Things 2 remind us that it's still out there.

The writers managed to not only tie the story directly to the time period by including the Soviet Union as an antagonist, but pulled in one last dangling thread from the previous stories to cinch the whole thing together.

Then they went and turned it all up to 11. See what I did there? Wait... I made that joke already? Damnit!

There are some new characters in the mix this season, but most of them are background. The main ones would be Robin Buckley, Steve's co-worker at Scoops Ahoy - an ice cream parlor in the newly minted Starcourt Mall - portrayed by Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke's daughter Mia Hawke and Mayor Larry Kline, the douchebag mayor of Hawkins, played by none other than Cary Elwes. Jake Busey has a role in there as a news reporter that stands out and Lucas' little sister Erica Sinclair played by Priah Ferguson has been given a much-earned greater role this time around.

There's a new fan-favourite this season, the cherry Slurpee lovin' Soviet scientist Alexei, played by Alec Gutoff. And we can't forget the cool new bad guy, Grigori the Russian Terminator, portrayed by Andrey Ivchenko. He's the bad guy you love to hate!

Much like last season, we have some new groupings, while some of the tried and true connections from seasons past are tested. We get to see Eleven and Max hang out and although Dustin and Steve continue their bromance they are joined by Erica and Robin. We also have Joyce and Hopper taking their relationship a little further with match-maker Murray Bauman, who is delightfully back this season in a much larger role, as well.

So, just the right mix of old and new!

The most important characters from Season 3 are probably Starcourt Mall and the New Mind Flayer!

Starcourt Mall stands as the central point of everything in Season 3, not only in this story, but in the story of Hawkins in general. Mayor Kline opened the mall much to the chagrin of the townspeople and as a result downtown Hawkins as it once was is dying, with all the shoppers and moviegoers now finding themselves in the hot new shopping mall. Its also literally the centre of the tale, as it is all a front for the Russians' experiments with the Upside-Down. The final throes of the season culminate in the aptly titled "The Battle of Starcourt Mall", where all of the threads of the story are tied in a knot.

And that New Mind Flayer! Yikes! I was calling it the "Flesh Flayer" in my head the whole time. Essentially, the Mind Flayer is trying to find a way to get to El for thwarting its plans in Season 2. This time around its taking control of the townspeople, most importantly Billy; the evil SOB step-brother of Max in Season 2. He is the unwitting first member of the Flayed (basically zombies) and does the recruiting for the Mind Flayer, who is no longer just a swirl of darkness and shadow, but is now made flesh... the flesh of dead rats and people no less!

This thing is so gory! I know it's CG gore and there's a whole contingent that won't find this at all impressive, because its not done in practical effects, but I thought this was really well done and so gross! It is as impressive in its size and ferocity as it is in its disgusting composition. The creators of Stranger Things really outdid themselves this time around.

We also have to talk about Billy for a bit. As I had hoped after watching Season 2, they did his character justice this season and expanded his story. Sure, they took it the route of making him the bad guy, in a way, but they also redeemed him and managed to give us the backstory we needed and that was missing from the second series.

As for the rest of the cast, everyone continues to shine and develop accordingly. All the kids are growing and that's the focus of the story. Dustin, Lucas, and Mike haven't really changed, but they ground the growth of the characters around them, like Eleven and Will. In Eleven's case, we see her becoming a member of society, dating Mike, and finding a best friend in Max, but we also see her lose her powers! She takes care of all the baddies up until the end of the season, where after she's bit by the New Mind Flayer seems to lose her abilities. Now who will she be?

Will technically isn't changing. In fact, he wants things to stay the same, but we can see that even he can't avoid the change and is only rallying against it. I was a little disappointed with his story. Ever since he became so connected with the Upside-Down and the Mind Flayer in previous seasons, I keep hoping that Will will awaken with some sort of cool power to help bolster Eleven's abilities, but he continues to simply be a weather vane for evil.

And we can't end this without talking about the elephant in the room: the "death" of Jim Hopper. After watching him rage against pretty much everything the entire season, we see that he and Joyce Byers are finally connecting and that his life is looking up, only for him to have to die heroically to close the gate once more.

It was a little hard on the head watching Jim scream his way through Season 3, but I think what we're seeing here is a man who is struggling with pretty much everything; his job, his daughter, his feelings for Joyce, and wanting to find his place in the new world after the events of the prior seasons, so it makes sense.

Now, do I think he's actually dead? Not for a second. In true film fashion Jim gets himself in a position where he's next to a lethal inter-dimensional laser machine that needs to be shut down in order to close the gate, which will cause a deadly chain reaction. Suddenly some scientists enter the room with Jim and we seem them evaporated by the device when it's turned off, but do we ever see Hopper actually die? No. If we were going to have watch him die we would be forced to deal with it in excruciating detail. Sort of like watching Spider-man turn to dust in Avengers: Infinity War. There's none of that here. Instead we get a quick shot of Jim looking at the as-of-yet unclosed gate before giving Joyce the knowing, tearful look and signalling her to pull the switch and save everyone else.

There's no way he didn't jump through that gate.

In the post-credits scene, which takes us into the Soviet Union and shows us that the Soviets are, of course, not done with their nefarious research, we are treated to the fact that they have an "American" in custody. I'm sure this is Hopper who went through the gate and ended up in the hands of the Russians. The Soviet research had to have an application and I feel that it was a doorway to the US for a secret invasion and its connection to the Upside-Down was just inadvertent. Jim went through the doorway they had created and right into the Russians' secret facility.

Also, let's think about his final message to Eleven. In a note he had written for her and Mike, Hopper wrote about his true feelings for Eleven, and in a final soliloquy Hopper asks his daughter to do one thing:

"But, please, if you don't mind, for the sake of your poor old dad, keep the door open three inches."

We all know which door Hopper meant, but which "door" did the writers mean?

I hope you enjoyed,