25 September 2012

September 25th

Cropsey (2009) directed by Barbara Brancaccio & Joshua Zeman
In the back of my mind, as I clicked on the link to this in Netflix, I remembered that this was supposed to be pretty good documentary that had something to do with an urban legend in New York.  I was expecting something along the lines of an exploration of the Jersey Devil myth, but what I got was something much more grim.  Cropsey investigates a rash of child disappearances and murders in the 1970s and '80s on Staten Island, interviewing those affected and following the trial of the primary suspect.

The most interesting part of the documentary to me was the fact that there were still people absolutely convinced the cause of the disappearances were satanic cults.  Some claimed a vast conspiracy of Satanists on the island whose rituals demanded child sacrifices.  Some were so scared of these imagined Satanists -- even to this day, 20 to 30 years later -- they refused to expand further on their theories or outright refused to be shown on camera.  It's a perfect example of the theme of this documentary: when an unexplainable evil happens, people need something to pin it on.  When that evil happens, repeatedly, to children, the scapegoat doesn't even have to make sense.

I can understand.  Becoming a parent changes you.  My greatest fear used to be amputation; I couldn't imagine anything worse than losing a limb.  Now, I would gladly jump feet-first into a wood chipper if it would save my kids from harm.  Children have this horrible power over their parents.  Your own happiness is directly connected to their well-being.  When something bad happens to them, it's very difficult to stay rational.

Do I think Staten Island put the right guy in prison for these crimes?  Based on what was shown in the documentary: yes.  It seems plausible that an already unstable Andre Rand was so affected by his two years working at the notoriously hellish Willowbrook that he decides to pick off local mentally disabled kids.  Do I think he got a fair trail?  Absolutely not.  From the documentary, it seems as though he was convicted based solely on 20-year-old eye witness testimony.  Am I glad he's in prison, anyway?  Yep.

A really well put together documentary, thoughtfully exploring the underbelly of Staten Island and the psychology of a community afflicted by evil.

Watched: stream on Netflix.

Inhumanoids 1.06: "Cypheroid" (1986) directed by Jim Graziano
Probably the weakest episode of the series.  The sample Bright cut from Tendril's foot a few episodes ago grows into a new Tendril, which they quickly capture.  The government, not realizing Tendril is a moron, places a supercomputer next to his cage in the hopes of translating his speech.  Unbeknownst to the government, the supercomputer is both sentient and evil.  Basically, this episode exists to get the ball rolling on the post-"Evil That Lies Within" storyline.  By its end, Metlar and Tendril are free, the evil Blackthorne Shore has escaped from prison, and Blackthorne's cellmate Dr. Mangler has drown in toxic waste.

Inhumanoids 1.07: "The Surma Plan" (1986) directed by Jim Graziano
Earth Corps vs the Ruskies!  It's the Cold War, Saturday morning cartoon-style.  The USSR decides to drill a hole to the Earth's core and flood it with water, hoping to destroy Metlar's domain.  When anyone tries to explain that this plan will likely crack the Earth in half, the Russian military leadership starts questioning loyalties.  As over-the-top as this is, it actually reminded me of the K-19: The Widowmaker, in which the radiation-poisoned Soviets refuse help from a nearby American ship for fear of giving up their technological secrets.

The best part of the episode, easily, is Dr. Mangler's resurrection.  Blackthorne recovers Mangler's skull from the toxic waste-polluted swamp he drown in and brings it to D. Compose.  D. Compose agrees to resurrect the good doctor and the result is... well, even D. Compose is not sure he made the best choice here:
Got to love how crazy this show is.  Mangler -- re-dubbed Nightcrawler -- has a skull for a face, some kind of weird robot torso, and a giant earthworm for one of his arms.  Creepy.

Inhumanoids 1.08: "Cult of Darkness" (1986) directed by Jim Graziano
Tackling the then-hot issue of teen cults seems natural for this show.  Blackthorne, dressed in a mask and black robe, sets himself up as a cult leader and manages to attract a throng of teen worshipers.  It's all just a front, though, and a touch from D. Compose turns the cult into a zombie army that terrorizes the city.  Kids: don't join a cult or you may be turned into a zombie by giant undead-dinosaur-thing!  Also, it'll help you beat up bullies and get girls:

Inhumanoids 1.09: "Negative Polarity" (1986) directed by Jim Graziano
A accident with a super-magnetic rock turns Magnokor evil and Metlar good.  This also, somehow, weakens Earth's magnetic field and threatens to bring the Van Allen belt down to the surface, irradiating all life.  Even if Inhumanoids' science is ridiculously awful -- traveling from the surface to the core seemingly takes only a few hours of driving through caves -- I have to give the show props for at least trying to be more science-y than its contemporaries.  If it were possible for the Van Allen belt to get low enough to touch the Earth's surface, it would be pretty bad for life on the planet indeed.  I bet a bunch of kids looked up the Van Allen belt it their encyclopedias (to you kids: this was Wikipedia in book form) after this episode aired.

Inhumanoids 1.10: "The Evil Eye" (1986) directed by Jim Graziano
This is the episode I vividly remember from childhood.  Nightcrawler and Blackthorne discover a creature called a gagoyle.  It's kind of a squat, blue dragon with a see-through belly that eats anything in its vicinity, including, in a gruesome scene, all of its siblings.  Nightcrawler somehow establishes control over the critter and uses it to really, really screw with Blackthorne:
Yep.  One Saturday morning when was 9, I watched a toothy, blue monster eat a dude and then puke him up again under the orders of a skull-guy with a worm arm.  Unbelievable!  Nightcrawler later takes the gagoyle to visit D. Compose.  The two monsters fight and the gagoyle bites off D. Compose's arm and swallows it.  Holy crap!  When D. Compose promises to help Nightcrawler, the gagoyle pukes the arm up and D. Compose pops it back on.  But, still... wow.  As a kid, this absolutely blew me away.  Even the non-organic Transformers weren't getting their arms ripped off at this time.

Inhumanoids 1.11: "Primal Passions" (1986) directed by Jim Graziano
After the incredibly screwed-up episode from the week before, Inhumanoids goes way, way in the other direction with this one.  "Jaw-droppingly silly" is how I might describe this ep.  Dr. Bright makes a concoction that he thinks may help fight the Inhumanoids and sprays it on the trio of monsters.  Whoops!  It was actually a love potion!  The fierce Inhumanoids monsters are now crushing on any female they come across.  D. Compose falls in love with Sandra, Tendril falls in love with a robot Tendril from a movie set and Metlar... Metlar steals the Statue of Liberty and brings her to life.  Unfortunately for Metlar, married life isn't what he imagined:
Yeah, who knew Lady Liberty was such a ball-buster?  And this is just one of half-a-dozen scenes in this episode that elicited a verbal "WTF!?" from me (see also: D. Compose waltzing and Tendril nearly crying).

Inhumanoids 1.12: "The Masterson Team" (1986) directed by Jim Graziano
Corrupt Senator Masterson leads an expedition of blimp (?) vehicles into the center of the Earth on a mission to recover the Statue of Liberty from Metlar.  Things don't go their way and it's up to Earth Corps, temporarily teamed-up with Nightcrawler, to rescue them.  As it turns out, the expedition wasn't necessary at all.  Metlar reaches his limit of nagging and returns Lady Liberty to her rightful place on the surface.

Inhumanoids 1.13: "Auger… For President?" (1986) directed by Jim Graziano
A good send-off for the show that ends with a massive battle between the forces of good and evil.  Metlar and his statue army, D. Compose with his zombies, and Tentril with his weird bug-guys face-off against the combined might of Earth's armies, Earth Corps, the Redwoods and the Granites.  One of the more epic battles in Saturday morning cartoon history.


  1. As a fan of "The Burning" and "Madman," both inspired by the Cropsy Maniac legend, I was a little disappointed in "Cropsey," otherwise a decent enough doc. The film doesn't focus on the myth's influence on pop culture at all and there's little proof Andre Rand had much of anything to do with the Cropsey legend. It definitely predates his supposed murders. Having said that, the film does do a good job of showing the sway fear of the legend had over the area.

  2. I agree that Cropsy ended up being about something other than the myth, but that didn't really bother me that much, as the story was genuinely interesting and brought to mind some interesting questions about jurisprudence without being too preachy or didactic about it. On the other hand, this is a doc with two sorta threads, and they don't quite intertwine perfectly. Still, an interesting watch.

  3. I was initially disappointed that this wasn't really a documentary on the urban legend, but, from the little I've gathered, there ain't much to the legend, is there? It's just a rumor about a crazy guy in the woods who'll "get'cha", right?

    I think they had to call the movie something and Cropsey, given its thematic relation to the narrative they were trying to weave, was a good choice.