Archive for Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tricks and treats with ghosts, werewolves and zombies on TV

October 30, 2010


Halloween falls on a weekend and programmers rejoice, offering two days of the spooky and the silly. For some networks, this marks a departure, but with so many programs about morgues, ghosts and the supernatural airing all year round, it’s as if every day is Halloween.

Among the more original offerings is “Red: Werewolf Hunter” (8 p.m., today, Syfy). Felicia Day (“Buffy,” “Dollhouse”) stars in this 2010 shocker as a descendent of Little Red Riding Hood who discovers that her husband-to-be comes from a long line of professional werewolf hunters. Things get tricky when he gets bitten and she has to save him from himself and his family’s professional obligations.

• “The Truth Behind Zombies” (9 p.m., today, National Geographic) examines Voodoo myths and rituals associated with the walking dead and reveals specific poisons that might have been used to cause a trance state associated with zombie lore.

• Zombies: can’t live with ’em, can’t die without becoming one. AMC, home to the Emmy-awarded “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men,” launches “The Walking Dead” (9 p.m., Sunday, AMC), a zombie drama based on a graphic novel by Robert Kirkman that puts the ultra in ultra-violence.

Wounded in the line of duty, Georgia county sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) finds himself alone in a hospital, emptied of its staff after a viral zombie outbreak leaves the streets filled with a stinking gaggle of staggering flesh-eaters. As in epic dramas dating back to “The Odyssey,” Rick’s mission is to return to his wife and son, battling the living and the undead along the way.

By my reckoning, the zombie genre has had three distinct phases. Back in the 1940s, Hollywood churned out B-movies about the undead set in Voodoo milieu. In 1968, director George Romero reinvented the screen zombie in “Night of the Living Dead” as shuffling cadavers hungry for the blood and guts of the living. He also laced his movies with mordant wit and social satire. In 2002, the film “28 Days Later” used manic editing and adrenalized camera work to depict zombies as frenzied and rapacious beasts.

The zombies in “Walking Dead” are a throwback to the Romero model, and like “Night of the Living Dead” and its many sequels and imitations, this series is driven as much by gruesome special effects as its script. If “The Walking Dead” is not the most violent, and, at times nauseating, series ever broadcast on basic cable, it must come close.

The 90-minute pilot moves slowly, as Rick returns to his old neighborhood and bonds with a father and son horrified by their wife-and-mother-turned zombie. Informed of safe haven in Atlanta, he travels there, partly on horseback, cementing “Dead’s” status as a cowboy-zombie drama.

The pace picks up in the second episode as Rick becomes a leader of a group of survivors, trapped in an old department store and as surrounded as any regiment in Fort Apache movies of old. Watching this, I was struck by the notion that zombies seem to have replaced the screen “Injuns” of old as the victims you can slaughter without much reflection. It’s also a survivor story that recalls the post-Apocalypse film craze of the “Mad Max” era and the after-the-bomb dramas of Cold War cinema.

But for all of its production values and assured camera work, I’m not entirely convinced “The Walking Dead” has much of a point. It certainly doesn’t have a sense of humor. And its combination of grim determination and envelope-pushing gore has a decidedly adolescent appeal. At the risk of sounding cranky and elitist, I outgrew comic books some time ago.

• “Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story” (7 p.m., Sunday, The Documentary Channel) recalls the bedlam and ballyhoo associated with Castle’s low-budget Saturday-afternoon movies, from “House on Haunted Hill” (7 p.m., Sunday, TCM) to “The Tingler.” Critics and filmmakers, including John Waters, Joe Dante, Leonard Maltin, Roger Corman and John Badham look back with great appreciation and affection.

Saturday’s highlights

• An effort to rescue puppies from a truck yard becomes a race against time on the second-season premiere of “Pit Bulls and Parolees” (9 p.m., Animal Planet).

• Jon Hamm hosts “Saturday Night Live” (10:30 p.m., NBC), featuring musical guest Rihanna.

Sunday’s highlights

• Hallmark invites viewers to spend 10 hours with “The Munsters” (7 a.m., Hallmark).

• Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): taxes and deficits; Zenyatta, a horse considered the greatest in history; the loss of a factory in a factory town.

• “Ghost Hunters Halloween Live” (6 p.m., Syfy) spends six hours in the abandoned Buffalo Central Terminal in Buffalo, N.Y.

• Bank robbers take nothing and leave a cryptic message on “Sherlock: The Blind Banker” on “Masterpiece Mystery” (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings).

• Jimmy bonds with a troubled veteran on “Boardwalk Empire” (8 p.m., HBO).

• A return to old habits on “Dexter” (8 p.m., Showtime).

Cult choice

In between directing “West Side Story” and “The Sound of Music,” Robert Wise lent his prestige to “The Haunting” (8:30 p.m., TCM), a rare A-list shocker that remains one of the scariest ever made.


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