Skip to main content

One great wickedness before I go!

The Box of Delights
5: Beware of Yesterday


I tend to think of the fifth episode as devoted to Kay’s journey back through time and, as the title suggests, it is the centerpiece. But it takes up barely a third of the proceedings, most of which is devote to the continued aberrant activities of Abner.


It is apparently not just the box, but also Cole himself, that Abner prizes. Quite how he intends to gain access to Cole’s abilities is unclear, but he knows better than to dare risk hurting or threatening him.

Abner: With the power of the past and the power of the future in his magic mind and although his mind may be fading untold other magic powers as well. Now do you see, you mutinous doddlehead?


That mutinous doddlehead being Joe, who continues to feature heavily in this installment; Jonathan Stephens’ performance as a fatuous chump hits all the right notes. Cretinous Joe has a mundane take on everything (he considers the elixir as akin to cough mixture, and views it in terms of its marketability). He has a heart as soft as his pudgy face, and favours releasing the clergy as “a Christmas gesture before the whole thing turns against us”. When he meets with Abner again later, he is of even firmer resolve that releasing them is the right thing to do; Abner then introduces him to a cell, inviting him to “stay here and rot forever”. The slightly unnerving Joe of the opening episode, who appeared to transform into a wolf, is long forgotten.



Seymour perhaps doesn’t allow this development sufficient time to settle; no sooner has Joe been locked up than Charles and Sylvia have released him (and there can be little doubt that Sylvia has none of the charitable concerns of the heart that trouble Joe). While their double-crossing is fairly straightforward, the precise nature of Abner’s scheme appears to fluctuate.


His resolve regarding the box is firm; no one is to be released until it is recovered and he promises that if it is not his “by midnight, I shall stop their precious ceremony if it’s the last thing I do”.  Later we find him going through his treasure chest, pondering if half a million pounds is enough for his purposes; he would let the others go hang if only he could get his hands on that box and then head for some far off country (he is undecided regarding the Pouncer; a little too independent, with ambitions of her own, perhaps?) So where would the powers of Cole fit in with this? Would he have to bundle Hawlings away with him to access the elixir?


Stephens is tremendous; the mischievous delight with which he informs Joe it is time to give his Christmas lecture to the pensioners again gives Masefield’s tale the air of one who sees many of the proclamations from the pulpit as unfelt regurgitations. His villainy is prodigious here (“And how is the dear bishop?” he asks the doddering representative of Tatchester, down in the cells) and his intention to enact “One great wickedness before I go!” holds a promise we want to see paid off.


Waterfall Boy: You are very near to it. You shall have it under your hand today.

The inadequacy of the Pouncer’s advice finally begins to dawn on Abner, perhaps because he is carrying Kay around in his turn-up (“Why do I think of that detestable child Kay Harker?”). But Abner is yet again hoodwinked into wrongful thinking by a cryptic foretelling from the Boy under the Waterfall (Jason Kemp; another young actor with his last billed TV acting credit).


We receive the answer to Joe’s (legitimate) question of why Abner cannot use magic to find the box; Cole has put spells around it. The precise nature of this boy’s predicament is unclear, but Abner is responsible; whatever the properties of his location under the Waterfall, it gifts him with the ability to see the future (he can “see things no one else can see”). Quite understandably, the boy isn’t best pleased with his lot, so his white lie to Abner is a payback of sorts. The latter regards it as a vindication, and admonishes Joe (“And you tell me to give the whole thing up!”), failing to realise that he has been hoisted by his own petard. The most amusing exchange of the episode comes just before the boy is banished back to his watery prison.


Waterfall Boy: Anything else?
Joe: What will win the Grand National?
Waterfall Boy: Kubbader by seven lengths.


If the clergy look blacker and blacker, the police look more and more incompetent. This time, not only does the Inspector berate Kay for his “Hobsession” with the guilt of Reverend Boddledale (Kay calls for a raid of Chesters) but also the oafish Chief Constable (Charles Pemberton) joins in. He dismisses concerns that Boddledale is a master crook (“Nonsense boy. Eat your bullseye”), more concerned with laying on protection for the 1000th service.


As with the fourth, this episode has something of a sandwich structure, whereby Kay freely leaves the villains lair for an interlude and then returns for the climax. This time, however, he embarks on a journey of the sort not seen since the second installment. At Seekings he calls on Herne, and the familiar surroundings of his bedroom transform into a semi-illustrated/animated backdrop. There’s something of a Narnia vibe to a bed amid a snowy forest clearing, while the arrival of Herne has Glyn Baker striking a pose like something out of an Adam Ant video. Herne warns Kay that “The past is a great book, with many many pages” and reiterates that the box may not be taken with him on his journey (its curious how omniscient Herne is, aware of the properties of the book; as something of a catch-all representative of pagan Britain, he presumably has such faculties).


At this point, the next stage in Kay’s apparent initiation takes place, as he learns to astrally project himself. As a protection, Kay will not enter the past physically. Rather his “shadow” makes the journey; if those who care about him call him strongly enough, he may get safely back.


In relative terms, the journey into the past is a disappointment when compared to the luxurious animation of episode two. Rye is clearly conscious of his budget restraints, so he attempts to make a virtue of them. As Kay “flies” into the book of the past, Rye draws attention to the fakery with cut outs of the periods he traverses. When Kay lands on a sandy shore, the sea is an obvious effect. And when he is sent whizzing across the sea to be marooned on the nearest island (by a band of Greek soldiers, very quick to spot he has no shadow, who include a young Julian Sands in their number), the effect is exaggerated; he might be within the computer realm of TRON. 


His encounter with Arnold of Todi (Philip Locke) is a very studio-bound affair, and one can’t help feel Rye could have made it more atmospheric. It recalls the White Guardian’s encounter with the Doctor in the Key to Time season of Doctor Who, except that Arnold is not such a natty dresser, nor so erudite. Todi talks in rhymes, confusing dates and times.


Arnold: Or was tomorrow yesterday
Or has it been and gone today
Will no one say?
I wish someone would say.

His time alone has turned his mind, and some of his comments wouldn’t look out of place in Alice in Wonderland. His pronouncement that the English have tails (referring to coattails) meets with Kay’s indignant response “The English haven’t got tails!


As he tells Kay, “I’ve got quite lost in time”. He confirms Abner’s account regarding the elixir, “But I refused to give it. And now I know not where it is nor where I am”. But filling in the blanks, he clearly regards Cole/Lully with no ill will, considering it “Magnificent” that he lives on.  More of a surprise is that he views the box as “a silly little toy” and refuses Kay’s beckoning to return to 1934 and take possession of it. Indeed, he becomes expressedly irate, and we finally see that, for all his aged confusion, this is not someone to be trifled with. Arnold summons lightning bolts and threatens to send Kay back to the past.


He would have too, if those blessed Joneses hadn’t called him back. The comment, “What a lot of groaning and yelping. Were you having a dream?” could only have been got way with in a more innocent time (an adolescent boy, locked away in his bedroom… )


As has been largely the case with the villain scenes, Kay’s return to Chesters finds him playing the helpless bystander. So here, his tiny self travels about in Abner’s trousers before ending up trapped in his treasure chest. And without the box! When Charles and Sylvia raid Abner’s gems they manage to discard Kay, who falls unconscious to the floor. So at least he’s not locked up (might he not have squeezed through the keyhole, though?) this is the third cliffhanger where Kay has been tiny, and the second tiny and in peril. So perhaps Arnold is right; the box is merely a toy, with only so many tricks up its sleeve.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Everyone wants a happy ending and everyone wants closure but that's not the way life works out.

It Chapter Two (2019)
(SPOILERS) An exercise in stultifying repetitiveness, It Chapter Two does its very best to undo all the goodwill engendered by the previous instalment. It may simply be that adopting a linear approach to the novel’s interweaving timelines has scuppered the sequel’s chances of doing anything the first film hasn’t. Oh, except getting rid of Pennywise for good, which you’d be hard-pressed to discern as substantially different to the CGI-infused confrontation in the first part, Native American ritual aside.

That woman, deserves her revenge and… we deserve to die. But then again, so does she.

Kill Bill: Vol. 2  (2004)
(SPOILERS) I’m not sure I can really conclude whether one Kill Bill is better than the other, since I’m essentially with Quentin in his assertion that they’re one film, just cut into two for the purposes of a selling point. I do think Kill Bill: Vol. 2 has the movie’s one actually interesting character, though, and I’m not talking David Carradine’s title role.

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

When you grow up, if you still feel raw about it, I’ll be waiting.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
(SPOILERS) It sometimes seems as if Quentin Tarantino – in terms of his actual movies, rather than nearly getting Uma killed in an auto stunt – is the last bastion of can-do-no-wrong on the Internet. Or at very least has the preponderance of its vocal weight behind him. Back when his first two movies proper were coming out, so before online was really a thing, I’d likely have agreed, but by about the time the Kill Bills arrived, I’d have admitted I was having serious pause about him being all he was cracked up to be. Because the Kill Bills aren’t very good, and they’ve rather characterised his hermetically sealed wallowing in obscure media trash and genre cul-de-sacs approach to his art ever since. Sometimes to entertaining effect, sometimes less so, but always ever more entrenching his furrow; as Neil Norman note in his Evening Standard review, “Tarantino has attempted (and largely succeeded) in making a movie whose only reality is that of celluloid”. Extend t…

Check it out. I wonder if BJ brought the Bear with him.

Death Proof (2007)
(SPOILERS) In a way, I’m slightly surprised Tarantino didn’t take the opportunity to disown Death Proof, to claim that, as part of Grindhouse, it was no more one of his ten-official-films-and-out than his Four Rooms segment. But that would be to spurn the exploitation genre affectation that has informed everything he’s put his name to since Kill Bill, to a greater or less extent, and also require him to admit that he was wrong, and you won’t find him doing that for anything bar My Best Friend’s Birthday.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Where’s the commode in this dungeon? I gotta have a squirt.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)
(SPOILERS) I’m not shy to admit that I fully bought into the Tarantino hype when he first arrived on the scene. Which, effectively took place with the UK’s reception of Reservoir Dogs (and its subsequent banning from home video), rather than the slightly tepid post-Sundance US response. That said, I think I always appreciated the “package” more than the piece itself. Don’t get me wrong, I admired the film for what it achieved, shrewdly maximising its effectiveness on a limited budget by, for example, making a virtue out of notshowing the all-important heist. But its influence was everything, more than the sum total of the film itself – that slow-motion parade in cheap matching suits (not so much Chris Penn’s track one), the soundtrack CD that was a fixture until, basically Pulp Fiction came out, the snatches of dialogue, most famously the “Like a Virgin” monologue, even the poster, adorning every student’s wall for the next half decade – so I wouldn’t quite say I …