Saturday, October 15, 2016

loose ends

THE PLAYGROUND (originally broadcast June 4, 1985, RAY BRADBURY THEATER)

Sometimes the most effective, relatable horror is that which draws upon real life.  In this episode of Ray Bradbury Theater, William Shatner plays Charlie, the father of a young boy about to begin school, and because of this, starts having PTSD-fueled flashbacks to his own grade school years. 

Things were very rough for little Charlie, a victim of brutal bullying, and his palpable anxiety for his son, Steve, is quite apparent.  It doesn’t help that Steve (Keith Dutson), though gregarious and without trepidation, seems to be naturally earmarked a bully magnet.

The story begins with a brief flashback of Charlie as a boy, being victimized by a group—then cuts to the adult Charlie in mid-trance, playing with his young son while clearly preoccupied with a dread he should’ve long ago recovered from. 

A couple of things are touched upon, hinted at, as examples of his inability to cope with the past trauma. 

A conversation on the train-ride home with a colleague from work indicates things have been strained for him professionally, and that he is faltering amidst the dog-eat-dog competition. 

Also, he lives with his sister, Carol (Kate Trotter), who has a career and is getting married next month—and she is very frustrated and concerned not only for young Steve’s progress, but for Charlie’s mental state. 

She very pointedly illustrates this a few moments in.  “He needs to learn how to play with other boys his own age.  He needs to learn how to adapt, to get along.”  She then suggests he’ll otherwise turn out like Charlie, a stinging barb he lets go unanswered. 

Since Charlie’s wife is no longer around and no explanation is provided, it’s easy to assume (considering what we know so far) that their marriage was an unsuccessful one.

After much prodding by his sister to take Steve to the nearby playground, Charlie relents, only to discover his worst fears come to life upon arrival.  The children seem to sense his nerves, his growing distress, and through his eyes they become fanged, growling, furry little fiends.  Worse yet, his childhood bully, Ralph (Mirko Malish), is among them, sneering knowingly.

It’s clear that Charlie’s perspective is warped, mired in fantasy, whereas his son just wants to play with the other kids.  And with this first visit to the playground, we realize that Charlie’s grip on reality is tenuous at best. 

When he relates the sheer terror of his visit to Carol, that the other children were bloodthirsty animals, she recoils in disgust, demanding he spare her “the graphic details”.

The next evening, he passes the park on his way home from work and is mortified to find his sister has brought Steve there to play again.  "Do you call that playing?!"  A simple game of tag his son is involved in becomes something far more sinister to Charlie.

And once again his long-ago bully, Ralph, is there taunting him from atop a large spiral slide.  When they get home and Steve begs to go again tomorrow night, Charlie sets his mind to confronting his fears once and for all, and so agrees.

While much has been made of William Shatner's penchant for over-acting, especially during the latter half of his career, he is quite believably insecure and anguished throughout "The Playground".  


It's best not to divulge much more, though I will note that this is one of the darker tales of the series—and of writer Ray Bradbury's oeuvre, for that matter.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Halloween is danger!

Before you send your children barreling headlong into traffic on their Halloween night’s mad scramble for sugar, be sure to give them a good once-over for safety’s sake.  After all, Halloween can be a rather perilous affair, fraught with hidden danger at every turn.  This instructional filmstrip (at the bottom) from 1977 will help alert you and yours to the dangers of trick-or-treating.

Take, for instance, your child’s choice of costume.  Masks are frowned upon, for they impair visibility.  And so are dark costumes, apparently.  So…“A white costume makes for a different kind of witch.”  Well, it certainly does, what with the pointy white hat and all.  In fact, that color of witch doesn’t make me think of witches at all.  And isn’t that nice?

Also, “it’s a good idea to put your child’s name, address and phone number on the sack...just in case there’s an accident.”  You know, for purposes of identification...because accidents happen, people.

And "always look both ways before crossing the street."  Because cars are so difficult to see at night and, perhaps, your child has never crossed a street.

But most important of all, "have an adult check your candy."  Because other adults are wont to add poison or objects such as razor blades to your candy, kids.  And (little side-note here) "remember to eat a full dinner", as well.  That way you won't eat too much candy on your walk home.

Did we leave anything out?  Maybe.  I mean, how can you really cover everything? Don't run with sharp objects.  Well, that's kind of a given.  Make sure your child's costume is flame retardant—the burn wards are just spilling over with hapless youngsters this time of year.  Oh, and don't accept impromptu invitations into strange houses!  And if you see a car circling the neighborhood, be sure not to accept a ride. Although they might just be checking to see if the poison worked.