THE HAUNTING OF AMPHIPOLIS
Season 6, episode 2
(not aired in Australia yet)
Reviewed by SLK
Rating: 7 chakrams
SCRIBES AND SCROLLS: Story by Edithe Swensen and Joel Metzger. Teleplay by Joel Metzger. Directed by Garth Maxwell. Edited by Tim Batt.
PASSING PARADE: Adrienne Wilkinson (Eve); Anthony Ray Parker (Mephistopheles); Darien Takle (Cyrene); Charles Mesure (Michael); Tamati Rice (Raphael).
STORY SO FAR: Xena, Gabrielle and Eve journey to Amphipolis only to find Xenas hometown is haunted. Xena must fight the King of Hell, Mephistopheles, to put her tortured mothers spirit to rest.
DISCLAIMER: No maggots were harmed during the making of this motion picture, although a few were found stuck in Gabrielle's teeth.
REWIND FOR: Xena instantly recognising a pile of charred bones in the family mausoleum as her mothers. A case of "Id recgonise that femur anywhere?"
A naked Gabrielle hanging from the chandeliers. Well okay, just the ceiling then. As she hits the deck and they roll around on the floor, its clear Gabs is as naked as the day she was born -- er, if she was born with a body stocking. The fun question remains -- was that a stunt butt?
Gabrielle, while inhabited by Mephistopheles, licking Xenas hand. Luckily for Xena that was *before* the spittle started drooling out of her significant others mouth. What is it with that girl and drool?
Xenas neat wrapping job on display as Gabrielle stands after Mephistopheles exit. How did the Warrior Princess manage to make a two piece outfit out of one piece of cloth, and tie neat little knots in it as well, all whilst rolling around on the floor? Yeah, yeah, I know: Shes Xena.
"It almost feels deserted." *Feels* deserted Gabrielle? Hello? Didnt we notice the storm clouds, blackened sky, tumbleweed and a distinct lack of anything living as we rode into Amphipolis? To be fair, Eve and Xena also seemed oblivious to the towns rank charms until it was right under their noses.
"This house, its a gateway or a spiritual crossroads, or..." A dump? Eve struggles to give a name to her grandmas cosy nest. Xena finally helped her out with "its haunted".
"Where was I?" Xena lamenting her untimely absence at the hour of her mothers greatest need. In short, she was on ice. But that still doesnt explain her taking her sweet time to drop by Mums place and let her know she was still alive, does it?
"I cant believe youre showing me this *now*!" Gabrielle about to be given a crash course in neck pinches. We cant believe it either. Like that time Xena withheld her seasickness remedy from her in Ulysses. Im guessing theres not a lot of talking going on in their spare time. *g*
"I dont know what Im doing." Dont worry Gabs, Xena will know exactly what youve been doing once she wakes up, thanks to you practising your neck pinches on her. I counted six sickening blows, and theyre only the ones we *saw*. Lets hope one of those wasnt her heart, liver, kidneys...
"Ill try and find some water, maybe it will help her wake up." Water? From the haunted house?! The same water that has maggots and severed heads in it?! Thanks Eve, I think Mother can do without that kind of help.
"Xena, you killed the king of Hell. What happens now?" You just had to ask didnt you Gabrielle? Hope she was touching wood when she tempted Fate with those immortal words. Hell fath no fury like, um.....er....Hell!
Mephistopheles: "I thought you were a god killer Xena. How the mighty Olympians so easily tamed you."
Xena: "Im just a little distracted by your good looks."
Mephistopheles: "Youre holding back Xena, is something bothering you?"
Xena: "Other than your stench?"
Just when you thought youd seen it all on Xena, along comes something to make you wonder what the hell sort of show youre watching. If youll pardon the pun. I mean its one thing to go from fleeing giants and chakramming gods, but this is something altogether different. Possessed Gabrielle, exorcisms, dripping blood, maggots, a dead Xena (well that aint new) and a woman burned at the stake. Did I mention this seems just a little removed from the Xena of old? The question is, is it good different or bad different? Ahhh, now thats the $64 question.
Ill come back to that in a minute.
First up, I have to declare a bias: I detest the horror genre. If there are bits of rotting flesh, blood and severed heads to be had, Im the one diving behind the couch. Was I scared watching this? Hell yeah, I was a wuss big time -- a regular cowering inferno. I was probably the only one to get this eeeky about the ep, but hey, thats me.
Secondly, I have always hated the killing off of a much-loved regular in an unnecessarily cruel or flippant way. This show has a history of doing this -- for flippant see Amarice and, to a lesser extent, Joxer and Ephiny. And now we have Cyrene, dying the most unspeakable of deaths simply because it furthered a single episodes plot point about how scary the house is. NO, NO, NO! Naughty writers. Ba-aad writers. Stop it at once!
These characters arent plot points to be manipulated and tossed and turned at whim any way they so desire just to fit the story, no matter how the Xenabods view them. They are real to the viewers -- make-believe people they have come to care about and whom we must now watch, slack jawed, as they are disposed of hideously. The death of Cyrene was inexcusably cruel and should never have been orchestrated in such a manner. My mouth is still catching flies from the stupefying shock of seeing how she met her maker, flames licking her writhing body, wailing out Xenas name in her dying breath. A momentary shock value does not warrant and never should such an awful, unpleasant demise. Very crass indeed.
Finally, I first watched this episode with an avowed horror freak who boredly pointed out, between cynical yawns, that it allegedly boasted every horror film cliche under the sun, er moon, er thunderstorm -- from the creepy and its spooky Addams Family haunted house beginnings, to the blood dripping up from the floor, maggoted food, wails and glimpses of ghosts.
Well he has a point but, even so, I discovered at the end I simply didnt care -- knowing it was cliched didnt change one bit for me the effect it had. All these above negatives, and I still couldnt deny the episode had "it". I was totally suckered into watching it all -- although largely through trembling fingers, wondering what would happen next. In short - it worked.
It had pace, high quality special effects (ie the very opposite of cheesy), twists and turns, and personal investment for our lead characters. Oh, and a possessed naked Gabrielle seductively hamming it up gloriously, never did the ratings any harm. *g*
Its not an episode Ill want to rewatch over and over, but its one that will never make the dogs list. It tried its little heart out. And it shows.
Many if not all plaudits go to the special effects team -- from the first moment where Cyrenes ghost walks through Eve and for a split second you can see her skeleton. Ewww!
Gabrielles weightloss in the hand department of course rates as the episodes chief gross out and if I never have to see that again, Ill be one mighty happy camper. But from an effects point of view, I can almost picture Rob Tapert slapping his thigh in delight at how it turned out.
Blood dripping up -- nice effect; in fact one of many camera tricks that were incessant throughout -- a little too much to like all of them; and the drunken sailor angles were wearying. But again, points for effort.
The three-legged race scene with Gabrielle and Xena finally officially joined at the hip (*g*) was another head turner.
But the effects scene that creeped me to the max (not counting Gabrielles bloodied hands) were the underwater ghouls (how did those poor masked ghouls not drown?!) groping and pulling at her. What made it an absolute winner was the colour -- that lime green lighting has to be the stuff of nightmares for every kid who is convinced a pit of monsters lie beneath their bed...
The team earned their dough this episode -- and I swear that budget would had to have given Titanic a run for its money.
Of course the episode had more implausibilities than Cyrenes inn had gremlins.
There was Gabrielles Superman-style costume changes; from nekkid, to a single white sheet; to a two piece sheet (Xenas knotting skills finally come to the fore) to a purple affair that some mothers curtains would do proud. A rewind of the tape shows its implied Eve gives it to her... why she carries spare fashion uglies for the bard is a mystery. But hey, Im sure Gabs was NOT complaining at this point.
This was still my favourite scene -- Gabrielle possessed by Mephistopheles is a playful little urchin, isnt she? Sounding like the Chipmunks on acid, shes licking Xenas fingers, doing the wicked eye, head swivel thing. Renee was really getting into the spirit of the piece. Thought that was some fun acting from ROC and nice to see a little ad-libbed subtext tossed in for the heck of it. Been a long while on that score...
Kind of a funny moment just after this. Bear in mind that at this moment Gabrielle (or rather, her body double) has been naked more than she has been clothed -- in the shower (Xena checks her out no less than three times *g*), playing bat girl on the ceiling and finally rolling around on Xena for awhile (why? Maybe she figured "who needs a reason"? *g*). So anyway, whats the first thing Gabrielle does when given that purple outfit? Hug it to her chest like a chaste princess caught by surprise by the servants. Uh, I think they already know what you look like by now, Gabs...
There were some other sillinesses in this episode -- who takes a shower in a haunted house, especially before showers have even been invented?! Wouldnt your first response be: "Okay, its haunted, er, think Ill be leaving now."
All right, I know, I know, Gabrielle says shes being burned by the lime green gunk so they have to get her in the shower -- incidentally, the only device functioning in a long derelict house. Now, thats spooky.
So let me rephrase my first question: Who takes a looooooooooong shower in a haunted house? Being naked and vulnerable anywhere unsafe would be something youd want over and done with quickly methinks.
Gabs waiting for the hot water to inevitably turn to blood is about as clever as Eve heading off to find some water to help Xena out of her neck pinched state. (Incidentally, since WHEN was it established that dead Xenas automatically go off to visit the King of Hell rather than get their angel wings and head for heaven? How embarrassed would she have been if she wound up gabbing to Archangel Michael again when she had intended to go head to head with Mephistopheles!)
Two things on that rather funny neckpinch scene: One, since when has water EVER helped anyone under a neckpinch? Gabs has been around long enough to know it is a futile effort. Yet she lets Eve traipse off alone anyway.
Two: The water in this haunted house has already been categorically proven a little on the dodgy side. And yet Eve remains ever hopeful.
I also note every time Eve is on her own all hell breaks loose (pardon the pun again)... Seeing she is the only one who can utter the blessing to restore normality, youd think itd be their top priority to hang onto Eve in a death grip, screaming: DONT YOU LEAVE US!!!
Ah well. Speaking of Eves constant chant to cast evil out, I was getting as mightily sick of hearing it as Im sure Adrienne was of saying it. But the silliest line of the whole episode though had to be her enormously long and overly-winded explanation of what shes up to when shes offering her blood to Mephistopheles. That soooo needed to be just chopped out. Like guys, we got the point already....
The episode also had a few dumbass plot holes -- while Gabrielle learning the neck pinch on the go cracked me up, it was not as silly as Xena deciding not to be bothered by the fact killing Mephistopheles would make her the King of Hell. She even says shell cross that bridge when she comes to it. Well HELLO -- thats no small footbridge there, sweetpea! You dont GET bigger bridges than becoming King of Hell!
And what was with Eve fighting bravely all episode to prevent Mephistopheles coming to the surface only to change her mind and go "oh okay" when Mother decrees it must be so? Some messenger she turned out to be! She gets her mother to fight all her fights! *g* Seriously though -- can anyone stop Xena fighting everyone elses fights...?! That woman is a born meddler, I swear it.
Oddest scene for the episode was the Lyceus death bit, with Cyrene giving a young Xena a serve for bringing back her boy dead. Firstly, thats sooo obviously not the same actor who appeared in Remember Nothing, but dont you think theyd at least try matching his hair to somewhere close to the same shade?!
Secondly what was the point of this? Was it to taunt Xena, or was it ghostly Cyrenes many regrets on display? (Im guessing the former.) Why bother with it at all? It sure had no emotional resonance when youre too busy going: "Wait that doesnt even LOOK like Lyceus -- which schmuck did they drag in to play the dead, here?"
I remain puzzled by Cyrenes line that Lyceus was all she had. Um, actually she had three kids and only one is dead here -- a fact that conveniently seems to have escaped her. Id say -- either do a scene like that right, or nix it. I vote for the slash and burn.
Poor old Mephistopheles -- for a King of Hell, I hope he doesnt mind being overshadowed by the women in this episode. With mere presence they kicked ass big time. He was just the ramhorned accessory you have when its time for a fight. Hmm -- hed make a good hood ornament, but as an actor he wasnt much chop. More a life-sized prop. Cue the taunt, cue the evil cackle... you get the drift.
The makeup people however did some good work -- he looked great. But for the big finale of Xena vs King of Hell, I sort of expected more than a grunt-hiss, by-the-numbers, average, ugly bad-guy. Kinda expected someone with a bit more edge; who really lent the same creepy meanness of the house into his persona. After all, everything that has creeped us out up to this point has supposedly come from him. Didnt buy that with this guy. But I did like his moves. Nothing freaks out a hero more than when the villain moves twice as fast!
I cant really finish off without mentioning Cyrene one last time. I felt a little ripped off, as I said earlier, with her death. But I thought at least with Xena vanquishing the bad guy and basically earning his mantle, shed have special discretionary powers. I sorta hoped and prayed she might have fixed things for her mother; turned back time; done something that meant the reality that saw her burning and screaming at the stake would never have happened. The fact is this is now cemented into place as what happened to Cyrene. That pout you see is mine...
Worst cliche moment: "Ill never really be gone, Xena, as long as you keep me alive in your heart." Hmm, sure I read that on a Hallmark card somewhere.
Well, well miss you Cyrene -- but it remains appalling our final memories of you are not staring down a god, singing the Anthem of Amphipolis or slyly husband hunting for your daughter, but instead becoming charcoaled at the stake...
In sum, an episode which was surprisingly good, in spite of everything. It just goes to show what excellent effects and tight direction will get you -- not to mention a fat budget to boot. However it would probably pay not to stray along this path too long or often as this is not the Xena show which fans know and love. This is simply a good horror show, which happens to borrow the Xena characters for the effects to work. There is a difference. Its worth remembering. But for a one-off episode -- hey, two (quivering) thumbs up.
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