The New Arrival (4.07)
“Ignore it…ignore it…ignore it.”
WHAT IS IT?
A radio child psychiatrist pays a house call to boost ratings, only to find the patient far more disturbed than anticipated.
The director is Peter Medak, who did some 90s films that might exist somewhere in the back of your consciousness (The Krays, Romeo is Bleeding), but who has mostly made his bones as a TV journeyman, with some excellent shows on his resume (The Wire, Breaking Bad, Carnivale). And if the cast isn’t full of big names, it’s a slam dunk when it comes to being well-suited to the material. David Warner stars as a stuffy prick, with 80s footnotes Joan Severance and Zelda Rubinstein in supporting roles that play to their strengths.
HOW IS IT?
There aren’t many actors more appropriate for Crypt than David Warner. Adept at wallowing in B movie schlock, and thoroughly versed at playing pompous assholes and hypocrites, the only surprise is that it took this long to get him. Here, Warner plays Dr. Alan Gertz, a small market radio psychologist who specializes in delinquent kids (his terrifically asshole-ish book is called ‘The Art of Ignoring Your Child’). Gertz is a fine specimen of EC villain, a pompous elitist whose self-importance masks a lot of misanthropic anger. He’s basically Frasier Crane as a pedantic son of a bitch (or, uh, more so), and it plays perfectly to Warner’s strengths.
Gertz is in trouble. Despite his showy motherfucker on-air persona, he’s slipping dramatically in popularity, and is now on the cusp of being replaced by an even tawdrier program, some chat show about ghost sex hosted by a dorky biker dude named Lothar (Robert Patrick, in a cameo). After overhearing the venomous ranting of his bitchy dragon lady boss Rona (Severance), Gertz improvises a stunt: he’ll broadcast live from the house of frequent caller Nora (Rubinstein) and her particularly disturbed child.
So Gertz shows up at Nora’s home, with his assistant Bonnie and Rona in tow. There’s no reason for Rona to be there, other than to constantly run Gertz down, in as nasty a way as possible, but this is Crypt, and they’re not about to introduce a stereotypical Bitch character and suffer her to live. Nora’s home is a decrepit creepshow, the lawn and porch adorned with all the signs of a serial hoarder, and Gertz immediately starts pontificating on the mental turmoil this represents. This discussion about the psychological underpinnings of what we’re seeing continues through the whole episode, and even though its meant to establish Gertz as a dude full of fatuous bullshit, it’s all actually fairly well considered. Whenever Gertz and Bonnie dissect the mystery of Nora’s disturbed daughter Felicity, each new theory tracks reasonably well. There’s a reasonable amount of suspense over the reveal too.
The doorknobs are electrified, as Rona humorously discovers. Nora finally presents herself, and it’s worth mentioning that Zelda Rubinstein, the helium voiced old lady dwarf famous for Poltergeist, is also quite well cast here. In fact, it’s fair to say that aside from her most famous role, she’s never been anywhere near as effectively used as she is in New Arrival. Nora’s daughter is Felicity, who remains unseen for a bit yet, but makes her presence known by screaming inhumanly and banging her head against the wall upstairs. Gertz employs his patented ‘Ignore it’ treatment, and engages in a bit of showy scolding off Nora’s parenting. This leads to a debate over child rearing techniques, pitting Gertz’s ivory tower book-learnin’ against Nora’s practical experience, and again, the psychobabble rings surprisingly true. So much so that my initial belief that Gertz was a showbiz fraud was proved inaccurate. He’s actually an over-educated quack, which is a fresher direction for a Crypt episode to move in.
The group heads upstairs to confront Felicity directly, only to find locked doors and walls festooned with years of grape bubblegum expectorant. Rona gets separated from the others (rather hamhandedly, in truth), and here we get our first view of Felicity, a short squat thing wearing a black wig and featureless mask. And just like that, Rona gets offed (off camera). Meanwhile, Gertz and Bonnie force their way into the bedroom, and the strange array of stuffed animals and electronic equipment reveal a new hypothesis to Gertz: Felicity IS Nora, who probably has multiple personalities. The visions of dollar signs in his eyes are short-lived though, as they then discover Rona’s throttled corpse. The doors slam shut and they run off, looking for the exit. And it turns out the house is in fact full of horrible death traps, especially a sawblade ceiling fan that drops down and decapitates Bonnie (awesome), causing Gertz to faint.
He awakens tied to a chair in the attic. Felicity appears before him, and Gertz puts on his best shrink bullshit in order to get close enough to choke her to death. But it doesn’t work, because then Nora shows up. Turns out they’re not same person at all. In fact, Felicity is a long dead zombie aching for release, so of course she doesn’t behave well. In fact, Nora has been collecting child psychiatrists for years now, none of whom have ever been able to make any headway, and now their mummified corpses sit tied to chairs just like the one Gertz now sits in. Nora exits as the zombie kid cuddles on Gertz’s lap, and just for extra fun, she turns on Lothar’s stupid show as Gertz mumbles to himself in dread.
OK, so that got a bit lengthy as a recap. But there’s a whole lot of interesting facets to the plot of this one, and they needed unpacking. That leaves off Bonnie’s character arc too: she goes from idolizing Gertz to resenting his bullshit to razor fan head-choppery. In fact, it’s the primary problem with this episode: too many balls in the air. I like just about everything this brings to the table, but a half hour is not enough time to adequately deal with all of them. Everything ends up a bit short-changed, which is a shame, as they’re all potentially good ideas. It either needed to be pared back, or to be told in a different medium. Hell, there’s more than enough here for a damn good feature film, in the 70s British horror vein, a la Burnt Offerings or The Brood. But again, all the elements are pretty good, and the casting is inspired. Very close on this one, it just needed time to breath.
DOES IT HATE WOMEN?
A bit, if glancingly. Rona’s your average ballbusting 80s bitch, the kind of role Severance played all the time. It’s not a main theme, but rather there by force of habit.
ALSO WORTH NOTING:
*I actually think Dr. Gertz survives this. The ending suggests that he’ll starve to death and join the skeleton crew, but the mildest application of logic shows that he and two people disappeared in the very place he announced they were going on a live radio broadcast. The Crypt Keeper even supports this wrinkle, admitting that Dr. Gertz did get a new show, but employed a better screaming process for callers.
*Considering how perfectly suited Warner, Severance and Rubinstein are for their roles, it’s a bit perverse to see Robert Patrick, at the time hugely identifiable as the T1000, playing a sort of Howard Stern type. It’s the kind of completely wrong casting that often paid comic dividends on Crypt, and I’d totally be down for a Lothar-starring episode, or even just one with Patrick.
*So I guess Gertz is the ‘new arrival’? I can’t tell if the title is clever or lame.
WORST CRYPT KEEPER JOKE:
“You know what they say: the morgue, the merrier!”
I actually really love this episode and think it’s a definite high point of the series. Well-cast, well-acted, and with impeccable camera-work. It’s an endless parade of really amazing and creepy moments, from Zelda Rubinstein’s ominous “I’m a very good tinkerer”, to that amazing tracking shot revealing Felicity’s bedroom to a masked Felicity sitting on Gertz’s lap, making for what is clearly one of the scariest episodes of the series. It feels like what Television Terror should have been.