Tor.com content by

Leah Schnelbach

30 Coins Is a Beautiful Explosion of Horror Tropes

If you like horror, Silent Hill, religious conspiracies, or love triangles, you should probably watch 30 Coins. If you enjoy yelling “WHAT???” and “ARE YOU KIDDING ME???” and “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING???” at your TV, you should definitely watch 30 Coins. And if you think that what Catholicism really needs is more human/spider hybrid monsters, I have fabulous news for you. Also a lot of questions.

The show’s 8-episode arc just wrapped up on HBOMax, after running on HBO Europe earlier in the winter. The overall arc is an excellent work of religious horror, but where the show truly shines is in committing to different types of horror in each episode, and it gives us everything from spooky ouija sessions to mirrors that might actually be inter-dimensional portals, to possessed revenants, but somehow director/writer Álex de la Iglesia and co-writer Jorge Guerricaechevarría make all of these elements tie into the overall conspiracy plot.

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12 SFF Reboots of Nostalgic Sitcoms I’d Like to See

As we’ve learned from WandaVision, combining SFF elements and classic sitcom tropes can create delicious televisual chocolate and peanut butter. The rumored revival of classic ’90s sitcom Frasier made me think about how much fun it would be if one of these inevitable reboots did something really cool. Like, why not take some beloved characters and relocate them to a magical realm? Or fling them into SPACE?

Call it TGI-Fantasy. TGI-SFF? Or maybe Must-See-Sci-Fi.

Here you go.

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Willy’s Wonderland Never Quite Reaches Its Cult Horror-Comedy Aspirations

Willy’s Wonderland is a would-be cult horror movie starring Nicolas Cage. I debated about instead sneaking in a review of Cage’s (severely underrated, IMO) turn in Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead, and seeing how long I could sustain the bit, but I finally decided that I should, you know, do my actual job. And the more I thought about it, the more I found that I had something to say about this movie.

I’m certainly not going to say that Willy’s Wonderland is good, but it serves a purpose.

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John Wick Is a Portal Fantasy

The first John Wick begins as a film we’ve seen many times before. A hitman has retired. He was drawn into “normal” life by love, and for a while he had a house in a suburb, drove his car at legal speeds, and went for romantic walks with his wife. The two of them probably had a takeout night, and a favorite Netflix series. But, as in all of these kinds of movies, the normal life is a short-lived idyll, violence begets violence, and the hitman is Pulled Back In.

The thing that makes Wick so beautiful is that what he gets Pulled Back Into is not the standard revenge fantasy. Instead being Pulled Back In means literally entering another world, hidden within pockets of our own. Because in addition to being a great action movie, John Wick is a portal fantasy.

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The Stand Is Half of a Great Television Series

I’ve been trying to think through how to write about The Stand. I really liked parts of it, and I bounced hard off other parts. But I think the moment that sums the show up best is that, towards the end of the series, there’s a scene where a character has sex with the Devil. The Devil usually appears as Alexander Skarsgård (exactly how I would appear if I were the Devil) but while the two character are having sex, his usual glamour slips a little, and the scene flashes between a romantic scenario in a rose petal-strewn hotel room with a naked Skarsgard, and some gross and rather violent writhing in a desert, which ends on a closeup of a terrifying monster screaming directly into the camera.

And then, we cut to a Geico ad!

This encapsulates the strongest part of The Stand, which is when it leans into the High Cheese with Serious Undertones And Actual Stakes that is Stephen King at his best. And packaging that between ad blocks adds a frisson of joy to the whole enterprise.

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Is It Possible That Johnny Mnemonic’s Future Is Better Than Our Own?

In May 1995 we received a bold vision of the future. A glittering world where physical cities merged with cities on the internet. Where bodyguards wore chainmail tank tops and carried pink, glitter-encrusted hand grenades. Where payphones still existed but you could phreak them with mobile, red plastic phones… which were almost as large and conspicuous as the payphones themselves. Where mini-discs were successful.

And the more I think about it, this vision wasn’t just a cyberpunk lark, it was a warning. A bleating klaxon of what awaited us.

That warning was Johnny Mnemonic.

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Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow Might Be Coming to FX

JESUITS! IN! SPAAAACE!

Per Variety, Queen’s Gambit co-creator, director, and showrunner Scott Frank is adapting Mary Doria Russell’s classic novel, The Sparrow, for FX. Frank is said to be “writing every episode” of the limited series, with Johan Renck, late of Chernobyl and Breaking Bad on board to direct, and Better Call Saul’s Mark Johnson joining as executive producer.

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A Lightly Annotated List of Number 22’s Mentors in Pixar’s Soul

One of the best aspects of Pixar’s Soul is a running gag about all the famous people who have tried to mentor the recalcitrant Number 22, voiced by Tina Fey. We meet a few of these figures via flashback (and Den of Geek has a great educational post about these on-screen mentors), but what caught my attention was 22’s Wall of Fame. Number 22 has a massive collection of name badges, presumably of everyone who has ever tried to guide them, and with some creative screengrabs I was able to read quite a few of them.

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Looking for the Fun: A Conversation With Author Charles Yu

Charles Yu has been writing award-winning, genre-bending work for nearly twenty years now, including the short story collection Third Class Superhero and How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, which was the runner-up for 2011’s Campbell Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. His work in television includes being a writer and story editor for the first season of Westworld, and his latest novel, Interior Chinatown, recently won the National Book Award in Fiction, a rare moment of joy in 2020.

Just before the new year, Yu and I spoke about the novel, writing techniques, and his new novelette, The Only Living Girl on Earth.

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A Charlie Brown Christmas Perfectly Captures a Complicated Holiday

Charlie Brown looked into the shining void that is Christmas, and became a hero.

Here was a child who acknowledged the sadness beneath the festivity, the loneliness, the aching search for meaning under tinsel. This half hour met the challenge thrown down by Rudolph, raised the bar for the Grinch, and created the template that has been used by nearly every animated special, sitcom, and even drama since the 1960s. Charlie Brown dispensed with all merriment, demanded to know the meaning of Christmas, and got a perfect answer.

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The Midnight Sky Takes Us Into Space—and a Bleak Near-Future

Space movies are usually about hope. Usually, if a character heads off into the harsh vacuum of space, it’s because they’re exploring, or learning, making contact with aliens, or transforming into StarBabies, or trying to create a far-flung future for humanity. Because of that, I find it fascinating that The Midnight Sky, an adaptation of Lily Brooks-Dalton’s novel, Good Morning, Midnight, becomes a rare example of a bleak space movie. It’s an interesting, and often moving, addition to the space movie canon that never quite figures out what it wants to be.

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Six Intergalactic Holiday Specials for a Very Cosmic Christmas

Lots of shows decide they need a little Christmas come December, but they’re not quite sure how to do it. Do you talk about the big Jesus-shaped elephant in the room? Do you just focus on Santa? Do you, I don’t know, cast Juliana Hatfield as an angel or make miracles happen on Walker, Texas Ranger?

This late-December urge becomes extra fun when sci-fi shows try it—they don’t usually want to deal with the religious aspect of Christmas, but they still have to find a way to explain Santa and presents (and maybe just a dash of Christianity) to aliens who are already confused enough just trying to deal with humans. So most of them fall back on humans teaching aliens about “goodwill” or “being kind to others.” This leads to some amazing moments, as we’ll see.

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The Stand Needs More Reality in Its Horror: Episode One, “The End”

I’ll admit, when I read The Stand back in high school I didn’t expect to live through it years later. Hell, when I volunteered to review CBS’ adaptation the pandemic hadn’t hit yet. As a result, my review might be a little more intense than I initially planned.

It’s weird to watch a show about a terrifying pandemic, while you’re in a terrifying pandemic, and then the ads pop up and the people in the ads mostly act like things are normal. It’s weird to watch a show that opens with people clearing dead bodies out of a room, and the disposal crew are mostly wearing N-95 masks, but then one dude is just wearing a bandanna, and my whole brain screams: “Those don’t work! Get a better mask!” before I remind myself it’s just fiction. Before I remember that it isn’t just fiction.

But I did my best.

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The Blessed Meaninglessness of The Nightmare Before Christmas

December’s a minefield. Most of the year you can watch movies or TV shows, and you more or less know what you’re in for. If you’re watching the latest Martin Scorsese movie, things will probably get heavy. If you’re watching a sitcom, the stakes will probably be low. Even now in the era of prestige TV and extremely niche indie films—when the writing is, I think, sharper than it’s ever been, and creators feel free to hop genres and assume their viewers’ intelligence—you can usually decide how much depth you want to deal with, and tailor your viewing accordingly.

But not in December—in December even the wackiest comedies have to stop the action long enough to meditate on capital-M Meaning, and the grittiest dramas make room for capital-M Miracles, in order to acknowledge the annual cultural fulcrum that is Christmas.

In all of my searching I have found only one film that ignores this tradition of meaning-making. That movie is The Nightmare Before Christmas.

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