Long before Harry Potter, but long after Grottbags, there was another Sorcerer’s Apprentice – young Dean, star of today’s episode of AYAOTD. We deal with magic and obsession, a well worn trope in fiction seen in everything from the seductive nature of The Dark Side Of The Force, to the addictive calamity witnessed in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Lets see what Amazon’s blurb has to say about this one:
Dean has trouble at school – especially with chemistry. His best friend, Alix, seems to be the only one who understands him. One day an archaeologist visits the class and brings along a bewitching snake which entrances Dean. Soon thereafter Alix begins to notice changes in his personality.
We’re in familiar territory as the episode opens with the group heading to their usual spot. On the way though they find a grave where two of our more ethnic members play a prank. Betty-Anne is telling tonight’s story, one which seems to involve skulls, or headless corpses, or skeletons or something, given the way she’s fondling that bone between her hands. We go back to 1966, some museum-looking school where a time travelling kid (they’re wearing 90s clothes) drops a bucket (?) into a puddle (?). I don’t know, it’s not very clear. We flash forward to Present Day and meet Dean, an unusually attractive young chap who doesn’t appear to be popular and isn’t great at school work, as explained by the pitbull teacher’s battleaxe face and grumpy one-liners. I had my fair share of witches in school – what is it about a career in education that can drain all the moisture from one’s face and replace it with a medicine ball-shaped Gorgon texture? Dean sort of looks like a cross between River Phoenix and Michael Pitt.
We then meet Alix (America) who, for some reason happens to be Dean’s friend. Likewise I also had girls who were, for the same ‘some reason’, my friends. I really feel like today’s story is speaking to me. Or maybe I’m too lazy to think of another angle to write from today. What the hell pictures did she have in her locker? It appears to be – A random Cosby; a saturated black and white still of a woman terrified beneath a tree; two cartoon skiers chasing a heart down the slope of Mount Fuji; the face of the bad guy from Ghostbusters II cut out and placed on the body of stylish 90s business women. That’s quite a collection. We never had lockers in my school, just schoolbags packed with everything you needed for the day, and that was usually dumped in a corner once you got in. Something else we rarely had in school was special guests – in this episode a redhead archaeologist comes to speak in Dean and Alix’s class, bringing with her a wide array of artifacts. One such artifact is a giant cobra sceptre which once belonged to a reputedly evil sorcerer – perhaps he who wields the sceptre will absorb the sorcerer’s power.
This has so far reminded me an awful lot of an early Buffy episode, and that’s no bad thing. The school setting, the friendship, the weird teacher and the weird artifact – these are all things that pop up in Season 1 Buffy and while that Season is seen as the worst, I still have very fond memories of watching them for the first time as a 14 year old when they first made their way to BBC 2. Dean’s interest has been piqued and he speaks with the teacher and pokes at some of her toys. She speaks in ambiguous terms so we immediately ask ourselves if she is evil. Once Dean lifts the scepter, he becomes entranced and heads into the school basement (more Buffy nostalgia). Cut to the next scene and Dean has suddenly transformed into a Beat poet rebel, complete with turtle neck and attitude, mystifying his unnecessarily angry teacher, and upsetting Alix. Dean has basically become Xander in The Pack, with cool new friends and unfortunate decision making. At this point we’re almost halfway through the episode and nothing remotely scary has happened. It is however interesting and has a coherent vibe and good performances.
There is one funny scene here as Dean speaks to the floating head of Goth, performing a resurrection ritual in what appears to be a trash can. Alix watches from about four feet away and Dean sends his acolytes after her.
For some reason Goth speaks with an English accent, and then for some reason Dean begins speaking in an English accent. And then for some reason, I begin laughing in a Jamaican accent. Goth isn’t a particularly imposing figure, and while there is a Palpatine/Vader dynamic going on, his face when he laughs resembles a worried and weeping Vinnie Jones.
Alix decides, against all known codes of honour and wisdom, to ask a teacher for help, but the angry teacher is already under Goth’s power. This bit actually unnerved me a little, because when the teacher laughs, her front teeth almost look like they turn to fangs – a little like that moment with Bilbo in Fellowship Of The Ring. However, they are apparently her normal teeth. It feels like the closing moments as Alix is chased by the acolytes (one of whom may be the begotten offspring of Robert Smith), but there are still 10 minutes remaining.
We have just enough time to get more oddly framed shots of the Campside Weirdos as they discuss acid and Alix’s predicament. Alix is being taken by Robert Smith, Dean, and the rest to a swimming pool within the school which has inexplicably been left abandoned for 25 years. Dean speaks in an English accent again – is this just something Americans (and Canadians) do when they want to sound sinister? I know that we have a history of English villains in Hollywood films, but to me the generic English accent always sounds tame and wussy. My accent though – if an English person heard me shouting they’d likely vacate their bowels and hide under the nearest tarp. I’m sure the purpose of Dean’s accent is to show he is becoming more like Goth, but it still feels jarring and silly. Goth returns in a watered down Hellraiser vision. There is some terrible make-up and costume work on Goth, but Alix and the returned-to-normal Dean stop his rise by pouring chlorine into the pool. Why there is a vat of chlorine sitting open beside the pool is anyone’s guess. Presumably Dean brought it with him for the ritual, but why the hell would you bring the one thing which will stop your master from rising? Hugs and giggles ensue, I stretch my leg to crack my knee, and we get a quick ‘twist’ ending. Why can’t the teacher perform the ritual herself? Why does it have to be a kid? Why a specific kid?
I thought this was a pretty good, engaging episode, albeit light on scares or tension. Without the two good leads though, this may have felt light and flat. There is actually quite a few speaking parts in this episode, so lets have a look and see how much more speaking these peeps have done in their careers. Behold! Dean was in a previous episode – The Tale Of The Prom Queen. If you’ll remember from that post, I asked posed the dilemma ‘I wonder if he’ll look like a scumbag’ referring to his future appearance on the show. I’m pleased to solve that puzzle today by answering that yes, he does kind of look like a scumbag in this episode, but only when he’s acting like one. Elsewhere he gives a very good performance, accent aside. We’ve covered Matthew Mackay’s career before, so lets move on. Alix (Staci Smith) seems to only have one other credit to her name, a year before this episode in the splendidly named movie Prehistoric Bimbos In Armageddon City.
Only one of the Acolytes is credited and I’ve no idea if it’s Robert Smith or one of the others – played by Chris Nash who has at least 1 Producer, 1 Director, and 1 Composer credit to his name. As an actor he has been around in movies, TV movies, and TV shows from the early 80s to the late 90s including Freddy’s Nightmares, Wraith, and Satisfaction. Many of these movies featured early appearances from Hollywood big hitters, but for whatever reason Nash has yet to reach those heights. I’m not even sure he was one of the acolytes – according to his age on IMDB, that would have made him 31 playing a young teenager. On the other age of the age scale is Goth, an ancient Egyptian or something, played by Stephen R Hart whose size and voice have ensured that has been a respected voice and screen actor since this episode – his first appearance. Since then, he has been in Silent Hill, The Mortal Instruments Series, and voices ‘ Canada’s daily opening rant’ which I can only assume means he stands atop of some Canadian landmark and shrieks a few words or paragraphs about politics, war, famine and other such topics. Finally, the two teachers – angry woman, played by Jane Gilchrist, and Dr. Oliver played by Emma Stevens. Stevens has appeared in lesser known movies and shows including The Audrey Hepburn Story and Beyond Borders, as well as voicing in the Assassin’s Creed series. Gilchrist has had a similar career, appears in a later AYAOTD episode, I’m Not There, and Big Wolf On Campus.
There you have it, another episode in the bin. Next up we’ll be heading down to the arcade to stumble across sticky carpets and avoid the wizened old pre-divorcee wasting his hard earned quarters on Pacman in The Tale Of The Pinball Wizard. Sweet dreams!
Let us know what you thought of this episode in the comments and for more reviews of AYAOTD, check here: