Wednesday, June 6, 2012

#14: Mr. Chaney

Episode 1015:  "Mr. Chaney"

Original Airdate:  March 8, 1992

One-Sentence Synopsis:  When he is crowned the Eerie Harvest King, Marshall discovers the true relationship between the fabled Eerie Wolf, the farmer Mr. Chaney, and the disappearances of all the previous winners.

It's time for the Harvest King festival in Eerie.  Every 13 years, a lucky man is picked out of a lottery to win the title of Harvest King.  On the night of a full moon, after he is treated like a emperor for a day, he must go out into the mountains with Mr. Chaney as his guide and await the appearance of the Eerie Wolf.  If he sees the wolf, then there will be a good harvest, good luck and low taxes for the next 13 years.  Oh, and all previous winners have moved to Spain and never returned, for some unrelated reason.  It doesn't seem suspicious at all.

The Harvest Committee (Mayor Chisel, Radford, and Chaney) are fully aware that the Harvest King never returns, so they use it to eliminate the most despised citizen of Eerie.  At the moment, it happens to be the kid with the grey hair, so they enter a ticket with his name in order to rig the lottery.  However, the snooping kid overhears this and replaces his name with Marshall Teller's.  The next day, Radford reads out the rigged ticket and Marshall is dubbed the Harvest King.

Despite not entering the raffle, Marshall enjoys his day as a king and Mr. Chaney arrives to take him out in the woods.  The generally cheerful Chaney becomes very grim and stern during the night and upon the rising of the full moon, he transforms into a werewolf.  The grey-haired kid, having researched the disappearances of previous Harvest Kings, shows up just as the werewolf attacks Marshall.  He knocks the wolfman out, but Marshall is still wounded.  They take the unconscious beast home and Simon keeps guard while Marshall and the weird kid go to confront Mayor Chisel.

Chisel blows them off, but Radford expresses concern, realizing that he has always turned a blind eye to the carnage.  Back at home, Chaney escapes into the night, but Radford agrees to help the boys hunt down the wolfman.  Armed with a single silver bullet, the group heads back into the woods.  Chaney attacks Marshall again, but Radford manages to shoot him in the foot, curing him.

As for Marshall, Radford tries to concoct a cure for his scratches, but his efforts are in vain.  Marshall still suffers from some side effects every full moon: huge mutton chops.

Evidence Locker Item:  The Harvest King Crown, Tag #324

The Wolf Man - Mr. Chaney is named after the movie star Lon Chaney, Jr., famous for his appearances as the Wolf Man in various films, beginning with the 1941 classic.

The Lottery - The Harvest King festival, in which a modern townsperson is sacrificed according to ancient tradition, is based on the annual event in the 1948 Shirley Jackson short story.  Both bring about good harvest, but only Eerie's event promises lower taxes.

Twin Peaks - After bashing the werewolf over the head with a log, the grey-haired kid introduces himself with "Well, it ain't the Log Lady," referencing a minor character who carried a log around town and treated it as if it were her late husband.

The Howling - Joe Dante directed his own werewolf film in 1981.  It's playing on TV the night of the Harvest King celebration.

"You've seen those old wolf man flicks."

As you can tell, this episode is two familiar stories tied together: The Lottery and The Wolf Man.  And while the first story fits right at home with the Eerie theme, the werewolf portions of the story are just regular by-the-numbers scenes without any of that good old Eerie twist.  As soon as the first line is said, you know exactly that Mr. Chaney is a werewolf and you can pretty much writes the episode from there.  This is disappointing because the more interesting story has to do with the lottery and the cover up.  Literally any monster could have been inserted and the plot still would have worked.  Using a werewolf opened up the floor for a unique take on the genre.  But instead we got more of the same.

The first act is nearly perfect.  This episode and "Heart on a Chain" where two that I didn't see in the initial run of the series, so I came at them with a fresh perspective.  I didn't remember much of this episode since I had only seen it when I first bought the DVDs, so I found myself surprised at a lot of what was occurring.  The fact that the Mayor had some kind of issue with the grey-haired kid was very alarming, and rigging the system to kill him was quite a dark turn.  Also, Radford's heroism is great and it's fun to watch his internal struggle over the episode, as he slowly realizes the error of his ways.

But there is something weird about the werewolf plot point.  This is the first time that the powers-that-be-in-Eerie have been overtly aware of the weirdness.  Yes, Mayor Chisel ignores Marshall's claims, but he seems to understand that werewolves exist.  And Radford definitely knows that werewolves exist now.  Usually there is some out, something that allows the adults to continue believing everything is normal, even when they are behind it all.  But here, everyone is like, "Eerie is the most normal town on Earth.  And we have werewolves, of course."

Nonetheless, the episode does build on the mythology of the town.  In fact, if this episode had been combined with "Tornado Days," it would have been nearly perfect.  Then we'd have more focus on the human sacrifice to appease the powers of the universe, rather than a human sacrifice to a werewolf in order to get 13 years of good luck.  That doesn't even make sense.

Stephen Root is great as Mr. Chaney (at least during the first act) but then he comes really standoffish (and then a werewolf).  I would have liked to have seen his character remain consistent throughout the episode.  Similar to how the previous episode featured a non-threatening ghost, Root's werewolf could have been meek and stuttering just like he was.  It would have provided some sort of twist.  Otherwise, we're left with just a boring old werewolf story.

Random Observations:
- Although the entire werewolf section is cliched, I just love Simon dropping his guard with "I'm hungry" and then promptly devouring a nearby apple pie.

- The entire sequence of Radford making the chicken-blood-based werewolf cure like a milkshake redeems the episode for me.  It's so silly, but John Astin is totally committed to it, having fun with his witch's brew.  That's a great incongruous Eerie moment if ever there was one: the soda jerk placing an eye on the whipped cream like a cherry.

- According to the old papers, Mayor Chisel was elected 13 years ago.  But he was working at the bank earlier in the year, wasn't he?  Also, Eerie loved disco and prohibition in the past.

- What happens to the Tellers' new cow?  We hear it mooing in the background, but it never figures back into the plot.  Maybe Chaney ate it.

Conspiracy Theories:
- What has the weird kid done that has upset Mayor Chisel so much that he wants him dead?  Has his snooping around actually uncovered more dirty secrets behind the scenes of this "normal" town.  Marshall's gathered enough evidence to raise suspicion, so the fact that this new kid is a bigger threat to the Mayor leads me to believe he is going to uncover something huge.  Maybe the Mayor is an alien?  And that's why he wanted the spacecraft so much a few episodes ago.

Grade:  The run-of-the-mill werewolf plot prevents this otherwise clever and funny episode from achieving greatness.  B+

1 comment:

  1. Nice conspiracy theory. Would’ve liked to have seen more episodes of Eerie, Indiana. Oh well, there’s always fanfiction.