The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

My Kindertrauma: The Poison Cackler

The first thing I remember being scared of was the Poison Cackler from Fraggle Rock.

Early in life, we all learn what death is. The raccoon laying on the road shoulder. The crushed ant doesn’t move anymore. The grandfather laying in the casket and he looks so strange, unnaturally still, kinda plasticky. And as a child, you know of only a few things that cause death–being old, an unfortunate disease, extreme bodily trauma, and poison.

Poison is the scariest of these because it’s the least predictable. It works fast, and it could come from anywhere–an apple, a sword, a battle of wits with a Sicilian. But most of all, all the animals with poison–spiders, scorpions, tree frogs, and snakes. God forbid you get bit by a snake. According to all those books with “fun facts” meant to appeal to boys, a bite from a rattlesnake will kill you in fifteen minutes. And it turns your leg huge and purple. And there you are, lying in the sun, dying, with fifteen minutes to live.

That’s the poison part of the Poison Cackler. The “cackler” part is just the misophonic icing on the cake. I didn’t know what a “cackler” was, but it sounded bad, with it’s sharp K’s, like the word “crack”. And the -er suffice being an implication that it was an agent of this “cackle”. Even today I don’t associate a “cackler” with laughter. I associate it with immediate and painful death.

But the scariest part is you never see the monster. Even though it only showed up in only one episode, I have memories of it being mentioned continuously, which added to its prophetic threat. Recurring allies like Uncle Travelling Matt, Sidebottom, and Convincing John. These were powerful oracles. So powerful they couldn’t stay next to our hero’s sides (that would make things too easy). Therefore, if there was an evil recurring character, it must be really bad.

poison cackler

Now that the build-up is out of the way, look at this thing. It looks like someone asked H.P. Lovecraft to design a Muppet. It’s like a crab fucked a scorpion sideways. After being hinted at, it only appears visually in the second season episode “The Wizards of Waverly Place of Fraggle Rock”. That’s where Wembley switches places with a doppelganger wizard to get a taste of fame. (Like lots of children’s shows, you can tell them apart easily by the eyes and voice, but everyone else in the world is oblivious of these easily observed features) But the wizard does it to escape a Poison Cackler who’s been pursuing him. Oh great, not only are they deadly monsters, but they have vendettas.

poison cackler flyer poster
They never attack the same place twice. They were testing the fences for weaknesses, systematically. They remember.

The first time you see it is from this view. It’s crawling through the caverns, holding up the flyermaking some kind of noise that sounds like shub-niggurath is really enjoying a donut. It sounds like he’s gonna orgasm if he gets his hands on the wizard. What did this guy do to him? It doesn’t help that the Poison Cackler’s theme is this ethereal heavy metal guitar riff straight of Ozzy Osbourne’s nightmare band.

Wembley gets a fake beard glued to him that he can’t get off, so when he realizes the wizard flim-flammed him in the interest of self-preservation, the crux of the episode becomes being trapped in an identity that’s not your own and no one will believe you. Oh, and also escaping the relentless unkillable thing-that-should-not-be (a la Friday the 13th).

The cackler corners the two of them. Oh great, add being trapped to that list of childhood fears. But it turns out the cackler is attracted to the wizard’s smoke pellets. They bait the monster and lead it to fall down a pit. Oh double great, falling and being trapped in a pit and never being able to get out. Let’s just keep adding on the trauma.

Here’s a thing that doesn’t help–when your Mom signs you up for a Fraggle Rock “book of the month” club and one of them is “Gobo Fraggle and the Poison Cackler” with one of the scariest pictures young me remembers seeing.

I can’t find the image, but it was essentially a gigantic mouth. Like it seems to go on further than it possibly should, like a pocket dimension. Forget the fact it’s Red Fraggle holding something up, and you can see her fingers. Forget that it looks nothing like it looked in the show.

The plot doesn’t help either, even though it’s all a farce. To get Gobo out of the rock so they can plan for his birthday party, they send him on a quest to kill the Poison Cackler looking for him (it’s like imprinting, but for death). I think it even includes the line “you know what they say about Poison Cacklers–they never forgive and they never forget”. It’s like the pre-pubescent version of “It Follows”.

When I die, it’s going to be the Poison Cackler standing there, not the grim reaper. It’s the most base personification of death that roots down to my soul.

Disney, Please, Do the Muppets Justice

the muppets

Disney, let’s talk. You’ve had one of the greatest, most nostalgic franchise in your hands for twenty years now. And you’ve done very little with them.

What have we got? Rehashes of “what worked thirty years ago” like Muppets Tonight and The Muppets. Crappy made-for-TV specials based on existing material like The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz. And the worst offender yet — “The Office with Muppets Muppets”.

People said “hey, this has Bill Prady and Steve Whitmire and Bill Barretta, all veterans of Muppet stuff. It’ll be all right.” No. As we’ve seen, it’s not all right. Did you test this with focus groups? Did audiences laugh uproariously at this drivel? Was there some comment card that said that Kermit and Miss Piggy’s relationship needed more drama in it?

This is not the Muppets I fell in love with. I know it’s hard to recapture the magic of Jim Henson, but you can do better than just shoving the characters into existing IP that worked in the past. “The Muppets” movie came fairly close, but it wasn’t the same. It was preying on our nostalgia.

Look how sad you made the muppets.

Please, Disney. Do the muppets justice.

First of all, it’s not right to make Kermit and Miss Piggy break up for the purpose of conflict. Would Disney make Mickey and Minnie break up? Do you care if Superman and Lois Lane get married or divorced or whatever? Peter Parker & Mary Jane? Robin Hood & Maid Marian? Mulder & Scully? Mario & Princess Toadstool? No, because they’re legends. They exist in our minds in a perpetual state of boyfriend/girlfriend. They’re like Greek Gods, unchanging myths of the mind.

This… this thing you have on ABC right now? This is not the muppets. It’s not even drek, it’s just disgusting. I don’t want to see Chelsea Handler sticking her tongue in Scooter’s mouth. I don’t want to hear about how Janice slept with Dr. Teeth. I don’t want to know that Swedish Chef puts on womens clothing or that Pepe’s gender is fluid. Please keep your sex out of my muppets.

In fact, keep all of this adult, mature junk out of the Muppets. Because you know what made them appealing? Their familiness. Not too mature, not too kiddish. All ages could enjoy them. Their jokes and humor didn’t need adult content, and they didn’t insult the audience. Because you know what’s the driving central conflict of the muppets? It’s not Kermit’s lack of commitment to Miss Piggy or whatever guest star of the week happens to be on. It’s that Kermit is trying to put on a quality show. And he’s got to deal with all these divas, amateur comedians, D-list hacks, weirdos, goofballs, and whatevers that have all their own demands.

We learn all we need to know about the Muppets in the first five minutes of “The Muppet Movie“. After singing the Rainbow Connection, Dom DeLuise rows up to him. And Kermit learns that, with his talents, he could make Millions of People Happy. Now isn’t that a good thing? Millions of people happy. So he goes on this quest to gather people around him with the same dream. He’s still on it, in fact.

But do you see me happy?

C’mon, Disney. They deserve better than this. I don’t know who’s in charge of the muppets now, but they need another visionary. Not some hack who made his bucks doing Nerd Blackface. Someone who’s not afraid to innovate, to try new things, new bold ways of entertainment like The Jim Henson Hour or Labyrinth. Things that don’t make sense at the time, but we all remember fondly now.

Please, please, Disney.  This is a legendary IP and you are screwing the pooch on it.

Fraggle Gender

karen prell red fraggle

I was going to write an article about Red Fraggle: Early Feminist Icon. I got inspired after learning that the animator for Wheatley from Portal 2 is Red Fraggle’s puppeteer, which blew my mind. I grew up watching this person as a five-year-old as a muppeteer then 30 years later I’m playing a video game using this superbly designed character, and its the SAME PERSON. It’s like Kristin Prell’s been there all my life. It’s especially impressive when you learn how much she could do with just an eyeball.

You know how everyone thinks Rainbow Dash is best pony? Red Fraggle was there first. She was performing the stunts, showing off, crippled by self-doubt. She’s energetic, athletic, competitive (especially with Gobo), insecure, and boasty. Sound familiar? She doesn’t care what anyone thinks. She wants to have fun (like all fraggles). She doesn’t do flower-arranging, being in tune with nature, being motherly. We have Mokey for that. Her fun comes from not capitulating to the roles set by her gender.

Then I started thinking, “Wait, do fraggles even have gender?”  Fraggles have no sex. They don’t mate. They don’t have genitalia. They don’t engage in male-female romantic relationships. They don’t reproduce. Red has qualities that we recognize as a girl — she has pig tails, she has a high voice, she’s operated by a female, so it seems clear the production meant to portray her as such.

On further research, there’s actually very little knowledge about how fraggles are created. One episode implied they were hatched, but in another they don’t recognize an egg. In the “Weekly Reader” book “The Legend of the Doozer Who Didn’t“, a lazy doozer grows into a fraggle (what a tweest!), which means fraggles come from aberrant (perhaps genetically) doozers. However, this book is not canon. And it sounds more like a cautionary tale to scare young doozers. And now I’m wondering where doozers come from, because they DO have babies.

But I digress. Assuming that fraggles are sexless, does that make them genderless? According to our definition, no, because gender is the range of characteristics from masculine to feminine. Here, Hank Green can explain better.

This brings up more interesting questions than Red Fraggle being awesome. How does this apply to fraggles?  Can you have gender identity without starting with sex? There’s no binary spectrum to identify with — no male qualities or female qualities. Do fraggles recognize “boy” and “girl”? Because they use “she” and “he” pronouns. Do fraggles love? They have friendship love, but not romantic love. I guess the closest thing they have is “gender roles”, which somehow exist despite having no sex, romance, or offspring to care for.

The other thing to keep in mind is that fraggles aren’t real. They’re puppets, created for a kid’s show. Which means I have spent way too much time thinking about this already, and I should get back to work.

Also, side note. As a kid, I was scared to death of the poison cackler.

poison cackler

The Worst Movies I’ve Ever Seen

dustin hoffman exasperated

The other day, my wife was talking about the worst movies that her parents had ever seen (the winner was something called Zardoz). But then she said their worst movie probably wouldn’t hold a candle to what I’ve seen. She tells the truth — The Evil Dead, Night of the Creeps, and Dragon Half are just some of the staples in my DVD library. And those are the ones I like.

Even though it’s easy to make a bad movie, no one’s really sure how. Some involved people whose head was up their own ass, making “films” with a “message”. Some knew they were making trash and didn’t care. Some were just mixed scripts, different cinematic visions, or something out of left field. The strangest coincidences can lead to the greatest movies (The Wizard of Oz‘s four directors) or the worst (Superman II‘s multiple directors). There are some movies even MST3K didn’t touch (Like Child Bride for one).

I love my movies. I hate pausing or stopping in the middle, even to go to the bathroom. I only watch movies when I can dedicate enough time to its full length. As I result, I’m always griping about how I never have time to watch my movies. It is very, very rare that I stop watching any movie with the intention of never finishing it. I’d like to say it’s to be respectful to the story, that stories should be finished. But it’s probably more that I have OCD and need to know how something ends. But there have been exceptions, a few I’ve stopped watching before completion (or wish I had).

There’s a distinct difference between a movie that’s so bad it’s good, so bad it’s bad, and just… intolerable. These are my top five intolerables (along with some honorable mentions).

I was excited when I saw the trailer for this one. I love fantasy movies. But a fantasy that’s a comedy? It’s about time. There’s no reason you can’t put these two great tastes that taste great together. Plus Natalie Portman? I was hopeful. I was ecstatic. I was anticipating a fantasy-genre comedy meant that spec fic was on its way to be legitimized.

“Your Highness” took a shit over all that.

And it was almost a literal shit, since that’s what all the humor was: juvenile fart jokes, weed humor, dirty pranks, and swearing. Let’s make a list of what does not belong in fantasy — weed, conventional curse words & slang, minotaur rape. Does not compute. Even the thirteeniest-year-old D & D player wouldn’t find this movie funny.

Not to mention our main character is the most unlikeable, laziest douche I’ve ever met. Yes, it makes sense for a prince to be unambitious and hedonistic because of his position. But it’s not okay to make that misogynist prince the sympathetic character.

I was sooo close to shutting it off. Sooooooo close. The only thing that stopped me was that I was watching it with someone, and I didn’t want to be rude, even though the movie was my choice. Which is like making dinner and then realizing you used salt instead of sugar. But you keep eating it for the sake of convention. This movie offended me in the worst sense – my literary sense.

The first time I saw this, I turned it off just about after the credits were done, when Meg Ryan is flitting about her bookshop, smiling and humming with her chirpy, perky voice, smelling flowers and fawning over books like they’re precious gems. (And yes, I said that and I’m a writer.)

Who wants to see a movie about Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks texting? Tell me who needs to see that? I certainly don’t. I guess the big deal was that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan were reuniting for the first time since Sleepless in Seattle. Except people forgot that, in that movie, THEY DON’T SHARE ANY SCREEN TIME.  So who cares if they’re reuniting?  They never united in the first place! Fortunately, I never got to the part where Tom Hanks becomes the most uncharacteristically unlikeable character he’d ever played. Never thought I’d see that.

And I didn’t.

This kept popping up in my Netflix recommendations list, so I finally gave up and queued it. Boy, am I sorry I did. I like geek humor — there’s not enough of it out there — and I had just come from listening to the utterly hilarious Penny Arcade D & D games on podcast.

This is so totally different than that. This seems to be a low-low-low-budget independent comedy about some RPG gamers that follow the old trope of “the character is the avatar”. Unfortunately, every character is a jerk. One player keeps trying to have sex with everything, even in the throne room in front of the king.

There’s ten minutes (or what feels like ten minutes) where the a player is arguing with a DM about how he wants to play a certain character that doesn’t fit the universe/rules. That goes on for a while, and finally the DM relents, until the player tells him that he wants do something that violates ANOTHER rule of the universe they just went over.

It’s like someone made a full movie version of the Dungeons & Dragons audio bit. Except much, much worse. All the characters do is bicker over petty shit and act like stereotypes. All the potential in this kind of comedy died because it was about the passive-aggressive, argumentative, horndog geek. I stopped watching partway through when I realized the movie was just a waste of my time.

(Editor’s Note: Apparently, I’ve talked about this movie before and didn’t realize it, until I was Google Image Searching for pictures and my own blog entry was the first hit.)

A long time ago, I read a list of fifty movies that few people had ever seen and should. There were several good discoveries like The Arrival, Pulse, and Birdy. But not all of them, like Testament and Time After Time. And for some reason, The Winslow Boy was on there. I should have known this would be crap when there was no known stars, no science fiction elements, and a lot of British looking things.

This is based on a play about a boy who gets kicked out of his wealthy private school and goes back to his wealthy house, where his wealthy parents fret about what their wealthy neighbors will say and their wealthy daughter marrying the wealthy naval captain and I just don’t fucking care. Let the little kid suffer. Give me people with some real problems.

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I say this movie takes a shit all over my childhood is confusing, at best. Muppets had been on a decline ever since Jim Henson’s death, as one would expect. Yet they continue beating the dead horse to the ground, squeezing


But the biggest nail in the coffin, the moment we knew it was all over, was Muppets from Space. The plot rips off Close Encounters of the Third Kind and adds the schmaltz of Follow That Bird. It’s the Muppet equivalent of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” — a totally unnecessary sequel, focusing too much on the new, unlikable characters, D-List guest stars, and corruptions of existing characters. All the charm Henson gave to the muppets is gone. It even has the “nuke-the-fridge” moment of Gonzo finding out he’s an alien.

No. You can’t do that. Gonzo has never had an origin story. He’s not supposed to. I know all the other muppets are some kind of stylized animal, but Gonzo is a “weirdo” or “whatever”. He always has been, he always should be. Next you’re going to be telling me his fur is made of midichlorians.

The muppets can be good again, but if you try to make them the same as Henson did, you’ll fail. If you deviate too much from what Henson wanted to do, you’ll fail.  It’s a delicate balance, and this movie never even tried to do either. The magic is back, my ass.

Honorable Mentions

Scream 2 – Speaking of unnecessary sequels, boy, this certainly… was one. I never got the appeal of the first Scream movie, but at least it was watchable. Someone pointing out all the tropes and errors in a slasher flick is like someone saying wrestling is fake. Everyone knows that.  Doesn’t change the fun of watching.

But Scream wasn’t even about that. Past the one or two bits of self-referential humor, it was a knock-off of “masked-man-with-a-knife” movies like Halloween. And those are tame by today’s standards. But then you make a movie that’s exactly the same thing? No thank you.

The Family Man – Speaking of unnecessary sequels, let us not forget the unnecessary remake. I liked this movie the first time I saw it, when it was called “every It’s a Wonderful Life parody in a sitcom”. Could there be a more blatant plot steal than this movie? Starring Nicolas Cage — our era’s Kevin Costner? You can call it a modern-day version or a homage all you want.  I’ll call it like I see it: “transparent copy”.

Jabberwocky – My dad told me this was one of the later Monty Python movies, since I’d already seen Holy Grail, Life of Brian, Something Completely Different, Meaning of Life, and the entire “Flying Circus” series.

My dad lied. It’s directed by Terry Gilliam and stars Michael Palin, but contains nothing Pythonesque or funny. I don’t remember a damn thing about it — my mind tuned out for its duration.  When the credits rolled I asked “It’s over? Why? What happened?”

A Walk To Remember – Mandy Moore is hot. She’s especially hot as a demure, upbeat, moral girl with cute bangs, brunette hair, and long flowing dresses. She’s especially hot when I apply my imagination and… oh, wait. Sorry, I need to save that for my next fan fiction. Anyway, this movie told me everything I need to know about the works of Nicholas Sparks — characters acting implausibly, bubbly afterschool specialness with strong Christian overtones, and plots that just don’t work.

Malcolm in the Middle – I know this isn’t a movie, but I had to include it.  I hate, hate, hate, hate, HATE this show. Everyone is an absolute dick to each other.  For no reason. Nobody is redeemable.  Nobody gets punished for being an idiot.  Nobody experiences consequences for their behavior. They’re bad people who are bad at being people. They’re jerks. They’re bullies. They’re sociopaths. Parents and kids alike.

I hate every fucking second of this show. I hate their stupid expressions, their yelling, that theme music. I hate fucking Frankie Muniz’s retarded, jaw-dropped expressions and wide-angle lenses. I hate that boy with the big ears. I hate that shrewish mom who can’t stand her own family, which she helped create. I hate that ridiculously ignorant motherfucker of a dad who’s got the maturity of a dog. They’re trailer trash, and they should all be lined up and shot.

Stuck on You / The Bourne Identity – There’s no real reason to lump these two together. The only commonality is Matt Damon, who I don’t like as an actor. He did Good Will Hunting and then nothing else, (except maybe for The Departed, but that also had Martin Scorese and Leonardo DiCaprio on its side).

Stuck on You – I don’t get why everyone’s so in love with the Farelly brothers. Ooh, it’s a Farelly brothers comedy. What does that even mean? Who are they? Why is this a selling point? Their movies aren’t good: Shallow Hal, Dumb and Dumber, Hall Pass. This is not how you advertise.

The Bourne Identity – I cannot imagine a more tedious action movie. It’s based on a book that’s twenty-two years old, meant to compete with James Bond. Well, then it should have come out the same time as James Bond. Brainwashed assassins? Been done. Car chases? Been done. Government agent being chased by his own people? Been done. One man crusade? Been done. The story’s full of cliches.  It’s like no one told the movie makers that the 90’s happened.

Westworld – I already mentioned my problems with this in my “Top 5 Movies That Need To Be Remade”. Basically, it’s a great idea that had piss-poor execution. There’s no conflict until 80% of the way through, when it becomes a technology-gone-haywire/Terminator rip-off.

(Editor’s Note: Unlike “Dorkness Rising”, I wasn’t the first hit on this one. Boo.)

Eraserhead – David Lynch doesn’t make movies. He makes films. Films are art. Again, no idea why everyone’s so in love with this movie. Yeah, it’s got some great imagery. Got some fucked-up ideas, some creepy shots. But it’s all mish-mashed together with a story so incoherent, full of deviations, it has to be constantly interpreted and analyzed, which is the sign of a lazy writer.

Down Periscope – Kelsey Grammer stars in “Police Academy in a submarine”. Sounds like a winning formula to me. Especially with the Police Academy movies getting such high marks. And star power like… Rob Schneider and Harland Williams. There’s no way this couldn’t be chock full of hackneyed, played-out jokes, toilet humor, and a script that sounds like it was written on the plane ride to the studio.

Transformers III: Dark of the Moon – I thought it was necessary to include a contemporary movie in the list, just to show that intolerable movies don’t solely exist in the eighties or low budgets. Blockbusters can be just as bad. Five or ten years from now, people are going to look back at Transformers and say “This was a top grossing movie!? It’s nothing but CGI and people falling!” And who thought Shia LaBeouf was a good idea for this role?  He’s going to make some bad career decisions, fade himself into obscurity, and end up on one of Dr. Drew’s rehab shows.

Killjoy – You already know what you’re in for when you’ve got a direct-to-video horror movie with African-American urban youth and a killer clown. Channel Awesome’s review provides a nice summary of what you’re not missing. The only reason I’m including it is this movie was a bit of a stepping-stone in my writing career. In the sense that, when I saw it, I thought: “I can write better than this. If this guy could get his script made into a movie, there is hope for me.”

Reign of Fire – I saw this one in the theater, and I was excited. I thought “Ah, finally, a movie that combines fantasy and science. We’re going to find out how dragons work!” as I was misled by dialogue in the commercial/trailer: “two glands in the mouth secrete separate chemicals, combined with exhalation — natural napalm”. In fact, this is the only line that even gets close to anything resembling science. The other 89 minutes is a tedious, post-apocalyptic cheesefest that belonged on the “Sci-Fi”/”SyFy” channel, but somehow got upgraded with thanks to Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey.