Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Harper's Island" or Till Death Us Do Part--Literally

Destination weddings are all the rage now, so it's only natural Trish and Henry would gather their nearest and dearest around them for their gala wedding on scenic Harper's Island.

On second thought, maybe having your nuptials celebrated on the same island where a notorious serial killer strung up his victims like ghoulish Christmas tree ornaments might not be such a good idea after all.

"Harper's Island" was a multi-part CBS mini-series where the primary appeal was waiting to see which member of the wedding party was going to get offed next--it couldn't have been for the acting of the large but doomed cast. While some might see parallels to the Agatha Christie's classic "Ten Little Indians", it was clear as the series rolled on that the real inspiration must have been those "Friday the 13Th" movies, where the seemingly indestructible Jason sliced and diced his way through a passell of sex crazed camp counselors and the like.

"Harper's Island" got off to a bloody start, with one hapless jerk tied to the underside of the wedding party's chartered boat and subsequently hacked to death by the ship's propellers. From there, it's a march to the death house as various folks are picked off in increasingly shocking ways: the minister is impaled by a chandelier; a groomsman is stabbed through his Adam's apple; his distraught girlfriend jumps to her death to avoid her assailant; and the the blushing bride, clad in her Vera Wang-ish wedding gown, has her stomach slit open like she was a gaffed salmon.

By now, you're probably wondering what monster is responsible for all this mayhem. His name is Wakefield, a predictably feral and wild-eyed creature who grinds his morning coffee with his teeth and boils it with his own rage. He's Harper's Island's most notorious citizen, having killed a bunch of folks several years back. Among the victims was wedding guest Abby's mom. Abby also happens to be groom Henry's childhood best buddy. Of course, Wakefield is suppose to be dead, but he's not, of course. And as the bodies keep piling up in increasingly complex ways, it's clear Mr. W has an assistant.

For my money, however, the creepiest character has to be the only kid in the cast, a little girl named Morgan. A morbidly sullen tot, she spends her days being hateful and frying bugs with her magnifying glass. Of course, Morgan might come by her personality disorders honestly, considering that her parents are two chilly icebergs experiencing marital problems. Needless to say, those problems will decrease after dad is knocked off in gruesome fashion.

With the cast thinning out faster than Uncle Ernie's hair and transport off the island an impossibility, sensitive viewers might wonder why Wakefield has it in for these people. Turns out Abby's mom once dated Wakefield, but sensibly ended the relationship. Then she discovered she was preggers. The resulting baby boy was in turn adopted by a well-meaning but colorless family in Tacoma, all of which sent Wakefield off his dot. That child, it just so happens, was Henry, the groom-to-be. And it is Henry who is Wakefield's accomplice, helping his dear old dad hack the wedding party into bite size pieces.

The one character on "Harper's Island" who has thus far escaped harm is the plucky Abby. Naturally, she's horrified when Henry reveals himself to be a serial killer. When Abby demands to know how he could be party to such needless bloodshed, Henry said it was simple: his folks never bothered to tell him he was adopted. Worse, growing up, Henry had these "weird urges" he could never explain. However, when he was reunited with his biological father Wakefield, it all made sense. Father and son then bond over a killing spree in Seattle, which lays the ground work for the blood bath at Harper's Island.

None of this impresses Abby much, especially when Henry says he did it all for her. See, with everybody on the island dead, the two childhood chums can now live happily ever after. Henry doesn't seem to realize that as half brother and sister, they can't legally do that. It also doesn't help matters when a supposedly dead character is found to be alive. That would be Henry's brother Jimmy, who he unsportingly had planned to blame the whole mess on. As every serial killer movie fan knows, this revelation will lead to an Abby/Henry showdown with predictably fatal consequences, at least for Henry.

Whether "Harper's Island" was a hit for CBS, I can't say, but it was another troubling example of slaughter chic. From the "CSI" franchise to "Criminal Minds" to those "Hostel" movies, we've seen murder become a spectator sport. It's just bottom feeding on the human psyche and you can't helping thinking, "What's next?" A mini-series set in Disneyland where Mickey and Minnie pick-off would-be mouseketeers? Department store Santas knocking off bratty kids? Or maybe a lethal librarian who snuffs out patrons with overdue books? At the rate we're going, anything is possible.

In the mean time, if I'm invited to a destination wedding in the near future, I think I'll pass.