Assimilate (2019)

Film: I loves me a good body snatcher film. Seriously, from The Thing and Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (and their remakes) to Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty, I’ve always loved a weird alien-replacement conspiracy story. Thankfully, Hollywood does too, so you’ll get a new one once a decade or so… even if in several of those occasions they have been remakes, yes, a weird alternate simplicity of an original!

Wow, I’ve only just realised that a remake is the pod person version of an original film.

Anyway, this decade’s version is this film Assimilate, written, directed and produced (and starring) John Murlowski, who previously directed Amityville: A New Generation and Contagion… no, not that one, the other one from about ten years prior.

Assimilate tell of two friends, Zach (Joel Courtney from Super 8) and Randy (Callum Worthy from American Vandal), who have decided to start a YouTube Web channel all about how boring their small American town is. During the course of the filming we meet various family members and odd locals (no weirder than normal oddness, that is) and of course, Zach’s high school crush, Kayla (Andi Matichak from 2018’s Halloween).

Also, they film a few pieces of weirdness, including a woman who is bitten by ‘something’. They chase the ‘thing’, only to see it picked up by the creepy local priest. They return to see her the following day but when they return to see if she is ok, she is, and with no evidence of ever being bitten, but there seems to be something off about her.

Quickly, the three realise that the townsfolk are being replaced by something, but will they be able to escape the town without being replaced themselves? Will the succumb to the aliens horrible scheme for world domination?

Honestly, I was surprised by how much I liked this film. At first I thought it was going to be derivative of the earlier mentioned films, but it was surprisingly entertaining with a decent amount of jump scares and actual thrills. I was also concerned it was going to be a Blair Witch/ Paranormal Activity found footage thing too, and even though it dips it’s toe in that pool, it doesn’t go full tilt into it, and the idea of the uploads has a payoff that is worthwhile.

The cast are great. Again, I thought the two male leads were going to be chuckleheads but they developed differently to what I first thought they would, and Andi Matichak, who appears to be the token final girl role at first, develops completely in a different direction. As a side note it was also nice to see Cam Gigandet again, I really liked him in Never Back Down (even though his character was a right knob) and The Unborn, so his appearance as the disbelieving Deputy in this was great.

The fault with this film is the special effects, which simply put, are terrible. I’ve seen a lot of cruddy effects in my time though, and even some of my favourite films suffer this fate, so it would be unfair to simple this film out on that notion.

Seriously though, they are well crappy.

All in all, this is a cracking film which entertained and surprised from start to finish… especially the finish.

Score: ****

Format: This film was reviewed on the Australian region 4 DVD, which is presented in a thoroughly decent 1.85:1 image with a matching Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The problem with the image being so clear is that it does reveal the effects to be a little bit… well, crappy. The image also varies somewhat due to the fact the mains characters are using their own webcams occasionally.

Score: ****

Extras: Nothing.

Score: 0

WISIA: It was pretty good, but the surprise has gone so it won’t be as eye-opening.

The New Mutants (2020)

The New Mutants (2020)

Film: A strange thing happened to the 13 year old me in 1983… no, not pubic hair and the realisation that boobs are amazing… no, I became a ‘proper’ comic collector. I had been collecting comics for almost a decade at this point, but comics were something I rolled up and shoved in my pocket, and carried around in cardboard boxes with little regard for comic company, numbering or continuing stories.

I just liked the pictures with the words.

In 1983, though, I picked up something special whilst at the local news agency with my mum, who was doing her lotto: the first issue of a comic which would change my life, The New Mutants.

The New Mutants told of teens, some the same age as me, who upon hitting puberty, discovered that hidden in their DNA was a horrible secret/ curse of special abilities that if untethered, could accidentally kill others. Thankfully, they were taken on by the kindly teacher Professor Charles Xavier, who at his private school would just teach them and protect them, would also train them to use their powers, but unlike his other team, the missing (at the time) X-men, he wouldn’t allow them to become ‘super heroes’… but they are strong-willed teens, so obviously THAT wasn’t going to happen!

Imagine my excitement, then, when it was announced that 20th Century Fox was going to make a HORROR film based on my favourite comic of all time! Imagine my disappointment at the constant delays, some COVID-related, and some due to the Disney buy-out of Fox, and other because it was getting some bad press, even though no one had actually seen it.

The New Mutants FINALLY got a release in late 2020, where it was unceremoniously dumped… even though it was part of the successful but floundering (well, except for Deadpool and the magnificent Logan) X-men series… to DVD and Bluray (in the companies defence, it was right during COVID lockdowns and few, if any, cinemas were actually open). Tragically you can tell it was dumped by the fact that bother the symbols for Marvel, and it’s parent company Disney, and not mentioned on the front of the packaging, and are a tiny part of the back cover, which is a resounding ‘we are embarrassed by this movie’.

At the risk of spoiling the rest of the review, they are wrong.

This film was directed by Josh Boone, the director of teen drama The Fault in our Stars, who had envisioned it to be the first in a trilogy, which is now obviously abandoned, and was based on a script by him and Bad Grandpa’s Knate Lee… please don’t let those credentials scare you off… and is based loosely on the comics Demon Bear Saga, written by Chris Claremont, with art from Bob McLeod and Bill Sienkiewicz.

The New Mutants tells of Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt), a teenage girl who has been admitted to a hospital after a tornado destroys her community, and her father is killed by… something…

At this institute, she discovers that the doctor in charge, Dr. Celia Reyes (Alice Braga) intends on keeping her there until she understands and can learn to control her mutant powers of being able to make people’s worst nightmares come to life.

Maisie Williams and Blu Hunt

Dr. Reyes already has a group of kids at the institute though: the quiet, but lycanthropic Rahne (Maisie Williams), the Brazilian hothead, Roberto (Henry Zaga), southern boy Sam (Charlie Heaton) and Uber-bitch, is-she-actually-a-demon Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy), and quickly, Dani discovers that she is being held with these others, in a cage if sorts.

The problem with cages, though, is sometimes they keep what’s outside, outside, but they also trap everything inside, perhaps even whatever it was that killed Dani’s rather… and with 5 super powered and erratic teens, that could be a dangerous mix!

Roberto’s girlfriend is a hottie!

Now this film isn’t your traditional ‘Bang! Pow!’ Superhero movie, oh no. This takes all that bluster and works it down to something that you saw in some of the X-men films, especially with the horrors of Rogue’s (Anna Paquin) powers which caused he to be unable to touch the skin of another human being: getting your powers for the first time would be horrible. Mix with that the difficulties of puberty and a bit of sexual chemistry and you have an absolute cracker of a movie.

It reads very much like a super powered, horror version of The Breakfast Club, and honestly this probably does tap into my love of that John Hughes film, with maybe a little of A Nightmare on Elm St 3: The Dream Warriors thrown in for good measure.

The cast, for me, are an absolute dream. Maisie Williams, hot off her time as Anya in Game of Thrones, Charlie Heaton, the creepy hot guy from Stranger Things and Anya Taylor-Joy, my current obsession, and star of The VVitch and hit Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit. In a weird piece of chance, and I guess it’s what a good casting person does, the cast somehow both fit, and don’t.

The story is a great introduction to these characters, and choosing to make this film with horror and teen elements is just as clever as making Deadpool a full-tilt comedy. It was supposed to be the first part of a trilogy and it’s a shame we’ll miss out on that as this film quite heavily leans into a future appearances of X-men baddie, Mr. Sinister.

Just because this film was dumped by Disney, please don’t assume it’s anything bad. It’s great!

Score: ****

Format: This movie was reviewed on the Australian release, region B Bluray copy of the film. The 1.85:1 image and 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track are fabulous.

Score: *****

Extras: There’s a bunch of extras on this Bluray:

There are 7 deleted scenes which the movie really doesn’t miss at all.

Origins and Influences sees Boone, Lee and Sienkiewicz talk about the New Mutants comic. For me this is an unusual featurettes as Boone and Lee talk about how much they loved the New Mutants comic but it started off as a usual superhero comic, which for me, it definitely did not. Towards the end, it became boring and generic, but at first it was a proper school for people learning to control their abilities. I do appreciate it did become something unique when Sienkiewicz could really unleash his art style into it.

Meet the New Mutants introduces us to the cast and the characters they play.

Audio commentary with Boone and Sienkiewicz is really fascinating. To hear two storytellers from different areas of creative storytelling coming together and discussing a project they both worked on in different media. It’s so refreshing to see a comic creative get such a voice in a commentary. Normally in most superhero movies, a tiny bit of lip service is paid to the source material, or poor Stan Lee was forced to tell one of his oft-told tales again, but this really feels like a tribute to the comic. Fantastic.

There’s also the teaser and theatrical trailer.

Score: ****

WISIA: Oh boy, it’s so good it’ll get regularly rewatched!

Anya Taylor-Jot is Magikal

A Bay of Blood (1971)

A Bay of Blood (1971)

Film: Truly, in English speaking countries and outside of the fans of horror or cult cinema, the name of director Mario Bava, unjustly seems to be ignored.

Bava was the son of a filmmaker and started as a cinematographer, and was also adept at screenwriting and special effects, but really, as a director is where his talent lies. In his career he directed over almost 40, with genres including horror, fantasy, science fiction and comedy… even a movie based on a comics character (yes, Marvel didn’t do that first OR best), and many directors including Dario Argento, Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino, Joe Dante, Lucia Fulci and others claim to have been influenced by his work.

This film, A Bay of Blood, aka Twitch of the Death Nerve, Carnage, Ecologia Del Delitto (and many others) tells the tale of a series of murders that take place by the titular Bay.

The worst haircut ever gets it’s due punishment

First, the disabled owner of the bay is found hanging in her house in what was a murder made to look like suicide, but almost immediately, her murderer is also dispatched by a mysterious assailant. These events lead to a series of murders that all appear to be a cover-up for a real estate scam and an inheritance issue that just seem to escalate.

This film is clearly one of the templates for the slasher movies that came ten years later in the eighties: really just a series of gory murders, intercut with some images of boobs/ butts and a barely incoherent story to link it all together.

Not sure about the rest of you, but I don’t really have a problem with that!

Clearly, Sean Cunningham was inspired by this scene

Honestly, the story is REALLY stupid and doesn’t feel at all like any attempt has been made for any type of legitimacy for the story, and it assumes the viewer has NO understanding of how police investigations go. One could never remake this film now as the perpetrators of the film left fingerprints everywhere and even a rock with a slight understanding of forensics would have the ‘mystery’ solved within minutes. Also, so many unnecessary scenes drag on for far too long, and characters whose back stories we really don’t need to know are over-explained to the point of slowing down the story.

I say all that but it the end it is still charming, and the scenes of violence, considering this came out in 1971, are quite shocking and occasionally sophisticated in their execution. Sometimes the victim’s death scenes are just dumb though… for example, Brunhilda is clearly still breathing after her demise… for them not to ring too true, but they are excusable as not much of it feels realistic at all.

Island of Death director Nick Mastorakis said (and I paraphrase) that in making his film that he asked members of his team to come up with a bunch of horrible ways to die, and a bunch of perversions and he wrote a script around those parameters: this feels like it was made similarly.

This film also boasts the worst haircut ever seen in the history of cinema. It’s a pseudo-Afro-mullet that looks like a fake artist tried to flock a motorcycle helmet. It’s both the most horrifying and funniest thing in this film.

Having said all that, this film has a weird endearing honesty about it that makes it a joy to watch, even if the final scene is one of the most ridiculous things you’ll ever see.

Score: ***1/2

Format: This film was reviewed with the Arrow films multiregion Bluray release from 2010. It is presented in a clear, but artefact-filled 1.85:1 image with a fairly decent mono audio track.

Score: ***

Extras: Oh boy, it’s a smorgasbord of extras on this disc… are smorgasbords Italian? Do I mean tapas? No that’s Spanish… Buffet? Whatever: the point is there’s heaps of extras!

The Italian Version of the Film, with or without subtitles is included in the extras.n

The Giallo Gems of Dardano Sacchetti is an interview with the story writer of A Bay of Blood, Sacchetti, and his experiences in the Italian/ giallo film scene, including working with a Bava on this film.

Joe Dante Remembers Twitch of the Death Nerve sees director/ film enthusiast Joe Dante talk about Bava and his reception in America.

Shooting a Spaghetti Classic looks at how A Bay of Blood was shot through the eyes of assistant cameraman Gianlorenzo Battaglia.

There are also two Trailers from Hell narrated by Shaun of the Dead director, Edgar Wright, which are both for A Bay of Blood, but under two of its other names, Carnage and Twitch of the Death Nerve.

Finally there are two radio spots for the film.

Also, the review edition is the Arrow Films release from about 2010 and it has a choice of 4 different covers, a poster and a booklet about the film by Jay Slater.

Score: ****

WISIA: It’s kitschy and cute, and gory as hell! It’ll get watched again, for sure!

Follow Me (2020)

One from the to watch pile…

Follow Me (2020)

Film: I hate getting old. I really do.

Some parts of me don’t work as well as they used to, I’m not as sharp as I used to be and forget things and even worse, I don’t understand why in modern movies, the new heroes are Youtubers or Tiktokkers or Facebookers or MySpacers or whatever. Maybe that’s because in my experience a lot of these people are loudmouth jerks… occasionally entertaining, but usually obnoxious, and the youngsters these days see them as celebrities.

It would seem that filmmaker Will Wernick is hip to the kids, though! The first film of his I saw was 2017’s Escape Room, which certainly tapped into the trend of Escape Rooms as being a form of entertainment. This film, Follow Me, could essentially be a sequel as the escape room aesthetic is certainly its vibe.

Follow Me tells the story of online personality, Cole (Keegan Allen), a douchebag of the highest order with no real skill set other than to be annoying and to travel the world doing stunts and performing feats to entertain his low IQ viewers who no doubt donate to his Patreon (or whatever the universe this takes place in calls Patreon). Of course, wankers like this have entourages of similar jerks, like the girlfriend who ‘grounds’ him, Erin (Holland Rodin), his wannabe act-alike Dash (George Tanko), the extreme sports hanger-on Sam (Siya) and friend-he’s-had-for-years, Thomas (Denzil Whittaker).

Cole gets a challenge to journey to Russia by Alexei (Roman Rubinstein) to do an extreme Escape Room that will test his very limits. It starts with his friends being restrained in various traps which he has to solve the tests to release them, but when they don’t do it in one hour, he finds that his friends are in some very real trouble from Russian psychopaths who kidnap them and start torturing them for their very own YouTube channel styled thing… will Cole and his friends escape this seemingly unreal adventure, or will their bodies just go missing and they never get seen again?

Essentially what we have here is a low-rent, crappy version of Hostel, which riffs on the 80s April’s Fools Day with completely unlikeable characters performed by unlikeable actors, but modernised for the PG13 crowd.

Wernick does have a wonderful directorial style though. The set pieces are all pretty cool, if not a bit Saw-like, and the traps aren’t so hard that you or me wouldn’t figure them out so it does feel like there’s an element of realism to the events. Unfortunately there was a couple of things I was surprised at: one of the bodies in the film looks extraordinarily fake, and for some reason, occasionally Keegan Allen’s lips are lit so it looks like he has the very pinkest of pink lipstick on. Remember that episode of the I.T. crowd where Roy has lippy on after a buck’s night? THAT colour.

Unfortunately this film is just forgettable. When it’s competing for airtime against stuff like the aforementioned Hostel or any of those human-hunting-human for entertainment styled flicks, it just doesn’t stand out. Honestly, even Escape Room, which I didn’t like that much, was far better than this. I will give this film one saving grace: the absolute violence of the final kill, whilst reminiscent of Bruce Willis’ pasting of the Yellow Bastard in Sin City, was surprising.

Score: *

Format: This review was performed with the Australian Bluray release of the film whose 2.40:1 aspect ratio and Dolby digital 5.1 sound are as excellent as you would expect them to be.

Score: *****

Extras: Absolutely nothing, which to be honest, so a relief as I couldn’t care less about any behind the scenes stuff of this piece of trash

Score: 0

WISIA: Oh HELL, no! I wish I could find a way to forget I watched it ONCE!

Humongous (1982)

One from the rewatch pile…

Humongous (1982)

Film: Everyone, even non-horror fans, remembers the ‘superstars’ of 80s horror. The Jasons, the Freddys, the Michaels but not often does someone pay any creed to the ‘second stringers’, the ‘reserve grade’, the ‘wannabees’, the ‘try hards’: the ‘almost rans’ whose films didn’t become franchises, and in actual fact at times were lucky to get release at all!! They were like the guys and girls in high school who wanted to be cool, but their Best and Less leather jacket wasn’t anywhere near as cool, or bona fide, as the one you got from the Salvos that had a spew stain on it and stunk of ganja, and like those people, the B-list of horror drift into the backs of people minds, except for the occasional exception, like The Burning, but that is just because it is shit-hot.

This film was one of those that didn’t quite make it, even though it played the formula as close to the rulebook as it could. As a matter of fact, Humongous steals quite liberally from Anthropophagus The Grim Reaper as the core idea of the film is almost exact, and not so liberally from the Friday series, with the malformed son and occasionally a scene feels like it was lifted from one of the Friday films, but I guess if you wish to steal from other films, they are a good place to start!!

This release of Humongous is under the sub-title of Katarina’s Nightmare Theatre. The Katarina in question is Katarina Leigh Waters, a multi-franchise wrestler, including the WWE, who has in her sights, aspirations to be a second rate Elvira, which in turn makes her a third rate Vampira. The slick for this DVD claims to be ‘uncut’ and I have no reason to discount this claim.

Now I apologise for the way this reads, but the film IS as generic as what this sounds. Five teens, the jock, the nerdy little sister, the dickhead, the slut and the girl who obviously survives and an older man, the guys who ‘warns them of what may happen’ take refuge on a mysterious island when their boat is run into rocks and sinks. The island used to house a strange old lady who didn’t associate with the local community and kept wholly to herself. Why did she do this? Well in the 1940s, she was raped at a party and the rapist killed by her beloved dogs, but his seed laid purchase and she gave birth to a deformed freak, who, when she died, became like a giant, wild cannibal roaming the island looking for his next meal, and tasty teens sound delicious…

Ever since I got my first DVD player in 1998, I have longed for this film, and this may be my biggest problem with it. I had such high expectations as when I saw it originally on VHS in the 80s I was somewhat of a horror neophyte, and wasn’t even of AWARE of half of the stuff I have seen since, so my teen brain kept telling my adult brain how good it is.

It isn’t.

It is competent and well filmed, but hardly gory and unfortunately the script feels like someone sat down and created a ‘franchise’ rather than a complete film. It really does feel like a ‘best of’ of other horror films of the time. Thankfully one thing this release of the film offers is the rarely seen in America, extended rape sequence, which is shot from the woman’s perspective, which makes it quite harrowing.

Basically, 80s horror fans have a ‘must have’ for their collection, but only for completion purposes, other horror fans may look upon it as an OK distraction offering NOTHING new to the table.

It tries to be good, but it just doesn’t try hard enough. Why watch something TRYING to be Anthropophagus or Friday the 13th when you could actually watch them instead. If you really feel the need to watch a second string 80s horror film, watch The Burning instead… or Madman… or anything. Joy Boushel has nice knockers though, so an extra point for that.

Score: **

Format: This film is presented in 16×9 anamorphic widescreen and is a slightly below average image due to it pixelating quite frequently and the abundance of artefacts. That’s not to say it isn’t watchable, but it could be better. The soundtrack is in mono and it is what you’d imagine it would be.

Score: **

Extras: The film can be watched in two different ways. One is just with the film just directly starting and the other is with an introduction by wrestler Katarina Leigh Waters, who is provided with a pun filled script that is about as funny as constipation. Even Elvira would have rolled her eyes at some of these apparent jokes. I am not sure what wrestling has to do with horror films, but she delivers her lines with a professionalism that would make Triple H proud.

The extras on this disc are not too bad.

Audio Commentary with director Paul Lynch, Writer William Gray and Horror Historian Nathanial Thompson – moderated by Katarina Leigh Waters is a decent look at the making of the film and the Canadian ‘horror industry’ in general.

R-rated beginning scene is the ‘nice’ version of the rape scene, which contains no thrusting of the rapist, just violence and an implied rape. The quality is really quite bad though, very foggy.

Original Trailer is obviously the original trailer for Humungous. It’s a speccy, artefacty affair, but a nice inclusion.

Katarina’s Trailers are a series of random trailers though I am not sure if they are future releases on her ‘label’. They include Final Exam, Nothing but the Night, The Devil Within Her, The House on Sorority Row, The Incubus and The Pyx.

Score: ****

WISIA: I have to admit that even though I’m not the biggest fan of this flick, I do find myself rewatching regularly. I think just because it’s an easy watch.

Book Review: RESURRECTION DREAMS by RICHARD LAYMON

RESURRECTION DREAMS by RICHARD LAYMON

As a teen in the eighties, just like now, I was always more of a comic and magazine reader than a book reader. Sure as a younger kid I had read adventure stuff like Doctor Who, the Famous Five and Secret Seven, and of course movie novelizations like Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars, but I was always more interested in the monthly tales of Daredevil and the Fantastic Four, or being totally engrossed in the latest Famous Monsters of Filmland, or if I was lucky, the gory pics in a new mag known as Fangoria…

… until I discovered a gentleman by the name of Richard Laymon. In my teens, in addition to being a rabid comic reader, I was also a fanatical video hirer… so much so that my local video shop ended up HIRING me!! The movies that I loved the most were the slasher films, and whilst discussing this with a man at a local second hand book shop, he told me if I liked ‘those’ sorts of films, I’d love the books of Richard Laymon, and he sold me a $1.50 of a book called ‘Beware!!’ and I was immediately hooked.

This single book turned into a love of lurid, gore soaked tales, and so Laymon, along with Shaun Hutson, Guy N. Smith and James Herbert became high on my reading list, though Laymon was always the best.

None of his books, though, ever surpassed the absolute joy I experienced in reading this book, Resurrection Dreams, and it remains, to this day my second favourite books ever (out of interest, the first is The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks: if you haven’t read that you are missing out on an AMAZING book about one of the best literary psychotics ever).

Resurrections Dreams starts with a bang! A car accident leaves the head cheerleader and her boyfriend as corpses, hers being headless and the school’s biggest nerd, and bullying victim, Melvin decides that for his science fair project, he’s going to dig her up and attempt to resuscitate her by hooking her up to a car battery… which of course fails miserably and he finds himself thrown into a facility for those whose judgement may lean towards a more nutso end of the scale.

Several years later, our heroine, Vicki, who was the only girl particularly nice to Melvin, returns to the town after graduating university to take a job at the local Doctor’s office with the man who encouraged her to become a medic.

Upon returning to town, she stops at the local petrol station to fill her car and meets the newly released from the asylum Melvin, who is over excited to see her again. They talk about old times, and feeling uncomfortable, she finds an excuse to take her leave.

Melvin’s obsession with her returns in full swing and decides that he needs to win her over, and after trying some normal, yet over-the-top means, like giving her a car, which she summarily rejects, he tries other methods.

See Melvin wasn’t completely idle in the hospital, and his research into the reanimation of the dead has become an actuality. His first successful attempt, a nurse named Patricia, is completely in his thrall and will do ANYTHING he says, including kill for him, which he uses as a tool to execute those who have crossed Vicky, or look like they could assist her by being out of the way.

The problem with the dead he reanimates is that they are completely and absolutely dedicated to their master and get insanely jealous very easily and are extraordinarily hard to dispose of, which may spell disaster for Melvin’s ultimate plan for completely possessing Vicki.

Straight away from the synopsis you can see that Laymon has taken the all of the traditional, both cinematic and actual ‘Voodoo’, zombies and turned the idea on its head. These zombies are able to function more or less in a normal society even though they suffer of an obsession with their masters and the unreasonable character flaw of biting during sex… but Hell, who doesn’t!! This is the real strength of the book. A lot of the characters, especially Melvin, are B grade horror stereotypes, but having the zombies as functional beings rather than tools of the apocalypse makes it far more interesting that most of the walking dead stuff you may be exposed to in the current glut of zombie overexposure. He uses his skill as a writer on several occasions to surprise… well, it’s not always immediately apparent… the reader as to WHO has already been turned!

Laymon’s writing style is a pleasure to read. The words flow off the page at a great rate, and he was well aware that most interested in the subject that he writes about would not be too interested in deep subtle underlying meanings or a more flowery writing style. This is lurid pulp horror and he relishes in it!! Little goes into the descriptions of surroundings or landscape, but when it comes to gore or sex, every severed tendon and turgid member is explicitly detailed, and this is what B Grade horror film fans want from a novel, don’t they? I know THIS B grade horror fan does!

The real crime is that Laymon’s novels seem to get ignored when movie types look for projects, and Resurrection Dreams, in a world where HBO and other TV networks can show sex and horror on TV would make for an amazing series if it were given half a chance!

Overall, like I said previously, this is one of my favourite novels of all time and its ability to take the whole zombie sub-genre of horror and make it his own provide a great read for those daring enough to dig up a copy.

Score: *****

Book Review: Afterlife with Archie Vol 1

Afterlife With Archie

I have always been a comic fan, and for many years have entertained the idea of being a comic writer or artist. I mainly drew superheroes but also always found the drawings of Dan DeCarlo in Archie comics alluring. He just had this way about making the comics fun, and he really had a way of making all the women look gorgeous, which was probably from his previous occupation of drawing jokes in ‘men’s’ magazines. My love of horror leaked into my fondness for Archie and when I was about 19 I actually drew an entire comic of Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th fame, butchering his way through the Archie gang.

I had a lot of fun writing and drawing that and it featured scenes such as Veronica being cut in half during sex with Archie ( and Archie’s todger popping up in the middle of her corpse) and in a tribute to Heathers, Moose and Reggie dying after a love tryst in the woods when Voorhees first emerges from the River ( the comic was set between Friday the 13th Part VII and VIII).

Of course I knew that seeing as how Archie Comics were such a stickler for the oppressive Comics Code Authority, a self imposed body that restricts various acts in comics that may corrupt our children, that violence such as that would rarely if ever hit their books (though the inclusion of a clutch of Witches in the Sabrina comics were always a surprise) and even Archie’s brief encounter with the Punisher from Marvel Comics failed to raise too much interest, that is until now… As Archie and his friends fight the dead!

Afterlife with Archie started as a joke alternate zombie cover of the long time comic series Life With Archie, which was so popular that the makers decided that with that, and the popularity of comics such as The Walking Dead and Marvel Comics’ Marvel Zombies, that it should become a regular series.

This first collection collects the first 5 issues and has, as a bonus, all the alternate covers of the individual issues presented and artist Francesco Francavilla’s initial sketch layouts for each page, which is kind of like a DVD making of!

The story goes like this… And some of it may sound familiar. Jughead has a serious problem, his beloved dog Hot Dog was accidentally run over by Reggie late one night, so Jughead takes his dog to Sabrina, the teenage witch, to see if her aunts can bring him back to life, but they can’t as Hot Dog is well and truly gone.

Sabrina, however, visits Jughead later that night with a book called the Necronomicon which is full of dark magic, with the idea to bring the dog back to life. They go their separate ways, but Sabrina is punished by her aunts for using dark magic and banished to another dimension.

Hot Dog rises from the dead, but he has changed. He bites Jughead who of course becomes the first of the living dead and he then starts infecting the town of Riverdale, starting with the school Halloween party. Most of the gang eventually manage to escape and hole up in the Lodge residence… But are they really safe there from the legions of the undead.

I really wanted to like this comic, but it fell apart of SO many levels. First, Archie comics have a ‘look’ developed by the aforementioned Dan DaCarlo and continued since then by the likes of artists like Stan Goldberg, and occasionally they have experimented outside that look. To average success. The art in this is done more traditional comic style, and I’m sorry but if I am offered Archie Vs Zombies, that’s what I want  not something that is reminiscent of The Walking Dead. This is no criticism of artist Francesco Francavilla whose panel design and color palette for a zombie comic are fantastic, but I wanted ARCHIE comics, not a horror comic with familiar names.

Archie Comics has since completely abandoned that DeCarlo look, and I’m hoping it is to great success, and even though I’m am criticising the art as part of this review, it’s more how derivative it is that makes it a frustrating read.

Which leads me to the second, and for me the main issue, was the story. There is NOTHING new here. The resurrection of Hot Dog is stolen completely from Pet Semetary, Evil Dead’s incantation from the Necronomicon and the eventually holing up and escape from Veronica’s mansion feels a lot like the remake of Dawn of the Dead. I understand that both The Walking Dead and 28 Days Later stole their initial stories bases from The Day of the Triffids, but that doesn’t make it OK to do it in another format. Is a new idea SO hard to come by? I also get these may have been an attempt at getting horror fans onside with nudge nudge wink winks, but they’re were so obvious and cheesy that for me it felt more like fromage than homage.

With these art and story issues, it feels like it doesn’t know what it’s identity is. Is it an Archie comic or not? Is it aimed at horror fans? If so the story will disappoint, or is it aimed at Archie fans, in which case the art will disappoint. If it’s aimed at both, like I am, it will disappoint on both counts.  I will say though, the book itself, though, is nicely presented.

Overall: **

Board Game Review: Cthulhu Gloom

Cthulhu Gloom

Gloom is a card game created by Keith Baker and published in 2004; its an amusing game where the players have a tableau of cards, representing ‘their’ family, and require a desire to kill them, but not without making them suffer first… sound like your cup of poisoned tea? The general gaming populous must have also decided as it was their cup of tea as well, as it has five expansions, and three themed decks, Gloom in Space (a sci-fi version), Gloom of Thrones (a Game of Thrones version) and this one, Cthulhu Gloom, based very loosely on the work of horror/ sci-fi author Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

The way a person wins this game is by having the lowest, negative score possible, which is done by having awful events happen to your family of cards, and then killing them whilst at their lowest. A player cannot ‘kill’ one of their family members if they don’t have a negative score, so the other players must provide good events on their opponents families to stop them from being able to kill them off. The first person to kill their entire family wins.

Seriously, Gloom the movie would potentially be hilarious.

The rules of this game are very simple. In front of each player is a selection of cards representing members of a family, and each player has a hand of 5 cards and on each turn, can perform 2 actions: play cards to their or other’s families, following any or all instructions upon those cards, or discard cards, drawing more cards up to the starting hand of five at the end of each turn.

The cards you’ll mostly be playing are cards that add or subtract points from each character, which is how the game is won: by having the lowest possible score. You can also throw an ‘untimely death’ card onto a character, which is how you can either make points for yourself, or beat another player by stopping a character from ‘earning’ more misfortune, as there is nothing worse than death… right?

The really amazing thing about this game is that the cards are all transparent so when you are playing a card, the negative points act as an overlay, which means every negative or positive that can be seen accumulate to make your score, and you can drop the score of another player by giving fortune cards which have positive points which may cover the players negatives point score.

The most fun can be had with this game by actually reading aloud some of the misfortunes that happen, like ‘minced by Mi-Go’, will occasionally bring a smile to everyone’s faces, especially those who are familiar with Lovecraft’s work.

Atlas Games are obviously aware of some of the unfortunate opinions of when Lovecraft wrote his stories, and so some characters have been give Mad Magazine styled alter-egos so as not to offend.

All in all, Gloom is a fun game for a quick throw around or a games night party-starter, and those who love a Lovecraft theme (like me) this game is an entertaining distraction that can still be macabre fun in an Addam’s Family style for those who aren’t fans of his work.

Score: ***

The Hills Run Red (2009)

One from the rewatch pile…

The Hills Run Red (2009)

Film: One of the joys of being a VHS/ DVD/ Lazerdisc/ BD/ Betamax collector is the hunt. Thinking you know everything about a certain type of film, but then discovering, either through research or, thanks to the internet, a group interest that there is more to buy, more to collect. The most satisfying moment is when you get your hands on that rarity: though the joy is generally shortlived as you quickly discover yet another missing treasure. 

If this sounds familiar, The Hills Run Red is the film for you.

Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrinck) is a film fanatic who is obsessed with a missing film called The Hills Run Red, a horror film about a killer nicknamed Babyface (Danko Iordanov), which was directed by notorious reclusive filmmaker Concannon (William Sadler). He has plans of making a documentary about it, along with girlfriend Serina (Janet Montgomery) and best pal Lalo (Alex Wyndham) but all he needs is a lead in.

This lead comes when his research brings him to Concannon’s daughter Alexa (Sophie Monk), a heroin addicted stripper who he helps get cleaned up. After Alexa dries out, she takes the three to the backwoods town where the film was made, but what they find is a lot worse than anything they could have possible imagined.

What they find is that Babyface is a real creature and not a fictional character at all, and maybe film and reality aren’t so different from each other.

This film is directed by Dave Parker, who was also responsible for The Dead Hate the Living and written by David J. Schow, a fairly well known name in horror as he wrote 2 Critters films (specifically 3 and 4), Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part III, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and probably most famously, The Crow.

This has some interesting Scream type elements that appropriately get turned on their head. One of the characters whilst venturing into the woods talks about horror film conventions, and shows his mobile phone is working, he has back-up flares in case the torches don’t work and a gun in case they get into trouble. Brilliantly, these modern back-up plans backfire and are used against them.

This is a thematic constant in the film as well; just when the bitter old horror fan inside you goes ‘I know what will happen next’, it doesn’t. There are some great extra creepy moments in this film that are all based around this idea of being atypical.

The film is only quite short, and the I believe that even so, this films bangs along at quite an appropriate pace. At no time was I bored, except maybe during the five minute long closing credits and the film had my attention at all times, especially during any scene of Babyface- driven carnage or of Sophie Monk supplying anything contained within her knocker locker.

I honestly think this is the best 80s styled slasher that wasn’t made in the 80s, and I enjoyed it thoroughly!

Score: *****

Format: Whilst the film is only a fairly recent one and maintains a fairly good level of detail, I did find on occasion that the picture was a little soft. Also a few CGI effects weren’t blended into the color scheme of the film and stuck out like dogs balls in mouse ball soup. The Hills Run Red was presented in  2.40:1 widescreen.The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The use of the subwoofer in jumpscares is so great that I must admit I almost blasted excrement from the depths of my bowels on at least two occasions. A grand time was had by all… well except for the lounge I was sitting on.

Easily my favourite slasher film in years. Perfect sized doses (all lethal) of beatings, brutalizations, babes and breasts all make for a great film, but don’t think this film is light on story either. I love it.

Score: ***

Extras: Only two extras on this:

Commentary by Director Dave Parker, Writer David J. Schow and Producer Robert Meyer Burnett  is a quite animated commentary from the three. It covers a hell of a lot of stuff about of the film, and one gets a greater appreciation of the film when one hears how deliberately they avoided referencing other films directly, even though the film is about film fans falling afoul of filmmakers.

It’s Not Real Until you Shoot It: The Making of the Hills Run Red is a great look at the filming of The Hills Run Red. It has a selection of interviews with almost all the cast and crew and is both funny and informative.

Score: ***

WISIA: Oh goodness, yes.

BOOK REVIEW : Venus in the Blind Spot by Junji Ito

Venus in the Blind Spot by Junji Ito

Whilst I have been a fan of comics for as long as I can remember, other than a few dalliances with Shonen Jump, arguably the biggest source of Japanese comics (or manga, if you prefer) I’ve never really read much except for a few reprints that companies like Dark Horse Comics did in the nineties, and the entire Akira series by Katsuhiro Ôtomo that Epic Comics, an adult line of Marvel set to emulate the more Euro Heavy Metal, released during the eighties.

I’ve always liked the style of Japanese art seen on anime like Battle of the Planets, Kum Kum, Kimba, Marine Boy, Astro Boy and the stunning space saga that is Macross aka Robotech, and I admire the fact that with manga, in general, one creator works on a title until they decide to give it up… I wonder how long Marvel would have survived if creators like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko just stopped Fantastic Four or Spiderman! I don’t know why I didn’t jump onto manga more, especially when on considers how much I loved a comic by Guinea Pig film conceptualist and mangaka (comic creator) Hideshi Hino, whose manga Panorama of Hell sat me firmly down and taught me that there was more to horror comics than the sexualised fantasies of Vampirella, or the sub-superhero is exploits of western horror characters like Werewolf by Night and Morbius.

This brings me to my more recent discovery of the work of Junji Ito. Ito was a dental technician who submitted work to a magazine called Gekkan Halloween (translation: Monthly Halloween… who wouldn’t love a monthly Halloween?) which was well received and became his series Tomie, about an immortal girl who curses the men she comes across. Ito has sited Hino and H. P. Lovecraft amongst his influences so how could I not immediately fall for his work?

This volume of his work, Venus in the Blind Spot, is a collection of 10 short stories, mostly in his exquisite tight black lines, but occasionally with colour pages or splashes of colour for effect, and a few mini-posters taken from covers of other comics like No Longer Human. This is all wrapped in a beautiful hardcover volume which has a double sided dust jacket: a similar image is on both sides (that of a beautiful blonde woman seen in the reflection of an eye) but the interior cover is clean (and the woman is smiling instead of staring blankly) with none of the titles obscuring it. This dust cover hides, on the actual cover, a terrifying image of the remains of a man being crushed by the foundations of a house, taken from one of the tales on the inside.

In this collection, there are several tales which are amazing: Billions Alone, which tells of a killer who is sewing people together, The Human Chair, based on a story by Edogawa Ranpo, a tale about a mythical chair that has a person living within it, An Unearthly Love, also based on a Ranpa story, which sees a woman married to a man with an unusual affection for a manikin, the very Lovecraftian The Licking Woman about a woman who attacks people and licks them, leaving a deadly rash where her tongue has touched, Keepsake, about the child born of a dead woman and finally, the masterfully bizarre story of The Enigma of Amigara Fault, a story of an earthquake that reveals a crevice covered in human shaped holes that seemingly echo actual people’s body shapes, causing them to have a compulsive need to enter them.

Unfortunately the other stories didn’t resonate too much with me, though I do think the art of Venus in the Blind Spot, the story of a girl who mysteriously disappears when you get close to her, is possibly some of Ito’s finest. I had a particular dislike for the fanboy-ish Master Umezz and Me, in which Ito explains his own obsession with mangaka Kazuo Umezu, who created the manga The Drifting Classroom, which Ito respectfully parodies/ pays homage to with his own manga The Dissolving Classroom.

The first thing anyone will notice about Ito’s work is how beautiful it is. His characters are all exquisitely beautiful in the execution, with delicate features and calm stature, which is juxtapositions fantastically by the grotesque monstrosities that they become when angered, or due to unfortunate circumstance, which is the key to great horror.

Of course, thematically one would expect there are occasional ideas that seem unusual which are due to culture and tradition, but when the actual stories themes kick off, they are quickly overlooked. His ideas of compulsion and obsession are prevalent and perhaps reveal that doom comes to those who are unable to control them.

This volume has some good stories in it, but it’s probably for completists of Ito only, and a starting reader might do better with Tomie, Gyo or Uzumaki instead.

This volume is published by Viz Media.

***