Graphic Novel Review – Judge Dredd: Trifecta (2013)

Judge Dredd: Trifecta
by Al Ewing, Simon Spurrier, Rob Williams, Simon Coleby, Henry Flint, D’Israeli & Carl Critchlow
Release Date: August 15, 2013
Publisher: 2000 AD Graphic Novels

Judge-Dredd_Trifecta

I mentioned a few months ago that I had recently (at that time) gotten back into comics and graphic novels. I’m certainly still into them, although I have to confess that I’m still new to a few titles that I love. The Judge Dredd universe is one of those titles; from what I’ve seen, I’m a big fan…but I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s there. So when the fine folks over at 2000 AD graced me with a copy of JUDGE DREDD: TRIFECTA, I was pleasantly surprised with what I found.

If you are not familiar with JUDGE DREDD: TRIFECTA, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of 2000 AD:

MEGA-CITY ONE, 2134 AD. While a severely depleted Justice Department struggles to cope in the aftermath of Chaos Day, Judge Dredd becomes aware of a potential power grab from within. Meanwhile ‘Wally Squad’ gumshoe Jack Point is given a mysterious doll to safeguard, and Dirty Frank wakes up on Luna-1 only to discover that he is now a board member of Overdrive Inc.!
It’s business as (un)usual for the three Mega-City One lawmen, and as their cases intertwine they’ll need to work together in order to save the city from total destruction!

As a self-proclaimed geek, I am chagrined to admit that I had never really read Dredd prior to my adulthood life. Because of this, as I mentioned above, I’m obviously out of the loop on certain things. For example, Jack Point is a new(er) character to me. But I really enjoy his storyline, and I find it interesting how he can be a key character in Dredd’s universe AND be intertwined with the story at large.

JUDGE DREDD: TRIFECTA is written very well and the storyline flows at a nice clip. The illustrations are nicely done and look great. The plot is in-depth but engaging, and it never gets stale. In short, you can’t ask for much more in a comic.

I highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoys comics or simply a good, futuristic yet brutal story. TRIFECTA delivers the goods when it comes to Judge Dredd, and I will definitely be visiting this universe again. This graphic novel is available now, so check it out.

MSB

Movie Review – Fear the Forest (2009)

Fear the Forest
Directed by Matthew Bora
Courtesy of MVD Entertainment
Release Date: August 20, 2013

Fear the Forest

As a guy who has been behind the camera a couple of times, I know the joys and pains that being a filmmaker can bring. Making movies is definitely not as easy as some people think. Because I realize how tough the process can be, I always feel bad when I have to give a negative review to a low-budget film. Such is the case here with FEAR THE FOREST. This film has its heart in the right place, but unfortunately the execution is far from enjoyable.

If you’re not familiar with FEAR THE FOREST, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of MVD:

Ten Years ago, there was a “Ghost-like something” seen killing people in the woods as people were culled away one by one and some never to be found. What really happened? This year reports have surfaced that it was all just a “Hoax.” A local philanthropist believes differently and puts a $2.5 Million Dollar Bounty on this “Beast” in the woods and a team of expert hunters go out looking for the “Silent Killer.”

I really wanted to like this one. The cover looks cool and the premise sounds intriguing. But sometimes a film can simply be TOO low-budget. The production in this film falls flat and the resulting product looks (and sounds) like a high school A/V project gone bad.

FEAR THE FOREST is one of those films that could be a blockbuster hit…if it had a bigger budget, if it had better acting and special effects, and if it was promoted correctly (I personally don’t think a monster or creature should ever be put on a DVD cover…let us find out what it looks like in the film!). As you can see, that’s a big list of ‘ifs’, and its just too overwhelming.

The film looks as if it were shot on an old VHS home video camera. The sound is way too muted and, in some cases, the actors cannot be heard over wind and ambient background noise. The blood/gore doesn’t look too great (looks evidently fake), although the creature effects are not half bad. I’m not sure if I would have chosen the particular look for the Bigfoot legend, but they do look pretty good onscreen.

As much as it pains me to say this, I cannot with a clear conscience recommend this film to anyone. I’m sure it is a labor of love, however FEAR THE FOREST is simply so low-budget that it hurts. I would give this one a pass and wait to see what director Matthew Bora does next.

MSB

TV Show Review – The Walking Dead, season 3

The Walking Dead, season 3
Courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment and AMC
Release Date: August 27, 2013

The Walking Dead 3

If you are not watching THE WALKING DEAD, you must really hate excellent television. This show, by far, has to be the best drama on television right now. And that’s really saying something, as it has been on the air for three seasons already. With mind-blowing special effects, strong characterizations, and a gripping premise, this is one show that you cannot afford to miss.

If you’re not familiar with THE WALKING DEAD, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment:

Based on the hugely popular graphic novels by Robert Kirkman, THE WALKING DEAD continues to draw in record audiences. Season 3 follows the weary group of survivors led by police officer Rick Grimes, as they take refuge in a prison and attempt to set up a permanent camp. But while invading zombies are an ever-present danger, they must also battle the living, not only in the form of abandoned prisoners, but also the sadistic “Governor” and his followers.

Ok, I’m sure you’re thinking that I’m biased because I’m such a huge zombie fan…and you’re partially right. But even non-horror fans love this show; my wife, who does not enjoy horror at all, is a testament to this. She is a huge fan of THE WALKING DEAD, and she even talks openly about liking the zombies!

The show is shot very well and the acting is superb. The premise, while obviously fictional, is terrifyingly real and immerses viewers in a bleak and horrifying world. This backdrop allows for a roller-coaster ride of drama and terror as the survivors fight to survive both the living and the dead.

Season three of THE WALKING DEAD introduces several new characters and even kills off a couple of existing ones; I will not go into details, in case you have not heard, but one of the main characters makes a heart-wrenching exit in this season. I was quite surprised and somewhat shocked when it happened…but I suppose it was inevitable that someone had to die at some point.

This is by far the most intense season yet, and I cannot wait to see what happens in season four. I do not read the comics, so all of this is new to me. I understand, however, that avid fans of Kirkman’s series applaud AMC for its efforts to stay true to the source material, which is a huge testament to the show as well.

I highly recommend THE WALKING DEAD, and I suggest you check it out immediately if you do not watch it already. The previous seasons are available in a variety of formats, so give them a look. And be sure to check the series out on Blu-ray, if you can. The HD picture and sound greatly enhance the viewing experience, and there are a large number of nice bonus features to enjoy as well.

Season three hits store shelves tomorrow, August 27, 2013.

MSB

Book Review – Bedtime Stories for Carrion Beetles by Adrian Ludens (2012)

Bedtime Stories for Carrion Beetles
by Adrian Ludens
Release Date: September 12, 2012
Publisher: Self-published

bedtime stories

When you read the title of this book, what is the first thing that pops into your mind? My first thought was “That is a hell of a title, and I want to read this book!” This should be your initial reaction as well. BEDTIME STORIES FOR CARRION BEETLES is a collection of 19 short stories from author Adrian Ludens; most of these tales would be classified as horror, although there is a steampunk story and a couple of simply quirky ones as well. But regardless of how their classified, these short stories will no doubt entertain every reader that ventures into them.

If you are not familiar with BEDTIME STORIES FOR CARRION BEETLES, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of the book cover:

Meet Will. A horde of insects reside in his stomach, but he’s more afraid of his insurance company. Lizzie and Rowena are independent, in love, and hide an army of undead Confederate soldiers in their root cellar. Nicky really needs to resolve some issues with her father, but she’ll have to dig him up to do it. And Melvin never touches the food in his fridge, but eats like a king when his neighbors fight.

Learn why taxidermy and classic literature don’t mix, and discover what a desperate mortician’s assistant will do for love. Children master the dark art of necromancy, and an Old West legend gets turned upside-down.

Nineteen short stories ranging from steampunk mystery to harrowing horror are contained in BEDTIME STORIES FOR CARRION BEETLES.

I’m curious as to how the author came up with such a vivid and unique title. It certainly catches the eye (and the brain). It is also a very accurate description for the tales in this collection. I would wager that other flesh-devouring insects (and creatures, for that matter) might enjoy these as well.

The stories in BEDTIME STORIES FOR CARRION BEETLES are all written well and exemplify a master-craftsman at work. It is very apparent that Ludens is well-studied in the art of short story writing, as his tales are all succinct and flow easily. He does not embellish with unnecessary prose, but instead gets right to the point.

One of my favorite stories is “A Good Game”. This tale is mentioned in the above description, however I’m not going to tell you which one it is. This is a wickedly fun story, and I actually smiled as I read the end of it. I am impressed with the originality, not to mention the story itself.

Another favorite is “Solitary Man”. In this one, a prison guard is telling his comatose son a story about work, particularly about a jailed writer. Things are not what they seem to be for this best-selling prisoner, and the final sentence in this story will definitely give you a chill.

BEDTIME STORIES FOR CARRION BEETLES is an excellent short story collection, and it is one that every fan of horror literature will want to own. Be sure and give this one a look. It is available now, on Amazon and the author’s website, in a variety of formats.

MSB

TV Show Review – Star Trek: Enterprise, season 2

Star Trek: Enterprise, season 2
Courtesy of CBS & Paramount
Original Air Date: 2002
Release Date: August 20, 2013

star-trek-enterprise-s2-brd-3d

I have to confess that I never dreamed I would enjoy a Star Trek series as much as I did STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE. Sure, I’ve seen various incarnations of Star Trek in the past, including the original series with Kirk and Spock, the Next Generation with Picard, and even a few movies after that. But none of them struck a chord with me as much as Enterprise; this show is darker and grittier than its predecessors, which gives it a nice twist in a familiar universe.

If you are not familiar with STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of CBS:

Where no one has gone before! Beginning with season one’s epic cliffhanger, experience the adventures of the Enterprise NX-01 crew as Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) and his crew explore the far reaches of space long before the United Federation of Planets was formed. The crew is tested as Chief Engineer Charles “”Trip”” Tucker III (Connor Trinneer) is abducted while Science Officer T’Pol (Jolene Blalock) struggles with a life-threatening disease. Witness the real first contact of Humans and Vulcans, the return of a familiar Star Trek alien, and the origins of Archer’s early career – all leading up to the explosive finale.

Prior to watching this second season, I had to track down season one on Netflix and tear through it. It was not hard to do, either, because once I started watching it, I was hooked! This show has more spirit and heart than any Trek series before it.

STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE is set 100 years prior to the original Kirk missions, when humanity is just reaching out into the stars. For this reason, most everything is new, including the protocols for how humans interact with aliens and such. This is the primary draw for me, the true unknown and how we deal with it.

The series is done very well from a production standpoint. It looks great onscreen and no expense is spared when it comes to special effects; the aliens look original and the computer animation is tight. From a television standpoint, science-fiction doesn’t get much better than this.

Season two picks up right where one left off, and let me tell you: it’s intense. I will not divulge anything else, so as to not give anything away, but I was very pleased. In fact, I’m pleased with the whole season, and I am looking forward to watching the whole series.

STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE is a big win for me, and if you’re a fan of science-fiction, this will be a must-have. Be sure and check it out on Blu-ray, too…the sometimes low-picture quality on Netflix was disappointing, but seeing the show in HD is stunning. Not to mention the plethora of Special Features that come along with it. Regardless of what format you choose, though, I highly recommend giving this show a look.

MSB

Book Review – Savage Species by Jonathan Janz (2013)

Savage Species
by Jonathan Janz
Release Date: September 3, 2013
Publisher: Samhain Publishing

savage-species-main-cover

Before I sat down to write this review, I tried several times in my head to come up with an opening sentence bold enough to fit this book. My first idea was this: “I don’t care who you are or what kind of books you read…drop what you’re doing and go buy SAVAGE SPECIES immediately!” I thought that might be a bit harsh, but it certainly conveys my feelings towards author Jonathan Janz’s newest release. If you only read one horror book this year, you need to make damn sure it’s this one.

If you’re not familiar with SAVAGE SPECIES, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Samhain Publishing:

Jesse thinks he’s caught a break when he, the girl of his dreams, and her friend are assigned by their newspaper to cover the opening weekend of the Peaceful Valley Nature Preserve, a sprawling, isolated state park. But the construction of the park has stirred an evil that has lain dormant for nearly a century, and the three young people—as well as every man, woman, and child unlucky enough to be attending the grand opening—are about to encounter the most horrific creatures to ever walk the earth. A species so ferocious that Peaceful Valley is about to be plunged into a nightmare of bloodshed and damnation.

A whole myriad of terms come to mind instantly when I think about this book: “relentless”…”ferocious”…”intense”…”brutal”…”amazing”. No single word, though, seems to do it justice. With this book, Janz has reset the bar for horror excellence. This is now the standard by which all future horror books should be judged.

It is simply that good. Period.

But what makes SAVAGE SPECIES so wickedly great? Several factors, actually. It is written very well, with vivid prose and fast pacing. The characters are well fleshed out and believable. And the action is intense and unyielding. Not to mention the plot itself.

But the horror…oh yes, the sweet, savory horror…that is what makes this novel so delicious. I had to stop reading at a few points just to catch my breath and reassure myself that this is only fiction. This books is absolutely relentless! It will take you deep into the bowels of the earth…and then rip you apart.

The intensity of SAVAGE SPECIES never lets up, and that’s one of the main reasons I like it so much. Every time you think things are about to slow down, something else pops up…and wow, do things escalate! Try as I might here, I simply cannot put into words how much I enjoyed this book.

Obviously, this one is a huge win for me and I urge you to read this ASAP once it hits store shelves in a couple of weeks. This is a taut horror novel that will take you on a gore-filled thrill-ride, a trip that you will never forget. Check this one out for sure.

MSB

Movie Review – The Guillotines (2013)

The Guillotines
Directed by Andrew Lau
Courtesy of Well Go USA
Release Date: August 13, 2013

The-Guillotines-DVD-Box-Art

I know you’re not supposed to judge a book (or a movie) by its cover, but the picture on the cover of THE GUILLOTINES was enough to immediately hook me. Then, I saw the trailer, and that solidified my desire to see the film. Interestingly enough, however, the movie is not quite as action-packed as the trailer makes it out to be. This is not a bad thing, as the film is a moving, character-driven drama…but I have to confess that with the given premise, I was really hoping for more fighting.

If you are not familiar with THE GUILLOTINES, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Well Go USA:

A secret brotherhood of assassins–The Guillotines–once favored by the Emperor, are now a force of terror and oppression under a new regime. Exiled to a remote village and hunted by a squad of fighters with firearms that challenge their cold steel, The Guillotines must now outwit and outfight enemies from both sides.

I’ve read several negative reviews of this film, however I do not agree with a single one of them. I think many folks went into it thinking it was a straight up action flick, and honestly, I was one of them; but pretty early on, you can tell that’s not what you’re getting. Instead of insane martial arts, this film is chocked full of emotion and artistry, and it paints a vivid portrait of loyalty and duty that can sometimes clash with brotherhood.

THE GUILLOTINES is shot well and looks great onscreen. The CG effects are lower-budget, but they’re of no consequence overall; most of them are used for the weapons, which are also called Guillotines. Each sword contains a razor-edged ring that can be hurled at enemies to decapitate, amputate, or simply maim them. As such, you would think there would be a lot of gore here, too…but that’s simply not the case, either. The lack of carnage was one of the low points of the film for me.

But that shouldn’t dissuade you from checking this film out. It is a taut dramatic piece that focuses on the characters and their individual plights. Some are dealing with loyalty to the Emperor even though he is making the wrong decisions…some are dealing with their destinies as a ‘prophet’ to the oppressed, even though they don’t feel worthy…and yet others are dealing with their loyalties to brotherhood, even though they might not feel the kinship they once did. Regardless of where their personal demons dwell, each character is out to slay them.

Don’t go into THE GUILLOTINES expecting a martial-arts or action extravaganza. If you do, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, watch this one for what it is: a riveting period piece that is driven by the cast. Do this, and you should enjoy yourselves. The film is available now.

MSB

Movie Review – The House of Seven Corpses (1974)

The House of Seven Corpses
Directed by Paul Harrison
Courtesy of Severin Films
Original Release Date: 1974
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: August 13, 2013

House-of-Seven-Corpses-Blu-Keyart

I have heard the title THE HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES a few times over the years but never saw it in any of the video stores I frequented, nor did I know anyone that had watched it. So, when the fine folks at CAV and Severin announced they were releasing it on Blu-ray, I figured I had to give it a shot. After all, it was originally released one month after I was born. I watched it alone, late at night, and enjoyed it for the most part, although it does have some annoying aspects here and there.

If you are not familiar with THE HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Severin Films:

Eight graves! Seven bodies!” screamed the ads, “One killer… and he’s already dead!” Hollywood legends John Ireland (RED RIVER, SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS), John Carradine (THE GRAPES OF WRATH, VAMPIRE HOOKERS) and Howard Hughes’ paramour Faith Domergue (CULT OF THE COBRA, THIS ISLAND EARTH) star this much-loved `70s shocker about a film crew shooting an occult drama in a sinister manor – actually the former Utah Governor’s Mansion – with its own grisly history of family bloodshed. From its notoriously gruesome opening to the creepy zombie-attack climax, revisit the old-school favorite that Bloody Disgusting hails as “a classic Saturday afternoon `Creature Feature’ scare” as you’ve never seen it before, now transferred in HD from original vault materials and featuring an exclusive archive interview with the legendary horror icon Carradine and a revealing new audio commentary. Bonus Features: Exclusive Interview With Star John Carradine; Audio Commentary With Associate Producer Gary Kent Moderated By The Alamo Drafthouse’s Lars Nilsen; Theatrical Trailer.

To truly appreciate a film like this, you have to look at the time period in which it was made. Hammer Horror was winding down in the early 70s, however the Gothic presence from its Golden Years was still impacting films in these days. As a result, many filmmakers, both domestic and foreign, were still trying to capture that dark, brooding feel. THE HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES is one of those attempts. And while it does manage to do so, the film itself drags for a while before things start to happen.

The slow build-up is the primary flaw in this film, unfortunately. It is 90 minutes long, but the first 60 minutes is spent trying to get the audience to believe in and care about the characters. This is a bit hard to do, given their two-dimensional personalities. But once the action starts, the interest in the film picks up considerably.

I wish I could understand the ending better, but it honestly didn’t make sense to me. I went back and re-watched the twist, just to see if I had missed something. But I was still left confused.

Still, even though I’ve listed a couple of negatives here, the film is entertaining overall and it is a nice homage to Hammer’s Gothic atmospheres. The zombie effects look excellent and I would love to see how they put them together.

The digital transfer for THE HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES looks amazing; the clarity of the picture on Blu-ray is excellent for a 40 year-old film, and the sound quality is nice as well. There are some scene transitions in the original film that are jerky and therefore probably couldn’t be fixed in the transfer, but that is simply due to the editing quality of the time period.

THE HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES will be a win for fans of old-style horror and nostalgic 70s trips back in time. Be sure and check this one out on Blu-ray if you get the chance; the HD is definitely worth the extra money. This film is available now.

MSB

Book Review – Lenore: Purple Nurples by Roman Dirge (2013)

Lenore: Purple Nurples (Volume 5)
by Roman Dirge
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Titan Books

Lenore

I was introduced to Lenore last year, thanks to the fine folks at Titan Books. My review is long gone, as my blog crashed a couple of months afterwards, however my love of all things Lenore remains. So imagine how excited I was to get PURPLE NURPLES in the mail a couple of days ago! I’m proud to announce that Lenore gets better with age. This new collection is a riotous follow-up to SWIRLIES that will have you cringing as much as you laugh!

If you are not familiar with with LENORE: PURPLE NURPLES, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Titan Books:

When there’s no more room in Hell, or if they just get a little bit bored, the dead shall walk the earth! Lenore, the cute little dead girl, is back, determined to carry on exactly where she left off, being beastly to Mr Gosh, accidentally squishing small cute animals, making friends with all manners of monsters! Collecting issues 4 to 7 of the sold out comic series and beautifully and painstakingly illustrated by creator Roman Dirge.

I mentioned in the last review that the Los Angeles Times describes the Lenore series as, “Sweet and strange and slightly discomforting…an unholy union between Tim Burton and Dr. Seuss.” This holds true throughout this book as well, and I can’t think of a better way to describe the odd excellence that is Lenore.

In LENORE: PURPLE NURPLES, the titular little dead girl gets into a whole new mess of problems, and this time she even incites the wrath of the evil Creepig. I found this part to be my favorite of this series, especially when she and Ragamuffin watch their friend Pooty square off against the foul beast. What commences next is the greatest battle of all-time!

I cannot find a single flaw with the LENORE series, which is a huge compliment. It never gets stale, it doesn’t rehash things previously seen, and it keeps the laughs (and cringes) coming at a steady pace. In short, it’s immensely entertaining and full of originality.

LENORE: PURPLE NURPLES is a huge win for me and I can’t wait to see what author Roman Dirge does next. With any luck, we won’t have to wait another year to see a new collection published. But even if we do, I definitely have to check it out. Give this one a look for sure.

MSB

Movie Review – Deadly Swarm (2003)

Deadly Swarm
Directed by Paul Andresen
Courtesy of Lionsgate
Original Release Date: 2003
Release Date: August 13, 2013

deadly-swarm

If you’ve ever seen a Sci-Fi Channel movie from back in the day, then you know already what kind of production quality to expect. But even though they are usually lower-budget films, they can still be fun. Take, for example, DEADLY SWARM, an insect-filled horror flick from 2003. This movie, while not good enough to win any awards, is entertaining and even almost clean enough to be dubbed a ‘family-friendly’ film…almost being the key word there.

If you are not familiar with DEADLY SWARM, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Lionsgate:

Seeking out a cure for his wife’s serious illness, gonzo scientist Jacob Schroeder (J. Patrick McCormack) heads deep into a forbidden jungle in Guatemala, trapping thousands of killer wasps. Working with secret military backing, it is Schroeder’s contention that the venom from the wasp’s stingers can be of great medicinal benefit. But when they try to illegally smuggle the wasps into the US, the truck they are on crashes and the wasps are set free to wreak havoc, making a direct path to a small unsuspecting town. It is up to an American entomologist Daniel Lang (Shane Brolly) and a nosey writer Sandra Kern (Kaarina Aufranc) to stop these deadly wasps – as they lay eggs in their victims to hatch thousands more wasps – before it’s too late.

Notice above how I used ‘Sci-Fi Channel’ instead of ‘SyFy Channel’. This is because the name change didn’t occur until just a few years ago. As you can see, this film is 10 years old, and was thus presented during the golden age of the channel’s film library.

DEADLY SWARM has some decent acting and the premise is pretty cool for the horror genre. I mean, how could any horror fan not want to see a swarm of killer wasps sting people to death? It was definitely a major selling point for me.

But unfortunately, we don’t get to see any of that happen. I’m sure it was due to budget constraints, but all we get to see are a couple of bodies that have swollen welts on them to indicate where the stings occurred. As a result, gore-hounds wanting carnage will not be happy with this flick.

However, if you can look past that, DEADLY SWARM is sure to entertain for fans of low-budget flicks like me. I mentioned that it’s almost family-friendly because there are two F-bombs in it, but otherwise it’s pretty tame.

I recommend DEADLY SWARM, but don’t expect a big Hollywood production going into it. Just enjoy it for what it is, and you’ll have a good time.

MSB