Book Review – The Grim Company by Luke Scull (2013)

The Grim Company
by Luke Scull
Release Date: September 3, 2013
Publisher: Roc Hardcover

The Grim Company

I always seem to enjoy stories that have antiheroes as their lead characters. I would wager many other readers do as well because there’s just something about non-traditional heroes that many of us seem to connect with. THE GRIM COMPANY, the new novel by video game designer Luke Scull, gives its readers several of these sad-sacks with which to make a connection. And while not perfect, this book and its characters are entertaining and definitely worth checking out.

If you are not familiar with THE GRIM COMPANY, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of the Penguin Group (Roc) website:

The Gods are dead. The Magelord Salazar and his magically enhanced troops, the Augmentors, crush any dissent they find in the minds of the populace. On the other side of the Broken Sea, the White Lady plots the liberation of Dorminia, with her spymistresses, the Pale Women. Demons and abominations plague the Highlands. The world is desperately in need of heroes. But what they get instead are a ragtag band of old warriors, a crippled Halfmage, two orphans and an oddly capable manservant: the Grim Company.

I can certainly see this book translated into a game, which is fitting since the author designs them as his day job. This begs the question of whether or not there will be a game tie-in with it. Even if there are no plans to do so, I would love to see how it would turn out, and I would bet many other readers out there would as well.

The storyline in THE GRIM COMPANY is dark and well thought-out. The intrigue is deep and the battles are brutal, just like fantasy should be. I could practically smell the blood and sweat as if I was right there on the battlefields with them. The detail in the prose is not overbearing and does not weigh down the action as the story progresses.

But while THE GRIM COMPANY is a good book overall, it does have its flaws. The primary one that sticks out to me is Scull’s writing style; while his grammar and syntax are proper and correct, the sentences do not flow together like they should. I found the style overall to be slightly cumbersome, which forced me to reread several passages throughout the book. I would not let this dissuade you from giving it a shot, however I feel like it is worth mentioning.

THE GRIM COMPANY is a heck of a debut, though, and is definitely worthy of attention. As this is the author’s first book, he is certainly allowed a lot of leeway as he refines his craft. I am putting Scull on my list of authors to watch, and I will definitely be looking for his future work. I recommend you do the same.

MSB

Documentary Review – Halloween Home Haunts (2013)

Halloween Home Haunts
Courtesy of Apprehensive Films
Release Date: September 17, 2013

Halloween

If you live anywhere near civilization, you probably already know that Halloween, for some people, is as popular as Christmas. Some folks will go to great lengths and expense to turn their houses and property into graveyards, ghost-filled hospitals, haunted mine-shafts, and just about any other scary backdrop you can think of. These are the people that make Halloween fun for adults. In HALLOWEEN HOME HAUNTS, we get a closer look at a few of these ‘home-haunters’, and we get to see firsthand how they put together their attractions.

If you are not familiar with HALLOWEEN HOME HAUNTS, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Apprehensive Films:

The new documentary from Apprehensive Films follows eight Home Haunters in their pursuit to transform their nice suburban homes into visions of the macabre. Their obsession with Halloween has led them to spend thousands of dollars, dedicate countless hours and resources to achieve their horrific attractions and to scare the daylights out of unsuspecting trick-or-treaters. We’ll meet all sorts of different haunters, from basic yard haunts to those so extreme they go beyond their property lines. Special features include: Trailers, Spotlight on Hauntcast, Larry Scholl’s Tiki Room, Alternate Opening and Behind the Scenes at Night Frights.

My buddy Hayes over at Hayes Hudson’s House of Horror is one of these home-haunters, although he doesn’t take it to the extreme like some of the folks in this documentary. This group of people might be called obsessive, although the results of their passion can clearly be seen in the crowds they draw.

HALLOWEEN HOME HAUNTS is shot well and looks good onscreen. The format of the documentary is more of an interview-style than an informative piece, but it works for this film. The result is not as intimate, but it does give a nice portrait of who these people are and the drive behind what they do.

I like how the producers highlight each attraction by doing a camera ‘walk-through’ of each one at the end of the segment. Set to eerie mood music, this walk-through gives the audience the experience of enjoying the attraction without actually being there.

HALLOWEEN HOME HAUNTS is an informative and entertaining look into a few major haunts that you might want to check out in-person. I recommend this documentary for anyone who likes Halloween or wants ideas on how to spruce up their existing decorations. The film hits store shelves next week, so give it a look.

MSB

Movie Review – The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond (2013)

The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond
Directed by Gabriel Bologna
Courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release Date: September 10, 2013

Black-Waters-Blu-ray

I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO’S POND. The cover artwork looks awesome, with the rippling demonic face, and the plot is definitely intriguing. Add in the fact that I love Danielle Harris, and of course this was a must-see. I’m happy to report the film is just as good as I was hoping it would be, and it’s a welcome addition to the horror genre.

If you are not familiar with THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO’S POND, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Anchor Bay:

During a Turkish archeological dig early last century, an ancient board game said to have entertained demons was unearthed. Now nearly 90 years later, a group of vacationing friends – including a cynic (Danielle Harris of HALLOWEEN), a rich jerk (James Duval of DONNIE DARKO), a slutty starlet (Mircea Monroe of “Hart Of Dixie”), a jock (Nick Menell of FRIDAY THE 13TH) and prudish twin sisters (Electra & Elise Avellan of GRINDHOUSE) – discover the game hidden in an old house on a remote Maine island. And with a roll of the dice, their darkest secrets will unleash all the greed, jealously and lusts of Hell itself. Richard Tyson (BLACK HAWK DOWN) and Robert Patrick (TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY) co-star in this gory shocker that Horror.com calls “good ol’ fashioned horror movie fun!”

I’m a HUGE sucker for just about anything involving archaeology, so when that and horror combine, the results can be nirvana. I say ‘can be’ because there are some real stinkers out there…but this one definitely does not fit into that category.

THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO’S POND is shot well and the production value looks high. The sets are tight and the whole film has a nice foreboding feel to it, almost as if the tension is a physical thing that clings to your skin. The acting is great as well, with the lovely and talented Danielle Harris stealing the show. Yes, I’m biased towards her because I really like her, but she does an excellent job, as always.

The special effects are top notch as well. The demonic eyes and teeth used in this film are very realistic and look great onscreen. The gore is also nice and there’s plenty of carnage to go around; there’s even an excellent scene where one of the characters used a chainsaw to saw another in half!

My sole complaint about THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO’S POND is that nothing is really explained at the end. There’s a lot of insinuation that the audience should infer from the opening scenes, but that still doesn’t explain much about what is actually going on. This didn’t necessarily ruin the movie for me, but I would have enjoyed it more if explanation had been given.

Still, THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO’S POND is one hell of a good film, and fans of horror should certainly check it out. Be sure and pick it up on Blu-ray if you can; the HD picture and sound go a long way in helping to create an ambient atmosphere of terror. The film hits store shelves tomorrow, so be sure and give it a look.

MSB

Movie Review – 5 Souls (2013)

5 Souls
Directed by Brett Donowho
Courtesy of Inception Media Group
Release Date: August 6, 2013

5_Souls_Hi_Res_DVD_Flat_Front

Don’t confuse the title of this movie with the one I reviewed a couple of months ago titled 6 SOULS…for as close as the titles are, they have nothing to do with each other. And unfortunately, this one is not nearly as good as the other one was, either. 5 SOULS tries to be a slick and original horror film, but it simply has too many flaws that it can’t overcome. The result is a convoluted tale that leaves the viewer wanting more.

If you are not familiar with 5 SOULS, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Inception Media Group:

When a disgraced architect awakens from a coma, he is confronted by an agent of evil with a proposition; kill five people to reconcile his life’s misdeeds and live, or decline the offer and die. As he proceeds with his grim assignment and begins collecting the fifth and final soul, he learns that his pact may have eternally horrifying consequences…

I really wanted to enjoy this film. The premise sounds solid and director Brett Donowho has another film out there that looks really good (A HAUNTING AT SILVER FALLS) as well. But it can’t overcome its problems. As the credits rolled, I actually felt kinda sad. This movie could have been so good.

5 SOULS is shot pretty well, although there are several grainy shots and a few of the low-light scenes look too dark. The acting is ok, although Steven Schub stands out among the rest of the cast as the evil ‘demon’ who is forcing him to collect souls. Schub relishes his evil role and portrays it with the dramatic flair of a Shakespearean actor.

There’s no special effects or gore to speak of, but there are plenty of opportunities where it could have been used. I’m not sure if this lack of showing was due to budget constraints or resource issues, but I feel like the production team dropped the ball here.

The biggest problem 5 SOULS has is the story itself. I think I know where Donowho was trying to go with it…but unfortunately, it never gets there. Instead, the film is a jumbled mish-mash of scenes that don’t tie together much at all.

I do have to give credit to the DVD cover, however. It is creepy and effective, a certain draw to watching the movie. It’s just a shame that the movie doesn’t live up to the cover’s promise.

I can’t recommend 5 SOULS with a clear conscience, unless you have nothing else better to watch. I think the premise of this one is solid, and I would like to see a reboot of it…but only after some major script rewriting and a budget boost. Hopefully Donowho’s other films will not be this bad.

MSB

Book Review – Seven Forges by James A. Moore (2013)

Seven Forges
by James A. Moore
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Publisher: Angry Robot Books

SevenForges-144dpi

What does a writer do once he has conquered the horror genre? Why, he turns to fantasy, of course. While that might not sound like an easy transition to make, author James A. Moore seems to pull it off with ease. His upcoming release, SEVEN FORGES, is a far cry from the terror-filled worlds he has created prior, but it is no less entertaining. Filled with memorable characters, gritty action, and an interesting plot, this book delivers on all levels.

If you are not familiar with SEVEN FORGES, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Angry Robot Books:

Captain Merros Dulver is the first in many lifetimes to find a path beyond the great mountains known as the Seven Forges and encounter, at last, the half-forgotten race who live there. And it would appear that they were expecting him. As he returns home, bringing an entourage of strangers with him, he starts to wonder whether his discovery has been such a good thing. For the gods of this lost race are the gods of war, and their memories of that far-off cataclysm have not faded.

The people of Fellein have lived with legends for many centuries. To their far north, the Blasted Lands, a legacy of an ancient time of cataclysm, are vast, desolate and impassable, but that doesn’t stop the occasional expedition into their fringes in search of any trace of the ancients who had once lived there… and oft-rumored riches.

The first thing you should note about this book is the cover art. I love it. You can feel the intensity of the story just from looking at the cover. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this one is worth ten thousand. It’s simply epic.

But with SEVEN FORGES, the story is just as epic as the cover art. I am not going to go into specifics because I don’t want to give any aspects of the storyline away, but let’s just say this is fantasy on the scale of Terry Brooks or Brandon Sanderson. It is that good.

The writing flows smoothly and is not bogged down with excessive description, although I will admit that a bit more would not have hurt any. The story progresses at a nice clip, and I never once felt like the plot was stuck. The book starts off with a bang, pretty much from page one, and continues on through the climax.

If you’re a fan of fantasy, you’ll definitely want to check out SEVEN FORGES. It is a solid, well-written addition to the genre, and I’m looking forward to see what Moore does next. This book hits store shelves in a few weeks, so make a note to check it out.

MSB

TV Show Review – Da Vinci’s Demons, season 1

Da Vinci’s Demons, season 1
Courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment & Starz
Release Date: September 3, 2013

DaVincisDemons_S1_BLU

When I first heard the title for this series, I immediately thought of demons in the literal sense and knew it would be a must-watch for me. But when I discovered the demons in the show were actually more figurative than literal, my interest grew. Granted, I would have loved to have seen Da Vinci fighting hell-beasts, much like Abraham Lincoln and his vampire foes, but a part of me wanted to see what the producers of this show could do with such an unique premise. I’m happy to report DA VINCI’S DEMONS is original and thoughtful, a whip-smart show with plenty of sinister plans and vicious characters.

If you are not familiar with DA VINCI’S DEMONS, here is the show’s plot synopsis courtesy of the Starz press release:

In a world where thought and faith are controlled, one man fights to set knowledge free. Leonardo Da Vinci is tortured by a gift of superhuman genius. He finds himself in a conflict between truth and lies, religion and reason, past and future. His quest for knowledge nearly becomes his undoing, but Da Vinci’s genius prevails and he emerges as an unstoppable force that lifts an entire era out of darkness and propels it into light. His story becomes a mirror into our own world, calling us all to join his fight to Free the Future.

As you’ve probably garnered from my comments above, this show is not what I was expecting. It is so much more. It’s chocked-full of history, but combines fiction throughout existing events. The result is a colorful, vibrant storyline set against the backdrop of a vividly-depicted 15th century Europe.

DA VINCI’S DEMONS is shot very well and the production value of each show looks very high. The backdrops are CG-heavy, but they are lavish and look beautiful. Many of Da Vinci’s inventions are computer-generated as well, of particular note being a clockwork bird that he creates in the first episode. But only the trained eye can tell what is real and what is not…no expense was spared when it came to the special and visual effects, and the artistry shown onscreen is the reward.

I particularly like the actor who portrays the titular character, a Brit by the name of Tom Riley. Riley brings a unique flair in his portrayal of Da Vinci, showing us what a younger, more ‘action-oriented’ version of the genius inventor would have been like. I think many people, when they think of Da Vinci, think of the older, more docile painter. But I would imagine, as do the producers behind the show, that Da Vinci could have been a historical adventurer, full of passion and intelligent wit.

DA VINCI’S DEMONS is a definite win for me, and I suggest you check it out. Fans of historical fiction and fantasy should enjoy this engaging show. The first season hits store shelves tomorrow, so be sure and give this a look.

MSB