Documentary Review – Hanging Shadows: Perspectives on Italian Horror Cinema (2007)

Hanging Shadows: Perspectives on Italian Horror Cinema
Directed by Paolo Fazzini
Courtesy of MVD Entertainment
Original Release Date: 2007
DVD Release Date: February 18, 2014

hanging shadows

If you are a true horror fan like me, then you probably realize how much we owe Italian directors for the frights and gore that we have today. Much of what the modern genre is for us is a result of what Italian filmmakers did decades ago. But if you don’t understand just how much influence these European masterpieces hold, then this documentary is definitely for you. HANGING SHADOWS is an in-depth at some of horror’s most influential Italian filmmakers, and it is a film that every single horror fan should own.

If you are not familiar with HANGING SHADOWS, here is the synopsis courtesy of MVD Entertainment:

Before The Ring and The Grudge, there was Suspiria. Hanging Shadows offers a critical appreciation of Italian horror cinema, pioneered by directors such as Dario Argento and Maria Bava, a genre that influenced filmmakers from Quentin Tarantino to Takashi Miike. With its roots in the pulpy crime novels of the 1920s and 30s, Giallo cinema (the term refers to the lurid yellow covers that graced the early novels) or Italian horror cinema, as it’s more commonly known, first emerged in the late 1960s. Following the neo-realists, the giallo films represented a radical break with Italy’s cinematic past, and much like film-noir in America, were often derided by critics as mere genre films – movies made by artisans (not artists). The films, however, have since developed a fervent cult following and their influence can be seen in the work of numerous contemporary filmmakers, most prominently in the young Asian directors who are developing their own wildly-popular brand of horror cinema. This documentary presents an informative historical overview of the giallo genre, exploring its genesis and chronicling the films, directors, and personalities that made up its golden age. Featuring interviews with Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava (director and son of Maria Bava), Antonella Fulci (daughter of director Lucio Fulci), Franco Ferrini (co-writer of Sergio Leone’s Once upon a time in America and numerous Argento films), Ruggero Deodata (Cannibal Holocaust), Giannetto De Rossi (make-up artist on Fulci’s films), and many others, Hanging Shadows is a fascinating study of a group of films and filmmakers that redefined the horror genre and forever changed the way we think of horror films.

I’ve been waiting for a documentary like this for a long time. It is chocked full of interviews with some of the greatest horror filmmakers of our time. No horror fan in his or her right mind can refute the influence of Bava or Fulci or Argento or Deodata…so it is a real treat to see them onscreen.

HANGING SHADOWS is pretty simplistic with its presentation; the majority of the film is made up of the interviews. There are a few cutaways to film clips, but these are minimal. This is not a negative by any means…but I feel I must mention it so you know what you’re getting when you buy this DVD.

I particularly like hearing the mindset of each director as they discuss some of their most influential works. For example, a couple of them don’t like gore…but have them in their movies anyway. I am not going to divulge names here because you need to watch the documentary!

HANGING SHADOWS is a big win for me, and any fan of horror cinema needs to own a copy. Whether you are well-versed with Italian cinema or not, chances are you will be after this film is over. It is available now, so give it a look.

MSB

Book Review – Undead of Winter

Undead of Winter
Edited by Sarah E. Glenn
Release Date: November 17, 2013
Publisher: Mystery & Horror LLC

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I think we can all agree that zombies are horrific regardless of the circumstances. But what if we throw in a seasonal element that could kill all by itself? Such is the case with UNDEAD OF WINTER, a zombie anthology published last year by Mystery & Horror LLC. This collection of frightening and frigid tales uses winter as a focal point, and the results are very entertaining.

If you are not familiar with UNDEAD OF WINTER, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of

Sixteen tales of the undead, all set in the colder months. Learn the definition of chilling in Tom Wescott’s “Coffin Dirt” and James Simpson’s “Mit Den Augen Der Toten”. Meet dead family members in Neil Davies’ “Abandoned” and Sylvia McIver’s “Candles Against the Dark” – but be careful – not all reunions are loving. Read tales of ancient undead from D.J. Tyrer and Carl Thomas Fox – and a modern variant from Jason Purdy. Find out what Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Future does once her job is over in “Fear of the Future” by Gareth Barsby. What are zombies like in the winter? Jay Wilburn and Spencer Carvalho will be happy to show you. Interested in adventure? Alex Azar takes you “Under the Hood of Winter”. Take a lonely road into fear with Guy Burtenshaw, find unusual allies in the forest with Ryan Tandy, and learn about true survival in Stephanie Stamm’s “Phantom Pains”. Prefer to stick close to home, where it’s safe? Shenoa Carrol-Bradd and Lance Zarimba will make you feel a lot less secure. So, grab a blanket before settling down to read this book… but you might want to keep a firearm handy, just in case.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll reiterate it now: I love zombie fiction, and if an author or authors can put them in unique settings and/or circumstances, then so much the better. UNDEAD OF WINTER does this perfectly. Winter is commonly looked at as a desolate and lonely season, therefore it makes the perfect backdrop upon which to put zombies.

The stories in this collection are written well, and many of the authors appear to have unique writing voices. The tales are original in concept, and I found several that would be perfect for episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. This is a testament to the talent of the authors. I hope to read more of their work in the future.

My favorite story in this anthology is “The Lean Season” by Shenoa Carroll-Bradd. In this story, two young girls and their father have to fend for themselves during a harsh winter when zombies arrive with the snow. But sometimes, survival means doing atrocious things…things you never dreamt possible. I love the voice of this story, not to mention the difficult subject matter it deals with.

UNDEAD OF WINTER is a big win for me, and I recommend it to fans of zombies or just plain horror fiction in general. Give this book a look for sure, but remember to wear a heavy coat and layers of clothing…and pack a pistol to be on the safe side. This book is available now in physical and electronic formats.

MSB

Documentary Review – Hercules: Hero, God, Warrior (2014)

Hercules: Hero, God, Warrior
Courtesy of The History Channel & Lionsgate
Release Date: June 15, 2014

hercules

Just in time for the release of The Rock’s version of Hercules on July 25th, The History Channel and Lionsgate have teamed up to offer three of THC’s shows that explore the man, the myth, and the legend. The result is an excellent compilation of history and mythology that entertains as well as informs.

If you are not familiar with HERCULES: HERO, GOD, WARRIOR, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Lionsgate:

This classic collection from HISTORY explores Greek myth’s most popular hero, the Superman of the ancient world: HERCULES. Journey with Hercules as he embarks on his celebrated 12 labors to atone for committing a heinous crime. Follow his quest for redemption as he battles injustice, slays fearsome creatures, commits thefts and murders — and even defies the gods themselves. Ultimately triumphant, Hercules earns a place among the immortals atop Mount Olympus — and in history. But could a real person have inspired his story? What was it that the dazzling yet dysfunctional pantheon of gods represented to the people of classical Greece? Was their power political or divine? Find out, as HISTORY examines archaeological evidence from Eleusis to Athens.

This DVD contains three History Channel shows: “Hercules: Power of the Gods”, “Clash of the Gods: Hercules”, and “In Search of History: The Greek Gods”. Each one has its merits, and each takes a unique look into the mystery behind the myth.

“Hercules: Power of the Gods” looks a bit dated (I’m not sure when it was made), however it contains a plethora of information, including the stories and evidence that has been found about Hercules up to a point. I say this because the next segment contains newer archaeological finds that shine even more light on who he was. But regardless, the information presented here is fascinating.

“Clash of the Gods: Hercules” tells more about the truth behind the myth. In 2004, in the Greek town of Thebes, the remains of an alter were found at an excavation site; surrounding the alter were many artifacts that told the story of the actual man Hercules is based upon. This find is the most revealing in decades of research, as it finally illuminates the darkened figure that has long been regarded as nothing but a myth.

“In Search of History: The Greek Gods” gives insight on the gods themselves and how Hercules plays into the Greek pantheon.

I highly recommend HERCULES: HERO, GOD, WARRIOR. It is an excellent DVD for anyone looking to gain more knowledge on this Superman of history, however parents might want to preview it before letting children watch it. Many of the paintings and sculptures depict nude men and women, therefore it might not be family-friendly for some.

MSB

Book Review – Creature Features by William Schoell

Creature Features
by William Schoell
Release Date: April, 2014
Publisher: McFarland Publishing

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Next to zombies, creature features are one of my favorite kinds of horror films. The ‘unknown’ element of each film is what draws me; after all, I would bet every one of us has been scared of the thing under our beds or in our closets at one point. And why shouldn’t we be? The unknown has always thrilled yet secretly terrified us. If you’re a fan of these beloved films like me, then I have a book for you: CREATURE FEATURES by William Schoell. This book is definitive look at strange and horrific beasts in cinema over the past century.

If you are not familiar with CREATURE FEATURES, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of McFarland Publishing:

This work offers a critical, colorful and informative examination of different types of monster movies, spanning the silent period to today. Chapter One focuses on dragons, dinosaurs, and other scaly giants from films like 1953’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, an impressive stop-motion production that ushered in a new era of atomic-spawned monster films. Chapter Two examines “big bug” flicks, beginning with 1954’s giant ant-infested Them. Chapter Three focuses on ordinary animals grown to improbable proportions through scientific or sinister experimentation, such as the huge octopus in 1955’s It Came from Beneath the Sea. Chapters Four, Five, and Six look at films in which nature goes berserk, and otherwise innocuous animals flock, swarm, hop or run about on a menacingly massive scale, including 1963’s The Birds and 1972’s Frogs. Finally, Chapter Seven focuses on films featuring beasts that defy easy definition, such as 1958’s The Blob and Fiend Without a Face.

I absolutely LOVE books like this, where talented authors take the time to analyze movies of a certain genre and then critique them. With that being said, I don’t always agree with said author’s reviews. As such, when I recommend a book like this, it is not because I agree with everything the author states…I recommend them because they are comprehensive, well thought-out, and informative.

With CREATURE FEATURES, author William Schoell takes us way back to the very early years of the genre and then brings us all the way up to the present. He explores a wide variety of titles, many of which I have never seen, and some I have never even heard of. This shows you just how much effort was put into writing this book.

CREATURE FEATURES is written well for the most part, with straight-to-the punch analysis and in-depth reviews. I will confess that some of the text comes across like it’s being dictated from a college thesis paper, with dry tones and a humorless voice…however this is a minor complaint, and it is only on a personal level. Most readers will probably not notice it at all.

I am surprised the book does not contain more pictures. There are a few, intermingled here and there throughout the whole book, but I think this title could have been so much more if it had been given more visuals. Again, this is just a personal preference, and it should not dissuade you in any way from checking the book out.

Despite my comments, CREATURE FEATURES is a definite win for me, and I’m proud to add it to my horror library. If you’re any kind of fan of cinema or horror films, this book is for you. Give it a look for sure. It is available now in a variety of formats online, or you can reach McFarland’s order line at 800-253-2187.

MSB

Movie Review – Stage Fright (2014)

Stage Fright
Directed by Jerome Sable
Courtesy of Magnet Releasing
Release Date: July 8, 2014

Stage-Fright-Blu-ray

If you’ve never heard the term horror-comedy-musical, then you’re not alone. I had not heard of it either…that is, until I sat down to watch STAGE FRIGHT. And just as you would expect, that is exactly what this movie is: a horror-comedy with musical numbers. Does this dissuade you from wanting to watch this film? It certainly should NOT…in fact, it should make you want to watch it even more. Why, you might ask? Because this film pulls off all three concepts with ease, and it makes you beg for more as the credits roll. If you’re any kind of fan of horror or comedies or even musicals, then this is the movie for you.

If you are not familiar with STAGE FRIGHT, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Magnet Releasing:

In this genre-bending “Glee”-meets-Rocky Horror musical comedy a starry-eyed teenager (Allie MacDonald) wants to follow in her mother’s (Minnie Driver) footsteps and become a Broadway diva; but instead, she’s stuck working in the kitchen of her step-father’s (Meat Loaf Aday) snobby performing arts camp. Determined to change her destiny, she sneaks in to audition for the summer showcase landing the lead role. However, just as rehearsals begin, blood starts to spill, and Camilla finds herself terrorized by a homicidal masked killer.

I am not a personal fan of musicals, however I respect the talent of the cast in this film, and the lyrics in each song kept me laughing at a constant pace. FearNet describes this film as “a cross between ‘Glee’ and ‘Sleepaway Camp…”, and that is a perfectly accurate description. It has a nice blend of comedy and horror both, which makes for an entertaining film experience.

STAGE FRIGHT is shot well and looks great onscreen. The production value appears to be pretty high, and the crew does a great job of utilizing the money they have. My sole complaint about the film in terms of production is that the gore looks a bit fake. There’s some nice shots of it, but the color seems off (it’s more brown than red) which threw me. I’m not sure if this is intentional or not, but I feel it’s worth mentioning.

The cast is excellent, with the beautiful and talented Allie MacDonald headlining the show. There are many other actors worth mentioning as well, including screen veteran Minnie Driver (who only has a cameo, but she’s always awesome), Meat Loaf Aday, Douglas Smith, Ephraim Ellis, and Thomas Alderson. The whole cast does a great job, which is a large part of what makes this movie so successful.

But the horror and the comedy take center stage with STAGE FRIGHT. Both components are represented in perfect form, with just the right amount of each. As a result, this film is the ideal definition of what a horror-comedy should be.

I highly recommend STAGE FRIGHT to anyone looking for straight out entertainment. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe, you’ll roll your eyes…and you’ll have the best 90 minutes of your life that you won’t want back. Be sure and check out the Special Features on the Blu-ray, too; there are several nice bonus pieces, including a Making Of featurette, a sing-along section, interviews, and much more. Oh, and watch through the credits, as well…the ending song is hilarious! This film hits store shelves today, so give it a look for sure; just be sure to keep the show tunes out of your head after the movie is over…

MSB

Book Review – World Gone Wild: A Survivor’s Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Movies by David J. Moore

World Gone Wild: A Survivor’s Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Movies
by David J. Moore
Release Date: June 28, 2014
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing

world gone wild

Ah, the end of civilization as we know it. What better subject matter for a movie? Hollywood has long embraced the post-apocalyptic (PA) concept, and new movies are coming out every year with this as its basis. These films are fascinating glimpses into what might be, should the end arrive during our lifetime. WORLD GONE WILD is an amazing, comprehensive look at over 800 titles in this favored genre, making this book a definite Must Own for fans of cinema!

If you are not familiar with WORLD GONE WILD, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Schiffer Books:

A loving ode to a universal genre of film. An entire subculture of end-of-the-world themes was spawned from films like The Road Warrior, Escape From New York, and The Terminator. While those films are still being emulated today, film makers all around the world continue to produce radically unique films with startling perspectives of humanity facing the end of all things. This book offers pointers and a frame of reference on how the characters behaved when their worlds were on the brink of desolation. It covers the genre’s biggest blockbusters like The Hunger Games, I Am Legend, Oblivion, and World War Z, while devoting equal time and attention to smaller, more obscure films that really deserve to be discovered. Containing over 800 movie reviews, 60 exclusive interviews with filmmakers and actors who’ve made films in the genre, and a vast subgenre index, World Gone Wild is a chronicle of humanity’s struggles through nuclear war, global natural disasters, and the zombie apocalypse in film.

Regardless of whether your are a diehard PA Film fan or if you’re just a casual watcher, this book needs a spot in your library. It is an exhaustive guide to all things PA, and it even includes several titles you might not thing to look for. Take, for example, Disney’s WALL-E. Yup, it’s in there. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s a look at life after the Earth has succumbed to mountains of trash. This shows you the deep depths to which this book goes.

WORLD GONE WILD lists each movie in alphabetical order, gives a detailed description and review, and then rates the movie using a comprehensive scale. It’s also chocked full of interesting information about the films, as well as interviews with cast and/or crew. I can’t stress enough: there has never been a book about PA films this inclusive.

WORLD GONE WILD is the final word on post-apocalyptic cinema, and it is a book you should snatch up at all costs. There are many films in it that I have never seen, but I am certainly adding them to my To Watch list now. The book is available now, so check it out!

MSB

Book Review – Topsiders by Scott Tyson

Topsiders
by Scott Tyson
Release Date: December 6, 2013
Publisher: LegumeMan Books

topsiders

When it comes to horror in general, there are many avenues through which terror can be unleashed. One of my favorites is via old, abandoned houses. Who has not lived in an area with at least one ramshackle building for which stories and legends abound? With TOPSIDERS, author Scott Tyson gives readers yet one more reason not to venture into these dark, foreboding structures. But things are never as simple as they sound…and this book will thrust you deep into a nightmare of epic proportions.

If you are not familiar with TOPSIDERS, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of LegumeMan Books:

An abandoned house by the edge of the river. Uninhabited for decades. A secret as old as time itself. A truth hidden from the topsiders. But that’s about to change. When all the adults suddenly disappear, Mathew convinces his older brother that something is very wrong. Their search leads them to a place they never knew existed. A place that will have them question everything they knew about life. Soon, the truth.

This is one of those books that is perfect for a movie or a miniseries. As the events unfolded throughout the pages, I kept visualizing each scene in my mind. These visions came complete with an eerie soundtrack and even creepy camera angles. This is definitely a testament to the talent and imagination of the author.

TOPSIDERS is written well with flowing sentences and minimalistic descriptions. Instead of calling out every leaf on every tree or using paragraph after paragraph to describe a single scene, Tyson lets the reader’s mind do the world-creating. I particularly enjoy this style of writing, as my own mind can conjure up images more vivid than even the most adjective-infused prose.

The characters within the story are complex and emotional, just like people in real life. The reader laughs with them during goofy moments, and then cringes with them when embarrassing situations arise. This camaraderie the reader feels with the characters intensifies the tension when terrible things start happening. As a result, the immersion into the story is deeper and more satisfying.

The horror in the story is top notch, and I found myself nervous while reading certain sections. Tyson builds tension with ease but never lets up once the plot starts moving. And when all hell breaks loose, grab something to hold onto; the thrill ride of an ending will leave you breathless.

If I were forced to find a flaw with TOPSIDERS, I might mention that the strained relationship between Bill and Judy is a bit too strained to be realistic. With as acidic as Judy is towards him, I don’t see Bill staying, even if he is a beaten-down man with no backbone. This is the only point that stood out to me, however it is definitely needed for the story, so I cannot devalue its merit too much.

Regardless, TOPSIDERS is an excellent read and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good scare. Tyson is definitely a force to be reckoned with when it comes to horror, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. The book is available now in a variety of formats; pick it up for sure.

MSB

Movie Review – Bloody Birthday (1981)

Bloody Birthday
Directed by Ed Hunt
Courtesy of Severin Films
Original Release Date: 1981
Blu-ray Release Date: July 8, 2014

BLOODY-BIRTHDAY-BLU-KEYART

BLOODY BIRTHDAY is one of those obscure horror flicks that I have seen in movie stores at various times over the years, but just never picked up for some reason. I really wish I had because it’s a top-notch horror flick that satisfies on several levels. The fine folks at Severin Films have remastered this 80s classic in HD and are giving it a Blu-ray launch next week. If you have never had the pleasure of seeing this film, now is the time to snag a copy for your collection.

If you are not familiar with BLOODY BIRTHDAY, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Severin Films:

Get ready for the rarely seen slasher classic from the ’80s that may also be the most disturbing ‘killer kids’ movies in grindhouse history: Three babies are simultaneously born in the same hospital at the peak of a full solar eclipse. Ten years later, these adorable youngsters suddenly begin a kiddie killing spree of stranglings, shootings, stabbings, beatings and beyond. Can the town’s grown-ups stop these pint-sized serial killers before their blood-soaked birthday bash? K.C. Martel (E.T., Growing Pains), Joe Penny (Jake And The Fat Man), Michael Dudikoff (American Ninja), screen legends Susan Strasberg and Jose Ferrer, and MTV vixen Julie Brown – whose nude bedroom dance remains a landmark of celebrity skin – star in this still-controversial shocker from director Ed Hunt (The Brain, Diary Of A Sinner), now featuring an all-new HD transfer from the original vault elements.

I have to confess up front: I love everything about this movie. Sure, it’s from the early 80s so it looks a little dated…but that’s part of what makes it so much fun. It’s got dark humor, some great acting, and a solid storyline. You can’t ask for much more in a horror flick.

BLOODY BIRTHDAY has the typical early 80s feel and is sure to bring back a few memories for older folks like me. (Ok, 40 is not THAT old, but still…) It is shot well and looks good as a whole, especially given the HD restoration. The upgrade looks great onscreen, although the sound quality is lacking a bit. It fluctuated for me in several places, which forced me to turn the volume up for the dialogue but then crank it back down when the music started blaring. I understand that not everything can be restored, but I feel like this is worth noting.

The cast is excellent and includes a list of recognizable names (as noted in the synopsis). I love the children who play the killers. Each one brings a notable yet chilling performance to the screen which will make you think twice before yelling at kids to get off of your lawn.

BLOODY BIRTHDAY also gives viewers a special treat in the Extras section: a 15 minute documentary titled “A Brief History of Slasher Films”. This is a quick chronicle of slasher flicks from their origins to present day, utilizing movie posters and scenes from the trailers of several well-known and obscure titles. This featurette is a very nice addition to this great movie.

BLOODY BIRTHDAY is a definite win for me, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a blood-soaked trip down memory lane. The film hits store shelves next week, so make a note.

MSB

Movie Review – Scavenger Killers (2014)

Scavenger Killers
Directed by Dylan Bank
Courtesy of Midnight Releasing
Release Date: July 1, 2014

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Here’s a trivia question for you: what do you get when you combine the surrealism of TWIN PEAKS with the hardcore bloodshed and ruthlessness of NATURAL BORN KILLERS? The answer is SCAVENGER KILLERS, a film that is due out tomorrow, just in time for the Fourth of July. If you’re a fan of either title I mentioned above, I will wager this film will be next on your list of Must See Movies. And it should be…it’s a crazy, twisted fun-ride of mayhem and massacres!

If you are not familiar with SCAVENGER KILLERS, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Midnight Releasing:

Bonnie and Clyde are reinvented in SCAVENGER KILLERS, where a charming judge and a hot criminal defense attorney go on a maniacal killing rampage. With bizarre, yet somehow believable, FBI agents in the hunt, the deranged duo amp up their rampage, never murdering with the same method but always with untamed ferocity.

The title of this film threw me at first; it doesn’t make sense if you take it at face value. But once the film gets going, the title (and concept) are quickly evident. I’m not giving anything major away by telling you it refers to a ‘killing scavenger hunt’, which the two main characters embark upon. They draw victims out of a bag and then have to kill whoever or whatever is on the piece of paper they draw.

SCAVENGER KILLERS is shot well and looks pretty good onscreen, although you can tell by some of the set locations that is a lower-budget film. I refer specifically to the FBI offices, which are located in an old, red-brick building. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it stuck out to me for some reason.

The acting is good, too, with the talented Robert Bogue and lovely Rachael Robbins headlining as the titular characters. Both play psychos with a chilling expertise, and their onscreen chemistry is very believable. Screen legends Charles Durning and Robert Loggia even have cameos, which gives the film even more credibility.

The gore in SCAVENGER KILLERS is outstanding. There are many practical effects shots, which is a huge plus for me. A few of these shots are rounded out with some CG, but it’s hard to tell when they occur. As a result, this blood-soaked romp satisfies on many levels.

My sole complaint about the film is that there’s really not much of a plot to speak of. The pair bicker while they kill and then make-up with some heavy lovin’. The FBI is trying to figure out who the killers are (by using a Tourette’s Syndrome-laced psychic who has to fondle the breasts of a black woman for his visions), but otherwise there’s not much going on.

Honestly, though, that’s part of what makes this film so much fun. It’s just senseless violence infused with a bizarre cast of characters. This is a heck of a film, and it’s one every horror fan should watch for sure. It’s quirky and at times brutal, which makes this a must-see film. Give it a look if you can handle it, but be warned: you’re in for a hell of a ride.

MSB