Book Review – Extinction Edge (The Extinction Cycle, volume 2) by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Extinction Edge (The Extinction Cycle, volume 2)
by Nichols Sansbury Smith
Publisher: Self-published
Release Date: February 22, 2015

extinction

I stated in my review of the first book in this series, EXTINCTION HORIZON, that Nichols Sansbury Smith was on his way to becoming one of my favorite authors. Well, he has officially done it; after reading the follow-up book, EXTINCTION EDGE, I can now proclaim he has joined the elite group of favorites that reside within my brain. With this book, Smith has pushed his story and the limits of his imagination beyond comprehension (and this is a good thing). The result is a fast-paced read that is as thrilling as it is terrifying.

If you are not familiar with EXTINCTION EDGE, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of the author:

The dust from Dr. Kate Lovato’s bioweapon has settled. Projections put death counts in the billions. Her weapon was supposed to be the endgame, but it turned a small percentage of those infected with the Hemorrhage Virus into something even worse.

Survivors call them Variants. Irreversible epigenetic changes have transformed them into predators unlike any the human race has ever seen. And they are evolving.

With the doomsday clock ticking, the fractured military plans Operation Liberty–a desperate mission designed to take back the cities and destroy the Variant threat. Master Sergeant Reed Beckham agrees to lead a strike team into New York City, but first he must return to Fort Bragg to search for the only family he has left.

At Plum Island, Kate discovers Central Command may have considerably underestimated the Variant population in New York. As Operation Liberty draws closer, Kate warns Beckham that Team Ghost won’t just face their deadliest adversary yet, they may be heading into a trap…

Like its predecessor, the cover of this book is enticing and calls out for the reader to pick it up. Every time I glance at it, I get the urge to play Call of Duty on my XBox 360.

Also like the previous book, EXTINCTION EDGE is well written and moves swiftly, although evenly. The pacing and plotting are once again top notch, and Smith demonstrates a masterful knowledge of the written word. The maturation of his writing style is just as evident here as before, and I would even go so far as to say he is reaching a new peak. There’s no fluff in his work; just straightforward writing and a lot of intensity.

The story continues from the first book, picking up shortly after its conclusion. Things have taken a turn for the worse, thanks to an unknown variable from Kate’s bioweapon. Unfortunately, this new factor might be the final straw for the human race. The stakes are higher here and the dangers are both old and new.

Smith does an excellent job of moving the story along, but also fitting in plenty of action and suspense. I will even state I feel this book is more intense that its brother, if such a thing is possible. I can’t wait to see how book three amps things up even more.

EXTINCTION EDGE is another huge win for me, and I urge you to get in on the story now if you haven’t already. Crammed full of thrills and chills, The Extinction Cycle will keep you tearing through chapter after chapter in the wee hours of the morning. This second book in the series is available now in a variety of formats, so check it out.

MSB

Movie Review – Horsehead (2015)

Horsehead
Directed by Romain Basset
Courtesy of Artsploitation Films
Release Date: June 23, 2015

horsehead

I’m going to have a hard time describing HORSEHEAD, however I can state with utter certainty that this is an amazing movie. It is a surreal trip into the bizarre, but it is also a potent fantasy/horror hybrid that fans of both genres will want to check out. And although it’s not perfect, it’s very close. Chocked full of symbolism and deeply-rooted religious undertones, this film will take you on a crazy and terrifying journey.

If you are not familiar with HORSEHEAD, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Artsploitation Films:

Haunting and horrific, surreal and shocking, HORSEHEAD is a new horror-fantasy that pays tribute to the classic European shockers of Dario Argento and Mario Bava while also remaining a unique film with its own vision, delivering unforgettable images that both disturb and enchant. Director Romain Basset’s tale follows beautiful young Jessica (Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux) as she returns to her family’s countryside estate for her grandmother’s funeral. Haunted by recurring nightmares of a horse-headed monster, Jessica attempts to put her studies of “lucid dreaming” to good use, as she semi-consciously navigates through this dream landscape, trying to discover the secrets behind this sinister apparition. But Jessica must also cope with a hostile mother (The Beyond‘s Catriona MacColl), and the growing realization that the death of her grandmother was actually a suicide triggered by the woman’s past traumas and visions. HORSEHEAD is a feverish, ethereal journey through the world of nightmares.

I enjoyed this movie on several levels. Visually, it’s a veritable feast of imagery that both assaults and entices the eyes. Also, the symbolism in many aspects is very astute; there are emblematic examples everywhere. And finally, the story itself is intriguing and riveting. I was entranced with the film from the get-go, and it never lost its enchantment.

HORSEHEAD is shot well and, as mentioned, looks amazing onscreen. The HD picture of the Blu-ray is astoundingly crisp, and the vivid imagery explodes from the screen like a bouquet of bright flowers. This is a huge draw for the movie in itself, but when combined with the story, it makes for an almost perfect film experience.

The acting is very good, with Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux portraying the main character Jessica. Pointeaux is surrounded by a great supporting cast, and the group plays off of one another well.

The story in HORSEHEAD is brilliant, however the execution is slightly off. By this, I mean some of the aspects of the plot are meant to be insinuated, yet they aren’t keyed on enough for clarification. I had to make many assumptions to reach the conclusion I came to about the ending, which is both a win and a frustration; I almost think I’d rather have a solid ending rather than that which is in the film…even though the current ending does work.

I know those last few sentences sound confusing, but you need to see the movie to truly understand what I’m talking about. And see the movie you should! HORSEHEAD is a powerful film, and I highly recommend giving it a look. It is available now in a variety of formats, but try to check it out on Blu-ray; you won’t be sorry with the picture quality.

MSB

Movie Review – Fight of the Living Dead (2015)

Fight of the Living Dead
Courtesy of Cinedigm
Release Date: July 7, 2015

FightOfTheLivingDead-Final-1

When I read the title for FIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, I initially thought it said FLIGHT, and I wondered if FLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD had gotten a re-release. Thankfully, that was not the case (although FLIGHT is not a terrible zombie flick, I suppose). This film, FIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, is a different kind of zombie apocalypse movie: it’s actually a mash-up of a reality show and a scripted series. That’s right, it’s a hybrid. And I don’t mean it’s a film about a reality show…it actually is a reality series. The episodes have been combined to form one feature-length piece. The contestants are famous You Tube stars, and they are thrust into a simulated survive-the-zombie-outbreak scenario. The result is a very intense and entertaining trek into new territory.

If you are not familiar with FIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Cinedigm:

A competition series with horror overtones, FIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (FOTLD) is an unprecedented mash-up of the reality and scripted genres. The show will follow 8 top YouTube stars as they attempt to survive the first 24 hours of a highly simulated Zombie Apocalypse. The only prize is survival.

I have to confess I have no idea who these You Tubers are. My teenagers, on the other hand, are familiar with them and have scolded me for not being more “in the know”. As such, the novelty of having such personas is lost on me…however the originality of the concept is not.

FIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is shot via security and hidden cameras placed throughout a prison. We get to see first-hand the decisions each team makes and the resulting mayhem that ensues. I like the way this is done because it lets the viewer experience the ‘realism’ of each situation. And it is very realistic (as real as a ZA can be, anyway); the teams don’t know where the cameras are, therefore they cannot play to them. This is a cool thing to see, and it plays out well onscreen.

The acting isn’t really acting, because the participants are reacting to the situations that arise. They all treat the scenarios as real, and therefore their decisions and reactions are what you would expect from people under that kind of pressure. Again, this realism is what drew me in and kept me enthralled throughout the entirety of the program (it clocks in at 51 minutes, but the time flies by).

The special effects in FIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD are pretty impressive when considering the concept of the show. My sole complaint is the pistol one of the guys finds…it’s very obvious it is filled with blanks, and the zombies do not really react when he fires it at them. I don’t know if this was intentional or if the zombie-actors missed their marks, but I found it strange.

That’s my only issue with FIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, otherwise I give it two thumbs up. I can’t wait to see where the show’s creators go next, and I would LOVE to be a participant myself in such a contest. Judging from the reactions of the cast, I bet they had a great time. The film is available now, so check it out!

MSB

Book Review – Little Girls by Ronald Malfi

Little Girls
by Ronald Malfi
Publisher: Kensington Books
Release Date: June 30, 2015

little girls

I am continuously impressed by those authors who can still write a chilling ghost story. Granted, in today’s world, it’s hard to scare the mainstream public. We, as a society, have become so desensitized to almost everything that ghost stories seem almost comical in some aspects. But there are still those writers out there who can make us pause at the thought of ghosts, who can make a shiver trickle down our spines when we are alone in a dark room. I’m proud to state Ronald Malfi is one of those select few. With LITTLE GIRLS, Malfi weaves a spellbinding tale of inner demons and childhood fears. This is a first-rate ghost story every horror fan should own!

If you are not familiar with LITTLE GIRLS, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Kensington Books:

From Bram Stoker Award nominee Ronald Malfi comes a brilliantly chilling novel of childhood revisited, memories resurrected, and fears reborn…

When Laurie was a little girl, she was forbidden to enter the room at the top of the stairs. It was one of many rules imposed by her cold, distant father. Now, in a final act of desperation, her father has exorcised his demons. But when Laurie returns to claim the estate with her husband and ten-year-old daughter, it’s as if the past refuses to die. She feels it lurking in the broken moldings, sees it staring from an empty picture frame, hears it laughing in the moldy greenhouse deep in the woods…

At first, Laurie thinks she’s imagining things. But when she meets her daughter’s new playmate, Abigail, she can’t help but notice her uncanny resemblance to another little girl who used to live next door. Who died next door. With each passing day, Laurie’s uneasiness grows stronger, her thoughts more disturbing. Like her father, is she slowly losing her mind? Or is something truly unspeakable happening to those sweet little girls?

This book sucked me in from the opening pages, and it never let me go. Stories that can do this are true gems for me, as many of the books I look through these days appear to be just fluff. As such, I rate this book very highly, and I will put Ronald Malfi on my list of authors to watch out for.

LITTLE GIRLS is written well and flows at a nice, steady pace. Malfi shows mastery of the written word with a flourishing style that shows much and does not skimp on the details. I love the way he uses descriptives; they are powerful and subtle, but also unique and interesting. For example, on the opening page:

“Tall and gaunt, he had a face like a withered apple core and wore a long black overcoat that looked incongruous in the stirrings of an early summer.”

In this example, Malfi conveys a lot in a single sentence and leaves the reader with a vivid mental image of the old man.

The characters in LITTLE GIRLS are damaged and believable. Each is fleshed out well and leaves an impressionable mark on the reader that carries through the book until the end. I found myself well-vested with each, and I was genuinely concerned with what was happening to them.

The story in LITTLE GIRLS is the real winner, though. This modern-day ghost story will make you sweat and bite your fingernails as you tear through it. I will not divulge anything about the story because I do not want to give anything away, but I will admit it has a twist at the end I did not see coming.

LITTLE GIRLS is a major win for me, and I highly recommend it. Filled with terrifying imagery and horrific scenarios, this is one tale you won’t soon forget after the last page. The book is available now in a variety of formats, so take a look.

MSB

TV Show Review – Yu-Gi-Oh!: GX, season 2

Yu-Gi-Oh!: GX, season 2
Courtesy of Cinedigm
Original Year of Release: 2005
DVD Release Date: July 7, 2015

yugioh_gx_season_2_dvd_cinedigm_box_set

I confessed back in May my addiction for Yu-Gi-Oh! cards and my recent viewing of the sub-series, Zexal. I enjoyed Zexal, and I was looking forward to checking out other Yu-Gi-Oh! titles in the series soon. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long. The fine folks at Cinedigm have released season 2 of the iconic GX set, and I have to admit: it’s better than Zexal!

If you are not familiar with YU-GI-OH!: GX, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of

It’s year two at Duel Academy, and this semester is more intense than ever! Jaden somehow passed his finals, so he’s now back with his friends to continue his training at the world’s most prestigious dueling school! But it’s not all about classes and textbooks. This year is filled with one high-stakes battle after another as Jaden faces all new rivals like Pro League All-Star Aster Phoenix, dino duelist Tyranno Hassleberry and the sinister Sartorius!

I stated after watching Zexal that I would have to start playing the card game because I enjoyed the show so much. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to meet that goal…but it is definitely still on the table. Although I haven’t seen season 1, the second season of GX has re-sparked my desire to start playing.

YU-GI-OH!: GX is almost a darker, grittier version of Zexal. Whereas Zexal has a light and somewhat comedic tone, GX is a bit more serious in some aspects. Sure, the dialogue is still cheesy and the character animations are campy…but the stakes seem to be higher and therefore the intensity level of the whole show is amped up a bit.

As with Zexal, the monsters and card imagery in YU-GI-OH!: GX are drawn well and are displayed with true vibrancy onscreen. The diversity of creatures and cards, however, seems less than in later series’. This is not a detraction from the show at all, but it does seem worth mentioning.

Still, YU-GI-OH!: GX season 2 is a big win for me, and I recommend it. Fans of anime will enjoy this tame ‘little brother’ to the original show, and newbies to the series will find it a great starting point. The box set is available now, so give it a look.

MSB

Movie Review – The Unwanted (2015)

The Unwanted
Directed by Bret Wood
Courtesy of Kino Lorber
Release Date: July 14, 2015

the unwanted

When I hear the term ‘Southern gothic’, my interest is usually immediately piqued. I’m a Southerner, so that is obviously a big selling point…and gothic usually interprets into horror, so there’s the other. So when I read the press release for THE UNWANTED, I knew I had to give this film a look. And while it’s not perfect, the film is a heck of a thriller, and I recommend giving it a chance.

If you are not familiar with THE UNWANTED, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Kino Lorber:

A Southern gothic retelling of Sheridan LeFanu’s “Carmilla,” THE UNWANTED stars Hannah Fierman (V/H/S) as Laura, a vulnerable young woman beguiled by a drifter (Christen Orr) who has come to her rural town in search of clues to her mother’s disappearance. The two women uncover dangerous secrets kept by their mothers, arousing the suspicion of Laura’s father (William Katt, Carrie, TV’s “The Greatest American Hero”) who will go to shocking extremes to ensure that the family’s dark secrets remain buried.

THE UNWANTED is shot well and looks pretty good onscreen. The video quality is lacking in some areas, although I’m not sure if this stems from the camera used or the HD transfer to Blu-ray. Either way, this is not enough to fully detract from the film, but I do feel it is worth mentioning.

The acting is really good, with Hannah Fierman and Christen Orr portraying the leads. I am only familiar with Fierman from her chilling performance in V/H/S, however I will state she is a talent to watch for in the future. Orr, on the other hand, is completely new to me. I am impressed with her versatile range of emotion, however, and I would wager we will see more of her in the future as well.

The story is where I find a couple of issues. First it is a slow-moving plot. The film only clocks in at 96 minutes in length, but it feels like it takes a while for the true story to get moving. This isn’t a huge issue, but again, I feel it worth noting. Secondly, the story never explains what the women truly are in real life. Are they witches? Vampires? Something else? Their need or desire for blood is a mystery, and it falls in the background for some reason.

Still, THE UNWANTED is entertaining, and I recommend it. The film is an interesting look at how people are not necessarily who we think they are, and sometimes the events in our lives have more meaning than we initially perceive. The film will be available next week, so make a note.

MSB

Movie Review – The Death King {Der Todesking} (1990)

The Death King (Der Todesking)
Directed by Jorg Buttgereit
Courtesy of Cult Epics & CAV Distribution
Original Year of Release: 1990
Blu-ray Release Date: June 9, 2015

the death king

Last year, I had the pleasure of reviewing director Jorg Buttgereit’s film, NEKROMANTIK. Although I loved it, I mentioned in that review the film would not be for everyone, and the subject matter is considered taboo by many. Buttgereit followed-up his controversial hit with THE DEATH KING, a segmented movie about suicide and death, where each individual piece takes place on a different day of the week. Each story is also prefaced by showing the rapid decomposition of a human body over a period of seven days. While this film might not sound as shocking as its predecessor, it is another well made jaunt into the bizarre, and I am glad I got to check it out.

If you are not familiar with THE DEATH KING, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Cult Epics:

Cult Epics presents the third release in the series Corpse F##king Art; Jorg Buttgereit’s powerful masterpiece Der Todesking (aka The Death King), made in-between Nekromantik (1987) and Nekromantik 2 (1991). Seven stories on Death and Suicide, each taking place on a different day of the week, enframed by the decomposition of a human body. Warning: extremely graphic.

Der Todesking, available for the first time on Blu-ray, is presented Uncut and Uncensored in a new High Definition transfer, including the bonus Shockumentary Corpse F##king Art; an in-depth look behind the scenes of Nekromantik, Nekromantik 2 and Der Todesking.

THE DEATH KING is shot well, in Buttgereit’s artistic yet straight-forward style, and the film looks good as a whole. I’m particularly impressed with the decomposing body scenes. I’m not sure how many days it took for the compositional breakdown to occur, but it looks mesmerizing nonetheless.

Surprisingly, there are not many special effects in this one. I was expecting many, given the subject matter, however we only get a few. Those we get to see are done well, however, and I have to give credit to the production team. Of particular note is the graphic castration of a prisoner; this scene is horrifyingly realistic and made me cringe.

I have to confess a couple of the segments in THE DEATH KING didn’t make sense to me. The Thursday piece is just video shots of a bridge in Germany with names that flash across the screen. I am assuming the names list those who jumped from the bridge, but that is never explained. Likewise, the Sunday segment is just a man in his bed, crying and banging his head. I understand the desolation and loneliness this is supposed to convey, but it didn’t work for me.

But those two complaints aside, THE DEATH KING is a dark look into realism that fans of NEKROMANTIK will certainly want to undertake. Be warned, however: this is another film that won’t be for everybody. If you are easily offended, you might want to pass this one by. But if you can stomach it, you’re in for a surrealistic journey you won’t soon forget. The special edition Blu-ray contains several bonuses, including:

* New Director’s Approved HD transfer (taken from the original 16mm negative)
* New Introduction by Jorg Buttgereit (2015)
* Audio Commentary by Jorg Buttgereit and co-author Franz Rodenkirchen
* The Making of Der Todesking
* Still Photo Gallery
* JB HD Trailers
* Corpse F##king Art (Documentary) 1983, 60 Minutes, HD transfer
* Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
* The first 3000 Blu-ray copies include Collectible Artwork
* 25th Anniversary (Silver embossed) Slipcover and Corpse F##king Art Postcard

MSB