Book Review – Nightwalk by D. Nathan Hilliard

Nightwalk
by D. Nathan Hilliard
Courtesy of the author (self-published)
Release Date: August 31, 2015

nightwalk

I strive to find originality when I’m looking for horror fiction, which is one of the reasons I am constantly drawn to D. Nathan Hilliard’s work. Hilliard has a knack for coming up with fascinating ideas, and then combining them with horrific and terrifying elements. To say his works are entertaining is a huge understatement; I would venture so far as to say he is one of the most engrossing authors in the genre today.

His latest release, NIGHTWALK, continues this tradition of excellence. Although the premise might sound simple, the story is a dynamic web of character interactions and physical horrors. If you’ve never read one of Hilliard’s novels before, this book is the perfect entry point to begin. And if you’re already a fan, get ready for an intense ride into Hell.

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

Welcome to Coventry Woods…
…a tranquil, middle class neighborhood where trees turn the streets into shady tunnels, soccer moms jog on secluded paths, and backyard barbecues are weekend staples. It’s a quiet, urban example of the American dream. Here businessmen are neighbors with radio DJs, young doctors buy their first houses, and author Mark Garrett has been settling in with his lovely new wife and stepdaughter.

But tonight Coventry Woods is going to come with something Mark never bargained on.
The pits of hell have yawned wide and poured their contents into the midnight streets and homes. Everything has gone insane. Shots and screams ring out in the night, while death stalks the darkness in forms this earth has never before seen. Even worse, the only hope of escape is by foot.

Now Mark, along with his stepdaughter and his back-fence neighbor, must flee the neighborhood while attempting to help anybody they meet. And it won’t be easy. They will be walking a gauntlet of unearthly predators, as they strive toward a goal they aren’t even sure still exists…the outside world.

I have to admit Hilliard’s book SPIDERSTALK still holds the title of My Favorite D. Nathan Hilliard Book, however NIGHTWALK is running a close second. I love the Lovecraftian influence of the creature design, as well as the constant air of dread that hangs over the whole story.

NIGHTWALK is written well and moves smoothly at a nice clip. The beginning puts the reader right into the action very quickly, with no unnecessary exposition or fanfare. Once the story gets going, it never lets up…much like the intensity.

The characters are believable and fleshed out well. I like how no stereotypes appear in the story. Instead, the reader is treated to realistic individuals one might find in any and every neighborhood in America. I spotted a couple from mine immediately. This helps create a bond between them and the reader, which in turn makes for a more immersive story.

And speaking of the story, it is a terrifying ride into the unknown. I particularly enjoy how Hilliard takes his character’s familiar surroundings and turns them into a dangerous element. What was once comfortable is now strange and scary. This aspect boosts the tension exponentially in the book.

NIGHTWALK is a huge win for me, and it’s another top-notch feather in Hilliard’s proverbial cap. I highly recommend this book, as I do everything else the man has written. If you’re looking for high octane horror with horrifying monsters (both nonhuman and human alike) and heart-stopping terror, give this one a look. It is available now in a variety of formats.

MSB

Movie Review – Children of the Night (2015)

Children of the Night
Directed by Ivan Noel
Courtesy of Artsploitation Films
Release Date: October 6, 2015

children

Children in horror movies always make the tension in such films more palpable, and therefore more fun. It’s one thing to consider horrific acts happening to adults…but it’s even more reprehensible to think of those things happening to children. But what about films where the kids are the ones committing these atrocities? Filmmaker Ivan Noel asked that very question, and thus, CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT was born. This haunting and inventive film is not perfect, but it’s a lot of fun and certainly worthy of your attention.

If you are not familiar with CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Artsploitation Films:

A secluded colony of child vampires come under attack from vengeful villagers in this darkly funny horror tale by Argentinean filmmaker Ivan Noel. A journalist visits a secluded orphanage where children suffer from an unknown skin disease. She soon learns that they are in fact not children, but vampires aging from 4 to 120 years old and who have been bitten at an early age and forever remain in that physical state. They are led and protected by a strange and deeply religious ex-nurse whose destiny in life is to find these ‘lost souls’ and raise them in her sanctuary. Through religious teachings, nocturnal rituals and the occasional visit to local towns for fresh human blood, she keeps them safe – that is until a cultish band of men from a nearby village plot to destroy the refuge. Now the children, headed by the 90-year-old grandson of Count Dracula, must defend their way of life.

When I heard this was a ‘darkly funny’ film, I was curious to see how deep the comedic elements might go. After all, horror comedies are big right now, and I can see how this concept could make a fun and funny film. Interestingly, though, the film is more of a dramatic piece with some hints of both humor and horror.

CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT is shot pretty well, although the camera used looks like it might be a cheaper one. The film quality is decent overall, but the darker scenes look grainier than I would have preferred. The set locations are nice, particularly the areas around the orphanage.

The acting is pretty good, too. Sabrina Ramos does a great job as the reporter, Alicia. Likewise, Ana Maria Giunta does a fine job in her final role before her death as Erda, the children’s overseer. The rest of the cast supports the main characters well enough, however there are no real standout performances.

The special effects in CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT look great. The blood looks real, and even the vampire teeth are believable. Surprisingly, the carnage is minimalistic, and yet effective. Most vampire films rely on a certain degree of gore to help maintain the intensity of the storyline. This film, on the other hand, shows a small bit but relies more on the story itself. I don’t consider this a negative at all; quite the contrary, in fact…it’s refreshing to see a film that can entertain without a lot of visuals.

And speaking of the story, it is a welcome and interesting addition to the vampire genre. I am truly impressed with its originality, as its focus on the children is something I’ve rarely seen in this genre of horror. My sole complaint is that I would have liked a bit more fleshing out of the characters, particularly Siegfried.

But with that aside, I still consider CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT a win, and I recommend it to anyone looking for lighthearted horror. The movie feels like a cross between Shakespeare’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM and an older Hammer Dracula film, and that makes it worthy to watch on many levels. Be prepared to read subtitles, though…the film lacks an English dubover. CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT is available now in a variety of formats.

MSB

Movie Review – Hyde’s Secret Nightmare (2011)

Hyde’s Secret Nightmare
Directed by Domiziano Cristopharo
Courtesy of One 7 Movies & CAV Distribution
Original Year of Production: 2011
DVD Release Date: October 13, 2015

HydeCover

I’ve always been intrigued by the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story. Aside from being an interesting character study between refined society and bestial nature, the tale also shows the repercussions we face when impulse-control is denied. As such, this story makes a great basis for just about any type of genre film, but especially horror. So when I heard the fine folks at CAV Distribution were releasing HYDE’S SECRET NIGHTMARE, I jumped on the chance to check it out. And while the film is not perfect, it’s still a lot of fun and worthy of watching.

If you are not familiar with HYDE’S SECRET NIGHTMARE, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of One 7 Movies:

An ‘erotic horror’ movie dedicated to Joe D’Amato, Hyde’s Secret Nightmare combines the two genres and mixes them in equal parts. Cross-cut erotic and horror scenes are kept together by a thread of dramatic force bordering on obsession, paranoia, phobia, perversion, and lack of self-acceptance. Everything unfolds in an extreme world where sex seems the only way to attain a state of well-being.

Against the backdrop of some old-style horror movie, complete with a mad doctor, hunbacked assistant, and corpse thieves begins the story of Henry, a scientist who attempts to create a miraculous remedy to cure his impotence. His loyal assistant, Hans, helps him, along with Abdul, a necrophiliac gravedigger who finds the corpses for his experiments. Unsatisfied with their results, Henry tests on himself the serum that he has been studying and improving for years. He finds himself in the body of a woman—Eva Hyde.

Before I go any further, I need to post a warning: this film contains graphic nudity and sex scenes, as well as disturbing and realistic gore. This is an Adults Only film that boasts a XXX rating, so make sure you realize this before you watch. If this doesn’t bother you, then read on.

HYDE’S SECRET NIGHTMARE looks ok from a production standpoint, but the film quality leaves a lot to be desired in some places. Most of it looks fine, however there are a few scenes that look as if they were shot with a VHS camcorder from the 80s. Thankfully, these are few and far between, so it doesn’t detract from the film too much.

The acting is pretty standard, and nobody really stands out from the cast. Claudio Zanelli and Roberta Gemma portray the lead character(s), and both do a fine job. Andrea Autullo gives a semi-humorous performance as Abdul, and veteran actor Venantino Venantini does a fine job as the barkeep. Most of the performers are cast in bit parts, with very little screentime, so it’s hard to judge their portrayals…but they all seem decent.

The special effects in HYDE’S SECRET NIGHTMARE are horrific in their realism. There’s a few bashed-in heads and some other carnage, but what I found most cringeworthy are the penis-injection scenes. When Henry decides to use the serum he’s created, my stomach started hurting at the thought of what he was about to do. But when the film shows him actually doing it, I almost had to walk away. The scenes are that gruesome. I commend the special effects team and their ability to create such memorable and haunting images.

The story in HYDE’S SECRET NIGHTMARE is very curious. It is part horror, part mystery, part erotic, and part public-service announcement. Yes, that’s correct…the filmmakers throw in some PSAs and even some philosophical commentary. I found this odd and yet refreshing at the same time. The film is not so much preachy as it is informative, and this is a nice change of pace from some of the more ‘in-your-face’ type of movies.

My biggest complaint about the film is its length. It clocks in at over two hours long, however the editors should have shaved at least 30 minutes off of that. This isn’t enough to try and dissuade you from seeing the film, but I do have to make a mention of it.

Still, HYDE’S SECRET NIGHTMARE is entertaining and weird, an almost surrealistic trek into a modern-day dark fantasy. If you can handle graphic sex depictions and hardcore gore, this is a movie you’ll want to check out. It is available now.

MSB

Movie Review – Ascension (2015)

Ascension
Courtesy of Lionsgate
Release Date: October 13, 2015

ascension

*While ASCENSION is technically a miniseries from SyFy Channel, I am labeling it as a movie for review purposes, as SyFy did not turn it into a season-long series.

I’ve heard many people complain about SyFy Channel, saying they show very little science fiction these days. While that might be true, SyFy Channel still knows what us genre fans like, and they deliver when they can. Such is the case with ASCENSION, a miniseries that debuted on SyFy Channel a while ago. This is one of the most engaging titles we’ve ever been offered from SyFy Channel, and I hope to see more of this quality from them in the future.

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

The sci-fi mystery miniseries “Ascension” offers a truly refreshing premise as it follows a colony of humans halfway into a century-long secret space mission. When a young woman is murdered aboard the U.S. Orion-class spaceship, conflicts arise and the inhabitants question their purpose as the saviors of mankind. Based on the real-life Project Orion that was developed under President John F. Kennedy, “Ascension” boasts deep-orbit drama in a stylized setting—a self-described “Mad Men in space.”

One of the biggest draws of this film is how human drama is set against a genre-specific backdrop. This aspect is also the root of many shows I love: THE WALKING DEAD, BLACK SAILS, and GAME OF THRONES just to name a few. All offer exciting and fantastical elements as a stage on which to play out the more humanistic components of the plot.

ASCENSION is shot well and looks great onscreen. The film spares no expense when it comes to offering what a spacecraft built in the 60s might look like. The attention to detail is fantastic, and it helps to immerse the viewer in the experience.

The acting is also top notch as well. The cast is filled with all-star talent, that includes Tricia Helfer, Gil Bellows, Brian Van Holt, Andrea Roth, Brandon P. Bell, and Brad Carter. If you’ve never heard their names before, chances are you will in the future. The whole cast meshes well together and offers memorable performances.

The special effects in ASCENSION are nice, although I did see a couple of scenes that looked a bit too cartoonish. These particularly occur with the exterior shots of the ship. Still, there’s no denying these effects are better than what we usually see from SyFy, which is a big plus in my book.

The drama, however, is what wins me over here. The description above claims the film is like “Mad Men in space”, and that is the perfect way to describe it. There’s more twists and turns in the plot than in a soap opera. And just when you think you know what’s going to happen, the show turns your assumptions sideways.

ASCENSION is a big win for me, and I highly recommend it. There’s a lot to like here, and SyFy Channel shows us that it is still a relevant station. Check this out for sure.

MSB

Movie Review – The Golden Cane Warrior (2015)

The Golden Cane Warrior
Directed by Ifa Isfansyah
Courtesy of Well Go USA
Release Date: November 3, 2015

Golden Cane

It seems the action film market is seeing an increase in movies from Indonesia. I imagine this is due, in part, to the success of films like THE RAID. But regardless of the reason, we (as viewers) can be thankful, for many of these films are well made and a lot of fun. THE GOLDEN CANE WARRIOR is one of these very films. And while the plot might not sound all too original, this movie is definitely a must-see for fans of martial arts cinema.

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

The Golden Cane: a relic of incomparable force, coveted by all. And with it, the training of a technique so unrivaled, it vanquishes all who dare oppose its power. As Master Cempaka and her four disciples – orphans of her enemies, now heirs to the Cane – prepare for the new warrior guardian to ascend, an act of villainous betrayal threatens to destroy the clan and destabilize the realm. Their only hope to restore order lies in finding the elusive White Dragon, the only remaining pupil still equipped to unlock the mysteries of the Golden Cane.

This film offers many reasons to like it. The cinematography looks great, the acting is decent, the scenery is beautiful, and the fight choreography is amazing. In short, this movie contains every positive aspect I look for.

As mentioned above, THE GOLDEN CANE WARRIOR is shot very well. I like the artistic feel the movie has; it reminds me a lot of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON in that regard.

The acting is pretty good, although I confess I’ve never heard of any of these actors. Eva Celia Latjuba does a great job as the main character, Dara. Likewise, Reza Rahadian portrays her nemesis, Biru, with ease. The rest of the cast supports them well, particularly in the action areas.

And speaking of action, THE GOLDEN CANE WARRIOR has plenty of it. There’s a lot of cane-fighting (which makes sense, seeing as how the title promotes a ‘Golden Cane Warrior’, after all), and it is superb. Each sequence is drenched with intensity and flair, making each skirmish a heart-racing affair. My sole complaint about the action (and the whole film, for that matter) is how the ‘ultimate move’ at the end is a bit anticlimactic. The film gears you up for something amazing, but then…it kinda fizzles.

But that is the only negative thing I can say about the film. THE GOLDEN CANE WARRIOR is a great, solid addition to the action film genre, and I recommend giving it a look. The film hits store shelves today, but check it out on Blu-ray if you can. The HD picture and sound are certainly worth it.

MSB

Book Review – Grunt Life by Weston Ochse

Grunt Life
by Weston Ochse
Courtesy of Solaris Books
Release Date: April 29, 2014

grunt life

I thought it couldn’t happen. I just knew it in my bones. There was no way, no how an author could think up something new in the alien invasion fiction genre. Everything had been done, my mind told me. But boy, was it wrong! Just when I thought there was nothing new under the sun, author Weston Ochse shows up to prove me wrong. And I’m so glad he did! GRUNT LIFE, the first book in his Task Force Ombra series, is a heck of a ride, and it showcases the talents of a wildly imaginative author.

If you are not familiar with GRUNT LIFE, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Solaris Books:

This is a brand new Military SF series from Weston Ochse, an experienced military man and author.

Benjamin Carter Mason died last night. Maybe he threw himself off a bridge into Los Angeles Harbor, or maybe he burned to death in a house fire in San Pedro; it doesn’t really matter. Today, Mason’s starting a new life. He’s back in boot camp, training for the only war left that matters a damn.

For years, their spies have been coming to Earth, mapping our cities, learning our weaknesses, leaving tragedy in their wake. Our governments knew, but they did nothing—the prospect was too awful, the costs too high—and now, the horrifying and utterly alien Cray are invading, laying waste to our cities. The human race is a heartbeat away from extinction.

That is, unless Mason, and the other men and women of Task Force OMBRA, can do anything about it. This is a time for heroes. For killers. For Grunts.

Man, this book amped me up! It shakes up the genre and gives it a much-needed shot in the arm. I cannot wait to jump into book two, GRUNT TRAITOR.

GRUNT LIFE is written well and flows at a nice clip. The story progresses quickly, yet the rapid progression does not leave you with questions. Rather, Ochse does a great job of giving the reader just enough info to stay intrigued. As a result, the story unfolds nicely, offering fast-paced thrills and hardcore battle action.

The characters are all damaged and believable. Each is fleshed out well, and each offers numerous reasons for the reader to either love or hate them.

GRUNT LIFE also has its characters do something I’ve never read about before: in preparation for the invasion, the grunts are all forced to watch and read an extensive list of alien invasion movies and books. This is a very interesting concept, as it cultivates the mind to think in terms of ‘what if’, and I can see how it would greatly benefit a soldier fighting such a war.

GRUNT LIFE is a huge win for me, and I highly recommend it. Author Weston Ochse is ex-military, and his extensive knowledge of the armed forces shines through in this novel, resulting in a high energy, high entertainment read. I can’t wait to see where book two takes the story. GRUNT LIFE is available now in a variety of formats, so give it a look.

MSB