Book Review – Sentinels by Matt Manochio

Sentinels
by Matt Manochio
Courtesy of Samhain Publishing
Release Date: November 3, 2015

sentinels

When I hear the word ‘sentinels’, my first thought is of the towering, mutant-killing robots from X-MEN. Author Matt Manochio’s recent book, SENTINELS, has nothing to do with automatons, however its antagonists are just as menacing. And whereas superpowers might work battling Marvel’s metal giants, Manochio’s sentinels offer no such hope.

If you are not familiar with SENTINELS, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Samhain Publishing:

These are no ordinary killers. They don’t distinguish between good and evil. They just kill. South Carolina’s a ruthless place after the Civil War. And when Sheriff’s Deputy Noah Chandler finds seven Ku Klux Klansmen and two Northern soldiers massacred along a road, he cannot imagine who would murder these two diametrically opposed forces. When a surviving Klansman babbles about wraiths, and is later murdered inside a heavily guarded jail cell, Noah realizes something sinister stalks his town. He believes a freed slave who’s trying to protect his farm from a merciless land baron can help unmask the killers. Soon Noah will have to personally confront the things good men must do to protect their loved ones from evil.

Earlier this year, in January, I had the pleasure of reviewing Manochio’s book THE DARK SERVANT. I was very impressed with the originality of his concept for that one, and I can say the same here.

SENTINELS is written well and flows with a nice, fluid rhythm. The pacing is spot on, and the plot unfolds with perfect balance. There’s even a nice twist that shows up later in the book, and thankfully, it is not cliche or over the top. In short, this book offers a solid and entertaining reading experience.

The characters are well thought-out, however I feel like more backstory could have been offered on a couple of them. This isn’t a detractor to the story, and it does not cut down on the enjoyment the book offers…however, I do feel like it warrants mentioning. Still, the main characters (such as Noah) are fleshed-out and believable.

The story in SENTINELS is fresh and engaging. As I mentioned, the concept of Manochio’s ‘sentinels’ is original, and I never once rolled my eyes at any overused horror tropes or banalities. This book is an island of refuge in a sea of overused horror plots.

SENTINELS is a great book, and I suggest giving it a look. Manochio is an author to watch, and I’m excited to see what he gives us next. SENTINELS is available now in a variety of formats.

MSB

Movie Review – A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

A Christmas Horror Story
Directed by Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, & Brett Sullivan
Courtesy of RLJ Entertainment
Release Date: November 24, 2015

a christmas

Just in time for Christmas…horror, carnage, and more! A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY blasted onto store shelves last week, and let me state right off: this is one movie you must see this holiday season! I wasn’t sure what to expect going into it, but I was hoping for some crazy, terrifying fun based on the plot synopsis. I mean, who can pass up zombie elves?? I am very happy to report this film exceeded my expectations. It is a new holiday classic that I see myself revisiting every year around this time.

If you are not familiar with A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of RLJ Entertainment:

It’s the season of joy, peace, and goodwill… unless you live in Bailey Downs. Last Christmas Eve, two teens came to a grisly end in a school basement. Now, one year later, a new set of horrors has come to town. As three friends explore the site of the massacre, a malevolent spirit is determined to keep them there forever. One of the first cops to the scene of the bloody murders has new complications as his seven-year-old son exhibits terrifying and violent behavior. And when a local family seeks reconciliation with an estranged aunt for the wrong reasons, they suddenly find themselves running in terror from Krampus, the demonic anti-Santa Claus. Not even St. Nick is immune to the terror as he fights back against a horde of zombie elves. This is destined to be a holiday no one will ever forget….

The more I watch holiday-themed horror, the more I like it. There’s just something about horrifying situations popping up during happy seasons that draws me in. I guess it’s the stark contrast between the happiness people should be feeling, with family gatherings and yuletide joy, and the terror that overshadows that in these films that I really enjoy. This seems to make the tension even more real to me.

A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY is shot well and appears to have a high production budget. The cohesiveness of the film is tight, and this aspect is especially impressive when considering three different directors had a hand in creating the five segments for this film. This is also a big reason the movie scores so high with me.

And speaking of scores, the music in the film is phenomenal. It fits the movie perfectly, and I found it very reminiscent of something Danny Elfman or Marco Beltrami might do. I would even go so far as to say I’d love to have it on CD.

The acting is very good, with several top-notch actors heading up a great cast. William Shatner shines as the radio DJ, Dangerous Dan. George Buza gives a powerful and convincing performance as a zombie-elf-killing Santa. Likewise, Rob Archer is very imposing and believable as Krampus. The rest of the cast meshes well, and the result is a well-rounded and talented group.

The special effects in A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY are impressive as well. The makeup for the zombie-elves and Krampus are superb, and the small bit of gore we get to see looks realistic. I also love the opening sequence, too…it is an intriguing entry-point for the film, and the CG is impressive.

A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY is a major win for me, and I highly recommend it. Chocked full of intensity and fun, this is one holiday horror flick you won’t soon forget. It is available now in a variety of formats.

MSB

Blu-ray Movie Review – Puppet Master 4 (1993)

Puppet Master 4
Directed by Jeff Burr
Courtesy of Full Moon Features
Original Date of Production: 1993
Blu-ray Release Date: October 12, 2015

puppet master

Prior to my site crashing back in 2012, I had the opportunity to review PUPPET MASTER 3 & 4 on Blu-ray, and I loved them both. I’ve been a big fan of the PUPPET MASTER series for many years, after seeing the first one way back in the early 90s. Since the release of the original, the franchise has taken many twists and turns, mostly for the better. PUPPET MASTER 4 was recently released on Blu-ray, and it, like its brothers, is still a blast after all this time. If you’ve never experienced the PM films before, now is the time to do so; the HD transfers will give you all the crazy puppet mayhem you can handle and then some!

If you are not familiar with PUPPET MASTER 4, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Full Moon Features:

Toulon’s Puppets for once, are about to do something good. As the bad puppets turn good!. The mini-menaces Blade, Tunneler, and Pinhead go toe-to-toe with their most menacing enemy yet-a team of terrifying, gremlin-like creatures known as “Totems” that are sent by the evil Egyptian demon Sutekh to recapture the magic stolen by Toulon. The demons target a young scientist, Rick who is now in possession of the Puppet Master secrets. As the creatures attempt to terminate his research and regain the “secret of life”, they leave a deadly path of destruction until the evil Totems finally find Toulon’s puppets in their way. However, Rick has a secret weapon on his side and the newest head-swapping puppet…Decapitron!

This is one of my favorite films from the series. I think in part because the puppets are in a transitional phase, reinventing themselves as ‘heroes’ as opposed to bad guys. This is intriguing for several reasons, as it changes the perspective by which the viewer judges them. Not to mention, it’s funny as well.

PUPPET MASTER 4 is shot well and looks great from a production standpoint. The same high quality stop-motion techniques are used, and the result is yet another satisfying film experience.

The acting is good with Gordon Currie and Chandra West heading up a decent cast. None of the actors give a truly breakout performance, however they still do a nice job in their roles. I did thoroughly enjoy Guy Rolfe, however, who portrays the aged Toulon. The original Toulon was played by actor William Hickey, who will forever remain Toulon to me…but Rolfe does an excellent job of filling Hickey’s shoes.

The special effects, as I mentioned above, are once again top notch and worthy of recognition. I never tire of seeing the puppets in their motions, as they always appear to actually be moving. There’s a stark difference between stop-motion and CG, and it shows sometimes onscreen. Even the best CG can appear cartoonish, however the best stop-motion can be hard to differentiate from real life. Such is the case here; you might just be blown away by what the effects team accomplishes.

PUPPET MASTER 4 is a great film, and it’s a worthy addition to the franchise. The Blu-ray looks great with a nice HD picture and some quality sound. I recommend picking this one up soon.

MSB

Blu-ray Movie Review – Edgar Allan Poe’s Black Cats: Two Adaptations By Sergio Martino & Lucio Fulci

Edgar Alan Poe’s Black Cats

YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY
Directed by Sergio Martino
Original Year of Release: 1972
THE BLACK CAT
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Original Year of Release: 1981

Courtesy of Arrow Films and MVD Distribution
Blu-ray Set Release Date: October 27, 2015

black-cats-249x300

Never in the history of Blu-ray has such a powerful film set been released. A bold proclamation to make, yes, but it is certainly warranted. EDGAR ALAN POE’S BLACK CATS is a two-movie collection that every fan of horror will want to own. Both movies are excellent in their own rights, but they are also drastically different. This diversity, as well as the individual allure of each film, is part of what makes this set so great, and it will make a perfect holiday gift for the horror lover in your life.

If you are not familiar with EDGAR ALAN POE’S BLACK CATS, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of

Edgar Allan Poe’s celebrated story The Black Cat has provided the inspiration for numerous films over the years. But few adaptations are as stylish as those offered up by the twin Italian titans of terror, Sergio Martino and Lucio Fulci. In Martino’s classic giallo Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, teacher Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli, A Bay of Blood) finds himself under suspicion for murder when one of his students – and mistress – is found brutally murdered. As more bodies start to pile up, the arrival of Oliviero’s attractive niece (Edwige Fenech, Five Dolls for an August Moon, All the Colours of the Dark) brings with it complications of its own. In The Black Cat, from that “other” Godfather of Gore, Lucio Fulci (Zombie), Scotland Yard Inspector Gorley (David Warbeck, The Beyond) find himself summoned to a sleepy English village to investigate the recent murder of a young couple. With no obvious signs of entry at the murder scene, Gorley is forced to start considering the possibility that his suspect may not be human… Finally together on Blu-ray and in stunning new 2K restorations from the original camera negatives, fans can enjoy the double-dose of terror that is Edgar Allan Poe’s Black Cats – Italian-style!

Arrow and MVD could not have picked two better films to highlight the unique takes on this Poe classic. Granted, many interpretations of the story have been made over the years, but these films are two of the best.

YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY is a slick Italian giallo from Sergio Martino. THE BLACK CAT is a chilling dose of horror from one of the Kings of Gore, Lucio Fulci. Both look excellent onscreen, thanks to brand new 2K restorations of the films from the original camera negatives. But whereas Martino’s film focuses on atmosphere, Fulci’s film goes for straight-up, in your face scares.

The acting in both films is very good, and each cast does a superb job in their roles. Likewise, the soundtracks of both are mesmerizing and haunting. I found myself humming both at various points after each film was over.

If I were forced to pick a favorite movie out of this set, I would have to choose Fulci’s THE BLACK CAT. I’m a big fan of his work to start with, so my selection might be biased…but I prefer the horrifying aspects of this in contrast to the slasher vibe of the other.

This EDGAR ALAN POE’S BLACK CATS collection is a huge win for me, and I recommend it to any fan of horror cinema. The special edition comes with a variety of limited edition contents that include:

* Brand new 2K restorations of the films from the original camera negatives
* High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
* Original Italian and English soundtracks in mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
* Newly translated subtitles for the Italian soundtracks
* Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtracks
* Brand new interview with director Sergio Martino
* Dolls of Flesh and Blood: The Gialli of Sergio Martino a visual essay by Michael Mackenzie exploring Sergio Martino’s unique contributions to the giallo genre
* Stephen Thrower, author of Beyond Terror – The Films of Lucio Fulci, on The Black Cat
* Reversible sleeves featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin
* Limited Edition 80-page perfect-bound book featuring new writing on the films, Poe s original story and more, illustrated with archive stills and posters
* Much more to be announced!

MSB

Book Review – Wolf Land by Jonathan Janz

Wolf Land
by Jonathan Janz
Courtesy of Samhain Publishing
Release Date: November 3, 2015

wolf land

I have had the honor and privilege of reviewing two of author Jonathan Janz’s prior books (click here to read the review of DUST DEVILS, and click here to read the review of SAVAGE SPECIES), and I must say the third time is just as sweet. WOLF LAND hit store shelves last month, and it is yet another huge credit to Janz’s impressive list of titles. I will even go so far as to state this is one of the best werewolf stories I’ve read in a while. Fans of lycans and their kin should be foaming at the mouth for this one, and rightfully so; WOLF LAND makes most werewolf stories look like cutesy puppy dog tales.

If you are not familiar with WOLF LAND, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Samhain Publishing:

An unholy predator on the prowl! The small town of Lakeview offers little excitement for Duane, Savannah, and their friends. They’re about to endure their ten-year high school reunion when their lives are shattered by the arrival of an ancient, vengeful evil. The werewolf. The first attack leaves seven dead and four wounded. And though the beast remains on the loose and eager to spill more blood, the sleepy town is about to face an even greater terror. Because the four victims of the werewolf’s fury are changing. They’re experiencing unholy desires and unimaginable cravings. They’ll prey on the innocent. They’ll act on their basest desires. Soon, they’ll plunge the entire town into a nightmare. Lakeview is about to become Wolf Land.

I’m glad to see a resurgence in werewolves. I’m also happy that many authors still write them as vicious and bloodthirsty, instead of mopey and romantic. The bestial nature of such creatures should, in my opinion, keep them from ever appearing in romance or teen novels.

As with his previous works, WOLF LAND is written well and flows at a steady, smooth clip. It is cliche to say the book pulls the reader in from the beginning, but it is true and literal in this case. The opening sentence resounds like a shotgun blast:

“A few hours before she witnessed the slaughter of her former classmates, Savannah was shoveling down her second bowl of spaghetti.”

There’s no way a reader could pass that one by. The whole book has this feel to it, giving the reader a burning desire to finish just one more page. Before long, the end is approaching, and a truckload of tension still hangs in the air. I was worried Janz wouldn’t give us a concise conclusion, but thankfully my fears were unfounded. The book wraps up nicely, and I’m very happy with how things turned out. I’m not saying it’s a necessarily happy ending per se…but I’m not refuting it, either. You’ll just have to read it and form your own conclusion.

The characters in WOLF LAND are fleshed out well and believable. Many of them struck chords with me, as I could relate them to people with whom I went to high school. As such, I felt invested in them. This makes the anxiety level of the book skyrocket when things start going bad.

The story is intriguing and gripping, a compelling look at the complex lives we live and how things are not always what they seem. The lycans are brutal and unforgiving, just like I’ve always pictured them to be. You won’t find any doting, puppy-eyed wolves here…these beasts would rather rip your throat out than hear you try to discuss your feelings.

WOLF LAND is a huge win for me, and it’s an excellent addition to the werewolf genre. I highly recommend this, and I suggest you pick it up soon. Crammed full of suspense and terror, this book is the perfect way to warm up those cold December nights.

MSB

Book Review – Baby’s Breath by Sydney Leigh

Baby’s Breath
by Sydney Leigh
Courtesy of Villipede Publications
Release Date: April 21, 2015

baby's

If the cover of BABY’S BREATH doesn’t mesmerize you and pique your curiosity, there must be something wrong with you. If I were to find this book on a shelf, I’d snatch it up for sure before I even knew what it was about or who wrote it. Author Sydney Leigh offers much more than just a pretty face for this story, however, and I guarantee you’ll be haunted by this one long after the final sentence.

If you are not familiar with BABY’S BREATH, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Villipede Publications:

Diane is an obstetric nurse who fears losing her new husband after becoming pregnant. Her paranoid descent into madness creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, exacerbated by Ben’s increasing neglect of his vulnerable wife. As new life grows both inside and around her, Diane’s marriage deteriorates―but so does her health, along with that of her unborn child’s―and her resulting grief pushes her to carry out a shocking act of revenge.

Originally appeared in Bugs: Tales That Slither, Creep, and Crawl from Great Old Ones Publishing with a Foreword by Simon Rumley. Bram Stoker Award Finalist for Superior Achievement in Short Fiction and winner of the Best Horror Short Story Award in the 2014 Preditors & Editors Reader’s Poll. “Transference,” the opening paragraph of “Baby’s Breath,” was originally a standalone micro-fiction piece featured on Episode 503 of The Wicked Library, and is a Best Speculative Fiction Audio Drama Finalist in the 2015 Parsec Awards.

Ok, so this is actually a short story, and not a book…but it IS in book format, and the cover IS amazing. Thus, I would make it a point to try and pick it up in physical form. Regardless of the format, get this story at all costs…it is very worth it.

BABY’S BREATH is written well and packs a huge punch for being so short (it measures in at 13 pages in total). Leigh is a master storyteller, and her talents are on full display here. If you have never read her work, this piece is the perfect place to start.

The story is excellent, and the light and airy tone it starts with is quickly replaced with a dark and menacing one. I wasn’t sure what to expect, based on the opening paragraph, but I was not disappointed at all. At the conclusion, the last sentence startled and thrilled me, and I still have not fully recovered from its effect.

BABY’S BREATH is a hell of a read, and I highly recommend it. You’ll get a lot of terror in a small package, and it’s worth every penny. Grab a copy of this one for sure.

MSB