Book Review – Wicked Witches Anthology

Wicked Witches
By Various Authors
Publisher: New England Horror Writers Press
Release Date: October 11, 2016

For most writers, crafting short stories takes a lot of effort and sometimes, even brute force. When the words won’t put themselves together in a coherent form, many times writers have to bludgeon them into place and then see what shakes out. I speak from personal experience on this, as several of my shorts are the result of relentless pounding and under-the-breath cursing.

I’m not sure if any of the writers involved with the WICKED WITCHES anthology went through this ordeal, but if so, the results are well-worth the angst. WICKED WITCHES is a great collection of short stories about exactly what the title describes: those evil sorceresses that thrive on wreaking havoc through their mischievous magics. These twenty-two tales are a delight to read, and horror fiction fans will want to add this anthology to their libraries as soon as possible.

If you are not familiar with the WICKED WITCHES anthology, here is the book’s synopsis courtesy of the New England Horror Writers Press:

New England has a rich, dark history with the supernatural. From this region many writers of dark fiction have fueled their stories. One chapter in history has been the stuff of legends and nightmares: the Witch. Look to ancient mythology or your next door neighbor and you will find them, practicing arts both Dark and Light. The New England Horror Writers proudly present a new anthology which pays tribute to those whose ancestors were accused, hung, pressed, drowned, or burned at the stake. Enter these pages, wander the hard roads of Colonial America or modern corporate boardrooms, to face the Witch. Wicked Witches, fiction from New England’s most talented writers: G.D. Dearborn, Barry Lee Dejasu, Peter N. Dudar, Jeremy Flagg, Joshua Goudreau, Catherine Grant, Jan Kozlowski, Patrick Lacey, Izzy Lee, Nick Manzolillo, John McIlveen, Paul McMahon, James A. Moore, Errick A. Nunnally, Ogmios, Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, Doug Rinaldi, Rob Smales, Morgan Sylvia, K.H. Vaughan, Morven Westfield and Trisha J. Wooldridge Introduction by Penny Dreadful; Cover art by Mikio Murakami

Given the geographic proximity of where these New England writers are based, I cannot think of a more qualified group to write about witches and their dark intentions. I’m not sure how many of them (if any) live close to the original Salem Township, but I would imagine being anywhere within 1,000 miles of the place would be inspirational enough to crank out endless accounts about witches and witchcraft.

The stories in WICKED WITCHES are all written well, and each does a great job of offering up a unique tale. In fact, this abundant originality is a big part of what makes this anthology so good. The authors appear to have worked hard to stay away from traditional tropes about witches, and thankfully so; the overused and overdone concepts of witchcraft are getting as frequent as zombie stories.

One of my favorite stories in this collection is “Run in the Widow’s Hell” by K. H. Vaughan. In this tale, a moonshiner during the Prohibition era makes a bad decision to drive through a patch of woods where a witch lives. As I’m sure you can guess, things don’t end well for him. I love the atmosphere the author creates, as well as the way the story concludes.

WICKED WITCHES is a big win for me, and I highly recommend this book. I’m very happy this talented group of writers was able to make witches scary for me again. As such, I cannot wait to see what they do next. WICKED WITCHES is available now in a variety of formats.

MSB

Blu-ray Movie Review – The Black Society Trilogy (Shinjuku Triad Society, Rainy Dog, & Ley Lines)

The Black Society Trilogy
Shinjuku Triad Society
Original Year of Release: 1995
Rainy Dog
Original Year of Release: 1997
Ley Lines
Original Year of Release: 1999
Directed by Takashi Miike
Courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distribution
Blu-ray Release Date: January 24, 2017

I have been a fan of director Takashi Miike for a long time, although I confess I didn’t realize how diverse his films were until just a few years ago. And when I say diverse, I’m not kidding; Miike has made movies that range from family-friendly to just downright wrong. This is definitely a good thing, as it does not confine him to a certain stereotype, but the Black Society Trilogy are the three films that helped define him for a generation of film buffs.

THE BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY is comprised of three different movies that really have nothing to do with each other. They were shot within a four-year span, although Miike did several other titles during this period as well. These three stand out as some of the best examples of his distinct style. And as a result, they are a trio of absolute classics.

If you are not familiar with THE BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distribution:

After several years spent working almost exclusively in the direct-to-video world of V-cinema in Japan, Takashi Miike announced himself as a world-class filmmaking talent with this trio of thematically-connected, character-centric crime stories about violence, the underworld of Japanese society, families both real and surrogate, and the possibly hopeless task of finding one’s place in the world. His first films made specifically for theatrical release, and his first for a major studio, the Black Society Trilogy was the beginning of Miike’s mature career as a filmmaker and they remain among the prolific director’s finest works.

Set in the bustling Kabuki-cho nightlife neighborhood of Tokyo, Shinjuku Triad Society follows a mixed-race cop (Kippei Shiina, Outrage) struggling with private issues while hunting a psychotic criminal (Tomorowo Taguchi, Tetsuo the Iron Man) who traffics in children’s organs. Rainy Dog, shot entirely in Taiwan, is about an exiled yakuza (Dead or Alive s Show Aikawa) who finds himself saddled with a son he never knew he had and a price on his head after the Chinese gang he works for decides to turn on him. Ley Lines moves from the countryside to the city and back, as three Japanese youths of Chinese descent (including The Raid 2’s Kazuki Kitamura) seek their fortune in Tokyo, only to run afoul of a violent gang boss (Naoto Takenaka, The Happiness of the Katakuris).

Three of the most dramatically moving films created by the director, the “Black Society Trilogy” offers clear proof that Miike’s frequent pigeonholing as a specialist in bloody spectacle is only one aspect of his filmmaking career, and taken as a whole, the films are among the finest works ever to deal with the way violence and brutality can unexpectedly destroy even the most innocent of lives.

Miike has 100 directing credits in his filmography, and I’m chagrinned to admit I’ve only seen about 10 of his films. But every one I’ve seen has been fantastic, regardless of the genre. I am consistently impressed with the wide skillset Miike presents with his filmmaking.

Each film in THE BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY is shot well and looks excellent onscreen. The HD transfer looks nice, offering crisp imagery and impeccable sound. I saw RAINY DOG years ago on DVD, and the picture quality was terrible. I’m glad to see the Blu-ray version is much, much improved.

The acting in each film is great, although I admit I’m only vaguely familiar with a few of the names. The actor that stood out the most is one I recognized from a previous film: Kazuki Kitamura, who portrays Ryuichi in LEY LINES, was also Boss Koji from the Crazy 88 in KILL BILL: VOLUME 2. This lack of recognizable actors does nothing to detract from the films, however.

The stories in each film of THE BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY are complex and well-developed. SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY is a riveting crime-thriller with top-notch pacing and an intriguing concept. Likewise, RAINY DOG is a darkly humorous thriller that captivates, thanks to the drama between the yakuza and his unwanted son. And finally, LEY LINES is a dark, atmospheric movie that deals with detachment and alienation. The stark difference in each film is a testament to the diverse talents of their accomplished director.

If I were forced to pick a favorite film out of this group, I’d probably go with RAINY DOG. As I mentioned, I had seen it before, therefore I knew what to expect. When compared to the other two films, it’s a bit more light-hearted and therefore not as tense. Now, don’t get me wrong: I loved LEY LINES and SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY as well. But RAINY DOG struck a chord with me, and it is therefore the one that stands out most in my mind.

THE BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY is a major win for me, and I highly recommend adding it to your movie library. These are quintessential Miike films, so if you’re a fan of his style or even just Japanese crime-thrillers in general, these three films are must-haves. The set is available now. In addition to the HD picture and sound, the set contains some nice features that include:

2-DISC SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• High Definition digital transfers of all three films
• Original uncompressed PCM stereo audio
• Optional English subtitles for all three films
• New interview with director Takashi Miike
• New interview with actor Show Aikawa (Rainy Dog, Ley Lines)
• New audio commentaries for all three films by Miike biographer Tom Mes
• Original theatrical trailers for all three films
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon
• FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the films

MSB

Book Review – Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Curse of the Crimson Throne

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Curse of the Crimson Throne
Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Release Date: October 28, 2016

I have to confess: for all the years I have spent dabbling in Paizo’s worlds, I have never played the original Adventure Path CURSE OF THE CRIMSON THRONE campaigns. I had heard of them, but for some reason, they never crossed my path, so to speak. So, when Paizo released this hardback compilation, I figured it was time to give them a look.

I am so glad Paizo decided to release this in a deluxe collection, because this campaign is simply awesome. Massive in scope and beautifully drawn out in the book, the CRIMSON THRONE is an excellent addition to the Pathfinder universe. I daresay I have only scratched the tip of its potential, and I can’t wait to see where my group winds up within it.

If you are not familiar with CURSE OF THE CRIMSON THRONE, here is the book’s synopsis courtesy of Paizo Publishing:

Return to a classic Pathfinder Adventure Path with Curse of the Crimson Throne, one of Paizo’s most popular campaigns! The city of Korvosa is in chaos, and her new queen may well be the source―can a ragtag group of heroes stand before the might of one of Golarion’s most notorious villains? This immense book collects the six classic Curse of the Crimson Throne adventures, and has everything you need to run an entire, full-length campaign covering months and months of play!

The Curse of the Crimson Throne hardcover includes:

• Updates the classic Adventure Path to the Pathfinder RPG rules for the first time!
• Explore expanded adventures, including a brand new mission written by Paizo’s Creative Director, James Jacob,s that sends the heroes into a perilous dungeon run by the queen’s infamous Gray Maidens!
• Features dozens of evocative new illustrations of classic characters!
• New and updated rules for monsters, magic items, and character options

As with the majority of Paizo’s books, the artwork in this one stands out like a beacon. I love the intricate detail the artists infuse into each picture. The images tell discreet little stores that help heighten interest in each section of the book.

CURSE OF THE CRIMSON THRONE is very in-depth and explains, in great detail, everything needed to run the campaign. The information is laid out in easy-to-understand sections, but it is not overwhelming and does not bog down the GM with unnecessary elements. This aspect is one of the main reasons I keep playing the Pathfinder RPG; the core system AND the add-ons are easy to use, and they never fail to entertain.

I think my favorite feature of the CRIMSON THRONE campaign is the ability to change the rules options for characters. This can range from campaign traits to spells, and doing so can create all sorts of deviations in gameplay. I have to yet to try this out, but I love just the prospect of being able to do so.

CURSE OF THE CRIMSON THRONE is a major win for me, and as I mentioned above, I can’t wait to see how it plays out. My group has only been in it for a month or so, and I feel like we’ve got A LONG way to go still. But even so, I’m very excited with how far we’ve come. This campaign is available now, and it will make an exciting quest for even the most veteran of players.

MSB

Blu-ray Movie Review – The Driller Killer (1979)

The Driller Killer
Directed by Abel Ferrara
Courtesy of MVD Distribution & Arrow Video
Original Year of Release: 1979
Blu-ray Release Date: December 13, 2016

With a title like THE DRILLER KILLER, you would expect a massive body count and loads of carnage…right? Interestingly enough, if you said yes, you would be a little off the mark. While THE DRILLER KILLER is definitely a horror flick, the body count winds up surprisingly low, and the gore (while well done) is not doled out in large quantities, either. The resulting film is an interesting dramatic thriller with horror undertones.

But even so, this isn’t just a simple slasher flick. In fact, it’s quite a bit more. In addition to impressive special effects, audience members will get a riveting dramatic story as they watch a regular, every day guy slip into a frustrated madness. THE DRILLER KILLER is hard to define, but it is certainly entertaining.

If you are not familiar with THE DRILLER KILLER, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of MVD Distribution & Arrow Video:

In a career that has encompassed such controversial classics as Ms. 45, Bad Lieutenant and Welcome to New York, none of Abel Ferrara s films have quite managed to match the shock, extremity and downright notorious nature of The Driller Killer.

Ferrara plays struggling artist Reno, a man pushed to the edge by the economic realities of New York living in the late seventies and the No Wave band practicing in the apartment below. His grip on reality soon begins to slip and he takes to stalking the streets with his power tool in search of prey…

Forgot Taxi Driver, The Warriors and The New York Ripper, The Driller Killer is the definitive look at NYC s underbelly a slasher that is as much at home in the arthouse as it is the grindhouse.

One of the most surprising aspects of this film for me is that the director, Abel Ferrara, portrays the main character Reno, although he does so under the stage name of Jimmy Laine. I’m not sure if I’m surprised more about the director’s portrayal or the fact that he used a fake name. Either way, Ferrara does a great job in the role.

THE DRILLER KILLER is shot well for the most part and looks good onscreen. A couple of the darker scenes are hard to make out in places, even in HD, but this is definitely forgivable given the dark nature of the film. And speaking of the HD restoration, it looks great. The picture is vivid, and the sound is crisp. Blu-ray is definitely the way to watch this film.

The acting, as mentioned, is good. In addition to Ferrara (Laine), the cast includes a variety of talented people, however none of their names stand out.

The special effects, although few, look amazing. The carnage is very believable, and I am very impressed with how the effects team worked to pull some of them off. In particular is one scene where a man takes a drill straight to the face. This is horrifically realistic, and I am not sure how it was done. Many times, cutaway scenes provide the team a place in which to slip in a fake head; not so here. The scene is continuous and brutal, which makes me wonder just how fake it might be.

THE DRILLER KILLER is a big win for me, and despite its low number of killings, it’s still a great slasher flick (that’s what sub-genre I’m putting it in for now). It is available now. The special edition contents include:

• Brand new restoration from original film elements
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Original Uncompressed Mono PCM audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Audio commentary by director and star Abel Ferrara, moderated by Brad Stevens (author of Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision) and recorded exclusively for this release
• Brand new interview with Ferrara
• Willing and Abel: Ferraraology 101, a new visual essay guide to the films and career of Ferrara by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Cultographies: Ms. 45
• Mulberry St. (2010), Ferrara s feature-length documentary portrait of the New York location that has played a key role in his life and work, available on home video in the US for the first time ever
• Trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector s booklet featuring new writing by Michael Pattison and Brad Stevens

MSB

Movie Review – Killer Rack (2016)

Killer Rack
Directed by Greg Lamberson
Courtesy of Camp Motion Pictures
Release Date: December 13, 2016

It was bound to happen sooner or later. I mean, after all, we’ve had movies about deadly condoms, a vagina with teeth, and even a lethal male member. So why not throw in some terrifying ta-ta’s?

Fortunately, KILLER RACK is well made for a lower budget film, and it’s a lot of fun as well. This tongue-in-cheek horror-comedy is gruesome, hilarious, and even offers a nice bit of social commentary. As such, you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck with this one.

If you are not familiar with KILLER RACK, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Camp Motion Pictures:

From the director of Slime City comes a screwball horror comedy about a set of monstrous mammaries: Killer Rack! In a world that prizes breast size over accomplishments, Betty Downer just can’t get a break. Scorned by her co-workers, ridiculed by her boyfriend and overlooked by her boss, Betty impulsively books breast enhancement surgery with the Elder Gods-worshipping Dr. Kate Thulu…and then all hell breaks loose! Don’t miss the festival sensation Fangoria calls funny and bloody and 411mania calls a wild and wicked horror comedy! Winner of multiple awards including Outstanding Horror Comedy (Zed Fest). Killer Rack! Bonus features include: Short Film: Kill the Bitch, Deleted Scenes, Behind-the-scenes, Trailer, Short Film: The Camper

I knew I was in for an entertaining ride when the DVD’s main menu popped up and the, uh, “theme song” began to play. The tune is a clever and funny little ditty that describes the main focus of this film in various colorful phrases and innuendos. Needless to say, I was laughing before I even started the movie.

KILLER RACK is shot fairly well and looks good for a low budget film. The picture quality is nice and clear, and the lighting is impressive as well. Unfortunately, the sound quality is where this film suffers. Some of the scenes are muted, making it almost hard to hear, while others have an echo-like quality. This isn’t enough to detract from the enjoyment of the film, but I do feel it worth mentioning.

The acting is decent as well. Granted, it’s not great, but it’s not bad enough to take away from the movie as a whole. But that’s the best part: it doesn’t have to be good to enjoy the film. Even so, I particularly like scream-queen legend Debbie Rochon as Dr. Kate Thulu; Rochon is always a joy to see onscreen, and her performance here is campy and great.

The special effects in KILLER RACK are very good, and they look great onscreen. There’s a nice bit of carnage here and there, and even the Killer Rack itself looks fairly believable.

I am surprised at the lack of nudity in the film. This isn’t a negative, but just an observation; I figured with a subject matter such as it is, the film would be overflowing with T & A. Not so. Very little is actually shown, with much more simply implied. The result is a film that comes off as almost clean in some aspects…but not really.

KILLER RACK is a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it. Don’t expect a big budget blockbuster, and you’ll have a great time with this one. It is available now.

MSB

Movie Review – Murderlust (1985)

Murderlust
Directed by Donald Jones
Courtesy of Intervision & CAV Distribution
Original Year of Release: 1985
DVD Release Date: January 10, 2017

I have to confess up front that I’m curious as to how MURDERLUST obtained such a cult following. The film was released in the middle of the 80s, right after the peak of the slasher genre, but it is the tamest horror movie I’ve seen in years. It offers no gore, barely any blood, no nudity, and just a few F-bombs toward the end. Not that profanity or nudity are needed to make a good fright flick, but no carnage? I was very surprised.

So that brings up the question: is MURDERLUST a good horror film? The answer is not so simple. The movie does have merits, and I suppose it is entertaining on some levels…but on a horror scale, it barely registers. I did enjoy the film overall as a whole, but I can guarantee many horror fans will not like it at all.

If you are not familiar with MURDERLUST, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Intervision and CAV Distribution:

From enigmatic director Donald M. Jones comes one of the most disturbing and rarely seen serial killer sagas of the 80s: By day, mild-mannered Steve Belmont (Eli Rich of THE JIGSAW MURDERS) is a clean-cut teacher and youth counselor at his Los Angeles church. But by night, he’s a sexual psychopath who murders prostitutes and dumps their bodies in the Mojave Desert. Ashley St. Jon (TAKIN IT OFF) co-stars in this overlooked and effective (Horrorpedia) chiller, now with an all-new audio commentary and available uncut on DVD for the first time ever.

I think labeling this film as a thriller might be more appropriate. Yes, it deals with a serial killer, but it lacks the air of terror that goes along with horror films. The film comes across as more of a character study rather than a slasher flick.

MURDERLUST is shot fairly well, although I admit it’s pretty obvious it is a low budget movie. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as independent films should be applauded…however the poor camera quality and the lack of any real special effects does detract a bit from the movie experience.

The acting is surprisingly good. Many independent, lower budget films suffer from a lack of acting talent. Not so here. Eli Rich does a fine job and gives a chilling performance as the serial killer, Steve Belmont. Rich’s ability to shift from Sunday school teacher to cold, ruthless killer is almost unnerving. The rest of the cast does a good job as well, although nobody else has a standout performance.

The story is decent, and the fact that the killer is hiding in plain sight (posing as an upstanding citizen/Sunday school teacher) is a nice bit. The plot does drag some in the middle, but the last third of the film is nice and tension-filled.

Unfortunately, MURDERLUST never really takes off. Granted, it does have some tense moments toward the end, but nothing major really happens, and the “grand finale” never really appears. I think this lackluster ending is part of what let me down the most. I was willing to overlook a lack of gore if the terror level spiked, but the film never gets that far.

Still, MURDERLUST is somewhat entertaining, in a TV-Movie-of-the-Week sort of way. Director Donald Jones has made several films since this one, and I’m curious to see how they turned out; based on MURDERLUST, it’s obvious he has talent, so I’d like to see what he could do with a decent budget. In regard to this film, it is available now if you decide to give it a look.

MSB

Movie Review – The Girl on the Train (2016)

The Girl on the Train
Directed by Tate Taylor
Courtesy of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: January 17, 2016

My day job is a dream job for me: I am the sole librarian in a small town library. I love books and movies, therefore this is a match made in Heaven. Because I’m the only person employed there, I do all the check-ins and check-outs, and as a result, I see what titles are popular. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins has been a regular circulator for well over a year now, and thanks to director Tate Taylor’s film adaptation, I can see why. This riveting thriller is a mind-bending mystery that will captivate you until the final scene.

If you are not familiar with THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Universal:

The Girl on the Train is based on Paula Hawkins’ bestselling thriller that shocked the world. Rachel (Emily Blunt), devastated by her recent divorce, spends her daily commute fantasizing about the seemingly perfect couple who live in a house that her train passes every day. Everything changes when she sees something shocking happen there, and becomes entangled in the mystery that unfolds.

Thankfully, you needn’t have read the book to follow the movie. I knew a very brief basis of the story, but had no problems keeping up with the plot. If anything, going into the film almost blind made it even more so enjoyable.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is shot very well and looks great onscreen. The 4K Ultra HD really pops on this film, and the picture clarity is almost stunning. This is the first non-special effects-heavy film I’ve seen in 4K, and I have to say I’m very impressed. I wasn’t sure if there would be much of a difference between Blu-ray and 4K for films like this, but there definitely is. I’ll watch everything in 4K now, if I get the chance.

The acting in the film is superb with Emily Blunt giving an excellent performance as the main character, Rachel. She is joined by an outstanding supporting cast that includes Haley Bennett as Megan and Rebecca Ferguson as Anna. Also noteworthy are Justin Theroux, who plays Tom, and the ever recognizable Luke Evans, who portrays Scott.

The story in THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN starts off a bit slow, but it quickly ramps up into an intoxicating murder mystery. The pacing is nice, and the viewer is given just enough information to stay guessing, up until the final act. When the big reveal comes, it is both satisfying and gripping. I didn’t see the identity of the killer coming until it was right in front of my face toward the end. I love how this played out, too, because it kept me enthralled all the way through.

The film is also full of drama. I found it fascinating to see how different lives can be behind closed doors when compared to a passerby’s perceptions. This portrait study mimics real life in more ways than one, and it’s a big part of what makes the movie so powerful.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is a big win for me, and I recommend it. Full of twists and turns, I’ll bet you will visit this thriller more than once. It is a taut “whodunit” in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock, and it entertains on several levels. The film hits store shelves tomorrow, so make a note.

MSB

Blu-ray Movie Review – Head of the Family (1996)

Head of the Family
Directed by Charles Band (as Robert Talbot)
Courtesy of Full Moon Features
Original Year of Release: 1996
Blu-ray Release Date: December 20, 2016

I simply cannot get enough of Full Moon’s films. I swear, every time I watch a new one, I gain more and more respect for Charles Band. Sure, many of their movies are cheesy, but that’s part of what makes them so much fun. And when you consider the small budgets Band worked with on many of these films, it makes them even more so enjoyable.

HEAD OF THE FAMILY is a 1996 horror comedy from Full Moon that was recently given Blu-ray treatment. I had never seen the film prior to this release, but I’m glad I decided to give it a look. It is low-budget fare full of gross humor and even grosser visuals, but it is wildly entertaining and a lot of fun.

If you are not familiar with HEAD OF THE FAMILY, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Full Moon Features:

Something’s twisted in Nob Hollow. In the midst of a torrid affair with Loretta, a biker’s wife, Lance discovers that the tiny town’s weirdest residents, the Stackpoole family, have been doing some hideous human experiments in the bowels of their basement. Lance blackmails Myron Stackpoole (the “Head of the Family”) and his psychically controlled siblings into murdering Loretta’s husband, but Lance soon finds that he’s way in over his head. Join Myron and his creepy clan in their dysfunctional, disfigured den of demented decadence for an abnormally good time.

I have to confess: I think I enjoyed this film more than Frank Henenlotter’s BASKET CASE. Granted, they don’t have the exact same premise, but I found them similar in nature. Band’s HEAD OF THE FAMILY is more tongue-in-cheek, which made it more fun to watch for me.

HEAD OF THE FAMILY is shot well and looks good onscreen, thanks to the HD transfer. The picture is a bit grainy in places, but I don’t know what the DVD versions looked like therefore I cannot tell how much of a change has occurred. Still, the graininess is not enough to detract from the film experience. The sound is great and works well in surround-sound.

The acting is cheesy and low brow, like many lower budget films, but it’s perfectly acceptable for this one. In fact, it helps to amp up the cheesy factor, which in turn makes the laughs even better. Ex-soft porn star Jacqueline Lovell does a decent job as Lorretta, although she’s the only notable name in the cast.

The special effects in HEAD OF THE FAMILY are surprisingly good. They’re not in league with AVATAR, but they certainly stand up to Band’s high standards set with films like PUPPET MASTER. I like the overall look to the “head”, as he comes across as creepy and funny at the same time. This creates an uncomfortable atmosphere where the laughs help keep the viewer at ease.

HEAD OF THE FAMILY is a big win for me, and it’s another feather in Full Moon’s cap. If you’re new to Full Moon Films, take the plunge and jump in with this one. And if you’re a Full Moon vet (like me), this film will be a welcome addition to your collection. The Blu-ray is available now.

MSB

Movie Review – The Monster (2017)

The Monster
Directed by Bryan Bertino
Courtesy of Lionsgate
Release Date: January 24, 2017

THE MONSTER might very well be the best film I’ve seen in 2017 thus far. Granted, we are only nine days into the new year, but I’ve seen several excellent movies already. This one, however, is definitely in the Top 5, and I wager it will stay there for a while.

THE MONSTER is a creature-feature horror/drama that boasts real, practical special effects instead of cheap CG. But in addition to the horrifying titular beast, the film is overflowing with drama as well; and despite the familiar plotline, the audience is taken on a thrill ride nonetheless. If you’re any kind of fan of horror, you must make a note to check out this film ASAP, once it hits store shelves at the end of the month.

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

A mother and daughter must confront a terrifying monster when they break down on a deserted road.

I am very impressed with what director Bryan Bertino is able to accomplish with this film. Not only does he manage to scare the crap out of the audience, but he also takes them on an emotional rollercoaster. The result is an intense and emotive journey that will leave you thoroughly entertained.

THE MONSTER is shot very well and looks great onscreen. Bertino does an excellent job of setting a desolate, foreboding atmosphere, and the whole film plays out perfectly in it. I particularly like the remote locale used for the breakdown. This stretch of highway feels unbearably lonely, and it’s a perfect accent for the terror that ensues.

The acting is very good, with both leads doing an amazing job in their roles. Zoe Kazan plays the alcoholic mother, and she does so like a pro, while young Ella Ballentine shines as the daughter, Lizzy. Both women play off of each other very well, and the onscreen chemistry makes them feel like a true mother and daughter.

The special effects in THE MONSTER are award-worthy. The creature looks real and the carnage is brutal. I am so, so happy filmmakers are still using practical effects, as CG just sticks out too much. And while the monster itself might be only slightly original, the talent of the effects crew still breaks through. I hope to see them on future projects as well.

THE MONSTER is a major win for me, and I highly recommend it. The film has loads of tension and several scenes that will make you squirm in your seat. Give this one a look for sure…just don’t take any desolate roads home afterwards…

MSB

Movie Review – The Monkey King 2 (2016)

The Monkey King 2
Directed by Pou-Soi Cheang
Courtesy of Well Go USA
Release Date: January 3, 2016

I love studying the myths and mythologies of other cultures, therefore I always try to take in film adaptations of some of the more popular stories when I can. One legend that has always enraptured me is that of Sun Wukong, or The Monkey King. This Chinese folk tale is vividly adapted in 2014’s THE MONKEY KING, and then continued in THE MONKEY KING 2. Full of eye-popping special effects, hearty humor, and some crazy action, THE MONKEY KING 2 is one of those films you’ll want to watch several times over, just to make sure you don’t miss anything.

If you are not familiar with THE MONKEY KING 2, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Well Go USA:

The follow up to the international fantasy blockbuster, THE MONKEY KING 2 fast forwards 500 years after the Monkey King (Aaron Kwok) wreaked havoc in heaven. Newly freed from his confines under the Five Finger Mountain, the Monkey King vows to protect the innocent from a demon seeking immortality as he accompanies a young monk (William Feng) on an epic journey to the West.

There are so many things to like about THE MONKEY KING 2. It is vastly entertaining, from both a story and character standpoint, and it is visually beautiful. The CG is almost constant in every scene, but that helps add to the striking backdrops. The characters are boisterous and offer a steady stream of humor and emotion. Overall, this is a very satisfying film.

THE MONKEY KING 2 is shot well and greatly utilizes the HD concept of filmmaking. I would love to see this in 4K Ultra, as I’ll bet the vivid colors and imagery are mind-blowing.

The acting in the film is top notch, although I have to confess I miss Donnie Yen as the Monkey King; I’m a huge fan of Yen’s work, therefore I always want to see him in any role he can get. But, Aaron Kwok does a fine job as his replacement. I’m not familiar with Kwok’s prior work, but I can see he has talent.

The story is lighthearted and fun, although it contains several “life lessons” that teach as well as entertain. I’m not sure how much of the plot is based on the actual mythology of the Monkey King, but from what I can gather, it’s quite a bit. I like this aspect, as it seems to give more depth to the film as a whole.

The action in THE MONKEY KING 2 is fast-paced and intense, but again a lot of fun. There’s plenty of wirework evident, but there’s also loads of ground-based fighting as well. The martial arts style used by Kwok in his role as the King seems to infuse a simian spirit, therefore it vividly stands out when he fights.

THE MONKEY KING 2 is a big win for me, and I highly recommend it. Martial arts fantasy does not get much bolder or vibrant than this, and the payoff is a two-hour trek into enjoyment. The film is available now, so check it out.

MSB