Graphic Novel Review – Escape From the Dead

Escape From the Dead
By Brad McCray, Sean Skelding, & Cliff Richards
Courtesy of Grind House Comics & Cheezy Flix
Release Date: Available Now

Despite the fact many horror fans and reviewers are giving up on the zombie genre, I still find it invigorating for the most part. Sure, for every great living dead book or movie you run across, there are a hundred others that suck…but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to find them. Even a single diamond in the rough can pay off with incalculable wealth.

ESCAPE FROM THE DEAD is a recent graphic novel offering from Grind House Comics and Cheezy Flicks (yes, the movie company). I was just as surprised as you to discover Cheezy Flicks had their hands in other venues besides film, but I think it’s a definite win for them. There’s nothing wrong with diversifying your media interests, after all. ESCAPE FROM THE DEAD is not a perfect comic, but it’s very entertaining nonetheless and will make a great addition to any collector’s library.

If you are not familiar with ESCAPE FROM THE DEAD, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Grind House Comics:

One man. One mission. One million zombies.

Masquerading as a prisoner, Talon Moon returns to Earth with a mission that will determine the survival of the human race. To succeed he must survive an army of flesh-eating zombies and a well-armed enemy that knows his purpose.

Double-crossed at every turn, forced into unlikely alliances and unsure of his own sanity, Talon Moon must make decisions that will affect the future for all mankind.

Alone and running out of time, Talon Moon must free himself, save the world and escape from the dead!

ESCAPE FROM THE DEAD is science fiction/horror hybrid that boasts great artwork and an interesting storyline.

But even so, the execution lacks a little bit. For example, the course of the plot is disrupted in a couple of places because the narrative doesn’t quite flow like it should. The reader has to accept a few implied notions that cause a couple of head-scratching moments; thankfully, it’s not too difficult to jump back into the story, but I recall this happening to me at least twice.

The characters are certainly fun, though. I particularly like Weasel. He’s such a bizarre and messed up individual, you can’t help but like him. Well, “like” is perhaps too strong of a word…maybe I should say, “…you can’t help but be entertained by him.”

If you look past its flaws, ESCAPE FROM THE DEAD is a fun read, and I do recommend it. The pages contain some great, vivid gore, and the finale has a nice resolve to it. This graphic novel is available now in both digital and hardcopy formats.


Blu-ray Movie Review – The Survivor (1981)

The Survivor
Directed by David Hemmings
Courtesy of Severin Films & CAV Distribution
Original Year of Release: 1981
Blu-ray Release Date: January 10, 2017

I’m sure we will all agree that the 70s and 80s gave us some of the greatest horror classics of all time. I could name a dozen right now, but I’m pretty sure we’re all familiar with those for the most part. On the other hand, those two decades also offered up some curious and interesting titles that aren’t quite good enough to be considered classics, but are still entertaining nonetheless. Many of these are lesser known movies that developed cult followings after brief stints in the cinema.

THE SURVIVOR is an Australian film that is technically classified more as exploitation (or Ozploitation, to be precise) rather than horror, but I wouldn’t label it as a classic. Possibly a cult classic in some circles, however I personally would not even peg it as that. Despite an auspicious start, the movie’s ending has too many flaws to overlook. The resulting film is an overall letdown, even though it contains some crazy intense scenes and one of the most terrifying plane crashes ever put to celluloid.

If you are not familiar with THE SURVIVOR, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Severin Films & CAV Distribution:

When a 747 crash lands in a Sydney suburb – a still-spectacular sequence that helped make this the most expensive Australian film of its time – the inferno kills everyone on board except the pilot (Robert Powell of JESUS OF NAZARETH and TOMMY) who emerges from the wreckage miraculously unscathed. But as a local psychic (Jenny Agutter of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON) begins to communicate with the spirits of the doomed passengers, it will unlock a nightmare of madness, murder and supernatural horror.

Hollywood legend Joseph Cotten in his final film performance co-stars in this shocker directed by British film icon David Hemmings (BLOW-UP, DEEP RED) and produced by Ozploitation maverick Antony I. Ginnane (THIRST, PATRICK, TURKEY SHOOT), featuring haunting cinematography by Academy Award® winner John Seale (THE ENGLISH PATIENT, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD) and now transferred in 2k HD for the first time ever.

I admit I’m greatly disappointed this film turned out the way it did. The first ¾ of the film are excellent: a breathtaking plane crash sequence followed up with sixty minutes of intrigue and gut-wrenching suspense. The shots involving the burned baby doll are BEYOND creepy, and I foresee nightmares with that imagery haunting me in my future. But unfortunately, the last quarter of the film is bad enough that it negates all the previous positives.

From a technical standpoint, THE SURVIVOR is shot well and looks great onscreen. The HD restoration for the Blu-ray is excellent, and the picture quality is top notch. Likewise, the sound rocks as well.

The acting is also very good. I particularly enjoyed Robert Powell’s performance as the main character, Keller. He is joined by Jenny Agutter, who gives a powerful performance as Hobbs. The rest of the cast does a fine job, although I don’t think anybody necessarily gives a breakout performance.

The special effects in THE SURVIVOR are staggeringly good. As I mentioned, the plane crash is amazing, as is the wreckage it leaves behind. I had no problems believing it was real. Also of note are the burned bodies; they are grisly and gruesome, just like you would expect something that horrific to be.

But the story is unfortunately what kills this film, or more accurately the END of the story. Most of the plot is great; there’s a lot of buildup and not many clues, which makes for some wonderfully wretched tension. But when the “big reveal” comes about, it makes no sense. It almost seems like it was thrown in as an afterthought. The ending also leaves MANY questions unanswered, with the biggest one for me being **SPOILER ALERT**: WHY did Keller’s burned body wind up in the cockpit at the end, and HOW? Not to mention, **MORE SPOILER ALERTS** what did the bomb on the plane have to do with the supernatural aspect of the film? As the film ended, I was left more aggravated than entertained.

Still, I cannot deny how powerful the first ¾ of the film is. This could have been a powerhouse of a movie. But the writer(s) seem to have lost their drive and creativity towards the end of the film. Even the writer on whose book this was based (James Herbert) said the film was “rubbish”. The Blu-ray does boast some great special features, though, including:

Special Features:
• Not Quite Hollywood Extended Interviews with Producer Antony I. Ginnane and Cinematographer John Seale
• The Legacy of James Herbert
• Robert Powell on James Herbert – Archive TV Special On Location Featuring Interviews with Stars Joseph Cotten and Peter Sumner
• Archive TV Interview with David Hemmings
• Archive TV Interview with David Hemmings and Robert Powell
• Antony I. Ginnane Trailer Reel
• TV Spot


Book Review – The FrightFest Guide to Exploitation Movies by Alan Jones

The Frightfest Guide to Exploitation Movies
By Alan Jones
Publisher: FAB Press
Release Date: October 15, 2016

If you’re a diehard horror fan like me, then you probably have a place in your heart for exploitation films as well. After all, many of the horror classics we love are dually labeled as both. As such, the exploitation genre covers a broad range of topics, from sexploitation to Nazisploitation to Blaxploitation, and more.

THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO EXPLOITATION MOVIES offers an in-depth look into some of the more popular and bizarre titles in this beloved genre of film. Chocked full of informative pieces and high-caliber visuals, this manual entertains just as much as it informs. I’m proud to own this book, and I believe every horror lover and film buff should have a copy of this handy at all times.

If you are not familiar with THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO EXPLOITATION MOVIES, here is the book’s synopsis courtesy of FAB Press:

From the moment motion pictures were invented, fearless entrepreneurs, poverty row profiteers and money-grabbing grifters gave cinemagoers what they truly craved…. the sex, horror and cheap thrills that were too hot for Hollywood to handle. And so the exploitation industry was born. Nothing was taboo and selling sin, shock and sensation became an art form.

Soon, what were once the dirty little secrets of the film world became the most sought-after must-sees in every grindhouse and drive-in, as an ever-growing legion of fans travelled miles to witness the most unbelievable sights ever put on celluloid.

From MANIAC to ANATOMY OF A PSYCHO, DERANGED to ZOMBIE, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE to THE SEXUALIST, THE JESUS TRIP to NAKED FIST and ILSA, SHE WOLF OF THE SS to AFRICA EROTICA – just 10 of the 200 hand-picked outrages covered in this comprehensive and representative history – critically acclaimed film critic, author and broadcaster Alan Jones takes you on a startling tour through the astounding exploitation movie extremes of its 1935 to 1985 Golden Era.

Tinsel town trash and global grunge like you’ve never seen it before, complete with an all-embracing, richly-textured A-Z guide to everything you ever wanted to know about the inglorious exploitation movie genre but were afraid to ask. With a blistering introduction by 42nd Street habitué, aficionado and COMBAT SHOCK writer/director, Buddy Giovinazzo, The Frightfest Guide to Exploitation Movies fully captures the range and breadth of the entire exploitation spectrum.

Enter, if you dare, into the sordid, sleazy underworld of Z-studio slime and punishment, where orgies of the dead, cesspools of vice and shameless desires featured tantalizing titles, lurid artwork, daring advertising campaigns and overblown hype.

Exploitation movies have never gone away. Inside you’ll discover the unbelievable reasons why.

With this book, author Alan Jones offers an exhaustive look at 200 of the more obscure and popular films in the exploitation genre. A trove of information is given about each title, including year of release, where it came from, who directed it, the cast, and so on. The result is a wildly entertaining volume that will present hours of informational entertainment.

THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO EXPLOITATION MOVIES is easy to follow and offers its content in an easy-to-understand manner. The guide lists the movies in order of release year, which in turn gives a chronological timeline of the genre. This is fascinating to see, as definitive trends can be distinguished, indicating which type of sleaze was popular and prominent at the time.

I love the visuals in this book, as they add monumentally to the information. They also add a new dimension of depth to each film, giving a glimpse into the promotional side of the business. Many of these exploitation titles boasted intriguing taglines and entertaining quotes. This is a big reason many collector’s now relish the actual box office posters and images that are represented within the book.

THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO EXPLOITATION MOVIES is a major win for me, and I highly recommend it. Whether you’re an avid fan of the genre or you just have a minor interest, this book will offer something for everyone. It is available now, so snag your copy soon.


Blu-ray Movie Review – Love Camp 7 (1969)

Love Camp 7
Directed by R. L. Frost
Courtesy of Blue Underground & CAV Distributing
Original Year of Release: 1969
Blu-ray Release Date: January 31, 2017

When reviewing LOVE CAMP 7, I took into consideration the time period in which it was released. I had to do this because, frankly, the movie is very tame compared to today’s standards. But back in the day, I can see where it was considered extremely obscene.

From what I understand, this film basically ushered in the Nazisploitation era, and therefore it should be heralded as a cult classic. It’s a lot of fun, too, though; I found myself chuckling and cringing throughout. And regardless of whether you are fan of exploitation films or not, there’s simply too much quality here not to enjoy.

If you are not familiar with LOVE CAMP 7, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Blue Underground & CAV Distributing:

The story of LOVE CAMP 7 is based on fact! During the darkest days of World War II, two young American WAC officers volunteer to infiltrate a Nazi Love Camp on a desperate rescue mission. Once inside, they are subjected to horrid humiliations at the hands of their captors. Can they survive long enough to complete their objective and escape with their lives intact?

Launching the Nazisploitation craze of the 1970s, LOVE CAMP 7 was the dream child of Writer/Producer/Star Bob Cresse (THE SCAVENGERS), Producer Dave Friedman (BLOOD FEAST), and Director/Cinematographer Lee Frost (THE BLACK GESTAPO). Blue Underground presents the original version of LOVE CAMP 7 in a brand-new 4K restoration from its recently discovered camera negative!

Ok, I don’t know if this film is really based on fact or not, but it is fun to think that it is. Still, I can very easily see instances like this occurring during the war, and as such, this is a very feasible scenario.

LOVE CAMP 7 is shot fairly well, but the movie looks great onscreen. The HD transfer looks excellent, and I love how vivid the picture quality is. Likewise, the sound quality is top notch as well.

The acting is basically atrocious…but you don’t watch exploitation films to see stunning performances. As such, it is completely forgivable. Maria Lease and Kathy Williams do a decent job as the WAC officers charged with infiltrating the Love Camp. But everybody else, particularly those actors portraying the German officers, is terrible.

The story in LOVE CAMP 7 is interesting, especially if it is actually based on true events. But even so, the middle drags a bit. Just slightly, but enough to warrant mention here. Again, though…this is exploitation, so you just forgive it and move on.

As I mentioned, the film is very tame when compared to those made today. Granted, there is quite a bit of nudity (mostly from the waist up), but the shock value is no longer there. The atrocities to which the women are subjected are not shown onscreen for the most part (the worst we see is a woman who is set atop a wooden device known as the Seat of Honor, a device intended to torture her nether-region), and the worst carnage we see is a little bit of blood.

But even so, LOVE CAMP 7 is a win for me, and I recommend this gem from decades gone by for anybody who likes exploitation or grindhouse films. The Blu-ray has some very nice Special Features that include:

Special Features:
• Theatrical Trailer
• Poster & Still Gallery
• BONUS Collectable Booklet featuring The History of Nazi-Exploitation by Paolo Zelati

The film is available now.


Blu-ray Movie Review – Psychomania (1973)

(aka The Death Wheelers)
Directed by Don Sharp
Courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distribution
Original Year of Release: 1973
Blu-ray Release Date: February 21, 2017

PSYCHOMANIA is one of those films that I remember seeing over and over on VHS store shelves for years…however I never bothered to rent it. I’m not sure why. I don’t remember picking up the box or reading about the film, although the imagery of the skull-shaped helmets stands out in my brain for some reason. So when Arrow and MVD teamed up to release the movie in HD, I figured it was time to give it a shot.

I have to confess I’m glad I didn’t watch this one back in the day. Despite its intriguing title and eye-catching cover art, this film did not do much for me. It’s not a bad film as a whole, but it’s extremely tame for a horror film, and it leaves a lot of unanswered questions.

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

The United States gave motorcycle-mad cinemagoers Easy Rider, The Wild One and The Wild Angels. The United Kingdom gave them Psychomania, the tale of zombie bikers run amok is southern England.

The Living Dead are a delinquent biker gang, fond of causing havoc on British roadways and making out in graveyards. Gang leader Tom (Nicky Henson) also has a Satanist for a mother, and when he discovers the secret of immortality, the name of his motley crew takes on a more literal meaning…

Directed by Hammer veteran Don Sharp (The Kiss of the Vampire, The Devil-Ship Pirates) and co-starring Beryl Reid (Dr. Phibes Rises Again) and George Sanders (Village of the Damned), Psychomania is a wonderfully offbeat gem, outlandish and eccentric in equal measure.

First, the good.

The film looks spectacular onscreen, thanks to the HD restoration. I found NO grainy scenes, even in the low-light shots, and the color pops vibrantly. The sound quality is solid as well.

Likewise, the acting is fairly decent, although I don’t recognize many names in the credits. George Sanders stands out because he has an extensive filmography, as does Beryl Reid, who portrays Tom’s mother. Reid holds a particularly dear place in my heart because she played Lady Lambourn in one of my favorite 80s comedies, YELLOWBEARD.

Now, the bad.

The story is simply never fleshed out enough to offer any kind of explanation for why the bikers rise from the dead. Sure, the audience is given hints at a couple of things, but even those offerings make you raise an eyebrow and go “Huh?” Similarly, some of the “facts” offered in the film are laughable, such as a certain species of frog that only grows in graveyards.

Also, the film has NO real horror aspects. The “zombie” bikers look just like they did prior to death: living, breathing human beings, with no rot or decay to indicate they are deceased. There’s no intensity, no scares, and, well, not much going on other than the gang disrupting downtown and doing little jumps on their motorcycles.

PSYCHOMANIA wasn’t for me, and I’m not sure if many horror fans will find it enjoyable, either. Still, it’s a nostalgic trip back to the early 70s, so some folks might like it. It will be available in a couple of weeks, should you decide to give it a look. The Blu-ray edition comes with some nice special features, such as:

• 2K restoration from preservation negatives
• High Definition (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Original 1.0 mono audio (uncompressed on the Blu-ray)
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Brand-new interview with star Nicky Henson
• Return of the Living Dead, an archive featurette containing interviews actors Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor
• Sound of Psychomania, an archive interview with composer John Cameron
• Riding Free, an archive interview with Riding Free singer Harvey Andrews
• Hell for Leather, a brand-new featurette on the company who supplied the film s costumes
• Remastering Psychomania, a look at the film s restoration from the original 35mm black and white separation masters
• Theatrical trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector s booklet containing writing by Vic Pratt, William Fowler and Andrew Roberts


Blu-ray Movie Review – Wax Mask (1997)

Wax Mask
Directed by Sergio Stivaletti
Courtesy of One 7 Movies & CAV Distributing
Original Year of Release: 1997
Blu-ray Release Date: January 31, 2017

Italy has long been notorious for the production of sleazy Eurotrash and cheeky (albeit excellent, in many cases) horror films. I’m not sure if most folks would consider this a good thing or not, but I certainly do. If it weren’t for Italian cinema, we wouldn’t have classic films like ZOMBIE, SUSPIRIA, and PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES.

In 1997, horror masters Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci teamed up to make WAX MASK, a period horror piece that pays homage to earlier “waxworks” films like HOUSE OF WAX. Unfortunately, Fulci passed away before he could start. Argento replaced him with special effects wiz Sergio Stivaletti, and the resulting film is his first foray into directing. And while it’s not a perfect film, WAX MASK is still a hell of a debut, and it’s definitely worthy of a spot in any collector’s horror library.

If you are not familiar with WAX MASK, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of One 7 Movies & CAV Distributing:

There’s a new attraction in town that’s not for the fainthearted. A wax museum that recreates, for the thrills of a paying audience, some of the most gruesome murders ever committed by human hands.

A young man makes a bet with his friends that he can spend an entire night in the museum but he is found dead the morning after. Who is the savage slayer? The police are unable to come up with a reason or a clue to identify the murderer. Weirdly enough, the museum starts featuring new murder scenes as the killing spree increases. Is the metal-clawed killer that haunted Paris years ago, prowling the streets of Rome, looking for fresh flesh and blood?

I will start off by stating I really enjoyed this film. It has great atmosphere, top notch special effects, and an intriguing concept. Granted, it’s an idea we’ve seen before…but this is a sort of fresh take on what’s already been done.

WAX MASK is shot well and looks great onscreen, particularly due to an excellent HD transfer onto Blu-ray. The picture is crisp and sharp, which impresses me given the number of dimly lit scenes that occupy the film. Many times, lower-light shots stand out in a bad way in an HD upgrade…but not so here. The darker spots are just as clear as the brighter ones.

The acting is very typical of what I’ve come to expect in Italian horror films: very mediocre. No major names stand out in the cast list, and no major talent shines through in anybody’s performances. This isn’t a big detraction from the film, but you need to know what you’re in for if you watch it.

The special effects look fantastic overall, although I will confess a couple of them do look a bit cheesy. I say this because a couple of dismembered body parts look a bit too “rubbery” to pass off as real. Again, this doesn’t take away from the movie, and the rest of the gore is great. There’s plenty of it, too, thankfully.

The story in WAX MASK is familiar, as mentioned, but it has enough originality to stand out from previous versions. The intensity is high, and there’s even a couple of nice twists that you (hopefully) won’t see coming. I didn’t catch on to them until they happened, which in turn made the surprise a nice addition to the plot.

Regardless of its minor flaws, WAX MASK is still a lot of fun, and I recommend it. If you are any kind of fan of Fulci’s or Argento’s, or even an Italian horror buff at all, this one is for you. And even if you’re not familiar with Italian horror, this still warrants a look. It is available now.


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.


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:

• 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


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.


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