Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Great Japanese Robot Invasion of '84

Before this holiday season comes to an end, I thought that I would wrap up 2011 with a dose of holiday-themed geek nostalgia before we spring-launch into 2012. It's a flashback to another holiday season, when a particular trend that would impact all robot geeks for decades to come dominated toy store aisles across the country. This trend was the import and repackaging of Japanese robot toys, of which there were many. Read on for my eyewitness account of this amazing time, when Japanese robots of all shapes and sizes ruled Christmas wish lists.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Five Monstrous Melodies for Merry Christmas Madness

Christmas is my second favorite holiday after Halloween. Where Halloween allows you to indulge in all things morbid and spooky, Christmas allows you to wallow in all things colorful, cheerful, and gaudy. Yet with Halloween being my first love, I feel the need to temper my Yuletide warmth with a few ghoulish chills--and what better way to do that than through music?

Here are five musical suggestions I have to keep the horror in even the happiest of holidays, complete with YouTube videos for each. Read on....

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Cult of LEGO Book: Behold the Blessed Bricks

If you're still looking for a Christmas gift for that special nerdy someone, consider this: The Cult of LEGO, by John Baichtal and Joe Meno.

According to the book's description, "LEGO is much more than just a toy—it's a way of life. The Cult of LEGO takes you on a thrilling illustrated tour of the LEGO community and its creations. ... In this full-color coffee table book, you'll find page after page of photos showcasing the fantastically creative and complex models built by the LEGO community. You'll marvel at a life-size stegosaurus, a microscale Yankee Stadium, a 22-foot long World War II battleship, a MINDSTORMS-powered monster chess set, and a remote-controlled Jawa Sandcrawler (with moving conveyor belt!). Visit the conventions where LEGO fans gather to socialize and show off their work. And discover the serious side of LEGO, used in therapy, prototyping, and teambuilding."

I've never had any LEGO sets myself, but I'm a big fan of the LEGO video games and I've admired the countless inventive models and miniatures that LEGO fans have built all over the world. Since I already have the LEGO Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary (which is a pretty sweet inventory of LEGO-ized Star Wars stuff, both official and fan-made) to go with my other Star Wars reference books, I'll probably pick up this up sometime soon. What can I say? They had me at "remote-controlled Jawa Sandcrawler".

Furthermore, if you order a print version of The Cult of LEGO from its publisher No Starch Press (click here), you will also get the e-book version for free. That means that you can actually read the book anywhere you want with your e-reader of choice while the print copy remains safe at home in your geek collection. Sweet!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lou and Yana's JawsFest 3 DVD Set Review

It has been said that all good things must come to an end. With that in mind, I bring you my review of Lou and Yana's JawsFest 3: The Invasion of JawsFest '10 two-disc DVD set. This is the final entry in the trilogy of JawsFest fan films produced by Lou and Dianna "Yana" Pisano. What started out as a fan love letter to Jaws in the first JawsFest DVD has grown to the size of a three-part romance novel with the release of JawsFest 3. (Click here to read my review of the first two JawsFest DVDs.) While it's sad to see this particular chapter of Jaws fandom draw to a close, the Pisanos saved the best for last. Read on for my complete review of this two-disc set.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Samurai Predator: An Interstellar Big Game Hunter from Medieval Japan

For those of you who have an die-hard Predator fan on your Christmas gift list and have ample amounts of cash to spend, you're in luck. Sideshow Collectibles is currently taking orders for the Alien vs. Predator Samurai Predator figure from Hot Toys.

This is what the title creature would've looked like
if Akira Kurosawa had directed a Predator movie.

This figure was designed and painted by Takayuki Takeya and sculpted by Yuji Oniki, and it features a newly sculpted head and body, detailed accessories, weaponry, and a diorama base with a partially decapitated Alien corpse. Looking at a figure that's as detailed as this one makes it hard to believe that there was a time when the only Predator figures on the market were those made by Kenner back in the mid-90s.

Of the many never-before-seen Predator collectibles that have been released in recent years (including the organic-looking Ceremonial Predator Mask and the sleek Stalker Predator Mask), the Samurai Predator feels like a story that's waiting to be told. It's easy to imagine this Predator constructing his hunting attire from the armor he collects from his trophies, and then customizing his weapons and gear to match the style of his human prey. The most impressive feature of this figure is its headpiece, which comes in two removable parts: a helmet and a mouth mask. The mouth mask allows the Predator's tusks to protrude through so they are visible on the mask's exterior. Such a fearsome visage makes this Predator look like a monster that came straight from ancient Japanese folklore.

Click here for more details about the Samurai Predator and how to place your order.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Isolation Movie Review: When Genetically Modified Meat Goes Rancid

One of the best things about the horror genre is its ability to approach certain subject matter in ways that no other genre would. Because of its richness of symbolism and metaphor, horror can explore the irrational and insecure psychological landscapes that lurk underneath topics and events that appear rational, civil and mundane on their surfaces.

Along such lines is Isolation, a 2005 horror movie from Ireland that was written and directed by Billy O'Brien. By borrowing some of visual and thematic cues from Alien and The Thing, Isolation explores the nervous uncertainties behind the application of genetic engineering to livestock farming. The end result is uneven, but it's provocative and stylish enough to recommend to anyone who is looking for a new kind of contemporary body horror. Read on for my complete review, which contains some minor spoilers.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Heidi Klum Exposed--In One of the Goriest Ways Possible

I know that this is dates back to last Halloween, but I just found it and I feel an overwhelming to put it on here because it's so wildly morbid. (Besides, red is a Yuletide color, right?) It turned out that at her last Halloween party, Heidi Klum had her body painted to resemble "a dead body with the first layer of skin ripped off" (Klum's own words).

Excuse me, Ms. Klum? I think you misplaced your epidermis.

In order to make sure that her party guests noticed her unique costume, her entrance was equally priceless: She was wheeled in to the event on an autopsy table by two people who were also dressed as blood-spattered doctors. Did I mention that Klum was wearing high-heeled platform pumps with this costume? I suppose that even the horribly mangled still have to look chic at social events.

I have no idea how I missed this. Maybe I was too preoccupied with Klum's other Halloween costume, a full-body, Planet of the Apes worthy ape suit that she wore to another Halloween party. Her husband Seal wore a matching costume at the same event.

Click here to see more pictures of Klum's anatomically correct costume. I have to give Klum credit: For someone who doesn't earn her living in horror movies, her costume is an amazingly detailed work of gory art.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Two New Jaws Mechanical Shark Replicas from Shark City Ozark

A few days ago, Universal made an announcement that’s very bad news for Jaws fans. As of January 2, 2012, the Jaws attraction at Universal Studios Theme Park in Florida will be shut down permanently. For those of you fans out there who have never been on the Jaws ride and can’t make it there before its closing, you can check out the high definition video of the ride on YouTube (click here) that will give you a good idea of everything the ride offers. You can also stop by the “STOP The Closing of Jaws The Ride at USF” page on Facebook for ideas on what you can do to try to convince Universal to change its decision. Yet even with the ride closing, never fear--thanks to Mike Schultz and his team at Shark City Ozark, you’ll have a chance to come face-to-face with the legendary monster shark right in the (dis)comfort of your own home.

Back in 2010, Schultz sculpted a 37" long "Bruce Nose-to-Tail (NTT)" maquette, a scale-accurate replica of the full-body shark used in the first Jaws movie. How scale accurate, you ask? It's so scale accurate that it won praises from Jaws franchise veteran Joe Alves himself! Even though the entire inventory of the Bruce NTT maquette has completely sold out, Shark City Ozark is far from finished with Jaws. Available now are two more Bruce replicas, a 1/6-Scale Bruce bust (from snout to gills) and an 18-inch, 1/16th scale “Open Sided Shark”. The Open Sided Shark allows you to see a highly-detailed recreation of the mechanics that made Bruce move. To learn more about these replicas, check out these two videos from Shark City Ozark that discuss the specifics of each product.

Click here to learn more about how you can add either or both replicas to your Jaws memorabilia collection. Orders are going fast, and these two products will be discontinued on December 16th, so place your order soon!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Santa "Scarface" Claus Says, "Say Hello-Ho-Ho to My Little Friend!"

It looks like we've come a long way from the days when kids were told that they'd shoot their eyes out if they got Red Ryder BB guns for Christmas.

"In this country, you gotta make the toys first. When you make the toys, 
you then get the guns. When you get the guns, then you get the power."

From Seattle PI: "An Arizona gun club is offering a chance for children and their families to pose for photos with Santa while holding pistols and military-style rifles. ... Ron Kennedy, general manager of the Scottsdale Gun Club, said the business got the idea for the photo op last year when a club member happened to come in dressed as Santa and other members wanted their picture taken while they were holding their guns. ... Kennedy, whose club offers guns for sale and rental and has a 32-lane indoor shooting range, said the event wasn't aimed at children, but the club supports the right of parents to include their children in the photos and believes that's a personal choice."

This story has been popping up at news sites all over the Internet today. I normally wouldn't post about something like this, but the Christmas photos from the Scottsdale Gun Club that have been circulating because of this story are so gleefully morbid that they belong on a horror-oriented blog like mine. Sure, a violence-prone Santa Claus has been the subject of countless movies, songs, video games, and TV shows such as South Park and Futurama. (Also, don't forget "Raging Rudolph", the classic animated short from Mad TV.) But seeing so many people--toddlers included--eagerly taking pictures of themselves with Santa while proudly brandishing an arsenal of high-powered weaponry just makes my dark, twisted soul shine with holiday cheer.

Looking at these photos, the following thoughts come to mind:
  • Good little boys and girls get automatic weapons from Santa, but bad little boys and girls only get revolvers in their stockings.
  • While the Scottsdale Gun Club Santa Claus photos sound like a novel idea, this isn't the first time that Christmas photos like these have been taken. In 1974, Mrs. Claus received a photo that was a lot like the gun club photos, except that the people in it were wearing ski masks and it came with a ransom note demanding $100 million in unmarked bills and five sacks full of free toys.
  • Fun fact: In 1996, Santa Claus accidentally shot himself in the leg because he forgot to turn the safety on before climbing down a chimney.
  • Giving toys to children is only a part-time gig for Santa. For the other 11 months of the year, he's an international arms dealer.
  • In order to keep up with his Yuletide competitor, the Easter Bunny now hands out festively-painted hand grenades and plastic explosive Peeps.
  • While it's OK to kiss someone under the mistletoe, don't do it when Santa Claus is in the room. Otherwise, he'll want to play a game he calls "William Tell".
  • The Scottsdale Gun Club also wanted to have a life-size Nativity set for their Christmas photos, but baby Jesus kept dropping the semi-automatic AR-15 with attached grenade launcher.
  • Now that he has complete control of the North Pole, Generalissimo Franco Claus plans to install his own junta in the South Pole after he stages a coup against Jack Frost.
  • A holiday tip for kids: To be sure that Santa came to your house, check under the tree on Christmas morning. If you're still not sure, check for empty shell casings and gunshot residue (GSR) around the fire place.
Click below for more pictures of Shotgun Santa and his Merry Christmas Militia, and feel free to make up a few captions of your own.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Muppets Review: The Return of Everyone's Favorite Felt Friends

Reviving dormant franchises for new audiences can be a tricky thing, particularly when it comes to franchises that are based on animated characters. As in any franchise revival, there's always the tension between appealing to new fans while maintaining the interest of the original fans; very rarely do these rival tensions balance evenly. When it comes to animated characters, the common approaches to revival appear to be either dumbing down the characters to appeal to kids (for the sake of merchandising), or putting the characters in the "real world" alongside known actors (for the sake of celebrity name recognition value), or both. These strategies rarely work, but they've succeeded just enough for Hollywood to keep them in their franchise revival playbook.

On the other hand, there are the title characters of the new movie The Muppets. They aren't cartoon characters but they are closely associated with kid-friendly entertainment, and they've had a long history of featuring celebrity guest stars. With these two attributes, one would expect to see the Muppets in their latest movie suffer the same grim fate as Rocky and Bullwinkle (see The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle) and the Looney Tunes characters (see Space Jam and Looney Tunes: Back in Action). Thankfully, not only does The Muppets avoid the common revival mistakes, but it succeeds in capturing the very things that made the Muppets so entertaining in the first place. After seeing this movie, two conclusions immediately came to mind:

1. We really did lose something special when Muppet creator Jim Henson passed away back in 1990.

2. The Muppets is a fantastic tribute to what Henson left behind--which is pretty amazing, considering that it was made by the same people who brought us Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek.

Read on for my full review.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Narrative of Victor Karloch: Haunted Horrors in Miniature

A friend of mine just let me know about a movie project that sounds like a unique exercise in the genre of horror: The Narrative of Victor Karloch, by Spirit Cabinet.

According to the Spirit Cabinet site, "Victor Karloch is a Victorian ghost story puppet film and live stage performance (at selected theaters) produced by Heather Henson's Handmade Puppet Dreams Films and The Jim Henson Foundation. ... The film incorporates 30" tall bunraku-style rod puppets, shadow puppetry, traditional in-camera effects, and digital atmospheric effects to present a gothic tale narrated by Victor Karloch, an alchemist, ghost hunter, and scholar who has devoted his life to the exploration of the supernatural." Victor Karloch was written by Kevin McTurk, a special effects artist whose previous projects include Batman Returns, Jurassic Park, and King Kong, and it will feature the vocal talents of Christopher Lloyd, Chris Parnell, Lance Henriksen, and Doug Jones.

Judging from the preview trailer on the Spirit Cabinet site, Victor Karloch looks like it's going to be a rich visual treat for horror film fans. Since puppet films are so rare in the U.S. as it is, it's hard to think of a horror film that's performed completely by puppets and miniatures. Yet as the trailer shows, this particular production scale, along with the puppets' physical details and movements, add a distinct sense of dread and disorientation that most live-action horror films lack. Such an unusual approach to telling a cinematic horror tale reminds me of the 2005 film adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's short story, "The Call of Cthulhu". That film, which was produced by Sean Branney and Andrew Leman and distributed by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, was produced in a way so that it would appear as if it were a monochrome silent film from 1926, the year when Lovecraft's story was first published. Between Victor Karloch and the Cthulhu adaptation, it seems that unusual tales are best told in unusual ways in order to maximize their impact on audiences.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Batman: Brave and the Bold Bids Farewell, while Young Justice has a Haunting Halloween

Last weekend, Cartoon Network aired the series finale of Batman: Brave and the Bold. The final episode, titled "Mitefall!", was written by noted DC vet Paul Dini. In "Mitefall!", inter-dimensional fanboy Batmite has grown tired of Brave and the Bold and decides to sabotage the show so that it will be cancelled and replaced by a darker, more dramatic Batman series. In a curious twist, this is the only episode of Brave and the Bold that isn't so much of a tribute to the Silver Age of DC Comics as it is a satirical jab at how TV shows--both live-action and animated alike--"jump the shark". Each of Batmite's strategies to undermine Brave and the Bold are textbook examples of shark jumping, such as the addition of cute yet superfluous characters, needlessly changing central locations, and casting Ted McGinley. Yet for as unusual as this episode is, it still makes for a fitting finale to one of the smartest Batman shows to air on TV. Adding to the finale's fun is Henry Winkler, who provides the voice of Ambush Bug. It's a shame they saved Winkler for the last episode, because his take on Ambush Bug would have been great to see in more Brave and the Bold episodes.

I've written before about how skillfully Brave and the Bold has paid tribute to the Silver Age (see my previous Brave and the Bold post here) and while this attribute is directly recognized in the show's finale, I think that Dini is trying to make a larger point outside of his shark jumping gags. Some comic book fans begrudge the campiness of many Silver Age superhero stories, but that period of time was an integral part of superhero history. Not only did that era see the birth of Marvel Comics, but it also featured significant and lasting revisions to several classic DC superheroes, superheroes such as Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and the Atom. Most importantly, the sense of creative, colorful playfulness that permeated the Silver Age played a major role in building most of the DC universe. (It seems that no matter how many reboots DC does, many of their superheroes retain backgrounds and traits that originated in the Silver Age.) If I didn't know any better, it would seem that Dini's underlying message in "Mitefall!" is that even though darker and more dramatic superhero stories are the current style of choice, it would be a mistake for comic book fans to forget the Silver Age, what made it work, and its many contributions to the superhero genre. I couldn't agree more.

Shortly after the Brave and the Bold's finale was "Secrets", the Halloween episode of Young Justice that somehow got pushed back to November. I've been impressed with Young Justice since its first episode, and it continues to hold my hold my attention. Instead of basing a cartoon on some pre-existing teenage superhero team from DC's comic books (such as Teen Titans or the Legion of Super Heroes), Young Justice assembles a cast of sidekick characters in a way that allows for a different approach to the DC universe.

Along those lines, "Secrets" is a stand-alone adventure that places Artemis and Zatanna in Manhattan, where they encounter a bizarre sword-wielding villain named Harm who harbors a gruesome secret. "Secret" starts off as a standard superhero adventure and then grows into a memorable ghost story--a rare feat for any superhero cartoon. As an added treat to this nifty trick, "Secrets" also has a subplot featuring Superboy, Miss Martian and Kid Flash that makes clever references to Orson Welles' notorious Halloween prank of 1938 and to two cartoon Marvins--one a Martian, the other a superhero wannabe who's familiar to die-hard DC cartoon fans.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Rest In Peace 2 Review: The Chronicles of ChromeSkull

For as much as I love them, slasher films just aren't what they used to be. Naturally, it's hard to recapture the golden era of the slasher film when this horror subgenre was relatively new (at least here in the U.S., anyway), an era that started during the late 70s and began to wane during the mid-80s. Yet for a straightforward plot structure that revolves around a masked and/or disfigured psychopath with a perchance for killing sprees, it seems that the time where slashers can reach the iconic status previously achieved by the likes of Michael Meyers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger is largely over.

This is not to say that horror filmmakers have given up their efforts to create memorable movie murderers. Case in point: ChromeSkull, the resident killer in the Laid to Rest movies. When he first appeared in 2009, not much was revealed about this bald, hulking masked killer other than his real name (Jesse Cromeans), his passion for killing lots and lots of people with his big, serrated hunting knives, his preference to communicate through electronic means (such as text messages) rather than talking, and his need to capture all of his ghastly, gory deeds on video tape. (There were also very strong suggestions that he's a necrophiliac as well.)

A few months ago, ChromeSkull did what all killers who yearn for slasher stardom do: He returned in his first sequel, ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2. Picking up right where the first film ended, ChromeSkull continues his killing spree in the sequel--but with very mixed results. The best part about this sequel is that it mixes up the slasher formula enough to keep you guessing what will happen next (something that most slasher sequels never do); the worst part is that the story never congeals enough to build dramatic momentum or to introduce new characters who are genuinely interesting. Read on for the complete review of this fearsome yet frustrating sequel.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Green Lantern Arrives On Cartoon Network, with DC Nation Scheduled for 2012

Last weekend, Cartoon Network aired the one-hour premiere of Green Lantern: The Animated Series, the new CGI cartoon that's devoted to DC's top space cop. This series stands out for two reasons: It's the first DC cartoon series that's completely CGI, and it's the first DC TV series in a long time that doesn't directly involve Superman, Batman, or one of their supporting characters (such as Robin). Even though the box office performance of the live-action Green Lantern movie from last summer didn't live up to Time-Warner's expectations, it's nice to see that they're still willing to invest time and money into Green Lantern, with the hopes that they'll do the same for other DC characters.

For a first episode, the premiere of Green Lantern was fun to watch. It involved Hal Jordan and his ally Kilowog traveling to a remote area of space where Green Lanterns are being killed off by an unknown assailant. From what I could determine from the premiere's pacing, it consisted of two parts of a multi-episode story. Since the Green Lantern's narrative world consists of multiple planets and aliens, I think it's a smart move for this series to have multi-episode story arcs, even though it will inevitably invite some comparisons to Cartoon Network’s other multi-episode space adventure CGI cartoon series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Nevertheless, with DC animation vet Bruce Timm serving as executive producer, I have high hopes for what the new Green Lantern series can contribute to expanding the DC universe outside of its comic book base.

The Green Lantern's premiere was peppered with ads for something called DC Nation, which promises to begin airing on Cartoon Network in 2012. The ads gave some idea of what DC Nation is supposed to provide, including video shorts that feature DC characters and news pertaining to the DC universe that will air during episodes of Green Lantern, Young Justice, and Beware The Batman, another CGI DC cartoon series that's scheduled to premiere in 2013. According to the Deadline Hollywood site, DC Nation will be a "multi-platform, branded block of original programming and exclusive content based on the DC Comics library of legendary character properties, DC Nation is developed in partnership with Cartoon Network, Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment. The all-new venture will harness the publishing, theatrical and television assets together for one powerful on-air block on Cartoon Network with exclusive online content."

Will DC's efforts to build a new generation of fans though its efforts on Cartoon Network prove to be as successful as Marvel's recent build-up to the upcoming multi-superhero Avengers movie? Stay tuned to find out--same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Eerie Publications' Horror Comics Cover Art: Once, Twice, Three Times the Terror

During the Halloween season the other week, the Monster Brains blog did a series of posts devoted to the comic book cover art from the various horror titles published by Eerie Publications during the 60s and 70s. These anthology titles included Witches' Tales, Tales of Voodoo, Weird, Terror Tales, Tales From The Tomb and Horror Tales. The covers of these comics are fantastic examples of pulp horror art, both grisly and lurid (and somewhat sleazy) in equal measure. I'm convinced that the artists who produced the colorful VHS cover art for low budget horror movies during the 80s were heavily influenced by these comics.

Yet what surprised me when viewing the cover posted by Monster Brains was how much Eerie Publications reused the same art across their various titles. Not all of the covers are repeats, but just enough are that it's hard not to notice. I suppose there are only so many ways that a comic book artist can show people being bitten, stabbed, dismembered and decapitated in a single panel, as there are only so many ways that one can show vampires, mummies, werewolves, demons, zombies and mad scientists attacking both helpless victims and each other. Some covers are exact duplicates, others are near matches, while even more are combinations of the same characters with different backgrounds. Click below to see how much Eerie Publications believed in recycling.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Puss In Boots Review: A Comedic Computer-Generated Cat Caper in 3D

When I first heard that DreamWorks was planning a movie spin-off to their Shrek franchise that featured Puss in Boots as the main character, I was somewhat skeptical. After all, Shrek was scraping the bottom of the barrel of fairy tale satire by the end of its four-movie run, so I couldn't imagine that there'd be much left for a stand-alone Puss in Boots movie. Thankfully, I was proven wrong: Puss in Boots is a fun, goofy adventure that's fit for audiences of all ages.

Puss in Boots follows the adventures of its titular character (voiced by Antonio Banderas) as he partners with mastermind Humpty "Alexander" Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and feline thief extraordinaire Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) for a big score: the fabled golden egg-laying goose from a particular giant-dwelling castle in the clouds.

Puss in Boots isn't as cheeky as the Shrek movies, and that ultimately works in its favor. Instead of saturating the script with pop culture references and taking repeated jabs at Disney's interpretations of classic fairy tales--and at Disney itself--Puss in Boots milks most of its humor from the inherent absurdity of fairy tales, action-adventure movies, anthropomorphized animals and eggs, and its own warped interpretations of fairy tale characters. (The versions of Jack and Jill that appear in this movie have to be seen to be believed.) Overall, the movie looks and feels like a Sergio Leone-esque Spaghetti Western set in an off-kilter fairy tale world and it works wonderfully. Hayao Miyazaki fans will also find themselves having brief flashbacks to Castle in the Sky, particularly during the unexpectedly touching resolution to one of the key character's narrative arcs.

The voice acting is solid across the board, but a lion's share of the film's charm lies with Banderas' portrayal of Puss. Banderas clearly has a blast playing this character, and I envy the production team that got to watch him record his lines.

Of course, adding considerably to my viewing pleasure was how I saw Puss in Boots--in IMAX 3D. I have yet to see a feature-length CGI cartoon in 3D that has disappointed me in its visual quality but Puss in Boots in particular makes ample use of the 3D format, which adds an extra crispness to its many wide-angle vista shots of the desert, its action scenes, and its multi-layered city landscapes.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

JawsFest 3 Premieres in Chicopee, MA

Last December, I posted a review of two JawsFest DVDs produced by Lou and Dianna "Yana" Pisano (you can see the review here). These fan-made DVDs are feature-length love letters to the Jaws franchise, and they provide Jaws fans with footage of the original JawsFest event that was held in 2005 and tours of various locations throughout Martha's Vineyard where scenes from three of the Jaws movies were shot. Now, almost a year later, the Pisanos have completed the third and final chapter of the their Jaws fan appreciation trilogy, JawsFest 3: The Invasion of JawsFest '10, and they held a premiere showing of it last weekend in Chicopee, Massachusetts. From what I've heard, the event was a big success in spite of the unexpected snow storm that slammed the east coast during the last weekend of October.

JawsFest 3 is a two-disc DVD set, with over three hours of Jaws fan-friendly footage. One of the bonus features is a documentary produced and directed by Justin White called "The Making Of Lou and Yana's JawsFest Trilogy". The set also includes a map of Martha's Vineyard that identifies the locations where Jaws was shot--an ideal collectible for any Jaws fan who one day plans on visiting these same locations in the future. I already placed my pre-order for the set, so expect to see a review here in a few weeks. Click here to place your pre-order of JawsFest 3 and to order copies of the first two JawsFest DVDs.

Also, be sure to pick up the latest issue of SCREAM magazine that features Lou Pisano's article, "The Guts of Jaws 2: Appreciating an Underappreciated Sequel". Order your copy of issue 8 of SCREAM magazine here.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ten Terminator Toys That Should Be Made

When it comes to collecting toys, models and miniatures, it's not easy being a Terminator fan. Unlike the larger and more popular sci-fi franchises such as Star Wars and Star Trek, the number of scale replicas for particular robots and vehicles from the Terminator franchise are limited in variety, are often hard to find, and can be very expensive. Here's a list of Terminator robots and vehicles that should be made available in some form (a die-cast miniature, a highly-detailed toy, etc.) for those who enjoy collecting killer machines from the future.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Oxitec is Remaking Mimic--with Mosquitoes!

My, how times have changed. In the 1997 movie Mimic, scientists genetically engineer a breed of insect that's intended to reduce the population of cockroaches in New York City that are spreading a lethal virus. Fast-forward to 2011, and such a premise is no longer science fiction. According to last Sunday's edition of The New York Times:

"Researchers on Sunday reported initial signs of success from the first release into the environment of mosquitoes engineered to pass a lethal gene to their offspring, killing them before they reach adulthood. The results, and other work elsewhere, could herald an age in which genetically modified insects will be used to help control agricultural pests and insect-borne diseases like dengue fever and malaria. ... Authorities in the Florida Keys, which in 2009 experienced its first cases of dengue fever in decades, hope to conduct an open-air test of the modified mosquitoes as early as December, pending approval from the Agriculture Department."

What could possibly go wrong, you ask? Some of the engineered mosquitoes could develop immunity to the lethal gene and pass that resistance to their offspring, which could very well make them harder to kill in the long run. Since this is for a good cause, I would like to see this effort succeed. I'm just hoping that none of these genetically-tampered bugs wind up looking like this guy:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Finding The Flesh Eaters

Stop me if you heard this one: A group of people become stranded on a desert island . . . where they encounter a horde of monsters that viciously kill them one at a time!

Oh, you have heard of that? Well, what if the island monsters were the product of MAD SCIENCE! BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

So you've heard of that one too. OK, Mr. Smarty Pants--what if the mad science was NAZI mad science and the monsters were MICROSCOPIC FLESH EATERS!!!

That's the premise of The Flesh Eaters, a creature feature that was originally released back in 1964 and the only movie ever directed by Jack Curtis. The movie's plot follows a charter airplane pilot, an alcoholic actress and her comely assistant, a marine biologist and a shipwrecked beatnik as they struggle to find their way off of an uninhabited island that's surrounded by the titular flesh eaters, whose presence render the ocean water around the island acidic.

For as grim and gory as this premise sounds, don't be fooled--The Flesh Eaters is 87 minutes worth of low-budget camp, with hammy scripting, unconvincing effects, and dramatic performances that vary greatly in their quality. (Several reviews I've read of this movie have even speculated if it was the accidental inspiration for Gilligan's Island.) That said, The Flesh Eaters is not without its charms and it has enough interesting details to earn a footnote mention in American low-budget horror history. Read on for the full flesh feast, with a side order of jellyfish sushi.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Why of The Fly

If you're a fan of The Fly movies, check this out: The cover story of the latest Rue Morgue issue is a retrospective devoted to the five Fly films. The retrospective's features include an interview with David Cronenberg, where he briefly mentions the "oblique" sequel script he has written to his 1986 version of The Fly, as well as a look back at the original Fly trilogy and its respective man-fly monstrosities. A noteworthy highlight in this issue is the interview with Chris Walas and Eric Stolz about The Fly II, which provides some fascinating insight into the production of this troubled sequel. Judging from Walas' comments about the original story that he had in mind, The Fly II could have been a much more worthy continuation of Cronenberg's movie had the studio heads just let him do what he wanted instead of forcing him to restructure his story to target a particularly desirable-yet-misunderstood audience demographic.

Not to be left out of this Fly fan fun, I figured that now would be a good time to post an article I wrote about Hollywood’s most infamous insect hybrid. Before I started blogging about all things monster movie related, I got my first movie monster article published in issue #116 of Filmfax magazine back in the fall of 2007. Having no idea how to get my fan appreciation-oriented writing published, I figured that I’d write about one of my favorite movie monsters in a way that would coincide with Fox Home Entertainment’s release of The Fly Collection, a four-disc DVD box set of the original Fly trilogy: The Fly (1958), The Return of the Fly (1959), and The Curse of the Fly (1965). The article was titled “The Multifaceted Fly”, and it examined one of the more unique horror/sci-fi trilogies in Hollywood history to understand why it continues to bug film fans to this day. Read on…

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Baphomet Says, "Happy Halloween!"

Now that I have your attention, I just thought that I'd let you know that the fine folks over at the Fierce and Nerdy site have asked me to contribute a few thoughts about the best holiday of the year, Halloween. In my post, I write about how much I enjoy Halloween and why, how horror film fans can best celebrate the holiday, and suggestions of what you can do if you're stuck in a community that treats Halloween like Satan's annual membership drive. You can read the post here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Gallery of Low-Budget Gill Men

Last August, I saw on the Tears of Envy blog a link to a post in The Guardian's Film Blog called "Where's the thrill in today's cookie-cutter monster movies?" by Phelim O'Neill. In the post, O'Neill bemoans the lack of creativity in recent movie monster designs. As his post states, "The big movies this year have been full of monsters, aliens, robots – all sorts of creatures and creations. On the surface, there's never been a better time for lovers of monster movies. But when you look closer at the beasties themselves, you see how similar they are to one another; how they look like they were clumsily Frankensteined together from existing ogres. In truth, there's never been a worse time for movie monsters."

Personally, I think that O'Neill has it all wrong--not so much about movie monster designs, but about monster movies in general. The overwhelming majority of creature features are usually cheap rip-offs of superior films, both in terms of plot and monster design. This was true during the early days of Hollywood and it is no different now. O'Neill waxes nostalgic that "we're not seeing anything like the iconic creatures of old", but for every classic example he cites--Frankenstein (1933), Alien (1979), Basket Case (1982), and so on--he ignores the countless movie monsters that were inspired by the classics but fell far short of being effective and original. Not every monster designer can be the next Ray Harryhausen, Rick Baker or Stan Winston, and even those who are don't always get the recognition they deserve.

To emphasize my point, consider Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954). It's one of the classic examples that O'Neill cites, and rightfully so. Even though the titular Creature is really just a guy in a suit, it's easy to forget that when watching it on the silver screen because the suit was so well designed. Even more impressive was that the suit could be used to shoot lengthy underwater scenes where the Creature swims gracefully among fish, seaweed and other denizens of the deep, thus further convincing the audience that what they were seeing wasn't human. Such an impressive feat inspired many imitators, all of which bear some similarities to the original Creature but come nowhere close to being successful on their own due to lack of creativity, sloppy design and poor funding. This photo gallery is devoted to these bargain-basement beasts, both how they were depicted in their movies' posters and what they actually looked like. Click below to see the gallery.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Epitafios: When a High School Reunion is Murder

In last week's episode of Criminal Minds, "Painless", survivors of a devastating high school killing spree are being murdered by a similar killer on the eve of the spree's 10th anniversary. While the episode was probably written with real-life high school tragedies such as the Columbine massacre in mind, it was very similar in its style to slasher films where the killer is motivated to seek revenge against those who he/she believes to be responsible for some past trauma. Thus, this Criminal Minds outing reminded me of classic slasher flicks such as Prom Night and Happy Birthday to Me. It also reminded me of Epitafios, a 12 episode mini-series from Argentina that was produced by HBO Latin America in 2004.

Epitafios follows ex-detective Renzo Márquez (Julio Chávez) as he investigates a series of gruesome murders that are somehow linked to four students who died during a high school hostage situation five years earlier. The series' title is a nod to the killer's signature: he writes cryptic epitaphs for each of his intended victims. While the story strains at times to provide enough twists and tension to fill 12 episodes, Epitafios is a must-see for anyone who likes a good giallo or slasher story--particularly a story that isn't restricted to a two-hour (or less) running time.

A second Epitafios miniseries was released in 2009, which centers around a killing spree committed by killer who has dual personalities. Check out the official Epitafios site for more details about this top-notch TV thriller.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Poughkeepsie Tapes Review: Horrific Homicides Caught on Home Video

Being a horror movie fan requires a bit of effort to get the full benefits that this genre of cinema has to offer. There are the horror classics that everyone knows about (fan or not), classics that are usually easy to find for rental or purchase. Then there are the horror films that are heavily promoted by the big studios regardless of their actual quality; these too are easy to find and most people have heard of them. Yet there's another category of horror films, films that few people know about but are well worth seeking out because they provide shocks and shivers in ways that most mainstream and classic horror films don't. Such is the case of The Poughkeepsie Tapes, a found footage mockumentary film that was directed by John Erick Dowdle and written by Dowdle and his brother Drew Dowdle.

I heard about Poughkeepsie Tapes back in 2007 when it was playing the indie film festival circuit. I didn't do much to look for it because on the basis of the brief plot summary that I initially heard, it sounded like the found footage version of a Saw movie (much like how Cloverfield is a found footage version of a kaiju movie or how The Last Exorcism is a found footage version of a demonic possession movie). As I heard more about the film over the years, I found out that Poughkeepsie Tapes is far from being a "torture porn" movie, so I decided to seek it out--except that I couldn't find it. Even though this movie got the Dowdle brothers work in Hollywood, Poughkeepsie Tapes didn't find a national distributor. After finally tracking this title down, I think I found out why: Poughkeepsie Tapes is a very good movie, perhaps too good for its own good. Read on for my complete review.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Halloween + Home Improvement Hardware = Zombie Preparedness

Check this out, and it's just in time for the second season premiere of AMC's The Walking Dead:

According to the Omaha World-Herald, the Westlake Ace Hardware chain of stores in Nebraska have rolled out "Zombie Preparedness Centers". This Halloween season ad campaign involves posters, buttons, and store employees who offer advice on which tools, cleaners and locks are most effective at fighting off hordes of the ravenous undead. Click here to read the whole story.

Also check out the official Westlake Ace Hardware Zombie Preparedness Center site. This site offers zombie defense and zombie proofing tips for humans, as well as bodily repairs and home and lifestyle tips for zombies. (Ace's site is "equal zombor-tunity", so it doesn't discriminate between the living and the reanimated.) This reminds me of the Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse blog post that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) published last May, which later included an interview with World War Z author Max Brooks.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Wii Play Motion Review

As a Wii owner from the days of its first release, I'm very familiar with the handful of titles that Nintendo has produced over the years to introduce gamers to what the Wii's motion-based controllers can do. First, Wii Play and Wii Sports were released to show the unique game play opportunities presented by the Wiimote. Then, Wii Fit was released to demonstrate the capabilities of the Wii Balance Board. When Nintendo modified the Wiimote with the Wii MotionPlus accessory, it was bundled with the Wii Sports Resort game so that gamers could see how the new accessory enhanced Wii game play through greater accuracy. Each of these titles are great to play, but they were obviously designed and marketed as software to demonstrate Wii's hardware capabilities.

Wii Play Motion is a sequel to Wii Play, one of Wii's aforementioned demo titles. From what I've heard, Wii Play Motion is intended to demonstrate the Wii Remote Plus, which is bundled with the game. The Wii Remote Plus is the same as the Wiimote except that it has the WiiMotion Plus accessory built into it. I can see why Nintendo wants to promote the usage of the Wii Remote Plus, since that is one of the peripherals that will be part of Nintendo's upcoming Wii U system. Yet in terms of functionality, the Wii Remote Plus does everything that a Wiimote and Wii MotionPlus combo can do, so releasing a new game to promote the Wii Remote Plus seems anti-climactic--particularly since the Wii Remote Plus was released in November 2010 and Wii Play Motion didn't arrive on the shelves until June 2011.

With such an unusual background, how does Wii Play Motion fare as an actual game? It's better than what I expected, although it does have a few disappointments. Read on for my complete review.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: Home-Made Monsters Terrorize Historical Landmark Theater!

Last Halloween season, I published a post about the work of Georgette Gaynor, a self-taught monster maker who uses her creepy creations to benefit local charity events in southern Virginia. She's still at it and this time, her life-sized superfreaks are going to the theater!

Gaynor's monsters will be available for bidding and purchase at The New Colony Theater in Portsmouth, VA during the following events:

* The Monster Walks, which will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on October 15, 28 and 29. Admission for the walks is $2 per person, and everyone is welcome.

* The Zombie Party, which will be held from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Admission for the party is $25 per person and $40 per couple, and RSVPs must be made by October 7. Click here to see a copy of the invitation. The Zombie Party is aimed at adults (the dress code is "zombie chic") and it includes a performance by the award-winning Viginia Youth Symphony Orchestra (VYSO), which will perform music from Phantom of the Opera, The Dark Knight, and other selections fit for Halloween.

All 76 of Gaynor's monsters will be at these events, including some new monsters that have been added to her horrific horde since last year. For those who prefer compact creeps, 13 monster heads will also be available. Some of the proceeds will go to VYSO, a non-profit organization devoted to helping young students explore their musical interests. Click below to see a picture gallery of some of the monsters that will haunt New Colony Theater this Halloween.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Kaiju Anatomy 101 (UPDATED)

I don't know who'd have a scalpel big enough to look inside of these guys, but here are two full-color anatomical paintings of Godzilla and Hedorah (a.k.a. The Smog Monster).

I found these over at the Monster Brains blog, although the original artist has yet to be identified. I'm guessing that King Ghidorah probably stepped on him before he could sign his work.

Update, 10/7/11: I just found some additional anatomical drawings of kaiju over at the Pink Tentacle site. This set includes another drawing of Godzilla, as well as pictures of Anguirus, Gamera, and Mothra larva.