Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Star Wars Flashback: Happy Halloween, Ben Cooper

This Halloween is going to be a damp, soggy one for me with Hurricane Sandy beating up the east coast, so I thought that I would warm my geeky heart with a trip down Halloween memory lane to a much simpler time. A time when Halloween costumes were easy to find and cheap to purchase. A time when a flimsy piece of molded plastic, a thin elastic strap, and an easy-to-tear vinyl suit bearing a copyrightable logo could pass for a Halloween costume. A time when Halloween itself was all but owned by Ben Cooper, Inc.

I don't know much about Ben Cooper, Inc. as a company, other than that it had the licensing rights to produce cheap Halloween costumes of just about any character you could think of during the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. These costumes were everywhere when Halloween season rolled around, so much so that it became synonymous with Halloween itself when I was growing up. Talk to anyone around my age or older (or even slightly younger) and I'll guarantee that they've worn at least one Ben Cooper costume for Halloween during their lifetimes. Of course, I'm being modest--they probably wore several Ben Cooper costumes, since they were so easy to find and purchase. Thanks to Ben Cooper, Inc., even the most negligent and emotionally distant parents could provide their kids with a passable Halloween experience.

Looking back, I'm amazed at how much chutzpah Ben Cooper, Inc. had in its selection of characters to market as Halloween costumes. It even produced costumes based on the Rubik's Cube toy and Atari's Asteroids video game. (Click here to see RetroCrush's list of the worst costumes produced by Ben Cooper, Inc. and its competitors.) I kept my costume Ben Cooper selections limited to Star Wars--I had the costumes for Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper, in that order--and in honor of that, I've assembled a picture gallery of Ben Cooper Star Wars costumes based on pictures that I've found around the net. Not all of them are here--I couldn't find a decent picture of a Ben Cooper Yoda costume--but I found enough to let you know that we've certainly come a long, long way in terms of license Halloween costumes. Click below to see the gallery, including the Ben Cooper R2-D2 costume. (Yes, there really was a Ben Cooper R2-D2 costume. That's chutzpah for you.)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Giant Insects Reign Supreme in Wii's Escape from Bug Island

I'm a big fan of "big bug" movies, so it would seem obvious that I would pick up a copy of a survival horror video game called Escape from Bug Island for my Nintendo Wii, right? Well ... not necessarily. When the game first appeared in the U.S. back in 2007, it was panned by most video game reviewers. Yet with this game's drop below the $10 price point, I recently decided to give this game a chance anyway to see if the critics were right. Speaking as a big bug movie fan, they weren't.

I can think of several survival horror video games for the Wii that have better graphics, better level designs, and better stories. Even Wii's other bug-centric game, 2009's Deadly Creatures, has better production values. Yet where Escape from Bug Island really delivers is where it delivers the most: It's got plenty of big, icky, human-eating bugs ... and that is AWESOME! Read on for my complete review.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Skew (2011) Movie Review: When Video Cameras See Dead People

I missed last weekend's premiere release of Paranormal Activity 4, but I did have the time to watch another kind of "found footage" movie called Skew, which was written and directed by Sevé Schelenz and has won a few awards on the indie film circuit. Read on for my complete review.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Complete Batcave, Lego Style

If Bruce Wayne ever decides to re-design the Batcave, he may want to talk to these guys first:

Meet Carlyle Livingston II and Wayne Hussey, two Lego aficionados who took it upon themselves to make this astonishingly detailed Batcave replica. According to Discovery.com, "This is the culmination of about 400 hours of work over three months, completed in March. This intricate Batcave employs the use of four motors to operate some cool features, such as the Batmobile's turntable, a lift for the vehicle and a wall with rotating costumes and weapons. The masterpiece also integrates lighting, bringing to life this grand project. ... Weighing in at 100 pounds, the duo estimates the creation to use about 20,000 pieces 'but it’s probably much more.'"

Looking at pictures of this amazing feat, two things immediately came to mind:

1. This Batcave set dwarfs every other Batcave play set ever made, both in terms of details and features, with room for all of the iconic Bat vehicles.

2. I really, really need to pick up a copy of the Lego Batman 2 video game.

Click below to see more pictures of the Lego-ized Batcave.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Gallery of Gleefully Ghoulish Dolls by Shain Erin

I found some interesting pictures the other week that I thought I would share on my blog, pictures of horrific, malformed dolls made by Shain Erin. I've seen quite a few horror-themed dolls and action figures over the years, but very few of them are as creepy as those produced by Erin. In fact, they remind me of the dark, enigmatic dolls from Richard Sala's giallo-esque graphic novel, The Chuckling Whatsit.

According to the profile Erin provided on his Wordpress site, "For the last several years I’ve been preoccupied with dolls: I see them as a long under appreciated art form with virtually unlimited expressive possibilities. I’m inspired by traditional world art figures (kachina, bochia, nkisi, namchi, shadow puppets, etc.) while working to push the boundaries of what a “doll” is as far as my imagination and skills will take it. ... These are not comforting toys; they can be challenging and defiant, disturbing and enchanting, irrational and frightening, beautiful and sad. They have stories they yearn to tell, and they hold secrets they will never give up. I like to think of dolls as spirit vessels and the making of a doll a kind of offering or invitation. It’s always a collaboration between me and whatever spirit comes forward."

Unfortunately, the Wordpress site that I quoted above, which features his work from 2008 to 2011, is the only site that I have been able to find so far that it directly linked to Erin. Neither his official site nor his Esty page are working, so I have no idea how to contact him to find out if he still makes the dolls or how to purchase them. Click below to see a picture gallery of some of his dolls, dolls that evoke thoughts of ghosts, zombies, mummies, and other macabre nightmares.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

DC and Marvel Superhero Cartoon Report Card, Fall 2012 Edition

News has been circulating around the Internet this week about Cartoon Network's sudden and unexpected decision to halt the airing of new episodes of Green Lantern: The Animated Series and Young Justice until January 2013. While the exact reasons behind this decision remain unclear, I think that now is a good time for me to weigh in on how good each of the DC and Marvel superhero cartoons are doing on their respective homes of Cartoon Network and Disney XD. Read on ...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Onryo Ghosts go Gaming in Wii's Ju-On: The Grudge Haunted House Simulator

The series of Ju-on films that were started by Takashi Shimizu have grown into quite a franchise during the last few years. What began as two stories within a Japanese television anthology movie titled Gakko no kaidan G led to the production of two direct-to-video titles and five theatrical releases during the following decade: two theatrical movies in Japan, and a remake with two sequels in the U.S. In 2009, a two-part film was released, Ju-on: White Ghost/Black Ghost, to celebrate the series' 10th anniversary. With so many films under its belt, a tie-in video game is inevitable. That tie-in is Ju-on: The Grudge Haunted House Simulator, which was released for the Nintendo Wii back in 2009.

As a Wii title, the Ju-on game is three things, in this order of priority: an experience first, a story second, and a game third. In my review, I will examine each of these elements and why this particular combination results in a game that, in spite of its ambitions, will only be of long-term interest to die-hard Ju-on fans. Read on ...

Friday, October 12, 2012

NEW--A Pocket-Sized Arcade Cabinet!

Way back in 2010, I published a post about hand-held and tabletop video games from the 1970s and 80s. Part of that post discussed a series of tabletop games released by Coleco that emulated popular arcade games and looked like much smaller versions of arcade cabinets. At the time I joked, "Given the advancements in micro-computing and compact, high-definition video screens, a really devoted fan could probably gut one of the Coleco emulators and convert it into a tabletop unit--in other words, convert a plastic shell that was originally designed to house a VFD emulation of Donkey Kong into something that could house an actual, playable arcade version of Donkey Kong." Apparently, someone at ThinkGeek either read my post or thinks exactly the same way that I do:

Meet the "Arcadie iPhone and iPod Desktop Arcade". According to ThinkGeek, "The Arcadie Desktop Arcade is designed especially for iPhone and iPod Touch. Slide your device into the wee cabinet, pop it in the 30-pin connector dock, load up an Arcadie-supported app, and you're ready to play. More apps are being added every day, but for now there are games like Blasteroids, Alien Invaders, Ping, Stacker, and more. The 8-way joystick and two buttons will have you pew pew pew-ing the afternoon away, feeling like a jolly geek giant."

I don't have an iPhone or an iPod, but it amuses me to no end that someone remembers the video game arcade era so fondly that he/she is willing to make a teeny tiny version of an arcade cabinet interface for cell phones--even at the risk a causing some crippling new form of carpal tunnel syndrome--so that nostalgic geeks everywhere can relive the glory days of coin-op gaming. Now all they need to do is come out with Arcadie Desktop Arcade units that have marble-sized trackball controllers and action figure-sized light guns so that gamers can also play Centipede and House of the Dead knockoffs.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Deviant Artist Takes a Closer Look at Mimic's Judas Breed Bugs

As anyone who follows this blog knows, I'm a huge fan of monster art. In particular, I'm an avid collector of various mediums (books, magazines, toys, and scale miniatures) that provide accurate and detailed representations of certain movie monster designs that I consider to be art. Such designs would include the mechanical shark from Jaws, the biomechanical parasites from Alien, the submersible monster suit from The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the various stop-motion puppets that Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen used throughout their respective careers in movie special effects. Such an interest becomes an exercise in frustration when I find a movie monster design that I like but I cannot find any pictures or miniatures that provide me with a clear look at the design. Case in point: the Judas Breed insects, the giant GMOs from Guillermo del Toro's Mimic (1997) and its two sequels.

As demonstrated in the behind-the-scenes featurettes that were provided in the recent Blu-ray release of the Mimic director's cut, del Toro and his Mimic crew put a lot of work into the Judas Breed, both in terms of their fictional biology and the effects that were used to bring the creatures to life. Unfortunately, even the high-resolution images provided in the Blu-ray release didn't provide any clear pictures of what a Judas Breed insect looks like in its entirety. On the other hand, the only pictures I can find of the Judas Breed online are either incomplete or murky.

Thankfully, I have just found someone online who not only has a mutual interest in the Judas Breed design, but also has the talent to produce detailed pictures of what del Toro's carnivorous and camouflage-capable critters look like, both in the original movie and in the sequels. The Mexican artist in question goes under the screen name of BlackCoatl, and he added his Judas Breed pictures to his account on the deviantART site a few months ago. Click below to see BlackCoatl's beautiful renderings of the different Judas Breed designs, as well as some additional thoughts about the designs and their changes in the sequels.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Splatstick Fantastic: The Cabin in the Woods (2011) and Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)

Films that successfully combine horror and comedy are elusive things to find. The best ones work because they combine a genuine affection and understanding of horror with a willingness to satirize the genre's most improbable and outlandish conventions. Thankfully, I recently found two films that excel at making the mixture of horror and humor work: The Cabin in the Woods and Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. Both are witty spoofs of the familiar horror movie plot where vacationing young people are trapped in a remote location by some kind of menace, but each film takes a different approach to satirizing such an over worn contrivance. Cabin in the Woods uses the plot as a starting point that expands into a gruesome parody of horror cinema in general, while Tucker & Dale use it as the basis for a gory comedy of errors and misunderstandings.

Without giving too much away, Cabin in the Woods is basically a horror movie version of The Truman Show (1998). Both films are commentaries on the insatiable human need to mold real events and emotions into evocative (and sometimes predictable) stories, no matter how rigorously reality refuses to be reduced to such simplification. Yet because Cabin in the Woods incorporates horror and gore into its story, it eschews the sentimentality of Truman Show and instead dives head first into our collective fascination with the things that terrify us, no matter how improbable or ridiculous such things may be.

Cabin in the Woods was co-written and produced by Joss Whedon, so much of the film's humor stems from its absurd mixtures of the fantastic and the mundane. (Die-hard Whedon fans will also have fun spotting "Whedonverse" alumni such as Amy Acker, Fran Kranz and Tom Lenk.) Furthermore, the film steadily escalates the labyrinthine connections between its characters and situations into an insane, over-the-top conclusion that rivals Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (1992) in the amounts of geysering bloodshed yielded.

Tucker & Dale begins with a group of college students who are heading into the wooded mountains for weekend vacation, but then shifts its perspective to two well-meaning local rednecks, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), who have similar plans of their own. A series of hilarious chance encounters between the students and the rednecks build into a murderous misunderstanding that leaves few survivors standing by the film's ending.

Even though Cabin in the Woods has its own style of gore-based humor, Tucker & Dale is a perfect example of "splatstick" humor, humor that has been defined as "physical comedy that involves evisceration". During the film, the college students come to believe that Tucker and Dale are murderous, inbred cannibals who are out to capture kill them, and their attempts to defend themselves from the mild-mannered and accident-prone rednecks result in hilarious, blood-drenched sight gags. (One of the funniest scenes involves a bee hive and a chainsaw. Really.) Fun trivia fact: Whedon was not involved in Tucker & Dale, but Whedon fans will recognize Tudyk from Whedon's Firefly and Dollhouse TV series.

For horror fans who are in the mood for a double feature of giddily gory movies, I highly recommend The Cabin in the Woods and Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Beware of The Black Page in Wii's Calling

Of the many Wii horror games in which I have been indulging as of late, the hardest one to locate and purchase was Calling, which was developed by Hudson Soft exclusively for the Wii and released in the U.S. in 2010. Despite its status as a Wii exclusive, the game didn't receive much publicity and its distribution was very limited. I can understand somewhat why this happened, since Calling is not a typical video game. Calling is less of a standard survival horror game and more of a multiple-perspective ghost story that is told through a series of three-dimensional, interactive environments; hence, I noticed that many reviewers had no idea what to make of it, even to the point of despising the game for its obtuse approach to horror gaming.

Calling has a few problems, but I found the overall gaming experience to be very rewarding and I could appreciate what the developers were trying to accomplish in making such a unique and unusual horror game. Read on for my complete review.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ghosts Get Serious in The Uninvited (1944)

As a horror movie fan, I do what I can to familiarize myself with noteworthy milestones in horror movie history. Thus, I recently watched The Uninvited, a 1944 horror movie that was based on the novel Uneasy Freehold by Dorothy Macardle. The Uninvited was one of the first Hollywood movies that took ghosts and haunted houses seriously. Previous films either featured ghosts in comedies or revealed them to be practical jokes or engineered distractions to keep attention away from criminal activities (you know, like most of the plots in Scooby Doo cartoons).

The Uninvited tells the story of pair of siblings, Roderick (Ray Milland) and Pamela (Ruth Hussey), who purchase an abandoned mansion that overlooks the English coast. Spooky and inexplicable things begin to occur shortly after they move in and their subsequent investigation into these paranormal events takes them into the strange, secretive lives of the mansion's original owner, Commander Beech (Donald Crisp), and his granddaughter Stella Meredith (Gail Russell).

The Uninvited is a well made movie, with a talented and likable cast, polished direction and cinematography, and special effects that are still convincing even by today's standards. Nevertheless, seasoned horror fans will notice a significant difference between this ghost story and subsequent movies such as The Haunting (1963), The Changeling (1980), and Poltergeist (1982). When watching this movie, it felt like the filmmakers were extremely reluctant to use the ghost as the source of dread and scares; instead, they opted to focus on the mystery behind the mansion's haunting, a mystery that doesn't take long to solve. In fact, I would wager that most modern viewers will figure out what is haunting the mansion and why halfway through the movie, long before the main characters do. Further emphasizing such reluctance is the dialogue exchanges between the characters (much of it consists of witty banter) and very few of the characters are genuinely frightened of the haunting.

I'm still recommending The Uninvited to horror fans due to its significance within horror cinema and because of its overall quality, yet I'm also certain that others will come away from this film feeling the same way I did in that it is a missed opportunity. Given the subtexts of the film's central mystery (which includes thinly repressed lesbianism, among other things), The Uninvited could have been a much bolder film had the filmmakers put more confidence in their subject matter and shifted the story's main perspective to that of Stella's, which would have made this ghost story a more focused cinematic experience.