Friday, July 31, 2015


Farewell, Rowdy Roddy Piper... You left us far too soon.

Your antics in the ring were always outlandish, and your contribution to the imagi-movie scene, supreme. God bless...

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

An Alternate Reality #10: Justice League Gods and Monsters

The latest DC animated movie, "Justice League: Gods and Monsters", is "Elseworld" relegated: meaning it's a parallel-universe installment, its characters being uncanny impressions of superheroes we know and love, but its context, surreal and based on its own terms. 

The true novelty of "Gods and Monsters", however, lies in its behavioral twists: that is, our Justice League icons in this instance might be considered villainous-steered in a more standardized form. Here, however, these dark, rougher versions are indisputably the good guys, even though the set-up always begs the question: are the gods really monsters?

There's a Superman variant, in this case named Hernan Guerra, the son of General Zod (conceived through artificial means and then grown on his way to Earth); a vampire Batman named Kirk Langstrom (yes, folks, Man-Bat in new form); and a fiery-haired, sword-swiping Wonder Woman named Bekka, whose spouse was the god Orion, son of Darkseid, taken from her in an act of betrayal. Each is given an flashback origin, and together they comprise an edgy trio: earnest and diligent in their kill-the-enemy pursuits, and like the good guys we see in current, traditional tales, falsely accused, with no sympathy from the media, even when they slaughter those who would sooner slaughter us. To aggravate matters, the League is blamed for the deaths of famous scientists (consisting of Ray "the Atom" Palmer, Silas Stone and Victor Fries, with Captain Marvel's Dr. Sivanna waiting in the wings), but who actually murdered them and why? (Certainly, Batman isn't behind the Cyclopian Man-Bat who slayed them, or is he?)

Not all are quick to condemn our noble variants. President Amanda Waller (of "Assault on Arkham"/"Suicide Squad") offers support to the suspects: a gracious way (or so it would seem) to employ their expertise, but of course, it's all a pretense. To complicate matters, in his search for the truth, Batman discovers an email that references his college pal, William Magnus, of Metal Men fame, who we learn in this alternate scheme, was involved in Langstrom's parasitic morphing. 

Steve Trevor and Lois Lane are also woven into the plot, but an unseen force overshadows their presence, dead-set on thwarting the trio's quest to clear their names. Is Lex Luthor pulling the strings, or perhaps he's no more than a cynical activist who acts against violent acts (and therefore, the no-holds-bar actions of the world's protectors). Depending on the moment, he stands as either friend and foe: a strange swing for one generally perceived as forever bad-to-the-bone. 

Before long, evidence confirms the plot against the scientists is really one against the superheroes, but the precise gist won't be spoiled here. You must experience "Gods and Monsters" for yourself to know the explosive truth. (Hint: the revelation  involves a friendship betrayed and a technological surge in all things mechanical.)

Thanks to Sam Liu's direction and a solid script by Alan Burnett and Bruce Timm, "Gods and Monsters" moves along at a fine clip, drawing one's interest throughout, though purists are unlikely to take kindly to the otherworldly alterations. On the other hand, "Gods and Monsters" never grows too radical, particularly in comparison to "Flashpoint Paradox", yet nor does it unravel with the deft finesse of "Public Enemies". Though the alternate-reality format is intriguing, this one really could have played in regular-universe mode: a "Watchmen" knockoff with all the unfettered DC characters on board. 

As a basic mystery yarn, it probably succeeds best, and for those seeking a Holmesian trek, regardless of what variant consumes the moment, the story should fulfill. In its own right, it also paves a path for additional chapters if so desired: indeed, yet another DC world just ripe for experimental plucking.

(Incidentally, DC is following "Gods and Monsters" with an adaptation of the classic graphic novel, "Killing Joke". One might assume it'll be faithful to the core, but then considering the daring way the company's ventures have been churning, one never knows.)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Collectible Time #32: Jesse Gutierrez Baron Salazar/Zexina Print

Another sizzling print has entered my hands, this one from Facebook pal, Jesse Gutierrez: a vibrant 11" x 17" tribute to the 1962 Mexican horror classic, "El baron del Terror" (aka, "The Brainiac"), as refashioned as part of Gutierrez's own specialized character line. 

As Mexican monster fans well know, the print's movie counterpart, Baron Vitellius, is a vengeful force to reckon with: a dashing gent who turns into a parasitic fiend, with a bat-like head and long, devilish brain-sucking tongue. Jesse's version is modified, of course, but no less significant, for the fiend is named after the film's producer and star, Abel Salazar. 

The image is also enhanced by some pretty curvaceous eye-candy, including the voluptuously vampiric Zexina. Oh, yeah!!!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

An Alternate Reality #9: Rollerball (1975)

Though the story takes place in 2018, the sport of "Rollerball" was in effect years before Norman Jewison 1975 classic commences. Rollerball, like any worthy competition, focuses on teamwork, though not in the good, old fashioned way, but rather in a blurred merger where individuality is diminished in pursuit of success: perhaps not far removed from what characterizes our existing reality.

Per William Harrison's excellent script (culled from his short story, "Roller Ball Murder"), the film's premise initially mirrors "Festival": the weird celebration that appears in "Star Trek: Return of the Archons", or for that matter, similar events depicted in "Alphaville", "Deathrace 2000" and "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome". The game offers a sadistic release from hum-drum life: a sport so selectively influential, it's replaced all of our once beloved athletic pastimes. 

"Rollerball" stars James Caan, perhaps in his most memorable role, as Houston Captain Jonathan E, a Derek Jeter equivalent within this imaginative scheme. Rollerball is based on roller derby, but its violence real, as one team attempts to insert a steel ball in shoots at each end of an enclosed arena. Rules are sparse (and later in the story, nonexistent), so that members of both teams can do whatever is necessary to win, and no one has proven more deft at such than Jonathan: for all intents and purposes, a gallant, succeed-for-the-team guy. 

Jonathan, however, is no conformist. His individuality (i.e., his ability to stand out from the crowd) inspires the spectators, which worries the U.S. based corporation that sponsors Houston. In fact, a number of global corporations also back teams, and the competitions act in lieu of wars, while reaping a profit within a global, pill-pacified society.

Jonathan's boss, Mr. Bartholomew (John Houseman), sees the threat in his hero's attributes: that Jonathan might inspire others to aspire beyond the norm. On this basis, Bartholomew and his colleagues decide it's time the warrior retire or else force him into a permanent demise. 

The likelihood of a unsavory outcome is, indeed, prevalent in this world. Jonathan witnesses his friend, Moon Pie (John Beck) fall brain dead after a bout with Japan, and prior to such, we learn that his wife, Ella (Maud "James Bond" Adams) was seized by an executive for personal pleasure, which has left Jonathan empty and confused. 

He confides in his ex-couch, Cletus (Moses Gunn), and to a lesser extent, his assigned girlfriends, (Pamela "Buck Rogers" Hemsley and Barbara "Death Moon" Trentham), but the reassurance he seeks remains elusive. Jonathan's concerns increase, and yes, it would be easier for the champion to resign than fight, but that's not what distinguishes the man. 

"Rollerball", unlike "Deathrace 2000", maintains a somber, if not ironically serene atmosphere. The sports sequences, however, are well staged, invoking an air of danger, but then the film's anthem, J.S. Bach's ominous "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor", is enough to set the tone. Still, over the film's two-hour-plus stretch, a sense of nagging desperation reverberates (with evidence of computer tampering and an erasing of history that suits the corporate providers), at least until Jonathan's revolt. Then the film bristles of boiling rage: a demonstration of how Jonathan will never succumb to those who claim they know what's best for him and his admirers.

Jonathan's introspective journey makes "Rollerball" more than just another Orwellian knockoff. Though he isn't a man of profound expression, Jonathan is observant, as Caan's understated performance conveys. He watches the precious past crumble before his eyes (savoring video footage of Ella before deleting it: a vain gesture of acceptance toward corporate demands). Such is also shown during a tense exchange between Jonathan and Bartholomew, when their guests scamper off to blaster-gun trees, oblivious to how long the majestic specimens have stood or the beauty they've long invoked. Through all this, we learn that "Rollerball'"s reality is a hollow place, where the present is perpetually present, and now with Jonathan's inclusion in the game to be snuffed, he must grasp his place in it with all his might, but how can he succeed when the corporation has stacked the odds against him?

For better or worse, "Rollerball" doesn't end decisively, leaving the door open for whatever fate may bring. A sequel may have appeared inevitable, but instead, an ill-received 2002 remake came in its wake, which placed adolescent adrenalin at the forefront. What makes the original film special is Jewison and Harrison's pensive assessment of dystopian bondage. Like "Logan's Run", the tale presents a staunch supporter of a system, who finally awakens when forced onto the losing end. It's about changing one's mind, of seeing the truth, of daring to be unique, when others insist you march to their dictatorial drum. 

Like other dystopian adventures, "Rollerball'"s message rings clearer today than at the time of its conception. This is understandable, considering our current, cultural norms. When people are encouraged to do the bare minimal, or restrain themselves from being all they can be, the need to rise to any occasion may seem fruitless, if not dangerous. "Rollerball" spits in the eye of such notions. As the great Jonathan E. learns, conformity (and therefore, complacency) is never life's answer, only its curse.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Collectible Time #31: Shipman Black Widow/Hulk and Boba Fett prints

Obtained two new Gary Shipman 11" x 17" prints through Etsy, and both are Disney blockbuster related...

First we have a sprawling rendering of those two avenging love birds, Black Widow and Hulk!!!

Yep, one can certainly feel both the love and rage in this depiction. I also like the positioning of the full-figure Hulk next to the Window's haunting "Night Gallery"-ish portrait: an interesting and impressive combination. 

And for a little intergalactic splash, here's that legendary, planet-hopping bounty hunter...Boba Fett!!! He looks quite set for his offshoot film outing (assuming it's still on). I like the dusty aura this rendering projects, particularly with Shipman's superb use of a hazy Slave I in the backdrop.

Both artistic endeavors stir a sweeping sense of adventure, certainly enough to get one psyched for those sequels/prequels yet to come!!!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I saw Ant-Man...

Peyton Reed's "Ant-Man"is the latest in an expanding tapestry of interlocking Avengers films. In fact, it sets forth a new phase for the powerhouse franchise by being both different and yet in tune with previous chapters. 

In actuality, "Ant-Man" (per Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay and Paul Rudd's script) is an overlap of two superhero legends, incorporating both men who have filled the alias' space over the years. In this respect, the film offers us the scientist who started it all, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a former burglary convict whom Pym helps modify toward greatness. It's Lang who becomes the focus; however, Pym's presence is perpetually felt, which should satisfy those loyal to the superhero's source.

In a broader sense,"Ant-Man" is a heist/caper yarn (the aim: to sabotage high-tech information from a bad guy) and more so, a redemption tale for its two principles. From out this, we learn that Pym hid his impervious, miniaturization suit in fear that it might fall into the wrong hands; Lang, on the other hand, is a once aspiring electrical engineering with a nagging conscience, who discovers the wearable device during a safe-cracking theft, staged as a test by Pym.  

In addition to possessing the remarkable suit, Lang has a supportive team, part of which is formed in advance Pym's entrance. This wannabe SHIELD unit consists of Dave (Tip "T.I." Harris); Kurt (David Dastmalchian) and the happy-go-whistlin' Luis (Michael Pena in an amusing, down-to-earth part). The trio makes an offbeat combination, but jive perfectly with Lang's off-kilter circumstance, lightening the story, which maintains a cheerful tone even when Lang must face the awkward dynamic of his ex, his daughter and her new husband (played by Judy Greer, Abby Rider Fortson and Bobby Cannavale). 

More than any other supporting character, Pym's resourceful daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), keeps the film anchored, establishing herself as essential in the mission's success. (However, for those familiar with the mythology, a nagging question remains: when precisely in the Marvel franchise will she officially suit up as the legendary Wasp?)

Opposing the good guys is Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), a Pym protege, who thirsts for power as the equally miniaturized Yellowjacket. It's through Cross' Hydra-blinded course that Lang becomes an underdog to cheer on, especially when he breaks into Pym's old company with his faithful ant army to spoil Cross' plans. There's also a stunning brawl between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket on a train set, supported by clever cuts that grant awe-inspiring perspectives. 

"Ant-Man" actually excels in all of its diminutive escapades. It's not just a cute "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" (not that there's anything wrong with that), but to its benefit, recalls such edgier splendors as "Attack of the Puppet People"; "Devil-doll '35"; "Dr. Cyclops"; "Fantastic Voyage"; "The Incredible Shrinking Man" and even such "growth" films as "Amazing Colossal Man" and "Village of the Giants" (the latter two potential blueprints for Giant-Man's entrance, but that's another story for another time).

To strengthen its connections to previous Marvel movies, "Ant-Man" also lets us revisit old friends, including a special appearance by Anthony Mackie's Falcon, which occurs when Ant-Man must "borrow" equipment from the Avengers headquarters. We're also treated to cameos by John Slattery as Howard Stark and Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter. These popular characters remind us that Ant-Man will be (and has always been) a part of Marvel's legacy, solidifying the movie's essential spot in a growing cinematic universe, set to continue in "Captain America: Civil War". 

On the whole, "Ant-Man" is a great way to spend one's time and a swell way to get the legend (and the men behind the outfit) into the Marvel/Disney landscape. It's where the tiny titan should have been from the start. Better late than never, though, and considering how well this one turned out, perhaps it's a blessing that those who made it had the right vision (and ample time) to bring it to astonishing realization.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

FLASK OF EYES Reviews...The Readers Have Spoken...

The readers have spoken; the Amazon reviews are in for FLASK OF EYES!!!

Five Stars..."Unforgettable characters and the best plot I've seen in the last 20 years. Once I started reading it, I could not put it down. Flask of Eyes should be adapted as a movie." - Eric Galliher

Five Stars..."Imagine House of Frankenstein directed by Jess Franco...throw in some Clive Barker and Ray Bradbury, and you have Michael F. Housel's disturbingly odd Flask of Eyes..." - "horrorfan"

And from Barnes & Noble...

Five Stars..."Excellent read. Entertaining, mystifying and captivating."

Order now while supplies last; also touch base with Michael Housel by replying below (or through Facebook and Twitter) on how to obtain a signed copy!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Monster Team-up Reflection #24: Clive Barker's Nightbreed

One of the best and most eclectic monster-rallies is the 1990 thriller, "Nightbreed", based on the bestseller, "Cabal", by horror maestro, Clive Barker. 

"Nightbreed" was, alas, anything but a hit in its day, though its cult status has grown over the years, to the point where the film has been restored (with once believed lost footage reinserted), matching Barker's directorial specifications. (It is, as should come as no surprise, the restored Shout! Factory edition that the following review is essentially based, but even the rough version conveys the same illustrious meaning and as already stated, was in its own right strong enough to secure devotees.)

The story is really a celebration of monsters, and to those who know and love such creatures, it's a given that they should never be despised, but rather admired, and due to the prejudices aimed at them, pitied: not that any monster worth his salt wants pity. The "Nightbreed" monsters are particularly more apt to fight back than beg for tears: their plight one of courage and justified ferocity. 

Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) is the story's protagonist: an odd, young man with beckoning visions of a monster haven called Midian. His girlfriend, Lori Winston (Anne Bobby), has encouraged him to seek counseling on the matter through a therapist named Phillip K. Decker (David Croenenberg--yes, the Croenenberg, director of "Scanners" and "Fly '86"; and he even briefly swaps lines with monster-movie icon, John Agar--hot damn). It seems, however, that Decker is far from a compassionate sort; in fact, he's a serial killer coined "Buttonface", who dons a makeshift mask whenever he wishes to slay those he deems impure. 

Decker is a monster in his own right, but a modernized kind: a disciple of the mad slashers who were popular in films at the time of "Nightbreed'"s original release. His presence is twofold in this respect: he, indeed, perpetuates the horror genre, but in another way, acts as an antagonist to aficionados of classic, Gothic horror, which by the time "Cabal"/"Nightbreed" surfaced, had taken a woeful backseat to a long string of knife-wielding maniacs.

The doctor is also the reason Boone flees, for the young man knows that Decker plans to pin a series of murders on him, but when our hero ends up in the hospital, he meets Narcisse (Hugh Ross), a disoriented gent who yearns to touch base with the mythical realm. 

Narcisse claims he's a creature of the night, and to prove such, rips a portion of skin from his head, revealing the monstrous texture beneath. This convinces Boone that Midian may be more than a figment of his imagination. He flees once more (leaving the maddened Narcisse behind) and reaches his destination: a haunting, graveyard expanse, richly embellished by matte-artist, Ralph "Star Wars" McQuarrie.  

Boone plans to hide for a time among Midian's shadows, but then encounters two of its inhabitants, Peloquin (Oliver Parker) and Kinski (Nicholas Vince, known to "Hellraiser" fans as "the Chatterer"). Kinski, whose head resembles a crescent moon, is sympathetic toward Boone, but Peloquin, a devilish looking chap with dreadlock tendrils, wishes to devour him. The best Peloquin manages is to bite Boone's shoulder, but the fateful wound is enough to transform the young man into one of the Breed and much to Peloquin's ultimate dismay, a long awaited savior. 

Winston, meanwhile, goes in search of her boyfriend, unintentionally dragging Decker deeper into the strange adventure, while Boone gains favor among the Midians and reunites with Narcisse. Kinski vows to become Boone's mentor, and the tribe leader, Lylesberg ("Hellraiser's Doug "Pinhead" Bradley), consents to such, but further complications await: Decker's intent to purge the Breed attracts the gestapo-like Captain Eigerman (Charles Haid), who ushers a red-neck raid upon the haven, while accompanied by a perplexed detective (Hugh "Phantom Menace" Quarshie) and a downtrodden preacher named Ashberry (Malcolm Smith), who most likely would have figured prominently in a sequel. 

As if this weren't enough, Midian's mystical sentinel, Baphomet (Bernard Henry), decides to unwind a wall-painted prophesy: that Midian shall be destroyed during this time of assault. 

All hell breaks loose, leaving Lylesberg to unleash Midian's caged behemoths, the Beserkers, to fight back the aggressors. He also accepts the notion that Boone will lead Midian's persecuted to a new sanctuary. It's from this status that Boone eventually gains a new name: Cabal (a nod to his new link with the struggling sect and their shared quest for freedom).  

In truth, the story is an epic essay on persecution, identifiable to any number of factions: those condemned by religious zealots, but also those of a pious inclination, condemned by self-proclaimed intellectuals; those scorned for their appearances and/or cultural backgrounds; those ridiculed for being too traditional in the wake of radical thought. In essence, anyone who's ever been trampled upon, for whatever the cause, will find reason to empathize with Midian's Breed.

The film adaptation is also a tour d' force for the senses. In audio scope, Danny "Batman" Elfman's percussive score stirs a distinct tribal flavor. On the visual side (in addition to the aforementioned McQuarrie mattes, along with Robin Vidgeon's vibrant cinematography), Midian's corridors are as alluring as they are nightmarish: in other words, well worth visitation. In fact, one of the film's best sequences features Winston passing a procession of monsters (and their creepy lairs) as she seeks Boone. (Also, the reconstructed pacing is nearly flawless, though I must confess to preferring the original ending, but still, on the whole, the old certainly can't match to the new.)

Decades prior,  critics (and even some horror fans) missed "Nightbreed'"s profound message. Most likely, some will still miss it, even with its theme more succinctly presented. That's often the way with works of genius, but just as the original built a following despite its flaws, so surely will the "Cabal Cut".  

Barker's works deserve to be read and seen, and "Nightbreed" is one of his finest offerings. It's most inspiring to watch this twenty-five-year-old experiment re-enter the scene and rival the current bigger-budgeted competition with its old-school effects and an old-fashioned respect for monsters in general: a dark gift that any connoisseur of underdog horror will unconditionally accept.