Tuesday, December 27, 2016


Oh, what woeful fate! You were rising high again, not only in the "Star Wars" realm, but in so many other wondrous ways. Needless to say, through it all, you embodied the true essence of a princess: cherished for your prevailing kindness, wonderful acting and superb wit. Farewell, dear Carrie. May your spirit reign forever in this galaxy and beyond...

Monday, December 26, 2016

I saw the Surreal Terrors of Never Open the Door...

"Never Open the Door" is 2014 experimental outing, recently released on disc, which makes deft use of psychological and otherworldly horror. With a running time of about an hour, the story plays like an enthralling installment of old, anthology show: shot in atmospheric black-and-white and sculpted with all the required twists and turns.

Directed by Vito Trabucco, who co-wrote with Christopher Maltauro, the film begins innocently enough, with three couples enjoying their holiday feast. The dinner actually occupies a decent portion of the film (an extended prelude of sorts), where we get to know the participants, who are portrayed by Matt Aidan; Kristina Page; George Troester; Deborah Venegas; Mike Wood; and Jessica Sonneborn (who morphs into the film's focus). Their gleeful (and often juvenile behavior) sets one up for a generous jolt when the initial scare strikes.

This comes (SPOILER) via a-knockin' at the door, prompting the lovely Tess (Sonneborn) to open it: a big no-no in the context of this picture, as the title warns. Tess is confronted by a tense, bloodied man (Steven Richards) who falls to the floor, dying from a stomach wound. Attempts to call 911 fail, when the folks discover their phones aren't working, or is more a matter of someone (or something) jamming their signals?

The frazzled Tess heads to shower to wash off the stranger's blood, but in the queasy process, becomes plagued by a frightening manifestation. It seems she may be physically transforming, but into what exactly and why?

As the story progresses, Tess disappears, but then reappears with no evident knowledge of what's transpired. Weird...and what's that disturbing growling the folks now hear upstairs, where Tess roamed? (Are there now two Tesses in the house, and if so, what caused the duplication?) All the while, a group of strange, deadpan men surround the home, and the terrified onlookers can only speculate their intent. 

In addition to its anthology-show influences, "Never Open..." feels like a '60s psychological thriller (one of the many offspring of Hitchcock's "Psycho", though with the slow-burn pacing of the master's "Rope"). Its interior setting also reminds one of "Evil Dead" and "Night of the Living Dead". At other times, the film invokes the traditional spookiness of James Whale's "Old Dark House" and the gnawing desperation of Don Siegel's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". One could also argue the story contains elements of John Campbell's "Who Goes There?": the basis for "The Thing" movies. 

Additionally, like any quality, adult-based thriller, "Never Open..." isn't shy about showing some skin. Sonneborn's comely form, nicely framed in the shower sequence, invokes Janet Leigh's in "Psycho" and/or Luana Ander's watery plunge in "Dementia 13". The brief sequence never gets too risque or grotesque, but then nor does any portion of the film, which only ever shows just enough to stoke one's imaginations. (Carlos Vivas' excellent score helps much in this respect.)

Indeed, there's no disputing that "Never Open..." pulls from many sources to tell its tale, but because of its seamless overlap, it never feels like a blatant knock-off. Maybe this is due to the film's taunt acting, writing and direction: superior to what one finds in most indie productions. Also to its chilling advantage, the movie never telegraphs its punches, delivering each scare with the unexpected accuracy of Richard Matheson's "Dying Room Only": another story where events are never quite what they seem. 

The movie's big reveal (and how the man at the door connects to the events that unfold) is surreal as heck, but should satisfy fans of unusual wraparounds. However, those adverse to abstraction will probably frown upon the story's dreamy ambiguity. Nevertheless, "Never Open..." maintains an unnerving magnetism throughout (at least once it gets beyond its party prelude). The film makes one wonder what other unique essays Trabucco could conjure with a longer running time and bigger budget. Then again, who needs either, when an existing effort like this captures so much attention?

"Never Open..." may not be for all tastes, but even if one doesn't fancy the flavor, one will still find the experience bizarrely memorable. ("Never Open..." is available at Amazon.com, where it can be readily accessed and assessed at one's leisure.) 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Collectible Time #76: A Classic Monster Christmas...Godzilla '14 Eggleton/FM T-Shirt and Universal Classic Monsters Essential Collection

My friend, Brett Turner, always comes through with on-target Christmas gifts. Thematically, he succeeded again, so I wish to mark his generosity by spotlighting his latest submissions...

Brett knows I dig Toho, or any sort of giant-monster variation, including Gojira's Legendary Films/Gareth Edwards reinstatement. In this instance, the latter is represented by acclaimed Godzilla artist, Bob Eggleton, with our colossal hero confronting an approaching M.U.T.O.  The image, in this instance, is displayed on a stylish, Cotton Heritage, black t-shirt. How cool!!! I'll be lookin' mighty sharp (and maybe a trifle intimidating) when I sport it this summer!!!

For the record, Eggleton created this marvelous "Godzilla '14" image for the latest incarnation of Famous Monsters of Filmland: this being the third of four covers to commemorate the big guys' 60th anniversary. Yep, a classy and historic piece of apparel... 

And speaking of classy and historic, good, ol' Brett hit the bullseye in yet another delightful way. You see, he knows I'm into Universal horror, but was a tad behind the times, having my Universal favorites designated to DVD (and prior to such, VHS). Well, thanks to Brett, I now have the founding entries on Blu-ray, in what's called "Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection".

The 8-disc set includes "Dracula" (along with a Philip Glass orchestrated edition, plus the alternate-cast, Spanish version); "Frankenstein"; "Bride of Frankenstein"; "The Mummy"; "The Invisible Man"; "The Wolf Man"; "Phantom of the Opera '43"; and "Creature from the Black Lagoon" (in 3D and flat versions). Accompanying the films are documentaries, trailers and historical commentary by the distinguished likes of Brent Armstrong; Rick Baker; Bob Burns; Rudy Behlmer; Christopher Freyling; Steve Haberman; Paul M. Jensen; Scott McQueen; David Skal; and Tom Weaver. 

To make the compilation all the more collectible, it contains a 48-pg booklet, "The Original House of Horrors", which presents a splendid overview of the Universal hits. In fact, the entire packaging for the "Essential Collection" is visually enriching: accentuated by gruesomely gorgeous graphics.

I mentioned receiving this set to a few of my much younger friends today, who seemed baffled by its significance, believing classic horror to stem solely from the late '70s onward (i.e., from the Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers era), but the reason such modern fiends ever clicked with audiences was due to the successful, storytelling format that Universal established. Of course, the Universal "talkie" entries also had the advantage of some of the most talented actors, writers and directors of any cinematic age: Lugosi; Karloff; Chaney Jr.; Lancaster; Rains; Arnold; Balderston; Browning; Freund; and Whale. Truly, these films are the classics, the ones that one should know and cherish: the indisputable trendsetters from which all others owe an insurmountable debt.  

I thank Brett for supplying this superb collection; I'm sure to revisit it often, with much gratitude and respect for my friend and the marvelous movies it celebrates. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Collectible Time #75: JAKKS 31" Rogue One Death Trooper and AMT Barris/Munsters Graveyard Ghoul Duo Reissue

JAKKS marches on with another timely "Star Wars" 31" Big Figs salute...the stunning "Rogue One'" Death Trooper.

In gleaming black, this menacing soldier is a showroom stopper, all set for stately display with his fashionable blaster.

The figure's sleek look is bound to catch many a collector's eye, while conveying the perfect, sinister agenda: Maintain Imperial Command!!!

Like other Big-Figs when they first hit the scene, the Death Trooper is a tad elusive. I was lucky to grab one at my local K-Mart; nonetheless, when available, this fine piece goes for about $30-$40 at most retailers...

Also, I managed to procure (where I get all my model kits--Z&Z Hobbies) a terrific, "commemorative" reissue of AMT's "Graveyard Ghoul Duo" set, which contains George Barris' "Munsters" Couch and Dragula. 

I had this kit back in '73, upon its initial release. Over the years, I've purchased several representations of both classic vehicles, but it was the sentimental packaging on this one (with that cool ghoul side-pic) that made this reissue a must-have. (I can still recall that long-ago Friday night when my parents, along with my brother and grandfather, made a casual trip to K-Mart--yep, same one where I purchased the Death Trooper--and guess what just happened to end up in my lap! Ah, memories!)

These 1:25 scale models are intricate, though like all AMT kits, never a hassle to construct. The "Graveyard Ghoul Duo" goes for $35-$40 at most hobby shops: a reasonable price for any "Munsters" or novelty-car completist.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

I saw Rogue One...

"Star Wars" works best when kept simple. The same goes for Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and John Carter: the exalted forerunners to George Lucas' multi-million-dollar creation. Cloud the stories and you end up with something that's not quite what it's supposed to be: evidenced by the "Star Wars" prequel trilogy, with plots too complicated for their own good.

“Force Awakens” got the franchise back on track, but not without some declaring it too repetitive in structure: mirroring, that is, more of what came before as opposed to directing the mythology into brave, new turf. 

Rest assured, the latest entry, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, should keep most parties pleased, for the film not only embraces the saga’s classic elements in an uncluttered way, but initiates its own ominous but fun tone. This blend is abetted by several new characters, who shine in their traditional heroism, along with some new window dressing, like the Death Troopers, and old, sentimental hardware, like the ATATs and Scout Walkers. 

Director Gareth ("Godzilla '14") Edward's entry (scripted by Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz, from a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta) takes place between “Revenge of the Sith” and “A New Hope”, detailing a caper to steal the dreaded Death Star's blueprints, or more precisely a flaw that will lead to its destruction. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is assigned to this monumental task, since she holds a special connection to the Death's Star's designer: her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen). If she can locate her captured dad, she may gain valuable information that could (and should) deliver the Rebels one of their most rousing victories. 

Good guys and bad guys surround Jyn on her magnificent quest, with Clone Wars veteran, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) aiding her cause, along with the film's primary droid (and destined sought-after, action figure), K-2S0 (Alan "I, Robot" Tudyk), reprogrammed to aid the Alliance. The ensemble is also distinguished by the cruel yet stylish Imperial Weapons leader, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn); the soulful and insightful Chirrut Imew (Donnie Yen); the practical and loyal Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen); the humble and diligent Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed); and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a clever Rebel captain, who's perhaps the most inspirational of the intrepid lot. They see-saw throughout the mission, influencing it at various times in varying ways, but never dominating any part to muddle the whole. (Oh, if only "Phantom Menace" had followed this path.)

Also to its benefit, the story never loses track of its lead, the easy-on-the-eyes Jyn, keeping her team a respectable second within the story structure. This again adds to the the tale's sensible simplicity, even when the action becomes thickly laden. (In fact, this chapter even drops the "Star Wars" prelude scroll to plunge us all the quicker into its first. exciting act, along with Michael Giacchino's mounting score.)

Incidentally, the term, "Rogue One", is an off-the-cuff "call sign" culled from a Imperial vessel seized by the Rebels and for die-hard fans, a label referenced in "Empire Strikes Back". The term also, according to various sources, represents the movie's outside-the-box (gone-rogue), association to the trilogies. Even more so, the term defines Jyn and her troop's risky and unorthodox urge to gain the upper hand. 

If I hold any objection to the adventure, its the minimal use of Mikkelson, who would have given the story an extra tier of grace if granted the screen time. His sideline position, therefore, makes his recent "Dr. Strange" performance more significant in comparison. At least Whittaker's supporting scenes compensate for Mikkelson's relegation, due to the former's compassionate style. (In fact, most of the supporting characters shine in a similar way, adding just enough seasoning to the plot.)

Oh, and let's not forget the film's most coveted cameos...Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin! Yep, as we discerned from the trailers (and arguably, the main poster), Vader (Spencer Wilding, with James Earl Jones again voicing) is in full swing and strategically placed at just the right moments to make us nostalgically cheer or affectionately boo. But Grand Moff Tarkin, you ask? Yes, the grand governor has returned, and it's not just another actor filling his shoes, or is it? For all intents and purposes, we're looking at Peter Cushing, though in "uncanny valley" CGI'd form and blessed by vocalized emulation. (Personally, I always felt that Cushing's Tarkin should have carried on into other chapters; alas, his fleeting, far-off persona in "Sith" was neat, but lacking.)

Contrary to what some might proclaim, "Rogue One" isn't a galaxy-shaking stand-alone. How could it be, existing as an obvious bridge between chapters? At the same time, there's no doubt that it creates a mostly independent aura unlike any other "Star Wars" offering: in style, an "Empire Strikes Back" offshoot/wannabe, but by no means committed to link seamlessly to those pieces surrounding it. That's a pretty novel approach and should act as a standard for all future "anthology" chapters to follow. 

Monday, December 12, 2016


There's been a change in plans, folks: that is, a change in publishers for one of my stories. 

My novella, "The Hyde Seed", was scheduled for print by Caliburn Press, but due to unexpected circumstances (i.e., a series of mishaps, which perhaps I'll detail in the future), Ron Fortier of Airship 27 Productions (publisher of my novel, "Enter--The Persona!") has taken over the title, slating it for a potential 2017 release. (Ash Arceneaux's spectacular artwork, seen above, will still grace the cover, I'm ecstatic to report.)

"The Hyde Seed" depicts the uncanny journey of a woeful welterweight named Pepe Rodriguez, who must come to terms with his most merciless opponent--himself!  

My Robert Louis Stevenson tribute contains plot elements inspired by "The Twilight Zone", "Night Gallery" and "The Outer Limits": an offbeat character study, therefore, in heart and soul. 

I'll keep you posted on developments as they come forth; and I thank Captain Ron from the bottom of my heart for his courageous intervention. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

An Alternate Continuation: Man in the High Castle Enters Season 2

The abandonment of freedom is embraced by more people than some of us may care to admit. To live under totalitarianism is, alas, to some a blessing, for they're devoid of the responsibility to forge their own destinies. They sleep through life, content to let others pull the strings. However, for freedom's advocates, the extremes of governmental control can create a hellish existence and dismantling such, a paramount goal.

This concept predominates Amazon’s “Man in the High Castle”, based on Phillip K. Dick’s classic, parallel-reality novel. The series enters its second season December 16.

In the story's parallel scheme, the Axis, not the Allies, have won WWII. Now, in an alternate, early ‘60s, Germany harnesses one portion of the U.S. and Japan the other. There's a burgeoning tension between the factions, but none as profound as what brews beneath. The latter’s participants acknowledge a series of mysterious films which depict the Allies as triumphant, and the enigmatic Man in the High Castle intends to collect them all.

Returning to the series are Alexa Davalos; Joel de la Fuente; Rupert Evans; Michael Hogan; Luke Kleintank; DJ Qualls; Rufus Sewell; Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa; Brennan Brown; Daniel Roebuck; and joining the cast, in what’s intended as a significant role, Stephen Root.

“Man in the High Castle” may not fly well with those discontent with Western-world influence, but for those who despise global injustice (and yes, many of us still do), the series will prove an inspirational tool. Despite its melancholic content, “Man in the High Castle” demonstrates that one can (and should) oppose tyranny, no matter how grand its scope. It also shows there's always hope for a better tomorrow, no matter what the "reality".

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Amazon Resurrects The Tick!!!

The first, live-action series based on Ben Edlund's beloved, bumbling superhero, the Tick, was short-lived, but that didn't stop it from gaining a cult following and now a promising reboot.

Amazon's pilot (available on Prime) features Peter Serafinowicz in the role that Patrick Warburton made famous.

In the new incarnation, the Tick returns to a world populated by superheroes, but chooses favor on a conspiracy-theory accountant, Arthur Everest (Griffin Newman), who wishes to uncover the deeds of a legendary villain, otherwise believed defunct. The cretin inadvertently killed Arthur's father, while combating the celebrated superhero team, Flag Five. (As Tick fans know, Arthur is destined to become the big, blue guy's trusty, moth-outfitted sidekick, so his backstory is most significant and well fleshed out in the opener: much being essayed by Kyle Catlett, who plays Arthur as a boy.) 

On the additional, character side, Valorie Curry, of "Veronica Mars" fame, plays Dot, Arthur's sister; and Brendan Hindes, a recurring presence on "Scorpion", portrays Superian, a cocky knock-off of Kal-El, whose actions and intent give the story a "Mystery Man" feel. 

The villain, The Terror (once Superian's prime nemesis), is played by genre favorite, Jackie Earle Haley, who adds great relish to the spicy role. He also wears a super-cool, X-Men type costume and facial make-up: intimidating, even within the show's comical context. 

Fans who wished Warburton to return were disheartened to learn that his screen involvement was snuffed, due to an obligation to another series, though he does act (along with Serafinowicz) as one of the producers. Serafinowicz at least has the right wry humor to bring Edlund's character to life and perhaps if enough episodes are produced, he might very well make the hapless hero his own.

That Edlund is writing and co-producing the blueprinted series is a good sign; and let's face it: Amazon has been producing some mighty fine programs as of late, including the tense, legal drama, "Goliath" and the grim, alternate-reality adventure, "Man in the High Castle". On this basis alone, fans should be confident that a respectful (and possibly long-haul) handling of their old favorite is in the making.