Tuesday, December 29, 2015

New episode on Monday.

John and I just recorded Episode 15 on Marvel's Jessica Jones. We're excited to have our friend Matthew Ivan Bennett join us on the discussion. The episode drops next Monday.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Monday, December 7, 2015

Episode 14: John Hates What You Love, A Nightmare Before Christmas

Episode 14: John Hates What You Love, The Nightmare Before Christmas
Hosts: Frank Shaw and John Belliston
Produced by Hobos in the Back Row
Scripting by Frank Shaw and John Belliston
Edited by: Frank Shaw
Intro Music: Piano Sonata mvnt 1 by F.G. Shaw
Outro Music: Piano Sonata mvnt 3 by F.G. Shaw

Even when he likes a movie John is happy to ruin it for everybody else. John and I discuss the film A Nightmare Before Christmas: We talk about what kind of film it actually is (Christmas or Halloween), what some problems of the movie are, and some crazy fan theories. Hopefully it'll make you rethink the way you watch this movie.

Not a lot of notes this episode:

Here's a link to an article discussing Harry Selick firmly stating his opinion about what sort of film the movie is.

Here's a Mental Floss list detailing things you might not know about the film, unless you've read a lot of stuff about it online, watched the commentary to the movie or listened to our podcast (or any other podcast) on the movie. Still, a fun list.
(*Editor's Note: John and Frank don't actually touch on most of the items on this list.)

Finally! Here's Tim Burton's original poem.

As an added bonus here's Korn singing Kidnap the Sandy Claws.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

James and the Giant Peach Review

James and the Giant Peach (1996, dir Henry Selick)

Roald Dahl seemed to understand children. His novels speak to them, both exploring the darker side of life that they are unwilling, or unable to speak about to adults but also to that sense of wonderment that the world has to offer one who has only a minimal experience with it. The best adaptations of his work capture both things and cater to the child watching and not to the adult. This is not to say that adults can’t enjoy those works, but that it’s not the adult that matters.

James and the Giant Peach tells the story of James Henry Trotter (Paul Terry) who is living comfortably with his father and mother in a small cottage by the sea. They picnic, find shapes in clouds and talk about visiting New York City on his birthday. It is in the cloud shapes that the narrator tells us, with the image provided by the clouds themselves, that James life changes when his father and mother are tragically killed by an escaped Rhinoceros.

We are propelled forward in the story and James now lives with his Aunts, Spiker (Joanna Lumley) and Sponge (Miriam Margolyes) who treat him very poorly: He is forced to sleep in a leaky attic, made to do all manner of chores and tasks, and fed fish heads and bits of food that he rescues from the garbage. Spiker and Sponge are detestable Ms. Lumbley and Ms. Margolyes play them in such a way as to not simply make the characters cruel, but downright loathsome.

While rescuing a spider a strange old soldier (Pete Postlethwaite)  finds James and gives him a bag of crocodile tongues. The soldier warns him not to spill the contents of the bag and that they will bring him happiness and adventure. Shortly thereafter James trips, spilling the tongues on the ground next to an old dead peach tree below his aunt's house.

A tree near where the tongues spilled grows a giant peach and Sponge and Spiker proceed to sell tickets for the public to see it. After the crowds have left they send James out to pick up the garbage around the peach. He decides to take a bite of peach and as he does one of the lost crocodile tongues burrows its way into into the handful of peach and is eaten by James. Spiker and Sponge come looking for him and he crawls into the hole  in the peach that he had made. He transforms as he crawls into the peach from a real little boy to his stop motion counterpart and soon discovers giant magical bugs inside.

The bugs: Miss Spider (Susan Sarandon), Mr. Grasshopper (Simon Callow), Mr. Centipede (Richard Dreyfus), Mrs. Ladybug (Jane Leeves), Earthworm (David Thewlis) and Glowworm (Miriam Margolyes) quickly become James’ friends. They cut loose the peach from the tree and then set out to go to New York City.

The movie, like many stop motion films seem to, is a musical. With only four songs, and the closing credits song “My Name Is” sung by Randy Newman, it barely qualifies. Unlike the musical numbers for the film the Corpse Bride, I didn’t feel the songs detracted from this film.
The acting is ok: Paul Terry is charming as James, and both actress playing Sponge and Spiker are perfect. The voice acting in the rest of the film isn’t bad by any means, but isn’t particularly great either, the actors (all of whom are fantastic actors in their own right) just didn’t fully click with me.
The animation is wonderful though. I love stop motion and if the entire film had been stop motion I would have been pleased. It’s not however, but what is there is great. I would love to see more from Henry Selick as he seems to have a knack for stop motion films. Stop motion seems to be going through a small resurgence and I hope with the technological advances made with computers adding the effort of the puppeteers we will see more of them in the years to come.

The live action sequences are very surreal and this fits the film and the story well. There’s never a full sense of time period, but one get’s the impression that it’s long ago. There’s also a dream like sense to the live action sequences.

The question is: should you watch it? Yes. Absolutely! Mr. Dahl’s stories are magical when done correctly and that, to me is in always in disregard to the adults that might be watching. James and the Giant Peach is a magical film for children that adults that haven’t forgotten their inner child can enjoy.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Episode 13: Stanley Kubrick

Episode 13: Stanley Kubrick
Hosts: Frank Shaw
Produced by Hobos in the Back Row
Scripting by Frank Shaw
Edited by: Frank Shaw
Intro Music: Piano Sonata mvnt 1 by F.G. Shaw
Outro Music: Piano Sonata mvnt 3 by F.G. Shaw

Frank's flying solo this episode. John is recouperanting from some illnesses and sadly couldn't join in on the festivies this time. So listen to Frank talk for an hour about how awesome Stanley Kubrick is. It'll be fun!

No real links this time. Just a run down of Stanley Kubrick's filmography and a suggestion on a couple of documentaries to watch.

 1999 Eyes Wide Shut

 1987 Full Metal Jacket
 1980 The Shining
 1975 Barry Lyndon
 1971 A Clockwork Orange
 1968 2001: A Space Odyssey
 1964 Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
 1962 Lolita
 1960 Spartacus
 1957 Paths of Glory
 1956 The Killing
 1955 Killer's Kiss
 1953 The Seafarers (Documentary short)
 1953 Fear and Desire
 1951 Day of the Fight (Documentary short)
 1951 Flying Padre (Documentary short)

and now for a couple of documentaries you should check out.

2001 Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures 
1996 Cinefile: Stanley Kubrick – The Invisible Man 
2001 2001: The Making of a Myth 
1999 Steven and Stanley, Remembering Stanley Kubrick: Steven Spielberg
2007 Lost Kubrick: The Unfinished Films of Stanley Kubrick 

I've seen all of the above documentaries, and they are all worth checking out if you have further interest in the man and his films.

As of right now A Clockwork Orange, and 2001: A Space Odyssey are available to stream on Netflix.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Yet another week with no review.

This week there is no written review.

Monday evening the new episode will release, a solo podcast with Frank rambling about Stanley Kubrick.

Friday a written review of James and the Giant Peach (directed by Henry Selick) will release.

December: The Nightmare Before Christmas and Jessica Jones.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Review of Corpse Bride

Corpse Bride (dir. Tim Burton, Mike Johnson. 2005)

Tim Burton is known for making quirky, darkly humorous films. Some are heavier on the quirky portion: like Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure and Big Fish. While others are more ensconced in dark humor: like his Batman films, Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd. Corpse Bride fits somewhere in between: It’s definitely dark, considering the plot and the tone the film sets within it’s animated world. But it’s not sinister in any way (few of his movies are) and has a cheeky feel to it that both embraces the dark elements, while injecting an anachronistic humor into them.

The story is of a young man named Victor Van Dort (voiced by Johnny Depp), whose parents have arranged for him to marry Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson). Her parents have only agreed to the marriage to this young man of “new money” because their own fortune has waned and they’ll soon find themselves in the poor house. They are dismissive of Victoria’s nervousness and concern for love (“What does love have to do with marriage?”) citing that this is likely the only way they have of becoming wealthy again and what she wants doesn’t matter.

Victor and Victoria meet each other for the first time just before the wedding rehearsal, where Victoria peeks in on Victor playing the piano. They timidly fall for each other before they are interrupted by Victoria’s parents. During the rehearsal, Victor falls nervous and is unable to speak his lines, he fumbles the wedding ceremony and is chastised by Pastor Galswells (Christopher Lee). Victor goes to the nearby woods where he practices his lines, becoming more confident and more smitten with Victoria as he does. When he finishes the last line he thrusts the wedding band, which he had fumbled and dropped during the rehearsal, confidently onto what appears to be an extended branch. The branch turns out to be bony hand of Emily, or the Corpse Bride. She accepts his vows and takes him to the underworld where the dead reside.

The film follows some fairly standard tropes from there: Victor tries to get back, and manages to return long enough to speak to Victoria before being whisked away to the underworld again by Emily. Victoria’s parents arrange a new marriage to the sinister Barkis Bittern (Richard E. Grant), who originally appears during the wedding rehearsal and looks so sinister as to only be lacking a neon sign around his neck stating that he’s actually the villain. Victor resigns himself to stay with Emily agreeing to make their marriage official. The underworld returns to the surface to perform their wedding ceremony, which will kill Victor in the end after drinking a poisoned wine. During the ceremony Emily realizes that Victor and Victoria belong together and refuses to go through with it stopping Victor from drinking the wine. Barkis crashes the party and it’s revealed that he killed Emily years ago for her dowry and that’s what he intended to do to Victoria until he found out her family was penniless. He ends up drinking the wine while mocking Emily and dying, being pulled into the underworld by the other dead for his punishment.

I am mixed about this film. It’s definitely a children’s film, and should be taken as such, though the themes are more mature though in many ways cliched. The overall tone of the film, the notion of love at first sight, and love despite being forced into the marriage predominate. As do the ideas of willful misunderstanding. Individually all the pieces are that make up the film are good: the voice acting is solid. The animation is fantastic! The music by Danny Elfman is great.

However the movie hovers between a musical and nonmusical, and that’s one of those things that bug me. At first blush, it seems like a musical, the opening song gives it that drive you’d expect, but then another musical number doesn’t happen for some time. In total the film only has four musical numbers. I am not opposed to musicals, and in fact find myself occasionally enjoying them. I can’t help but feel the sort of limbo between musical and nonmusical this movie finds itself in ultimately weakens it. The songs that are there are good and I honestly think it would have been better served as a full fledged musical. Overall it comes across as a half-hearted attempt and just falls flat.

My other issue is with the plot. It’s just not remarkable. I know it’s based on a Russian folktale and is ostensibly a children’s film. Neither fact has any bearing on my thoughts of the plot. I suppose the cliched themes metioned above may have something to do with my issues, but over all just don’t find it that engaging. I think it could have been better served by being a television film or as I stated above, being turned into a full fledged musical. The cliched themes would have fit better, and the musical numbers would have helped keep my attention focussed.

Now with that being said, you may get the impression that I disliked this movie. That is not the case; I actually do like it, it’s just not as memorable as some of Tim Burton’s other work (both written and directed). If you are a fan of animated movies you should absolutely watch this (if you haven’t already). And if you’re a collector of such films then it’s definitely one you should have.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Episode 12: In the Flesh

Episode 12: In the Flesh
Hosts: Frank Shaw and John Belliston
Contributing Guests: D'Artagnon Wells
Produced by Hobos in the Back Row
Scripting by Frank Shaw
Edited by: Frank Shaw
Intro Music: Piano Sonata mvnt 1 by F.G. Shaw
Outro Music: Piano Sonata mvnt 3 by F.G. Shaw

This week we're joined by D'Artagnon Wells to continue our discussion on zombies. We talk primarily about In the Flesh. But other topics the crop up this episode are The Walking Dead, iZombie, Allan Moore, Firefly and the unsung heros of film and television: make-up artists and lighting designers.

Not many links this week:

Here's a link to the Daily Dot on an article detailing In the Flesh's demise.

AMC has picked up The Walking Dead for a season seven. 

And here's a link discussing what's going on with BBC 3. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

No review this week.

Howdy folks.
Little bit of an update: unfortuantly there's no review this week. Life outside the podcast has been intensely, and surprisingly busy this past week, and there was simply no time to focus on it. 

The next podcast has been recorded, and will be published on Monday. On it, John and I are joined by D'Artagnon Wells where we continue to discuss the popularity of zombies on television and delve into the BBC 3 series In the Flesh.

The reviews will continue next week, and we'll be moving away from zombies and horror.

So till next week!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Review of Crossed (Volume 1)

This week I’m looking at the first story arc of Crossed, by Garth Ennis and art by Jacen Burrows, originally published by Avatar Press in a ten issue run (with an issue #0) in 2008, and collected in a trade paperback (Crossed Volume 1) in 2010.

Crossed goes beyond the typical apocalyptic fiction. It embraces the darkest most horrific part of human nature combining it with the viral zombie outbreak concept that appears in films like 28 Days Later. Like 28 Days Later the infection is passed through bodily fluids. Those infected only seek to inflict pain, both physical and psychological, and experience pleasure, typically of an extremely sadistic nature. Rape, murder, mutilation, cannibalism: all of these things, and more are part and parcel of the infected arsenal. But this isn’t simple horrific instinct. The Crossed do all these things with the willful knowledge that all they do is cruel, disgusting and evil. Unlike typical zombies, the Crossed are self aware. However this does not mean that they have self control or even the sense of self that they had before they became infected.

The story follows a small group of survivors trying to make their way to Alaska and cope with the bizarre terrifying world they now live in. It’s told with constant flashbacks showing how the narrator, named Patrick, meet the various individuals in his party, and how the group changed over the months since the outbreak started. The first issue, issue 0, is all flashback. Patrick relates his first night, the very first night of the infected. He’s eating at a diner when an infected comes in. There’s a tense moment where the infected stands, covered in blood, gawking at the cook and waitress. He’s finally told to “fuck off” by the cook, after the cook attempts, several times, to talk to the him. The infected grabs the cook and proceeds to bite his face off.

The panel before this moment is the first instance we get a decent look at the face of an infected, depicting the strange rash that runs down the center of the face from forehead to chin across the bridge of the nose, and across the eyes. This is the eponymous cross shaped rash that gives the comics it’s title. It’s an effective identifier for the infected, making it easy to pick them out on a page or in a panel at a glance. Not that this is ever necessary, as most panels with the infected on them give a clear indication of who they are by their positioning as the tormentor in the scenes.

After the infected bites off the cook’s face all hell breaks lose. A cop car crashes into the diner, ejecting the infected police officer who was driving. An explosion occurs engulfing other infected and uninfected. Our narrator staggers out into the street where he witnesses more insanity. Soon the cook, now infected due to the saliva of the original Crossed, is stabbing and raping nearby innocents, spitting vile epitaphs while he does.

These extreme moments in issue 0 pale in comparison of what’s to come in later issues. The survivors trying to understand why. Their coping mechanism is simply to focus on survival, watching the infected from a distance, trying to predict where they might go next or what they might do. For a large part of the early issues the Crossed only seemed interested doing whatever horrible things they are able to do immediately. The survivors, after encountering another survivor, discover that when there are no uninfected around the Crossed will inflict their horrors on each other. The infected victims laughing and groaning with pleasure while the others tear and mutilate them.

I could go on and on about the horrors that Ennis and Burrows bring to the page. But I’ll give one of the most telling examples of the nihilism that exists in this world: The survivors come across a teacher who has managed to keep a small group of young five and six year olds alive. After she kills one of the group(mistaking them for an infected initially) she invites them to stay with her small group for a short period. The survivors see what the teacher has accomplished but convince her that she’s likely to be discovered by the infected eventually, primarily due to her hide-out being in the center of the city. They opt to kill the kids, shooting them in their sleep. And as horrific as that moment is, it makes absolute sense to the reader, concluding that the survivors are right, the fate of the children in the hands of the Crossed is bad enough that killing them in their sleep seems like the best option.

While Garth Ennis is known for creating intentionally offensive works, Crossed is darker than any of his other works. The art by Jacen Burrows is sharp, and graphic. He doesn’t give a dark moody portrayal of the world, but a fairly realistic one. The plot is straightforward, the party dynamics is the primary focus, as well as the struggle for survival. The ultimate goal of the survivors is to go to Alaska, where the low population would likely mean very few Crossed. Towards the end of the story the survivors discover a group of Crossed that are able to show self restraint, using tactics and planning to stalk and hunt their victims, which is a major turnaround from the opportunistic Crossed earlier in the story.

Crossed is not an easy comic to read. The world behind the story is so bleak that there’s nothing for the reader to grasp and be hopeful for. The artwork is gorgeous in a horrifying way. The dialogue and plotting feels genuine. It’s not terrible by any means, but I can’t recommend this comic to any but the most die-hard fan of zombies/post-apocalyptic fiction. The story, world and situation is just too nihilistic, and worst of all, feels like it could be genuine. Of all the worst things we see in the real world, a world like the one depicted in Crossed, while fantastical doesn’t really seem outside the realm of possibility. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Episode 11 Zombies.

Episode 11: Zombies
Hosts: Frank Shaw and John Belliston
Contributing Guests: Aubrey Spivey
Produced by Hobos in the Back Row
Scripting by Frank Shaw
Edited by: Frank Shaw
Intro Music: Piano Sonata mvnt 1 by F.G. Shaw
Outro Music: Piano Sonata mvnt 3 by F.G. Shaw

We have a great conversation about zombies on this episode, talking about the folklore, the evolution and the social popularity. There's some technical difficulty with the episode, mostly internet problems. Still a fun conversation with a lot of references in the notes to follow.

This first link is the first of many detailing the George Romero films, specifically the cultural significance of Night of the Living Dead.

Here is a link from The Wire to an article detailing the history of the zombie. It barely touches on the actual history. It does quote this article from the New York Times that details the cultural significance of zombies when in relation with slavery, which is well worth the read. And here's another 'History' of the Zombie from NPR (referencing the New York Times article again), going in a bit depth than The Wire's article. This link is looking at the idea of zombies/ghouls touching on the idea of the monsters from different cultures. This short blurb with a quote about "zombies" from the Epic of Gilgamesh. This article is short, but fairly thorough, history of the zombie going from the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible all the way to current saturation (2014). And finally an article dealing solely with the Haitian zombie from Discovery News.

This article details the social commentary of several of the major zombie films over the years. This link is to Amazon, for the book Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-Human. And finally this Slate article on the current trend for fast zombies.

This Wired article/interview with George Romero, and here's a link to the official Birth of the Living Dead website. This documentary is currently available on Netflix and Amazon, and is a must watch if you are a zombie fan.

Here is a brief article discussing the difference between the traditional zombie and the ghoul (ghul) of Arabic myth. And this dissertation goes into depth about the mythological ghoul of Arabic culture and myth.

And here are some lists: This first one is the top 15 Zombie films of the 21st Century (as of July 2015). This list is the top 40 zombie films of all time.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Hellraiser Fan Films Part 2

[Unfortunately I was unable to find a version Hellraiser: Deader-Winter’s Lament on youtube to view.The film maker does offer it on DVD and I may try and track it down before Halloween to review it. Meanwhile here are three more Hellraiser fan films, continuing the reviews from last week. Links to each film are provided.]

Wordsworth (dir. Phil Robinson, 2007, story by Neil Gaiman)

Wordsworth is the story of Wordsworth (Aaron Darragh), appropriately enough, who is obsessed with words: books, word puzzles and script in general. While at a bus station he finishes a crossword puzzle that he’s working on to pass the time. The man sitting next to him notices and offers him a crude crossword to work on. He then stands and leaves, revealing that he's blind. Wordsworth quickly dives in, the first question asks “What you did to the rabbit?” He ponders the question a moment, then jots down “drowned.” This continues for what appears to be weeks or even months. Each question either refers to a dark moment in his past, or requires him to commit some heinous deed to reveal the answer. He moves forward, committing even more grotesque actions as he goes until he reaches the last question: “The Gateway” which the answer is “Hell.” He fills in the blank and opens up the gateway. Chains rip his flesh and the words “Love Me” appear across his chest. Here the film ends.

The story is fantastic! But credit doesn’t go to the filmmakers, they’ve adapted a short story by Neil Gaiman that he wrote for the Hellraiser comics (issue #20, 1993). While the story is interesting and engaging, the treatment is not. There is constant narration (by Phil Robinson) accompanied by constant, stylized text across the screen. This would be fine if the script wasn’t constant, but it quickly becomes a distraction. The narration itself is done with a distorted voice, which also wears thin very quickly. We see the actors act out the narration behind the blocks of text or between cuts to black screens where the narration appears, and it quickly becomes tedious. The effects are nearly non-existence, which is understandable given the limited budget the filmmakers likely had. What effects are there are ok, but fall flat and really only occur at the end.

Neil Gaiman’s short stories are typically very good, and this is no exception. Ultimately I don’t feel like the filmmakers truly made the story their own. I’d skip the movie and see if you can track down the original comic or a short story presentation of the story.

Skankobite (dir. David Lindabury, 2005)

A redneck Daddy (Ben Armstrong) watches tv, and continuously yells for his “skanky” daughter Krystal (Madeleine Corrie). She finally walks through the front door and proceeds to sit on the floor and paint her nails. He yells for her to get him a beer, then demands his “Skull” chew. It’s a puzzle box in the shape of a chew can, and when she gives it to him he is unable to open it. He throws it back to her and she solves it, much like the puzzle boxes of the Hellraiser films. She gives him the now open chew can and he stuffs a mouthful of it in his mouth. This summons cenobite like creatures: a waitress, a hunter and a “nasTcar” fan,  who hook him with the chains and hooks of their feature film counterparts. The hunter tells Krystal to leave, but she refuses, so the “cenobites” change her into one of them by tearing her flesh from her belly, changing her hairdo, and makeup as well as clothing. This makes her the eponymous Skankobite. The film ends with the four of them moving forward to finish torturing Daddy.

This film is awful. There’s some moments in it that would work in any other film, but are completely wasted here. The “Skull” can is actually pretty cool, and has some of the same features as the puzzle box from the feature films. Some of the make-up effects on Krystal’s transformation into the “Skankobite” is done fairly well, at least where the flayed flesh appears. But that’s about it. The movie tries really hard to be funny. It’s not: The writing is terrible, the acting is terrible and the camera zooms in for the gross out factor: spittle and chew, drool, slime. It’s not simply blood and guts, which would be expected in a Hellraiser film. It’s almost focusing on the bodily functions. On top of that, there’s moments of dubbing that do not match anything on screen and sounds very out of place. The film wants to be a parody, and technically it is, but it’s not a good one.
I couldn’t recommend this film to fans of even terrible parodies. I can’t reiterate how bad it is. I suppose if, despite my warnings, you’re still curious check it out. But seriously, don’t waste your time.

No More Souls (dir. Gary J. Tunnicliffe, 2004)

The earth has been wiped of all human life. Pinhead (Gary J. Tunnicliffe) sits in a throne room in the halls of the Labyrinth and comments on his state of being, lamenting that it has been ages since he has experienced the flesh of someone. His existence is empty and finally, in desperation, he solves Lemarchand’s box and summons fellow cenobites who tear him apart. The film ends with the other cenobites placing Pinhead’s face on a pillar.

The film is short. The film is simple. There’s really only one character, Pinhead, and he gives you the exposition in relatively short time. The rest of the soliloquy is short, but poignant. Gary J. Tunnicliffe does a great job as old Pinhead, and while he is no Doug Bradley, he’s very convincing and satisfying in the part. The makeup is outstanding! This makes sense when you learn this production was created by an effects house. Mr. Tunnicliffe has a long history in the makeup and special effects field. As does the rest of the cast and crew. It’s actually unfair to call this a fan film, as most of the individuals involved are working professionals. However, it appears that the movie was made because those involved enjoy the Hellraiser franchise. Which, still qualifies it in my book.

The movie is short, only about seven minutes, so go watch it now.

[There are more fan films out there. Some require a bit of digging to find. There's some you may even come across some by accident with some careful 'google-fu' and a bit of luck. I may come back to this in the near future, perhaps as a bonus review in the lead up to Halloween, but next week I'm going to switch things up and look at some zombie films.]

Friday, October 9, 2015

Hellraiser Fan Films Part 1

All three of the fan films I'm reviewing this week are view-able online. Links are included at the beginning of each review. The actual video quality on all three are lacking, having been posted on Youtube before higher fidelity was available, or having been made before higher fidelity was available, on equipment that is old or outdated by today's standards. 

Hellbent: A Hellraiser Chronicle (Fraught Productions, Dir. by Geoff Harner, 1993)

Hellbent is the first film  I watched for these reviews, which is fitting because it was the first fan-film made based off the Hellraiser IP. It tells the story of Whitfield a drug addict looking for a fix in his small British town. Trying several friends and potential hook-ups he finally finds himself wandering the streets empty handed when a transient offers to to sell him a box that will give him the pleasure that he seeks. He buys the box and, locked in his garage, he solves it. Instead of summoning the cenobites however the box begins to bleed. Unfathomably, Whitfield decides to taste the blood which seems to cause him agony, making his eyes bleed and him writhe in pain. His friend Owen arrives moments later to discover Whitfield in the garage surrounded by hanging hooks with his eyes bleeding. Whitfield tells Owen that he’s crossed over into “heaven” and tries to get Owen to try the blood from the box. Owen refuses and Whitfield summons the chains to hook Owens flesh then proceeds to cut him down with a sword. We see Whitfield one last time, his eyes blacked out and menacing.

The movie is rough, but considering it was filmed in 1993 for what was obviously a shoestring budget and on what appears to be a camcorder, this is no surprise. The effects are cheap but there are a couple of nice moments, a stop-motion cut of nails going in around somebody's eye, for instance. The acting is unconvincing and the actual framing of each scene is also somewhat poor overall with the camera shaking, and framing the action at odd angles.

It’s not a good movie, but given the nature of the film this is forgivable. These are obviously a group of friends who enjoy making film and have built up a large backlog of independent movies over the last 20 years, and still appear to be making films. Is it worth watching? Yes, but only if you like the Hellraiser franchise and want to see some love given to the IP by a group of enthusiastic individuals. It’s only 10 minutes, so it’s easy to watch and appreciate. Otherwise, give it a skip.

Hellraiser: Prophecy (Dir. Jonathan Kui, 2006)

The second film is Hellraiser: Prophecy. This tells the tale of the beginning of the second Angelic war that has begun between Michael and Gabriel. Interested in seeing Michael win in order to keep the status quo in Hell, Lucifer (Jeremy Yost) has come to earth in human form to find somebody to solve the Lamentation Configuration for him so he can access the Labyrinth and recruit the cenobites to fight on the side of Michael. He does so by tricking Natasha (Lori Pyzocha) a graduate student in theology who’s currently trying to translate a Grimoire of the Gash into solving the puzzle box. She does so and summons four cenobites who take her back to the Labyrinth. The lead Cenobite, Angelique (Monica Dus) listens to Lucifer’s proposal and agrees to help, but only if he comes back to the Labyrinth and speaks to Leviathan himself. He does so, but realizes at last minute that it’s a trick when the hooks appear and begin to tear his flesh. Angelique tells him that it this was the Cenobites plan all along. At that moment he appears to unleash his own power and the film ends.

It’s a rough film. There are some genuinely fun moments, and the plot is amazingly thought provoking and cool. Sadly the execution isn’t there. It’s a bad film, but only when compared to films that have a greater budget. Some of the special effects are clever and well done, like the hooks going into Natasha and Lucifer’s flesh, and the solution of the puzzle box (though that might be a borrowed asset honestly). The acting is poor. There are some performances better than others, Jeremy Yost as Lucifer has a few good moments, as does Monica Dus as Angelique. But none of the performances are great, though there are some passable moments. The makeup has the potential to be good but, it fails. Angelique’s makeup is almost awesome, except you can see parts of her hairline from under the skullcap. The other Cenobites appear to have masks on. Butterball’s mask is nearly convincing, but the “Spike” cenobite.... oh, what a terrible mask.

The filmmakers have made two Hellraiser films, as well as making of documentaries for the this film. I will look at the other film that they have produced next week (Hellraiser: Deader-Winter’s Lament). This film is short, about 20 minutes divided up into two parts on Youtube. It is worth watching, once again, if you’re a fan of the Hellraiser franchise, otherwise skip it.

The Tontine (Dir. Scott Hampton, 2006)

This film is only tangentially a Hellraiser film as it’s adapted from a story from the Hellraiser comics from the early 1990’s. The film is about a group of 6 individuals who enter into a tontine* with each other. They have each put in a small amount of money but who are really benefitting from increased luck that occurs after each individual dies. After the agreement is reached they play a game of Russian roulette until one of their numbers dies, increasing the luck of the remaining members. They agree to meet once every three years and play russian roulette, randomly killing off one of their members until only one remains, gaining the pool of money they each invested as well as the luck and fortune of each of the previous members. The tontine works. Their luck increases with each death, all of them becoming wealthy and successful in their various lives. The narrator of the film recalls how he met Eric, the first victim of the tontine and the one who proposed it. Noting how Eric arrived knowing his darkest secrets and seemed to arrive with this information from a mysterious book called the Drawn Veil. The other members note similar meetings with Eric. Each meeting goes similarly with only one hiccup through the course of the film.

This movie is well done. Very well done for what is a fan film. It’s not directly a Hellraiser film, it has no cenobites, puzzle box, or the Lamentation Configuration, but it was adapted from a story in the first run of Hellraiser Comics from the early 1990’s**. The plot is solid, the cinematography is fantastic as well. The acting, for the most part is good. In fact there are instances where the acting is very good. Unfortunately I am unable to find a proper cast list for this movie so am unable to give proper credit for the stand out performances. The actor who plays Eric does a great job, as well as the actor who plays Lloyd. The Narrator (Ryan) does ok. Well enough to carry the film though his narration is much better than his on screen time. The whole film could be expanded into a feature length, at thirty minutes though it’s doesn’t waste any of the viewer’s. time.

Sadly, it appears that Break of Dawn of Productions isn’t active any more. They have several more films on their Youtube channel, but the last update was four years ago. They are a talented group of filmmakers and know how to play to their strengths in order maximize the quality of their production. Should you watch this? Absolutely! Even if you’re not a Hellraiser fan, if you have 30 minutes check this movie out. It’s divided into three parts, having been put on Youtube back when only 10 minute intervals were viable. The quality of the acting, directing and cinematography makes this movie well worth checking out.

*A Tontine is an agreement between investors where the payout is increased by the other investor’s shares once that investor dies. They are not legal here in the US, but here is an article by the Washington Post that goes into what a tontine is historically and the potential for modern tontines.

**I have searched for which issue this particular story comes from and who the other is, but have thus far come up short on information. If any readers happen to know, please comment or email us so we can update this review.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Episode 10: Hellraiser films.

Episode 10: Hellraiser films
Hosts: Frank Shaw and John Belliston
Contributing Guests: Chris Thames
Produced by Hobos in the Back Row
Scripting by Frank Shaw and John Belliston
Edited by: Frank Shaw
Intro Music: Piano Sonata mvnt 1 by F.G. Shaw
Outro Music: Piano Sonata mvnt 3 by F.G. Shaw

John and I are joined once again by Chris Thames to discuss the Hellraiser series. We discuss the first film in depth as well as the novella The Hell Bound Heart. Then we discuss each subsequent films as well as a potential remake and a brief discussion of the comics and other novels.

This link leads to The Hellbound Web, a fan website for all things Helraiser. Sadly it doesn't appear to have much activity any more, but there is some fun stuff still on the website. Including a link to a variety of fan films, some of which I'll be reviewing for the weekly review.

Here is the Hellraiser wiki, another site full of info about the movies, and with no activity .

Finally here's a review of all the Hellraiser films by Katie Rife and the AV Club. Give it a read for a different perspective on the franchise.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Babadook review

Starting today we will be doing weekly reviews on things related to the current podcast. We are in the midst of a horror themed run, and so our first many reviews will be on horror films related to the current theme. The current episodes topic (Episode 9: Horror) leads us a review of The Babadook.

(A note on spoilers: When discussing more recent works we will endeavor to keep the spoilers to a minimum, something we do not do on episodes of the podcast. The reason for this is simple, we want the reviews to be either a recommendation or a warning about the topic of review, urging you to either check it out or avoid it. For older works however we will happily spoil them, anything older than a couple of years is fair game.)

 It’s become rare for these days for horror films to take a subtle approach to story telling. To let the tension and anxiety build while still telling a coherent story that is absent of cheap jump scares or over the top gore. American horror films have suffered overall in the last decade by becoming saccharine and absent of truly horrifying elements in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. There have been a parade of remakes from both Japanese horror cinema and European horror cinema, most of which fail simply because the filmmakers didn’t capture what made the original truly frightening. While the horror of Japanese films are often lost due to cultural difference, the horror of European films revel too much in the gore and violence that is no longer accepted by the PG-13 going audience of the U.S. It's no surprise that a film comes along that is truly frightening and engaging while not resorting to cheap gimmicks, isn’t an American film, but an Australian production. The Babadook, directed by Jennifer Kent (her first feature length production) embraces what horror films used to be: a long slow simmer brought to an intense cathartic boil. It shirks expectations simply by being a throwback to more classic horror films, where the idea of the monster was enough to terrify the audience.
    The film itself focuses on Amelia (Essie Davis) and Sam (Noah Wiseman) a mother and son who have a strained relationship. Sam, who is only six, has become a burden of stress for his mother, lashing out violently at times and being constantly hyperactive. He’s convinced that the boogeymen and monsters under his bed are real and will eventually come to get him, leading him to build several contraptions to fight them off. Amelia, due to his violent behavior, has felt compelled to pull him out of school early in the film, leading her sapped of what remaining energy she had.
Amelia’s herself is lonely and still grieving in denial for her husband who died taking her to the hospital six years previous to give birth to Sam. It’s not just her grief and her denial of it that define Amelia, but the underlying resentment towards Sam for her husband’s death. It’s subtle but apparent at the beginning of the film, and only serves to intensify as the move bears itself out.
Early in the film Sam asks his mother to read from a pop-up book he finds stashed away in a cupboard. The book, entitled Mr. Babadook, tells of a supernatural entity whose only purpose seems to be to torment the reader and eventually kill them. The book frightens Sam but seems to frighten Amelia more. She hides it, but it does nothing to assuage her or  Sam’s fears, so she tears it apart and puts it in the garbage bin. A few days later it appears again, this time taped up with new writing directed at Amelia depicting her killing her dog, Sam, and then slicing her own throat.
This is where the film picks up intensity. We watch while Sam’s violent anxiety increases and Amelia, even more sleep deprived, begins to act out against him. She takes him to a doctor in the hopes that placing him on sleep medication will help both he and her sleep and help to calm both their anxiety. Her plan fails and the visions and torment of Mr. Babadook soon begin to manifest in real life, becoming more intense as film goes on. Eventually leading to an ending that is both satisfying and laden with questions.

    I find a successful horror films to be one that has a satisfying plot arc, yet still contain unanswered questions for the viewer to ponder. The Babadook succeeds amazingly well in this: The nature of what the Babadook is, is never completely answered. By leaving the nature of the entity open to interpretation, the film manages to put the horror firmly in realm of the psychological. To add to this effect, Mr. Babadook himself is never fully revealed in the real world, only illustrated in the book. There are flashes here and there, but the movie never gives you a big reveal of what, or who the monster is. And that’s refreshing.
    Amelia and Sam play the mother son dynamic incredibly well. It seems to be the constant dilemma, to find a child actor that can actually act, but Jennifer Kent and casting director Nikki Barrett were fortunate to find a very talented young man in Noah Wiseman. He portrays Sam convincingly. Essie Davis as the beleaguered Amelia falls into her role with ease as well. Both actors capture the characters in such a way that there is a palpable fear of what might come next for them. 
  Also successful is the script, the moments early in the film where Sam builds his contraptions, catapults and boobie traps, aren't simply bits of characterization. The script puts these devices in, and their use becomes evident later in the film. The script plays out the subtext of the characters with some intensity. There's never a wasted line.
    As the director Jennifer Kent has succeeded on multiple levels. This is a movie that you can come back to and revisit time and again and still have the sense of unease of the first viewing: because of the deliberate pacing, the fact that it doesn’t rely on either jump scares or simple gore effects, and the fact the monster is in the viewer's mind as much as it is in the characters in the film. Mrs. Kent has succeeded in creating a horror film that actual embraces the horror, and delivers that to the audience.

    I don’t want to give numbered ratings on our movie reviews. It’s a simple guideline and easy to do, but when it comes to film there’s only one question that really needs to be answered: should I watch it? The answer to that question for The Babadook is yes. If you enjoy horror films, even only once in awhile, put this one on your list to view. It’s worth the time. 

The Babadook 
(2014, dir. by Jennifer Kent, starring Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Episode 9: Horror Films.

Episode 9: Horror Films
Hosts: Frank Shaw and John Belliston
Contributing Guests: Aubrey Spivey and Chris Thames
Produced by Hobos in the Back Row
Scripting by Frank Shaw and John Belliston and Aubrey Spivey
Edited by: Frank Shaw
Intro Music: Piano Sonata mvnt 1 by F.G. Shaw
Outro Music: Piano Sonata mvnt 3 by F.G. Shaw

Here it is! Episode 9: Horror films. This is the first of four episodes that will cover horror films. John and I are joined once again by Aubrey Spivey and Chris Thames and discuss what makes a film horror. We discuss the major genre of horror films and talk about a few of our favorites.

 Here is the Horror on Screen website. The reviews of the films are fairly short, but the list of horror films on the site is pretty expansive (though by no means complete). This link is the graphic showing the major genre's and sub-genre's of horror films. We on the podcast didn't completely agree with the sub-genre's but we felt the five major genre's were right on the money.

The Blood-Shed is a website that covers horror in a multitude of media (as well as some non-horror topics). It's a great little site for those that enjoy novels, comics and games as well as movies.

Finally here is the list of the movies we touch on in the podcast. Thanks goes out to Aubrey Spivey for compiling a majority of it:
28 Day Later – 2002 – Danny Boyle
Alien - 1979 - Ridley Scott
Audition -  1999 - Takashi Miike
Battle Royale – 2000 – Kinji Fukasaku
Bug – 2006 – William Friedkin
Cabin in the Woods – 2012 – Drew Goddard
Cape Fear – 1962 – J. Lee Thompson
Carrie – 1976 – Brian De Palma
Cigarette Burns – 2005 – John Carpenter
Coraline - 2009 - Henry Selick
Critters - 1986 - Stephen Herek
Dale and Tucker vs Evil – 2010 – Eli Craig
Dead Snow – 2009 – Tommy Wirkola
Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead – 2014 – Tommy Wirkola
Drag me to Hell – 2009 – Sam Raimi
Event Horizon - 1997 - Paul W.S. Anderson
Frankenstein – 1931 – James Whale
From Hell – 2001 – The Hughes Brothers
Godzilla – 1998 – Roland Emmerich
Halloween – 1978 – John Carpenter
Hard Candy – 2005 – David Slade
Hellraiser-1987-Clive Barker
Honeymoon – 2014 – Leigh Janiak
Hostel – 2005 – Eli Roth
House on Haunted Hill – 1999 – William Malone
Lake Placid – 1999 – Steve Miner
Let the Right One In – 2008 – Tomas Alfredson
Martyrs – 2008 – Pascal Laugier
Megan is Missing – 2011 – Michael Goi
Nekromantik – 1987 – Jörg Buttgereit
Night of the Living Dead – 1968 – George A. Romero
Oculus – 2013 – Mike Flanagan
Otis – 2008 – Tony Krantz
Quarantine – 2008 – John Erick Dowdle
Rose Red – 2002 – Craig R. Baxley
Saw – 2004 – James Wan
Shadow of the Vampire- 2000- E. Elias Merhige
Shaun of the Dead - 2004 - Edgar Wright
Sinister-2012 - Scott Derrickson
Society - 1989 - Brian Yuzna
Teeth – 2007 – Mitchell Lichtenstein
The Babadook – 2014 – Jennifer Kent
The Cell – 2000 – Tarsem Singh
The Thing - 1982 - John Carpenter
The Watcher – 2000 – Joe Charbanic
Tremors – 1990 – Ron Underwood
Trick 'r Treat – 2007 – Michael Dougherty
Wrong Turn – 2003 – Rob Schmidt

Friday, September 4, 2015

Episode 8: Bad Adaptations.

Episode 8: Bad Adaptations
Hosts: Frank Shaw and John Belliston
Produced by Hobos in the Back Row
Scripting by Frank Shaw and John Belliston
Edited by: Frank Shaw
Intro Music: Piano Sonata mvnt 1 by F.G. Shaw
Outro Music: Piano Sonata mvnt 3 by F.G. Shaw

Here's episode 8!
Frank reviews the Fantastic 4 movie. We discuss why bad adaptations happen and break things down into literary works, comics and videogames.

An EW article discussing Josh Trank's tweet about the good film he had, insinuating that studio meddling caused the bad movie.

An io9 article categorizing Philip K. Dicks films from best to worst (according to the author). Gives a short review on each film.

Here's a EW slide show ranking the worst comic book adaptations.

Uwe Boll interview on Eurogamer.net from 9 years ago. I think the attitude is changed with the publishers from what Uwe Boll has to say here, but at the time he may have had a point. The gaming industry was a different environment back then as well.

Monday, August 31, 2015

New Podcast coming soon.

In a couple days our new podcast will hit. John and I discuss bad adaptation movies: I review the Fantastic 4, we talk about cinematic tofu Nicholas Cage, and give our thoughts as to why bad adaptation happen all while bemoaning the terrible films we've seen for this podcast.