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.