Archive for August, 2014


Like a lot of armchair film critics out there, I get offered “screener” copy DVDs for various independent, low-budget horror flicks fairly regularly, and while I always appreciate (and accept) the offers, I don’t always review the films. Does that make me a bastard? Well, yes and no  — yes because it means I’m being kinda lazy, but no, because if I don’t like a flick that somebody has sent me, I figure it’s a bit of slap in the face to the person who made it — and hooked me up with a free copy — if I then go on to trash the thing. Unlike some of my fellow internet movie scribes, my conscience isn’t for sale for the price of a DVD, so if I don’t like a film I was “comped,” I’m not going to say that I did. I’ll just leave it alone, since I’m thankful for the freebie but not so thankful that I’m gonna lie and say it was good.

Tell ya what, though — if I do like it, the least I can do is try to help out a struggling young independent filmmaker with some free publicity, and I did like the shot-on-HD effort I’m here to talk about today, writer/director William Hopkins’ Demon Resurrection. Hopkins made this thing back in 2008, but his efforts to promote it continue to this day — you can find out more, order a DVD, or download it for $3.99 at — and that sort of persistence is always admirable in my book. It tells me that he really put his all into this project (financially and otherwise) if he’s still beating the drum for it some six years after it was completed, and for those who think that might just be a sign of a guy who doesn’t know when to give up on a lost cause, might I remind you that Tommy Wiseau kept on hyping The Room for a good number of years before anyone else paid any attention.

Not that Demon Resurrection is as overtly “bad” a production as The Room by any stretch, or that it’s been roundly ignored by the horror fan community to this point — all in all, most reviews for it have been fairly positive. I’m just saying, hey, all you indie horror auteurs out there — don’t give up. When a film “wraps” is often when the real work gets started in earnest.


In fairness, there’s not a whole lot that you could call “remarkably original” going on here — the plot, revolving as it does around a young woman named Grace (Alexis Golightly) who is rescued from an obscure devil-cult by her apparent-good-guy new boyfriend, John (Damian Ladd) and finally subjected to an “intervention” by a group of friends who are concerned that her recent sickly appearance might be a sign that she’s (yawn) on drugs or something — borrows pretty heavily from Rosemary’s Bay and everything that followed in its stead , particularly when we get into “Satan wants her for his bride” territory, but so what? If originality was the barometer we measure “good” horror by, then you couldn’t say there’s been a good horror flick for decades now. All that really matters, at the end of the day, is if it’s done well.

By and large, that’s where Demon Resurrection succeeds. Oh, sure, the acting can get a bit dodgy at times, the production values are a bit suspect here and there, and the dialogue can veer off into “unintentionally camp” territory, but for the most part, everybody here seems to be giving it their best effort. The practical FX work is solid for a modestly-budgeted affair, the sets are cool, the storyline remains reasonably involving throughout, and there’s plenty of blood, guts, and sleaze, which are three things that never go out of style.


All in all, if I were in Hopkins’ shoes, I’d still be trying to promote this film, too, because there’s plenty here to be proud of. I’m not sure it’s corny or cheesy enough to ever achieve “cult sensation” status — frankly, the whole thing would need to be a good deal worse than it is for that — but what’s wrong with a solid effort made by people who know what they’re doing and understand how to construct a competently-executed film with limited resources? Nothing, I say, and the average fan of indie horror is probably going to find plenty here to be reasonably impressed by.

On the technical specs front, the picture and sound on the DVD (and, I’m assuming, the download) are more or less flawless, there’s a reasonably fun little half-hour “making-of” documentary featurette included, there are on-camera interviews with Hopkins and producer Frank Cilla, and Hopkins chimes in with a fairly involving and interesting full-length commentary track. Plenty of bang for your buck to be had here.

Demon Resurrection 2008 movie picG

No, Demon Resurrection doesn’t re-invent the horror wheel or anything of the sort, but it’s a fairly fun, gory, gripping little ride that will leave you thinking “hey, these guys get it.” That’s more than you can say for a lot of things coming down the indie pipeline these days, and more than enough for me to advise any interested parties out there to give it a go.


There’s no doubt that  Aussie documentarian Mark Hartley has established himself as the “go-to guy” when it comes to chronicling the history of exploitation cinema — his films tracing the rise and fall of the “B-Movie” industry in his both his own country  (Not Quite Hollywood) and the Philippines (Machete Maidens Unleashed) are thorough, exhaustive, and above all, highly entertaining accounts of the trials and travails of making low-budget flicks in settings far removed from the Tinseltown blockbuster machine. His forthcoming retrospective on Cannon Films, Electric Boogaloo, is something many of us have been waiting on with baited breath for some time now, and the mere thought that it’s finally about to see the light of day fills me with a kind of irrational giddiness that, frankly, I’m just not used to.

Still, it’s surprising that there’s been such a long wait between his second and third exploitation-related documentaries when you consider that his first and second were barely a year removed from each other. Of course, there’s an explanation for this — and that  is his 2013 remake of director Richard Franklin’s 1978 Ozploitation classic Patrick (which was followed, believe it or not, by an Italian sequel entitled Patrick Still Loves — only in the ’70s, my friends, only in the ’70s), a project that Hartley undertook some time after Electric Boogaloo was already well underway, but one that resulted in an inevitable hiatus for the Cannon-centric doc since it’s kinda hard to work on two feature film projects at the same time.

So — was it worth having to hold out a bit longer for a flick we’ve all been eagerly anticipating to allow Hartley a bit of leeway to complete this obvious labor of love? Reviews of his version of Patrick have been lukewarm at best,  to be sure, but I would have to say the answer to my (probably rhetorical, but what the hell) question is a fairly resounding “yes,” because I don’t know what anyone else has been smoking, but I think this little chiller has everything you could possibly ask for and then some.


For those of you unfamiliar with the original (or, for that matter, this remake), the premise works as follows : young nurse Kathy Jacquard (Sharni Vinson) is so desperate for a full-time gig that gets her away from a deteriorating relationship back home in, I’m guessing, Sydney or Melbourne, that she signs on at the remote, foreboding Roget Clinic, a decidedly experimental “treatment” facility for comatose patients overseen by the ethically compromised (to put it kindly) Dr. Roget (Charles Dance, in terrifically eerie performance) and his daughter, Matron Cassidy (Rachel Griffiths, apparently “slumming it” back in her home country now that her two absolutely risible American soap operas — Six Feet Under and Brothers And Sisters — are, mercifully, off our television screens). The only other staff member on site appears to be local “good time girl” Nurse Williams (Peta Sergeant), and the whole place feels a lot more like a fucking tomb than a medical center.

Roget has promised his increasingly-nervous financial backers that he’s on the verge of a “breakthrough” of some sort in terms of bringing the brain-dead back from their — sorry to be blunt — vegetative states, and his prize guinea pig appears to be a patient in room number 15, one-time psychopath Patrick (played by Jackson Gallagher, who gets the most an actor possibly can from a part with, essentially, no lines), but the “breakthrough” Patrick has in mind is far different from the one his not-so-good Doctor thinks he’s coming close to achieving with his ever-escalating, violent shock “treatments” (incidentally, it never ceases to amaze me how when someone has electrodes attached to their genitals we all recognize it as being torture, but when they’re attached to someone’s head it can be called “therapy”) —  you see, our guy Pat’s been fusing his consciousness in with the electrical grid, and when he’s finally amped up sufficiently, he’s gonna wreak bloody havoc on everyone who did him wrong, starting with Roget himself.


Hartley’s obviously absorbed a few lessons from the many exploitation stalwarts he’s had the chance to get to know over the years, because his take on Patrick positively drips with atmosphere and tension right from the outset, and as Nurse Jacquard’s feelings for her patient progress from pity to concern to, finally, terror, the undercurrent of genuine menace that runs throughout is successfully ramped up in accordance with the raising of the story’s stakes. Sure, some of the CGI exterior effects (lightning, fog, etc.) are a bit on the cut-rate side, but even there one gets the sense that Hartley’s going for a purposeful “old Hollywood” look rather than cutting corners. His budget here isn’t high by any stretch of the imagination, but by and large he seems to have picked up a good deal of knowledge from the likes of Brian Trenchard-Smith and Cirio H. Santiago on how to make a little go a long way. in short,  he’s seen how the pros do it and is more than ready to apply the skills he’s heard so much about.

Obviously, a fair amount of suspension of disbelief is required in order to even buy into the premise here, and fans of the original are probably a bit disappointed by Hartley’s decision to steer the story away from the realm of ESP (although that certainly becomes a factor, especially towards the end) and into a more technologically-oriented milieu, but it makes sense in this day and age when everything’s connected, and doesn’t, at least from my own point of view, detract from the impact of what’s happening in any way. All in all, this is a very worthy “modern grindhouse” feature and I sincerely hope that Hartley will pursue more projects of this ilk in the future, since I can’t think of anyone better, this side of Tarantino and Rodriguez, to continue the ethos of the exploitation film into the current century.


Patrick — which, in true drive-in style is also known by the alternate title of Patrick : Evil Awakens — is available on DVD and Blu-ray, sure, but it’s also part of the instant streaming queue on Netflix at the moment (which is how I caught it, hence the lack of technical specs for its physical-storage versions in this review), and is well worth any horror or “B-Movie” junkie’s time to check out. I almost never like remakes, but this feels more like a rebirth —which, given its subject matter, is highly appropriate indeed.




Well, here it is, folks — the wait is over. After nearly a year-long absence from our television screens, Doctor Who has returned, and right off the bat we’re plunged headlong into “newness” — there’s a new (and frankly pretty lousy) version of the theme tune, new (and frankly pretty cool) opening credits — and, of course, a new Doctor in the form of Peter Capaldi. But just how “new” are things really?

For good or ill, depending on your point of view (and in fairness I should state that I tend toward the latter opinion), Steven Moffat is still at the helm, Jenna Coleman is back as companion Clara, and the on-again/off-again supporting cast of Neve McIntosh’s Madame Vastra, Catrin Stewart’s Jenny, and Dan Starkey’s Commander Strax is all still in place. Director Ben Wheatley delivers the goods in the faux-cinematic “house style” that was a staple of Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor era, and to be honest, title character aside, any “changes” in the show seem cosmetic at best (new TARDIS interior, new hairstyles for some the female characters, etc.). Heck, even the two major period tropes of the first story of the Twelfth Doctor’s tenure, Deep Breath (penned, as you’d expect, by Moffat himself) — namely Victoriana and dinosaurs — have been done to death on the show lately.So is it really all just a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”?

Well, possibly — but here’s the damn thing : flat-out fatigued as I am by Moffat’s stewardship, this episode actually worked  on a number of levels and left me feeling reasonably optimistic about things, at least in the short term — and that’s something I haven’t felt in regards to Who in quite some time (especially after the one-two punch of disasters that was Day Of The Doctor and Time Of The Doctor). I’m hedging my expectations a bit, to be sure — I thought Moffat got off to a flying start with The Eleventh Hour, but by the end of Matt Smith’s run, that was still probably his best story — so yeah, in a very real sense, at least in this armchair critic’s opinion, it really was all downhill from there. The same could easily happen again. But Jon Pertwee  (yes, I really have been watching the show that long) taught me that “where there’s life, there’s hope,” so for now, I choose to remain foolishly positive in terms of my expectations for things going forward — at least until next week, at any rate.


I’ll freely admit that my own personal predilections in terms of the “classic” series probably  contributed more than their fair share to how warmly I received Deep Breath — there’s a strong Ghost Light vibe to the proceedings here (right down to the setting most of the story takes place in really being a space ship), and there’s a Robot-like sense that the old characters are just here to help smooth the transition to a new era and will quickly depart to allow the Doctor and his companion to start free-wheeling their way through time and space again, and since those are two old school adventures that I love dearly,  invoking them, even if by accident or coincidence, is bound to go some way toward putting me at ease here. Sure, the main baddie of the story is of the heavily-overused “steam punk” ilk, but at least he manages to impart a certain amount of genuine menace in his flat, mechanical, deadpan, clockwork non-persona. Not a classic villain by any stretch, but definitely as passable one.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though — it all rides on Capaldi’s shoulders here, and he’s more than up to the task of carrying the load. We knew he would be, of course — in a very real sense this is the Doctor us “classic” series fans have been waiting for, and not just because he’s a bit older. The best Doctors of days gone by imbued the role with a moral gravitas that the likes of Smith and David Tennant never achieved, either because they were too busy being cool (in Smith’s case) or feeling sorry for themselves (in Tennant’s). Of the new series leads, on Christopher Eccleston seemed to ever grasp the fact that the Doctor should always strive to do what’s right not just for himself, but for everyone and everything. Sure, you could still count on Ten and Eleven to come through and save the day, but not unless and until you were so sick to death of their self-absorbed, egocentric antics that you were actually hoping that they would fail and please just fucking die already. I’m pleased to say Capaldi has no time for that sort of portrayal and seems eager to make the Doctor a genuine hero again. A flawed hero, to be sure — all the best were, from William Hartnell on down — but a hero. Not a lonely god. Not a sophomoric dandy who likes to break the rules just because he can. A hero. We’ve needed that for a long time, and it looks like we’ve finally got it.


The one great failing of Deep Breath is, then, that the story really does drag when he’s not on screen. The episode is just plain too goddamn long anyway, mind you, but his numerous absences really gum up the works. One gets the sense that Moffat is trying to set up Vastra and her crew for a spin-off show or something, but if the interminable sequences where they’re asked to do the heavy lifting here are any indication, don’t bank on it being one that’ll be worth watching if it ever comes to pass. Capaldi is all energy and excitement combined with a sense of genuine, rather than forced (as it was with Smith), world-weariness that makes for an immediately addictive and compelling screen presence. It feels like he’s seen and done and it all before, but still doesn’t know what he’ll do next. When he’s absent, shit — we really have seen it all before and we do know what’s going to happen next. There’s a certain amount of charming like-ability in all of these secondary personalities, particularly Strax, but at this point they either need to go away and do their own thing, or just go away, period.  I know they have their fans and all, but so did Captain Jack and River Song, and the show survived their departures just fine. My gut feeling, as mentioned before, is that Moffat  elected to keep them around for this story in order to to ease  both the fans and the characters themselves into whatever new direction it is that we’re headed, but if we end up seeing them again by season’s end, I’ll be more than a bit disappointed by the fact that he didn’t choose to go for the “clean break” that he’s been  presented with here.


Let’s get back to that earlier optimism I was expressing, though, shall we? Deep Breath takes awhile to get going, sure, but once it does, it proves to be the type of slow-burn, character-driven, “period horror” piece that “the Moff” excelled at back when he was just part of Russel T. Davies’ writer’s pool. The dinosaur, fortunately, doesn’t hang around too long,  we only have one instance of the type of painfully-overly-forced “squee” moment that the show has saddled us with all too often lately (“gee, something’s lodged in that T-Rex’s throat — he looks like he’s about to cough it out — damn, I think it’s the TARDIS — holy shit, the T-Rex is gonna cough the TARDIS out and I bet it’s gonna be coated with dino-slime!”), the plot (again, once it gets underway) is reasonably solid, and Wheatley does a nice job of layering on the atmosphere along with the lighting technicians, set designers, costume designers, and production managers in his employ. It’s not revolutionary stuff by any means, but the execution is uniformly solid, and that’s good enough for an introductory story by my estimation.

Still, in the end, it all comes back to Capaldi, doesn’t it? This guy is the real deal. He’ll be enough to get me to tune in week in and week out, even if subsequent episodes turn out to be pure crap (as some, no doubt, will be).  He’s shown that he’s more than ready to bring his “A -game” right from the outset, and who knows? If Moffat and his writers show a willingness to come up with material  that’s (at least) nearly equal to their star’s abilities, we might be in for a very memorable run here. Time will tell — it always does.

I take a look at “22 Jump Street” for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Through the Shattered Lens


I know, I know, go on and say it — I’m getting to the party pretty late with this one and anyone who wants to see 22 Jump Street has probably already done so.  Fair enough. But, see, that’s the reason I’m getting to it so late — I had absolutely no interest in catching this flick three  years from now on a boring Saturday afternoon in the middle of winter, much less paying to watch it on the big screen, but last weekend my brother wanted to go see a movie, this was playing at the local discount house up the street (the historic Riverview on 38th Street in south Minneapolis), and so we went. Better late than never, right?

Actually, um, no. I admit I wasn’t expecting much from this flick, but even by the admittedly dire standards of the Hollywood “bromance comedy,” this is atrocious, unfunny, subpar…

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Damn, but this week’s been a good one for Jack Kirby fans, hasn’t it? Between Dynamite’s successful (at least so far) relaunch of Captain Victory And The Galactic Rangers — which I’ve already raved about — and the first issue of  the book we’re here to look at today, writer Adam McGovern and artist Paolo Leandri’s Kirby-esque new four-parter from Image Comics, Nightworld, hitting the stands, there’s not much more one could hope for barring the unearthing of some long-lost, previously-unpublished masterwork from the mind, heart, and hand of The King himself. In short, if any proof were required that the legacy of the greatest creator this medium has ever seen (and, frankly, will ever see) was alive and well,  this past Wednesday provided it.

So, yeah, I’m a happy guy. And you should be, too — because Nighworld #1 is all kinds of inexplicable, ridiculous, captivating fun. Sure, the cynics among you (what? I’m actually not among that grouping myself this time?) can simply say that Leandri is aping Jack’s style, but come on — I know the difference between heartfelt homage and a blatant rip-off when I see it, and so do you. Nightworld is definitely the former, while pretty much 99% of Marvel’s post-Kirby output is the latter. Go with the flow here and have a good time.


And what a good time there is to be had! Meet lonely demon Plenilunio, a heartbroken undead creature who rules over a forlorn castle haunted by the spirit of his dearly departed (I think, at any rate) lover,  Lidia. Pleni’s plenty — desperate, sullen, and frankly probably bored. To that end, he makes the foolish decision to strike a bargain with the evil forces of something called the Empyre to wake his love, and soon finds himself in a race against time against hellborn teenager Hotspot and wicked demoness Hellena for possession of a mystic artifact of some unspecified import known as the Soul Key — but are his foes after it for Empyre, or for themselves?

A nifty little premise, to be sure, and one that bears a definite thematic resemblance (as does the art, in a purely secondary fashion) to some of what Mike Mignola’s done over the years with Hellboy, but shit — where’s the harm in a comic that seeks, first and foremost, to give us the kind of creepy fun that many of us love to indulge in? Nightworld may not be looking to re-invent the wheel by any stretch, but I like how they’re rolling it.


I’m thinking that you probably will, too. Between McGovern’s lean, brisk scripting, Leandri’s heartfelt “retro” visuals, and colorist Dominic Regan’s crisp, lively palette, there’s a lot to enjoy on these pages. My only gripe? The $3.99 cover price is a bit steep, especially for a book that was funded via Kickstarter. I know Image has been sneaking up the price point on a lot of their titles lately ($3.50 is becoming the norm on most of their books rather than $2.99 and this, Low #1, and two recent (equally Kirby-inspired) one-shots from artist Shaky Kane — That’s Because You’re A Robot  and Cap’n Dinosaur — have taken things a step farther by going to a penny under four bucks) so it’s not like Nightworld is unique in this regard, but still — it’s kind of a bummer. Sure, Marvel is charging $3.99 for almost all their comics and DC has snuck a fair number of its titles up, as well, but I thought that Image was, as the saying goes, “holdin’ the line at $2.99.” I guess not anymore.


Such economic considerations are beyond the purview of either McGovern or Leandri to control, though, I know, and as far as their work goes, I can find no fault in it whatsoever. I had a blast with Nightworld #1 and am all-in for the rest of the ride. Long live The King — even in the realm of the undead!


Having walked away from 2012’s Canadian indie production The Conspiracy feeling reasonably optimistic — frankly, for the first time in ages — about the “found footage” or “mockumentary” horror genre, I thought I’d put my new-found positive inclinations to the test right off the bat, so this afternoon, in between (largely failed) attempts to negotiate an uneasy truce between the cat we’ve had for years and the new one we just picked up at the pound yesterday, I rifled through the Netflix instant streaming queue and found a new number — from just this year, in fact — called Alien Abduction and figured, what the heck? Let’s see if there’s something out there in the zeitgeist that’s breathing new life into a corner of the cinematic world that most of us had long since given up for dead.

Yeah, sure, the film’s title is none to awe-inspiring, but hey, sometimes there’s something to be said for knowing what you’re getting into, right? And I noticed that the flick had been picked up for distribution, post-production, by IFC Midnight, so there’s gotta be something at least somewhat original and/or at the very least well-enough-done  in here to garner it some notice (it’s also available on DVD and Blu-Ray, but as I didn’t see it in either of those formats this review won’t focus on any sort of technical specs in regards to its physical-storage iterations). I mean, it just stands to reason, right?


Based, at least in part, on a purportedly “true” case involving a family that went out camping in the wilds of North Carolina and had an up-close-and-personal encounter with the so-called “Brown Mountain Lights” — a fairly well-known phenomenon among UFOlogists, as it turns out — director Matty Beckerman’s flick purports to offer up the “top secret” video footage  captured by autistic teenager Riley Morris (played by Riley Polanski) of just what happened to him and the rest of his apparently quite blase clan of Middle -American blood relations (consisting of  mother Katie played by Katherine Sigismund, father Peter played by Peter Holden, brother Corey played by Corey Eid, and sister Jillian played by Jillian Clare — my god, are these the real people??????????????????????) when their trek into the forest went horribly wrong.

Right off the bat, I have to admit that I’m all for whatever bad shit ends up getting heaped on  the parents here — the only thing dumber than taking an autistic kid out to the middle of fucking nowhere is taking him out to a well-known UFO hot spot out in the middle of nowhere, after all — but I gotta admit that once (or should I say if) you can get past that, Beckerman has actually constructed a reasonably involving little piece of “hand-held horror” here. Screenwriter Robert Lewis’ script is lean and mean, the actors all acquit themselves reasonably well despite having very little to hang their characterizations on, and there’s a definite sense of thick-enough-to-cut-with-a-knife tension and foreboding throughout. It’s hardly revolutionary stuff by any stretch of the imagination, but enough is happening here to keep you fairly well glued to events on-screen — even if you’ve got a couple of cats snarling and growling at each other more or less the whole time.


I think the hard-core UFO community will probably find a little more to like here than the average Joe, sure — hey, if I was totally convinced that shit like this was really happening I’d probably calling up all my friends and telling them to watch this thing ASAP — but even for those of us with only a mild interest in the subject, Alien Abduction proves to be plenty interesting. Yeah, the concrete horrors are never spelled out explicitly, but that’s part of the “charm” of these faux-“real” features, isn’t it? Scary movies are usually scariest when we don’t know exactly what’s going on and have to fill in the more gruesome details in your mind, and the “found footage” conceit weaves that incompleteness-for-its-own-sake right into its celluloid DNA. It also helps that it’s a lot easier to cover up things like dodgy production values with saturated shadows and the like because, hey, this is all amateur footage, right? And while lazy and/or uninspired low-budget filmmakers often use that as a crutch, in the hands of people who actually care about what they’re doing — as Beckerman and his cohorts seem to — it can still work, even all these years after The Blair Witch Project (which was, lest we forget, a good number of years down the road from arguably the true progenitor of the genre, Ruggero Deodato’s seminal Cannibal Holocaust). All of which is to say that while Alien Abduction may not offer anything that hasn’t been seen before, at least it proves the well ain’t dry yet.



Guarded praise? Sure, I’ll give you that — but it’s still more praise than a lot of other efforts with a lot more money to spend deserve, or frankly even try to garner. Beckerman’s film may not be worthy of soaring accolades, but it earns what it can get by at least respecting its audience enough to still give a shit about wanting to creep you out. That’s good enough for me to give it a recommendation along the lines of “why not give it a go?” — and if you do, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.




You know what they say, friends : if at first you don’t succeed —

Look, I don’t think it’s any great secret that Dynamite Entertainment’s first attempt to resuscitate Jack Kirby’s Captain Victory And The Galactic Rangers came up well short of being either a critical or commercial success (the same can also be said of Silver Star and Dragonsbane), but I give them points for both recognizing what was wrong, and taking steps to steer the course of the ship in the proper direction. The end result being, of course, yet another first issue for our titular Captain Victory along with Major Klavus, Orca, Mister Mind, Tarin, and their ilk — with the added advantage that this time, so far at least, they seem intent on doing right by this remarkable cast of characters by resisting the urge to rest on their laurels and simply “update” things.

Full disclosure : I don’t give a shit what anyone says, C.V. and his crew are among my absolute favorite of The King’s creations, and I think their original Pacific Comics outing is a remarkable run packed to the gills and beyond with more heart and imagination than any 20,30,40, or even 50 comics you’ll find on the racks these days. Yeah, sure, it was largely slagged off at the time of its release, but a dedicated few did seem to “get it,” and those numbers have grown in recent years thanks to insightful critical reappraisals popping up all over the internet (special nod here to James Romberger for leading that charge). In short, Jack’s Captain Victory is not just a good comic, but a great one, and if you don’t believe me, pick up the back issues — which are easy enough to obtain at reasonable prices — and find out for yourself.

When Dynamite first relaunched the book in the wake of their highly-successful Kirby : Genesis a couple years back, then, I was generally optimistic about the series’ prospects — but it quickly ran out of gas and devolved into pretty standard space-opera fare. Everyone’s heart seemed to be in the right place, but they were too busy walking on eggshells trying to “modernize” Jack’s work for a contemporary audience while being careful not to rock the boat too much and thus upset the old-timers. It was a no-win situation for all involved, and when the book disappeared after less than a year, it was no great loss. But some things are just too fucking awesome to remain on the sidelines forever.


Enter Joe Casey, a guy whose work I generally find to be up-and-down,  quality-wise (for two recent cases in point I offer up the fact that I thoroughly enjoy Sex but found The Bounce to be an unfocused, nearly-unreadable mess), but who at least seems to understand that the real root of the Kirby ethos isn’t about fealty to the past, but about always pushing yourself in new directions, even if you sometimes fail. Jack was a consummate innovator to his last breath and in order to do right by the fruits of his boundless imagination, you have to be willing to keep pushing and prodding them in new and unexpected ways.

Without giving away too much, suffice to say that the story for the first issue of the new Captain Victory And The Galactic Rangers, which marks the opening salvo of a who-knows-how-may-part epic entitled “Fire Bomb Kill Dead,” does exactly that. It’s bold, brash, and big, in the best Kirby style, but apart from some fun dialogue-based cues and the like in the script and some nifty homages in the artwork, it’s all about breaking entirely new ground with these characters and concepts. It’s full-throttle from the word go, and while the action does, in fact, pick up precisely where the last C.V. series left off, no knowledge of that book is necessary to enjoy the proceedings here — just an ability to re-connect with your heart and mind to the child-like sense of wonder and awe that all of Jack’s works inspired (and still inspire).


As far as the art goes, it’s a pleasing smorgasbord of contrasting styles from three different ,and equally talented, penciller/inkers recruited to the project by Casey himself. Nathan Fox handles the majority of interior pages and provides the cover, while a couple of shorter scenes with different story emphases are  handled by Jim Rugg and Ulises Farinas, respectively. All these artists have a decidedly “non-mainstream” approach and no apprehension whatsoever about bringing their boldly different visual stylings to a world that less ambitious folks would probably try to render in as uniform a manner as possible (see the previous series).  All in all, everyone involved with drawing this book seems to understand that the best way to honor Jack’s legacy is by being unafraid to be themselves. In other words, they know that imitation isn’t the sincerest form of flattery when it comes to The King — innovation is.


This week was a rarity in the world of comics these days — there were actually a lot of good books released from all the major and minor “players” in the industry (yes, even Marvel, since this is the week that both Moon Knight and Superior Foes Of Spider-Man came out). Alan Moore has two comics on the racks (okay, yeah, one of ’em is a reprint, but so what?). The third issue of Howard Chaykin’s new Shadow hit the stands. Nightworld look like a fun homage to Kirby in its own right from Image. But this new take on Captain Victory is easily the best thing to come down the pipeline this week, and as long as Casey, Fox, and their other collaborators keep firing on all cylinders like this, I feel very confident in stating that will continue to be the case month in and month out for as long as this series is running — which will hoefully prove to be quite awhile. Hold on tight! This! Is! The! Big! One!



Just when you think “found footage” horrors have shot their wad, along come the Canadians to prove us all wrong — that’s right, friends, for the second time in as many days we’re headed north of the border to check out an indie horror that’s more or less flown below the radar, but that is well worth your time to see.

Apart from some festival circuit play and a fairly limited theatrical release in its country of origin, writer/director Christopher MacBride’s 2012 offering The Conspiracy didn’t seem to create too much of a stir, but hopefully the fact that it’s now available on Netflix instant streaming (as well as on DVD and Blu-ray, but given that’s not how I saw it no technical specs relating to these versions will be included in this review) will change that, because while this Ontario-based production certainly has its flaws, it’s by and large a competently-executed, reasonably suspenseful little piece of business that — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — plenty of comparatively-more-expensive Hollywood efforts could learn a thing or two from.


The premise here sounds a bit hackneyed, sure, but things actually play out pretty nicely : crackpot “conspiracy theorist” Ron (played by Ron Kennell) is the subject of a documentary-in-progress by film-making buddies Aaron (played by Aaron Poole) and Jim (played by — are we noticing a pattern here? — James Gilbert), and while ol’ Ron seems, at first glance, to fit every negative stereotype that gets layered upon his ilk — he’s older, unkempt, unwashed, obsessive to a fault, and has a dingy old apartment filled with newspaper clippings — it turns out that he’s actually quite likely onto something, because one day he just up and disappears. The hovel he’s been living has been ransacked, his “flow chart” diagramming the hidden pattern of world domination by unseen rulers is in tatters, and he’s straight-up nowhere to be found. Gone. Poof. Scarpered.

Smelling a rat — or, more than likely, several  rats — our intrepid young heroes quickly “re-purpose” the footage they’re assembling into a “Where’s Ron?” piece of amateur investigative journalism and quickly find themselves spiraling inexorably downward into a secret society known as the Tarsus Club that, whaddaya know, really does run the whole fucking world from behind the scenes.

Okay, fair enough, there’s nothing here that isn’t cribbed more or less fairly directly from dozens, if not hundreds, of different conspiracy-themed websites, and the Tarsus Club is a fairly obvious stand-in for the Bohemian Grove — errrmmm — “social club” (and a lot of the “mockumentary” footage here bears more than a passing resemblance to the actual clandestine footage shot in the Grove itself by Alex Jones some years ago), but it works — even if some of the twists and turns that result in our protagonists finding themselves ensconced within the group’s membership seem a little bit overly convenient at first glance.


The most interesting wrinkle in the story — spoiler alert — comes with the revelation that the folks in Tarsus are a direct continuation of the ancient cult of Mithras, a Roman bull-slaying deity, and while Mithraism was actually known for being surprisingly non-dogmatic as far as religions go, MacBride does seem to have the basics of many aspects of its ritual fairly well-researched, even if he by and large blows off the obvious parallels the now-apparently-defunct sect had with a pesky little cult that came along several years later known as Christianity (Mithras was born on December 25th to a virgin, rose from the dead after three days, and both his story and the story of Jesus have ingredients obviously derived from good old-fashioned sun worship). So points to him for at least partially laying out the precepts and fundamentals of a fascinating faith that’s fallen by the wayside.

Fair warning should also be given, at this point, that many of the aforementioned plot contrivances that seem pretty goddamn convenient actually prove to be more than a little bit too convenient, so expect a nice amount of payoff/payback (depending on who you’re rooting for) come the film’s end. You won’t be shocked out of your socks or anything, but a semi-audible “oh yesssssssssssss” or “shit, I told’ja so” may find itself sneaking out of your mouth before all is said and done.


So hey — let’s not put a fork in the “handheld horror” genre quite as quickly as we might find ourselves tempted to. There may not be an actual conspiracy to keep it going, but The Conspiracy shows there’s a surprising amount of hunt left in the old dog yet.


Damn, have I been slacking. Or, should I say — “otherwise occupied?”

Yeah, that sounds a little nicer, I think — my point here being that it feels like positively ages since I took a look at a lesser-seen cinematic effort that originated outside of the good (well, usually) ol’ (most definitely) USA, and for many years now these “International Weirdness” reviews have been a mainstay on these pages. So, for those of you that like ’em and have been wondering where they’ve been — my most sincere and heartfelt apologies. I’ve been so wrapped up in the “effort” of by and large slagging off this summer’s mostly weak slate of studio blockbusters that I’ve just kinda let weeds grow on semi-regular features like this, “Grindhouse Classics,” “Documentary Sidebar,” and others.

Oh, wait — I did just review a pair of documentaries last week, didn’t I? Well, anyway, I’m still largely guilty of blowing off my other “responsibilities” in favor of pissing all over Hollywood’s mega-budget insults to our collective intelligence in recent weeks/months, but now that summer is winding down, I’ll do my best to get back to the usual order of business around these parts — starting right now.


Canadian writer/director/producer/apparent all-around renaissance man Maurice Devereaux’s 2006 Montreal-filmed End Of The Line (available on DVD and Blu-ray from Critical Mass releasing featuring a rather pristine widescreen image and 5.1 soundtrack — extras include a feature-length director’s commentary, a “making-of” featurette, a video recording of a Q&A session from the FantAsia film festival (held, as if you didn’t know, in the same city where this flick was shot), a deleted scene, and a couple of nifty little production outtakes) is a movie that’s been on my radar screen for some time due to the generally positive buzz surrounding it in the indie horror community, but for whatever reason (polite shorthand for ” I had other shit to do”) I just never got around to seeing it until earlier today. And that’s kind of a shame because I’ve been missing out on a pretty solidly-realized low-budget effort with plenty of heart that’s quite a bit better than a good number films that I watched while this one languished towards the back end of my Netflix DVD queue.

Not that Devereaux’s little shoestring opus doesn’t suffer from plenty of the same flaws that many films of its ilk do — inconsistent (to be kind about things) performances, occasionally-dodgy camera work, plot threads that don’t always mesh together as smoothly as they should,  and weird pacing that leads to some interminably slow periods in the film are all present and accounted for here, among other flaws, but I gotta give our Quebecois auteur (who really needs to make another movie — he hasn’t done another since this) credit — he does a lot more right than he does wrong.


To wit : the main plot, centering as it does around the trials and travails of an over-worked, over-stressed young nurse named Karen (Ilona Elkin, who delivers the only consistently-strong performance of note here, so let’s single her out for a bit of extra praise) as she tries, along with other equally-under-siege protagonists,  to survive a subway ride overloaded with members of an apocalyptic religious sect who are out to kill all unbelievers with  crucifix-emblazoned daggers in order to, you guessed it, “save” them from the coming rapture is a tense, pacy little affair that features surprisingly strong practical EFX work, a reasonably-believable premise (just ask anyone who’s had a rough time getting doorstep missionaries at their home to fuck off), and a tight, confined, claustrophobic setting that adds some real “oomph” to the proceedings. The incidental musical score (courtesy of one Martin Gauthier) is intense and atmospheric, the lighting and production design highlight the tension inherent in the script, and Devereaux throws in some reasonably surprising twists and turns along the way that keep you involved in the story, even when the action lags a bit.

All in all, then, a noteworthy effort that, sure, comes up well short of being spectacular, but certainly beats out plenty of the bigger-budget horror efforts coming out of Hollywood in terms of delivering bang for your buck,  and helps to further cement Canada’s reputation as a hotbed for independently-produced thrillers n’ chillers. I wasn’t terribly keen on some of the heavy-handed faux-foreboding sequences like the patients in Karen’s psych ward seeming to possess premonitions of coming terror and a rash of suicide jumpers along the train tracks prior to the shit really hitting the fan here, but hey — you gotta have some kind of build-up, I suppose.


Cutting to the chase, then : I’m glad I saw End Of The Line, and wish I’d seen it sooner. The ending kinda comes out of left field as things take a turn for the supernatural, but it works, and nicely caps off a labor of love, sweat, tears, and blood (emphasis on the blood) that genre fans will more than likely find hits all the notes they’re looking for,  even if not in precisely the expected order. If a slow-burn horror that offers a decidedly bumpy (train) ride sounds like something up your alley (or, more appropriately, track),  then you’ll find a lot to like here — just don’t try the muffins. But do see the movie so you’ll know what the hell I’m  talking about with that last line.



I take a look at “Guardians Of The Galaxy” for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Through the Shattered Lens


Here’s a question I can’t see any rational human being asking themselves, but apparently someone did : what would happen if you took bog-standard Marvel Studios super-hero fare, threw in a couple dozen extra jokes, and scooped a heavy layer of incredibly lame ’70s “power-pop” numbers like “Please Go All The Way” and “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” on top?

The answer, of course, is director James Gunn’s newly-released Guardians Of The Galaxy, and if I’d been that hypothetical irrational person I just alluded to maybe I’d be a couple million bucks richer thanks to this film rather than sitting at home writing a review of it. So kudos to you, whoever you are, for your idea to bring this C-grade (at best) team of also-rans from their frequently-cancelled printed pages (there have been, what? Four or five Guardians  series to this point, and none has lasted more than…

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