Archive for November, 2014

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Oh yeahhhhh — here we go, of the trio of new Bat-centric comics DC has unleashed in the wake of the debut of the Gotham TV series, this was the one I was looking forward to most, and for one simple reason : Ben Templesmith.

No offense intended to writer Ray Fawkes, mind you, but it’s the art that’s had me jazzed for this one since the time it was announced, and why not? Anyone who’s followed Templesmith’s singular style for any amount of time ( and I  sincerely hope you’ve read his just-completed IDW four-part series The Squidder — it seemed to fly under the radar a bit, publicity-wise, which is a bummer since it’s an absolutely magnificent comic) knows that this guy can flat-out bring it, and frankly, I can’t think of anyone better to illustrate the shadowy recesses of Gotham City that go bump in the night.

As is his custom, our guy Ben is turning in his pages in full color here, layering on his rich and atmospheric hues over the stylish, well-controlled chaos of his highly individualistic line art, and, as you’d expect, the results are gorgeous. If I had time to take a break from “ooh”ing and “aah”ing over his panels I’d probably take a moment to stop and be surprised by the fact  that DC, a publisher best known in recent years for the uniformity (and, let’s be honest, dullness) of the overall look of all its books even took this guy on board at all, but, as we’ve already established, they seem to have come around to the idea that their little “Bat-universe” is a large enough place to allow for a handful of unique-looking books to wedge their way into its far corners. Like Gotham Academy and Arkham Manor, one gets the sense right from the jump that Gotham By Midnight is arriving in our laps with a very definite sell-by date in the back of its editors’ and probably even creators’ minds — and Templesmith has never stuck with any given project for all that long — but here’s to hoping that we can count on a solid run of a couple of years or so here, at least, with only occasional “fill-in” issues along the way. My fingers are certainly crossed.

Again, though, DC is guilty of putting the cart before the horse a bit here by setting events in this series after those that are currently taking place in Batman Eternal (as is also the case with Arkham Manor and Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Endgame” storyline currently playing out in the pages of Batman itself), but in this particular case it’s really not such a big deal since the fact that somewhere along the way Commissioner Gordon (who we all know is destined to get his job back anyway),  for reasons as yet unknown,  decides to put together a special police task force to deal with supernatural threats to the city ins’t exactly a development that “spoils” any as-yet-unseen story revelations.

The lineup for Gordon’s pet project made flesh,  Precinct 13 ( also known as the GCPD’s “Midnight Shift”),  is composed primarily of new characters, with one notable exception : a lieutenant named Weaver runs the show, assisted by detective Lisa Drake, forensic doctor Szandor Tarr, demon-hunting nun Sister Justine, and, casting a long shadow over all, as he tends to do, is the only “established” DCU character (besides Batman, who puts in an appearance, of course) of the bunch, detective Jim Corrigan, a.k.a. The Spectre.

Fawkes has been the primary writer on the sporadic Batman Eternal issues where Corrigan features prominently, and while it’s probably fair to say that the long, drawn-out reveal of his ghostly alter-ego in that series is down to choices made by James Tynion IV and the previously-mentioned Snyder, given that they’re co-plotting the entire weekly enterprise,  the same approach seems to be unfolding here given that The Spectre is mentioned, but never shown, in the first issue of Gotham By Midnight, as well.

Maybe that’s for the best — he’s certainly one of the most powerful characters in the entire DCU, so when he makes an appearance it probably should be a big deal, but I must confess that I’m already chomping at the bit to see how Templesmith draws him. I have a feeling that’s gonna be some epic shit right there.

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Look, who are we fooling? It’s probably no secret by now that I’d be all over this comic even if the writing absolutely sucked, but fortunately for us that doesn’t seem to be the case so far. Fawkes — whose work on the ongoing Constantine monthly has been bog-standard stuff at best, downright wretchedly mundane at worst — cooks up a pacy little yarn here that manages to hit all the notes it needs to in terms of character introductions by sticking a ball-busting IA sergeant named Rooks,  who explicitly states that his goal with Precinct 13 is to shutter their operation completely,  into the proceedings right off the bat, thus allowing him and us to meet everyone at the same time, before plunging down into a real rabbit hole of an investigation that centers on two young girls who went missing for a short time before coming home covered in mud and speaking a language no one can understand. Gee, do ya think something weird might have happened to them?

Where it goes from here is anybody’s guess, but it’s strongly hinted that the first issue’s cliffhanger has landed our protagonists right at the doorstep of hell itself, so I think we’re probably in for a fairly exciting ride, and you can rest assured that, in Templesmith’s uber-capable hands, hell is gonna look like hell oughtta look.

I could have picked up Andrea Sorrentino’s admittedly good-looking variant cover (shown above) at the shop today, but Templesmith’s who I’m buying this series for, so I opted for his main one, as I’m sure I’ll continue to do month in and month out. As long as he sticks with this title, I will, too, even if the story goes to — oh, wait, it’s already there, But damn, so far I really like it anyway.

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So here’s the set-up — in the pages of the ongoing weekly series Batman Eternal, Arkham Asylum was blown sky high in some kind of supernatural explosion, and the city fathers of Gotham have consequently found themselves at loose ends in terms of where they’re going to warehouse their rogues’ gallery of “criminally insane” patients/inmates. After much discussion ,debate, and deliberation, the answer they come up with is — Wayne Manor?

I guess if you can swallow the notion that one of the richest guys in the world actually cares about other people, and expresses his warped notion of “concern”  by dressing up as a goddamn bat and fighting crime at all hours of the night, then the aforementioned- premise of the new monthly  series  Arkham Manor shouldn’t prove to be a bridge too far. I just find it very curious — to put it mildly — that DC would choose to put this out before the events that lead up to it had even happened yet (the destruction of Arkham and Bruce Wayne losing his home, and his company, are only now unfolding in Batman Eternal, yet Arkham Manor  is already on its second its second issue), but whatever. In this day and age of several-months-in-advance Diamond previews and solicits, I guess there are no such thing as “spoilers” in comics anymore.

To make things even more convoluted, though , the first story arc of this series involves Bruce Wayne, sans Batman garb, going undercover as a patient in his former home in order to track down a murderer who’s offing the other inmates. You know you’ve got it rough, I guess, when you have to pretend to be someone else in order to get back into your old house, which is now both a psychiatric prison and an active crime scene.

Obviously, at some point, Brucie boy is gonna get his family estate back — but  the question you have to ask is, after all this shit, why would he even want it?

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Okay,  it’s called “suspension of disbelief,” and it’s a notion we already discussed pretty thoroughly right at the outset here, so I’ll just leave that little query to play itself out at some inevitable point in the future. And I’m sure that point will come right around the time  at which Arhham Manor is scheduled to be concluded/cancelled, since, like its two other new Bat-brethren, this is a title that’s clearly designed for the short (or at best semi-long) haul. The thing that it needs to prove to us now is — will it be worth seeing through to the end?

As of this moment, I’d have to say that my honest answer is “I’m not sure.” Writer Gerry Duggan and artist Shawn Crystal (both of whom cut their teeth on Marvel’s Deadpool, among other projects) definitely give the proceedings here a unique flavor, and it’s wise that for a book this outlandish they don’t appear to be taking themselves too seriously, but this is no out-and-out comedy a la the just-finished (and already sorely missed) Superior Foes Of Spider-Man. Earlier today I  finished up reading the second issue, and while I enjoyed it quite a bit (just as I did the first), I’m still not completely clear on what it is they’re “going for” here. One moment we’re in a group therapy session that’s clearly being played for laughs, the next we’re hunting for stone-cold killer Victor Zsasz in the bowels of a creepy old mansion full of evil crazy people. I’m tempted to say something about the whole thing feeling as schizophrenic as one of the manor/asylum’s inmates, but that would probably be both in poor taste and a bit too obvious.

Whoops.

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All misgivings aside, though, this book at least shows both some potential and, crucially, individuality. Crystal’s style (which can be seen on the main covers reproduced with this review, with the variants, also shown, coming our way courtesy of Eric Canete and Rico Renzi, respectively) is a lot more free-flowing and naturalistic than most of the bog-standard product DC is clogging the racks with, and lends itself to both “lighter” and “darker” scenes with equal ease, so that’s a big plus, as is Duggan’s solid grasp of dialogue and characterization. In short, plain language, then, it’s fair to say I like both the art and the writing here. I just don’t know if I like the comic — yet.

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How’s this for a conundrum, though? I don’t have any solid reason to drop it from my pull list, either. So far it’s been intriguing, even if it’s been hard to pin down. In fact, we might even be in the early stages of a very solid, long-form Batman story. The potential is there, and these guys (along with colorist Dave McCaig, here employing a decidedly more traditional and subdued palette than he’s using in the pages of Gotham Academy) seem talented enough to pull it off.  There are so many borderline- tantalizing glimpses of what might be on our way that I’m willing to take a “wait-and-see” approach for the time being. Unfortunately, the book’s initial struggles to find its “voice” also ensure that I can’t say anything more for it than “wait-and-see,” either.

Lock me up in Arkham Manor for now, then, I guess — but please,  don’t go throwing away the key just yet. I may yet decide that my stay here is better off being a short one.

 

 

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In case you haven’t been paying attention — can’t say I blame you for that — DC axed a slew of low-selling comics fairly recently and, rather than have the “New 52” become the “New 47” or whatever, quickly supplemented the ranks with several new monthly books, a staggering three of which are set in/spun out of (take your pick) the Batman corner of their corporate universe — even though the word “Batman” doesn’t feature in the titles of any of these series at all.

But is it really Batman per se that these new additions to the former National Periodical Publications’ line-up are tying into, or is it the new Batman-based TV show, Gotham?

Okay, fair enough, the latter wouldn’t exist without the former, but when you notice that two of these books — Gotham By Midnight and Gotham Academy — have the Gotham name, quite obviously, front and center, it seems like the powers that be at DC have, to borrow some nauseating business lingo, decided to “position” these titles in such a way that readers will associate them more with the Gotham City “brand” than the Batman “brand.”

Certainly, there are stories to be told in Gotham that don’t involve its most famous masked vigilante, and characters as far apart conceptually as Jack Kirby’s Demon and Metamorpho have called the city their home over the years, but dumping a trio of new books based there out on the market within the space of a couple of months of the TV show making its debut is, obviously, no mere coincidence.

What the hell, though, right? When was the last time either of “The Big Two” did anything that wasn’t  all about marketing and cashing in on a perceived “hot” property?

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In addition, strange as it sounds to hear — and believe me, it’s doubly strange to be saying it — DC appears to be willing to allow all three new comics to “break the mold” somewhat in terms of eschewing the dull “house style” of art so prevalent throughout much, if not all,  of the “New 52” line (think mid-’90s Wildstorm comics only with more established characters) and to also take a different approach tonally with the scripts for each series. I guess when you’ve got something like 20 “Bat-books” coming out every month, at least a few  of them can afford to be somewhat unique.

The best of the bunch, at least so far, was also the first one to hit the stands — Gotham Academy, a suitable-for-all-ages title that comes our way courtesy of co-writers Becky Cloonan (who also provides the variant covers for each issue) and Brenden Fletcher and artist Karl Kerschl (who is on main cover chores, as well). Also a key contributor to the overall aesthetic of the series in colorist Dave McCaig, whose computerized palette is being put to work here giving the panels a rather pleasing animation cel-type look.

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I’ve seen this comic described by other reviewers as being a “Hogwarts in Gotham,” and while that’s an understandable enough comparison, rest assured that the kids aren’t learning to fly on broomsticks or conjure rabbits out of hats. The curriculum, in fact, seems to be pretty standard stuff, if a bit overly-obsessed with local history, but rest assured, if such things are your cup of tea, that there is a dose of the supernatural to be found in the school’s infamous North Hall building, which appears to have a ghost in residence.

That’s only one of several mysteries to whet readers’ appetites, though, given that our main protagonist, a young girl named Olive Silverlock who’s attending the titular school thanks to a Wayne Foundation scholarship, seems to be rather full of secrets herself. Who is her oft-referred-to-but-never-seen mother (my money is on Silver St. Cloud)? Why is she so hesitant to talk about what she got up to over the summer? Why does Bruce Wayne (who speaks at a school assembly in the first issue and apparently was a student there at one time himself) know so darn much about her? Why is she trying to quietly break things off with her boyfriend, Kyle, even though she still seems to like him as much as ever? And, most importantly (and annoyingly) to her, why does Kyle’s kid sister — nicknamed Maps due to her love of and proficiency with, well, maps — follow her around like a shadow at all times?

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I won’t kid you — it’s been a long time since I was a teenager, and quite obviously I was never a teenage girl, but  Cloonan and Fletcher seem to nail it in terms of capturing Olive’s “inner voice” and matching it seamlessly with her outward actions. She’s a likable, interesting, and respectfully-portrayed young lady who, granted, looks to have a bit more “on her plate” than most kids her age, but in the end  istills mostly concerned/consumed with the same stuff we all were at that point in our lives — namely, finding out who she is and what sort of niche she’ll find in both her present environment and the world at large. We’re only two issues into things, but I already find myself looking forward to seeing what her creators have in store for her every month.

Frankly, for a fresh-out-of-the-gate series like this, that’s about the most you can ask for, along with nice art, which Gotham Academy certainly has, provided you don’t mind its somewhat “cartoony” look, which I find to be a breath of fresh air in comparison to the heavily formulaic, “cookie-cutter” look of most of its DC contemporaries.

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All in all, then, I think we’ve got ourselves a winner here. I’m fairly sure this book is designed from the outset to have a finite run, and that when Cloonan, Fletcher, and Kerschl have finished telling the story they’re looking to tell — however long that may take — it most likely won’t be handed over to another creative team to continue on ad infinitum. That’s cool with me, especially since the overall “vibe”  of this series, which feels very “contemporary teen-ager,” will no doubt date itself in a certain amount of time given how fast youth culture changes these days. For now, though, Gotham Academy seems well-realized indeed, and with a clear direction, purpose, and trajectory, so count me in for the forseeable future.

 

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Here’s the thing about so-called “hybrid” films : just because they’re usually interesting (in one form or another) doesn’t always mean they’re good. Sometimes they’re just weird mash-ups.

Submitted as evidence for the prosecution : In The Land Of The Cannibals, the second cannibal flick directed by the late Italian sleaze-master Bruno Mattei in 2003 that, like it gorier and more untamed counterpart, Mondo Cannibal (reviewed on these very digital “pages” yesterday) a) was shot on video; b) was made in the Philippines; and c) stars Claudio Morales  —this time playing a “guide” for a group of special forces-type commandos who are searching for a US senator’s  “hottie” daughter ( played by Cindy Jelic Matic, here credited simply as Cindy Matic) whose plane went down in the “Amazon jungle” rather than a morally-compromised TV pseudo-journalist.

So, yeah, I guess you get this point already — this one’s PredatorRamboCommandoMissing In Action – style jungle-based paramilitary action flick meets Cannibal HolocaustCannibal Ferox.

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Also like its decidedly more savage counterpart, this one is plagued with horrifically bad dubbing, bone-headed dialogue translations, and shabby production values and special effects. So, ya know, it’s got that going for it, which is nice.

It doesn’t have anything more than that going for it, though, you’ve been warned. Consider it a public service from me to you, my dear reader.

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Obviously, if you’re looking for anything that has even the merest whiff of authenticity or competence about it, you’ve come to the wrong place, but if all you want is 90 minutes of shamelessly cheesy fun, you could certainly do worse. Is it as much fun as watching Mattei try to ape Deodato on a fraction of the budget and with less than a fraction of his filmmaking skills? Well, no, it’s not, but as mentioned at the outset here, even bad genre “hybrids” are at least, if nothing else, interesting, and this one’s both interesting and hopelessly corny, so who are any of us to complain about that?

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Last but not least when it comes to our little ongoing “count the similarities” game, In The Land Of The Cannibals — which also went out to various international home video markets under the titles of Nella Terra Dei CannibaliLand Of Death, and Cannibal Holocaust 3 : Cannibal Vs. Commando (the most dubious name for it of all given that Mondo Cannibal was hardly a “legit” sequel/prequel to Cannibal Holocaust despite being shamelessly labeled  as Cannibal Holocaust 2 in some territories) — has also just been unleashed on the world on DVD from Severin Films’ InterVision Pircture Corp. label and features a nicely-cleaned-up full-frame transfer, adequate two-channel stereo sound, and no extras apart from the trailer.

Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way — after all, why should InterVision be expected to do anything different with either of these releases when Mattei didn’t bother to do anything too terribly original when he made them? This one’s certainly best viewed together with Mondo Cannibal in one sitting since it’s basically only of interest as a cinematic curiosity done in conjunction with a “bigger” (relatively speaking, you understand) project, but that’s okay — if your ambitions as a viewer are as limited as our guy Bruno’s were as a director (and I freely admit mine sometimes are), there are a lot worse ways to spend about 90 minutes of your time.

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It’s often been remarked that the cannibal movie is the only wholly original subgenre of Italian exploitation cinema — lord knows they didn’t invent the western, the Star Wars knock-off, the Alien knock-off, the Road Warrior knock-off, etc. , even if they trafficked pretty heavily in all of them — and while that’s probably true, it doesn’t mean that many, or even most, Italian cannibal films were all that original in and of themselves once the template of “what these things are like” had been set.

In fact, by the time 2003 rolled around and rip-off artist extraordinaire Bruno Mattei — the guy who gave us such uber-sleazy semi-classics as Hell Of The Living Dead and Rats : Night Of Terror, here working under the pseudonym of “Vincent Dawn” — made his way to the Philippines to direct two ultra-low-budget shot-on-video numbers that would be among the last entrants in the cannibal oeuvre, there hadn’t been anything “new” about these sorts of flicks for a couple of decades. Still, the more (in)famous of this pair of cheapies, Mondo Cannibal, is such a blatant riff on Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 seminal work Cannibal Holocaust that it was released (on video, naturally — to my knowledge no theater has ever screened either this film, or its “companion” piece, In The Land Of The Cannibals) in some markets as either Cannibal Holocaust : The Beginning or the only-slightly-more-verbose Cannibal Holocaust 2: The Beginning (depending on which country you found it in, you may also have seen it under the title of Mondo Cannibale or Cannibal World).

Just how derivative is it, you ask? Consider : the plot centers around an ethically compromised (to put it very kindly) crew of documentarians/journalists who purportedly travel to “the Amazon jungle” to show the world that no matter how far we like to think we’ve come, there still exist “savages” who eat the flesh of other humans. Along the way, in order to “prove” their “man is still an animal” thesis, they engage in behavior so reprehensible (mostly in terms of staging scenes for maximum dramatic impact) that it puts even the cannibals themselves to shame and the end result is a film that proves that “civilized” man is more cruel, shameless, and outright sleazy than his more “uncivilized” brethren could ever dream of being.

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If all that isn’t enough to give you a distinct sense of deja vu, then consider that among  the atrocities they either witness and/or concoct we have  a diseased woman being torn apart while her unborn fetus is violently ripped from her (Mattei actually opens the film with this), setting fire to the huts of the cannibal village in order to provoke a panic, and the above-pictured scene where they find a dead girl tied to a bamboo pole (okay, so she’s not actually impaled on it, but still — it’s pretty clear where they got the idea from). Does it all seem familiar enough for ya yet?

Basically, the whole modus operandi Mattie appears to be employing here is to check as many boxes off the list of things Deodato did first, minus the flat-out ubiquitous animal cruelty, which certainly wouldn’t fly in the 21st century (though there’s still one scene here where — oh, never mind, if you’re gonna watch this thing, you’re gonna watch it regardless, right?). And, I suppose, to do it all for a lot less money and in a lot less time.

Does that mean Mondo Cannibal isn’t fun to watch? Actually, that’s not what I’m saying at all — it’s so nakedly derivative that is really is quite an enjoyable romp (at least if you’re a sick fucker like me), and its shortcomings in terms of production values are well worth a laugh. whether they come in the form of bad dubbing, inexplicably weird dialogue translations (such as when former “star” reporter Grace Forsyte (Helena Wagner) offers former “star” photojournalist Bob Manson (Claudio Morales) — who certainly lives up to his character’s  last name in terms of harboring a twisted persona — not a million bucks, but “a million quails at a buck a head”), or half-assed translations such as the one pictured below that introduces a flashback sequence and should read “some months before” :

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In all honesty, though, I’d be lying if I said this flick was good for much beyond that. Wagner — who quickly exited the movie business after this — is certainly easy on the eyes and has a bit of natural “leading lady” charisma about her, but most of what comes out of her month — err, mouth — is so weirdly discombobulated that its hard to tell whether or not she can carry a film. Likewise, Morales and the other members of his “squad” are saddled with such a bunch of nonsense for lines that one can’t accurately judge whether or not they’re capable of anything like “quality” work, either — although in the aforementioned abortion-and-dismemberment scene, he does look like he might be getting ready to shoot a load off in his pants, so that’s at least —- I dunno, memorable, I guess, even if for all the wrong reasons.

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Still, if all you’re in the mood for is wretched sleaze with no morally redeeming qualities whatsoever — and who isn’t sometimes? — you’ll be pleased to know that Severin Films have just released Mondo Cannibal (as well as its “sister” production, which we’ll take a look at tomorrow) on DVD under their on-again/off-again InterVision Picture Corp. label. Extras are pretty well non-existent (just the trailer), but the full-frame picture and two-channel stereo sound are perfectly acceptable, all things considered , especially since something this shameless doesn’t really deserve any sort of “deluxe” treatment. If you’re capable of locking your conscience away in a strong box for about 90 minutes and just going with the (blood red) flow, odds are you’ll have a pretty good time with this one — and then hopefully feel appropriately guilty for at least a few minutes afterwards.

Question time : when you come across a movie that isn’t on IMDB, are you immediately intrigued, or immediately suspicious? Especially if it has a long-ass, bizarre title?

For my part, I’m inclined towards the latter, even though I probably shouldn’t be — I mean, it only takes about five minutes for the maker of any film to slap up a page on there, and it doesn’t cost anything, so if the person responsible for the flick hasn’t chosen to let the folks browsing the largest goddamn database of movie titles in existence know about it, you have to wonder how much they want the world at large to even know that the fruit of their labor exists.

Furthermore, any old fan can throw a listing up there if the filmmakers haven’t opted to do so, and if no one else, let alone the folks who made it, thought enough of a movie enough to spend a frankly insignificant amount of time creating an IMDB page for said film, that’s a solid clue right there that nobody liked it very much.

Still, when I saw a new addition to the movieandmusicnetwork.com website called Season In Hell : Evil Farmhouse Torture I was sufficiently curious to check it out, especially when I noticed no information for it whatsoever had made its way onto IMDB.

I’ve already said I should have known better, haven’t I?

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From what little info I have been able to glean, this was shot in 2004 by a guy named Elliot Passantino, who also stars in the flick (don’t ask me what part he plays, and we’re not going to bother listing the other actors since you’ve never heard of any of them, either),  and the basic set-up goes that the east coast is in ruins after a series of terrorist attacks of some sort that cause friends Carl and George to head for the hills. They make a pit stop at a presumably-abandoned farmhouse to look for supplies and soon find that the place is very much occupied indeed, the owner being one Marbas Hiram, a deranged character who passes the time by keeping a bevy of young women imprisoned in his basement, some of whom have developed an over-active case of “Stockholm Syndrome” and worship their captor as a kind of new-age messiah. Oh, and to make matters worse, it turns out that the house is built smack-dab on top of a doorway to hell itself!

The film’s promotional blurb describes it as “evoking the trippy style of Jess Franco and the savage intensity of early Wes Craven,” but for my money it’s just a poorly-made assemblage of experimental edits, rapid-fire nonsense shots, and half-brained non-sequiturs disguised as a pretentious “art house” mish-mash that steals its central plot device not from Franco or Craven but Lucio Fulci.In short, it sucks big time.

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Anybody who’s been reading my reviews for awhile knows that there’s no bigger champion of zero-budget cinema than yours truly, and that I certainly don’t hew to conservative notions like “movies have to make sense to be any good.” I’m all for experimentation and for indie filmmakers with no money to be unafraid to throw a lot of shit at the wall and see what sticks. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean that something will, and in the case of Passantino’s little number here (which, on the plus side, clocks in at just over an hour long, so it takes almost as long to type out the film’s full title as it does to watch the thing), it’s a case of all the shit he’s slinging missing every target in sight — even the fan, since if it hit that something interesting, at least, would happen, and it never does here.

And, ya know, just because you’ve got a camcorder and know how to use it, doesn’t always mean that you should — or that whatever dime-store “opus” you’ve created with your friends should be seen by the general public. But from the ponderous invoking of Arthur Rimbaud in the film’s title to the overly-impressed-with-itself indulgences in faux-psychedelia that take up nearly all of its runtime, it’s clear that Passnatino thought he had something to say here. And maybe he did. But whatever that was, it was certainly nothing worth paying attention to. Apparently he figured that out at some point or else he would have listed this on IMDB, and the fact that he hasn’t is a kindness on his part for which we should be most thankful.

Still, if you feel the urgent need to ignore my advice — sometimes a sound course of action — our friends over at The Movie And Music Network have generously made Season In Hell : Evil Farmhouse Torture available for free viewing to Trash Film Guru readers, just follow the link at the top of this review. Keep the bourbon and Advil handy and who knows? Maybe you’ll find  yourself enjoying this thing more than I did.

I take a look at “George Romero’s Empire Of The Dead Act Two” #3 for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Through the Shattered Lens

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Remember that famous scene in The Godfather where Michael Corleone is having his henchmen settle all The Family’s old scores while he attends his infant son’s baptism? George Romero clearly does, because Empire Of The Dead Act Two #3 (or George Romero’s Empire Of The Dead Act Two #3 to be technically correct about things) is all about Mayor Chandrake — who’s front and center in Alexander Lozano’s stunning cover, as shown above — eliminating all threats to his leadership of both New York City and the secret vampire cabal for whose benefit the entire town is run. He’s ruthless, determined and, unlike Michael Corleone, not afraid to get his own hands dirty in the process.

The bloodbath is precipitated, as you might guess, by a visit from the cops — not Chandrake’s own loyal “security” personnel, but actual, rank-and-file NYPD detectives. Apparently, he doesn’t own them all yet, and…

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I take a look at the first issue of the new Vertigo mini-series “The Kitchen” for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Through the Shattered Lens

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So it appears that one of the sites I’ve done a fair amount of writing for, geekyuniverse.com, has shuttered its digital doors.Furthermore, it looks as if they sold their domain name off to something called “Swagger Magazine,” whatever that is, and did all of  this without informing any of us contributors that it was happening. Am I pissed? I guess I wasn’t at first, but now I sort of am, simply because all that content I posted on there, much of which was pretty good (even if I do only say so myself), is now lost forever, and because, going by sheer numbers alone, my stuff was far and away the most popular material on the site. Seriously, most of the posts on there were lucky to generate a half-dozen “likes” and one or two faceboook and twitter “shares,” while my articles routinely got a couple hundred of each. Does…

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There’s no doubt about it — between recently-released titles such as Abandoned MineAs Above, So BelowMine Games, and the flick we’re here to take a look at today, director Ben Ketai’s 2013 effort Beneath, underground is the place to be in horror right now. You’d think that the success, both critical and commercial, of The Descent back in 2005 would have spawned a legion of imitators at the time, but for some reason it didn’t happen until 8 or 9 years later. Go figure.

The  natural question now is — was it worth the wait?  I guess that all depends on how naturally claustrophobic you are.

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To be sure, what Ketai has crafted here is far from a masterpiece, but at times it is surprisingly effective, provided that tight, confined spaces frighten you as much as they do me. It takes an awfully long time for the tension to get going, though, as this story, which proclaims itself to be “based on true events” (which “true events,” specifically, are never mentioned, and let’s face it — the sad, and actual, truth is that mines have been collapsing on people for a long time now and thus any number of tragic disasters could suffice as being the “basis” for the screenplay here) throws out a few real whoppers in terms of the straining your suspension of disbelief before kicking things up a notch, the biggest of which is that last-day-on-the-job (and, by the look of it, Black Lung sufferer) pit supervisor George Marsh (Jeff Fahey, one of the few recognizable faces among a cast of largely unknowns) would consent to let his grown daughter, Sam (Kelly Noonan, who’s certainly easy on the eyes but struggles mightily on the acting front  in what is essentially  the film’s  lead role) accompany him to work on his final shift, and that his bosses would agree to such a proposition given that she’s an environmental lawyer who’s probably looking for any number of health and safety violations to slap them with.

In any case, down she goes with the crew, right after a previously-undiscovered section of the mine is found (what a coincidence), the roof collapses, and everybody’s fucked. The air starts running low, everybody starts hallucinating — or maybe not, as  questions begin to arise as to how much of what they’re seeing is real or imagined.

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The production values here go a long way toward helping the movie establish a reasonably high level of atmosphere and frankly are called upon to do most of the heavy lifting since, ya know, credibility and plausibility are out the window from the outset, and I give Ketai props for successfully evoking much of the feeling of what it must be like to be trapped in a cave-in with the clock ticking against you in spite of the fact that there’s no way his central character would, or could, ever find herself in such a situation in the first place. I’ve always suffered from recurring nightmares of being buried alive  and slowly suffocating to death(file that under WTMI, as the kids would say), so if concepts like that scare the shit out of you at a core level (welcome to the club, glad to meet you), chances are you’ll agree that Beneath is, at least, reasonably successful in terms of achieving its fundamental goals.

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Anyway, if you’re so inclined, Ketai’s modestly-budgeted number is now available via Netflix instant streaming (which is how I saw it, hence no DVD/Blu-ray specs included in this review) and if sounds like your cup full of coal dust, then hey,  it probably will be.

Halloween might be over (just barely), but you know we’re not done talking about horror movies here because — well, shit, we never are. We’re just shifting our focus slightly given that it’s been far too long since we ran a “Grindhouse Classics” review here, and even farther too long (ummm — I’d better check that for grammatical accuracy) since we looked at a flick from the “Godfather of Gore” himself, the incomparable Herschell Gordon Lewis. Seriously, what kind of self-respecting “B-Movie” blog doesn’t find its way back to HGL at least once every few months or so?

The answer, apparently, is this one, so please allow me to make up for lost time by telling you, dear reader, about the sublime pleasures of 1970’s The Wizard Of Gore, a film especially worthy of attention given that our friends over at the Movie And Music Network have made it freely available to followers of this site simply by clicking on the link underneath the photo of the poster above. Yeah, it’s also available on both DVD and Blu-Ray (where it’s paired with The Gore Gore Girls) from Something Weird Video, and it’s definitely worth a purchase in either or both of those formats given that SWV have pulled out all the stops by remastering the full-frame picture and mono sound and loading the packages up with extras like a full-length commentary track from Lewis himself and a very cool gallery of exploitation stills, promo photos, etc., but still — free is free, right? And the Something Weird channel over at MMN has a boat-load of other great titles worth checking out, as well, so hey — I strongly encourage you to support the fine work these folks are doing by clicking the link and watching this movie at no cost to you.

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Hell, even if you’ve seen this before — and it’s a good best many, if not most, of you have — it’s one of those true gems that’s worth re-visiting every year or two just because it’s so goddamned much fun. Honestly, if you love Lewis, everything you want is in here — hilariously OTT performances, tons of low-grade gore effects that are heavy on the red Karo syrup and store-bought meat. wooden supporting characters, cheap sets and costumes, and as an added bonus, a little bit of the poorly-thought-through mind-fuckery that permeates his drug-sploitation opus,   Something Weird,  sneaks its way into the ending here, as well. What more could you possibly ask for?

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I’m assuming that only the briefest of plot recaps is in order here, so here goes : bellicose magician Montag the Magnificent ( last-minute substitute “star” Ray Sager, who goes about his work with a shit-ton of gusto but zero talent, and looks a lot  like a 75-year-old Harry Reems) is packing houses in an unnamed (but obviously South Florida-located) town with his bloody spectacle of a show that features the ultra-violent, slow-burn dismemberment, disembowelment, and all-around sadistic torture of female volunteers from his audience. You name it, he sticks these ladies into it — guillotines, punch presses, the list is endless and highly varied. But hey — it’s just show biz, right? And moments after being butchered in front of everyone’s eyes, the gals are all back, and seemingly none the worse for wear.

Except — they all tend to turn up dead, this time for real, later on, and usually by the exact same method they at least looked to be killed by during the show.

That might raise some suspicions to you or I, but for TV chat-show host Sherry Carson (Judy Cler — whose daytime program is the quaintly-titled “Housewives’ Coffee Break”), her motives are a bit different. Having witnessed Montag’s act not once,  but twice, in the company of her personality-free boyfriend, Jack (Wayne Ratay), she’s more concerned with proving our guy to be a not-so-magnificent fraud. One has to wonder if she’d even be pursuing the story at all if the women just died on stage rather like they were “supposed” to.

Still, such absurdities of logic (isn’t all illusion technically “fraudulent”?) have no place in the examination of an HGL production, because — well, they just don’t. These flicks operate under their own set of rules, where the only consideration being pursued is how to get the whole thing done as gruesomely and cheaply as possible. Viewed through that lens — provided you can put aside your concerns about the film’s blatantly obvious misogyny, of course — The Wizard Of Gore  can be considered nothing but an astonishing success.

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Please, though, whatever you’re doing, don’t come into this looking for an explanation as to how all this shit is happening by the time it’s over. It’s not that Herschell doesn’t provide one — it’s just that he and screenwriter Allen Kahn don’t care if it makes any sense. We all know that “mind-bending” psychedelia was the order of the day back when this thing came out, but even by the non-standards of the time, the non-resolution offered here strains credulity well beyond the breaking point. You just have to simply not give a shit about anything other than blood, guts, and sleaze to appreciate The Wizard Of Gore for what it is — namely, a non-stop parade of, well, blood, guts, and sleaze that certainly never takes itself at all seriously and assumes, quite rightly, that you won’t (or at least shouldn’t), either.

That certainly doesn’t add up to it being anything like a conventionally-defined “good” movie, but so what? The fun here is in the fact that it’s not a conventionally-defined “bad” movie, either — or even a “so-bad-it’s-good” movie. It’s just pure, unmitigated, balls-to-the-walls shlock and shock, with absolutely nothing to offer by way of any redeeming qualities whatsoever. Not only is there no “message” to be gleaned from its proceedings, there’s no point. You may call that whatever you wish, but I call it a very special brand of genius.

It’s easy to get distracted by Halloween horror marathons, sidesteps into the world of comics, the occasional Hollywood blockbuster, noteworthy documentaries, etc., but flicks like The Wizard Of Gore remain, at the end of the day, what we’re all about here at TFG. Follow the link up top, watch it now, wallow in the celluloid filth, and love every minute of it.