Archive for April 8, 2015

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I know, I know — it’s a slow pitch right over the middle of the fucking plate. When a character like Dr. Herbert West, the Reanimator (or Re-Animator, as the film would have it) is brought back from cold storage, the headlines for a review are just too easy and too obvious — “Reanimating ‘Reanimator,'” “Back From The Dead,” “Dynamite Breathes New Life Into Cult Favorite ‘Reanimator,'””Herbert West — Reanimated!,” the list is endless. Honestly, I tried to come up with something a bit more original, but I’m not even sure it can be done.

Fortunately, the creative team for Dynamite’s new Reanimator ongoing monthly comic book series doesn’t seem to suffer from the same lack of creativity as yours truly. Writer Keith Davidsen and artist Randy Valiente jump right in head first, introducing us to new supporting player Susan Greene as she finds herself immediately out of her depth in a “drug deal gone bad” situation, only to be rescued, and then offered employment by, the not-so-good Dr. West himself, who quickly catches us up on what’s been happening  in his life — or maybe that should be lives, since our recap is an amalgamation of events  originally detailed by our guy Herb’s  creator, H.P. Lovecraft, then expounded upon cinematically by the trifecta of Jeffrey Combs, Stuart Gordon, and Brian Yuzna, and finally encompasses the works of various creators who have tried to get something going with the character in various and sundry licensed comics prior to this one — before our anti-heroes, along with a shambling undead sidekick known as The Valusian, find themselves smack dab in the middle of a war between rival New Orleans voodoo gangs. Throw in a bit of mystery surrounding the perhaps-not-so-accidental meeting of West and Greene in the first place, and what you have is breakneck-paced debut installment that never takes its foot off the gas and provides more smiles-per-page than any right-thinking person with even casual exposure to “spin-off” comics of days gone by would dare hope for.

Then again, Dynamite has been absolutely killing it with their Shaft series, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that they appear to have assembled a group of creators (although I guess it’s only a “group” if we count the cover artists — yes, there are no fewer than 13 variants for this issue; I went with Jae Lee’s, as pictured at the top here) ready to knock this one out of the park, too.

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Valiente’s art style may be a bit more “cartoony” than hard-core horror fans would either hope for and/or expect, but seeing as how Davidsen is clearly taking his tonal cues for this book from Stuart Gordon’s film — which was at least as much a comedy as it was anything else — I think it fits perfectly, and everybody looks like real people, warts and all. It’s not super-stylistic and doesn’t dish up a tremendous amount of “eye candy,” but it certainly works, and has a kind of free-flowing dynamism to it that is actually quite engaging. For my part, I dug the look of this issue quite a bit.

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Still, I gotta say that it’s the story that really grabbed me the most. Davidsen, whose prior work I confess to being unfamiliar with, really nails it here, and most of the lines he feeds West are the sort you can clearly hear Jeffrey Combs delivering with relish. Overall the impression of the Reanimator that we’re left with is of a guy who’s obviously nuts, completely lacking in morals and ethics, and single-mindedly obsessive in his pursuit of less-than-noble goals — but he’s just so awkwardly charismatic that you can’t help but follow him wherever he’s going, even though you know it’s nowhere good. Bravo to our intrepid freelancer for a job very well done indeed.

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Die-hard Lovecraft fans should find plenty to like here, as well, seeing as how tantalizing hints are dropped that the larger Cthulhu mythos will be playing a significant role in the proceedings going forward, and while I don’t expect them to be dealt with in the same “high-brow” intellectual manner that we’ll no doubt be seeing in Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ forthcoming Providence series from Avatar Press, it’s a safe bet that Davidsen and Valiente won’t be playing it all strictly for laughs, either. There are some decidedly treacherous undercurrents in these waters, and we’re pretty much assured a bumpy, but ultimately pleasing, ride. I’ve seen enough already to convince me that it would be wise to stick around for the duration — and to hang on really tight.

 

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If you follow this site with any sort of semi-regularity, you’re already well aware of the fact that, for whatever reason, I’m far less burned out on the “found footage” horror sub-genre than most of my “peers” in unpaid amateur critic-land (indeed, one could argue that I’m less burned out on it than I probably should be), and you’re also more than familiar with my occasional penchant for actually following those “we’ve got a new movie that you might like” email recommendations from Netflix, so — yeah, I guess if the two were combined, I’d be a pretty easy mark.

Which is exactly what I feel like having watched the new (as in brand new, 2015 release date and all) horror “mockumentary” Devil’s Backbone, Texas, a decidedly lackluster affair that landed in the Netflix instant streaming queue a week or two back before even making its way onto DVD, Blu-ray, or other “home viewing platforms.” The no-doubt-mechanized arbiters of taste decided for me in advance that I’d “probably” enjoy this one, and I gave in to their suggestion as easily as a South Carolina cop plants evidence on somebody he just shot in the back eight times for no fucking reason other than, ya know, he was running for his life from a psychotic racist uniformed killer. That’ll teach me, I guess — not because watching this movie is anywhere near as dangerous as the situation many black motorists pulled over by white cops find themselves in, but because there are parts of the flick that are so goddamn dull and uninspired that you wish you were dead, if only to relieve the tedium.

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Still, like  a number of cops who claim they’re “just looking to help you” or are “concerned for your well-being,”  this movie lulls into a false sense of security at the outset. After all, its writer/director/star, one Jake Wade Wall, is fairly experienced in the horror game (having written the screenplays for the remakes of The Hitcher and When A Stranger Calls, among others), and is —at least to some degree — basing his material on purportedly “true” occurrences, to wit : his father, Bert Wall, really did live on a ranch in the reputedly haunted region of Devil’s Backbone, Texas (hence our title) and really was featured on a 1996 episode of the TV show “Unsolved Mysteries,” wherein he discussed some of  the things that went bump in the night in his neck of the woods.

From there on out, though, the proceedings are pure bullshit. The elder Wall may in fact be dead (which would mean this entire enterprise is tasteless in the extreme, especially given that his own son is behind it), but it’s rather doubtful (to put it kindly) that he met his end due to some concentrated supernatural attack, as the premise here asserts. Jake makes sure that he’s a guy that everybody not just likes, but loves, so it’s easy for him to rustle up a group of his L.A. friends to go back to his old man’s homestead in a rented RV in order for him to “say goodbye properly” and what have you, but geez — here’s a tip, Jake : next time you want to get some of your out-of-work acting buddies to “star” in one of your productions for peanuts, make sure they can actually act. Of the entire ensemble cobbled together here, only Haley Buckner, who plays Debbie, is even remotely competent. The others are perpetually unemployed for good reason.

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So, anyway, once the city slickers arrive and undertake their customary-for-these-sorts-of-things interviews with the “local yokels,” they’re pretty quickly set upon by unseen poltergeists who excel at making a noise and making a mess, but not much else. Sooner or later everybody gets annoyed to the point where they want to get the eff outta Dodge, but Jake has turned into an obsessed asshole who won’t leave until — shit, I dunno. He just won’t leave. And of course that will probably spell everyone’s doom.

Hell, probably? Try “definitely” — but at least we’ve got their “lost footage” to serve as a warning to all of us hapless schmucks to stay out!

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That’s definitely what I should have done — and you should, too. There isn’t a single original moment in Devil’s Backbone, Texas, nor is there even an interesting wrinkle added to stuff you’ve seen a million times before. The phrase “hopelessly derivative” comes to mind here, but even that’s giving it too much credit. This is a brain-dead movie that hopes you’re just as insipid and clueless as it is, otherwise it’s got no chance of maintaining your interest.

If the real-life residents of Devil’s Backbone want strangers to keep away, then Wall has done them a very big favor with his film — this looks like the most deliriously boring “supernatural hot spot” in the world.