Movie Review: HELLRAISER

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Hellraiser_DVDNew World Pictures

“No tears, please.  It’s a waste of good suffering.”

My first exposure to the unique twisted mind of Clive Barker was by way of his novella The Hellbound Heart in early 1992, a mass paperback reprint for the States with an awesome cover artwork that tantalized the imagination of this then-teenager.  It was unlike anything I’ve read before.  And I knew this was what the movie Hellraiser was based on, because it said so on the book.  So it was in short order that I rented the movie.

That was twenty years ago.  I’ve since then seen most of the sequels, but it took me until now to revisit the original, to refresh my memory of this and compare it to the sequels that have been spawned through the decades.  How does it hold up after all this time?

Pretty darn well, actually.  I realize that most of you reading this have a very detailed knowledge of the movie’s story (the same that have probably gasped after learning that I’ve only seen this movie once).  But, for the sake of anyone not knowing: The story involves a married couple moving into a house that used to belong to the husband’s scumbag half-brother who disappeared mysteriously.  After a bit of blood being spilled, said half-brother is discovered by the wife to have never left the house at all, he was just trapped in a hellish dimension being constantly tortured by supernatural S&M enthusiasts.  The blood spilled begins to regenerate him back in the real world, thus escaping the grasp of the Cenobites.  And since the half-brother once had an extended affair with the wife, she begins to bring him various victims to drain dry of blood to finish the entire regeneration process.  The husband is clueless, but the wifey’s step daughter suspects something.  The Lament Configuration puzzle box gets opened up, the Cenobites come for the half-brother, people die left and right, and then the house is destroyed while the step daughter and her boyfriend try to escape the clutches of the Cenobites.

The franchise may seem like old hat by now, but when this was released it was like nothing any horror movie fan had seen up to then.  With Hellraiser, Clive Barker proved that he can not only translate fever dream nightmares onto the written page, but also give them life on the big screen.  The Cenobites are still the stuff of nightmares, with their quasi-religeous dedication to the pleasures of pain, giving their look an extra dimension to their darkness and lending weight to every line uttered by them.  The story itself eschews the bang-flash and gives us a dark slow-building piece that goes beyond just the visceral.  Mind you, there are places where the effects don’t hold up too well – mostly with the pre-CGI rotoscoping – and the end does seem to not know how to bring things together to a close.  But, other than that, and some late 80s fashions that stick out like sore thumbs, Hellraiser does hold up very well as a horror classic of the late 20th Century.  I’m surprised I don’t have this in my permanent collection.  Must rectify this immediately…

Book Reviews: STAR WARS- Enemy Lines I: Rebel Dream

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STAR WARS- Enemy Lines I Rebel DreamAaron Allston
Del Rey

“I know.” Jaina sat up and Leia let her. “I’ve got to go. Reports to write. Goddess stuff to do.” But first she embraced Leia, squeezing her with fierce strength. “I love you, Mom.”

Scattering after the Yuuzhan Vong’s invasion of Coruscant, the panic-stricken members of the New Republic Advisory Council pause just long enough to set up a mock defense on nearby Borleias–an attempt to buy time that fools no one, least of all the Jedi. Leia and Han Solo travel from world to world to ferment rebellion against the New Republic’s disastrous appeasement policies. But Luke Skywalker has chosen the most dangerous assignment of all: to sneak into the Yuuzhan Vong’s stronghold on Coruscant. His outrageous scheme to gain entry is either brilliant or suicidal, depending on the outcome. Bearing down swiftly on Borleias is a Yuuzhan Vong invasion fleet, determined to destroy the galaxy’s remaining defenders…

Alright, so I was a bit off in my assessment in the review of the previous book in the New Jedi Order series that, since that one made no effort to shed light on Jacen Solo’s capture by the Yuuzhan Vong beyond either mentioning that he was a prisoner of war or presumed dead, that this book in the continuing saga would focus on the errant Solo twin. Nope, way off. He’s still absent from the narrative, save for the brief mentions hither and yon. Which only means they’re building up to something big, right? Right?

No, I’m not going to look ahead on Wookieepedia. The spoiler line has to be drawn somewhere, you know.

What we have is yet another duology in the New Jedi Order narrative: Enemy Lines. This first parter–Rebel Dream–has the ragtag remnant of the Coruscant survivors retake the planet Borleias and set up camp to suss out an effective way to strike back at the Yuuzhan Vong. Wedge Antillies and Luke Skywalker decide to reactivate the Rebel Alliance, not only as a way to fight the Yuuzhan Vong, but also to avoid interference from the impotent New Republic government remnant. Meanwhile, Jaina Solo decides to help out by pretending to be the avatar of a Yuuzhan Vong goddess, Luke Skywalker decides to infiltrate Coruscant, Han and Leia take the Jedi grade schoolers to the new hideout located in the Maw cluster, and the whole thing ends with a Star Destroyer finally unleashing its full-on destructive capabilities, leaving the Yuuzhan Vong scratching their scarred noggins in flabbergasted confusion. And even while facing down certain death, Lando always looks good.

Gotta tell you, at the point, though the overall storyline is advancing, and some interesting twists have been made–mostly in the military tactical action department–Rebel Dream was…well, functional. The narrative was cinematic in execution, which kept things going at a fairly decent clip; though the dialog at times did get a tad cheesy, but not in much of a bad way. The build-up to Luke leading an infiltration expedition onto Coruscant had a nice bit of tension, and of course the requisite “to be continued” cliffhanger did its job, in that I immediately started in on part two at the conclusion of this. Overall, a decent yarn. Let’s see what happens next, shall we?

Book Review: STAR WARS- Dark Journey

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star wars dark journeyElaine Cunningham
Del Rey

“That was a joke,” Jaina broke in impatiently. “And as for changes, my feeling is that by the time this war is over, none of us will be the same, even the Jedi. Maybe especially the Jedi.”

Though the Jedi strike force completed its deadly mission into Yuuzhan Vong territory, the price of success was tragedy: not everyone made it out alive. In a daring getaway, hotshot pilot Jaina Solo stole an enemy ship, taking along her fellow survivors–and leaving behind a huge piece of her heart. With the enemy in hot pursuit, Jaina is forced to seek haven in the unprotected, unfriendly Hapes Cluster, where the royal family has grim plans for their famous Jedi guest. Even more sinister are the intentions of the Yuuzhan Vong, desperate to capture Jaina for a hideous sacrifice. Grief-stricken and obsessed with revenge, Jaina is blind to these threats–and to the overpowering evil dangerously close to consuming her. In the coming conflagration, Jaina will be fighting not for victory or vengeance, but for her very being…

After quite the roller coaster ride of the previous novel, here we are at Dark Journey, the tenth book in the New Jedi Order novels, in case you were keeping count. This one focuses less o the Yuuzhan Vong’s continuing conquest (though it does have brief parts between the young and idealistic offspring of the Warmaster and the Priest that has a few more years of experiential wisdom under whatever this species use as belts, the interaction I found rather interesting), and focuses more on a tale of political intrigue of the former Queen Mother of the planet Hapes trying to manipulate Jaina Solo into becoming the new Queen Mother to “lead” them against the Yuuzhan Vong. Politics are even more convoluted when it’s a culture utilizing tactics that put Game Of Thrones to shame.

Anyway, Jaina’s having a bit of an existential meltdown herself due to all the wackiness she’s been going through as of late. She’s going to some rather dark places, going so far as to out-manipulate Kyp Duron. Yes, Dark Journey is ultimately about Jaina Solo and the rather interesting path she goes down. Further insight is gained on the Yuuzhan Vong “technology” and culture but this is wearing down on the Solo offspring, who’s trying to figure out if she has a greater purpose as a Jedi beyond being a rather skilled pilot. It was fascinating watching her go pretty dark, not going full Sith, but now we see the potential in falling into that trap. And I admit it was amusing to see Kyp get a healthy dose of his own medicine.

Overall, while not an entirely throw-away filler story, I found this less interesting, mainly due to the lack of interaction with the antagonists, regulating the Yuuzhan Vong to passive reactionary characters, little more than a Greek Chorus. Well, okay, as passive and reactionary as the Yuuzhan Vong can get. Jacen Solo’s captivity isn’t even touched on, which leads me to think the next book will be focused on that aspect of the outcome of Star By Star. The political intrigue and brief action scenes were written well, and the story rarely lagged. But…eh, Dark Journey seemed like Game Of Thrones Lite in Space, more or less. Take that as you will. In the end, Dark Journey made me think, “well, this is one finally”, rather than eagerly want to move on immediately to the next book in the series. But, move on I must…

Movie Review: GHOST RIDER: Spirit Of Vengeance

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Ghost_Rider_2_PosterColumbia Pictures

“I will eat your stinking soul!”

When the devil resurfaces with aims to take over the world in human form, Johnny Blaze reluctantly comes out of hiding to transform into the flame-spewing supernatural hero Ghost Rider – and rescue a 10-year-old boy from an unsavory end.

Five years after the first Ghost Rider was released to the collective groan of movie goers everywhere, fate had determined that, not only was our suffering incomplete, but it must be prolonged in our waiting for said suffering to arrive.  Okay, I may be sounding a bit melodramatic for purposes of artistic licenses, but I think I’m justified.  I mean, I actually saw the first movie in the theater.  Sure, I had friends along to cushion the pain a bit (misery loves company and all that), but that did nothing for the sting of knowing that I paid money to watch that on the big screen.  What baffled me was, when I heard there was a sequel about to be realized and released, not only did I do the prerequisite “Oh, no not again, the horror the horror!”, but I also tried to round up my usual band of brothers to watch it in the theater.  Fortunately, the response from all of them was pretty universal: “NO. Why?  Why would…? NO!”

So obviously I waited until it was released on DVD to torture myself. I think I may have a problem.  I constantly want to subject myself to these bad super hero adaptations.  The fact that I have no problem doing it by myself probably indicates a sickness.  But anyway…

I braced myself for the worst.  And really, watching Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  No, it’s not an improvement over the first Ghost Rider movie.  Though, I must say that somehow Nicholas Cage did tone it down a bit from his performance in the first movie.  That’s not saying much, because you still get more than your normal dosage of Nicholas Cage Crazy in Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance.  Nothing of the level of “NOT THE BEES!”  But one scene comes dangerously close to that, so be warned.

As is the case with sequels, one of the positives is that it didn’t have to waste its time building up the back story before getting to the Ghost Rider goodness.  The CGI for the Rider is a lot better this time around, the fire belching out more black smoke that’s a lot more realistic looking this time around.  And was it just me, or did the Rider himself seem a bit more twitchy?  I don’t know, just did.  Anyway, the story actually keeps things interesting and at a good clip, the action scenes being the best thing going for the movie.  Also, keep your eyes open for cameo appearances from Anthony Head (Giles from Buffy) and Christopher Lambert (Highlander).

The story and general characterization of Johnny Blaze is darker than the original.  Blaze is a flat-out drunk, rather than a connoisseur of jelly beans.  Obviously, the dialog and general acting isn’t what would be the reason to watch this.  It’s the action.  More stuff blowing up and going up in flames.  Overall, I was entertained for a good 90 minutes, in a good mindless action movie sort of way.  Watch with friends who appreciate a good Nicolas Cage flick.

Movie Review: GHOST RIDER

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GHOST RIDERColumbia Pictures

“I’m the only one who can walk in both worlds. I’m Ghost Rider.”

In order to save his dying father, young stunt cyclist Johnny Blaze sells his soul to Mephistopheles and sadly parts from the pure-hearted Roxanne Simpson, the love of his life. Years later, Johnny’s path crosses again with Roxanne, now a reporter, and also with Mephistopheles, who offers to release Johnny’s soul if Johnny becomes the fabled, fiery Ghost Rider, a supernatural agent of vengeance and justice. Mephistopheles charges Johnny with defeating the despicable Blackheart, Mephistopheles’s nemesis and son, who plans to displace his father and create a new hell even more terrible than the old one…

I gotta say, this is a first. This is the first time I emerged from watching a movie based on a comic book where I felt completely insulted, both as a comic book fanboy and as a movie fanboy. Mind you, I never go into the theater (or rental place) expecting to see an epic piece of classic cinema filled with Oscar-winning performances all around. I don’t even go in expecting that every little detail from the book its based on is utilized in the live-action counterpart. Usually, I just go in expecting (hoping, really) to watch a movie that’s particularly entertaining enough to keep my interest straight through and doesn’t ask much of me. Basically something that will justify my spending $8 of my hard-earned cash to watch it.

So, where did Ghost Rider fail? How could something that had so much potential to be a dark supernatural tale end up a mess like this?

Having a couple of days to ponder this, I believe it wasn’t just one thing that killed this, but a number of small discrepancies that ended up a big mash of suckiness in the outcome. Let me run through these (because you really have nothing better to do that read this…admit it…):

Characterization. Basically, there is none. Well, they did give it the ol’ rudimentary college try, boiling down to how I tried to do things in college- trying a little then taking a nap. Two-dimensional, one-note performances from just about everybody. I say “just about”, because Peter Fonda’s roll as Mephistopheles was rather enjoyable, kind of like a mix between Johnny Cash and Christopher Walken. Otherwise, all we get from Nicholas Cage’s Johnny Blaze angst is his “Not the bees!” face he overused in The Wicker Man remake. The whole relationship between him and Roxanne I believed less than the one between Anikan Skywalker and Padme in Star Wars Episode 3 (“Oh, Johnny, hold me like you did in Naboo…er, I mean under that tree…”). Even Wes Benley seemed to phone in his performance as the son of Satan, making Stephen Dorf’s Decan Frost character in Blade seem downright charismatic. He looked like he just got back from a weekend marathon of playing Vampyre: The Masquerade, and forgot to break character. And don’t get me started on his three element-based flunkies…

The character of Ghost Rider himself was wasted. This is a guy that took a curse from the Devil and turned it into a tool to fight the forces of evil with. That concept itself should be more than enough fodder for even a halfway engaging and interesting plot. Instead, flame-head was regulated to a leather-clad CGI ghoulie that did a lot of glaring, grunting, and pointing. When he did speak, something inane and out of character came out of his…er, mouth? Jaw? Whatever. Sam Elliot pops in midway as a mysterious caretaker, basically as a device to explain the back story of Ghost Rider to an oblivious Johnny Blaze (and to those in the theater who have no idea this was a comic book to begin with…’round here we call ’em “UNO Students”) and spit tobacco juice. The big twist involving him I pretty much figured out within the first five minutes of the film, so don’t even bother with that. A UNO Student would have figured that out.

The dialogue made my head hurt. Mostly because I kept pounding it into the seat in front of me. There was way too much camp and thick amounts of melodrama involved for me to keep from smacking it.

The special effects…well, they were good, but really if you’ve seen the movie trailer, you’ve gotten the jist of it all. And the ending redefined the phrase “adding insult to injury”…

Bottom line, really, is that Ghost Rider was a badly made movie. There are a handful of redeemable elements here, but the mediocre characters, wooden acting and badly rendered script just kills it. Save your money, and wait for the rental if you’re still wanting to see this. Otherwise, pass…

Book Review: STAR WARS- Star By Star

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star wars star by starTroy Denning
Del Rey

It is a solemn time for the New Republic, as the merciless Yuuzhan Vong continue their campaign of destruction. The brutal enemy has unleashed a savage creature capable of finding—and killing—Jedi Knights. Now Leia Organa Solo faces a terrible ultimatum. If the location of the secret Jedi base is not revealed within one week, the Yuuzhan Vong will blast millions of refugee ships into oblivion. As the battered but still unbroken Jedi scramble to deal with the newest onslaught, Leia’s son Anakin lays out a daring plan. He will lead a Jedi strike force into the heart of enemy territory in order to sabotage the Yuuzhan Vong’s deadliest weapons. There, with his brother and sister at his side, he will come face-to-face with his destiny—as the New Republic, still fighting the good fight, will come face-to-face with theirs…

Okay, remember how, in the review of the previous novel in the New Jedi Order series, I mentioned near the end that things could turn dark for our protagonists between now and the end of the series? Well…here we go. Within the 600+ some pages of Star By Star (which makes this entry the longest overall in the series), events transpire that make The Empire Strikes Back seem like Happy Frolic Time with the giant mutant tick-cows on the fields of Naboo. I’m sure Wookieepedia would know what those things Anakin Skywalker rides around on to impress Amadala in Episode II are known as, but for lack of an internet connection as I jot this down, “giant mutant tick-cows”works for me. But I digress.

Star By Star starts off with the unveiling of the Yuuzhan Vong’s latest weapon bioengineered to hunt down and eradicate the Jedi: the voxyn, a nasty, multi-legged lizard thing with a nasty bite (among several other things) that was developed from vornskr, which you may remember being the beasties Grand Admiral Thrawn employed to sniff out Jedi. These things literally sense-sniff out those Force sensitive types like an acid-spitting mutant lizard bloodhound with an addiction to peanut butter. Anakin Solo and his two older siblings decide to gather a bunch of their fellow Jedi comrades to do something incredibly stupid: “surrender” to a Yuuzhan Vong, abduct their ship (with the help of some rather effective battle droids developed by Land Calrissian) and make it to the Worldship to take out the voxyn queen, thereby taking out any more voxyn clones. Only, things don’t go exactly as planned (naturally), and heavy losses happen on both sides as they battle through insurmountable odds on the Yuuzhan Vong’s home turf.

Meanwhile, on Corruscant, the government of the New Republic is further fractured within as the traitorous motives of a Senator is brought to light, Borsk Fey’lya pulls a Severus Snape (yes, I’m well aware I’m mixing my geek metaphors) as he literally gives his life defending Coruscant, an attempt at kidnapping little Ben Skywalker is made, and by the time the book ends, nearly half of the Jedi who went on the mission are dead, including one of the Solos, Jacen has been captured by the Yuuzhan Vong, and Coruscant falls. Yeah, things have gotten pretty dark, pretty fast.

Yeah, Star By Star is a pretty massive, and not entirely by the physical size of the book itself. I’m liking how things aren’t just cut and dried, black and white, merely spelled out throughout; there are casualties on each side, and not everything is really as it seems, like any good space opera, and the story’s doing a rather good job in fleshing out not only the protagonists, but also the antagonists as well. I have the hardcover edition, and even then the story kept me engrossed until the end, when I felt a bit punched in the gut. Nicely done, methinks.

NECRO SHOCK RADIO: February 26, 2014

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February 26, 2014

 …it’s time for yet another hour of Brutal Music Therapy with Uncle NecRo!

 featuring: Agape, Barren Coss, Dark Night, Docile, Guardian, Immortal Souls, Klank, Maximum Pentacost, Mortification, Precious Death, Rose, The Famine, and Vengeance Rising…

 CLICK HERE to download!

CLICK HERE to listen!

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