Music Review: GRAVE ROBBER – Straight To Hell

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music-review-grave-robber-straight-to-hellGRAVE ROBBER
Straight To Hell
Rottweiler Records
2015

After four years after the release of their last full-length, Grave Robber released a four-song EP in both the CD and 7″ Vinyl formats. Well, also as a downloadable purchase in the MP3 format on Amazon, which is how I got my copy. Again, this is due to lack of physical space to store all of my music hording. I’d rather have the 7″ version, but at the moment that’s not a viable option. Livin’ the life, people.

Straight To Hell is vintage Grave Robber, hard and heavy punk rock with a strong sci-fi horror bent, giving us a short but decidedly sweet shot of much-needed horror punk, Misfits style. The EP opens with the straight forward metal power of the title track, which is guaranteed to get your fist pumping in the air along with the anthemic chorus. “Hunger Haunts” is a classic horror punk rock ditty that was also used in advertisements for Canadian Feed The Children, with its message that the eyes of a hungry child should haunt us more than the made-up monsters we see on the movie and television screens. The final two cuts, “Beast Of Busco” and “Mummator” are fun graveyard rock tunes that close out the EP’s all-too-short 11 minute run time.

While one would argue that having a full-length instead of a four-song 7″ EP would have been preferable, I knew of some of the constraints working against Grave Robber with being able to release new material. I say, I’m happy getting new Grave Robber songs in whatever length and format they choose to give. Also, collectable EPs are cool. They only released a limited number of the vinyl 7-inches, but there’s also the CDs and of course the MP3 downloads you can purchase from Amazon and Bandcamp. Here’s hoping for more in the near future; for now, enjoy a nice shot of quality horror punk rock.

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Movie Review: OUIJA

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movie-review-ouijaUniversal Pictures
2014
PG-13

How are you even supposed to talk to someone using a board game? I mean, yo, can you hear me? Signal’s real bad. I only got, like, one bar in here.

In Ouija, a group of friends must confront their most terrifying fears when they awaken the dark powers of an ancient spirit board.

I remember over two years ago, sitting in the theater, awaiting the start of the movie Annabelle, and halfheartedly watching the previews that were playing leading up to it. One of those previews was for Ouija, which to me looked exactly like the kind of upcoming horror movie that I was going to pretty much skip when it was in the theaters, and maybe watch on DVD or streaming or something in the future. Maybe not the near future. But some time. I promise. Then it was released, and the general consensus confirmed my predictions that Ouija was a movie I could skip, and watch when I have nothing better to do. Or when I feel like doing my weekend Bad Horror/Sci-Fi-A-Thon. Which I did recently, along with the sequel. Because of course they made a sequel to this mediocre snore-fest.

Yeah, Ouija is one of those “horror” movies that is (not surprisingly) lacking in personality from both the cast and the execution of the scary bits. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, here.

The story of Ouija plays out like the classic commercial for the board game (because this is technically a movie based on a board game, like Battleship), wherein we start with a couple of girls playing with an old version of the Ouija board, constantly asking, “It’s just a game, right?” like the commercials always did. Yeah, I remember those. I’m old, remember? Here they read off the rule sheet and proceed to summon the unholy minions of the Dark Lord. No, kidding, that would have made this a good movie. Actually, they play with the board, which causes time to fast forward to when the girls are now teenagers, one of which is clearly finishing up a solo play with the Ouija board, followed by tossing it into the fireplace to burn. Of course, this doesn’t destroy the thing, as it reappears a few minutes later, after causing a bit of boo-scare wackiness in the kitchen. The girl hangs herself, cut to opening credits, and then we’re treated to a ninety-minute barely scary horror movie that plays more like a badly made young adult evening soap opera on the CW, with a plot that lifted from pretty much every supernatural-based prime time show that’s several times better than this movie.

I’d describe the rest of the story, but it’s not something that hasn’t been done before: Besties to dead girl decide it wasn’t suicide, makes the leap that it involves the Ouija board, uses said Ouija board to make contact with girl, instead gets in touch with another spirit with malevolent intent, there’s an insane Older Sister that does a bit of subterfuge in the guise of “helping”, then the Magic Wise Grandma who only appears a grand total of three times, for a couple of minutes each, to dispense the real method of defeating the malevolent spirit (hint: in involves a method that made me expect the Winchester brothers to show up at any minute), and the whole thing ends with what a friend of mine pointed out while I was live commenting on FaceBook should have been a “The End…OR IS IT?!?” Well, clearly not the end, seeing as how they did a prequel sequel, but I’m getting ahead of myself again.

Overall, I would say that Ouija is neither a good nor a bad movie, just a “meh” kind of forgettable movie that has some good ideas going, but the execution is uninspired and relies too heavily on the same old formula with the same old non-scares, which leads to the audience being as bored as the actors’ collective performance.

Book Review: The THRAWN TRILOGY

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Timothy Zahn
Bantam Spectra
1991-1993

As long as I’m getting the novels that I have read a long, long time ago (see what I did, there?), I might as well knock one out on the Thrawn Trilogy of novels that I read, most in part due to my friend introducing me to some of his favorite Star Wars characters, both from the movies and the Expanded Universe. And while now, in the post-Disney acquired Star Wars that we have, most if not all of the previous Expanded Universe stories have been rendered glorified fan-fic, in the case of one Grand Admiral Thrawn, things are a bit different.

Back in the early 1990s, interest in Star Wars was waning from what it was in the 1980s, mostly due to lack of movies and general tie-ins to keep the momentum going. With the release of this trilogy, Star Wars fans were introduced to a character that was never in the Original Trilogy of movies–Grand Admiral Thrawn, a remnant of the now-defunct Imperial Empire. Suddenly, a character that was never in the movies, nor had a toy made out of him became a fan favorite, and more or less revitalized the Star Wars franchise, at least in the Expanded Universe form.

And thus it was, in the early days of the 21st Century, my friend Nex lent me his copies of the Thrawn Trilogy, to introduce me to one of his favorite characters, and I obliged by reading them. And here’s my belated assessment of what I did thus read:

book-review_-star-wars_-the-thrawn-trilogy-1Book One: HEIR TO THE EMPIRE
It’s been five years since the second Death Star went boom, and along with it the Empire was shattered and the New Republic arose from the smoke and ash. Well, metaphorically speaking, give or take. Leia Organa is married to Han Solo, and they’re expecting twins. Luke is working to re-establish the Jedi, and everyone is working to mop up the remaining Imperial remnant while making sure everyone in the galaxy plays nice. Unfortunately, there’s one hold out that’s causing problems to the fledgling government, one Grand Admiral Thrawn, a high-ranking and brilliant tactician, and one of the rare non-human officers in the Imperial fleet. Thrawn spends time gathering a bunch of critters called ysalamiri, which cancels out the Force within a short radius, and in the process runs into and recruits a mad Jedi by the name of Joruus C’baoth, whose only request is to have Thrawn obtain Luke and Leia so that he may train them in his vision of the Force. Meanwhile, Han is trying to recruit fellow smugglers to help with rebuilding the Republic with much-needed cargo transport, Thrawn launches a bunch of hit-and-run offensives in New Republic territory, Luke gets stranded on a planet and encounters the Wild Karrde, the official smuggler ship of one Talon Karrde, the guy who is supplying Thrawn with the ysalamiri. On board is Mara Jade, who kinda sorta has a hate-on for Luke for reasons stemming from her time as Emperor Palpatine’s assassin tasked in eliminating Luke Skywalker. Leia experiences a bunch of kidnapping attempts by the Noghri, an alien species that can be described as Golum if trained as ninja assassins. Most of these attempts fail, but since they’re persistent little buggars, they manage to come close to succeeding…until the one that nearly gets her stops suddenly for no apparent reason before slapping it into “B” for “Boogie” and splitting. Meanwhile, Lando has his newest operation invaded by Thrawn, and Admiral Ackbar is arrested on Coruscant on charges of treason. To be continued…

book-review_-star-wars_-the-thrawn-trilogy-2Book Two: DARK FORCE RISING
Grand Admiral Thrawn now has full access to Emperor Palpatine’s private storehouse on the planet Wayland, and he begins planning for a massive attack against the New republic. Part of the plan is to find the fabled Katana fleet, a fleet of highly automated Dreadnaughts that were constructed in the days before the Clone Wars, that went missing after the crews went mad due to a virus, slaved the controls to each other, and sent them all into hyperspace, never to be heard from again. Until now, it appears. Seems a former Republic Senator that Han and Lando try to recruit in their fight against Thrawn has a few of those particular Dreadnaughts in his own fleet. Meanwhile, Joruus C’baoth summons Luke to the planet Jomark to train him, with Mara Jade still trying to take him out. Leia and Chewbacca take their captive Noghri back to his planet, where it’s discovered that previously the Empire made promises to restore their ecosystem when in actuality they were keeping them oppressed to do their bidding. Leia seems a bit squicky about being referred to as “Lady Vader”, but she does have Vader’s scent due to her being his daughter and all. Luke then manages to escape and join up with Lando and Han with securing the Katana fleet, although Thrawn had captured all but 15 of the Dreadnaughts. To be continued…

book-review_-star-wars_-the-thrawn-trilogy-3Book Three: The LAST COMMAND
Grand Admiral Thrawn has a bunch of Dreadnaughts now, and he launches his offensive against the New Republic. Along with the might of his newly commandeered fleet, he uses certain highly effective deception techniques that result in the capture of several planets back into the Imperial Empire. He then manages to immobilize Coruscant by cloaking a bunch of asteroids. Meanwhile, due to an Imperial raid on one of their meetings, the Smuggler Alliance decide to join in the fight against the remnant of the Empire, rather than stay on the sidelines. Mara Jade joins up with Leia and Han in stopping their twins from being kidnapped for Joruus C’baoth, who really wants to turn them to the Dark Side. Luke, Han, Lando, Chewie and Mara–along with some help from the Noghri and a couple of local alien races on Wayland–where they rig the cloning facility to go boom. They face off against C’baoth, who seems to have cloned his own Luke (going by the name of Luuke, because that extra “u” should help differentiate against the actual Luke, I guess) by using the hand that was lopped off of him in The Empire Strikes Back. That pesky thing. Mara kills Luuke, and thus fulfills the Emperor’s orders on a technicality. The Republic then organizes an assault on Thrawn, who nearly pulverizes the fleet, but then gets assassinated by the one Noghri he kept on board. All the Imperial forces retreat, and later Luke gives Mara Jade his first lightsaber (which came with the hand) and invites her to train as a Jedi.

Overall, I do remember a goodly portion of the Thrawn Trilogy from when I originally read them. They all were engaging, and managed to stick inside my brain for all this time. It is amazing that the popularity of Thrawn is such that Disney has added him to their own Star Wars canon within the show Star Wars Rebels. Even though the Thrawn Trilogy has been regulated to Legends status, it is a rather intriguing yarn, one that doesn’t feel as bloated as it could have been with three novels. Very much recommended.

Book Review: STAR WARS: The Bounty Hunter Wars

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K. W. Jeter
Bantam Spectra
1998/1999

Back in the magical year of 2001, I was in the midst of reading the vast array of Star Wars novels that my friend Nex had in his personal library. I was something of a Star Wars novice at the time, and he was picking out certain Expanded Universe stories that I would probably enjoy. This was long before Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars, and consequently declared all of the Expanded Universe stories null and void. And since up to that time Boba Fett was essentially that character that said a few things, took Han Solo to Jaba, and then was swallowed by a giant sand pit creature, but for some reason was massively popular for many Star Wars fanatic. Which included Nex. So, in the course of a few days, I took the Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy of novels and read them, taking in what was said was going to cement why Boba Fett was such a cool badass. Did it do as such? Let’s go through the three books and find out, shall we?

book-review_-star-wars_-the-bounty-hunter-wars-1Book One: The MANDALORIAN ARMOR
Book One in the Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy opens with Dengar (that one bounty hunter on Darth Vader’s super star destroyer in Empire Strikes Back, with the turban) sifting through the wreckage of Jabba the Hutt’s barge for something valuable, when he comes across a very dead-looking Sarlacc, and then a still-alive Boba Fett. Seems Fett was able to blast his way out of the Sarlacc, and he’s a bit worse for wear. So, Dengar takes Fett to a nearby cave to nurse him back to health. Then we have a flashback to about the time between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, where an independently-minded Fett gets the drop on a Bounty Hunters Guild assignment, and delivers it to an arachnid go-between that gave Fett the counter-assignment. Fett is then given his next contract: join the Bounty Hunters Guild and take it down from within. Meanwhile, in the present time, the head of an Imperial ship building yard wonders if Fett is really dead, while a lady suffering from a bit of amnesia really, really needs to talk with Fett. Then we flash back to Fett successfully joining the Guild, despite some objections by Bossk (the lizard guy in Empire Strikes Back…who also says “damn straight” a lot), and then there’s a meeting between the Emperor and Darth Vader with crime boss Prince Xizor, who apparently was the one who gave Fett the contract to take down the Guild by joining in a plot to trim the fat, as it were. To be continued…

book-review_-star-wars_-the-bounty-hunter-wars-2Book Two: SLAVE SHIP
Back in the present, the Imperial ship yard is experiencing a bit of a coup, while Bossk is stranded on Tatooine after Boba Fett plants a fake bomb on his ship and takes it, Dengar and that amnesiac lady along for the ride. To pass the time, Dengar tells the tale of the Bounty Hunters’ Guild split: seems after Bossk killed (and eaten) the head of the Bounty Hunter’s Guild (which happened to be his father), the Guild split into the True Guild, which comprised of the older members, and the Guild Reform Committee, which was made up of the younger bounty hunters, and headed up by Bossk. Meanwhile, the Empire allows the head of the Black Sun to continue weeding out the weaker bounty hunters and leaving the strong ones to be hired by the Empire, by way of a bounty on a former stormtrooper wanted for the slaughter of his entire ship’s crew. This leads Boba Fett to team up with Bossk and Zuckuss to help capture said stormtrooper, leading to Fett to double cross his temporary partners to keep the bounty all for himself. Because he’s Boba Fett, that’s why. Fett delivers the bounty to a giant galactic spider; meanwhile, one of the galactic spider’s minions is plotting against his master with the head of Black Sun. To be continued…

book-review_-star-wars_-the-bounty-hunter-wars-3Book Three: HARD MERCHANDISE
In the present time, bounty hunters Zuckuss and 4-LOM takes down a gambler that wages on battles being waged during the Galactic Civil War; Bossk sets up shop in Mos Eisley to pawn off the forged evidence against the head of the Black Sun. In another flashback, Fett arrives at the Giant Galactic Spider’s lair with his bounty to deliver, only to almost get killed by the mutinous minion’s trap. The bounty is delivered, Fett is spared, and the Giant Galactic Spider is blowed up but good. Back to present time, Fett has returned to the ruins of the Giant Galactic Spider, does a bit of techno-necromancy to get some answers, only to be ambushed by the minion again. Fett then heads out to the Kuat shipyards, which is under siege. Answers to the mysteries surrounding who was trying to kill Boba Fett and the amnesiac slave girl are…answered, I guess, and then things blow up. The End.

Overall, while reading them (and finding them entertaining enough), I got the sense that maybe, just maybe, instead of spreading things out in three novels, things could have been narrowed down to two books easily. There’s a lot of bouncing around between flashback and the present day narrative, and while things didn’t get confusing because of that, there could have been a way to keep the past tale contained in one book, then continue on with the present day in the second novel. But, instead we got three books, written by the guy who wrote the extended novel sequels to the Blade Runner movie.

The Bounty Hunter Wars utilizes a lot of exposition, with a bit of action thrown in. That may be the standard for, say, a Star Trek novel, but for Star Wars, a lot of the enjoyment rests on the action. Also, Bossk says “Damn skippy” a lot. Didn’t think that was a general catch phrase for a reptile humanoid. The Giant Galactic Spider was a neat concept, I would pay to see more with that guy introduced back into the Disney-era Star Wars Universe.

In the end, although I did enjoy reading the novels at the time, when they ended, I found myself forgetting a lot of what I just went through. I managed to make myself remember to get a proper review done (I read them at a time when I wasn’t doing book reviews at the time…that came years later). If I utilized the Five Star rating system, I would give it three out of five. That’s being generous, though.

Movie Review: 13 GHOSTS (1960)

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movie-review_-13-ghosts-1960Columbia Pictures
1960
NR

“Emilio! He killed his wife, his mother-in-law and his sister-in-law with a meat cleaver. Whack! Whack! Whack! You’d better stand over there.”

When Cyrus Zorba and his poverty-stricken family inherit an old mansion, they can’t believe their good luck. However, not long after they movie in they realize that the house is haunted by 12 ghosts and run by a housekeeper who works in the dark arts. Though the ghosts are intent on killing a member of the family, the Zorbas insist on staying in the house because they have learned that a large fortune is hidden somewhere inside it.

Having, up to this point, only seen the Dark Castle remake of the B-Movie horror classic 13 Ghosts (which was titled Thir13en Ghosts, and was a rollicking cheesy fun time), I tried to make it a point to sit through the original William Castle flick. Which I finally did. And I have to say, this original has a fun kind of charm to it, overall.

One thing I’ll give William Castle, he did know how to sell gimmicks to make his otherwise ho-hum B-Movie horrors far more fun than they really are. For instance, for 13 Ghosts, it’s hard not to talk about the movie without bringing up the method that was used to have the ghosts only visible on the screen by way of the audience wearing special glasses. The process used a red and blue filter on the standard black-and-white film, resulting in allowing the audience to individually choose to see the ghosts, or, in the case of the easily spooked types, not have to see the ghosts at all. It wasn’t what you would call a very effective science (you could still see the ghosts with the naked eye if you happened to not use either pair of the glasses), but the hype behind it made it a classic. So much so, the concept of using special glasses to see into the spectral realm was utilized in the remake, to really good effect.

As far as the story behind 13 Ghosts, it’s your standard Scooby Doo plot, where a family inherits an old spooky mansion from an uncle, which might have spirits wandering about due to a journal found, then it turns out the lawyer of said uncle is trying to use the superstitious nature of the family to scare them away so he could find the secret hidden treasure left by the uncle, only to be found out and there may or may not be actual ghosts by the time the credits roll. It’s a standard classic Gothic formula tale, and like I said, if it wasn’t for the Illusion-O gimmick, it may have been regulated to unremarkable status.

Overall, though, as I mentioned, I did find 13 Ghosts to have a certain charm that I enjoyed. It was a fun and slightly cheesy mystery chiller that also featured the late, great Elaine Zacharides as the housekeeper that everyone thinks is a witch. Which, I don’t know if that was a tribute to her more famous roll as the Wicked Witch on The Wizard Of Oz, but she was clearly the standout in this movie. The ghost effects were quite hokey, but added to the charm (I was cracking myself up by using the Swedish Chef from the Muppets when the ghost of the jealous chef appeared in the kitchen). Connoisseurs of old horror flicks need to check this one out, if in fact you haven’t.

Music Review: TED KIRKPATRICK – The Doom In Us All

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music-review-ted-kirkpatrick-the-doom-in-us-allTED KIRKPATRICK
The Doom In Us All: A Tribute To Black Sabbath
Pathogenic Records
2016

To date, there have been several tributes to the progenitors of Heavy Metal, Black Sabbath. They have influenced many bands and artists from the wide array of music genres, not all of them necessarily in the Metal spectrum. And while Black Sabbath manages to also feature in every anti-rock crusader’s Top Ten list of Wicked Bands that will turn your kids to Satanism, when you actually look at the lyrics of at least the albums done with Ozzy on vocals, they really seem to be more of a warning against messing around with dark forces, rather than an endorsement for, as those wonderful Reasons Why Rock Is Of The Devil articles seem to indicate. Yeah, I’m a professing Christian who is a fan of Black Sabbath. And apparently, so is Ted Kirkpatrick, drummer/founder/sole remaining original member of the band Tourniquet.

The Doom In Us All is an EP tribute of six Black Sabbath covers, mostly gleaned from the Ozzy Osbourne days of the band. Technically, there are five actual songs (“War Pigs”, “Into The Void”, “Lord Of This World”, “Electric Funeral”, and “Children Of The Grave”), plus one less-than-a-minute instrumental (“Embryo”). Ted performs the drums and guitars, with King’s X frontman Dug Pinnick performing all the bass parts. Joining them are a bunch of guest appearances from several singers (Chris Jericho from Fozzy, Corey Glover from Living Colour, Trevor McNevan from Thousand Foot Crutch, Eric Wagner from The Skull, and Tim “Ripper” Owens, formerly “That Guy Who Replaced Rob Halford In Judas Priest”), with some guest guitar work from the likes of Scotti Hill of Skid Row, Bruce Franklin from Trouble, and Karl Sanders from Nile.

On the songs, Ted and company stick close to the original material, hardly deviating from how the songs were made. Not that it’s a bad thing; the songs are HEAVY, imbued with a thick and powerful production set to congeal the insides with a doomy flourish. They’re well done, and if I have any kind of complaint about the album, it’s that it was an EP that clocks in at a half-hour, and not a full-length with more Black Sabbath covers. Maybe get David Benson in on the fun. Regardless, this is a nice bit of unexpected from probably the last source I would expect a Black Sabbath tribute to come from.

NECRO SHOCK RADIO – January 28, 2017

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January 28,2017

Featuring Cuts From:

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