Movie Review: CHARLOTTE

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charlotteRuthless Studios
2017
NR

Once again, Amazon Prime movie streaming service, you got me. You had me thinking Charlotte was going to be a horrible low-budget knockoff of the Annabelle movies. I mean, look at that video art up there. Decrepit-looking doll with a hand put up to her lips in the universal “ssshhh” gesture, with the subtitle of “The Doll Behind The Horror”. That image alone promises nightmare-inducing unintentional laughter-inducing scary doll horror goodness.

But no, that cover — just as concepts like “love” and “human decency” — is a lie. Instead of scary doll horror movie, we get an anthology collection of eight low-budget horror shorts plus the obligatory wrap-around gathered together in an 85-minute exercise in mediocrity, with maybe a couple of bright spots scattered in there.

So, the movie starts with the standard wrap-around short, titled “Ragged Damned”, where we’re introduced to the doll that I assume is the titular Charlotte, as it’s never really mentioned what the doll’s name is. Also, it looks nothing like the doll on the cover art of the movie. Anyway, said doll somehow takes the babysitter hostage, tying her up to the couch and forcing her to watch the series of short films while slowly…turning the babysitter into a doll, somehow. It just hurts trying to figure out the logic of this.

Anyway, the first proper short, “Counter Parts”, concerns a woman who had lost one of her legs and both of her eyes in a prior accident. She decides to get back her missing bits by way of VOODOO MAGIC! cursing her more famous twin sister. Of course, there’s a lame twist at the end, here…

The second short, “Dollface”, takes place on Halloween, where a woman’s husband goes missing whilst returning a lost purse, and stumbles upon a caged up girl. Turns out, the kid is caged for a purpose…

Short number three — “Tickle” — involves another babysitter, this one telling her charge the story of a troll that likes to sneak into the bedrooms of sleeping children to…TICKLE THEIR FEET! And of course, the troll is real…

In “Good Evening”, an old man summons something from his basement, and offers it finger food. And that’s it, really…

In the fifth short, “Get Off My Porch”, a suburban guy is terrorized by girl scouts he refuses to buy cookies from. And the girls are very persuasive…

In “The Judas Cradle”, a young woman comes to in a dark, dank basement with a mysterious guy tied up to a chair (just your standard Tuesday for your Uncle NecRo). Then another man — presumably the kidnapper — comes down to explain the situation for everyone…

In “My BFF”, a bratty kid receives a mysterious package containing a doll from the Uncanny Valley, and the mother doesn’t like it…for obvious reasons…

Finally, the last short, “Howl Of A Good Time”, a young girl sneaks into a horror movie festival, where she discovers the horror fans and movie theater employees aren’t what they seem. But, that’s okay, as the girl isn’t what she seems, either…

Where to begin on this. Let’s start with what I thought were the better parts, namely “Get Off My Porch”, and “Howl Of A Good Time”. Both were great fun, having something of a Robert Bloch feel to the style, especially with “Get Off My Porch”. I should point out that the FX company Scream In The Dark Productions worked on “Howl Of A Good Time”; I bring it up because they hail from my neck of the world in Nebraska, and it’s always good to be able to support some home-grown talent when I can. Mind you, this didn’t sway my opinion on the quality of the short, as I was unaware of this until the credits rolled and I could confirm this. I also want to say that “Good Evening” gets an honorable mention, due to it leaving things unexplained and in the shadows, as it were, making the mystery of what’s going on rather intriguing. Otherwise, all of the other shorts, and especially the wrap-around, are forgettable weak sauce. The only reason to really watch this is for the two shorts I mentioned, otherwise it’s not really worth the price of a rental.

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Movie Review: The DARK TAPES

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dark tapes, theEpic Pictures Group
2016
NR

Oh, hey, look: a found footage anthology movie. On the Amazon Prime streaming. Who’da thunk it? Well, I chose to watch this due to the cover art itself, so let’s get this review over with.

If you’re new to this blog of mine, you may have noticed that I have kind of a low expectation upon found footage movies. I watch ’em because sometimes I’ve been surprised before, like with the V/H/S series, or with the first Cloverfield movie. But more often than not, they’ve turned out to be formulaic and stale, mostly involving invisible ghosts and such, always at some haunted location. Or family curse. I’m looking at you, Paranormal Activity series. I do very much enjoy the anthology style of horror movie, so at least there’s that going for The Dark Tapes. So, does this anthology flick stand up, or does it fall flat? Let’s see…

The first segment is kind of the wrap-around short, the one that is shown in segments between the segments, acting as a lose glue to hold the films together. It’s called “To Catch A Demon”, and starts kind of weak, but then gets a bit more interesting as the segments go on. It does have a Lovecraftian sci-fi feel to it, and works on a certain level, with the low point being when the trans-dimensional creature speaks. Kind of unintentionally funny, there. Anyway, the first proper short is “The Hunters And The Hunted”, which comes off as a cheap Ghost Hunters/Paranormal Activity knock-off, for the most part losing me in the “been there, done that” feeling, when suddenly there’s a twist at the end that made me nod and smile in approval. Good save, there. Up next was “Cam Girls”, and is pretty much the weakest short in this, more or less an excuse in girl-on-girl titillation and gore, all on web cams. The end “twist” is the biggest middle finger to those watching. I do give them props for not featuring any nudity in this one, just letting the story stand on its on unmitigated suckiness. And finally, “Amanda’s Revenge” centers on the titular young lady who finds herself constantly visited and tormented by otherworldly beings, frightened at first but then figuring out a way to turn the tables and chase away these ETs for good.

Overall, there’s a lot of really good ideas featured here in The Dark Tapes that suffer greatly from the execution. The strongest point here, I thought, was the wrap-around “To Catch A Demon”, which reminds me of the Lovecraft story “From Beyond”. Second best is “Amanda’s Revenge”, with “The Hunters And The Hunted” saved from a strong ending but still doesn’t justify the weak first part. “Cam Girls” is just pointless. The low-budget effects can be off-putting at times, as well as some of the acting.

In the end, The Dark Tapes doesn’t do anything to justify the continued production of found footage movies, other than they’re cheep to crank out and make money on. Check out the three V/H/S anthologies for a much better example of doing the style right.

Music Review: CRIMSON THORN – Anthology Of Brutality

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crimson thorn anthology of brutalityCRIMSON THORN
Anthology Of Brutality: 1992-2002 The Complete Collective Works
Bombworks Records
2017

As death metal goes, Crimson Thorn ranks up there in my Top 3 favorites. They’re one of the most heavy, brutal, gut-churning-ly fantastic groups to ever have graced my earholes. I caught them live at Cornerstone 2002, around the time when they released their final full-length Purification, a show that congealed my insides and left me with a warm, tingly sensation that I’m 86% sure wasn’t just a minor stroke brought on by the show. If I had one complaint about the band, it’s that the production quality–especially on their first full-length release–left a lot to be desired.

Fortunately, and at long last, the good folks at the always-awesome Bombworks Records understood this, and released a three disc boxed set of the Crimson Thorn albums, along with a few extra odds and sods, all of which are completely remastered to finally showcase the death metal the way it was supposed to be listened to: where you can feel it down deep in the bowels of your very being.

Disc one contains the 1994 debut full-length Unearthed, plus the Plagued demo from 1993. Disc two contains 1997’s Dissection, plus their contribution to the Tribute To Living Sacrifice compilation (“Anorexia Spiritual”), and “Something Else”. Disc three contains 2002’s Purification release, plus three live cuts from a show in Minneapolis: “Intro/Imminent Wrath”, “Sarcastic Deviation”, and “Putrid Condemnation”.

If you’re anything like me, then you already own all of these releases, including the Live In Minneapolis DVD. Well, there’s still a very good reason to get Anthology Of Brutality, and that’s because the remastering has made everything sound superb. The sound is no longer muddled–especially on both the Plagued demo and Unearthed releases–and all of the delicious brutality goodness is made nice, clear and solid. If you’re tired of not being able to crank up Crimson Thorn’s discography as you’d like, Anthology Of Brutality has got you covered.

If you’re wanting a physical copy of the boxed set itself, this was limited to 500 copies, so you’d probably want to be quick about it. However, the songs are also available for digital download from Amazon, which is where I purchased my copy, and if you’re okay with that, it still sounds fantastic. Either way you go, Anthology Of Brutality comes highly recommended by your Uncle NecRo, and gets an enthusiastic five-out-of-five Metal Horns Up.

Movie Review: SOUTHBOUND

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southboundDark Sky Films
2015
R

“This next one might be familiar to some of you. It’s for all of you out there who don’t want the night to end. So go ahead, make some mistakes. You can always get it right the next time.”

Interlocking tales of highway terror revolve around malevolent spirits at a truck stop, a mysterious traveler, a car accident and a home invasion.

Southbound is an anthology type horror film that, while not really a sequel entry in the V/H/S series of horror anthology movies, does feature work by many filmmakers that worked previously on those movies as well. No other tie-in, as Southbound is its own entity. Just found that interesting for some odd reason.

The concept here involves a dark desert highway (cool wind in my hair) where travelers on this stretch confront their worst nightmares and darkest secrets as weird supernatural stuff happens to them. There are five stories that interlock throughout the movie:

“The Way Out”
We open on a couple of guys driving a beat up pickup down the highway, where it’s clear that, due to their appearance and general behavior, something bad had just happened not too long prior. They’re being pursued by these ghastly apparitions (that will be popping up in all of the other bits in the movie), and they stop at this run-down diner/gas station to freshen up and maybe shake the things off of their tail. Of course, they soon realize they’re stuck in a bizarre reality, and after one of the guys is finally killed by one of the apparitions, the other is led to a motel, and is trapped in one of the rooms in his own personal hell…

“Siren”
Cut to another room at the motel, and we are introduced to three college-age girls just waking up and leaving their room, and take off in their van. Turns out these girls are a band called The White Tights, and while motorin’ down the road, they get a flat. They’re picked up by a weird, eccentric couple (think the Brady Bunch parents but more over the top), who take them to their home and feed them burnt meatloaf. One of the girls doesn’t eat due to being a vegetarian, so she doesn’t get to become part of the secret cult the couple are a part of. She escapes being chased around, has some disturbing visions of a dead friend, and runs out onto the highway, only to be hit by the guy in the next story…

“The Accident”
The guy who hit the girl was distracted by talking to his wife on the cell phone (don’t dial and drive, kiddies). He panics, and instead of bolting he does the noble thing and stays with her, calling 911, who directs him to drive her to the nearby town and directs him to the hospital. Only, it turns out the hospital is abandoned. For quite some time. And he’s being instructed on how to administer treatment…which doesn’t go well. And then the EMT and dispatch on the phone start laughing at him. Then he gets a new set of clothes from one of the lockers, along with a new phone and car keys to a new car, then leaves…

“Jailbreak”
Which is when we discover the “dispatcher” that was talking with the guy was really a woman on a pay phone watching the guy drive off. She then goes to a bar named The Trap, where a guy with a shotgun comes in demanding where his sister is. He takes the bartender hostage and forces him to take him to where his sister is, which turns out to be a mystic tattoo parlor located in the back side of an ice cream parlor. There, he finds his sister doing some old school tattoo work, and he announces that he’s there to rescue her…only she tells him she’s there by choice and doesn’t want to leave. The guy responds by killing the bartender and kidnapping his sister, driving off into the darkness…where the car breaks down off road, and his sister tells him she was the one who killed their parents all those years ago, and she deserves to live in the town. Demons then grab the guy and pull him out of the car as she walks back into town…

“The Way In”
Back at the ice creme parlor (which is named Freez’n Over….ha ha ha), a girl and her parents are finishing up their food. Turns out the girl is about to head off to college, and this is their last weekend together. They head over to their vacation house and are settling in, when suddenly three unexpected guests in masks show up and hold the parents hostage, as the girl was able to hide. One of the masked invaders alludes to knowing a dark secret the dad is hiding, then kills the mother. The girl attacks, and runs away while her father is killed, one of the killers holding up a picture of a girl that we first saw in the opening story. The girl returns to attack, but is accidentally killed…and that’s when those ghoulish apparitions begin appearing out of the ground, and the two remaining guys from the first story take off in their pickup…

Of them all, I liked “The Accident” and “Jailbreak” the most, in that order. The other three were all right, and had their moments. As a whole, there was a good creepy vibe going on, and I liked the way things were tying in with each other. But overall, there wasn’t much to really blow my mind about. The shorts were well-made, and you are entertained, but that’s about it. Southbound works best if you think of it as a horror anthology comic book brought to life, like Creepshow. It’s worth checking out some night.

Music Review: PANTOKRATOR – A Decade Of Thoughts

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pantokrator - a decade of thoughtsPANTOKRATOR
A Decade Of Thoughts
Momentum Scandinavia
2007

In what I do, with collecting, listening to, and blogging my thoughts on so much \,,/METAL\,,/ that graces my earholes over the past couple of decades (plus some change), it comes to a point where a band has to be extra specially awesome to stick out. Pantokrator is one of those bands. Ever since picking p the In The Bleak Midwinter / Songs Of Solomon split with Sanctifica at Cornerstone 2002, they’ve managed to maintain a presence in my Frequently Played playlist since.

And like many other Death Metal bands imported from Europe, there was going to be releases that I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint and get leading up to what was available in the States, without paying an arm and a leg, or spelunking in the feted depths of rarities and opp trading and selling. Ebay was still in its early stages, after all. Fortunately, the next best thing to having all the demos and early EPs re-released on a boxed set collection, in 2007 Momentum Scandinavia released a compilation entitled A Decade Of Thoughts, featuring selections from the demos, EPs, and other work of the past ten years leading up to this.

On this particular compilation, there are cuts pulled from 1997’s Unclean Plants / Ancient Path demo (“Punish The Evil”, “Unclean Plants”), 1998’s Even Unto The Ends Of The Earth demo (“Via Dolorosa”), 2000’s Allhärskare EP (“Lamentation”), 2001’s Songs Of Solomon EP (“Come Let Us Flee”, “Separated By Night”), their 2003 full-length Blod (“Bundsfoervant”, “Gudablodets Kraft”, “Tidevarv”), the “Leviathan” single that was released earlier that year, plus four previously unreleased songs: “Nebuchadnezzar” (which would go on to be “The Madness Of Nebuchadnezzar” on the full-length Aurum release later that year), a cover of Vengeance Rising’s “Cut Into Pieces”, “White Robes” and “Psalm 29”. The production on all of the songs is very good, and the music is…well, it’s Pantokrator. Meaning it’s some very high-quality progressive death metal, even in their early stages.

Overall, A Decade Of Thoughts is a good compilation. I would have maybe preferred a few more selections from the albums that only had one cut represented on here, but for a chance to take a look at the earlier works of one of my favorite death metal bands, this was enough to slate my thirst.

Book Review: The HARLAN ELLISON COLLECTION: I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

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I have no mouth and i must screamHarlan Ellison
Ace Books
1984

Slowly but surely I am assimilating eBooks into my reading habit. Not that I’m fully converted to the digital style of reading a book; I’m still very much old-school when it comes to that, I can assure you. But, even I have to admit that there are some advantages to reading something electronically. Like when you’re on a rather long download at work, and can access the ebook account there for some quality reading time while you’re waiting for that dial-up download to go through. Seriously, in this day and age, why do are there still dialups going on?

Anyway, one of the ebooks I purchased was this nifty thing featuring seven short stories by science fiction icon Harlan Ellison. Mostly because for years I’ve been hearing about how the title story was one of the more haunting and scary pieces of science fiction horror written. But, also as kind of a taster for the author himself, as I wasn’t really all that familiar with Ellison, beyond his reputation of not being able to play well with others. Also, he wrote a classic episode of Star Trek TOS. Here are the stories and my thoughts on ’em:

“I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream”
…the classic story of a sentient computer that came self-aware during World War III and killed off all of humanity, save for five, which it (he?) keeps alive for the simple reason to torture them throughout the centuries. I have to admit, this is a very haunting and nihilistic post apocalyptic tale, very effective. Just the way I like it. I can see why this is loved in the Science Fiction community.

“Big Sam Was My Friend”
…a sad tale of an intergalactic circus performer that was put to death due to his interruption of a virgin sacrifice. Also, he can teleport. Also, his circus chums let it happen due to business. It’s quite bittersweet, really.

“Eyes Of Dust”
…on a planet of perfect beauty, the “ugly” couple have a kid equally as ugly, and it doesn’t sit well with the Normals. This one is rather brief, and I get the feeling that there could have been more explored within the context of the story, but it just kind of escalates quickly and then ends.

“World of the Myth”
…three space-faring explorers crash-land on a planet, and while waiting for their rescue ship to arrive, have a run-in with an indigenous species of insects. And yes, wackiness ensues. This one kind of reminded me of a variation of the Outer Limits episode “The Sandkings”, with the insects that are more than what we would perceive them as. Or, more to the point, as they would perceive us as.

“Lonelyache”
…a divorced man slowly goes insane. It doesn’t end well, as you may have deduced by now. Very bleak, very melancholy. Also, it makes me question my desire to not remain single for the entirety of my life.

“Delusion for a Dragon Slayer”
…an average man living a mundane existence happens to be a mere few minutes late on his usual routine and is crushed by a wrecking ball…and that’s when the adventure begins. This was more a straight fantasy, like one of the Dreamland tales of H. P. Lovecraft, with a rather melancholy ending. Not too bad, this.

“Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes”
…a down-on-his-luck guy uses his last literal dollar on a slot machine in Vegas, and begins to win big; the reason of which involves the ghost of a lady that died playing that very slot six months prior.

I have to admit, I had no idea of what to expect when first taking in the stories. It turns out that Ellison’s style is really more of a blend of science fiction, some fantasy and horror, with everything marinated heavily in dark existential nihilism. It’s kind of like Philip K. Dick without the mental illness, and just jaded and grumpy. Which is what I dig. Also, his introductions are insightful, yes, but also a riot.

As a first timer checking out his work, I found this collection to be more than beneficial. I was rather sad that it ended so soon, really. Highly recommended to check out.

Book Review: FULL DARK, NO STARS

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Book Review FULL DARK, NO STARSStephen King
Scribner
2010

Stephen King excels at telling stories. That’s pretty much the basic gist of it, I guess. He’s been telling stories in many different formats over several decades, which means he’s capable of telling tales that manage to break the bounds of the genre that most have pigeonholed him in. Which, I guess, is my lame way to start off this review for his third collection of novellas to have been published, Full Dark, No Stars.

The four stories collected here lean more to the hard-boild crime chiller type of stories that, had this been a different time, probably would have been published under King’s former pen name Richard Bachman. But, before I get too far, let’s take a look at the individual stories contained herein, shall we?

“1922”
…a Nebraska farmer writes a confession/suicide note detailing the bad year he had in 1922. It’s a murder chiller that plays out like a classic story from the old EC Comics thrillers of old.

“Big Driver”
…this was a hard one for me to get through, mainly due to the subject matter of a woman who is raped and gets her revenge on the culprits. The whole violence against women thing makes me sick to my stomach; regardless, this was a good hard-boiled revenge thriller with…well, I wouldn’t say a “happy ending”. Would that even be possible ever again?

“Fair Extension”
…the shortest story in this collection, it would be a stretch to call this a novella, given that it’s just a skosh over thirty pages. And for whatever reason, I pictured Jason Alexander (of Seinfeld fame) playing the part as the Devil in this story. Anyway, kind of a darker Twilight Zone type of story, where a guy who’s had nothing but bad luck happens upon someone who can give him a new lease on life, for a certain price.

“A Good Marriage”
…a wife’s long-time and idealistic (if not a bit hum-drum) marriage existence gets shaken to the core when she accidentally finds out her husband might be a notorious serial killer. Pretty tense, and the ending is straight out of a Columbo mystery.

Overall, the collection within Full Dark, No Stars aren’t so much supernatural horror, so much as hard boiled thrillers from the same vein as the EC Comic and the Alfred Hitchcock pulp magazines. Obviously, there’s going to be a touch of the supernatural style, mostly with “A Fair Extension”; most of the horror, though, is derived from regular everyday people finding themselves in a very non-regular and dark situation, where there’s no hope of coming out unscathed. Like I mentioned earlier you might say these are Richard Bachman stories that King just decided to put his regular name on.

I really should note that two stories from here have already been made into movies: “Big Driver”, which was made into a Lifetime movie, and “A Good Marriage”. And there’s been news of “1922” being made into one as well. I haven’t watched any of the two movie adaptations, and probably won’t any time soon. As far as reading the book goes, yeah, no regrets doing so. It’s a Stephen King book for certain. What more can I say?

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