Book Review: AMISH VAMPIRES IN SPACE (Peril In Plain Space #1)

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amish vampires in space

Kerry Nietz
Fireheads Publishing
2013

  • Jebediah has a secret that will change his world forever and send his people into space. The Amish world of Alabaster calls upon an ancient promise to escape destruction. Then end up on a cargo ship bound for the stars. But they are not the only cargo on board. Some of it is alive…or used to be. Now, with vampires taking over and closing in on the Amish refugees, these simple believers must decide whether their faith depends upon their honored traditions or something even older.

A couple of years ago, while bored at work, I was amusing myself by doing Google searches on words that were absurd when paired together: words like “Wafflecone Conspiracy”, “Polka Metal”, “Government Intelligence”, things like that. Just to see what wackiness would pop up. One of those searches was for “Amish Vampires”. And lo and behold, the link for this actual novel, Amish Vampires in Space, popped up. Which tells me that there are clearly other people out there whose brains work just like mine. That should be enough to give anyone pause.

Anyway, as a title like Amish Vampires in Space falls squarely in the Shut Up And Take My Money files, I purchased the Kindle edition of this book, just to check it out, sight unseen. No idea what the book was about…but I had an inkling that, somehow, this would involve Amish vampires. In space. I mean, it’s right there in the title. Brilliant, that. Besides, even it it turned out to be someone’s poorly written subReddit fan-fic that somehow found its way to getting published for realsies, I can at least hold my head up high, and proclaim from the rooftops that I have, indeed, read a book titled Amish Vampires in Space.

I haven’t even gotten to the review of the thing, and I am savoring this for all it’s worth.

So, a little backstory: Apparently, this title came about because the owner of the book’s publishing company was contemplating how popular Amish romance novels were in the Christian fiction market. I don’t know what it’s like now, but there was a time when Christian book publishers’ collective credo involving romance fiction–or, possibly any kind of religious fiction in general–was, “If it ain’t Amish, don’t bother submitting.” Or something like that. Then he started thinking about how popular vampires were in young adult fiction in the general market, and came up with the idea of producing cover art for a fake book he had no intention of actually publishing, more as a satirical goof on the genres. And that was that…until author Kerry Nietz contacted the publisher with an actual idea for the story of Amish Vampires in Space. And so they did. Mind you, they stipulated that he had to have an actual story to give them, and they reserved the right to reject publication. The fact that this not only got published, but also has a sequel further intrigued me.

But, enough prattling about the making of. Let’s get to what you’re really here for: What do I, your Uncle NecRo, think of Amish Vampires in Space? And, can I manage to continue typing out that title without giggling like a five-year-old who heard his grandmother pass gas while bending over?

To answer the later question first: No. I cannot. But, you probably suspected that.

As to the former question: Amish Vampires in Space is a subversive novel of science fiction goodness that takes a rather absurd sounding premise, and manages to weave a story that makes it all not only plausible, but also manages to be an engaging and heart-felt and well thought-out novel chock full of drama, comedy, and action to keep even the most jaded of sci-fi geek engaged to the end of the book. The writing style takes a very cinematic style, keeping the story moving, despite the over-400 page length of the book. I found myself enjoying pretty much every page from when I picked it up, and finding it hard to put back down.

Overall: Whether you pick up a copy of Amish Vampires in Space because of the gonzo title alone (like I did) or more out of morbid curiosity, you will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the story contained herein. This isn’t one of those subReddit fan-fics that got lucky, like 50 Shade of Toxic Relationships; this is actually well-written. Recommended.

Movie Review: 31 (Thirty-One)

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31

Lionsgate
2016
R

“You know what they say, Kemosabe. In Hell, everybody loves popcorn.”

  • Five carnival workers are kidnapped and held hostage in an abandoned Hell-like compound where they are forced to participate in a violent game, the goal of which is to survive twelve hours against a gang of sadistic clowns.

When it comes to Rob Zombie movies, love ’em or hate ’em, you can’t deny that you won’t be bored with them. With a style planted firmly in the 1970s-era exploitation style horror, calling his movies “over-the-top” just doesn’t seem to do it justice. Also, his movies seem to be able to give you the benefit of an acid trip without actually having to drop acid.

Same as it was with his 2016 flick 31. While Zombie’s previous movie, Lords Of Salem, was more of a psychological horror, 31 leans more to his House Of 1000 Corpses-style of intense, bloody and ultra-violent slasher style of movie, chock full of the kind of mind-bending insanity-inducing visuals you would come to expect from Rob Zombie in the first place.

On the plus side, at least Zombie doesn’t fill his movies with a bunch of pretty people. And these characters aren’t pretty, both in their looks and their speech. But, you should know by now that the characters in his movies revels in the ugliness. There’s a certain twisted charm in that, really.

In 31, we have an RV full of carny workers traveling to their next gig, traversing the bi-ways of 1970s America, when they stop at a gas station and comes across the local weirdos. Later than night, they come across a roadblock and are kidnapped by goons dressed in Freddy Kruger sweaters, and wake up in a warehouse, where they’re told via loudspeaker by a group of people dressed like 17th Century French aristocrats that they’ve been volunteered to play a game called “Thirty-One”, and for the next 12 hours they will be in kind of a Most Dangerous Game type setup, only they’re pursued by several different murderous clowns, and if any of them happen to survive the 12 hours, they win! Only, they never really get around to saying¬†what it is they win, as nobody’s ever really one one of these games before. So, of course, you already know that one of ’em are going to survive. But, I digress. The clowns include a diminutive Latino dressed as a Nazi called Sick-Head, a couple of redneck wackos named Psycho-Head and Schizo-Head, a guy-girl team named Death-Head and Sex-Head (respectively), and when all of those fail, they call in the fan-favorite pinch-hitter Doom-Head, who was taking this year off and wasn’t in a good mood to have his Halloween festivities interrupted.

I wonder if it says anything about my own mental state by how I can watch a Rob Zombie movie like this and just shrug and say, “Okay, sure.” at the insanity that was unfolding in front of me while watching 31. For those of you who want your movies to ultimately make sense in the end…nope, 31 isn’t the movie for you. Sure, I was left with many more questions than answers while watching this: Why do they call the game “31”? Why is Malcolm McDowell dressed in a powdered wig and foppish 18th-century regalia? Does Rob Zombie really think that actual dialogue works like that? Doubtful that these and other questions will ever be answered, but I’m thinking that’s the point. I’m fine with insanity for insanity’s sake.

What this boils down to, though, is that 31 isn’t exactly what you would call a genre-defining movie. It falls squarely in the torture-porn exploitation style, with its sheer madness being the most amusing part of the flick. I wasn’t expecting a full mind-blowing freak horror that got under my skin and stayed there like Lords Of Salem; this, however, did feel ultimately like going through the motions. Good for a rental.

Movie Review: SPIRIT STALKERS

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spirit stalkers
Big Biting Pig Productions
2012
NR

“Expectant attention is not a mistake the Spirit Stalkers make.”

  • The Spirit Stalkers reality show, once a big hit, faces cancellation without a rating boost, which leads the investigative team to Gloria Talman, whose house is rampant with unexplained ghostly activity.

During my extended period of health-related exile in the year of our Lord 2019, I did watch a bunch of free-for-streaming movies on Amazon, and yet somehow managed to hold on to some semblance of sanity.

One of these movies that wound up in my watching que was 2012’s Spirit Stalkers, a direct-to-video horror flick that, on the surface, looked like another one of those found footage / mocumentary style movies about a group of ghost hunters who happen to stumble upon a real haunting. Since these kind of movies are almost literally a dime a dozen, I steeled myself for what I hoped would at least be a so-bad-it’s-good kind of movies. So, imagine my surprise when Spirit Stalkers wound up doing something slightly different than what was expected.

The Spirit Stalkers in question is a reality television show about a team of ghost hunters lead by a guy who is more concerned with uncovering the truth behind the aledged “hauntings” than relying on the sensationalism tactics. Of course, this is not good for ratings, and the producers and other cast members try to introduce more ratings-grabbing tactics–ghost hunting gadgets, suggesting there are real ghosts, trying out new catch phrases and younger cast members–he’s finally told to either find a real haunting, or get canceled. Fortunately for him, there appears to be an actual, honest-to-goodness haunting going on in the house of a single mother, where she and her teenage daughter seem to be experiencing weird things. So the Spirit Stalkers are on the case! But, will this wind up to be another fake haunting easily explained by science, or is there something more sinister going on? The answer is yes.

I’ll start off by saying that I’ve seen far worse independent horror flicks than Spirit Stalkers. It has its flaws, and make no mistake, I will be addressing them. But at least this was made with some skill, rather than a camcorder and delusions of adequacy. Here, there’s some decent editing, along with some very well executed framing and cinematography, lending to some good atmosphere. And at least part of the storyline has an intriguing kernel of an idea that I wish they would have explored more.

For me, the parts of the movie that worked the best were the television show angle itself. What they should have done was make that the main focus, leaving the bits with the lady and her daughter at the house introduced later on. Instead, the flashing back and forth constantly between the two interrupted the flow of the narrative something bad. Making things even more convoluted is the tendency to feature memory flashbacks that don’t really contribute to the story and makes one more confused than anything.

Also working against the movie is the subpar acting, which isn’t as bad as I’ve come across elsewhere, but is still cringe-inducing at times. But, like I said, I do like what they did with the ending. It wasn’t jaw-dropping or game-changing, but I respect the direction they took.

Overall: If I actually used a numerical system for rating these things, I would go with a 2 out of 5. It’s surprisingly much more watchable than your usual stable of haunting movies, but nothing that results in a must-see. Good for a time waster.

Movie Review: BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA

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1992 dracula
Columbia Pictures
1992
R

“I want you to bring me, before nightfall, a set of post mortem knives.”
“An autopsy? On Lucy?”
“No, no, no. Not exactly. I just want to cut off her head and take out her heart.”

  • From Academy Award-winning director Francis Ford Coppola comes the classic and chilling tale about the devastatingly seductive Transylvanian prince who travels from Eastern Europe to 19th-Century London in search of human love. When the charismatic Dracula meets Mira, a young woman who appears as the reincarnation of his lost love, the two embark on a journey of romantic passion and horror.

I wonder–is Bram Stoker’s iconic vampire novel Dracula the book that’s been adapted for the big screen the most? Seriously, that seems to have been given the celluloid treatment almost as soon as the book was originally published, and movie making was invented. It’s probably not, but I would say that maybe it would be in the Top 10, if not the Top 5. I’m sure there’s a list on some pop culture website out there.

Anyway, Dracula is one of the big Classic Movie Monsters that you don’t even have to have seen any of the movies to know about. Dracula is an icon. But, most only know about Bella Legosi’s iconic take on the vampire prince, with the cape and the tuxedo and the eyes you could get hypnotized with for days…

Um, what were we talking about, again? Oh, right.

When it comes to the movies, what every big screen adaptation of the novel have in common–besides a vampire named Dracula (unless it’s Nosferatu, which is a different kind of adaptation entirely)–is that they all veer away to something different from the source material, despite claims to be faithful to the novel. And in 1992, movie auteur Frances Ford Coppola made his attempt at a “faithful adaptation of the book” a shot.

For those of us familiar with the novel itself, Coppola’s adaptation opens with a scene that’s nowhere in the book: An explanation of the origin of the titular character by tying in lore of the historical inspiration, Vlad Dracula, back in the 1400s, to maybe make some sense as to why the guy lives so long and has a thirst for blood. Eh, it’s a valiant effort. Anyway, from there the movie takes most of its cues from the novel itself, with some liberal helpings of artistic license slathered on to keep things from getting too bogged down from the source material’s literary structure.

So, after Vlad renounces God and desecrates the chapel by drinking blood from an impaled cross because his wife committed suicide (as you do), we flash forward to 1897, where a young British go-getter solicitor Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania to meet with his new client, one Count Dracula, to discuss and arrange the Count’s new real estate acquisitions in London. The Count seems a trifle odd, but that may be chalked up to cultural differences and all that. However, after Dracula spots a picture of Jonathan’s betrothed–Mina–he believes her to be the reincarnation of his long-dead wife, and throws Jonny to his vamperic brides and sets off to England to find the woman of his dreams. Or something. Coincidentally, Mina’s BFF Lucy’s health starts deteriorating, which is determined to be the result of a vampire attack by the socially awkward Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, here looking nothing like Wolverine, and then Nina goes to Romania because she got word that Jonathan managed to escape Dracula’s castle, and the two get married there. Moving back to London, Dr. Van Helsing leads the charge to take down Dracula, but the Count totally evades them, killing off his former servant Renfield, then turning Mina into one of the undead, leading to a showdown between Dracula’s forces and Van Helsing’s Heroes on Dracula’s home turf. Wackiness and gloriously bad acting ensue.

The best thing going about this take on Dracula is the heavy Gothic atmosphere that oozes out of the film. Gary Oldman does an outstanding job as the titular antagonist of the movie, giving his Dracula a pathos and melancholy to the undead embodiment of evil, even when he’s wearing perhaps the goofiest looking hairpiece I’ve ever seen. Also, Coppola made this using old-school practical effects, essentially eschewing any CGI trickery to achieve that authentic old school feel of the movie. It looks great. And Sir Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing is probably the best character in this movie. That said, all the reports of the acting being incredibly wooden and off from the other actors? Yeah, I have to admit that is on display here. Especially with Keanu Reeves, affecting a rather…interesting British accent, let’s just say. The same with Winona Ryder, playing the Mina opposite Reeve’s Harker. But, really, it’s Billy Campbell as the over-the-top Texan Quincey Morris that gets me whenever I watch this. It’s just such a greatly cliche’d performance, it’s like the quintessential version of how British people view Americans, it seems like.

Overall: I absolutely adore this adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This isn’t the first time a Dracula movie was made that tied in the Vlad Tepes source for the fictional character–there was a 1973 television version that was done that did just that. I love the style, the Gothic atmosphere, the soundtrack used which goes great with a dark night and candles, there’s much here to like. If you haven’t seen this one yet, do yourself a favor and give it a watch. Even if you end up not liking it that much, there’s going to be something here you will like. Worth a rental some dark, moonless night in winter.

Movie Review: CHILD’S PLAY (2019)

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child's play 2019
United Artists Releasing
2019
R

“If they don’t let us play, they all go away.”

  • After moving to a new city, young Andy Barclay receives a special present from his mother–a seemingly innocent Buddi doll that becomes his best friend. When the doll suddenly takes on a life of its own, Andy unites with other neighborhood children to stop the sinister toy from wreaking bloody havoc.

I would guess it was inevitable that a movie like Child’s Play was going to get the remake treatment. I mean, everything is getting remade nowadays, amirite? Well, yeah…but the story behind how this movie ended up being remade while the original version of the Child’s Play franchise continues to put out sequels is rather interesting. You should look it up some time.

Anyway, when news of this remake/reboot/whatever of the 1988 supernatural doll slasher classic come about my usual horror nerd feeds, I vowed to never, ever watch it. Especially after I learned that this new version was going to dispense with the doll possessed by the soul of a serial killer angle, and going with a more “grounded” faulty AI programming angle. Yeah, I’ve seen that episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, thankyouverymuch. Another pointless remake to cash in on 80s nostalgia. Thanks, but no thanks.

But, obviously I ended up watching this movie. I don’t do a review of something I haven’t watched. *sigh* Yeah, I was bored one evening during the extended medical leave I was on, and so I figured, “How bad could it be?” Besides, it wouldn’t be the first terrible remake I watched, if it turned out to be as horrible as I feared. So, I talked myself out of my vow of never watching 2019’s Child’s Play, and gave it a watch.

I really, really hate to say this–and it shames me for having to do so–but Child’s Play 2019 is…deep breath…a good movie.

I am conflicted. I mean, I really wanted to at least not like this version. No voodoo black magic, no Brad Dourif, no potty-mouthed wise-cracking serial killer possessed doll. I already knew that going into this, mind you. But, after the first 20 minutes or so, so help me, but I found myself sucked into the story, and completely forgetting that this was a remake I was supposed to hate with every fiber of my gelatinous being.

So, here we essentially have a smartdoll whose AI chip had the safety protocols taken off by a disgruntled programmer, and the doll “learning” how to be a sociopath killer through pop culture and good old-fashioned social awkwardness. The story is nothing new or innovative–I’ve actually seen this premise as an episode of the 90s-era Outer Limits–but at least they tried something besides retreading the original movie. Sure, the doll has a modern tweak to its look, and it’s now spelled as Buddi and functions more as a glorified Alexa device, which is really more of the premise of an early 1990s syndicated sitcom. Somehow, this works as a horror movie.

While he’ll never replace Brad Dourif as the iconic voice of Chucky, Mark Hamill manages to make his take both playful and utterly creepy at the same time. Very effective, there–especially when you get to the full Buddi Song that plays over the end credits. All of the actors keep things interesting, as the actors doing really good jobs with the characters; I especially dug on seeing Aubrey Plaza here as the mother, as I was a fan of her work in the series Legion.

Overall, there was no reason for me to enjoy this new take on Child’s Play as much as I ended up doing. But, here we are, with me actually liking this movie, and recommending you to do so yourself.

Movie Review: RETURN TO HORROR HOTEL

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return to horror hotel
Indie Rights
2019
NR

  • Anthology of twisted tales spanning horror/sci-fi/suspense. Giant attacking bed bugs, a magical charm turns girls into beauty queens, a WWII sailor who hasn’t aged, and the terrorizing severed hand of dead magician Harry Houdini.

So, here we are again, taking a second dip into the collected shorts gleaned from the Horror Hotel web series, Return To Horror Hotel. Look, I understand that I’m obligated to watch the sequel to one of the more painful horror anthologies I’ve had the displeasure of watching; if you know me, you understand that I have something of an almost irresistible urge to watch the sequel to any movie I’ve seen, regardless of how awful and/or painful it might have been. It’s the same thing with books and television shows. I may need to seek professional help.

Anyway, in Return To Horror Hotel, we’re once again reminded of the definition of “misnomer” as we visit the seedy motel in the middle of nowhere with four shorts: “Sleep Tight”, where a couple of young kids check in with the World’s Worst Aunt and have to spend the night staying safe from giant bed bugs that were mutated by the blood of a steroid using body builder. “Guillotine” has a beauty pageant contestant with a personality that would make Cardi B look like Mother Teresa trade her car for a pendant made from a piece of wood from the guillotine used on Marie Antoinette that supposedly makes the wearer irresistibly beautiful. “No Time For Love” finds a young woman delivering a book to a reclusive World War II Naval vet who seems to have not aged a day since taking up residence in the motel. And finally, “Houdini’s Hand” ends things with a couple of petty thieves who have stolen the titular hand, said to give whoever possesses the mummified hand the ability to get into any locked location, and of course they soon discover they got more than they bargained for, especially when the original owner demands that they return the item.

I have to admit that, unlike the first Horror Hotel movie, there is actually a bright spot hidden within here: “No Time For Love”, which actually plays things relatively straight, resulting in an actual thought-provoking and effective Twilight Zone-style short. Mind you, the premise seems to have been borrowed from the 1992 movie Forever Young, but still–a seed of potential, this one. Give it the ol’ spit-n-polish in the production and acting, and we have something memorable.

As far as the other three go, however, Return To Horror Hotel is more of the same kind of bad acting, bad scripting, bad production and ultra campiness that made watching the first Horror Hotel so painful. “Sleep Tight” was far too busy for its own good, and when the child actors are the least annoying things in your short, that really says something about the acting quality. Also, how come we never got more of that motel manager? I want more of him, please. Him and his ever-present bucket of chicken. Here’s your unofficial mascot/host of the series, guys. Anyway, “Guillotine” was just annoying, and apart from a few unintentional chuckles I got from “Houdini’s Hand”, that one was rather forgettable.

Overall: Return To Horror Hotel is another disappointing check-in. You can find much better horror anthology flicks out there. Pass this one up.

Movie Review: BOOK OF MONSTERS

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book of monsters
Dread Central Presents
2018
NR

“If I was a monster hunter, I’d have kept a shotgun above the fireplace.”

  • Sophie’s 18th birthday becomes a bloodbath when monsters descend upon her house and start to devour the party guests. Sophie and her friends must rally¬†together to send their party crashers back to hell.

In this current era of “socially conscience” cerebral horror and a bunch of Millennial horrors, it’s sometimes refreshing just to sit back and take in a fun, mindless monster flick, heavy on the camp and loaded with practical effect goodness. Book Of Monsters is one such movie.

Released as a VOD flick that’s available on the Prime streamin’ I utilize for my cheesy horror fix, Book Of Monsters takes the basic outline for Night Of The Demons, only set it in an 18th birthday party at the house where the birthday girl in question’s mum was a demon slayer (killed off in a flashback prelude at the start of the movie). Also, this film is British, so that’s why I said “mum”.

This movie is what you would call a throwback to the direct-to-video gems you would find at the video stores in the 1980s, 90s and 2000s. It’s a horror flick that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but also doesn’t devolve into a wacky comedy either. The effects are 100% practical, with some rather neat gore effects as well as monster getups. There is a scene involving garden gnomes that encapsulates the overall gist of the entire movie–mindless, campy, over-the-top and glorious. That said, there are some pacing issues, but nothing so bad as to completely lose my attention.

Overall, Book Of Monsters seemed like a good way to kill off 90 minutes while bedridden with health issues, and turned out to be far more fun than it should have been. Worth a look-see.

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