Movie Review: BAD KIDS OF CRESTVIEW ACADAMY

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Movie Review BAD KIDS OF CRESTVIEW ACADEMYSony
2017
R

It’s four years later, and a new group of students has been placed in Saturday detention at the infamous and prestigious Crestview Acadey. When Siouxsie, sophomore ‘undercrust,’ crashes the party to avenge her sister’s death, a Saturday detention reserved for the privileged seniors of Crestview Academy turns into a date in hell. It’s not long before a naive pussycat lover, gay drug dealer, smokin’ hot preacher’s daughter, squeaky-clean senator’s son, and the uninvited younger outsider find themselves locked-up in school with no way out, wondering who (or what) has set them up. Hilarity and suspense ensue while each ‘bad kid’ pits one against the other, and one by one each falls victim to absurdly gruesome ‘accidents’ while trying to escape.

On the strength of the better-than-it-should-have-been Bad Kids Go To Hell, I decided to immediately watch it’s sequel, Bad Kids Of Crestview Academy, as kind of a back-to-back double feature. The result was…well, I’m not surprised, let’s just say.

I’ll just come out and say that Bad Kids Of Crestview Academy is a lackluster sequel, and kind of a mediocre movie in and of itself. We have the same basic premise of the first–weekend detention with a whole new bunch of stereotypes kids, only one of them has infiltrated their upper crust clique’ to solve the murder of her older sister at a party.

Mind you, things are a bit more subverted with the plot when compared to the first movie, as the kids never get to the library (it’s locked and no one knows the security code), and the whole conspiracy hinted at in the first one is more to the fore here. And there’s no implication of any kind of “hauntings” here, just a bunch of serial killer offings of everyone until the culprit is revealed in the third act, with the remaining movie kind of losing steam until the end.

It really says something that the best parts of this movie involved brief scenes with Sean “Still Working After Lord Of The Rings” Astin, taking over from Judd Nelson as Headmaster Nash, who hams it up with cheerful abandon. Outside of that, we have characters who lean more towards annoying rather than quirky, there are so many flashback scenes injected in the main narrative that it would give Quentin Tarantino a headache, and the big reveal of who’s doing the killing is revealed rather early in the movie (not that we didn’t finger the culprit early on just by virtue of having seen so many of these things to begin with…also, there’s a scene that not-so-subtly gives things away if you pay attention), turning the rest of the movie into a siege movie for the last third.

Bad Kids Of Crestview Acadamy was “Meh”. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the movie it was a sequel to, but at least it didn’t try to just rehash the entire plot of that one. This movie needed more involvement from Sean Astin, for certain. Watch it if the thought of not seeing the sequel gets you twitchy, otherwise you can just skip this one.

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Movie Review: BAD KIDS GO TO HELL

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Movie Review BAD KIDS GO TO HELLPhase 4 Films
2012
R

“Like a massive gravity sinkhole, he deforms every positive thought he encounters before sucking it into a vortex from Hell.”

On a stormy Saturday afternoon, six students from Crestview Academy begin to meet horrible fates as they serve out their detentions. Is a fellow student to blame, or perhaps Crestview’s alleged ghosts are behind the terrible acts?

Giving credit where credit is due, I only learned about Bad Kids Go To Hell by way of this movie’s sequel, Bad Kids Of Crestview Academy. I was browsing the Upcoming Rental Releases on the Family Video website (I usually go there to see what’s coming up, then use that to see if I can rent the streaming video on Amazon or Google Plus or whatnot). I came across the sequel title, did a bit of research, realized it was a sequel, and then checked out the original one first to watch, because OCD.

Useless fact: Bad Kids Go To Hell is based on a “best selling” graphic novel that I’ve never heard of (no surprise there, as I had forsaken all comics since that “One More Day” abomination that Marvel did with Spider-Man), and was seemingly released nationwide in December of 2012 to presumably every other theater except for any in Eastern Nebraska, because I don’t recall any of the theaters in Omaha or Lincoln getting this. But, I digress.

Having watched Bad Kids Go To Hell (for some odd reason, I presumed it was British in origin…it is not…sadly), I must admit that I was surprisingly entertained. It’s kind of a mash-up with The Breakfast Club (including Judd Nelson as the school’s headmaster) and a Scooby-Doo mystery, with a lot more murder and mayhem.

After an opening that starts things off at the end of the movie, we then flash back to a few hours earlier in the day, where a bunch of stereotypes kids from mostly affluent society are gathered together in the library for weekend detention. We learn that the library itself was recently remodeled, and is rumored to be haunted. The stereotypes kids begin doing that “bonding” thing that most movies aping John Hughes movies from the 80s do, and then try to bust out of the library, only to find the going rather…tough. Then the stereotypes kids start dying off in horrible ways, paranoia begins mounting as they try to figure out who’s doing the killing, and the mystery as to whether or not the ghost of the Native American whose land was stolen and the school is currently standing on is causing all the weird things happening. Spoilers: it isn’t, but the twist reveal behind everything will make you appreciate the work the culprits put in for everything. Then final confrontation wackiness ensues, and then we’re back to where we started, and the poor kid is carted off to an insane asylum while it looks like everything has to do with a (local) government conspiracy with the janitor of the school. The end.

Overall, Bad Kids Go To Hell was amusingly good for what it is. And that is a dark comedy thriller that has a tongue in cheek delivery while borrowing generously from other tropes, which results in something that doesn’t really pretend to be original, but gives us some fun times. Definitely worth a rental, here.

Book Review: HELL HOUSE

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Book Review HELL HOUSERichard Matheson
Tor
1971

For over twenty years, Belasco House has stood empty. Regarded as the Mount Everest of haunted houses, it is a venerable mansion whose shadowed walls have witnessed scenes of almost unimaginable horror and depravity. Two previous expeditions to investigate its secrets met with disaster, the participants destroyed by murder, suicide, or insanity. Now a new investigation has been mounted, bringing four strangers to the forbidding mansion, determined to probe Belasco House for the ultimate secrets of life and death. Each has his or her own reason for daring the unknown torments and temptations of the mansion, but can any soul survive what lurks within the most haunted house on Earth?

One of the books that seems to be on everybody’s list of Top (ENTER NUMBER HERE) List of Horror Novels, not only from regular horror literary geeks, but from some of the bigger names in horror fiction. Notably, I read Stephen King refer to it as “one of the most brain-freezingly frightening haunted house novels of the 20th Century…”. That carries a bit of weight for me, as far as recommendations on what to snuggle up with on a dark and chilly night, to tantalize my imagination. Which also had the adverse effect of being a bit daunting to actually pick up and read. Not because it would be “too scary”, but like every other thing I’m hesitant to read, what if it turns out to be not as good as my brain hyped it up to be?

Fortunately, that didn’t stop me from picking up a copy of Hell House and reading it. My copy, with the cover art itself in the upper part of this review, is one of the many reprints that have been made of this, in case you’re some how curious about things like what was on the cover printing. I wouldn’t know why, but I’m sure there are people like that out there. Anyway…

As far as haunted house stories go, I have to admit that I agree that Hell House is one of the better ones written. If you’re familiar with Richard Matheson’s style of writing, then you know that he doesn’t necessarily write straight horror stories. He has said as much himself. They are horror, yes, but there’s also a heavy dose of science fiction that ties it down a bit more to earth rather than the supernatural. That isn’t to say there wasn’t a lot to cause my skin to crawl and want to turn on more than just one lamp while reading this, mind you. Such is Matheson’s style.

The story of Hell House involves a very old, very rich man hiring four people in different specified areas of research to investigate an old mansion that is rumored to be the site of many depraved orgies and debaucheries and death, and is now considered one of the most famous of haunted houses in the world. The old man wants to find out, once and for all, whether the nicknamed Hell House really is haunted, and if so by what, or if there’s actually a rational scientific reason behind the failed investigations done decades prior. To this end, he has hired a scientist and his wife to assist, a spiritualist, and a survivor of a previous investigation into the house that ended in a deadly disaster, who is tormented by his psychic abilities. Together they will stay inside the house for several days, attempting to determine if there really is something sinister behind the building’s facade, or if it’s something else with foundationally speaking. See what I did, there? I made architectural jokes. Yeah, whatever. Anyway, things start going wacky pretty much on the first day they arrive at the house, and everyone struggles to keep from going mad while sorting out the mystery behind the house itself. Or, you know, try not to die doing so.

This being written in the very early 1970s, there’s a bit more of, shall we say, an adult orientation to the story. And by that, I mean there’s a rather violent scene featuring necrophilia at one point, as well as some squeamish descriptions of possession and poltergeist manifestations going on. Add in some rather effective dark Gothic imagery with the house, and you really do have a spine-chilling supernaturally-tinged Gothic ghost story mystery that doesn’t end on a very up note.

I understand that there’s a movie adaptation made of this. I haven’t seen the movie, or even sought it out. But, I am glad I got around to reading Hell House, and seeing why everyone seems to hold it in high esteem. Recommended reading, my fellow horror hounds.

Book Review: The NIGHT CLASS

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book-review-the-night-classTom Piccirilli
Leisure Books
2002

The college winter break is over, and Caleb Prentiss faces yet another semester of higher education. Struggling with alcoholism and frustrated by his irrelevant classes, Cal seeks solace in the arms of his scholastic-conscious girlfriend and in somnambulistic conversation with a mystifying college radio DJ. But Cal’s ennui is shattered when he discovers evidence of a murder which occurred in his room over the Christmas recess. Obsessed with unearthing the particulars of this gruesome and haunting event, Cal wanders down the grotesque hallowed halls of a university gone mad. Run-ins with the two hard-nosed campus security guards, relationship hurdles with both friends and lovers, and enigmatic signals from the Dean’s icily eminent wife force Caleb to question his place in the bizarre night classes of higher education. Even as he gets ever closer to the truth, Caleb is plagued by the supernatural occurrence known as stigmata: his hands bleed in imitation of the wounds of Christ whenever someone close to him dies. And Cal’s hands are bleeding a lot these days.

Thomas Piccirilli was not an author I was familiar with back when I ran into the paperback edition of the book The Night Class while perusing the pittance that is the book section of the local Wal Mart back in 2002. It was the cover of this just-released mass market edition of the book that caught my eye, and the blurb on the back deepened my interest, so I bought it and gave this a shot.

As it turns out, The Night Class happens to be the only novel I’ve read of his. Out of respect for the dead (Piccirilli died of cancer at the age of 50 back in July of 2015), I’m not going to rag on him too much; and really, only reading one novel out of the rather prolific output he’s managed since 1990 isn’t the best way to judge likability. The Night Class, however, was his eighth published novel, so it’s not like I picked up his first attempt at writing to go off of.

The style of the story in The Night Class can be best described as “Noir Horror”. At its core is a murder mystery that has a dark surreal psychological underpinning that lends itself to some bending of reality, so to speak. When it works, it works, as the tone and atmosphere is nicely dark and dreadful. The first part of the novel builds up pretty well; it’s when we hit the mid-part is when things get a bit sluggish, especially when all the flashbacks start happening. At some points, I had to start over a section just to remember if I was reading the present or if we were once again in a flashback. The behavior of the characters, and some of the dialog spoken is supposed to invoke some surrealistic dread, but it was executed rather poorly, in that it instead invoked more than a few “huh?” moments. By the time I got to the end wrap-up, I’m afraid I didn’t react very strongly to the big twist.

I read The Night Class, and that was it. I haven’t looked up any further titles from the late Tom Piccirilli since then (I have run into a couple of his short stories in a couple of horror fiction anthologies). It’s not entirely bad, but not something I would recommend outright.

Book Review: SKIN GAME (The Dresden Files)

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skin-game-the-dresden-filesJim Butcher
ROC
2014

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day. Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful. He doesn’t know the half of it. Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever. It’s a smash-and-grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry. Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance…

So, here we are at the fifteenth book in the seemingly never-ending Dresden Files series. The latest one, and as such am waiting for the next book to come out as I’m writing this. To recap, I came across reading this series due to a friend insisting that I read this, then promptly loaning me all 16 books (including the short story collection) to do so. I managed to binge read them all in a handful of months, not just because I’m an old hand at reading things in a rather timely manner (it helps to come from a family of readers), but also because I found the series to be a fantastic way to get lost into another world, and thus all those multi-hundred pages goes by rather quickly. You can keep your Harry Potter; I have a favorite wizard right here. Anyhoo…

Over the course of the series, Dresden has crossed the paths of some very big names in bad-assery. All those names pale in comparison with the Lord of the Underworld himself, the ruler of Death and Darkness, and inspiration for many a garage metal band in existence: Hades. And Dresden finds himself borrowed out to the fallen angel Nicodemus to pull an Indiana Jones and fetch the Holy Grail from the vaults of Hades himself. As you may imagine, trying to get in there and then out without getting hit with a fate presumably worse than death isn’t easy. Let’s just say, not only wackiness ensues, but plenty of subterfuge, twists and action going on. Then the whole thing ends with Butters getting a level up in his game and acquiring a possible copyright infringement.

Overall, Skin Game could be considered a “filler episode” in the Dresden series. It didn’t really forward the overarching journey, but it was a pretty good (if not a bit derivative, but what urban fantasy isn’t, really?) story.

Book Review: SIDE JOBS (The Dresden Files)

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side-jobs-the-dresden-filesJim Butcher
ROC
2010

In between the publication of the several novels of the Dresden Files series, author Jim Butcher also wrote a bunch of short stories featuring his put-upon wizard detective; some for various magazines, some for short story collections, all a little bit of story that mostly takes place in-between the regular novels, sometimes filling in some continuity. Either way, short stories are fun, so let’s take a look at this collection, shall we?

“A Restoration of Faith”
Harry is on the case of finding a runaway, only to learn upon finding her that the parents are planning on accusing Harry of kidnapping her to save face. Then they encouter a troll that has taken up residence under a bridge they need to cross. Wackiness ensues…

“Publicity and Advertising (Vignette)”
Harry and Bob the Skull have a discussion on how to properly write a Yellow Pages ad. Um, that’s it, really. No wackiness to ensue…

“Something Borrowed”
Harry is getting ready as best man at the wedding of a couple of the Alphas, when the Bride goes missing, and the Groom being tricked into marrying one of the faeries of the Winter Court. Wackiness ensues…

“It’s My Birthday, Too”
On his White Court vampire half-brother Thomas’ birthday, the vampire-themed LARP (just go with it) is interrupted by a jilted former member of the LARP who has been turned into a Black Court vampire and is filled with NERD RAGE! Wackiness ensues…

“Heorot”
A newlywed woman is kidnapped at a local beer fest, along with a keg of microbrew. Turns out it’s a descendant of Grendel, who needs mead in order to breed a child of his own. Wackiness ensues…

“Harry’s Day Off”
Harry has a rare day off, and he plans on spending it on a date. Oh, la-la. Only, these carefully laid plans of mice and men are interrupted by his apprentice wanting to bone up on some potion-making, and by a couple of the Alphas needing a magical flea-dip to get rid of psychophagic mites. Wackiness ensues…

“Backup”
Entirely told by the point of view of Harry’s half-brother Thomas Raith, as he helps out Harry with locating a kidnapped child while keeping Harry unaware that he’s actually helping out. Wackiness ensues…

“The Warrior”
Someone is targeting Michael Carpenter’s family in a bid to get ahold of the Sword of the Cross that Michael no longer wields. The attempts at stealing the swords fail, and then one of Michael’s daughters is kidnapped to try and force their surrender. Kidnap the daughter of a former Knight of the Cross? Bad idea…

“Last Call”
A spell is placed on MacAnally’s famous homemade beer by a maenad to control people attending some kind of sporting event. Wackiness ensues…

“Love Hurts”
After a series of bizarre double-suicides, Harry and Karrin Murphy investigate the source at a carnival outside of Chicago. Turns out it’s the work of a Red Court vampire, casting love spells because they wanted to stick it to the White Court vampires. Um, yeah…

“Aftermath”
Taking place immediately after the events in Changes, Karrin Murphy doesn’t accept that Harry is really dead, on account that his body wasn’t found. She moves on with her life, continuing on the fight against the supernatural evil in Chicago while maintaining her standing as a policewoman…

Overall, Side Jobs is a nifty collection of bite-sized Dresden stories that pack in the humor, mystery and excitement of your standard Dresden story while keeping things brief yet satisfying. Mostly. “Publicity and Advertising (Vignette)” is just that: a vignette rather than a proper story. But still, rather amusing. In any case, very much worth checking out for a nice suplament companion collection to the regular novels in the series.

Book Review: COLD DAYS (The Dresden Files)

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cold-days-dresden-filesJim Butcher
ROC
2012

After being murdered by a mystery assailant, navigating his way through the realm between life and death, and being brought back to the mortal world, Harry realizes that maybe death wasn’t all that bad. Because he is no longer Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard. He is now Harry Dresden, Winter Knight to Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness. After Harry had no choice but to swear his fealty, Mab wasn’t about to let something as petty as death steal away the prize she had sought for so long. And now, her word is his command, no matter what she wants him to do, no matter where she wants him to go, and no matter who she wants him to kill. Guess which Mab wants first? Of course, it won’t be an ordinary, everyday assassination. Mab wants her newest minion to pull off the impossible: kill an immortal. No problem there, right? And to make matters worse, there exists a growing threat to an unfathomable source of magic that could land Harry in the sort of trouble that will make death look like a holiday. Beset by enemies new and old, Harry must gather his friends and allies, prevent the annihilation of countless innocents, and find a way out of his eternal subservience before his newfound powers claim the only thing he has left to call his own…his soul.

Here we are, the fourteenth entry into the Dresden Files, and we’ve seen our hapless wizard detective warden take on vampires, werewolves, rogue FBI agents, dark wizards and warlocks, various members of the Nevernever, cantankerous teenagers, unrequited love, and even death itself, to name but a few. Now, having been brought back to the land of the living, Dresden is now taking on perhaps the greatest challenge in his life: fulfilling his duties as the new Winter Knight in service to the Winter Fae without losing his humanity in the process. Does he succeed? Like it’s going to be wrapped up in the course of one book, silly human.

Dresden has been back in the land of the living, and has spent considerable time recuperating in the Fae Court of Winter, preparing for his official inauguration as Winter Knight. Of course, this being the court of the Winter Queen, things aren’t really as cut and dried as a formal party. The festivities include several attempts to kill Dresden, set up by the Winter Lady Maeve, which Dresden takes care of with the help of his physical therapist and Kris Kringle. I’m not making that up. Thus, Mab gives Dresden his first directive as the Winter Knight: kill the Winter Lady. You ever try to kill an immortal? Not as easy as it sounds. But, thanks to some advise by Bob the Skull, there’s a chance…on Halloween, which is a mere few days away. Also, Demonreach–that mysterious island that Dresden is spiritually tied to–is building energy and may be in danger of exploding. This may be due to the various supernatural entities entrapped underneath in a kind of metaphysical prison. In the meantime, after some consulting with various individuals, turns out Maeve may be quite insane (well, more-so than normal…whatever that amounts to), which leads to an obligatory showdown at Demonreach, which ends up with some unexpected promotions.

Tell the truth, it’s a bit rough trying to follow up Changes, but as with Ghost Story, Cold Days doesn’t really concern itself with top that one, and instead forge ahead with a story all its own that continues the journey that Dresden is making. And logically, we’d have to see how he handles his new title as the Winter Queen’s enforcer, which seems to be better than the previous Winter Knight had handled things. Dresden may be operating within the belly of the proverbial beast, but that just helps enhance the delicious mystery that he has to figure out. He’s come a long way from a mere wizard trying to get by as a supernatural detective in Chi-town, and by the time we get to the end of the book, the changes to some of the key characters in Dresden’s life come as quite the surprise. At least to me; I have a tendency to get so wrapped up in the story I’m not paying attention to how things may end. Recommended, as always.

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