Movie Review: PRIMER

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PRIMER
IFC Films
2004
PG-13

“Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m gonna read this, and you’re gonna listen, and you’re gonna stay on the line. And you’re not gonna interrupt, and you’re not gonna speak for any reason. Some of this you know. I’m gonna start at the top of the page.”

  • Everything you think you know about modern science is about to unravel. While conducting experiments in a garage, two brilliant engineers who lead double lives accidentally discover that their project enables them to travel back in time. One man’s curiosity leads to experiments without the other’s knowledge, some with severe consequences.

I first heard about the movie Primer when I was discussing time travel sci-fi movies with the other Exalted Geeks one night at our home-away-from-home, Sean O’Casey’s. One of them mentioned Primer, and described the premise of this independent low-budget sci-fi flick. I was intrigued…but not enough to seek it out at the time.

Since then, I’ve been coming across this title included in more than a few Best Sci-Fi Movies lists. So, long story short, I finally up and rented the stream from Google Play and gave it a watch.

It’s not very often where I stumble across a movie that makes me go “wha…huh?” and leaves more intriguing questions to chew over long after it’s ended. Lo and behold, Primer has done just that. At least, with 2001: A Space Odyssey, most of the questions raised by the movie were answered when I read the novelization.Here, we don’t have the benefit of that. Instead, we have an extremely low-budget science fiction movie written, directed, produced, edited and scored by a guy who has a degree in mathematics and is a former engineer, choosing to not just dumb down the movie for us stupid people. You have to give the guy props for that. However, even I have to admit that this movie can get rather hard to follow at times. There’s a reason why there are numerous online sites and articles dedicated to trying to make heads and/or tails of the plot. Anyway, here’s my feeble attempt at explaining the story.

A couple of engineers are looking to supplement their day jobs with some tech-y start-up inventions. And in true stumbling upon genius fashion, they happen to stumble upon time travel while playing around with electromagnetic reduction of the weight of various objects. As you do. After some refining and fiddling with the process, they test it out on themselves, first going back six hours into their own past, then deciding to use this new discovery for the good and betterment of mankind to make some fast cash with the stock market. Soon, the personalities of both the individuals start to clash, and then soon thereafter the plot devolves into one that only the hardcore fans of Rick & Morty can appreciate: Their present selves try and go back to dissuade one another from doing certain things, only to run into their future selves already having gotten the drop on them, then the discovery that there’s not just one time pod in play here, havoc is wreaked on the the timeline, and the whole thing accumulates in the thwarting of a gunman, and the two parting ways, one of which decides to go to France to build a big ‘ol warehouse-sized time travel box.

So, what we have with Primer is a movie that tries to portray a sci-fi trope in the most realistic and logical sense, without resorting to techno-babble and magic technology, and more or less succeeds. I think. I mean, I would admit that I’m not exactly smart enough to really confirm that the portrayal of time travel as it may actually occurs in reality in this movie is legit; I got confused when the time travel discussion part of Avengers: Endgame happened. Usually when the science-y talk starts hitting hard and fast like that, I just go limp and let it come at me, making notes to pick it apart when I can chew it over at my own special pace.

Overall, while I’m not disagreeing that Primer is a good movie, and a rather intriguing time travel science fiction movie at that, I’m afraid my tastes in that area do run more on the Techno-Magic! side of things. Do I recommend watching Primer? Yes. Most definitely. I can’t guarantee that you’ll understand everything upon your first viewing, but definitely at least view this once. Then do some research. Yeah, it’s one of those kind of movies.

Book Review: COLD PRINT

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cold print
Ramsey Campbell
Tor Horror
1987

  • What grotesque abomination lurks in the abyss beneath the cold stone flooring of the church on High Street? What is the inhabitant of the lake…that putrid, pulsing monstrosity watching from the ebon depths of the stagnant water? What colossal midnight evil is unleashed from deep within the hillside by the moon lens?

Ramsey Campbell is one of the names in horror fiction that is easily one of the masters of the 20th Century boom, and should come right to mind with the likes of Stephen King, Clive Barker, Robert Bloch and Peter Straub. Sadly, not to many people I’ve talked to concerning matters of horror fiction have heard of him. Pity. This is an author that was given his own section in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre.

As for myself, I’ve read a couple of handfuls of his short stories in the past, usually in collections and anthologies, like with The Monster Book of Zombies and 999 in the Book Review sections of this blog. It was high time that I begin rectifying the lack of Campbell on this blog, and what better way than with a collection of his own short stories based on the Lovecraft mythos from back in the day, entitled Cold Print.

After an introduction where Campbell recollects discovering his first H. P. Lovecraft book at the back of a sweet shop in his youth, which sparked his own interest in writing strange fantasy fiction, as well as his early attempt at imitating Lovecraft’s style (and the resulting criticism by August Derleth), we then go into the collection of short stories that were inspired by that chance discovery. These date from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Let’s go through them, shall we?

“The CHURCH IN HIGH STREET”
After receiving a telegram from a distraught friend, Richard Dodds visits the town of Temphill, where he discovers the terrible, horrible secret behind his friend’s disappearance…

“The ROOM IN THE CASTLE”
A researcher comes across a legend of an ancient demon-thing that resides in the hidden sub-cellar of a long-abandoned castle, and he decides to check it out himself to see if the legend is real…turns out, yeah…

“The HORROR FROM THE BRIDGE”
After a couple of generations, the son of a reclusive guy manages to finish up his late father’s hobby of trying to release the unspeakable horrific monsters that are trapped underneath the town bridge…

“The INSECTS FROM SHAGGAI”
A traveler investigates a bit of lore told to him at a hotel’s bar, about a mysterious large metal cone in the middle of the local forest, and the unfathomable horror that dwells within it…

“The RENDER OF THE VEILS”
A man follows an occultist he met in a taxi home one rainy night, and gets a crash-course in the entity known as Daoloth, the titular “render of the veils”…

“The INHABITANT OF THE LAKE”
An artist takes up residence in a secluded house by a lake that’s purportedly haunted, and is either slowly losing his mind, or there may actually be an other-worldly malicious entity that’s dwelling in the lake…

“The WILL OF STANLEY BROOKE”
Before his death, a miserly old man reworks his will to include his best friend that everyone never knew about before his death, and turns out to be a literal pale imitation of the man himself…

“The MOON-LENS”
Late one night, a medical doctor receives a visit from someone who is requesting euthanasia. He then tells him the tale of the literal life-changing trip that lead to his decision to end his life…

“BEFORE THE STORM”
A gentleman who is clearly suffering from some mind-bending feverish ailment stumbles into a tax building before literally falling apart…

“COLD PRINT”
One cold, wintry afternoon, a bibliophile on a quest to find books at out-of-the-way shops, comes across a special rare tome that the shop owner will let him have, provided he agrees to become his new priest of his mad cult…

“AMONG THE PICTURES ARE THESE:”
Here, Ramsey Campbell describes in detail a bunch of drawings he did in several notebooks back in the day that he once came across while cleaning…it’s interesting, to say the least…

“The TUGGING”
A newspaper reporter has been following reports of a small rogue planet that has entered the solar system, and suspects it might have something to do with the dreams he’s been experiencing, dreams he once had as a child…and shared with by his father…

“The FACES AT PINE DUNES”
In the wooded area near the RV park which a restless teenager calls home, something horrible, as something out of an LSD-fueled nightmare dwells; something that calls his parents out until the wee hours of the morning; something his new girlfriend wants to see…

“BLACKED OUT”
A man on holiday in a small German town discovers that the locals are a bit odd…especially that one knockout blonde that is leading him to the dilapidated church to be discovered by an ancient thing…

“The VOICE OF THE BEACH”
A writer that is dwelling at a bungalow by the beach is visited by a friend, and they both begin to succumb to the horrible, mind-bending secret of the beach itself after happening upon the journals of someone who once lived in a nearby forgotten ghost town…

Overall, I found this collection to be fairly interesting. Rather than just reuse the famous fictional deities that Lovecraft originally came up with, Campbell adeptly created some of his own original nightmare fuel, with the likes of Gla’aki (“The Inhabitant of the Lake”, the multi-volume grimoire Revelations of Glaaki, mentioned in various of the stories, much like H. P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon), Eihort (“Cold Print”, “Before The Storm”), Daoloth (“The Render of the Veils”), and the particularly nasty-looking Y’golonac (“The Faces at Pine Dunes”). My favorite tales from this collection were “The Insects from Shaggai”, “The Render of the Veils”, “The Moon-Lens” (which has a strong “Shadow Over Innsmouth” feel to it), “Before The Storm” (madness from the point of view of the one going insane intrigues me), and “The Tugging” (the concept of rogue planets also intrigues me, what can I say?). For a bunch of tales rooted firmly in the playground that Lovecraft built, this is one of the better collections. The drawback here is that, as is usual with stories that play in the mythos, some of these follow a rather predictable formula that, if you’re up on your Lovecraft, is familiar enough to follow in your sleep. But, perhaps that’s the point of these kind of stories. Anyway, for someone whose extra-Lovecraft readings have been of this and Brian Lumley, and believe me I’m looking to expand upon the bibliographies of other luminaries in the mythos, I would rank Campbell to be the better writer. That’s no slight to Lumley, either. Recommended for lovers of both Lovecraft and good spooky nightmare fuel.

Movie Review: AD ASTRA

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ad astra
20th Century Fox
2019
PG-13

“The zero G and the extended duration of the journey is affecting me both physically and mentally. I am alone. Something I always believed I preferred. I am alone. But I confess it’s wearing on me. I am alone. I am alone.”

  • Thirty years ago, Clifford McBride led a voyage into deep space, but the ship and crew were never heard from again. Now his son — a fearless astronaut — must embark on a daring mission to Neptune to uncover the truth about his missing father and a mysterious power surge that threatens the stability of the universe.

Ad Astra was one of those movies that I almost never noticed in its initial theatrical run, until one of my surrogate nieces posted to Facebook about her disdain after having watched the movie herself. Boring and pointless, she mentioned it was. So I looked it up, and found out it was a science fiction movie starring Brad Pitt, of all people. Reading the synopsis, I concluded this may be one of those “serious science fiction” movies that a lot of Hollywood A-listers have been making in last couple of decades, like Gravity and Solaris. Sunshine started off like one of those, but then turned into Event Horizon in the last act. But, anyway, I decided to watch this for myself when it came out on streaming rental, just to see what the ire was all about. And…well, let’s just say we’re going to have to agree to disagree there, kiddo.

So, we have an astronaut (Brad Pitt!) that’s working on a really, really long Earth-based antenna, when he gets into a bit of an accident. But, he’s fine. However, the shock wave that caused the accident is the reason why he’s called in by the U.S. Space Command (SpaceCom if you’re nasty). Turns out, this astronaut is the son of a rather famous astronaut (Tommy Lee Jones!) that headed up a deep space mission 29 years prior, to search the furthest reaches of the Solar System in search of some sign of intelligent life. However, nothing’s been heard from him and his team once they reached Neptune, and that was sixteen years ago. And those mystery power surges that threatens all life on Earth? They seem to be originating from the same spot the exposition stopped at. So, the astronaut was chosen to see if his dad’s still alive, and maybe be able to communicate with him at a Mars-stationed base. So, he flies to the moon, meets up with one of his father’s old associate (Donald Sutherland!) and heads out to the SpaceCom base on the moon. However, they’re beset upon by Moon Pirates*, and although they managed to narrowly make it to the base, the elder of the two begins suffering a heart attack and can’t go with him. He then gets in a ship with a bunch of scientists bound for Mars, and everything seems to be smooth sailing from there…until they receive a distress call from a Norwegian biomedical research station, in which they stop by to see if they can help. They encounter a couple of angry space monkeys**, who bite off the face of the Captain. Yadda yadda yadda, everyone who still has a face and is breathing manage to make it to the Mars base, where the astronaut is led to make some transmissions to Neptune, imploring his father to respond. However, he kinda starts ad libbing the script, which gets him kicked off of the project. But, instead of heading home to Earth like a good gov’ment lackey, he instead stows away on the same ship that he came on, because as it turns out, they were headed out to Neptune to try and terminate the derelict vessel his dad may or may not be still alive to stop the power surges. It goes well He inadvertently kills all the scientists pretty much right when he enters the ship as they take off, and now he’s floating around for a few months on his way to Neptune, reflecting on his personal relationships with his father and his estranged wife (Liv Tyler!). He finally makes it to the station, discovers that his father is still alive (the others, not so much), and the power surges causing all of the trouble are coming from the ship’s malfunctioning antimatter power source. Seems daddy has gone a bit loopy, refusing to stop his search for intelligent life beyond them, essentially tells his son that he never loved him or his family and no longer considers Earth his home. His son responds by arming a nuclear device, his dad floats off to become a trans-Neptunian object in a space suit, and Number One Son manages to ride the resulting blast wave back to Earth, where he gets a new lease on life after discovering that the data gathered by his father pointed to Earthlings being the only intelligent life in the galaxy (optimism by nihilism, I guess), and meets his estranged wife for drinks. The end.

Personally, I rather enjoyed Ad Astra. Then again, my expectations were probably a bit different than what a lot of movie watchin’ types would expect from “entertaining sci-fi”. I’m not trying to sound like a snobby nerd, but here we are. I was expecting more of a hard sci-fi movie, which this is; others were maybe preferring sci-fi fantasy? I don’t know, they won’t say beyond “this movie sucks.” For some, that’s their whole review. I tend to need to use more words to express why I think something sucks. And this movie doesn’t suck.

Ad Astra is one of those science fiction movies that moves in a slow, some would say lethargic pace, taking its sweet time with the plot buildup. And this is over two hours in length. So Ad Astra falls squarely in the 2001: A Space Odyssey (or, perhaps closer to Star Trek: The Motion Picture), rather than Star Wars. If anything, outside of some brief action scenes (see “Moon Pirates” and “Space Monkeys”), this is more a big ol’ character study on a nihilistic, emotion-bereft character having himself an existential quandary while staring into the literal void of space, and eventually embracing life after coming to terms with the hopelessness of living itself. And I must say, this movie was very effective in portraying just that.

Overall, it may be that I’m just older and have more insurance have seen more movies like this, and have developed an appreciation for them that my younger self didn’t have the patience for. It’s just that, I find myself in the camp of having enjoyed Ad Astra for what it is, and recommend giving this a watch.

[*you have no idea how much I’ve been waiting to write that]
[**and I’ve been waiting even more to write that one… this is just freaking awesome]

Movie Review: 3022

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3022

Saban Films
2019
R

“It was so nice when we got here. We were happy. Richard was showering.”

  • Halfway through a 10-year mission, a group of astronauts become unstable, overcome by the isolation of deep space. While they prepare to return home, Earth is hit by a catastrophic event. the haunting emptiness of space becomes the least of their concerns as they fight to survive against unforeseen threats.

I seem to be inadvertently going through watching a bunch of actual good science fiction movies as of late. I assure you, this was not intentional; as a matter of fact, I came across this particular movie–3022–as a recently released rental title on the Family Video website. I never heard of this ever being shown in theaters, and preliminary reports stating that this was a low-budget sci-fi movie, one that stars the likes of Omar Epps and a former Nickelodeon child star. Mind you, I understand that a low budget does not a cheesy bad sci-fi movie make. But, I thought I’d check it out, going by the video blurb alone, and see what it’s all about.

So, it’s the year 2190, and humans have now colonized an off-world settlement on the Jupiter moon of Europa. Anyone who has read 2010: Odyssey Two knows that this might be a bad idea, but whatev’s. Serving as kind of a way-station between Earth and Europa is the space station Pangea, named after the super-continent that existed during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras (man, this is already knee-deep in the nerd references). We come in with the arrival of four astronauts onto the station–Captain John Laine (Omar Epps!), medical doctor Richard Valin (Angus Macfadyen!), a former Nickelodeon child star (Miranda Cosgrove!) and Jackie Miller (Kate Walsh!)–as they embark on a 10-year mission to explore strange, new worlds wander about inside the station and smoke a lot. I’m not kidding–all of ’em seem to smoke like chimneys on a freaking space station. You know, a place where there’s several pressurized gasses utilized that could combust easily? I can not begin to imagine how nasty that living situation was, I don’t care how advanced the air filtration system is. And this is coming from a former chain smoker of several years who still dreams of pulling on that sweet, sweet Carolina smoke. *ahem* Anyway, after a montage of them interacting for five years, the Captain fails his psych evaluation, meaning that, since he is unfit for duty, they are all considered unfit, so now they all have to ship back to Earth and be replaced half-way through their mission. This makes the others understandably grumpy. Fortunately, though, they receive a respite that allows them all to remain on the station indefinitely! Unfortunately, that’s because Earth just happened to blow up shortly after the psych evaluation, the resulting shock wave doing damage to the station itself, and everyone mistaking the charred husk of our former home as a comet at first. Nickelodeon Lady dies from a cerebral hemorrhage due to being knocked around by the wave blast, then the doctor goes completely insane and blasts himself out of the air lock (he was wearing a space suit, so at least he had some time to enjoy the view of nothing-ness). Captain John and Jackie aren’t doing much better themselves, but then they get a visit from a derelict shuttle coming from Europa, with three surviving French astronauts joining the remaining two. And then things really get crazy. The Frenchies are friendly at first, but then loose their collective baguettes after learning that there’s only enough resources to keep everyone alive for a couple of days and manage to kill themselves, and then the space station blows in half, with the Captain on one half and Jackie on the other, with the Captain vowing to go get her, but the shuttle it broken, and it seems to take him 3022 entries in the journal (we have ourselves a title!) before he’s able to end the movie with more questions than answers.

For what it is, 3022 is a pretty decent science fiction movie. It definitely falls within the whole Isolated Astronaut Faces Existential Crisis and Possible Madness line, something that’s really highlighted by the claustrophobic setting and stark cinema style of the film making. All the actors were great in their roles, really nailing the melancholic loneliness that comes with being isolated in space for five years, with five more years of the same to look forward to.

One of the major complaints I have read about the film was not showing everything that was going on, like what that big flash was and what actually happened to the Earth. Personally, I think that actually works in the movie’s favor, showing only the reaction of the crew to whatever it was that happened outside in their field of vision. The brain can fill in the blanks, and for me it was truly more horrific than what they eventually did show with the Earth blowing up…and this is one of my complaints about the movie. The CGI is not good. Not complete garbage, but PlayStation 3 cut scene level, especially with the fire effects. Also, and I can’t harp on this enough, but WHY WAS EVERYONE SMOKING?!? Two hundred years in the future, and nobody vapes anymore? I’m not a proponent of vaping, but I’m sure that’s better than having an open flame in something that uses compressed oxygen and various other gasses. It really took me out of the movie.

Overall, though, I found 3022 to be not too bad. I like the ambiguity and the questions it leaves unanswered (Was the station a refuel station? A message relay station? If it was between Earth and Jupiter’s moons, was this placed somewhere near Mars, or the asteroid belt? What blew up the Earth? Did they spend years apart? WHY WERE THEY ALL SMOKING?). Mind you, the best way to watch it is late at night, with the lights out and possibly sleep deprivation. Recommended.

Movie Review: PRINCE OF DARKNESS

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prince of darkness
Universal
1987
R

“Hello? I’m opening the door, if you want to stop what you’re doing and put your clothes on.”

  • When a group of graduate students and scientists discover an ancient canister containing an evil looking liquid in an abandoned church, all hell breaks loose. Shortly after the discovery, the liquid seems to come alive, generating an evil energy that systematically turns members of the group into zombies. But even worse, it releases Satan, thus paving the way for the return of his father–the all-powerful Anti-God. The terror mounts as only two members of the group are left to save an innocent world.

As John Carpenter movies go, I have to admit that the 1987 movie Prince Of Darkness was one that I had to watch more than once to fully begin to appreciate it for what it is. Like The Thing, I didn’t get it at first. It was something completely different than what I was considering to be good horror and sci-fi at the time. That time being the early-to-mid 1990s. Movies like Halloween, Children Of The Damned, They Live!, and the anthology film Body Bags, I dug pretty much upon first watch. Prince Of Darkness, though…well, let’s just say I wasn’t prepared for the Lovecraftian-level of weirdness that was contained. Indeed, I had yet to understand what “Lovecraft” was, outside of it being the guy that Metallica bassist Cliff Burton was into reading before he died. Thanks, alarmist Christian anti-rock propaganda.

Anyway, on to the movie…

One afternoon, quantum physics Professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong!) is invited by a priest (Donald Pleasence!) to bring a bunch of his students to a monastery belonging to a group known as “The Brotherhood of Sleep”. In the basement of this place, they find a large cylinder canister containing a swirling green liquid. After deciphering some text found next to the cylinder that describes the liquid as the corporeal embodiment of Satan (and not a batch of Ecto Cooler), they also discover that the liquid seems to be sentient, and is broadcasting increasingly complex streams of data. The group analyze the data using the best computers 1987 could buy, and realize that these include some differential equations. So, it’s really, really smart Ecto Cooler. Meanwhile, some bits of Liquid Satan escape and possess a couple of the students while they sleep, and also the monastery is being surrounded by the local homeless population (led by Alice Cooper!) that seem to be heeding the voice of a nameless entity to keep everyone from escaping the place. The Professor and the Priest (he’s just called “priest” in the credits, so that’s his name) theorize that Satan is actually the offspring of an even more powerful force of evil they call the “Anti-God” (sure), who is bound to the realm of anti-matter (I believe that’s in Revelation somewhere, after the Maps), while everyone are dreaming of the same future news transmission of DOOOOOOOOM. Some possessed types manage to get Satan to possess one of the female students, who, as the physical vessel of Satan, tries to bring the Anti-God into our realm by way of a mirror. Then Satan is defeated by being pushed through the mirror portal, the mirror is smashed, and everyone who wasn’t possessed previously survives. Cue Shocking Dream Ending.

So, yeah, it’s rather easy to see why this movie didn’t perform very well upon its initial release. Now, having been a bit more versed in the whole weird fiction realm, I can see that Prince Of Darkness was a rather unique blend of horror and science fiction that was painted with heavy strokes of Lovecraft. The concept of an alternate anti-matter realm ruled by an anti-God, and Satan being less red-skinned horned fallen angel from classic Christian lore, and more a sentient tub of protoplasmic Ecto Cooler (I’m sorry, but that’s what it looks like, ergo that’s what I’m calling it), this movie definitely thinks outside of the horror box. Mind you, the other horror movies in 1987 included the likes of the first Predator movie, the original Robocop, The Lost Boys, and the very first Hellraiser, and the third Nightmare On Elm Street (known as “the best one”)…yeah, it was up against some stiff competition in the genre department.

Fortunately, because of the video rental market, Prince Of Darkness didn’t just disappear into the ether. Again, this is not the kind of “one and done” kind of movies; mileage may vary, and it’s definitely not one for those into fast food horror. But, this is one of those movies that will grow on you. Much like green slime creeping up into your mouth.

Movie Review: FIREHEAD

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FIREHEAD
Action International Pictures
1991
R

“I’m going to find a free country.”

  • When a Russian cyborg with telekinetic powers terrorizes a city, an elite government agency intervenes. Col. Vaughn convinces “regular guy” chemist, Warren Hart, to team up with a beautiful blonde agent to capture the menace. But Warren finds the true villain isn’t who he expected. Forces of good and evil go head to head in this paranormal story of corruption and redemption…with the world’s future hanging in the balance.

Oh, wow. Yeah. This movie. I knew this was on the list of movies I need to get around to reviewing, as I did watch it, and I am obligated to try and review everything that I’ve watched, read or listened to. It keeps me busy during the periods of soul-crushing depression and self-loathing. I shudder to think what would happen when I finally run out of things to give my piddly brain droppings on.

Firehead is one of the releases produced by Action International Pictures, home of many low-budget cheesy movies, some of which I am very familiar with. Something tells me that Firehead will not be the last AIP flick you’ll see on this blog. I’m told that it did receive a theatrical release the first month of 1991; I may have blinked and missed it, as I don’t recall this title being one advertised at the Cinema 3 in Fremont, Nebraska back in the day. I never knew of this movie’s existence until just a couple of years ago, when I came across it on my streaming service. Heck yeah, I could go for some cheesy low-budget action at the time. Popped it on, and fell asleep after half an hour. I had to restart at the last point I remembered. Then I fell asleep again. But this time, I managed to pause it before slipping into oblivion. In other words, I watched Firehead in installments, which is something I normally don’t do.

The story of Firehead involves a Soviet super-spy who has been augmented to shoot frickin’ lasers out of his eyeballs. That alone would be enough to awaken your inner 10-year-old and immediately declare this the greatest movie ever. You would think that would be enough. But I digress. After deciding to not use his power for evil, he defects to the United States and manages to hide out for a couple of years…until he begins blowing up American munitions factories, which tends to get you noticed. The good news is, at this point the Iron Curtain had fallen and he’s no longer sought out by the Russian gov’ment. The bad news is, he’s now being pursued by a National Institutes of Health scientist and a gov’ment assassin, and another secret organization are wanting to exploit this guy’s activities in their overall plot for WORLD DOMINATION! Big, massive ‘splosions ensue.

Here’s what intrigues me: Firehead, despite being one of those very early 90s excuses for big explosions with barely a plot to hang things on that were being produced left and right back in the day, actually features the great Christopher Plummer hamming things up (and looking like he’s having a blast doing so), and a cameo appearance from Martin Landau. Of course, rather than hit the trifecta with getting Jack Lemmon, we instead get Lemmon’s son Chris Lemmon as the NIH scientist. So, it’s like we’re getting the v2.0 model. Or something.

Anyway, Firehead is your basic low-budget time-waster that you sometimes come across on the weekends on some basic cable channel’s Action Block before the pro-wrastlin’ comes on. Not a bad way to kill some time, but it’s no 90s Steven Seagal movie, either. Mileage will vary.

Book Review: CTHULHU’S REIGN

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cthulhu's reignDarrell Schweitzer (Editor)
Daw Books, Inc.
2010

  • Some of the darkest hints in all of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos relate to what will happen after the Old Ones return and take over the earth. In “The Dunwich Horror,” the semi-human half-breed Wilbur Whateley speaks in his diary of travelling to nonhuman cities at the Earth’s magnetic poles “when the Earth is cleared off,” and hints at his own promised “transfiguration.” Very few Mythos stories have ever touched on this. What happens when the Stars Are Right, the sunken city of R’lyeh rises from beneath the waves, and Cthulhu is unleashed upon the world for the last time? What happens when the other Old Ones, long since banished from our universe, break through and descent from the stars? What would the reign of Cthulhu be like, on a totally transformed planet where mankind is no longer the master? It won’t be simply the end of everything. It will be a time of new horrors and of utter strangeness. It will be a time when humans with a “taint” of unearthly blood in their ancestry may come into their own. It will be a time foreseen only by authors with the kind of finely honed imaginative visions as those included in Cthulhu’s Reign.

When it comes to H. P. Lovecraft, one of the more admiral traits of the man–once you get past his laughable form of racism that could have only existed in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries–was that he was more than willing to let others play in his literary sandbox. And why not; his Cthulhu Cycle of stories and the vast mythos that erupted from that is fertile ground for both science fiction and horror. Numerous collections and novels have resulted from this; and this is my rather awkward way of leading into this look into this particular short story collection, titled Cthulhu’s Reign.

This collection does have a theme running through it: Stories that tell of humanity’s life on Earth after the stars re-align, and Cthulhu finally awakens and summons forth his horrible minions and transforms the world in his nightmarish image. Rather intriguing concept, I would say. Really, the book had me at “Cthulhu” when I spied it on the shelves at the local Half Price Books, but a concept is a concept. Let’s look at what we have, shall we?

“The Walker in the Cemetery” (Ian Watson)
A handful of tourists are trapped inside Italy’s famous monumental cemetery of Staglieno when the return of Cthulhu happens, and one by one they seem to be played with and picked off by some unseen entity…

“Sanctuary” (Don Webb)
A young man travels to a nearby abandoned Texas town to find and pick up a special Bible that isn’t really a Bible, in an attempt to keep him and his daughter safe from succumbing to the madness of the new gods that have taken over…it doesn’t end well, let’s just say…

“Her Acres of Pastoral Playground” (Mike Alien)
It’s a normal morning on the farm, where a man has built his own kind of safe haven against the horror of the Star Spawn’s invasion, when he begins to realize that maybe his defenses aren’t all that effective…

“Spherical Trigonometry” (Ken Asamatsu)
A billionaire industrialist commissions a special fortress to be built, one that features no angles whatsoever for the Old Ones to invade his space, only to realize too late that humanity is the oldest form of angles there are in the world…

“What Brings the Void” (Will Murray)
A glimpse into the reality of a couple of survivors of the invasion and mutation of humanity, as things get desperate, and one of them happens to be about to give birth to something not exactly human…it doesn’t end well…

“The New Pauline Corpus” (Matt Cardin)
Less a short story and more of a fiction discourse discussing the fall of Judeo-Christian ethics in the wake of the return of the Old Ones…

“Ghost Dancing” (Darrell Schweitzer)
A guy infiltrates a ceremonial human sacrifice to the Star Spawn to free the sacrifice…it doesn’t end well…

“This is How the World Ends” (John R. Fultz)
A glimpse into the reality of a couple of survivors of the invasion and mutation of humanity, as things get desperate, and one of them happens to be about to give birth to something not exactly human…it doesn’t end well…

“The Shallows” (John Langan)
A man tells the tale of his life before the coming of the Old Ones to a crab that helps him tend to his garden…I have to take a moment to let sink in what I just wrote…

“Such Bright and Risen Madness in Our Names” (Jay Lake)
A bunch of mutated humans gather together underground to plan their next desperate upheaval against Cthulhu’s reign on earth…, kinda bleak and nihilistic, there…

“The Seals of New R’lyeh” (Gregory Frost)
A couple of petty thieves that survived the Cthulhu Apocalypse steal some seals that purportedly are supposed to bring back all of the Old Ones from beyond their dimensional plane. and one of the thieves just happens to have the correct translation of the Necronomicon to bring that about…

“The Holocaust of Ecstasy” (Brian Stableford)
A college professor–sorry, former college professor awakens to find he is merely now a head hanging from a tree where conscience human heads are its fruit, and the land seems to be a nightmarish landscape designed by the Star Spawn themselves…and then things get weird as said former professor ponders the existential ramifications of his new situation…

“Vastation” (Laird Barron)
A rather mind-blowing jaunt back and forth through the history of reality through the eyes of a sociopath immortal-ish quasi-deity…gads, my head hurts now…I couldn’t look away, I had to finish it or go mad…moreso…

“Nothing Personal” (Richard A. Lupoff)
A science exploratory space vessel accidentally sets off a massive antimatter explosion on a planet of Old Ones, and they retaliate by turning Earth into a black ball of antimatter goo…do I even need to state that this doesn’t end well?

“Remnants” (Fred Chappell)
The last three humans alive on Earth race to a rendezvous point where aliens who oppose the Old Gods are going to take them to a place of safety…this actually ends well, nicely done…

Overall, yeah, Cthulhu’s Reign was a pretty good collection to read through. Pretty consistent theme going, different takes on what would happen after the Old Ones finally take over the place, all keeping things at a pretty decent clip, and ending with a story that has a glimmer of hope at the end. Nothing mind-blowing but yeah, I would recommend picking this up if you happen across it.

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