Book Review: BRIEF CASES (The Dresden Files)

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brief cases dresden filesJim Butcher
ACE
2018

It’s been three years since the last book in the Dresden Files series was released. Three long years without our favorite Chicago-based wizard detective to experience exciting supernatural wackiness vicariously through. Fortunately, there’s been a recent publication of another short story collection by Jim Butcher, something that will tide me over until the next book in the series comes out. Loves me some Dresden Files.

Anyway, yeah, Brief Cases was recently released through ACE Books, collecting several short stories that Butcher wrote for other publications, plus one that was only released on this collection, if I have my information correct. Let’s dive in and see what we got, shall we?

  • “A Fistful Of Warlocks”

We take a trip back to the Wild West of the 1800s, where the warden Anastasia Luccio rides into the town of Dodge City, hot on the heels of a warlock, and teams up with a deputy sherif named Wyatt Erp to take on the warlock’s posse and their zombie horde.

  • “B Is For Bigfoot”

Harry Dresden takes a case from a Bigfoot named Strength of a River in His Shoulders (River Shoulders for short) to check up on his son, who goes to school in Chicago. The kid might be being picked on by bullies; only, it turns out to be more than that.

  • “AAAA Wizardry”

Dresden regales a class of young wardens in training with a tale of when he took on a case involving a boogeyman to illustrate the five “A”s of wizardly investigation.

  • “I Was A Teenage Bigfoot”

Once again, Dresden takes a case from River Shoulders, this time to check up on his son — who is now a teenager and attending a private school — and find out why he’s sick. On account of, the son of Bigfoot shouldn’t be getting sick, let alone lainĀ out in the infirmary. It might be black magic afoot…but you’d never guess for what ends.

  • “Curses”

Dresden is hired to try and get a curse put on Wrigley Field in 1945 lifted so the Cubs can actually win for once, darn it. This takes him deep in the realm of the Tylwyth Teg, to speak to the caster of the curse. Who knew the creatures of folklore were big baseball fans?

  • “Even Hand”

A story told from the point of view of John Marcone, the Chicago crime lord that’s a perpetual thorn in Dresden’s side. Here, Marcone is best upon by a rather nasty member of the Fomor — Cantrev Lord Mag — who’s there to collect a baby that was stolen by the White Court’s human servant Justine. Things go boom.

  • “Bigfoot On Campus”

One last case from River Shoulders, and this time he wants Dresden to check in on his now college-age son due to a premonition of danger. Which may hold some water, as Dresden discovers that the kid is dating the daughter of a White Court vampire.

  • “Bombshells

Told from Molly Carpenter’s point of view, from her post-wizard apprentice days, due to Dresden still being considered dead at this point; she takes a mission to infiltrate a Swartves stronghold to rescue Dresden’s half-brother Thomas Raith; only, she discovers things aren’t as cut and dried as they seem. To be fair, they never are.

  • “Cold Case”

Another one from Molly Carpenter’s point of view, this time as the newly-minted Lady of the Winter Court. She is charged with collecting a long-overdue tribute from the Miksani. After arriving at the small Alaskan seaport, she discovers the reason why they’ve been so tardy, and teams up with the young Warden Ramirez to get things back in order.

  • “Jury Duty”

Harry Dresden is summoned to jury duty in the case of a former bodyguard for a crime boss accused of the murder of a man one year prior. It seems fairly cut and dried only Dresden has that inkling that something’s not quite right. So he goes investigating, along with one of his werewolf friends. Wackiness ensues.

  • “Day One”

A story told from the perspective of everyone’s favorite polka-loving, Sword of Faith-wielding mortician, Waldo Butters; this one concerns Butters’ first case as a newly-minted Knight of the Cross, which involves a rogue baku that’s feeding off the fear of the children in a hospital ward.

  • “Zoo Day”

The final story in this collection has Dresden taking his ten-year-old daughter Maggie and his dog (and current guardian of Maggie) Mouse on a daddy/daughter/doggie day at the zoo to look at some animals. This one takes turns with the point of views, starting with Dresden, who encounters a young warlock; Maggie, where she faces off with some nasty haunts that are possessing other kids at the zoo; and finally Mouse, where he meets a dark figure from his past. Also, there’s french fries.

Of the stories in this collection, I believe I enjoyed “A Fistful Of Warlocks”, the three involving Bigfoot and his half-human, half-bigfoot son (especially the “Bigfoot On Campus”, as things really go boom there), and “Zoo Day”, as we not only get a good story involving Dresden trying to be something he’s not accustomed to — being a father — but also the three points of view, one being the ironically named Mouse. That was great, there.

Mind you, all the rest of the stories contained are all top-notch, containing the quality type of action, mystery and humor that comes with this series, only contained in easily digestible bite-sized pieces. I’m afraid I went through my Kindle edition of this a bit too fast, as per usual. It was that kind of engrossing. Recommended.

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Movie Review: HELLRAISER: Judgment

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hellraiser judgmentLionsgate
2018
NR

“This new millennium hurtles forward. Faith is lost. Mankind have become a vacuum without morality. So many souls seeking new and darker experiences. Degradation upon degradation, sin after sin.”

So, at this point in the game, should anyone who has been a fan of the Hellraiser movies even care at this point? The track record since going the direct-to-video rout back in 2000 with the release of Hellraiser: Inferno hasn’t been that great. There’s been maybe a couple of decent ones, but so far they’re underwhelming at best. Then Hellraiser: Revelations fell with such a loud splat, I figured that was it. Even if they did make another Hellraiser movie, it would just be going through the motions.

Then news of another Hellraiser movie started circulating. At first, there was talk of a reboot, but then that fell through. So, we got yet another direct-to-video original movie sequel, subtitled Judgment. And so, because I can’t not watch the sequel, it was with a resigned sigh that I pressed play and settled down, expectations at an all-time low.

So, how was Hellraiser: Judgment? Surprisingly decent, actually.

After a brief yet rather memorable bit featuring a new kind of Cenobite called The Auditor, we follow a couple of detectives following a case involving a grizzly serial killer dubbed the Preceptor. The detectives are brothers, Sean and David, who are joined up with a third detective, Christine to help with the investigation into The Preceptor, who apparently bases his murders on the Ten Commandments. Following up a lead that takes him to the house from the first part of the movie, Sean finds himself being questioned by The Auditor, who then leaves him to be judged by the Stygian Inquisition, when an angel intervenes to have him released. Sean escapes this Hell dimension with one of the iconic puzzle boxes, and after getting David, they both go back to the house to find that nothing is amiss, certainly no portal to hell or anything. That night Sean is tormented by nightmarish visions of the Cenobites and goes back to drinking. Later, Sean and Christine discover the cell phone of one of the Preceptor’s victims, which lead them to his hideout, where it’s learned that Sean is actually The Perceptor, when he incapacitates Christine, then abducts his brother and his wife. Seems the two were conducting an affair behind Sean’s back, so he makes the two open the Lament Configuration box, summoning the Cenobites to take them. Pinhead shows up and let’s Sean know that he’s basically screwed despite his attempts at bargaining with his brother and wife’s souls; the Auditor tries to take Sean back because he was judged guilty for his sins, but then the angel comes back to say “NAY” to that noise, because Sean is apparently part of heaven’s plan to instill fear into sinners. Then Pinhead rips apart the angel with his chains n’ hooks, to which he’s then banished from hell to walk the earth as a mortal man. Wait then to the end credits for an hilarious scene featuring The Auditor and a couple of Mormon missionaries. The end.

To begin, yes, I admit that Hellraiser: Judgment is another re-purposed script to get a quick movie out before losing the rights to the franchise. One might be jaded enough to say that Hellraiser: Revelations is more of an original Hellraiser movie than this one because of that. However, despite its many flaws sporting the Hellraiser re-purposing, Judgment was far more watchable than was the previous movie. I found The Auditor to be enjoyable as a character, and I wouldn’t mind having him incorporated in future stories. Pinhead, however, seems once again to be wasted potential. I miss Doug Bradley, really, and while Paul T. Taylor was passable, he lacks the charisma that made the character so legendary, even when he was regulated to showing up near the end to do his job in the later films. I also couldn’t help but feel Pinhead’s fate was cribbed from the second Prophecy movie and Gabriel’s fate.

While the mystery surrounding the serial killer was standard and predictable, still it worked on a certain level, with the best parts involving the house and The Auditor. Making this into more of a House Of Mystery type adaptation instead of a Hellraiser movie might have been a better bet. But, if you can look past the shoehorning of the story into a Hellraiser flick, Judgment was still a far better movie than some of the previous in the series. Worth a look, at least.

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.

Movie Review: GHOULS

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ghoulsSci-Fi Channel
2008
R

“I’ve been shot once today. Don’t shoot me again.”

The Sci-Fi Channel — now known as SyFy for almost ten years now — hasn’t had much of a track record when it comes to their original films. They tend to work best when they embrace the cheese-laden B-movie style and not take things too seriously. Unfortunately, the movie we’re reviewing today isn’t one of those.

Ghouls was originally broadcast on the then-named Sci-Fi Channel in 2008. I really had no idea this movie existed until just recently, when I watched it out of morbid curiosity one Saturday morning.

Gads was Ghouls a massive exercise in mediocrity. But, I’m getting ahead of things again. So, let’s relive this pile of tripe, then.

The film begins with a woman being exorcised of bad CGI black cloud spirits by a bunch of monks, capturing some kind of entity in a stone. We then cut to a college girl jogging and listening to bad nu metal (you may think that sounds redundant, but believe me, what they use in this movie actually makes me pine for Korn instead). It’s here where we get a taste of just how bad the acting is, and where my heart sunk down deep into my colon, taking any glimmer of hope that there’s anything redeemable about this movie. She runs — literally and figuratively — into her father, who’s there to tell her that her Romanian Grandmother — whom she has never met or knew much about — has died, and they talk about going over to the Old Country for her funeral. Then we cut to a couple of Van Helsing cosplayers decked out in dusters and carrying shotguns, running around the woods shooting at the bad CGI spirits from the beginning of the film, once in a while lobbing flash grenades at them. Once in a while, those CGI spirits turn corporal, into what I described in my notebook as Party City costume ghouls. One of the cosplayers sacrifices himself to let the younger one get away. Then we cut back to the girl, her father and the father’s girlfriend arriving in Romania and being picked up by the father’s brother in his totally bitchin’ horse and wagon combo. They go to the Inn their family owns and mingle with the locals, having fun with tarot cards and being fed massive slabs of meats. Soon the weirdness begins happening with the girl having visions of a, *ahem*, ghoulish nature (pun intended, because I hate myself), and she runs into the surviving cosplayer, who informs her that she’s the CHOSEN ONE! to release the ghoul queen that the town worships and become her vessel. She has trouble believing him, but of course events transpire to prove he’s right, so they both run around the village to avoid the villagers, the ghouls and…other stuff. She’s eventually captured, the ritual to put the Ghoul Queen into her happens, and in a twist no one cares about, the Ghoul Queen girl takes out all of the villagers in one fell swoop, is stabbed and carried away by the cosplayer. The end.

Where to begin with this movie. Let’s start with the biggest glaring misstep this movie takes: Ghouls is shot entirely in daylight. While I have seen horror movies made in the daylight, and done well, Ghouls doesn’t work that way. Have you ever gone to a haunted house attraction where all of the lights turned on and is only open in the later part of the morning through the afternoon? Not as effective, at the very least, I would say. The same here. The ghouls and scary stuff is laughable due to the daylight. And it doesn’t help that the overall quality of the movie — the effects, the acting, the script — is the same as an episode of the early 90s television show Goosebumps. Only, Goosebumps was deliberately that way due to its viewer base. There’s no reason for this movie to be this way.

I’ve already expounded far too long on this movie. Calling Ghouls “formulaic” and “hack” would be an insult to formulaic hack movies. Pass this one up, you have better things to waste your life on.

Movie Review: GHOSTS OF GOLDFIELD

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ghosts of goldfieldBarnholtz Entertainment
2007
R

“Looks like I just failed Haunted House 101.”

Here we go with another Based-On-A-True-Story horror flick. Lovely. I do so very much enjoy these kind of movies, mainly because it’s somehow slapped on there in an attempt to legitimize the boo-scares. In this case, the focus is on the legend of the ghost that allegedly haunts the famous Goldfield Hotel in the town of Goldfield, Nevada. I lean heavily on the word “legend” here, because, in my general research, Ghosts Of Goldfield is based on a “true story”, in that there is a sparsely populated former boom town in Nevada named Goldfield, and there is a Goldfield Hotel that is said to be haunted by a ghost named Elizabeth; however, the factual evidence leans more towards Elizabeth never having existed, being a made-up urban myth created to…I don’t know, boost tourism? Get a spot on one of those paranormal hunter type television shows (which it totally did)? Whatever it was meant to do, it at least inspired this lousy movie.

So, with Ghosts Of Goldfield, we have your standard bunch of annoying young adults who are more archetypes than characters, and as such I will refer to them in the labels I jotted down in my notes while watching this: the Rich Girl, the Alpha Jerk, the Klepto, the AV Nerd, and Messy Haired Hunky Guy. they’re all traveling in a van to the sparsely populated Goldfield, Nevada, a town that once was a booming city during the gold rush, until the mines dried up. Within the town is the famous Goldfield Hotel, a landmark purportedly haunted by the ghost of a dead woman named Elizabeth Walker, who was tortured and killed in Room 109 by her lover. The group are traveling there so that Rich Girl, pretending to be from the Discovery Channel, can try to capture some haunted shenanigans on film. After their van breaks down and hoofing it the rest of the way to Goldfield, they get the key to the hotel from the local bartender (played by a grizzled “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, here doing his best Yosemite Sam voice inflection) who gives them the standard “stay out of Room 109, confound it!” warning as they scuttle off. Once there, they manage to get a bunch of footage of them walking around, standing, bickering, walking some more, get startled by off-screen loud noises, sitting around, flirting, getting possessed and engaging in sexy betrayal, more loud noises, more bickering…all the while getting followed about by the ghost of Elizabeth, who constantly whines either “help me find my child!” or “follow me if you dare!” And then finally, in the final part, the ghost decides to stop messing around, and everybody dies. But…does anybody really care at this point? The answer is “no”.

Ghosts Of Goldfield managed to bore me to tears all the while insulting my intelligence by attempting to pass this off as a “movie”. It’s boring, the effects are sub-par, the script is laughable, the acting is terrible, the characters highly unlikable…really, about the only bright spots in this movie was Roddy Piper and that bearded old guy in the bar with him. There should have been more of them in this movie. Wasted potential. In any case, if you see this on the Recommended For You lists on whatever streaming service you use, pass it by.

Movie Review: POLTERGEIST

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poltergeistMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
1982
R

“It lies to her. It tells her things only a child can understand. It has been using her to restrain the others. To her, it simply is another child. To us, it is The Beast.”

Years – decades, even – before this recent glut of crappy “haunting” movies started clogging up the horror section at the video stores, there was this nifty little haunted house / malevolent spirits movie that managed to scare the earwax out of everyone who watched it much more effectively than any of those so-called “based on a true story” movies we’re getting nowadays. And, they did so with just a PG rating, if you can believe that.

In Poltergeist, Steven and Diane Freeling are a happy, successful American married couple, raising three children in their new planned community home in California. Steven is a real estate developer, and everything is just hunky-dory…until one night their youngest child, Carol Anne, starts acting a bit odd. She awakens at night to hold conversations with the static on their television, to which she utters her famous line, “They’re here.” The next day, even more weird stuff starts happening in the house: glasses break suddenly, silverware bends, and chairs and other random bits of furniture move around on their own. And then the tree tries to eat their middle child, while Carol Anne is sucked inside a portal in her bedroom closet. A bunch of parapsychologists from the nearby college are called in, where they determine it’s not one apparition, but a bunch of them. That’s when Steven discovers that the housing development was built upon a cemetery where only the headstones were moved, not the bodies. Lovely. I think that’s Rule #1 from the How Not To Get A Haunted House handbook, “Don’t Build On A Cemetery”. Anyway, they then call in the medium (spiritualist medium, not a dig at her physical stature) Tangia Barrons, who proceeds to succeed in getting Carol Anne back, but not until after a bunch of weird, mind-bendy things happen. After everything is declared “clean”, the family starts packing things up to move, but then the demon that started all of the wackiness tries for a second kidnapping, resulting in the infamous scene that kick-started several generations of fearing clowns and clown dolls…and dolls in general. *shiver* As the family struggles to escape, skeletons and coffins begin erupting out from the ground everywhere, and the family makes it out and away before the house is sucked into the portal inside the closet. The end…until the sequel, that is.

The original 1982 Poltergeist is a classic in horror movie making. The reason behind this lies in the fact that Steven Spielberg – who had already floored audiences with Jaws, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and E. T., among others – had a hand in the overall story and writing the screenplay, not to mention producing the thing. Sure, Tobe Hooper directed the thing, but let’s face it: Poltergeist is a Steven Spielberg horror flick from when he was at his peak.

What more can I say, really, that hasn’t already been said about the movie? It’s one that gets shown periodically in Uncle NecRo’s movie dungeon, and still holds up. The effects are still effective, with several that still evoke nightmare fuel. This movie is the reason I still don’t like to clean under my bed, well into adulthood.

Poltergeist is a classic. Forget about the remake, that one doesn’t exist in my reality. If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, check it out. Highly recommended.

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.

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