Movie Review: WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS

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what we do in the shadowsParamount Pictures
2014
R

“Yeah, some of our clothes are from victims. You might bite someone and then, you think, ooooh, those are some nice pants.”

So, there I was, in the hospital due to my knees getting rather messed up. I had my laptop there, and was contemplating taking in a streaming movie to help assuage my growing boredom in just sitting there healing up. I was perusing the Horror section on my Amazon account, and notice one of the titles available was, in fact, What We Do In The Shadows. Remembering friends aggressively recommending I watch this movie for a rather long time, I decided to finally give it a go. I mean, it was made by one of the Flight Of The Concords guys. And I’ve been hearing pretty good things about this mocumentary style comedy horror thing.

Keep in mind, there’s a difference between a mocumentary and a found footage movie. What We Do In The Shadows falls in the former category, and belongs in the kind of quality mocumentary comedies as This Is Spinal Tap and Anvil: The Story Of Anvil.

What’s that? Anvil: The Story Of Anvil wasn’t a mocumentary, but an actual documentary on the band? That’s depressing. Okay, so how about Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping? Okay, we’re good then. Moving along…

So, What We Do In The Shadows follows the unlives of four vampire roommates sharing an old Victorian house, and opening up about their daily goings abouts and various other things that none of the normals of society know about. They’re all getting ready for the upcoming annual masquerade ball, a kind of gathering of supernatural and undead persons and creatures. Over the days, they try and debunk various myths and exaggerations about the vampire lifestyle, something that’s thrown a bit askew when the oldest of the four–a Nosferatu style elderly vampire that dwells in the basement inside a stone crypt most of the time–turns a Millennial, who turns out to be a brat that would make Lestat want to smack him for being so brazen.They also make friends with a human, who helps teach them to understand and embrace the 21st Century and its technology for their benefit; and get into some altercations with the local werewolf pack. Wackiness doth ensue, my children of the night.

What We Do In The Shadows is a fantastic movie. It not just settles as a comedy, content on merely playing around with several vampire tropes and cliche’s, but due to some very good writing, turned out to be more than that. There’s a very tangible sense of pathos and loneliness that the main vampire characters exude, along with their annoyance at the youngest baby bats to infiltrate the group. Even if you’re not a fan of the Vampire genre, I highly recommend acquiring this movie and watching it.

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Movie Review: FREAKS OF NATURE

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freaks of natureColumbia Pictures
2015
R

“I think I’m having brain withdrawals.”

In Freaks of Nature, we welcome you to Dillford, where three days ago, everything was peaceful and business as usual: the vampires were at the top of the social order, the zombies were at the bottom, and the humans were getting along in the middle. But this delicate balance was ripped apart when the alien apocalypse arrived in Dillford and put an end to all the harmony. Now it’s humans vs. vampires vs. zombies in all-out, blood-sucking, brain-eating, vamp-staking mortal combat – and all of them are on the run from the aliens. It is up to three teenagers – one human, one vampire, and one zombie – to team up, figure out how to get rid of the interplanetary visitors, and try to restore order to this “normal” little town.

Freaks Of Nature was apparently released to theaters on the same day that another so-called “horror comedy” going by the name of Scout’s Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse was released. Only, Freaks Of Nature was only in 100 or so theaters on October 30th, 2015. I don’t remember seeing this in any of the local Omaha theaters at the time; each one, though, had a showing of the Scout’s Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse. Which I still haven’t watched. For reasons.

The original script to Freaks Of Nature started life under the title “Kitchen Sink”, something I vaguely remember being reported on back in 2011. It was evidently so memorable I promptly forgot about it until I was doing the usual background investigation on this for the review purposes. Huh. It was filmed in 2013, but was held back by Sony until it was just dumped with little to no fanfare on the previously mentioned date, then slipping into DVD/VOD relative obscurity. Which isn’t necessarily a death sentence, but the question remains: is Freaks Of Nature worth checking out?

Since I’m big on using food-related analogies, I would compare Freaks Of Nature to a good plate of goulash. And in case you were wondering (or aren’t very familiar with the concept of “goulash”), I’m talking about the American Midwest version that really only has the name and maybe the inclusion of beef as the only connection to the original Hungarian dish. It consists mainly of ground beef and macaroni in tomato sauce, and depending on the recipe can include corn, onions and garlic, diced stewed tomatoes, with the option of cheese to be added for taste.

And like goulash, Freaks Of Nature turned out to be a hot mess, but a surprisingly tasty hot mess that was made better with cheese. And if you go back to the original script’s title, you kind of get the idea that the creators of this were in on that fact. The base of this movie feels more like a John Hughes coming-of-age rom com that also features vampires and zombies dwelling together because…reasons. Then aliens invade, and a human, a vampire and a zombie from the local high school have to set aside their prejudices and band together to figure out what the aliens want. Which turns out to be a chemical compound found in the town’s Riblet factory.

For the most part, Freaks Of Nature was enjoyable on a certain level. It’s a movie that’s in desperate need of a focus, but for the most part, I enjoyed it. It’s certainly way better than Vampires Suck. Worth a look-see.

HALLOWEEN’ING Day 28: “Cold” (Static-X)

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halloween'ing 2017
I first heard the song “Cold” as part of the movie Queen Of The Damned. It’s played during the part where Lestat is playing around with a couple of groupies’ heads before he eats them. It’s one of the highlights of an otherwise passable vampire film (in and of itself; as an adaptation…well, that’s not the point of this article, really). I soon came to find out that this song was re-purposed for the film, and the original was done by cyber nu-metal group Static-X.

Coming off of their 2001 release Machine, “Cold” is chilling enough as it is, a nice neo-Gothic metal ode to vampires. However, it’s the video that really makes this a staple in my Halloween music mix: A disheveled looking Wayne Static inside a remote house that’s heavily fortified and barricaded, preparing for a showdown with vampires once the sun goes down. It’s very much an homage to Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, and is awesome in its own right.

::END TRANSMISSION::

Book Review: ‘SALEM’S LOT

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salems-lotStephen King
Doubleday
1975

The town kept its secrets, and the Marsten House brooded over it like a ruined king.

‘Salem’s Lot is a small New England town with white clapboard houses, tree-lined streets, and solid church steeples. That summer in ‘salem’s Lot was a summer of homecoming and return; spring burned out and the land lying dry, crackling underfoot. Late that summer, Ben Mears returned to ‘salem’s Lot hoping to cast out his own devils and found instead a new, unspeakable horror. A stranger had also come to the Lot, a stranger with a secret as old as evil, a secret that would wreak irreparable harm on those he touched and in turn on those they loved. All would be changed forever–Susan, whose love for Ben could not protect her; Father Callahan, the bad priest who put his eroded faith to one last test; and Mark, a young boy who sees his fantasy world become reality and ironically proves the best equipped to handle the relentless nightmare of ‘Salem’s Lot.

This was perhaps the very first honest-to-goodness vampire novel I ever read. Mind you, at the age that I was just getting into horror novels, my knowledge of vampire lore in pop culture was novice at best, usually limited to seeing a commercial for a vampire movie on television. Most of the horror novels I’ve read up to that point involved ghosts, or at least some mystery that wound up the ghosts in question were easily explained away. Come to think of it, I think the mose scary horror novel I ever read was one of the original five Choose Your Own Adventure books. Something-something-something, Chimney Rock. I should point out I’m writing this article at a church picnic at a park with no usable wifi to do a Google search. Sorry.

Anyway, Stephen King’s second novel to be released after his breakthrough with Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot is also the second story of his to feature the town of Jerusalem’s Lot (the first being the short story of the same name as found in the Night Shift collection). Here, a young writer moves back to his hometown to try and put to rest some ghosts from his past, and settles down and makes friends with the populace. Also settling into an old mansion that was the sight of a grizzly murder back in the “olden days” (it’s always an old mansion with a past, isn’t it?) is a businessman who maintains nocturnal hours. During the daytime, he utilizes his trusty assistant to conduct his business.

The business man is a vampire. You probably guessed that one by now.

So, said vampire wastes no time in turning the populace of ‘Salem’s Lot, and it’s up to the afore mentioned writer, a doubting priest, and a kid to try and fight the evil that’s taken root in their community. It doesn’t end well.

I wouldn’t really classify ‘Salem’s Lot as a post-modern vampire novel, as you can see there are shades borrowed from the granddaddy of all vampire novels–Dracula–but it’s all given a modern shellac job. Perhaps because of the time it was written, or more because Stephen King just didn’t give a rip at the time, these vampires are chilling and terrifying, not some brooding pretty (un)people that you want to have relations with.

Unfortunately, because I read this back when I was 14, maybe my third novel of his to read, I wasn’t old enough to really appreciate the story. But, I was old enough to have it stick with me from then on; now, as a more sophisticated age (stop snickering), ‘Salem’s Lot sits easily in my Top 5 favorite Vampire novels list.

HALLOWEEN’ING 2016: Day 8 – Fright Night

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halloweening-2016-logo

Scary Movie Nite:

fright-night

FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)

It’s movie night, and you’re wondering what to stick on the telly to get that spine-tingling fix for the Halloween season. You decide on a classic in the genre: Vampires! But, they can’t be of the sparkly, broody pretty-boy variety, but also post-modern with a nice nod to the classic horror flicks of yore. Well, look no further than the classic Fright Night from 1985!

No, I’m not talking about that remake from 2011. I’m talking about the original, with a 20-something teenager suspecting that his neighbor is a vampire, and must enlist the help of his girlfriend, best friend, and the host of a local Creature Feature show to expose the truth and take him out. It stars two future Fox Primetime sitcom actors (Herman’s Head and Married…With Children), Susan Sarandon’s first husband, and the late, great Roddy McDowall bringing some gravitas to a campy yet effective script that could only be a product from the 1980s. Because they tried to recreate the magic in 2011. With the guy who played Bullseye in the Daredevil movie. Yeah.

FRIGHT NIGHT on Amazon Digital

::END TRANSMISSION::

Book Review: VAMPIRES: The Greatest Stories

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Book Review: VAMPIRES: The Greatest StoriesMartin H. Greeberg (Editor)
MJF Books
1997

Whenever I find myself at one of the two Barnes & Nobel shops here in Omaha, there’s usually one main area you’ll be able to find me browsing in: the Bargain Books sections. Besides the possibility of running into a title by an author that’s been marked down to titillate my cheapskate sensibilities (stop giggling), you can also find some obscure short story collections of both the horror and sci-fi varieties that B&N releases on one of their offshoot publishing groups.

And that’s how I happened across a copy of Vampires: The Greatest Stories. I was looking for something cheap yet interesting to kill the time while driving my Nurse Practitioner mother around to her appointed rounds, and came upon this very thing that caught my eye. So I bought it, and read it. Obviously. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this obligatory review.

The stories contained in Vampires: The Greatest Stories have maybe a handful by authors I recognize right off the bat: Robert Bloch (“The Bat is My Brother”), Philip K. Dick (“The Cookie Lady”), Robert McCammon (“The Miracle Mile”) and Richard Matheson (“No Such Thing As a Vampire”), as well as stories by names I didn’t recognize (but that hasn’t stopped me from devouring their contributions anyway): Eric Lustbader (“In Darkness, Angels”), Roger Zelazny (“Dayblood”), Brian Stableford (“The Man Who Loved the Vampire Lady”), David Drake (“Something Had to be Done”), Daniel Ransom (“Valentine from a Vampire”), Jane Yolen (“Mama Gone”), Karl Edward Wagner (“Beyond Any Measure”), Tanith Lee (“Red As Blood”), S. P. Somtow (“The Vampire of Mallworld”), Tad Williams (“Child of an Ancient City”) and Dan Simmons (“Shave and a Haircut, Two Bites”). It was an intersting selection, with some imaginative takes on the whole vampire genre, without devolving into a whole glut of “dark fantasy romance” or “young adult fiction”. But, I digress.

Overall, while the stories themselves were amusing and at times inventive and imaginative, I wouldn’t go so far as calling this the “Greatest Stories” ever assembled for vampire-themed fiction. Yes, I know, hype for the purpose of selling. Still, the collection seems a bit anemic. But then again, for a greatly affordable bargain book, it was a great way to kill a few hours.

Movie Review: FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)

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2-8 - Movie Review: FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)Columbia Pictures
1985
R

“Oh, call me anything you want. Only you’re the one failing trig, not me.”

What would you do if you realized that your charming next-door neighbor was actually a bloodthirsty vampire? This is the dilemma Charley must confront when he notices some rather strange occurrences on the block. His solution is to enlist the aid of Peter Vincent, a has-been horror film actor who now hosts “Fright Night”, a local TV show. Together, the duo set out to rid Charley of his coffin-dwelling neighbor – but their plans go awry when the suave bloodsucker realizes they’re on to him.

You know, come to think of it, 1985 was something of a banner year for horror movies. Especially for a young tweener as myself, with the kind of wild imagination custom-built for the bizarre, dark and creepy with a healthy dose of cheese and camp. Couldn’t watch a lot of horror movies that came out during that time due to my age and my parents having that annoying “concern” and “responsibility” thing going on. But, watching the commercials were just as entertaining. And Fright Night was definitely one of the memorable spots in between episodes of whatever sitcoms I was allowed to watch at the time.

It wasn’t until I was much older when I finally got around to watching the original 1985 post-modern vampire flick Fright Night, when I had the ability to get my own video rental card at the Applause Video store in Fremont, Nebraska back in the day. And I got to admit, the version I imagined this movie would be when I was a youngster was much more dynamic than the actual movie itself (my imagination being rather explosive, natch), but it still was rather fun to watch.

So, here we have a couple of 20 something-looking teenagers–Charley “That Guy From Herman’s Head” Brewster, Edward “Evil Ed” Thompson, and Amy “That Neighbor From Married With Children” Peterson–and the host of a local late night Creature Feature program–Peter “I’m Roddy Freakin’ McDowall” Vincent–have suspicions that Charley’s new neighbor may be a vampire. Well, more Charley than the other two, they just seem to be along for moral support for their possibly crazy friend. But then [SPOILERS] the neighbor really is a vampire! And he’s betting that it doesn’t matter, as everyone thinks Charley has been watching too many vampire flicks. And then his friends and family start getting turned into vamps. And so it’s up to Charley to take out that vampire and survive so he can get that obscure show on Fox that predated Inside Out by a couple of decades.

Okay, so I had a bit of fun with the story descript, but that’s only because the original Fright Night was just good, bloody fun (pun intended). It’s one of those cheesy 80s horror movies that manages to be fun on a level that also has some good, spooky atmospherics, kind of a neo-Gothic Hammer flick for the Regan era. Maybe not as genre defining as The Lost Boys were a couple of years later, but a fun post-modern vampire flick that needs to be watched, instead of that relatively decent remake from 2011. Recommended.

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