Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Movie Review: Big Ass Spider! (2013)


There's really no introduction needed for today's movie. It's called Big Ass Spider! (exclamation point included) and whatever crosses your mind when you imagine a movie with that title, you're probably right. But don't be thinking anything bad, though, because Big Ass Spider! is actually pretty great and a movie that is incredibly fun to watch.

Exterminator Alex is a guy who ends up being in the right place at the wrong time when a body shows up at the hospital carrying a spider that is bigger than anything he's ever seen. With the help of a hospital security guard, Alex starts tracking the spider, along with the military, through the city as it continues to grow to epic proportions, the result of some accidental interaction with alien growth hormone.

As the title implies about itself, this movie understands what kind of movie it is and plays to that expectation every chance it gets. Right off the bat, the movie hides nothing from us, as it starts with a flash forward to the end when the enormous spider is fighting off helicopters at the top of a skyscraper (hm, I wonder what that is a reference to), all with some sweeping slow motion and a ballad playing over it that has nothing to do with what is happening on screen. After that the fun really starts, even as the movie goes through the usual motions of meeting the characters and setting up the plot. Though it's not exactly laugh-out-loud funny, the movie keeps up a constant humorous tone throughout, even through some of the more mundane scenes. I know I had a smile on my face practically the whole time I was watching it.

Alex Mathis is my kind of everyday nice guy, played adorably by Greg Grunberg. Lombardo Boyar plays his enthusiastic sidekick Jose, who is responsible for most of the comedy. Other important roles are Ray Wise as Major Braxton and he expertly delivers each line like only an awesome B-movie actor could. Clare Kramer (wahoo for a Buffy reference! She was the Big Bad in season five, Glory) is Lieutenant Carly Brant, the requisite hot chick in a power position role. I saw in Buffy that she has a knack for comedy so I was a little disappointed that they didn't use that much of her full talent here. My only real problem with the movie is that the requisite love story between Alex and Carly felt so incredibly forced, and nothing about it was believable. These two characters had hardly any interaction with each other and by the end, they are in love and kissing. It's like the filmmakers felt like they had to give the nice guy a girl at the end, so they just kinda said, "yeah, these two totally like each other! Don't you see it?" Eh, not really.

Being the horror nut that I am and given my usual reaction to movies like this, my favorite part of the movie has got to be when the spider rampages the park. We get an excellent introduction to this scene by none other than Lloyd Kaufman himself, who plays a random jogger that falls victim to the spider. After that, utter chaos ensues as the giant arachnid plows its way through as many park-goers as it can. It grabs people with its web and quickly eats them (I'm not sure that's biologically correct, but I am so over such trivialities at this point in the movie), and uses its legs to stab several people through the chest. What makes this scene even more hilarious is the gaggle of girls who provide the TandA of the film, as they are playing volleyball in a family park wearing practically nothing.

The poster really says it all, people - Big Ass Spider! is exactly what you'd want; it's hilarious; it's a great time at the movies; and yes, it is even surprisingly clever. It doesn't always take the obvious plot turns when you think it will and its great cast help make the unbelievable seem believable. Big Ass Spider! is definitely one to pick up for a fun movie night.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Review: "Zombie, Indiana" by Scott Kenemore


Zombie author Scott Kenemore continues to cut a swath of undead destruction through the American Midwest with this third novel in his "Zombie State" book series. Zombie, Indiana again takes readers to the capital of the titular state - this time Indianapolis - where we follow several different characters during the first 24 hours of a zombie outbreak. And even though this is his third book with the same basic storyline, Kenemore manages to again make things different and interesting by having the book take on the personality of the state itself.

Scott Kenemore - this man loves himself some zombies
The story starts when a high school class goes missing while touring some nearby caves. Special Sergeant with the Indianapolis Police Department James Nolan is called in to investigate because there was a very important person on that tour - the governor's teenage daughter, Madison. Nolan finds the class decimated by a zombie attack but does manage to save one survivor, 15-year-old Kesha Washington. Together, they escape the caves and search the surrounding area for Madison, avoiding zombies and people that wish to do them harm. Meanwhile, Governor Hank Burleson is obviously hiding something from the people of his state and those closest to him.

While Kenemore's first two Zombie State books (Zombie, Ohio and Zombie, Illinois) were at times literally laugh-out-loud funny, I found myself experiencing some different emotions with Zombie, Indiana - emotions one does not usually find in this kind of story. By the end of the novel, there is an undeniable feeling of hope and togetherness not only amongst the main characters, but also amongst the people of the whole state. I was actually made to believe that some good could come of a zombie apocalypse, and believe me, that was a welcome relief and change. When you are so used to zombie stories being about the evils of man in a societal breakdown, I loved reading a story with a more than positive ending, where good people still existed - existed, and prevailed.

This comes about not only through the characters of Nolan and Kesha but also through the people that they meet as they make their way to the heart of Indianapolis. The common theme with these strangers is that they are not at all how they first appear to be to Nolan and Kesha. The first people they meet instill a sense of foreboding for any future encounters - a blind farmer and his wife seem like the nicest and least threatening people you could hope to meet. But their religious zealotry and racist comments immediately put off our characters and they quickly get away from them. After that, though, the Hoosiers start to show us who they really are. Carnival workers, popular high school girls, and a motorcycle gang are all people who at first seem rather untrustworthy but prove themselves to be just the opposite.

Though Kenemore does give examples of bad people who take terrible advantage of the zombie outbreak to commit crime, they are not at the forefront of his story. Even the evil governor is in the minority, as the people around him actually want to help the people of Indiana, and are obviously reluctant to go along with his plan of "do nothing." I don't know much about Indiana myself (though I do have an aunt that lives in Indy) but Kenemore seems to want us to know that Hoosiers are honest, good people - the kind of people that you would want to rally together with during a zombie apocalypse, or any crisis really. Even when they find out that the governor has created a barricade around the capitol building that only protects a select few and doesn't let in the rest of the populace for protection, they do not immediately storm the place and cause chaos. They set up camp and wait for the  help that they are sure is coming, because the good in them makes them believe in the good of other people, even if they turn out to be wrong.

But if it's zombies you're really looking for, fear not. Readers are once again treated to several memorable scenes of zombie attacks and destruction in all new locations. Though I personally don't think he can top the awesomeness of the coal tunnel sequences in Zombie, Illinois, Kenemore tries by giving us a great introduction to the outbreak in the very cool location of an underground river in a cave where the high school students are taking a tour. I was disappointed that we didn't get to spend that much time here because the images coming to my mind through the descriptions were very creepy and unsettling. And again, all types of zombies make an appearance in Zombie, Indiana - from the blackened and disgusting bodies in the caves to even a little toddler zombie in a farmhouse. The author sure knows how to push the readers' buttons and show us things that we never wanted to see, if only in our minds.

Scott Kenemore has once again proven that he is an amazingly gifted writer who brings to the genre tales that are equally humorous and thought-provoking, gory and inspiring. Zombie, Indiana is just the latest in a string of highly entertaining zombie stories that every horror fan should get their hands on right away. It is a fast-paced novel with great characters and an even greater message. If Kenemore ends up writing 47 more books to cover every state in the union, I will gladly read every last word.


Zombie, Indiana will be available in May 2014.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Movie Review: The Conjuring (2013)


I've had a couple different readers now make the comment to me that they wanted to know what I thought about The Conjuring and said I should do a review. I actually did see the movie when it was first released many months ago, but I didn't do a review then for some ridiculous reason. Now I've rented it again and my feeling is still the same as that first creepy time in the theater. You all know I love ghosts, so fo' sho', I was all over The Conjuring.

In 1971, Roger and Carolyn Perron move their five daughters into what is seemingly the perfect house in the country. But ever-escalating strange and scary occurrences lead them to believe that a very dark spirit haunts their land, and they bring in renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren to help rid them of this evil presence before it is too late.

On my first go-round with The Conjuring, I actually missed most of the beginning of the film with the Annabelle story because whoever was driving got us there late. So instead of safe in a theater with 100 other people, I had to first experience the creepiness of the Annabelle doll by myself at home. Why do people (especially James Wan, who seems to have a strange obsession with dolls) need to keep reminding us that dolls are terrifying? We know this. But anyway, there's some good stuff in this scene and though it doesn't have much, if anything, to do with the main story, it was a good way to introduce the film and set the tone. I also loved that wonderful swelling music at the beginning, and how the title scrolled on the screen - big as life - after the text background information on the Warrens.

One thing I really liked about the movie is that it dually told from both perspectives of the people in the Perron family and the Warrens. Ed and Lorraine are just as interesting characters (and real life people) as the Perrons, so it was nice to see some of what they were really like as people away from their job. This also let the audience know that they were serious about what they do and not in any way fakes or charlatans. Perfectly cast as Ed and Lorraine are Patrick Wilson - one of my favorites ever since Hard Candy - and Vera Farmiga. Roger and Carolyn are played by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor, and though each of the daughters gets a little moment in the spotlight, it's hard to keep them all straight, either character-wise or actor-wise. Let's just say they're all good. I like them. In a movie like this, I think the acting is always really key, and knowing that all these people were hired for their talent and their ability to actually play these real people instead of for their looks or current popularity was wonderful to see.

James Wan's direction is the main reason for the film being so successful at the spooky parts. Wan knows exactly where to put the camera in each scene to get maximum results from the audience, and how long to hold a shot before finally delivering the scare. Some stand-out sequences I have to mention are things like the fat woman holding Rory in cellar where her face is just out of focus; the extremely creepy shot of the hands coming out from between the clothes in the closet and clapping; and the scene that scared the ever-loving shit out of me - when the clapping hands appear next to Carolyn's face out of the dark. I also really enjoyed Wan's use of camera movement here. There are a couple of great zoom shots, and one really perfect sequence where the camera shot is upside down to match the POV of the girl looking under her bed, and then the camera flips up and around with her as she gets up. Really nice to see a director actually use some of those unconventional moves to keep things interesting.

On my second viewing, though, I still didn't like the ending. After all the craziness of the climactic scene and the wreckage of this awesome house, I was again left with a heavy feeling of "that's it?". When Carolyn is stopped from killing her daughter by remembering how much she loves them all and then pukes out the spirit of Bathsheba, it was really touching and a good moment, but I had to think: did that really get rid of the spirit forever? It just felt like things were taken care of a little bit too easily and like the demon wasn't really exorcised or whatever. I'm no professional ghost hunter, though, so I could be wrong.

Touted by many movie-goers as one of or the scariest film(s) ever made, The Conjuring was not only a huge financial success, but also one that actually delivered the goods it promised. I think it respectfully portrays part of the real story of the Warrens while still doing its job of being creepy and unsettling. And with a sequel and a spinoff movie on the way, we'll see if lightning can strike three times.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Movie Review: Night of the Living Dead (1990)


There are lots of movies on my horror movie "must-see" list. The remake of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead was always on that list, moreso just in a completist way rather than something really mandatory. Well, I ended up being immensely surprised at Tom Savini's feature film debut as a director, not only for its respect of the original but also for its respect of the zombie movie in general.

The plot is basically the same and starts out with brother and sister duo Johnny and Barbara arriving at the cemetery to visit their father's grave when they are attacked by a strange, shambling man. Barbara escapes to a nearby farmhouse and there meets up with several other people. Together they all try to fortify the house and survive the night as the hordes of the reanimated dead gather outside.

I'm honestly really impressed with NOTLD90, and for several reasons. Despite the fact that it is almost a shot-for-shot retelling of the story from 1968, the remake feels fresh and new. Savini's directorial eye is different than Romero's - where Romero used lots of interesting angles and took advantage of the shadows created from using black and white photography, Savini's approach is rather simple. He doesn't detract from the action with crazy camera movements or anything, and instead just makes something that looks professional and well thought out with what's on screen. It's simply a good movie telling a good, simple story and the simplest stories are always the best to me.

Another reason for the remake's success is the casting. It was nice that they kept all of the original characters and, for most of them at least, their personality traits and relationships are the same. The only big change is the character of Barbara - the shock stricken mouse of the original is replaced by a woman who removes her emotions from the situation to truly take charge and kick ass. Veteran Tony Todd takes on the iconic role of Ben, a role he seems to have slipped into with real ease and grace. It helps that he does physically resemble Duane Jones but mostly it is Todd's take-charge demeanor coupled with his sympathy and genuine care for the other characters (eh, most of them anyway) that again makes Ben one of the best characters in horror history.

The other thing about the remake that I was pleased with was the tone of the film. Though the dialogue is at times overly crazy when the characters are fighting, it never once goes through your mind that this is a cheesy remake with no redeeming quality. NOTLD90 is serious as a heat attack throughout and it was something that I really enjoyed and appreciated. It would have been too easy to go the route of the zom-com with hysterical female characters and zombie jokes.

Roger Ebert and I don't usually agree on much but it seems in regard to NOTLD90 that we both had something to say about the ridiculous amount of hammering that occurs in the film. That's a nitpick, I know, but seriously, watch it again and really focus on the amount of time that almost all the actors spend hammering wood into the walls to barricade the windows. Move on to something else, please. Other than that, the only thing that slightly disappointed me was the fact that there was far less gore than I was expecting. Just slightly though, because again this lack of excessive bloodshed also helped in keeping the serious tone of the movie.

In a strange way, I did find myself missing the horrible and ironic ending of the original film when lone survivor Ben is mistaken for a zombie and shot. This is replaced by a scene just as poignant - when Barbara returns to the house to find Cooper alive and shoots him immediately, letting the good 'ol boys add him to the fire of other zombies outside. I loved how this was a nod to the beginning of Dawn of the Dead and didn't mind the change in ending one bit because it was the right ending for this version.

All in all, NOTLD90 is a very solid remake, one that makes changes in the right way and for the right reasons, while still keeping all the elements of the original that worked. It's a remake that should be mentioned more often as one of the most successful ones out there.




Also, did anyone else notice how strange it was that Barbara lost her glasses at the beginning of the movie but it never seemed to bother her the rest of the time? And that she was still a pretty good shot?Just food for thought.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Movie Review: Barracuda (1978)


Given the title of today's movie and the year of its release, you can probably make some safe assumptions about it right off the bat. Yes, it's another one of those movies that was made after Jaws became the coolest thing since shelled pistachios. No, it's not nearly as good as Jaws. Like, not even close to nearly. There's a subtitle to the movie called "The Lucifer Project" but you don't find out what that means until the end, and by then you don't care enough to think about the fact that the name makes no sense for what the project actually is.

In the small town of Palm Cove, there is a mysterious menace stalking both the water and the land. Several people and fish have turned up dead lately, and the people in the town have been acting strangely - lashing out at each other for no reason. A marine biologist thinks it has to do with a nearby chemical company polluting the water, so he and the town sheriff work together to expose the truth.

So the worst thing about Barracuda is that the promise of any actual barracuda action is mostly just a ruse to get you to watch the movie in the first place. Sure, there are some underwater barracuda attacks on a few divers and a couple of severed limbs and heads, but believe me, none of it is anything worth getting excited over. The attack scenes are no better than the stuff we were given in the original Piranha, with a lot of fast close-ups where you can barely tell what is happening. Some cloudy red water and spooky music, and the scene is over. Bo-ring.

Only somewhat less boring is the cast of characters we get to follow through this dull ride. Heading up the pack is the town sheriff Ben Williams and the marine biologist Mike. The former actually seems like a cool dude who believes things easily and is much smarter than some of the other people in his town. The latter, Mike, is a cocky young guy whom I didn't like at all even though the movie tried to make me think I should. I just didn't dig his attitude or the way he treated the sheriff's daughter, with that kind of aloof manner. The fat deputy Lester is the comic relief of the movie and his role consisted mostly of him sleeping in the sheriff's office and having weird lines like asking what the word "aural" meant. So strangely, the characters were interesting enough distract me from the fact that they completely bullshitted me on the barracuda angle.

You see, after a while the barracudas are all but forgotten and the last third of the movie plays out like some weird evil government chase thriller. I was actually kind of interested in this part of the movie because in earlier scenes, there were some random, seemingly out-of-place instances involving other townspeople that I really needed to be explained to me. In one scene, the camera focuses on two people arguing on the street in the background. Later, it's a small fender bender that sends one guy over the edge. A spilled drink in a diner makes another guy go ballistic on a waitress. Then while Mike is using the town doctor's lab to do some research on the barracudas, he starts to become suspicious that the doctor might know more than he is letting on. This is why the movie is not so much like some of the other Jaws rip-offs. It uses the Jaws angle to get people interested, but it actually tries to do something different for itself.

Though the story they come up with is not horrible, it's also really lame. The government is making the doctor do some stupid experiment on Palm Cove where they put chemicals in the water to give them low blood sugar which makes them violent. And the government wants to make people more violent so they'll be more prepared and willing to go to war. WHUH? Yeah, that's the gist. The barracudas acting all crazy and eating people is just a side affect of those same chemicals being dumped in the water.

Ugh, that means that I have been double-duped by this movie and I don't like it. Barracuda has got its very few moments here and there but for the most part it is pretty forgettable.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Movie Review: We Are What We Are (2013)


Just three years after the original Mexican film We Are What We Are was released, we already have an American remake. I don't mean that in a haughty, OMG-all-remakes-suck way either (because they don't). I'm really just surprised that it was remade at all because as far as I can tell, the 2010 version didn't get all that much buzz in the horror world. Maybe you shouldn't believe me when I say that because I'm not really that in tune with the horror world, truth be told. Anywho, I found the original and reviewed it here. To sum up, I appreciated the movie's aesthetic but overall found it to not be as exciting as the premise promised. This 2013 remake, however, is not that at all. I guess someone else found the same potential in this gruesome tale that I did and decided to work on it.

During a terrible rainstorm in their small town, the matriarch of the quiet Parker family suddenly dies. The grief-stricken family is now forced to deal with just what that means for them as their father forces the two daughters, Iris and Rose, to continue on with the family's traditions in place of their mother. And as the flooding of the town starts to wash up things long though buried, a local doctor gets suspicious of the Parkers, and what they might have to do with several missing people in the area.

To be honest, cannibals are still boring here. The movie is still somewhat tedious, more like a drama than a horror film, and a bit of a slow burn but there are other aspects at play that make it superior to the original. The only thing I will complain about is that I was not particularly fond of the historical reason given for why the members of the family were cannibals. Even after it was explained, it still doesn't really make a whole lot of sense for really why they would have continued the "tradition" for so long, especially considering what we find out it does to the family physically. They always talk about God, but it is really Him they are worshipping or their ancestors and what they created? Still a little confused on this part.

The two things that play in the movie's favor is the acting and the story (other than the confusing part). The story is improved upon mostly because of the addition of the doctor with a personal connection to the Parkers' actions. They only partake in the cannibalism once a year on Lambs Day so while they have obviously managed to elude capture, there are a lot of open missing persons cases around them, including the daughter of Doctor Burrow, played by Michael Parks. That side plot brought a wonderful human element to the story that the original was missingAnother interesting tidbit is just how the doctor found out about the cannibalism - the mother died of some rare disease (that is actually real) that is caused by eating human flesh. The switching of the genders of the family members was also a wonderful idea because it brought up so many other issues like the roles of women in religion, and a father ruling a family with fear and the children looking for a maternal substitute.

The acting is pretty superb especially by the girls playing Iris and Rose, Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner. Both girls are able to carry the look of children with a very serious and heavy weight on their shoulders, almost as if they are war-torn. While watching the film, I was almost begging them to smile just once because that constant shell-shock face they give was really depressing me. Michael Parks was another favorite as the doctor and his scene where he confronts the father was one of the best and the most suspenseful. Bill Sage plays Frank the father, and is equally good at portraying true sorrow and inflicting fear and obedience from his children. It was also very cool to see Kelly McGillis in a smallish role here as the Parkers' neighbor who keeps a constant watchful eye on the family.

There seems to be a little more blood in this remake than I remember from the original, but still not as much as you would expect. And for the most part, I was still a little disappointed in the regard that though We Are What We Are is still a dark and disturbing story, it's not as ballsy as it could be. But then I got to the last scene. Oh my gravy, that last scene. I suddenly felt very bad for all my misgivings and was praising this movie to the highest mountain. I don't want to talk about it specifically because it would be a terrible spoiler, but trust me, it's worth waiting for. Iris and Rose are so apprehensive and fearful of their father and what he makes them do all throughout the movie, yet they never really present themselves as actually being able to stop him and all the cannibal madness. I was wrong. These chicks are fucking hardcore.

Honestly though, what I saw more than anything was a tale about family, and what a family can survive and whether or not it can stay together. There are many examples of the loss of certain family members in We Are What We Are and how it affects the rest of the family. Of course, the mother dying deeply upsets everyone, but Frank is the one seen as the most emotionally affected by it, driven to uncontrollable crying and barely being able to move sometimes. Little daughter Rose, now without a mother, is devastated at the thought of losing her older sister Iris to a boy and being left in the family alone. Burrow lost his daughter years ago yet you can see on his face that it has never been forgotten. The Parkers have a secret and a way of life that keeps them bonded, but how long will that ruse work and how quick can a family be torn apart? We Are What We Are explores all this and more.

Whether you've seen the Mexican version or not, We Are What We Are should be on your watchlist. It has masterful direction and acting, and a story that appeals to both regular film lovers and horror lovers alike. And here's an interesting tidbit - the mother is played by Kassie DePaiva, whom I now know also played Bobbie Jo in Evil Dead II. Nice!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Short and Sweet: "Don't Steal from the Devil" by Sergio Pereira

I'm trying my best to get through all of the books and short stories that have been sent to me by authors, ones that I have had just waiting on my desktop for... well, for a really long time. So today we have the short story "Don't Steal from the Devil" by Sergio Pereira. It's a very cool story about two siblings and their sick mother who get the upper hand on a pair of thieves in a way that you won't expect.

Cover design by Wesley Smuts

The story takes a very different turn from other horror stories I've been reading lately and I loved watching it unfold. There's a little bit of intrigue sprinkled in right from the beginning when the brother and sister, Peter and Jess, are worried about their mother and her strange illness that they can't diagnose. Plus, Jess is hearing ghost-like noises in the house at night, and there is also some backstory about their father leaving them. Several seemingly unrelated things come together in a gleefully evil way when two intruders tie up Peter and Jess and try to get into the safe in the parents' bedroom. Pereira gives just enough background information at the beginning of the story so that readers know what is going on and then he jumps right into the action. He never lets it up, and the story reads at such a fast pace that I think I read all of it in about five minutes.

If you take into account the title of the story and the mother's strange illness, maybe you can see where the story is going. I liked that Pereira used this device in a more cheeky way, though, to reveal the truth about how the intruders got into the house and just what they are doing there. The descriptions he gives are gruesome enough to give horror fans what they want, yet they don't get overused and don't take away from the real reason for the story. The corruption by evil is what the devil does best, you know, and though I really enjoyed how Pereira ended the story, I would have loved to see the ultimate manifestation of that evil as perpetrated by the children and see how it affected them.

My only small complaint would be that some of the dialogue sounds unnatural. It sounds like the writing of someone whose first language is not English and so the colloquial sound is off. His characters say "do not" and "you are" and "I must go" - when most people use contractions when they speak, and I can't remember the last time I said that I "must" do something. If this part were fixed, then the story would be much more believable and not so distracting.

Otherwise, high marks for this intriguing little story! I hope Pereira keeps it up.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Movie Review: Bad Milo! (2013)


A movie with a premise like the one in Bad Milo should not be this good. It really shouldn't. But, as a lover of all things horror (even the really, really weird) and as a bored chick looking for something funny to watch the other day, I figured I had to at least give Bad Milo a chance. Hey, if a movie is stupid you can always turn it off, right? There was never a second where I wanted to turn off Bad Milo, though. The movie definitely uses the strangest metaphor I've ever seen for the problems a man is having in his life, but dang if they didn't deal with it in a way that made me totally love it.

It's a stressful life for poor Duncan, who has to deal with growing pressures at work and at home. Mixed with some pretty nasty gastrointestinal problems, and Duncan's stress soon manifests itself as an actual creature that lives in his bowels and pops out occasionally to kill all of the people that are causing Duncan problems. With the aid of a very strange therapist, Duncan tries to get to the root of his, uh, internal problem, before the creature kills everyone in his life!

If you come into the movie with the right attitude, Bad Milo will be able to take your probably extremely low expectations and flip them on on their head. Let's just get things straight here again: the movie is about a creature who lives in a dude's ass. A two-foot tall creature with a fairly gigantic head and sharp, sharp teeth and nails. In Duncan's butt. The movie has the absurdity of little creature features from the 80s like Critters, Ghoulies, or Gremlins (the obvious comparisons) but Bad Milo at least tries to go beyond the basics of its absurd plot to help tell the tale of a normal guy with normal problems that need fixing. A problem I had, though, was that the problems in Duncan's life really didn't seem all that major to cause him so much stress. There are worse things in life than just your mother nagging you about having a baby, just sayin'.

A big part of Bad Milo's success is the impressive cast, led by the very competent Ken Marino as Duncan. He plays Duncan as the perfect everyman, just a good guy who gets stepped on and controlled by everyone around him and doesn't have the guts (HAHA, see what I did there?) to stand up for himself. The guy playing the doctor that Duncan and his wife Sarah are visiting at the beginning was hilarious through his entire scene, playing the kind of the doctor that you both want and don't want for yourself. Strange bedside manner. Mary Kay Place as Duncan's mother is also funny, considering a certain reveal near the end, and Stephen Root is fantastic as always as Duncan's dad Roger. Peter Stormare practically steals the show from everyone as the New Age-y, hippie type therapist Highsmith. It still surprises me to see Stormare be so funny in different roles. It's hard for me to get him as Grimsrud from Fargo out of my head whenever I see him in something else! Anyway, aces all around in the casting department.

Oh, and Milo. He's funny, ugly, and adorable all at the same time. The movie sets its own precedent for Milo's existence as being based on some kind of myth about this creature being a manifestation of your subconscious and being able to carry out your darkest desires for you. And apparently that turns into a bulbous, wrinkly, flesh-colored thing that can thrive in the anus. Sure. Why not. Milo doesn't talk but instead makes these little chittering noises, kind of like Gizmo from Gremlins. Milo is also a very nice looking practical puppet who is perhaps just as good an actor as anybody else. And he's practical pretty much all the way through, I think - maybe they snuck in some CGI while I wasn't looking, but I still like. Could Milo become a new cult favorite monster? We'll see!

Most surprising about the movie is that given the premise, it never gets into that really crude or juvenile area of humor that I hate that so much. Of course there is toilet humor to a degree but it is not done in a stupid, "pooping is funny" way so I didn't mind it at all. A lot of the comedy comes from just the characters' personalities and the perfect timing by the actors - and also from this one really great scene where a woman refuses to reciprocate oral sex, which is of course funny to me because movies usually show the situation as a guy dissing a girl after she's done the deed, know what I mean? Good move, girlfriend. Undoubtedly the best scene of the movie is the little montage of Duncan and Milo living together in a motel room, while they try to bond with each other - and while Duncan tries to get Milo to want to eat something other than humans. It's a pretty hilarious and strangely touching scene at the same time. There's also this weird parallel between Duncan and Milo's relationship and Duncan's reluctance to be a father but they actually made that work out alright in the end.

There are times when the pacing is a little off and there are dialogue-heavy gaps between funny or action scenes, but Bad Milo is still a joy. It's definitely heavy on the quirk side but a great cast and a great overall attitude and tone make this one that anybody could dig.



You might also want to take note of the fact that Milo bites a penis off at one point. I'm not really sure why I had to add that in here... just an interesting tidbit to make you more curious...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book Review: "The Witching House" by Brian Moreland

My favorite types of books have always been the ones that make you not want to stop reading until the end. You're sitting there reading, you haven't moved in about four hours, and you probably really have to use the bathroom (even then, you just take the book with you, anyway) but you cannot bear to think of doing anything else until you've gotten to the final word on the final page. I've found an author that can deliver that kind of experience for me, because I've now read three books by him and all of them were read in no more than two sittings. This time author Brian Moreland has delivered the goods with a much shorter - but still highly enjoyable - piece called "The Witching House."

Forty years ago, the Blevins house was the scene of something most horrific - twenty-seven people, all members of a coven of witches, were brutally slaughtered inside the house. Now two young couples are doing a little "urban exploring" at the famous haunted house, not knowing that whoever - or whatever - committed those horrible acts decades ago is still there, and still hasn't lost its taste for human blood.

Sometimes it seems like creating a good horror story is getting harder and harder these days. The genre is perhaps more popular than it has ever been and everybody is getting in on it. Based on the two previous books of Moreland's that I'd read, "Dead of Winter" and "Shadows in the Mist," I knew I could expect something bloody and interesting with this book, but I wasn't expecting yet another new twist on familiar horror tropes done in wonderfully different ways. "The Witching House" leads you to believe at first that it will be your basic haunted house tale, then maybe it will throw in some extra freaky stuff when witches are mentioned. But the reveal of just what is going on inside the Old Blevins House is something so crazily brilliant that Moreland deserves more than just a pat on the back for what he's accomplished.

I mean, the first line of the book talks about "the house that ate people." That gets your interest, right? Especially for gorehounds like me, who loved reading in "The Witching House" about people getting torn apart, and walls and floors covered in a black ooze with a life of its own. Moreland's description of the setting and the action is detailed enough so that the images easily come to mind and I felt like I knew exactly what his monstrous cellar creature looked like in his mind, too. Again, he has written something that reads like a script to a great horror movie - and I hope that doesn't come off as offensive or anything. I just loved how vivid and quick-paced the whole story was, and I love the experience of being able to completely envision what I'm reading without any distractions.

The main character is Sarah Donovan, who is trying out the urban exploring thing with her new adventurous boyfriend Dean, and his friends Casey and Meg. The latter couple is not given enough time to really develop their characters but the reader is definitely given the sense that they are likable and fun. Sarah and Dean are given both wonderful personality traits and flaws which only make you like them all the more. I really have no complaints in this area - the characters are real and you believe them in this situation, and the dialogue is natural and real-sounding, as well.

The story works very well on its own as a novella, but I couldn't help but be immensely curious about some of the stories we weren't getting to the full extent in "The Witching House." I don't know if it would have even added anything to the story really but I think it would have been so interesting to get more backstory. I would have loved to read more about what it was like in the Blevins house while the coven was still living there and the kinds of things they did, and also what it was like for Sarah with her grandmother's experience with Wicca and just how that might have given her the strength to survive her current situation. Moreland sprinkles in little hints, though, that let you come up with your own backstories and explanations.

It's an honor to be able to support an author like Moreland. There are some truly great voices out there creating some of the best and most fun horror literature that I've ever read and he is definitely one of them. I've still got his most recent book to read - "The Devil's Woods" - and now it looks like he's got something new coming out in June called "The Vagrants." Until then, I suggest to everyone that you get caught up on what this great author has to offer. "The Witching House" is an amazing piece, and only shows a small portion of this author's great talent. Discover him today!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Short and Sweet: American Muppet (2014)

Need a good laugh today? Watch this short video, which has some of our beloved childhood figures in a very different situation than you've ever seen them in before...



Big thanks to one of the short's producers for sending me this. I'm glad to share it!