Friday, November 28, 2014

Franchise Review: Puppet Master II (1991)

Sometimes known as having the subtitle "His Unholy Creations," Puppet Master II still doesn't exactly live up to what I thought the series had to offer, but it's starting to go in the right direction. Even though plot is once again a bit convoluted and confusing, and the main characters are dull as dishwater, the puppets get to shine a lot more - and that's really all we want to see anyway.

The sequel opens with Pinhead and the other puppets resurrecting Andre Toulon from the grave with a magic potion. It then jumps to our main plot and cast members, who are a group of paranormal investigators setting up shop in the Bodega Bay Inn. They are there to look into the accusations of psychic Alex from the first film and what happened there, along with the strange death of Megan Gallagher. At the same time that the investigators either start to go missing or get murdered, a strange man appears at the hotel, claiming that he owns the place.

It's really not the greatest plot they could have come up with, but it seems to come mostly from necessity - the need for uninteresting characters to be the victims of the puppets. One thing that they improved upon plot-wise was giving the audience a bit more of a peek into the magic that brought the puppets to life and also what brought Toulon back. The puppets don't just kill because their master told them to - Toulon needs different parts of fresh human flesh for his potion. That's gross, but I like it. There is also some excitement in the addition of Torch, a bulky Nazi-looking puppet with bullets for teeth and a flame-throwing arm. He gives Blade a run for his money in the badassery department. I was happy to see that the puppets got more animation this time around, with many more shots of them, full-bodied, running and jumping around. And the animation wasn't too shabby.

So there are some crazy random scenes in Puppet Master II. First, the leader of the paranormal dudes is Carolyn, and her brother Patrick unfortunately becomes the first (seen) victim of the puppets when Tunneler tunnels into his forehead. This becomes a strange situation because the police are never involved, and there's a confusing scene of the characters all gathered around his body in some cold room. Wait, what? Did they just put him in the hotel's walk-in or something? Later on, there is another crazy and really inappropriate and suggestive scene of a child playing outside with his GI Joe, or Ken doll, I could go either way here. Anywho, for some reason, a six-year-old has a whip and proceeds to use it on his shirtless doll, who is leaning against a tree. I'll just give you a minute to ponder that... When Torch shows up in the scene, it's implied that he kills the boy but I really hope that isn't true.

Toulon's role in this movie is also quite strange. The audience is given a little more of his backstory when they show him and his wife Elsa procuring some of that aforementioned magic potion from a guy in Cairo. When Toulon shows up in the present, he arrives looking not unlike Claude Rains's The Invisible Man and calling himself Erique Chanee, even though it's more than obvious who he really is. And instead of focusing on restoring the diminishing power in his puppets, Toulon goes on a weird side-mission where he becomes convinced that Carolyn is his dead wife and wants to use the potion to bring her back or something. This is apparently not a good idea because it angers the puppets and they end up killing their own master. I'm a bit confused as to how this is going to work out in later movies if Toulon comes back again or something, because he seems to have a very complicated relationship with his puppets. Up until now they have seemed mostly loyal to him, but since they are puppets, I'm thinking there's not much of a conscience going on.

The movie ends on an insanely creepy note that thoroughly disturbed me, and I was glad to see it all over. Puppet Master II definitely has its quirks and its low-budget appeal, plus the addition of a bomb-ass new puppet and some more backstory on Toulon make me think that maybe the series is headed in the right direction. Eight more movies to go. Let's find out!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Book Review: "Under the Blade" by Matt Serafini

Author Matt Serafini's bio lists him as being a lifelong horror fan who has contributed his knowledge and talent to two of the biggest horror websites - Dread Central (current) and Bloody Disgusting (former) - and who also put that passion into two horror novels - Feral, and the subject of today's review, Under the Blade. That was enough to convince me to read the novel for myself when contacted for a review, because I believed that a horror book written by a true horror just had to be good. And believe me, it was.

Under the Blade follows middle-aged Melanie Holden, a college professor at a crossroads in her life and career when she decides to return to the town of Forest Grove - a place that holds dark memories for her. In 1988, Melanie was just a teenager when she fought and killed Cyrus Hoyt, who was responsible for the bloodbath that killed her friends at Camp Forest Grove. Decades later, Hoyt is just a legend to the local teenagers in Forest Grove, but when trouble starts almost as soon as Melanie arrives, she realizes that her terror is not over.

I have to admit that I was very disappointed by the first chapter of the novel, and didn't have much hope for the rest. The novel's opening is the bloody encounter that Melanie has with Hoyt at the camp, and the overused clichés were not to my liking. The lone female survivor stalked by a brutal killer at a summer camp. Finding the dead bodies of her friends in the cabins. The two lovers speared together on a bed. The mention of the town crazy who warns the teenagers of a murderer in the woods. The final battle at the lake, including a trip in a canoe. That should all sound familiar to horror fans, and I feared that this was the extent of what the author had to offer me. Surely a fellow fan can come up with something more original than that!

And indeed he does! While everything does start off in very familiar territory, Serafini builds on this story in such a way that the amazing conclusion is lightyears away from where you thought it would be. Everything goes way beyond the surface story of Cyrus Hoyt, Melanie, and the local police officer with the rebel wife, becoming more and more involved with each new chapter that keeps adding more layers as you go. The history of the town plays a big role in the tension-filled last third of the novel, and I absolutely loved the reveal of just what has been going on for the past forty years (and even before that).

Having a woman in her forties as a main character in a horror story was a nice change of pace. This role was perhaps better suited for an older heroine, as she proves herself to be more resourceful and stronger, despite the horror she witnessed and took part in decades ago. She bites off the nose of two people, for crying out loud. That's pretty hardcore. Serafini writes Melanie quite believably and admirably - I can hardly think of anything that I didn't like about her. Though she's not sure of him at first, Chief Nathan Brady is a nice counterpart to Melanie's character - he's young, but also experienced, someone who has a lot to prove to his father-in-law and to the whole town, which causes problems for him at home. His wife Trish is an thirty-ish hellion who can't stand small town life and resents having to return to the home town that she hated. All are likable, easy people to follow through the course of the book, and Serafini gives the reader plenty of time to focus on each one and decide what they think of him or her.

Author Matt Serafini
Being a horror fan, I'm guessing that there was no problem for Serafini when it came to some of the novel's gore-soaked sequences. There were definitely times when I wished that this story was a movie and not a novel because some of the stuff that he came up with would look awesome onscreen. The climax holds the most amount of blood and gore - and also fire and skeletons - but there is no shortage of the red stuff in the earlier parts of the novel to get the reader pumped up for the rest. When an author can get a gorehound like me to actually cringe at just words on a page, that's when I know that I'm reading something that really effective and was written with fans in mind.

Under the Blade is a truly awesome output from an author who knows his stuff and has an obvious love and respect for the horror genre. The novel has just the right amount of mystery and suspense to keep the reader invested until the last page, and enough horrific revelations to make the conclusion completely satisfying and worth the wait.

Under the Blade can be purchased through Amazon here!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Franchise Review: Puppet Master (1989)

I have sometimes suffered greatly for this little blog. I put my faith in the Wishmaster series, only to be thoroughly crushed with each inept installment. I slogged through all of the Howling sequels - though that was sometimes fun. And now I will attempt to tackle another series that I am not quite familiar with: Puppet Master! I picked up a DVD pack with all the films (except the last one) for just 99 cents at my last convention, so hopefully the only thing I will be wasting is time if they end up sucking.

The first film opens with the Puppet Master himself, Andre Toulon hiding away his puppets in the wall of a hotel before two assassins can get to him. Why they are there to assassinate him is never really explained, but he ends up killing himself first anyway. I found out later that they were Nazis, which opens a whole other bag of questions that I hope gets explained later on... Anyway, in the present day, a group of psychics gather at the hotel and are one by one slaughtered by the puppets, who are controlled by a colleague of theirs who discovered Toulon's secret for eternal life.

I'm sure that I've seen at least one of the Puppet Master films... or perhaps it was the Demonic Toys crossover film... Either way, you're going to have bear with me as I go through these films, because I've not seen them before, and I've heard that the timeline of the series is all kinds of jumbled up. So far, my impression of this first film is not really that great.

The main thing is that the movie is quite boring. I don't recall any of the Puppet Master films ever being described as overly gory or anything like that, but one would think that movies with puppets who are alive would be a bit more entertaining than this. It takes the movie almost a good thirty minutes to get to what is really the meat of the plot with all the psychics and stuff. I did actually like this part of the story - that all these people had similar, yet different, gifts that bonded them together. This is what makes them targets of their colleague, Neil Gallagher, so that he will be the only one who knows Toulon's secret magic. Apparently, he wants Toulon's puppets to kill them all because they will be able to read his mind - even though none of them have gotten any kind of inkling of his plan thus far. It's a shaky plot point at best, but let's just go with it because we have to.

At the very least, Puppet Master can boast that it is the film that introduces some very interesting and deadly little toys to audiences. The leader of the pack is Blade, the white-faced, black trench coat wearing puppet with a hook for one hand and a knife for the other. Barbie's worst nightmare is Leech Woman, a sweet little female doll who is able to vomit up huge leeches out of her mouth. Jester is the puppet that Toulon is working on at the beginning of the film, although he apparently doesn't get his actual jester hat until later. Pinhead (not that one) is an interesting little dude with a tiny head and huge, human-sized hands, and Tunneler has a large cone-shaped drill coming out the top of his head. There are a couple others that are not featured as much, so maybe we'll get to see them in future installments.

The film rightly has a dose of comedy in it, but it is careful about not going too far. There are a lot of exaggerated or comedic sound effects having to do with the puppets and the sounds they make. None of them actually talk, but they do make funny little grunting and squeaking noises - plus there was that part where the little "plop" sound effect was used when Pinhead's head was removed. The deaths that the puppets inflict are equally gross and funny, too, so that keeps up the comedic undertone. But that's sadly the only thing interesting about any of the death scenes, because they are pretty tame, and most of them are not even shown.

As for the human characters who are the victims of these boring deaths... well, they suck. They're all either really annoying or really uninteresting, and the acting isn't that much better either. And since no one would watch a Puppet Master movie for the riveting character drama anyway, we can just leave it at that.

It's not a particularly stellar start to the Puppet Master series, but I do still have hope that these pint-sized freaks will eventually bring me something truly entertaining in future installments. One down, nine to go... let's do this!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Movie Review: Rabies (2010)

A random group of characters and a series of unfortunate events make up the first horror movie to ever come out of Israel. In my review of Big Bad Wolves, Israel's hugely successful film from last year, fellow blogger Elwood Jones reminded me of Rabies and I am so grateful to him for that. Be warned, though: Rabies is most definitely not what I would call your typical horror film.

The movie opens on an adult brother and sister pair who have run away from home and end up in the woods on a fox reserve, where the sister has fallen into a trap. When the brother goes for help, he runs into a group of travelling young people, who in turn run afoul of two cops. These intertwining lives get even more tangled as things go downhill for everyone.

That's about the best I can do on a plot description for a movie that basically has no plot. Usually that doesn't mean anything good for a movie, but for Rabies, the fact that it has no real plot is the movie's gold. It works, and I don't understand how the filmmakers made it work, as that takes some real talent. Rabies was actually the debut film of the same writing and directing team that knocked my socks off with the aforementioned Big Bad Wolves, and I only hope that they continue making movies like this because they are obviously good at it. Like, really fucking good at it.

With no main character, the movie jumps around between all the random people that show up in this one area of isolated woods - and they all represent the epitome of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, just for different reasons and in different ways. The humorous events in the film would almost be slapstick if it weren't for the horrific undertones. Comedic scenes sometimes end with a punch of horror - like the untimely death of a character (it's a horror movie, that's not a spoiler!) - which really manages to keep the audience on their toes. With this kind of tone, you never know where the movie is going to go, and with the kind of surprises that Rabies has in store for you, this is actually a wonderful thing. It's all so confusing, uncomfortable, intense, and yet light at the same time - such a jumbled mess of emotions, but I love it!

One of the greatest techniques utilized in Rabies is when the filmmakers actually choose not to show the audience specific scenes. I found this to be a bit of a delightful disappointment, as odd as that sounds. There are a couple of scenes - specifically, the bear trap scene and the standoff with the molester cop scene - where a lot of tension is built up for what is going to happen before the scene cuts to something different. When we come back, the exciting thing has happened off-camera.  Though you're disappointed that you didn't get to see it, you're also sort of gleefully impressed at the film's ability to fuck with you.

All of this is brought to life not only by the talented writers and directors, but also by the actors. Lior Ashkenazi, who played funny cop Micki in Big Bad Wolves, is a cop here again but a much different one. One of the uncomfortable elements of the story is the encounter the two girls have with the two cops - Lior is the nervous, adorable one who wants to reconnect with his wife, and his partner is the complete opposite. Seizing the opportunity of being out in the middle of nowhere with two hot chicks in tennis outfits, Lior's partner starts molesting one of the girls and actually implies raping them later (and that he's also probably raped before). The other girl gets pissed and takes the cop's gun and things escalate from there. This scenario is just one of several crazy ones interlaced in this story, and is a great example how they take a horrific situation and keep it light, even ending it with something that is hilariously satisfying... but still horrible. Everything else you'll just have to experience for yourself, because there is way too much going on in Rabies for me to talk about here.

I bet pretty much everybody who watches this movie is left wondering one thing. Well, they're probably left wondering a hundred things, but the biggest question I had is, Why the hell is the movie called 'Rabies'? I've thought about this long and hard, and... I have no clue. If you ever find out, please tell me. Until then, I'll just take Rabies for what it is - a brilliantly written and executed film by some very talented artists. Highly recommended movie.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Find Me at!

Hey there, blog buddies! Just wanted to take a quick minute here to let you all know that in addition to this here blog, I will also be writing about horror stuff on the website Wicked Horror - you will also find the writings of Zena, the Real Queen of Horror on there as well!

It's a great little website with horror news, advanced reviews, retrospective reviews, and random top ten/five lists from some wonderful and enthusiastic writers.

See that? That's my review of Hangar 10! So please, if you have a spare couple of minutes, head on over there and take a gander at what we have to offer. Register or follow us and get your horror fix every day.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Movie Review: Fantasm (2013)

As some of you may know, I am sort of a newbie to the horror convention scene, having only just attended my second con earlier this year. But I knew just after the first one that I would do my damnedest every year to make it to this event so that I could experience all the amazing feelings I had there again. It truly is an amazing place for horror fans to gather.

Horror fan Kyle Kuchta went to his first convention at 15 years old, and had to take a hiatus from going while attending college. He decided to make a documentary about the convention circuit and the community it creates in order to understand just what it is about these gatherings that keeps fans coming back for years and years.

Over the course of two years, Kutcha attended five conventions, including Monster-Mania, Rock and Shock, Spooky Empire, and HorrorHound Weekend. He procured interviews with vendors who attend several conventions a year; convention volunteers; and even with some amazing convention guests - Tom Atkins, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Tuesday Knight (obviously an Elm Street reunion going on there), and Richard Johnson. With his camera, Kutcha manages to capture all those great convention moments that makes the experience so special for all those who attend, and really captures the essence of what a con is - a huge crowd of people who are all there to share their same love of horror films.

Indeed, some of the interviewees took the words right out of my mouth when they were talking about why fans love going to these events. They hit on all the ideas of a sense of family and community that regular convention-goers have, and the sense of belonging they feel there that they may not have in their everyday life. The importance of social media was also good to include, as it definitely helps keep convention friends closer together in between con weekends. The best quote, though, was from Jack Bennett, who said that cons are great just because it gives fans a chance to finally talk to other people about what they love. If any of you have ever tried to talk horror to someone who is not a horror fan, you know the importance of this. To be able to say something or make a reference and be understood, and to not be looked at like you are weird - that's truly a beautiful and welcome thing.

A part of me sort of has to like Fantasm because the subject matter is close to my heart, but I have to be honest and say that I was a bit disappointed at how unfinished the documentary feels. Yes, Kutcha did an amazing job at getting great interviews, and his subjects gave great answers, but there is so much untapped territory here. Why didn't he interview the people who put on the conventions? All of the interviews are also either with guests or vendors - why not any of the thousands of attendees that were available, especially since they are basically what the documentary is about? I was beyond confused at that huge oversight.

There were also many parts where the doc could be jazzed up a lot. Kutcha got some great shots of all the different goings-on that happen at conventions, but there is nothing to accompany them, not even any music. I understand that this was a doc that was made for no money and is being self-distributed by Kutcha, but some basic Google research doesn't cost anything, nor does it cost anything to add in a layer of text to some shots with simple convention facts or figures. Show the growth and popularity of these cons with the number of attendees to different shows; talk about how much money is spent to put the shows on and how much vendors make at the shows - do something to continuously educate and entertain your audience, that's what a good doc does. With Fantasm short runtime (it clocks in at about 55 minutes), there was absolutely enough time to add in these little tidbits that would have made the piece that much more engaging and important.

Fantasm has a lot of heart, but it still remains only the beginning of what a documentary about conventions should be. Perhaps if enough word gets around about Fantasm, it will get a nice backing and give Kutcha the opportunity to really make it the definitive convention documentary.

Fantasm is available for purchase at

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Book Review: "The Grand Hotel" by Scott Kenemore

Stepping away from the world of the zombie apocalypse for the moment, author Scott Kenemore tackles an entirely different subject with his newest novel, The Grand Hotel. With it Kenemore goes the short story route, using a truly intriguing wraparound story to connect them all in a way that you probably won't see coming.

At the old ramshackle Grand Hotel, a nameless desk clerk leads his latest group of visitors on a tour of the building. The visitors don't seem to know why they are doing it, but they follow the desk clerk deeper and deeper into the hotel, becoming increasingly fascinated by the people who permanently reside at The Grand Hotel and the interesting stories they have to tell.

All in all, there are twelve stories to be told within The Grand Hotel (if you include that of the desk clerk and his visitors) and each is titled with the name of the person telling the story. The stories get a little longer and more involved at the novel goes on, but they are all wonderful on their own, while being completely unique and different from each other. They also tackle a wide assortment of subjects - from a basic revenge tale, to time travelling, to a dramatic ordeal in space. The different characters that are presented go from being shady and unlikable to very empathetic, though you could probably argue their motivations and actions either way.

Although it was really hard to pick favorites, I would have to say that the two stand-out stories for me personally would have to be those of "Chef Dunnally" and "Father Cyning." The chef's tale is a bit of a parody on both reality cooking shows and ghost-hunting shows, as the titular Chef Dunnally encounters a horrifying demon while filming an episode of his show "Ghost Chef." I loved the satirical tone of this story, as I am not a fan of either of those kinds of reality shows, and that Kenemore was able to balance that tone with a genuinely cool and interesting yarn about a Scottish castle that has been haunted for years by a demon. The ending to this one, though gruesome, put a smile on my face.

I also loved Father Cyning's story because it reminded me so much of some of those classic haunted house sagas where the mysteries of the people inside are more intriguing than the supposed ghosts. This saga is about Father Cyning investigating a supposed charlatan ghostbuster at the mansion of one of his parishioners, and finding out that there is much more to the story than meets the eye. I'm a huge fan of both ghost stories and mysteries because the two are so often intertwined. I just think there's a lot to be said for really well-crafted and twisted tale that comes to a satisfying conclusion, which is what Father Cyning's story offers.

An honorable mention also goes to the story of "Doctor DeKooning," simply because the idea is so cool, and has so much more potential beyond the short story format. It deals with a modern medical doctor who finds out that the well on his family's property is a portal that takes him to the 1400's. Really fascinating, I loved it.

Going back to the wraparound story, this was fun one to try to figure out. While the desk clerk's macabre attitude towards his visitors definitely leads the reader to believe that he is actually someone very sinister - the back cover of the book flat out suggests that he may be the devil himself - it was wonderfully frustrating trying to discover his true intentions for the hotel guests, the visitors, and especially for the mysterious red-haired girl on the tour.

Though I absolutely love Kenemore's previous Zombie State novels, The Grand Hotel is quite possibly the best thing he's written so far. Perfectly framed within the ancient morals of good and evil, and right and wrong, is a delicious blend of the bizarre, the sad, the funny, and the scary that lies in all of us. Whose story will speak to you, and what will you learn from it? You'll have to visit The Grand Hotel yourself to find out.

The Grand Hotel is now available for purchase here!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Movie Roundup: Scenic Route (2013), The Other (1972), and The Tortured (2010)

Scenic Route (2013)
As one of those random Netflix watches, Scenic Route turned out to be pretty badass. It stars Josh Duhamel (whom I kinda like, so that's probably why I watched it in the first place) and Dan Fogler as two friends who get stranded together on an isolated desert road. Of course, the heat and stress and lack of hydration causes all kinds of drama between the two as they attack each other (sometimes literally) for how they've chosen to live their lives. Duhamel and Fogler act well, and act well together, so these scenes were completely believable and interesting, despite being a bit predictable and cliché. Also a bit annoying was when the characters just miss being rescued - like four or five times. It got really ridiculous at one point but I guess there wouldn't be much of a plot if they got rescued too early. What most impressed me about the plot was the ending they chose. I loved the way the truth was revealed to the audience, and that they didn't sell out and gave us a realistic ending. I'm biased about these types of small cast, one location films but Scenic Route is truly a good one that moves fast and keeps things interesting even when there's not really much going on. Also, desert settings are freaking beautiful and I love them.

The Other (1972)
I really wanted to be so shocked and surprised by The Other because I heard that it was a thriller with a great twist ending. I just wish I hadn't figured out what that twist was 10 minutes into the movie! Seriously, though, they make it WAY too obvious if you're even paying a little bit of attention! That's not to say that The Other isn't a very interesting and engaging film. The twins Niles and Holland are great little actors  and there are lots of little mysteries to figure out with the plot as you go along with it - the kidnapped baby, the boys' father's ring, etc. I wasn't so sure what to think about "the game" that Niles plays with his grandmother, though. She has basically taught him how to astral project himself so that he can see what is going on in places where he is not. Perhaps grandmother Ada feels that because she taught Niles the game, she has contributed to what is revealed at the end - maybe there is such a thing as too much imagination. Very cool little movie, I'm glad I saw it.

The Tortured (2010)
This was a movie that ended up being somewhat similar to The Other in that it had a big "twist" ending that was also way too easy to figure out. The Tortured is about a young couple whose only son is kidnapped from their front yard and murdered by a sadistic serial killer. He is caught and brought to justice, but the only kind of justice the parents want to see is the man killed, so they kidnap him from police custody, and take him to a vacant house for a little torture. What really got me about this movie was how badly they messed up the surprise ending, and I just have to mention why so that's your spoiler alert. The killer is played by Bill Moseley - an actor that is very well-known by those of us in the horror world. I would say that one thing he is known for is his distinctive voice. The man that the couple kidnaps has a pretty messed up face caused by the car accident that allowed them to capture him, but he can still talk. And it's definitely not Bill Moseley's voice. So again, the big shock moment that they have been torturing the wrong guy was ruined, but frankly, the whole movie wasn't really that original or interesting to begin with. You're not missing anything here.