Comic Review: Cyberfrog 1998: The Diary of Heather Swain

Published: September, 2019
Written by: Ethan Van Sciver
Art by: Ethan Van Sciver, Kyle Ritter

All Caps Comics, 20 Pages

Review:

Initially, I guess I didn’t back the two Cyberfrog ashcans on Indiegogo. I was anticipating getting them and then I didn’t when Cyberfrog: Bloodhoney came in the mail. Luckily, Ethan Van Sciver did a second campaign for those of us that missed out and I scooped them up. This is a review of the first of the two Cyberfrog ashcans I read.

Straight off, this pulled me right in and didn’t let go. I had to read it twice.

The story’s purpose is to fill in the blanks between the last time Cyberfrog was around (the late ’90s) up until now. He’s been relaunched for a new generation of readers and because Van Sciver still has nothing but immense love for this character he created and wasn’t able to work on for a few decades due to his commitments to DC Comics and his brief time at Marvel.

This twenty page ashcan does a stupendous job in bridging that gap, as we are brought up to speed through the words of Heather Swain, Cyberfrog’s human friend, who has had to tough it out in a post-apocalyptic world ruled by alien wasps that harvest humans for their blood. For over twenty years, her badass friend has been missing and she’s been on her own with her young daughter and a few other survivors.

Before all all these Cyberfrog books started coming out, many people wondered whether or not Van Sciver would be able to write as well as he draws. Well, now that the cat is out of the bag with three modern Cyberfrog releases, I’d say the answer is “yes”. I loved this and it really got me hyped for the future releases after Bloodhoney, which I’ve also already read and reviewed (see here).

Ultimately, these comics lived up to the hype. In fact, I feel as if they somewhat exceed it, as Van Sciver’s art has never been better and I say that as a guy that absolutely loved his Green Lantern work and credit it with getting me back into comics in the mid-’00s after taking nearly a decade off.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Ethan’s Green Lantern and Flash stuff, as well as the original Cyberfrog run at Harris Comics.

Film Review: Thirteen Ghosts (2001)

Also known as: Thir13en Ghosts (stylized title), 13 Ghosts (alternative spelling), 13 Fantasmas (Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Venezuela)
Release Date: October 23rd, 2001 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Steve Beck
Written by: Neal Marshall Stevens, Richard D’Ovidio, Robb White
Based on: 13 Ghosts by Robb White, William Castle
Music by: John Frizzell
Cast: Tony Shalhoub, Embeth Davidtz, Matthew Lillard, Shannon Elizabeth, Rah Digga, F. Murray Abraham, Ken Kirzinger

Dark Castle Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, Warner Bros., 91 Minutes

Review:

“Hey, Glass Family Robinson, you’re wasting your breath!” – Dennis Rafkin

I know I’ve seen this movie or at least most of it. I’m not sure if I ever saw it in its entirety but I also don’t know if that even matters, as it’s kind of a disjointed mess that relies more on cool visuals than its plot and characters.

Ultimately, this movie is a massively wasted opportunity. It establishes a really cool mythos with its ghosts, each having a unique story and visual look. However, it kind of just gives you a quick rundown of the ghosts and expects you to retain that without giving you much more. Plus, half of the info dump is easy to miss, as it is told at a rapid pace with disorienting quick edits that overload your brain preventing you from sponging up the information.

Now the film looks great from the ghosts, the really cool, opulent ghost house and because Shannon Elizabeth is in it. However, all the window dressing is mostly destroyed by the constant strobe light effects, atrocious editing and even more atrocious pacing. This thing is made to look like an industrial music video from the late ’90s but music videos are only four minutes, not ninety minutes. Essentially, this entire film assaults and overloads the senses from start to finish and if you can get through it without multiple seizures, you deserve a trophy.

Coming off of the 1999 House On Haunted Hill remake, I thought that this could be equally good or surpass it. This is made by the same studio and it is also a remake of another William Castle movie just like Haunted Hill was. I think the mistake may have come from this not utilizing the same creative team.

While this movie mimics the visual style and effects of the previous movie, it takes it so far over the top that it wrecks the whole picture.

It also doesn’t help that other than Shannon Elizabeth, there isn’t a likable character in the entire film. And if I’m being honest, once you get midway through the movie, Shannon Elizabeth is barely in this thing, as she’s held captive off screen.

Instead, we’re treated to Rah Digga from Busta Rhymes’ Flipmode Squad and Matthew Lillard yelling at each other with Tony Shalhoub a.k.a. Monk jumping in every few scenes. Then we have F. Murray Abraham and his weird domestic terrorist lover arguing over nonsense while dumping more info so fast that it’s like watching two people in a fill-the-bowl diarrhea contest.

This entire movie is a good primer on how not to make a horror movie. Also, this may have been where the horror genre really went off the rails, as the ’00s became a cesspool of shit for horror fans that weren’t thirteen year-old girls obsessed with putting sparkle graphics all over their MySpace profiles.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Dark Castle remakes of classic horror films, as well as other late ’90s and early ’00s ghost movies.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)

Also known as: Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster (US recut version)
Release Date: July 24th, 1971 (Japan)
Directed by: Yoshimitsu Banno
Written by: Yoshimitsu Banno, Takeshi Kimura
Music by: Riichiro Manabe
Cast: Akira Yamauchi, Toshie Kimura, Hiroyuki Kawase, Keiko Mari, Toshio Shiba

Toho Co. Ltd., 85 Minutes

Review:

“There’s no place else to go and pretty soon we’ll all be dead, so forget it! Enjoy yourself! Let’s sing and dance while we can! Come on, blow your mind!” – Yukio Keuchi

This is probably the weirdest Godzilla movie of the original Shōwa era. There are a few reasons as to why and I’ll get to that.

But first, I have to admit that this is one of my favorite films in the franchise. It’s also pretty divisive, as people either seem to love it or hate it. My reasons for liking it is its weirdness and because its visually striking, does things outside of the box, creatively speaking, and it is very musical.

The film also carries an environmental message, which is important. Especially, to the Japanese people of the time, as there was a lot of industrial pollution that was creating problems and having an adverse effect on the natural beauty of the country.

What makes this movie so unique is the fact that it had a very different creative team than the other films. This was a Shōwa era film that wasn’t directed by either Ishirō Honda or Jun Fukuda. In fact, out of the fifteen Shōwa films, only one other was directed by someone else: 1955’s Godzilla Raids Again, which was helmed by Motoyoshi Oda. The reason why this is significant is due to that rarity, as well as Honda and Fukuda both having a consistent style.

This film’s director Yoshimitsu Banno made some creative changes that set this film apart. However, I wouldn’t say that this movie becomes inconsistent, it just has some neat artistic flourishes, such as hand drawn animated scene transitions, switching from black and white to color in an effort to emphasize liveliness and music, as well as a heavy use of music itself while showcasing the Japanese club scene of the early ’70s. In its own way, this is probably the most hip Godzilla picture of the Shōwa period.

The film is also visually darker, as both major battles between Godzilla and Hedorah, the Smog Monster, happen at night amidst a pretty smoggy atmosphere. But I like the tone and it still doesn’t deter from the upbeat and lightheartedness of the youthful, hippie-like characters and the pop music.

I also really love the monster in this and he’s gone on to become one of my favorite kaiju baddies of all-time. Additionally, I like that the monster has different stages of evolution throughout the film, which I feel somewhat inspired the new Godzilla in the Shin Godzilla reboot from a few years ago.

This movie also has a cheeky sense of humor to it and it could really be looked at as the stoner’s Godzilla movie between the music, the club scene, the outdoor party and Hedorah vegging out on top of a factory, inhaling the smoke stacks like a hookah. I guess the cool animated scenes would add to this as well.

Banno was slated to direct a sequel to this film but the heads of Toho hated the final product and ended up only working with Honda and Fukuda for the remainder of the Shōwa series.

After this film, we were going to get a picture called Godzilla vs. Redmoon. That was scrapped and eventually became the film Daigoro vs. Goliath. Then the studio switched gears and planned Godzilla vs. The Space Monsters: Earth Defensive Directive, which would have been similar to the style of the Ultraman television series. That was also canned and retooled to The Return of King Ghidorah, which was also cancelled and then further retooled into the actual followup, Godzilla vs. Gigan. Luckily for Ghidorah fans, he returned in that film anyway.

As for Hedorah, the monster wouldn’t be seen on the big screen for another 33 years, as one of dozens of monsters in the over the top Godzilla: Final Wars. Despite his lack of big screen love, he’s grown to become a cultural icon and has appeared in tons of video games, comics and television, primarily featured multiple times in Godzilla Island from 1977-1998.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Godzilla movies from the ’70s: Godzilla vs. MegalonGodzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, Terror of Mechagodzilla and Godzilla vs. Gigan.

TV Review: Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1965)

Also known as: The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (Season 8-10)
Original Run: October 2nd, 1955 – June 26th, 1965
Created by: Alfred Hitchcock
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Stanley Wilson (music supervisor), various
Cast: Alfred Hitchcock, various

Revue Studios, Universal Television, Shamley Productions, CBS, NBC, 361 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode – seasons 1-7), 50 Minutes (per episode – seasons 8-10)

Review:

I grew up watching this show a lot with my granmum in reruns on cable. The theme song always got me excited and even though I was a kid of the ’80s that loved everything about that decade, I still also enjoyed older stuff like this and the other anthology shows of the era like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents always intrigued me though, as it seemed to have more legitimacy, at least to my little kid brain. This was because I knew very much who Hitchcock was, I was familiar with a lot of his work and I really liked his films, even when I was too young to grasp them or fully understand their meaning and themes. Plus, I just really liked Hitchcock’s personality.

Over the last few years, I’ve rewatched a lot of the episodes. I haven’t seen all of them, as there are just so many and because even if family members have DVD collections they have let me borrow, there are still a lot of missing pieces I haven’t gotten my hands on.

Regardless of that, I feel as if I have seen a large enough sample size, from most seasons, to give the show a review.

Overall, Alfred Hitchcock Presents is pretty good from top to bottom and the quality of the seasons feels consistent. Sure, like with any anthology series, there are episodes that don’t live up to expectations and sometimes feel like they could’ve been snuffed out at the pre-production stage. However, there aren’t a lot of episodes like this and, for the most part, the show isn’t hindered by its low points.

The show has a pretty wide range of genres it uses over the course of its 361 episodes but nearly everything feels like it lines up with Hitchcock’s own cinematic work.

Each episode may be written and directed by its own team but it seems as if Hitchcock was pretty involved in everything and just about every story maintains a certain tone and visual style.

This is such a massive show to get into and to try and watch in its entirety. I’m not even sure if all of it is commercially released, as it switched from different networks over the years it was originally broadcast. However, I know that a lot of episodes were on Hulu, recently. I’m assuming that you can still find them there. That is, unless the NBC episodes have been pulled for their upcoming streaming service.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other anthology mystery and horror shows of the era.

Film Review: House On Haunted Hill (1999)

Release Date: October 27th, 1999 (premiere)
Directed by: William Malone
Written by: Dick Beebe, Robb White
Based on: House On Haunted Hill by Robb White, William Castle
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Chris Kattan, Peter Gallagher, Bridgette Wilson, Max Perlich, Jeffrey Combs, Slavitza Jovan, Lisa Loeb, Peter Graves (cameo), Greg Nicotero (uncredited)

Dark Castle Entertainment, Warner Bros. Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Dr. Richard Benjamin Vannacutt. He out-butchered Bundy, made Manson look meek.” – Peter Graves

Man, it’s been a really long time since I’ve watched this but for some odd reason, it holds a special place in my dark heart. I’m not sure if it is due to when it came out and the effect of nostalgia or because I actually consider it to be better than the film it is a remake of, which almost feels sacrilegious to type because Vincent Price, that film’s star, is why I fell in love with horror to begin with.

Generally, I’m not a fan of remakes in the same way I’m not a fan of cover songs. I really feel as if these things should only exist if they can justify themselves by being better or at the very least, being an interesting new take on the source material they are borrowing from.

1999’s House On Haunted Hill is a really good example of a film that takes its inspiration from its predecessor and makes it something else without sacrificing what the original vision was. It’s not an easy task to achieve but Dark Castle really started out on a good foot with this, their first of a few classic horror remakes.

Ultimately, this takes the formula from William Castle’s classic haunted house tale and ups the ante in a way that is very ’90s. It’s more extreme, has a fair bit of good gore and it updates the concept into something contemporary for the time. It’s also more of a psychological horror film and goes places that the original one couldn’t. The scene in the hallucination chamber is well done and actually kind of terrifying, even for a horror aficionado like myself.

That being said, there are three key things that make this remake a solid one.

The first is the ensemble cast. For a horror film with slightly more than a half dozen main players, we have an assemblage of some really good talent. Everyone sort of plays a typical horror archetype but they are all really good at it. I like everyone in this, top to bottom, regardless of whether or not they’re playing the innocent and good character thrown into a literal hell or they’re playing the evil, conniving bastard with some sort of dastardly trick up their sleeve.

Frankly, as good as everyone is in their roles, Geoffrey Rush and Famke Janssen steal every single scene they’re in. I can’t say that they outclass and out act every other actor here but they just rise to a different level and they seriously look like they are enjoying hamming it up in this twisted movie.

The second thing that makes this film work is the atmosphere. This isn’t the house from the original film. Instead, we’re trapped with these characters in a burned out art deco styled fortress of the 1930s, which was used as an insane asylum ran by an evil and sadistic doctor that used to butcher his patients.

Beyond that, the sets are incredible and the art direction in this film was magnificent. I really dig the lighting, the visual effects, the general cinematography and just about everything visual. The practical effects are great and even if the CGI feels dated now, it works for what this is and it doesn’t take you out of the picture like some of the CGI you’d see from this era. The Lovecraftian inspired blob of spirits is actually kind of cool and it works tremendously well with the tone of the film.

The third thing that works wonders is the score. The music is a great mix of a classic horror movie soundtrack and ’90s era industrial styled instrumentals. The film even features Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams”, which adds another level of dread and atmosphere to the already effective presentation of the picture.

I’d like to give credit to the director, William Malone. He managed this project well and I have to give credit where it’s due, especially since I don’t like the other films that I’ve seen of his: Creature, FeardotCom and Parasomnia. But maybe I will give those movies a re-watch soon, as it’s been a long time.

When this came out, it was a film that critics hated but I remember most people enjoying it. It’s got a ’90s campiness to it but it’s far from comedy and I’d say that it’s aged well. It’s certainly better than what the modern standard seems to be in the horror genre.

I think that I’ll revisit Dark Castle’s Thirteen Ghosts remake soon, as it has been a long time since I’ve seen it but I had a good experience with it, back in the day. I may also finally watch the sequel to this film. I heard it’s nowhere near as good but with this fresh in my mind, I’d like to take another trip to the haunted asylum.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Dark Castle remakes of classic horror films, as well as other late ’90s and early ’00s ghost movies.

Film Review: Doctor Sleep (2019)

Release Date: October 30th, 2019 (France)
Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Written by: Mike Flanagan
Based on: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Music by: The Newton Brothers
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Jocelin Donahue, Zackary Momoh, Carel Struycken, Alex Essoe, Henry Thomas

Intrepid Pictures, Vertigo Entertainment, Warner Bros., 152 Minutes, 180 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“You’re magic. Like me.” – Abra Stone, “You need to listen to me. The world’s a hungry place. A dark place. I’ve only met two or three people like us. They died. When I was a kid, I bumped into these things. I don’t know about magic. I, I always called it “the shining.”” – Danny Torrance

*There be spoilers here!

When I first heard that Stephen King was penning a sequel to The Shining, I was pretty excited. If I’m being honest though, I didn’t have high expectations or anything, I just thought that it’d be cool to check in on Danny Torrance after the events of his childhood to see how he turned out and what sort of effect that level of horror had on him.

I wasn’t excited about the book, itself; I was more excited about the possibility of what the book’s existence meant. Especially, as a sequel film is something that has been toyed around with by Warner Bros. before. But luckily for us, they didn’t crap out some inferior straight-to-DVD product, they instead waited decades and decided to adapt King’s own sequel.

Full disclosure, I haven’t read the book and for those of you who have been reading my reviews for awhile, you probably already know that I’m not a massive fan of King’s writing but I’m more of a fan of live action adaptations of his work. Well, the good ones, anyway.

I didn’t have huge expectations for the film either but once I knew what the premise for the story was and saw who was cast as the lead, it was hard to not feel something.

Once I saw the first trailer, I felt that the tone and the style of the movie were solid and I was intrigued.

Unfortunately, I missed it on the big screen, as I had a lot going on and it didn’t stay in my local theater for more than a couple of weeks. Also, it’s hard for me to sit in the cinema now for two and a half hours because I’m getting old, I drink too much soda, hate holding my pee and can’t stand other people around me scrolling Facebook, answering their phones, chatting to their neighbor and making as much noise as possible with their popcorn crunching and candy bag diddling.

So I’m glad that I watched this at home, even though it would’ve been really cool to revisit the Overlook Hotel in a proper cinematic setting.

Getting to the film itself, I was really impressed with Doctor Sleep. I can’t say that it is as good as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining but it is really hard to top or even come close to a masterpiece. Still, this film does the material justice and it justifies its existence, becoming its own story and its own film, independent of the original. Granted, for context and for a richer overall experience, you should still probably watch the original film if you haven’t, as the call backs to it are really neat and it might be better to get the whole experience and not just one half of it.

Furthermore, this truly is a sequel to that 1980 Kubrick version. The hotel is the same, once you travel back there, and the actors cast to reprise that film’s iconic roles were done so with the intent of trying to replicate the performances and the look of those actors. I’d say that this film pulls that trick off, even if it is kind of weird seeing someone else’s face in the place of Shelley Duval’s, Scatman Crothers’ and Jack Nicholson’s. But its done in the best way possible and it respects the work of the actors that came before.

Side note: Jack Torrance appears very briefly and he’s played by Henry Thomas a.k.a. Elliott from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. What’s even more interesting is that he also once played the iconic Norman Bates in 1990’s Psycho IV: The Beginning.

Beyond all that, the actors playing the main roles in this film all give superb performances. I’ve especially got to give credit to Ewan McGregor, as the adult version of Danny Torrance, and Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Rose the Hat, this film’s primary antagonist.

I also thought that Kyliegh Curran was really good as the young Abra. This is the first movie I’ve seen her in and kid actors are usually annoying as hell but she played her part like a veteran and delivered in a way that most adult actors wouldn’t have been able to.

The supporting cast did their job solidly from Cliff Curtis as Danny’s friend, Zahn McClarnon as the evil but awesomely enchanting Crow Daddy, Emily Alyn Lind as Snakebite Andi and Bruce Greenwood, as Danny’s boss and leader of his AA group. We also get to see Carel Struycken as the patriarch of the evil gang, he’s probably most famous for playing the Giant in everything Twin Peaks related. He was also Terak, the villain from the second Ewoks TV movie from the ’80s.

The most important takeaway for me was the story. I loved it, I thought it was a great expansion on the already established mythos and even if a return to the hotel initially felt like cheap fan service, it worked and it brought things full circle for the Danny character.

Sadly, he does die, which I thought was a mistake because there is real potential in the idea of Danny and Abra having stories beyond this one. I guess they can utilize Danny as a ghost, as they did with the Dick Hollorann character, but there’s that part of you that wants him to survive this because there’s more good work to do and the end of the story is left wide open for further exploration, especially in regards to what the villains are and how there might be more.

I thought that the direction by Mike Flanagan was top notch. I’m not all that familiar with his other work, other than I know that he’s worked in the horror genre for a little while. This may inspire me to go back and look at his earlier films, though.

Additionally, the movie has great cinematography that is equal parts terrifying and mesmerizing. The film is meticulously shot and presented with perfect lighting regardless of the visual tone of the scene while also boasting magnificent shot framing. There isn’t a weak looking or half-assed scene in the picture and the work of the director and cinematographer, Michael Fimognari, is impressive.

My only real issue with the film is that I think it would have worked much better as a short (six or eight episode) season of a television series. There’s a lot to this tale and there is certainly a lot more context that could have been utilized to enrich the story if it had more time and more room to breathe. I wanted to know more about the villain group, their history, where they come from, what their larger purpose is, etc. I also would have liked to spend more time with Danny, as a new guy in town, trying to reestablish his life.

In the end, this is one of the best movies I’ve seen from 2019. It is also one of the best horror films of its decade, as the ’10s weren’t very kind to the genre and barely gave us a handful of memorable horror pictures.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the 1980 version of The Shining, as well as good movie and television adaptations of Stephen King’s work.

Film Review: The Atomic Brain (1963)

Also known as: Monstrosity (original title), The Brain Snatchers (script title)
Release Date: September, 1963
Directed by: Joseph V. Mascelli
Written by: Sue Bradford, Dean Dillman Jr., Jack Pollexfen, Vy Russell
Music by: Gene Kauer
Cast: Marjorie Eaton, Frank Gerstle, Frank Fowler, Bradford Dillman (narrator)

Cinema Venture, 65 Minutes

Review:

“Three new bodies. Fresh, live, young bodies. No families or friends within thousands of miles, no one to ask embarrassing questions when they disappear. Victor wondered which one Mrs. March would pick. The little Mexican, the girl from Vienna, or the buxom blonde? Victor knew his pick, but he still felt uneasy, making love to an 80 year old woman in the body of a 20 year old girl; it’s insanity!” – Narrator

This is the second to last movie in my very long quest to watch and review every motion picture that was ever featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It is my last Mike Nelson episode, as I saved a Joel one for the very end and because I liked splitting my time pretty equally between the two hosts. For me, Mike edges out Joel just slightly but since Joel gave us this great show, I gave him the honor of being the grand finale of my MST3K review quest.

Anyway, this film is unwatchable. Mike and the ‘Bots make it moderately tolerable as their commentary rips it to shreds and their segments were solid. However, this should never be watched on its own without the added riffing of the MST3K crew.

It’s boring as shit in every regard and there’s nothing that makes it endearing in any way. It’s not one of those “it’s so bad, it’s good” movies. This is just a dreadful, slow, horribly acted, horribly directed piece of shit.

The story is about a rich, old, eccentric lady that convinces a young scientist to transplant her 80 year-old brain into the body of a 20 year-old woman. Three foreign girls are hired as servants but they are really being vetted for the old woman to choose as her future vessel.

The film’s tagline reads, “WANTED: Youth and Beauty. Will Pay Millions. Only Beautiful and Shapely Girls Need Apply. No References Required. Appointments After Dark Only.”

That sounds like a pretty awesome premise but this film only delivers examples of how not to make a movie.

The Atomic Brain or Monstrosity, as it was originally (and more fittingly) titled, is absolute nonsense. It wants to be a B-movie of the atomic horror age but it’s more like an F-movie that wasted perfectly good celluloid that wasn’t born to have its life wasted on utter shite.

Rating: 0.75/10
Pairs well with: the worst science fiction of the era.