Book Review: ‘The Witcher: Baptism of Fire’ by Andrzej Sapkowski

As I’m working my way through The Witcher books, this is my favorite installment of the regular “saga” novels, thus far. It’s also the third and middle chapter of the five.

I guess it’s actually my favorite, counting the two short story compilations that I started with and honestly, the first one of those is hard to top.

In this volume, we pick up where things left off with the previous book. The trio of Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri are split up and in different places, dealing with their own issues and adventures.

Ciri’s part of the story deals with her taking on an alias and running with a gang called “The Rats”.

Yennefer deals with the politics and issues following the fall of the Brotherhood of Sorcerers.

Geralt, on the other hand, really gets the bulk of the time in this novel but then he should, as he’s the title character of the series.

In this, Geralt wants to search for Ciri. He sets off to find her with his bestie Dandelion and a newcomer, Milva, who initially has a rocky relationship with Geralt. They also meet up with Zoltan and his dwarves and along the way they are shadowed by Cahir, who was the “black rider” that Ciri was having nightmares about in the previous book. Eventually, Cahir joins the group, as does Regis, a vampire, who the group doesn’t trust but he comes with valuable medical skills.

The big climax of the novel sees the Battle of the Bridge on the Yaruga. This is where Geralt’s chosen name of “Geralt of Rivia” actually becomes an official title, after his heroism and skill helps win the day.

Additionally, we also learn a big secret about Ciri’s lineage, which I won’t spoil.

This book had superb action, a great battle, shaky alliances, new friendships and loyalties forged and it was just one hell of a fun, badass adventure. Honestly, this was just great escapism and an enthralling epic tale.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Witcher books, comics and television shows.

Film Review: Evilspeak (1981)

Also known as: Evilspeaks (alternative title)
Release Date: August 22nd, 1981 (Japan)
Directed by: Eric Weston
Written by: Eric Weston, Joseph Garofalo
Music by: Roger Kellaway
Cast: Clint Howard, R. G. Armstrong, Joseph Cortese, Claude Earl Jones, Haywood Nelson, Don Stark, Charles Tyner, Richard Moll

Leisure Investment Company, Coronet Films, Moreno Films, Warner Bros., 97 Minutes, 92 Minutes (R-rated cut)

Review:

“I command you, Prince of Evil, heed my call. Give life to the instruments of my retribution.” – Stanley Coopersmith

Evilspeak is a cool movie that capitalized on two things that had people worried in the early ’80s: the “Satanic panic” the media and parents groups were raging about, as well as the emergence of personal computers and what such a jump in technology could mean for the common folk.

This also stars a very young Clint Howard, playing a teen in a military school that decides to use his computer to summon the devil in an effort to conquer his bullies.

It’s also neat seeing the bully being played by a young Don Stark, who is probably most famous for being the doofus neighbor to Red Foreman on That ’70s Show.

The movie also features legendary, badass character actor R.G. Armstrong, as well as Richard Moll, before he’d go on to greater heights as Bull on the ’80s sitcom Night Court. There’s also Lenny Montana, a former professional wrestler that was most known for playing Luca Brasi in The Godfather and another sitcom star, Haywood Nelson, who was already known for his role as Dwayne on What’s Happening!! and later, What’s Happening Now!!

Man, I dig the hell out of this movie. It’s not just because I love the cast, it’s because this is just a time capsule into a really cool era for horror cinema. Also, it’s not a slasher flick or haunted house movie. Frankly, it’s pretty unique, at least for its time.

Granted, it’s concept would be ripped off and reimagined in several other films but this is the first film I know of where a personal computer was used to create a black mass and call forth the Devil.

Clint Howard really shines here because even if he succumbs to evil and a fucked up revenge plot, you still sympathize with him, as he just has this sort of soft, sad, endearing quality as this character, Stanley. His life sucks, it’s tough as hell and his bully is a real piece of shit. That being said, what the bully does to Stanley’s puppy is unforgivable and as a viewer, you want Stanley to literally raise hell.

I thought that the special effects in this were also pretty great. The big finale was well shot and employed some cool techniques, as a levitating, demonically possessed Stanley unleashes his newfound power on the assholes who tormented him.

Beyond that, I also thought the locations, sets and general visual tone were perfect. The film’s score wasn’t too bad either.

Evilspeak is one of those early ’80s horror movies that seems like it’s mostly forgotten today. However, it’s concept has lived on in countless other things throughout pop culture.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other “Satanic panic” movies of the ’80s, as well as Brainscan, The Gate II: Trespassers, Lawnmower Man and 976-EVIL.

Film Review: The Day of the Beast (1995)

Also known as: El día de la bestia (original Spanish title)
Release Date: September 4th, 1995 (Venice Film Festival – Italy)
Directed by: Álex de la Iglesia
Written by: Jorge Guerricaechevarría, Álex de la Iglesia
Music by: Battista Lena
Cast: Álex Angulo, Armando De Razza, Santiago Segura, Maria Grazia Cucinotta

Canal+ España, Iberoamericana Films Producción, M.G. S.R.L, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Well, it’s fundamental. lt inspired me to see the Apocalypse not as an allegory but as an equation. Each letter has its own number. So, for example… Daleth is worth four, and Synn is worth three hundred, so we can…” – Cura

El Día de la Bestia a.k.a. The Day of the Beast is a film that never popped up on my radar until Joe Bob Briggs featured it on a third season episode of The Last Drive-In. I’m glad he did show it, though, as it was a pretty cool occult horror picture from Spain.

Being that I worked in video stores in the ’90s, I’m surprised that I never came across this. If I did, I may have easily dismissed it due to it being foreign and having VHS box art that didn’t catch my eye.

This is a damn cool movie and it fits well with the rise of biblical and occult horror pictures of the mid-to-late ’90s, which I think was born out of people’s strange fear of approaching the new millennium.

The story is about a priest that believes that Satan is coming, so to take the Devil out, he decides to commit every sin imaginable to earn Satan’s trust and thus, kill him… I guess? The story is a bit nonsensical and deciding to become a sinner with about 24 hours on the clock probably isn’t a great plan.

However, the plan does work in that the priest and his overweight, heavy metal sidekick are able to attract some serious dark power into their lives. There’s a pretty cool scene where an occult ritual delivers a creepy presence but I don’t want to spoil the film.

While you do have to suspend a lot of disbelief due to the wonky story, the film still delivers and is entertaining as hell. Furthermore, all the core characters are really damn good and watching this all play out was a blast.

There isn’t a dull moment in the film and it flies by pretty quickly.

In the end, this has made me want to check out more from director Álex de la Iglesia.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other “raise the devil” or biblical horror movies of the ’90s, as well as the other films directed by Álex de la Iglesia.

Video Game Review: Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara (Arcade)

I really dug the hell out of the Dungeons & Dragons arcade game, Tower of Doom. That one felt like it was greatly inspired by the awesome Golden Axe series, except they really expanded on what those games did and created something with more diverse enemies, great looking levels and multiple paths to reach the end.

This game, Shadow Over Mystara, is a direct sequel to Tower of Doom and with that, was created in the same style on what I would assume was the same engine. It reuses elements of the previous game but also expands further, making this one hell of a fun experience to play.

Additionally, there are so many character choices you can play as in this game. Even just experimenting with them all as you progress is a lot of fun. Each character has its own set of pros and cons like a regular table top Dungeons & Dragons campaign should.

Furthermore, the game is chock full of so many baddies of various types. The boss battles are also a lot of fun and simply progressing through this game gives you a good sense of accomplishment.

This is just a really great game and while it does take a good amount of time to beat for an arcade beat’em up, the time flies by pretty swiftly.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as the Golden Axe games and Altered Beast.

Video Game Review: Golden Axe II (Sega Genesis)

As I kid, I seemed to like Golden Axe II slightly better than the Sega Genesis port of the original game. However, as an adult, I see this as just more of the same with the only difference being a few new sprites for new enemies and new levels. Other than that, the graphics and the gameplay didn’t improve and this was very obviously just made using the original games assets with some tweaks.

That doesn’t mean that this is bad or a waste of time. The original game is pretty great for what it is and this is just more of that. It’s really just an extension of that already solid game, which is probably why it sold really well and there weren’t too many complaints from players.

I thought that the game was still a lot of fun and I actually found it a bit easier than its predecessor. But then again, I’ve been blowing through all the Golden Axe games, lately, and maybe my skills are just coming back to me after all these years.

In the end, if you’re a fan of the series and specifically the original game’s Genesis version, there really isn’t a reason why you shouldn’t enjoy this one too.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Golden Axe games, as well as the Gauntlet series and other sword and sorcery video games of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras.

Video Game Review: Conan: Exiles – Isle of Siptah (PlayStation 4)

Conan: Exiles – Isle of Siptah is probably the DLC that I have anticipated more than any other in the history of my gaming life.

That being said, this came with extreme disappointment as the game on PlayStation 4 appears to be broken.

Sure, the game starts and you can run around doing your thing in this neat, deadly world. However, graphics keep switching back and forth from high res to low res and then NPCs and enemies either have a delay in loading or don’t load at all.

Furthermore, the game gets really f’n choppy to the point of absolute madness.

Every time I try to conquer a dungeon, before I get to the end, enemies just stop spawning and I get stuck, unable to progress and beat the dungeon.

I attempted to fix these issues, as I thought that maybe my files were f’d up due to building so much shit in the regular game. So I deleted all of my save files and even deleted the game files and DLC files. I then redownloaded and reinstalled everything and the problems were still there.

So I stopped playing this after a few days and didn’t even start on a new fortress build because what’s the point?

If they fix these issues, I’ll gladly give this a go again and update this review.

All that being said, the new map looks amazing. I just wish I could play the damn game without massive issues.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: other open world survival RPG-type games.

Film Review: Spookies (1986)

Also known as: Twisted Souls, Goblin (working titles)
Release Date: March, 1986 (Paris Festival of Fantastic Films)
Directed by: Brendan Faulkner, Thomas Doran, Eugenie Joseph
Written by: Thomas Doran, Brendan Faulkner, Frank Farel, Ann Burgund
Music by: James Calabrese, Kenneth Higgins
Cast: Felix Ward, Dan Scott, Alec Nemser, Maria Pechukas, Charlotte Alexandra (as Charlotte Seeley)

Twisted Souls Inc., Miggles Corporation N.V., Safir Films, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Uuuuuuhh, look at me: I’m Duke, the horny ghost.” – Duke

Spookies is a pretty awful movie. However, it’s one of those awful movies that is so crazy and ridiculous that it’s hard not to love if you’re into premium schlock. Especially, of the ’80s, no budget, horror variety.

The film features two different casts and frankly, two different stories. The movies are then edited together as one film and nothing makes much sense. Who’s the real villain? What’s really going on? How many types of creatures and monsters are they going to throw at the audience? This is a clusterfuck of biblical proportions but still, it’s an entertaining, lovable clusterfuck.

The special effects are pretty damn bad but they’re still kind of a visual treat in their awfulness.

The thing is, I still applaud the effort by the filmmakers as they employed a lot of practical, physical effects and there are just a ton of different creatures and deformed people wearing everything from mud-man zombie suits to spider-lady prosthetics and makeup.

Additionally, this is one of those movies where it appears like everyone is having a blast making this thing.

Still, the acting is pretty close to atrocious and not much makes any sort of real sense.

As a film, it’s certainly way below average but its creativity and heart really gives it a few extra points in my book.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s haunted house movies.

Book Review: ‘Bran Mak Morn: The Last King’ by Robert E. Howard

Bran Mak Morn is a Robert E. Howard character whose stories I’ve wanted to read since I first heard about him. He exists in the same universe as Conan and Kull but he’s different from the Cimmerian and Atlantean dudes that are really similar. Bran Mak Morn is actually a badass Pict that forged his own badass destiny while crushing enemies and monsters in his way.

The Picts of Robert E. Howard’s mythos aren’t the same Picts that existed on Earth in the time of our recorded history. However, Howard stories typically take place in pre-history, so you may want to connect the two.

Bran Mak Morn, like Conan and Kull, exists in a prehistoric age. His time doesn’t overlap with either of the other heroes but his people and their history are tied to both Conan and Kull.

Bran has a harder edge to him than Conan or Kull and I kind of like his temperament and personality. It’s that personality that really carries these stories.

Overall, though, I didn’t like the tales as much as the ones of Conan, Kull or Solomon Kane. However, I’ve known some of those stories for a long time and maybe nostalgia gives them a bit of an artificial boost.

I certainly don’t want to take anything away from this collection of Howard stories, as his writing is still top notch with this character and his place in the shared mythos.

If you’ve already read a lot of Howard’s other work but haven’t delved into Bran Mak Morn, this is definitely worth a look.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Robert E. Howard collections.

Video Game Review: Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (Sega Master System)

Ghouls ‘n Ghosts was the first sequel to the hit Ghosts ‘n Goblins game. This port to the Sega Master System actually came out a year after it was ported to Sega’s more advanced Genesis console.

However, this version of the game added in some cool stuff that the arcade and other ports didn’t have.

The Master System port features a unique upgrade system. The biggest thing that stands out is that the player can now enter shops and purchase better armor, weapons and magic.

The graphics on this version are also pretty impressive considering that the Master System console was a step behind the Genesis. This game looks visually better than the more comparable Nintendo Entertainment System’s Ghosts ‘n Goblins game from a few years earlier.

I thought that the controls were a bit wonky, though. Then again, they’re not that different from the older NES game that I spent hours upon hours playing in the late ’80s.

Like its predecessor, this game is also really damn difficult and frustrating. I didn’t get anywhere near completing it before giving up in frustration to go smoke a joint and grill a steak.

Despite being a visually alluring installment of the series, this one does fall kind of flat. It’s more frustrating than fun, the levels aren’t that great and the overall level design is kinda meh.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other games in the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise.

Comic Review: The New Mutants – Classics, Vol. 5

Published: September 8th, 2016
Written by: Chris Claremont
Art by: Arthur Adams, Jackson Guice, Rick Leonardi, Keith Pollard, Mary Wilshire

Marvel Comics, 269 Pages

Review:

This follows the Demon Bear Saga, the first Legion story and the short arc just after that.

This volume in The New Mutants starts with a two-part annual issues crossover with The Uncanny X-Men. The story sees the two mutant teams swept away to Asgard for some trickery and shenanigans involving Loki, the Enchantress and Hela. Frog-Thor, the Warriors Three and Surtur also make appearances.

I really dug the Asgard story, though, and I finally know how Dani Moonstar became a Valkyrie because it was always a bit of a mystery to me, as one day she wasn’t and then one day she was. I had never read these annuals, so I wasn’t sure how it all went down and why.

After that, we get a story that involves The Beyonder, as well as one that sees Magneto take over the team in place of Professor X. That is the more interesting plot thread, as it sees Emma Frost with help from one of her Hellions, convince Magneto to let her take over the New Mutants training, essentially merging them with the Hellions.

While with the Hellions, the New Mutants form some bonds with the teens they’re used to fighting. For those who have read X-Force, it’s pretty apparent which Hellions member will eventually align with the New Mutants once Cable comes in to lead them into adulthood.

Overall, this is a damn good collection and the Asgard and Hellion stories are two of the best arcs I’ve read thus far in the series.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other New Mutants comics, as well as the other X-Men related titles from the ’80s.