Comic Review: Challengers of the Unknown by Jack Kirby

Published: November 28th, 2017
Written by: France Herron, Jack Kirby
Art by: Jack Kirby, Rosalind Kirby, Marvin Stein, Wally Wood

DC Comics, 321 Pages

Review:

Most comic book fans know that Jack Kirby left Marvel after the booming ’60s and went to DC for a few years to create the cosmic side of their universe, as well as other cool comics like The Demon and Kamandi. However, few people seem to be aware of the fact that he did some work for DC in the ’50s, as well.

Challengers of the Unknown is a really interesting series and honestly, because the art is so Kirby and because it features several large monsters, it feels very much like it was created for Marvel before Stan Lee started writing about superheroes.

Back then, Marvel had a lot of monster comics and Jack Kirby was the king of that genre. Being a fan of that stuff made me really want to check this out, as it sort of mixes his monster stories with the action hero genre.

This book is about a team of cool dudes that go on grand adventures and often times find themselves faced with Kirby-style monsters and robots. This is very pulpy like the comics of the era, as well as the film serials that were inspired by them like Flash Gordon and The Phantom.

Most importantly, this is just a cool series and I always love Kirby’s iconic art style so it’s a win-win all around.

Now I can’t say that this is as good as his best Marvel (or even DC) stuff but it’s still an enthralling read for those who appreciate the guy and his patented style.

All in all, this is a superb, engaging read with great, vibrant art and cool monsters. There’s not much of anything to dislike.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Jack Kirby’s other work for DC Comics.

Film Review: The Night Stalker (1972)

Also known as: The Kolchak Papers (working title), Kolchak: The Night Stalker (long title)
Release Date: January 11th, 1972 
Directed by: John Llewellyn Moxey
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Kolchak Papers by Jeffrey Grant Rice
Music by: Bob Cobert
Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Carol Lynley, Barry Atwater, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins, Elisha Cook Jr.

Dan Curtis Productions, ABC Circle Films, ABC, 74 Minutes

Review:

“Rumor has it that the day Anthony Albert Vincenzo was born, his father left town. The story may be apocryphal, but I believe it. The only point I wonder about is why his mother didn’t leave too.” – Carl Kolchak

I was a pretty big fan of the Kolchak television series when it was in syndication back when I was a kid. It originally aired before I was alive but I remember my granmum having it on her television set in my younger, most impressionable years.

Sadly, I hadn’t seen it since the ’80s and I never saw the two television movies that predate the single season show. So I figured I’d start with the original Night Stalker movie and go from there.

I’m glad to say that this was pretty close to my memories of the show and seeing Darren McGavin ham it up while monster hunting was a sight to behold and enjoy, once again!

More than anything, watching the original film, which I found in HD on YouTube for free (as long as that lasts) motivated me greatly to continue on with the second film and twenty-ish episode series.

McGavin is great in this and it’s my favorite role that I’ve ever seen him play. It’s like it was tailor made for his specific talents, as it maximizes his strengths and charisma. I’m not sure how close the Kolchak TV material is to the original novel but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

In this story, ace reporter Carl Kolchak is investigating strange murders that appear to be vampiric in nature. No one wants to believe what Kolchak starts to uncover and even after the vampire gets into a skirmish with police while stealing blood bags from the hospital, those in power try to suppress Kolchak’s narrative.

Eventually, we get a showdown with the vampire and the end result sees Kolchak having to leave Las Vegas or be charged with murder for killing the bloodsucking fiend.

While the picture can feel hokey and dated, I mean, it is a ’70s television movie, it’s still an energetic, charming, entertaining ride and pretty solid shit for its time and production limitations.

Plus, Darren McGavin is stupendous.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequel The Night Strangler and the television show Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Film Review: Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Release Date: November 17th, 1999 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker, Kevin Yagher
Based on: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths, Ian McDiarmid, Michael Gough, Marc Pickering, Christopher Walken, Ray Park, Lisa Marie, Peter Guinness, Martin Landau (uncredited)

Mandalay Pictures, American Zoetrope, Paramount Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Villainy wears many masks, none so dangerous as the mask of virtue.” – Ichabod Crane

This is one of my favorite Tim Burton movies and every time I watch it, it just makes me wish that he did more straight up fantasy horror films.

This is Burton’s take on the famous story by Washington Irving but it takes the Sleepy Hollow legend and makes it a lot darker and more badass than other adaptations. For many, the classic Disney animated version is probably the one they’re most familiar with. This Sleepy Hollow is very different.

I love that this is gothic horror at its core and you can see the influences of Hammer Films, as well as those Edgar Allan Poe movies with Vincent Price. In fact, Burton does more than homage Hammer, here, as he also includes some Hammer legends in the film: Michael Gough and Christopher Lee, to be specific.

This also features Ian McDiarmid and a visually obscured Ray Park, making it the only movie to feature Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and Darth Maul: Star Wars can’t even claim that.

Anyway, the film is led by Johnny Depp and I love him in this. He plays a sort of whimsical, awkward character and his version of Ichabod Crane shows early signs of what Depp would later create as his most famous character, Captain Jack Sparrow.

I love the humor in this movie and I don’t think that it would’ve worked quite the same way without Depp. Here we have a great investigator that has to get down and dirty… and often times bloody. The humorous bit is that he’s a germaphobe and winces every time he has to do something unsettling or gross. It’s a reoccurring gag throughout the film but it works every time and it isn’t overused.

Depp also has Christina Ricci to play off of and I always like when these two are together. I honestly wish that they worked together more often, as they have real chemistry and always tend to accentuate each other’s performance.

The rest of the cast is padded out with some immense talent between Christopher Walken, Michael Gambon, Miranda Richardson, Martin Landau, Jeffrey Jones, Richard Griffiths, Lisa Marie and Casper Van Dien, who had just come off of the cult classic Starship Troopers.

I enjoy the look and tone of the film and my only real complaint about it is that it seems a bit too drawn out. The story is too complex and should have been refined and tweaked to bring the film down to around 90 minutes. It doesn’t really need more than that but at the same time it could’ve also used a bit more head chopping and action.

Apart from that, the only other negative is that the CGI looks cheesy in two parts but both of those moments happen really quick and it doesn’t wreck the film. I just found it a little bit jarring in those split seconds and it does pull you out of this period piece setting.

In the end, this is still pretty solid and it’s one of the highpoints of ’90s horror, as the decade came to a close and gave us a new millennium full of subpar, mostly shitty horror.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other gothic horror films around 2000, as well as other Tim Burton films with Johnny Depp.

Film Review: April Fool’s Day (1986)

Also known as: Horror Party (Germany)
Release Date: March 28th, 1986
Directed by: Fred Walton
Written by: Danilo Bach
Music by: Charles Bernstein
Cast: Jay Baker, Deborah Foreman, Deborah Goodrich, Ken Olandt, Griffin O’Neal, Leah King Pinsent, Clayton Rohner, Amy Steel, Thomas F. Wilson

YCTM, Hometown Films, Paramount Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“[watching Kit and Rob through binoculars] Respectable young Quaker couple returning from a quiet afternoon of nonviolent sex.” – Chaz

I have never seen April Fool’s Day until now and that has a lot to do with the twist ending being spoiled for me at a young age by friends who were annoyed by it. While I have seen some clips and scenes over the years, this is my first time checking out the total package, as it was intended to be viewed.

Overall, this wasn’t bad but it’s really just a paint-by-numbers slasher flick with a unique ending.

If you’ve never seen the film and don’t want the ending spoiled, you might want to skip reading.

Anyway, the title sort of does give the ending away, as once we reach the climax of the film and the last two surviving teens are faced with the killer, it’s revealed that everything in the film was just a big, elaborate April Fool’s Day prank.

This upset a lot of people and others that weren’t as upset just wrote this off as dumb. I’m actually fine with it now that I’ve seen the movie, as it’s an original take on the genre, which was already exhausted to death by 1986, and because it was effective at being a decent slasher flick before the big reveal.

Plus, the ending makes it stand out in a sea of slasher clones and without it, no one would still talk about this film. While some said it killed the genre, that’s bullshit. Slashers kept being pumped out for years and in fact, they still exist today and often times have little resurgences even though Scream actually broke kayfabe on this subgenre of horror.

April Fool’s Day is a mediocre slasher movie but at least it tried something different. I get why altering the formula may be upsetting to some but it’s not like there aren’t about three-thousand other slasher pictures out there.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s slasher flicks.

Film Review: Hollywood Shuffle (1987)

Also known as: Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle (VHS title)
Release Date: March 20th, 1987
Directed by: Robert Townsend
Written by: Keenan Ivory Wayans, Robert Townsend, Dom Irrera (uncredited)
Music by: Udi Harpaz
Cast: The Hollywood Platers (Robert Townsend, Anne-Marie Johnson, Craigus R. Johnson, Helen Martin, Starletta DuPois, David McKnight, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Lou B. Washington, Brad Sanders, John Witherspoon, Eugene Robert Glazer, Lisa Mende, Dom Irrera, Damon Wayans, Kim Wayans, Rusty Cundieff, Steve James)

Conquering Unicorn, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 78 Minutes, 81 Minutes (Ontario cut)

Review:

“There’s always work at the post office.” – Bobby Taylor

Man, I hadn’t seen this movie in a few decades. I think the last time I watched it was when I was a teen in the ’90s working at a video store. It sort of washed away with time but it was on the Criterion Channel for about a month, so I figured I’d revisit it before it vanished.

Robert Townsend is a talented guy and he was one of my favorite comedians and entertainers in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I loved his short-lived sketch comedy show on Fox, as well as his superhero film Meteor Man. However, this is probably the best thing he’s made.

Sure, this was his directorial debut and he would go on to have a lengthy, fruitful career but there’s just something superb and honest about this movie. Plus, it displays his, as well as Keenan Ivory Wayans’, immense creativity and great sense of humor.

This film almost feels like an anthology, as it is primarily a series of skits and sequences. However, there is a main story that ties everything together. The presentation style of it feels a lot like Weird Al Yankovic’s UHF. It also feels very ’80s but that kind of just adds to the charm of it, looking at it all these years later.

Hollywood Shuffle is a parody and commentary on how black talent was being used and exploited in Hollywood. It was a tongue-in-cheek, humorous critique on how Hollywood viewed blacks but told from the black perspective. Strangely, thirty-three years later, a lot of what’s here still rings true.

While I feel like there have been definite strides since 1987, Hollywood is still a cesspool of assholes and deluded dipshits that only make changes when decades of white guilt pushes them into thoughtless platitudes and declarations that don’t actually fix the system and only expose it being out of touch, pompous and so high on its own farts that it needs to wear a helmet to walk down the hall.

Anyway, enough with the imbeciles running the system, Hollywood Shuffle just justifiably puts them on blast and does so quite well. It just sucks that seeing this, all these years later, only kind of reinforces the points that are cleverly made in the film. Sure, Hollywood thinks its doing better now but so does the heroin junkie that woke up next to some spare change in the dumpster behind Del Taco.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the early films of Robert Townsend and Keenan Ivory Wayans.

Documentary Review: Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (2006)

Release Date: October 13th, 2006
Directed by: Jeff McQueen
Written by: J. Albert Bell, Rachel Belofsky, Michael Derek Bohusz, Adam Rockoff, Rudy Scalese
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Cast: Ed Green (narrator), Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Malek Akkad, Greg Nicotero, Amy Holden Jones, Stan Winston, Rob Zombie, Sean S. Cunningham, Tom Savini, Betsy Palmer, Harry Manfredini, Felissa Rose, Robert Shaye

Candy Heart Productions, thinkfilm, Starz, 88 Minutes

Review:

For being one of those film history documentaries made by Starz, it’s pretty good.

Granted, this isn’t great and there are much better documentaries on ’80s horror, slasher films and many of the specific movies this one discusses.

As can be expected, this is a series of talking head interviews edited and presented to tell a narrative. In the case of this film, it goes through the history of slasher films from the ’70s and up to more modern times. I kind of lost interest once it got midway into the ’90s but that’s when Scream came out and kind of wrecked the genre.

This does miss a lot and doesn’t even really touch on the things in film’s history that inspired and paved the way for slasher cinema.

It felt like a missed opportunity to examine Italian giallo and how that subgenre of horror (and neo-noir) laid some groundwork for what would become the American and Canadian slasher flick empire.

Still, this was entertaining and I enjoyed it even if I didn’t learn much of anything new.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on ’70s and ’80s horror.

Film Review: Hack-O-Lantern (1988)

Also known as: Death Mask (alternative international title), Halloween Night (US alternative title), The Damning (UK)
Release Date: March 25th, 1988 (UK)
Directed by: Jag Mundhra
Written by: Dave Eisenstark (as Burford Hauser), Carla Robinson
Music by: Greg Haggard (as Gregory T. Haggard)
Cast: Hy Pyke, Gregory Scott Cummins, Carla B., Katina Garner

Spencer Films, 87 Minutes

Review:

This weird ass movie is a combination of being abysmally bad and kind of entertaining, when not mulled down by the really dull parts. The abysmally bad parts kind of win out, though.

Hack-O-Lantern is a Halloween-themed horror movie directed by an Indian guy that doesn’t seem to know much about Halloween. Also, he is relying on tropes and themes that were kind of played out by the time this was released. It’s like the guy watched Halloween nearly a decade earlier and said, “Let’s do that but crazy! Very, very crazy!”

The film is about an old grandpa that runs a Satanic cult while also featuring a slasher, who goes around killing teens. There’s also some weird rock and roll band subplot that sees music videos just kind of randomly appear out of nowhere. I guess it’s not even really a subplot. This is just an amalgamation of bonkers ass shit that makes little to no sense.

I only watched this because it was featured on The Last Drive-In. I can’t call it the worst movie featured on there, as it was at the very least, amusing in spite of its massive flaws.

I don’t think that I’ll ever watch this again or even recommend it but I didn’t hate it, so that’s something.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other Halloween-themed horror movies.

Film Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Also known as: The Body Snatchers (informal title)
Release Date: December 21st, 1978 (San Francisco & Minneapolis premieres)
Directed by: Philip Kaufman
Written by: W. D. Richter
Based on: The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney
Music by: Denny Zeitlin
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Art Hindle, Robert Duvall, Philip Kaufman (cameo), Kevin McCarthy (cameo)

Solofilm, United Artists, 115 Minutes

Review:

“We came here from a dying world. We drift through the universe, from planet to planet, pushed on by the solar winds. We adapt and we survive. The function of life is survival.” – Dr. David Kibner

This is a movie that kind of terrified me, as a kid. I’m also a germaphobe and have a strange fear of plants that don’t look right, especially coming into contact with them. I’m probably much better in that regard, as an adult, but this film is still quite unsettling regardless of how many times I’ve seen it and how much I’ve aged in the process.

Out of all the adaptations of The Body Snatchers story, this is the one that’s the most effective. At least from my point-of-view.

There’s just something supremely creepy about this version of the story and a lot of that probably has to do with it being made in the ’70s, it’s use of incredible practical effects and the solid cast.

Being an old school Star Trek fan, I love that Leonard Nimoy plays an evil bastard in this. Well, after he’s been infected with the alien spores, anyway. But its great seeing Nimoy get to express himself in ways that he couldn’t while playing Spock, his most iconic role.

Additionally, I loved seeing a very youthful and cool Jeff Goldblum in this, as well as Veronica Cartwright and Brooke Adams, who I wish would’ve been a more prominent actress because she’s always really damn good.

Donald Sutherland takes the cake, though, as the lead in the film. He and his friends become aware that something strange is going on and he does his best trying to stop it, even though it becomes clear that the alien invasion will happen regardless of how human beings feel about it.

The movie is also full of sequences that are simply great.

The one that really stands out to me is where Jeff Goldblum brings the heroes to a strange body. Here, we get to see the first real physiological changes in those effected by the alien spores. We also get to see how the aliens move and try to absorb human DNA in order to be replicated into plant-based copies.

Following that, we get another great sequence that sees Sutherland fall asleep and nearly get assimilated by alien pods in a backyard. The effects in this scene are incredible and some of the best of the era.

Speaking of which, the effects of the opening credits were also damn impressive, as we see the alien lifeforms leave their home planet and soar across the universe on solar winds, eventually making their way to Earth and attaching themselves to our plants.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is simply awesome. I dig the hell out of it from top-to-bottom and it’s one of those films I have to revisit every few years.

At some point, I’ll probably review the other remakes/re-imaginings of this story but none of them hold a candle to this one, except for the original.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the original film, as well as other alien invasion and killer virus movies of the ’60s through ’80s.

Film Review: Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Release Date: January 29th, 1959 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Clyde Geronimi (supervising director), Eric Larson, Wolfgang Reitherman, Les Clark
Written by: Erdman Penner, Milt Banta, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Joe Rinaldi, Ted Sears, Ralph Wright
Based on: Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault
Music by: George Burns (adapted from Tchaikovsky)
Cast: Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy, Barbara Jo Allen, Taylor Holmes, Bill Thompson, Marvin Miller (narrator)

Buena Vista Film Distribution, Walt Disney Productions, 75 Minutes

Review:

“A forest of thorns shall be his tomb! Borne through the skies on a fog of doom! Now go with the curse, and serve me well! ‘Round Stefan’s castle, cast my spell!” – Maleficent

This is my favorite classic animated Disney film of all-time. While I also love Alice In Wonderland immensely and have (in my own mind) debated which one takes the cake for me, it’s always Sleeping Beauty that wins out, especially when I see them both pretty close together.

As far as the classic Disney style and patented tropes go, this is a perfect motion picture but then it’s also more than that.

This, at face value, looks like a standard Disney princess story but it also features the greatest villain that Disney has ever had in Maleficent. A villain so badass and cool that she’s been featured in the great Kingdom Hearts video games and gone on to have her own series of live-action films featuring her as the main character over Aurora a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty.

On top of that, this is a visual triumph for the Disney company, as it has a very unique animation style with incredible character design, a delectable, vivid color palate and a sort of looming darkness that their other films don’t have. There’s a real beauty with this picture that holds it above Disney’s other masterfully crafted and visually impressive films.

The animation is also so smooth, especially in regards to the great action sequences. The big action-packed climax that sees Prince Philip take on Maleficent in her massive dragon form is stunning to behold. Sixty-plus years later, it has held up incredibly well and is, hands down, one of the absolute best and most memorable animated action sequences in film history.

For me and what I like in Disney films, as well as fairytale stories, this is just a perfect storm, which is greatly enhanced by the unique and alluring visuals and one of the greatest silver screen villains ever created.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other classic animated Disney films of the classic era.

Film Review: The Mummy’s Shroud (1967)

Release Date: March 15th, 1967
Directed by: John Gilling
Written by: John Gilling, Anthony Hinds
Music by: Don Banks
Cast: Andre Morell, John Phillips, David Buck, Maggie Kimberly, Elizabeth Sellars, Michael Ripper

Seven Arts Productions, Hammer Films, 90 Minutes

Review:

“He says that death awaits all who disturb the resting place of Kah-to-Bey.” – Sir Basil Walden

Being that this was the third Mummy film by Hammer, the momentum started to slow and what we got was a formulaic mummy movie that feels pretty thin when compared to the two before it.

However, I did like the whole gimmick regarding the shroud and how whoever had possession of it had control over the undead mummy in the story.

Michael Ripper returns in a supporting role, although he is playing a different character than he did in the previous film.

One benefit this picture did have over the second one, though, is that it had one of Hammer’s top stars in Andre Morell. I always liked him and he’s my third favorite Hammer lead after Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. It was cool seeing him get to star in a Mummy picture, as he has a certain panache and a commanding presence.

Overall, though, this is just more of the same even if it does have a few things working for it.

I know that I’ve seen this one before and probably multiple times, as I own the DVD. However, everything about it slipped down the memory hole because it’s pretty much derivative of every other better known Mummy movie before it. 

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Hammer Mummy pictures.