Comic Review: Graveyard Shift

Published: February, 2019
Written by: Mark Poulton
Art by: Jon Malin, Anthony George, Eric Weathers

Haunted Pizza, 46 Pages

Review:

*The featured image is from the interior. I couldn’t find a JPG of the cover.

Man, this comic book is so ’90s! Which is a great thing for some people and a not so great thing for others. Being that I’m a fan of the ’90s, I found this mostly enjoyable.

What sold me on the project is that it was said to be like X-Men mixed with the Universal Monsters franchise. While that’s not quite the vibe I got from it, I do like the idea of there being a superhero team comprised of classic literary monsters, even if it’s not a wholly original idea.

Also, the series’ title isn’t that original, as Image Comics already had a series called Graveyard Shift just a few years ago from 2014 through 2015.

While I enjoy Malin’s art for the most part, the criticisms I had in my Jawbreakers review still apply here. The characters still look overly sleek and svelte with elongated limbs and uncomfortable looking poses. Now I’m not talking about the dynamic motion stuff, that’s all fine; I’m talking about the poses that see them just standing around. He definitely has his own anatomical style but it doesn’t always work for me. That being said, Malin is still better than what the industry standard is in 2019. Most of his women look the same though, throughout all of his work. They just have variances in hair color, hair length and skin tone.

I was also critical of how the action flowed in Richard C. Meyer’s Jawbreakers and I saw that as maybe an issue with the writing on Meyer’s part but having now read Graveyard Shift, I see similar problems. Sometimes I can’t tell what’s happened from panel to panel without having to go back and examine the previous one harder.

There is also some nonsensical stuff thrown in, which I guess is writer Mark Poulton’s sense of humor. Some of it feels odd, out of place and the gag doesn’t always work. There is one panel with a pregnant news reporter in the background with her bare belly exposed and half of her tits hanging out. In the next panel, there is a massive explosion behind her and we see her screaming as her belly bursts open, ejecting the fetus from within it. I don’t get it, man. That’s some hardcore ’90s edgy boi shit but it made me stop reading and I had to stare at it, baffled, distracted and completely dumbfounded by the whole thing. It was random as shit, added nothing to the story and hurts the book, overall. I wasn’t offended by it, I was just puzzled by it. And from a physics standpoint, it makes no sense.

Additionally, the cover for this was weak. I’m glad that Malin didn’t use the cover to promote this on Indiegogo because it’s not a true reflection of the good art inside the book. It’s just a green glowing logo on a black background. If this were on a shelf, I wouldn’t see this moving into the consumers’ hands with that cover.

Getting back to the writing, there is a ton of shit wedged into just 46 pages. A lot happens and the book jumps around in time, here and there. If you’re not paying close attention, it may be a bit confusing. But with so many characters and time shifts in this book, I don’t feel like I really got to know any of the core people other than a few surface traits. There needs to be more depth for the primary characters and this almost feels as if it was too much, too soon.

That all ties into one of my criticisms of these crowd funded indie projects. It’s as if the creators feel like they need to tell as much of the story as possible because they can only do one to two releases per year. If this was drawn out a bit more and properly paced, the story might not conclude for years. And by that point, a lot of the initial audience will move on. This is why I prefer the monthly model of mainstream comics or the idea of doing a full, proper graphic novel that tells a single, self-contained story. Most of these Comicsgate projects end with a “To Be Continued”. Well, when? Six months from now? A year from now? Oh, you have three more projects on your plate before coming back to this?

It probably sounds like I’m shitting on this and I don’t mean to. But if I can’t objectively review it and hold it to the same standard that I do every other comic, then I’m just being dishonest. I’m not Comicsgate, as the creators of this book are. But Comicsgate claims that they want better comics. Well, if they aren’t criticized and held to the same standard as mainstream comics, then they’ll never produce better comics. Those who review these books and praise them without being objective and honest, don’t actually want better comics. The criticism should be constructive, fair and honest or else it isn’t valid. I want good comics, not the Christian rock version of comics.

That being said, this has promise. It’s a cool concept and it looks great for the most part. I’m interested in seeing where this can go but I’m also not going to care two years from now.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Other recent Comicsgate books like Richard C. Meyer’s Jawbreakers, which Malin also worked on.

Comic Review: Lonestar: Heart of the Hero

Published: February, 2019
Written by: Mike S. Miller
Art by: Mike S. Miller, Kyle Ritter (color on covers)

Blacklist Universe, 48 Pages

Review:

If I’m being honest, I can’t say that Lonestar was the Comicsgate associated book that I was most looking forward to. I bought it just to see how it was and to review it. But with that being said, it is the best Comicsgate related comic that has made it to my mailbox, thus far.

I didn’t know much about Mike S. Miller until I saw him enter Ethan Van Sciver’s orbit. But as I got to know him through YouTube and Twitter, I was made aware of more of his past work and I do own a lot of the stuff he’s worked on and find his art to be really good.

Now at first glance, one might see Lonestar as a mash up of Captain America and vigilante heroes like Daredevil, the Punisher, Deathstroke (on good days) or the Vigilante. And one might think, “Do we need another vigilante superhero?”

Lonestar is pretty interesting though, as he isn’t just a street level vigilante but he works on a special black ops team that fights supernatural threats like vampires. So there is almost an element of G.I. Joe and classic horror also thrown into the mix. Since these are all things that I love, I found this pretty damn fun to read. And it is also well-balanced between all of these various elements.

This release is 48 pages and the story will be continued in a future volume. But there is enough here to really make you understand the hero, as well as this comic title. Miller did a solid job with the plotting as he gave this character depth, personality and purpose all within this first release. He also established a real threat for our hero to face down the road. The pacing of the story was good and a lot happens in a limited space. I’m not too keen on the dialogue, however. It’s not terrible but it’s also not very good. I think it’s an indicator that these Comnicsgate titles need an editor. I felt the same way after reading Jawbreakers. There just needs to be an extra step where these things can be fine tuned better.

In the end, I like this character and that’s the most important factor in selling me on the idea of supporting future releases.

Mike S. Miller’s art is also the best that I’ve seen from the Comicsgate camp. I think that Ethan Van Sciver’s Cyberfrog will take the cake, once it’s released, but Miller is an accomplished artist with decades worth of experience working for major publishers and his level of craftsmanship is made very apparent just from the first page of Lonestar. His style might not work for everyone but art is subjective and people have different tastes. But this looks like a top book from a top publisher and boasts more artistic skill than a lot of what Marvel and DC Comics are putting out in 2019. That’s not to say that every panel was great. There were a few spots where I didn’t like the perspective or the anatomy.

If I’m being honest, the primary cover of the book didn’t make me want to buy it. The variants were much better. The picture used in this review is of the second cover, which is the one I purchased.

Lonestar: Heart of the Hero surprised me. It really caught me off guard and that’s not a knock against what I think of Miller, it just didn’t immediately resonate with me at the same level as other comic books I’ve backed over the last year on Indiegogo or Kickstarter. But I am happy that I supported it and I will continue to keep an eye out for Miller’s future campaigns.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: I’m sure future Lonestar and Mike S. Miller releases, as well as other recent Comicsgate books like Richard C. Meyer’s Jawbreakers.

Film Review: The House That Dripped Blood (1971)

Also known as: Blood Zone (Japan English title), Method for Murder, Waxworks, Sweets to the Sweet, The Cloak (segment titles)
Release Date: February 21st, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: Peter Duffell
Written by: Robert Bloch, Russ Jones
Music by: Michael Dress
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Denholm Elliot, Ingrid Pitt, Jon Pertwee, Joss Ackland, Nyree Dawn Porter

Amicus Productions, Cinerama Releasing Corporation, 102 Minutes

Review:

“That’s what’s wrong with the present day horrorfilms. There’s no realism. Not like the old ones, the great ones. Frankenstein. Phantom of the Opera. Dracula – the one with Bela Lugosi of course, not this new fellow.” – Paul Henderson

I know that I’ve stated a few times before that I’m not a big fan of anthologies but sometimes there are those rare exceptions like Creepshow. Well, this is one of those rare exceptions.

Amicus is often times confused with Hammer Films, as they were another British studio that made horror pictures in the same era and used a lot of the same stars. They did have a tendency to make a lot of anthology pictures though, where Hammer focused more on classic monsters in the same vein as the Universal Pictures horror films of the ’30s and ’40s.

This one might be the best of Amicus’ horror anthologies, which are really hit or miss for me.

love that we get to see Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in another film, which happened over twenty times in their careers. They don’t share screen time here, unfortunately, as both men star in different stories within this anthology framework. But each is the star of their own segment.

Additionally, we get to see a segment starring Denholm Elliot a.k.a. Marcus Brody of Indiana Jones fame, as well as Jon Pertwee, most famous for playing the third incarnation of the Doctor on Doctor Who. It doesn’t stop there though, as we also get to enjoy the wonderful Ingrid Pitt, a true British scream queen, and Joss Ackland, who I love in just about everything.

While this stacked cast does a lot to make this film work and to legitimize it in a sea of horror from the era, it is the stories and the actual connection that they have that makes this a really enjoyable feature.

This is a small and confined feeling film, as just about every scene takes place in the same house. Each segment focuses on a different owner of the house and how this haunted property finds a way to effect them and bring out their fear.

We have a story about a writer going insane, seeing his imagined killer coming to life. We then get a story that involves a wax recreation of a dead love. Then there is one about a young girl that is a witch who terrorizes her overbearing father. And finally, we get my favorite segment that sees a legendary horror actor come into possession of a mystical cloak that turns the wearer into an actual vampire. There is also a chopped up segment that strings all the tales together.

I wouldn’t say that this is the best horror film put out by Amicus but it is the best one I’ve seen in awhile. That being said, it is in the upper echelon of their pictures and pretty damn enjoyable all around.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other British horror films from Amicus and Hammer from the late ’60s/early ’70s.

Film Review: London After Midnight – Reconstructed Version (1927/2002)

Also known as: Der Vampyr (Austria), The Hypnotist (UK)
Release Date: December 3rd, 1927
Directed by: Tod Browning
Written by: Waldemar Young, Joseph W. Farnham
Based on: The Hypnotist by Tod Browning
Cast: Lon Chaney Sr., Marceline Day, Conrad Nagel, Henry B. Walthall, Polly Moran, Edna Tichenor, Claude King

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 65 Minutes, 47 Minutes (reconstructed version) 

Review:

There probably aren’t many people alive who have seen London After Midnight, as the only surviving print of this 1927 film went up in flames during the 1965 MGM vault fire.

The version of this film that I watched was a reconstruction, which originally aired on Turner Classic Movies back in 2002. So this is a review of that and not the actual finished movie itself. So the final rating below doesn’t reflect the actual film, as I haven’t seen it.

That being said, the reconstruction was done as best as it could be with the material that was available. They worked off of the script and used production stills to represent the scenes.

While this doesn’t have the life of a moving picture and doesn’t really capture the full performance of the legendary Lon Chaney Sr., the stills do a good job of painting the right kind of picture and showing you the tone within the film.

I wasn’t crazy about the film’s score but it does feel accurate to the scores of the time when this originally came out. It just sounds a bit generic, overall.

If you are a Chaney fan, you should give this a watch because it’s as close as one can get to experiencing this film, which was considered to be one of Chaney’s greatest performances.

Hopefully, one day, another print will resurface but being that it’s been lost for 53 years, that may be very unlikely.

Recently, some footage was found but it was just scenes clipped for a trailer. Still, maybe an updated reconstruction with that footage will be edited together in the future.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Lon Chaney Sr. horror pictures of the 1920s.

Film Review: Vampyr (1932)

Also known as: Adventures of David Gray (alternate original title), Castle of Doom (US dubbed version), Not Against the Flesh (US), The Strange Adventure of David Gray (Brazil English title), The Vampire (US copyright title)
Release Date: May 6th, 1932 (Germany)
Directed by: Carl Theodore Dreyer
Written by: Christen Jul, Carl Theodore Dreyer
Based on: In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu
Music by: Wolfgang Zeller
Cast: Julian West, Maurice Schutz, Rena Mandel, Jan Hieronimko, Sybille Schmitz, Henriette Gerard

Carl Theodore Dreyer-Filmproduktion, Tobis-Filmkunst, Vereinigte Star-Film GmbH, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Why does the doctor always come at night?” – Gisèle

Just as Nosferatu was the quintessential vampire movie of the silent German Expressionist era, Vampyr is probably the quintessential vampire movie of German Expressionism once it moved into sound.

This film has aged incredibly well for what it is. It is still quite terrifying, at its core, and it has an ambiance that is chilling and rich with dark folklore.

It’s unsettling as it rolls on and the plot develops. It’s well written and strange, as it doesn’t necessarily follow the typical vampire fiction template. It feels as if it were ripped from old folk tales, as opposed to taking its cues from Bram Stoker’s Dracula like nearly all vampire fiction.

I thought the performances were very dramatic and very reminiscent of the silent era but they were all pretty good. This feels like a stage show put to celluloid, as things feel very confined like the walls are always closing in. I’m not sure if that was the intent of the filmmakers but the scale of the film works to serve the main character’s story, as he keeps falling deeper and deeper into the darkness.

While German Expressionism isn’t really associated with films after the silent era, the style is alive and well here or at least the spirit of it is, as it has evolved. But this does, in my opinion, fit well with the more famous silent horror films that Germany was pumping out in the 1920s.

Vampyr is definitely worth your time if you like films like the original Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: NosferatuThe Cabinet of Dr. CaligariThe Golem and the Swedish film The Phantom Carriage.

Film Review: Queen of the Damned (2002)

Also known as: Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned (complete title), Interview with the Vampire II (working title)
Release Date: January 10th, 2002 (Côte d’Ivoire)
Directed by: Michael Rymer
Written by: Scott Abbott, Michael Petroni
Based on: The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice
Music by: Richard Gibbs, Jonathan Davis
Cast: Aaliyah, Stuart Townsend, Marguerite Moreau, Paul McGann, Vincent Perez, Claudia Black, Lena Olin,

Village Roadshow Pictures, NPV Entertainment, Material Productions, Warner Bros. Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“You’re beautiful to me because you’re human. Your frailty. Your short years. Your heart. All that suddenly seems more precious than anything I’ve ever known.” – Lestat

I think that most fans of Anne Rice’s work were happy with the 1994 film version of Interview With the Vampire. It would have been nice to see her Vampire Chronicles continue with that same cast and team but its sequel, The Vampire Lestat, never really materialized.

Eventually, Rice was pushed out of the project, the studio took over and we got this abomination, 8 years later.

I remember seeing the trailer for this and almost losing my shit in the theater. How could something so perfect be followed up with something so flawed and soulless? I never really wanted to watch the movie but my girlfriend, at the time, brought it home from Blockbuster one night and I was subjected to this heinously inferior creation that set adaptations of Rice’s work back decades. In fact, we’re still waiting for more Vampire Chronicles adaptations, 16 years later.

So what’s wrong with this movie? Short answer: everything. Long answer: read the next several paragraphs.

To start, this was made without the care that Neil Jordan and Anne Rice had with Interview With the Vampire. In fact, this doesn’t even have respect for the work it is based on. It was a quick, cheap and sad attempt at cashing in on something people craved without any wherewithal of what made Interview so damn good in the first place. Frankly, I’m pretty sure they never really cared about that to begin with and chances are, the filmmakers didn’t even watch that film or they found it boring because it wasn’t littered with nu metal or rap rock songs.

This was a film that tried so fucking hard to be edgy but it failed to understand what edginess is and that it really had no place being tied to the source material, as Interview was edgy in its own way. A way that showcased its eloquence and fit within the style of what that film was. Queen of the Damned was the forced edginess that makes most people laugh like when they see wealthy white teenagers wearing t-shirts that say “fuck you” or “suck my dick”. It’s cringe edginess.

A big example of this type of cringe edginess comes in the form of the film’s music. In the books, Lestat’s music is described to be otherworldly and it’s powerful and magical enough to resurrect a long dead vampire queen from thousands of years of sleep. So how did they make this work in the film? They didn’t. Lestat’s music was nothing but Korn songs that the actor lip synced. Fucking Korn. Now I don’t hate the band but c’mon, Korn? Really?!

Also, the film was terribly cast. I guess Stuart Townsend has the look part down but he certainly didn’t have the presence of Tom Cruise’s Lestat. And really, on paper, Cruise looked miscast but he made it work and put in one of the greatest performances of his career. But we got Townsend, a guy who also failed at being a convincing Dorian Gray, another literary character of greatness. He would ruin that character a year later in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Then you have Aaliyah, the top billed star who only appears in brief glimpses and not in full until the last half hour of the movie. Her accent was terrible, her inability to act was baffling and nothing about her seemed alluring or threatening. Once her and Lestat do come together, there’s no character development to their story and there is absolutely no chemistry whatsoever. It’s really embarrassing to watch.

You also have the parliament of vampires or whatever they’re called. Most of them looked ridiculous and like they were handpicked out of a crowd at a My Chemical Romance concert, even though I’m not sure if that band even existed yet.

This movie hurts my brain. I didn’t want to revisit it but since I just recently got reacquainted with the greatness that is Interview With a Vampire, I felt that I should re-familiarize myself with this, which really is the antithesis to everything its predecessor was.

Do yourself a favor. Never watch this. It’s beyond bad. It’s not even the sort of bad that becomes good. It’s the worst kind of film and shouldn’t exist.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: other early ’00s vampire movies that were far from great like Dracula 2000 and The Breed.

Film Review: Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Also known as: Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (full title)
Release Date: November 9th, 1994 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Neil Jordan
Written by: Anne Rice
Based on: Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas, Christian Slater, Stephen Rea

Geffen Pictures, Warner Bros., 122 Minutes

Review:

“The world changes, we do not, there lies the irony that finally kills us.” – Armand

In the ’90s and early ’00s, I watched this film a lot. But I had seen it so many times that I actually haven’t seen it now for at least a decade. But that time off from it made me appreciate it even more.

This is the best vampire motion picture of the 1990s. It is pretty damn close to being a masterpiece. It is a beautiful adaptation of a book that really has become a literary classic, at this point. And it’s great to see that Anne Rice penned this script, as no one knows these characters better than she does.

There are a few minute changes from the book. The stuff with Louis’ wife was omitted and the character of Armand has a different appearance from the literary version. However, these minor alterations don’t matter within the context of this film. Had it actually gotten sequels (and it should have) the Armand thing might of been a bit problematic but I’m still okay with Antonio Banderas in the role for this one-off outing.

Anyway, Neil Jordan did a superb job directing this. He had just come off of The Crying Game, a film that earned him two Academy Award nominations for direction and script, and also had some experience with supernatural gore after his work on the barely remembered film The Company of Wolves. Both of those experiences would serve him well in this film, which had supernatural gore and also tapped into very light homo-eroticism between a few characters.

One thing that really stands out is the film’s score by Elliot Goldenthal. It has the makings of a great classical composition mixed with some very powerful and energetic flourishes that help accentuate the scenes in ways that a less capable score wouldn’t have been able to accomplish. The music also flows with the picture, it’s not distracting or in the way, it just exists to set the tone appropriately and really, that’s all a film score needs to do. But the craftsmanship of these classical tunes is what sets this film apart and gives it such a grandiose feel. There are just few scores that can make this sort of emotional and narrative impact in modern film.

The acting in this is also possibly the best you will see in any vampire movie. Tom Cruise, at first glance, just doesn’t seem to fit the role of Lestat but he was absolute perfection and this is still my favorite performance of his. This was also where I first noticed Brad Pitt. This is where his career was really born, in my opinion, as this was a turning point for him and his exceptional abilities. I could use those same words for Kirsten Dunst and Antonio Banderas, as well. Both of them made such an impact in this that it really helped to set them off towards bigger and better things going forward.

Something else that stands out is the special effects handled by Stan Winston and his team. Most notably, the scene where Lestat is withering away to a corpse on the floor. That moment was masterfully crafted and has held up exceptionally well. It looks better than the vast majority of CGI effects that would have been used to achieve this today. Also, the amazing looking ash remains of Claudia and Madeleine were made by Winston and based off of photographs of victims from Hiroshima.

Interview with a Vampire is a perfect storm. It’s a film where everything, at every level, went right for the production. While there are some other good vampire films from the 1990s, this one takes the cake for me. It’s stellar from start to finish and it’s still an incredibly satisfying experience even after seeing it well over a dozen times.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Bram Stoker’s DraculaNear Dark and The Lost Boys.