Comic Review: Dungeons & Dragons: Shadows of the Vampire

Published: November 23rd, 2016
Written by: Jim Zub
Art by: Nelson Daniel, Max Dunbar
Based on: Dungeons & Dragons by TSR

IDW Publishing, 136 Pages

Review:

This is the third story in Jim Zub’s run with these characters and it follows up those Baldur’s Gate stories quite well, leaning into the strengths of the series and making these incredibly likable characters even more likable.

Also, this continues to develop these characters while also strengthening their bond.

In this story, we get werewolves, other creatures and ultimately, a showdown between these awesome heroes and a powerful vampire lord.

Like the previous volumes, this is fun, energetic and thoroughly entertaining. Jim Zub has the right sort of vibe for sword and sorcery, especially the more lighthearted stuff.

I also like the art, here, and it’s consistent with the other two books before it.

All in all, these continue to be great and fans of action fantasy with a bit of humor should just give them a read.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: Dracula (1979)

Also known as: Dracula ’79 (Germany), Dracula 80 (Canada – French language version)
Release Date: July 13th, 1979 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: John Badham
Written by: W. D. Richter
Based on: Dracula (novel) by Bram Stoker; Dracula (play) by Hamilton Deane, John L. Balderston
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Frank Langella, Laurence Olivier, Donald Pleasence, Kate Nelligan, Sylvester McCoy

The Mirisch Corporation, Universal Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“In the past 500 years, Professor, those who have crossed my path have all died, and some not pleasantly.” – Count Dracula

Until this viewing of the film, the first in ages, I didn’t realize that the 1979 Dracula was a Universal release. I guess that ties it to the Universal Monsters banner and with that, kind of makes me see how it sort of matches up to the original Dracula films, tonally and stylistically.

I like that this has its own alternate take on the classic story, though, and I thought that they did a tremendous job in telling a different version of the Dracula legend while keeping it fairly true to the source material.

One thing that I really love about this movie is that we get to see one of the greatest actors that ever lived, Laurence Olivier, work alongside a bonafide and legendary horror icon, Donald Pleasence. Both men are great on their own and for different reasons but it’s like seeing what’s considered the top tier talent of motion picture history working with one of the best actors in what’s considered a trash genre by most critics and Hollywood elites. That being said, Pleasence shows that he can hang with one of cinema’s most celebrated actors.

However, even with good performances from those two legends, it’s Frank Langella who really steals the show, as the lead and title character.

Langella is a damn near perfect Dracula, especially for this story. As much as I like this take on the tale, Langella enhances the overall production with his charm, charisma and classically good looks. He looks the part and in some respects, makes it his own. Honestly, I can’t imagine anyone else being as perfect for this version of the story as Langella.

The world that this is set in is a great mixture of opulence, darkness and mystery. It feels like an extension of this Dracula’s aura and that everyone else is trapped within it with the monster, himself.

The atmosphere and tone of the picture are also heightened by the score of another legend contributing to this picture, John Williams. This was something he worked on between Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope and Raiders of the Lost Ark. These themes, however, are less adventurous and fun and more brooding and dark. Although, the score isn’t too similar to Jaws and with that, shows John Williams’ great range.

Out of all the Dracula movies ever made, this is what I would consider one of the best. At worst, it’s still top tier and features one of the greatest onscreen Dracula’s of all-time. Surprisingly, this is a movie that’s seldomly mentioned today.

Rating: 8.25/10

Comic Review: The Simon & Kirby Library: Horror!

Published: March 4th, 2014
Written by: Joe Simon
Art by: Jack Kirby

Titan Books, 320 Pages

Review:

While Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, as a creative tandem, are probably most known for their Captain America work, they also did a lot of other comics for other companies that spanned just about every genre you can think of. This is a collection of their collaborations in horror.

With that, this is my favorite collection out of the many hardcover editions of their old work that has come out.

This is a thick anthology with dozens of tales that utilize just about every type of classic monster or horror trope that you can think of.

The writing is good for the time and I always liked Simon’s style and pacing. I especially like his dialogue and how he can convey a good deal of plot and information in limited space.

More than anything else, I love this for Kirby’s art. Before superheroes became his norm, the man was known for creating some of the coolest monsters that ever graced the pages of ’40s and ’50s comics.

I get that this may be a really outdated piece of work for modern sensibilities. However, for those that actually appreciate what modern things evolved from and who have a soft spot for history, especially in pop culture, this is a really cool hardcover comic book collection to own and read.

Rating: 9/10

TV Review: Hellsing (2001-2002)

Original Run: October 10th, 2001 – January 16th, 2002
Directed by: Umanosuke Iida (chief), Yasunori Urata
Written by: Chiaki J. Konaka
Based on: Hellsing by Kouta Hirano
Music by: Yasushi Ishii
Cast: Joji Nakata, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Fumiko Orikasa

Madman Entertainment, Funimation, Manga Entertainment, Fuji TV, 13 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Man, I loved this anime series when I first discovered it almost twenty years ago. I watched through it multiple times and was kind of annoyed that they only produced 13 episodes. Granted, they did a 10-part OVA series later on, which kind of told a much more complete story.

Anyway, I hadn’t seen this since about 2009 or so but I wanted to review it for awhile and I figured the week leading up to Halloween was as good of a time as any.

First thing, this still holds up. Tremendously well, in fact.

While I think that the OVA releases are better, this is still probably the best introduction into the Hellsing franchise outside of reading the manga, which are hard to find in the United States, currently.

The story is about Hellsing, a secret British agency that deals with supernatural threats, primarily vampires and vampire related monsters. They have a vampire in their employ, Alucard, and he’s pretty much their best defense (and offense) against these supernatural threats.

You have a pretty good cast of other characters too but the entire show really rest’s on Alucard’s shoulders. Frankly, he’s just a cool and badass character and I feel like he’s somewhat inspired by D from Vampire Hunter D but he’s not chill, he’s a lot more aggressive and talks a good amount of shit before turning his enemies into fodder. Sometimes he meets a solid rival and his fights aren’t so easy but you know immediately, that Alucard isn’t someone to fuck with and if you do, you’re going to have a really bad day.

I like the animation in this a lot, as well as the music. Both are perfect together and really give this series life and a neat tone.

Horror anime fans should dig the hell out of this but at the same time, they should’ve already seen it.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Vampire Hunter D (1985)

Also known as: Kyûketsuki hantâ D (original Japanese title)
Release Date: December 21st, 1985 (Japan)
Directed by: Toyoo Ashida
Written by: Yasushi Hirano
Based on: Vampire Hunter D: Volume 1 by Hideyuki Kikuchi
Music by: Tetsuya Komuro
Cast: Kaneto Shiozawa, Michie Tomizawa, Seizo Kato, Keiko Toda

Ashi Productions Co., CBS Sony Group, Epic/Sony, Toho Co. Ltd., 80 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve lived for almost ten thousand years. Believe me you have no idea what that means: boredom. Everlasting and hideous boredom. A never ending search for ways to pass the time… and mating with a human female is one of the few I enjoy. Eventually they become tiresome. For in spite of their vitality, they are fundamentally stupid creatures who couldn’t survive without the nobility to rule them. Perhaps now you’ll understand my wanting to have some fun every thousand years or so?” – Count Magnus Lee

Vampire Hunter D is one of the first “not for kids” anime films that I ever saw. My friend Carlos had it and showed it to me when I was in high school. I pretty much fell in love with it, dubbed a copy and watched it a dozen times or more over the next few years. However, I haven’t had a working VCR in at least fifteen years, so I’ve wanted to revisit it for quite some time.

Seeing this, in HD for the first time, I was pretty blown away. Man, the animation really holds up and I forgot how atmospheric this movie was from the visuals, the sound, the music and the talent of the English language dub cast.

I also forgot how many monsters and characters were in this and all of them are pretty cool and interesting in their own way. While there are small sequences in the film that kind of get in the way of the overall flow, they all still features cool creatures and villains for the hero to fight.

Other than the title character, D, I really like the primary villain, Count Magnus Lee, who was a very large, elegant looking vampire. The character was named and somewhat modeled after Christopher Lee, specifically his version of Dracula. The Count was just a damn cool, intimidating villain that you kind of like despite him simply killing and doing evil things out of boredom.

This is just a cool fucking anime film. It really takes you to a cool, unusual world and let’s be honest, here, this obviously was a major influence on the Castlevania video games, as far as aesthetics and designs go.

While there was a second Vampire Hunter D film, as well as a series, years later, this is something that deserves to be a bigger franchise than it is.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Release Date: January 19th, 1996
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Quentin Tarantino, Robert Kurtzman
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Cheech Marin, Fred Williamson, Tom Savini, Salma Hayek, Ernest Liu, Danny Trejo, Michael Parks, John Saxon, Marc Lawrence, Kelly Preston, John Hawkes

Los Hooligans Productions, A Band Apart, Dimension Films, Miramax, 108 Minutes

Review:

“I know what’s going on. We got a bunch of fucking vampires out there, trying to get in here and suck our fucking blood. And that’s it. Plain and simple. I don’t want to hear anything about “I don’t believe in vampires,” because I don’t fucking believe in vampires, but I believe in my own two eyes, and what I saw, is fucking vampires. Now, do we all agree that what we are dealing with is vampires?” – Seth

I should preface this by saying that I love the hell out of this movie and it’s probably my favorite out of the films that Robert Rodriguez has done. I also hadn’t seen it in a really long time so a revisit was certainly long overdue.

This movie also features my favorite performance by George Clooney, an actor I have always loved and thought was cool, since first seeing him on The Facts of Life and Roseanne, as a kid in the ’80s. I’m glad this cool sitcom guy I liked actually carved out one of the greatest acting careers of his generation and really, any generation.

The reason why I like Clooney in this so much is that it is the greatest departure from the roles he usually plays, which are calm, chill, often times heroic people. While he’s always been cool, this is him at his coolest, going full throttle with no fucks given. It’s a real sight to behold, especially if you consider yourself a Clooney fan and have never seen this.

The rest of the cast is also great with Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis and Quentin Tarantino, who surprisingly did a solid job as his character, a guy that’s pretty much a psychopath.

Additionally, the cast is loaded with other memorable but smaller performances from Salma Hayek, Fred Williamson, Tom Savini, Danny Trejo, John Saxon, John Hawkes, Kelly Preston, Michael Parks and Cheech Marin, playing three different roles.

The thing I like most about this movie is that it’s like two films in one. The first half feels like a Tarantino crime picture and since he wrote it, it makes it that much more akin to say Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown or True Romance. The second half of the film turns into an over-the-top, balls out vampire action movie that is reminiscent of exploitation horror. Being that this has Fred Williamson in it, it just adds to that motif.

My only real gripe about the movie is in its use of CGI special effects, which I thought looked shitty even way back in 1996. The film also uses some incredible practical effects done by maestro Tom Savini. Savini’s work is as superb as always and with Robert Rodriguez having that guy at his disposal, I don’t know why he didn’t let him work out the kinks and help design the more elaborate effects shots. The creature makeup just looks so incredible in this picture that when it resorts to using CGI for vampire transformations or deaths, it’s really fucking jarring and takes you out of this otherwise awesome flick.

Like Savini’s stupendous practical effects, I also thought that the set design and general costumes throughout the picture were incredible. This is such a finely crafted, cool film that unfortunately has the rug pulled out from under it due to the bad CGI moments. Honestly, the CGI really undermines the work that went into creating this unique and fun world.

In the end, though, From Dusk Till Dawn is still a solid fucking movie. The pros definitely outweigh the cons but it’s frustrating that those cons weren’t avoided in the first place.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: Planet of the Vampires (1965)

Also known as: The Demon Planet (US TV title), Planet of Blood, Space Mutants, Terror In Space, The Haunted Planet, The Haunted World, The Outlawed Planet, The Planet of Terror, The Planet of the Damned (alternative titles) 
Release Date: September 15th, 1965 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Ib Melchior
Based on: One Night of 21 Hours by Renato Pestriniero
Music by: Gino Marinuzzi Jr.
Cast: Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell, Angel Aranda, Evi Marandi

Italian International Film, Castilla Cooperativa Cinematográfica, American International Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll tell you this, if there are any intelligent creatures on this planet… they’re our enemies.” – Capt. Mark Markary

While Mario Bava is mostly known for his horror and giallo pictures, I really liked when he did more ambitious, larger scale things like this and Danger: Diabolik.

Bava was really good at making Italian blockbusters that looked more epic in scale and production cost than a typical ghost story or murder mystery. But I guess he was just a superb director all around because even his misses are still enjoyable and have enough positives to make them worthwhile.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this specific Bava film. So long in fact, that when I had seen it previously, I didn’t really know who Bava was and I certainly wasn’t as acclimated to his work, as I am now.

This was a favorite late night film of mine, as a kid, though. I remember it being on late night cable quite a bit when late night cable was still really fucking cool when you weren’t going down the rabbit hole of infomercials.

I always loved the look and style of this film and I didn’t even realize it was Italian/Spanish back then. While it looked like your typical ’50s and early ’60s sci-fi epic, it was a lot more colorful and vibrant. I think it’s visual allure is what drew me to it and it’s that visual allure that would eventually become the visual style of giallo.

Beyond that, though, I loved the costumes of the crew, I loved the design of the ships, the simple but unique and stylized sets, as well as the look of the planet and all its weirdness.

The scene where we see a giant alien skeleton was so ominous and cool that it asked more questions than it answered and I’ve always kind of felt like it might have inspired the “Space Jockey” from Alien.

Planet of the Vampires is just a really cool, great, old school sci-fi/horror thriller. It’s one of my favorite Mario Bava pictures and honestly, it’s something I should revisit more often.

Rating: 6.5/10

Comic Review: Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter Tales – The Legend of Drizzt, Vol. 1

Published: March 21st, 2012
Written by: Geno Salvatore, R.A. Salvatore
Art by: Agustin Padilla
Based on: Dungeons & Dragons by TSR, characters by R.A. Salvatore

IDW Publishing, 128 Pages

Review:

This is the first Drizzt Do’Urden story that I’ve read outside of the six volume comics series that IDW published, which adapted his earliest literary stories.

This one takes place further in the future and he doesn’t have the family-like crew that he built up over those six volumes. Here, he teams up with an ally I’ve never seen before, as they hunt down a warrior dwarf that was turned into a vampire.

Once they realize that the vampire dwarf is another ally, they try to help him, as opposed to killing him. Together, the three work together to take down the master vampire.

This is a pretty decent story with decent art and I like the concept of a vampire dwarf. However, it feels pretty weak when compared to the better Drizzt stories.

I wouldn’t call this bad, it just falls below the standard I’ve come to expect from IDW’s Dungeons & Dragons comics.

If you like Drizzt, it’s worth a read but first, I’d definitely jump into the six volume series I’ve already reviewed.

Rating: 6/10

Comic Review: The Sword of Solomon Kane

Published: 1985-1986
Written by: Ralph Macchio
Art by: Bret Blevins, Steve Carr, Mike Mignola, John Bogdanove, John Ridgway
Based on: Solomon Kane by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 157 Pages

Review:

The Sword of Solomon Kane was a six-issue miniseries that Marvel Comics released from 1985 to 1986. All of the stories were written by Ralph Macchio and adapted from the original Robert E. Howard stories.

Each of the issues had a different artist but they featured some of the best up and coming artists of that era, most notably Mike Mignola. One of the covers was also done by Bill Sienkiewicz.

I had a lot of fun reading these. I already knew the stories from their source material but it was really neat seeing them come to life in a different medium. Some of these stories are ones that I had hoped would’ve been adapted if there were ever more Solomon Kane films after that first, solid one with James Purefoy. But alas, it wasn’t a hit despite it being good.

While I wasn’t as blown away by this as I was the collection of black and white Solomon Kane comics that appeared in The Savage Sword of Conan magazine, this was still a hell of a fun read, had the right energy and felt pretty close to the source material.

Even though the art changes from issue-to-issue, I liked all of it and the general tone and visual aesthetic worked unlike a lot of modern comics that switch art styles frequently, which can be a bit jarring when reading a collection or larger story arc.

It would’ve been cool if this opened the door for a regular Solomon Kane series like other Robert E. Howard properties the first time they were at Marvel. Sadly, it didn’t but the stuff we did get between this series and the character’s stories from Savage Sword were all top quality.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Solomon Kane comics, as well as other comics adapted from the works of Robert E. Howard.