“Maybe We’re Just Jerkin Off Here…” SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2

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(2/5) meh

Pros: I laughed quite a bit; Eric Freeman’s acting ability is really something

Cons: So many…oh so many…

In the annals of truly pathetic horror movies, a few titles rise above the rest. Made in 1990, Troll 2 has become widely known as one of the “best, worst movies” ever made: an earnest attempt to make a decent flick that simply went horribly, almost inexplicably wrong. What made the film so memorable was that its “humor” was completely organic: writer/director Claudio Fragasso wasn’t trying to be funny when he wrote the script, but the whole production is so utterly absurd that it becomes the stuff of comic genius. 1987’s Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 plays in a somewhat similar manner in that it positively cannot be taken seriously.

more fun & games
More ’80s slasher fun & games!

Continuing more or less where the first film lets off, SN, DN 2 follows the story of Ricky, the younger brother of the killer from the first film. Like his brother Billy, Ricky is troubled by the fact that a man dressed up as Santa Claus killed his parents while he was still a baby, and he’s forced to live in a strict orphanage run by a borderline sadistic nun. In his teenage years, Ricky starts to have the sort of mental breakdown that led his brother down a path to murder, and by the time he’s in his early twenties, he’s a unstable live wire that’s ready to snap. While none of this material seems at all inspired, this is the type of story that low budget horror movies are made of: an excuse to have a murder spree occur at some point during the film. Unfortunately, Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 was afforded almost none of the production resources of the genuinely decent first series entry, resulting in a finished product that’s immensely unimaginative, largely incoherent, and utterly hopeless from a technical standpoint.

din't get enough
Didn’t get enough Silent Night, Deadly Night the first time around? You’re in luck, since the “best” moments from the first film are screened again here.

If the story is correct, director Lee Harry was given instructions by the film’s producer to re-edit footage seen in the first Silent Night, Deadly Night and pass off the results as a standalone sequel. Harry demanded that new footage be shot and rightly so: who would want to watch a second movie made from the same, already-seen material and what could be done to make said recycled footage seem remotely fresh? Even when production money was allotted to the project however, there wasn’t enough to create an entirely new film, thus Harry in collaboration with Joseph H. Earle came up with a screenplay that operates mostly as a flashback, told from Ricky’s perspective as he sits in a mental hospital, spilling his guts to a court-ordered psychiatrist. The opening half of SN, DN 2 then consists almost entirely of footage recycled from first film with occasional voiceover narration provided by the profanity-spewing Ricky. Literally, this series of flashbacks ripped directly from the original film lasts more than half an hour, by which point anyone who’s seen the first film would not only be bored to tears, but plain insulted by the fact that this hunkajunk sequel be passed off as a new and different film. Once Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 starts engaging in its own story, i.e. the one relating specifically to Ricky and his own descent into madness, the film improves to some extent – but maybe not in the way that was originally intended.

yep
That’s kinda what watching this film is like.

To put it simply, the original footage seen in Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 (roughly comprising the final 45 minutes or so of the movie) is atrocious, largely due to the mind-boggling lack of acting chops possessed by the hulking Eric Freeman who plays Ricky. Freeman seems to have attended the Arnold Schwarzenegger school of acting, overemphasizing nearly everything he says thus making the entirety of the script feel like an extended one-liner while delivering lines in a choppy and hilariously punctuated manner (his declaration of “young and stupid…that’s my problem” says all too much about the nature of this film). If that’s not bad enough, his performance is so forced and overdone that the film winds up seeming almost like an overly violent live-action cartoon. Watch as Freeman, the perpetual bad attitude Sally that he is, spits vitriol at everyone in sight, insulting the psychiatrist who may be able to spring him from the mental hospital he’s confined in (“I could squash you like a bug”), and contorts his face into some of the most ridiculous expressions possible at inopportune moments. Coming across as a complete wisenheimer, Freeman’s crowning moment occurs when he goes on a murder rampage culminating in the shooting of a man positioning his trash cans by the curb. “GARBAGE DAY!” Freeman exclaims with a little too much gusto. It’s unbelievable that someone who sought employment in film would overact to the extent that Freeman does in this film: his soul-crushingly tasteless performance has to be one of the worst I’ve ever seen in a theatrically-released film, yet it’s perhaps the one element that makes Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 watchable on some level. Simply put, this performance has to be seen to be believed.

Sadly, there’s not much else here that warrants a viewer’s attention: even beyond the fact that it includes so much recycled footage, Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 is horrendous, more a series of vignettes than a coherent motion picture. Precisely no imagination has been applied to this material: gee, do you think Ricky will eventually break out of the mental hospital and try to seek revenge on the nun who abused him and his brother as children? And then there’s the big murder spree itself, which consists of some of the least thrilling kill scenes ever included in a slasher film: we have several shootings (yawn), an umbrella through a torso, and jumper cables inserted into a man’s mouth. The special effects seen are lousy, and there’s almost no gore quotient to the film whatsoever. Elizabeth Cayton (as Ricky’s ill-fated girlfriend), Ken Weichert (as the girlfriend’s sleazeball ex), and an especially listless James Newman (as the shrink) sleepwalk through their parts, making one wish the whole film was instead a performance art piece or stand-up act from the ultra-hammy and corny Freeman. At least that would have been something to see.

the insanity of Eric Freeman
The insanity of Eric Freeman really is the film’s only selling point.

Instead we have to pretend to be satiated by an exploding Chevrolet Chevette and a completely different actress sporting bubbly scars on her face pretending to be the same Mother Superior as seen in the first film. One wonders just what the hell was going through the mind of director Lee Harry when the production of this film was taking place. It’s astounding to think that he would have be tolerant of the completely off-the-wall performance being turned in by his lead actor, yet maybe by that point Harry (who surprisingly, still finds work in the industry working as an editor) was just trying to get the film in the can, whatever the cost. All things considered, that may have been the best call.

few gory moments
Despite a few graphic moments, SNDN2 seems incredibly lame as a horror movie.

In any case, the entirety of Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 seems to have been a production nightmare for everyone involved, and it’s absolutely amazing that the film was not only completed, but that it’s still remembered – even if for the wrong reasons. Though this would undoubtedly amuse viewers who enjoy really, really, I’m talking seriously bad movies, it’s honestly very nearly so pathetic as to warrant me to unanimously dismiss it as complete trash. Still, there’s something fascinating about watching a cinematic trainwreck of this caliber: director Harry’s film has to be placed on a pedestal with such jaw-dropping abominations as Manos: The Hands of Fate and The Room. I can’t in good conscience recommend this flick to anyone, but I’ll say that on some level I did enjoy it. Taken as a comedy, this is pure gold – but the very select crowd who could/would appreciate something like this would likely know who they are. All others, beware: my two star rating could very easily be a negative three.

disc deets
I’d say the best way to see this film would be the double feature DVD which also contains the surprisingly decent first series entry (widescreen; no extras). The film can also be streamed at amazon.

blood & guts
5/10 : Recycles all the good kills straight out of the first film, the new footage only offers up a plate of leftovers. As a horror film, this is undeniably lousy with below-average effects.

smack talk
8/10 : Ricky lets loose with a barrage of profanity at every available opportunity.

fap factor
5/10 : OK, so the film does include nudity pulled straight out of the first film, but director Harry cops out right when he could deliver some top-notch nudity of his own. As with most other aspects of the movie, it’s disappointing in this regard.

whack attack ay!
9/10 : Almost a must for fans of truly awful cinema; this has to be one of the worst horror flicks of the ’80s.

GI JOE
“You tend to get paranoid when everyone around you gets dead.”

Craptastic Trailer:

The Manson Media Collection

The MANSON Media Collection which includes the book “Death to Pigs” the 1973 MANSON on DVD and “Inside the MANSON Gang” on DVD

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See it at Amazon 

(5/5)

Pros: Actual footage of the Manson Gang right after the murders.

Cons: Set not intended for newcomers to the case.

Note this is an actual description of THE MANSON MEDIA COLLECTION, which is what my review centers around. and in no way shape or form do I plagiarise the authors work in anyway.  I do not attempt to nor am I capable of trying to explain the authors extensive research. and unique interpretations depicted in his films or presented in his written work  The information provided in my review is based on my own personal experience with the DVD documentaries “Manson”, “Inside The Manson Gang” and with the book “Death to Pigs”. Additional notes and links to the official website that is Hendrickson’s can be found at the bottom of this review!

This review is about the Manson media collection and its contents and purposes only. This limited release is meant to be used as a supplement. This limited release has been buried in a vault for over 40 years and is now available only to specific individuals. Distribution and authorization of the DVDS is exclusively determined by the author and only for a limited time. And when I say limited edition I mean limited..1 of the three products..INSIDE THE MANSON GANG is already unavailable!

I like the fact that this obscurity adds to the collectability of the items. However my impression is that only a few specific individuals will actually buy this… so demand has to be extremely low here and it is my observation that unless you are already a super fan of this CASE and had time to familiarize yourself with the vast amount of elements connected to and concerning all the people involved…don’t even waste your time here…Although I like this and find it rather refreshing because it  reexamines an old and tired history and breathes new life back into it… to anyone else you’re going to be greatly unsatisfied and extremely disappointed..this is for serious  fans and collectors only!

This collection set has nothing to do with investigating whether or not Manson and his gang are guilty of murder. All were decided guilty in a court of law. Rather this set serves as a recorded account of the treacherous business and corruption of none other than our current United States Judicial System.

Robert Hendrickson’s first film was released in 1973 at select theatres receiving mixed ratings and reviews. The only available versions were limited and  on VHS tapes .most of these being unauthorized bootlegs that had horrible picture quality and sound.  In 2004 MANSON was officially re-released and digitally restored by the director.  His second movie was released straight to DVD 2007. The book entitled Death to Pigs in 2011.

Manson and The Manson Gang documentaries isn’t so much about the murders as it is about the people involved with the killings and others involved with those killers..this is about a lifestyle lived, a mindset shared, and the repercussions of living so free that nothing is off limits, no boundaries to stop these people from doing anything they wanted to do. All types of crimes …if you can think a crime up in your head this group committed them.

No real depiction or graphic descriptions about the murders is really here and it’s not needed..being able to  see these people in the height of their madness is fascinating  and hearing them speak, watching how they lived, and understanding the way they think is downright chilling, I mean I want to know what makes people like this tick by listening to them explain it..since the  ranch  burned to the ground  only a few years after the arrests means finding actual video and sound of the Manson gang in their natural habitat is extremely rare and this is what makes Hendrickson’s work unique .

The book has the actual transcripts of all the interviews that were conducted during filming and ended up in the movie including the interviews that were cut. The book relies very heavily upon Hendrickson’s role as a film maker as well as what he personally experienced while making the documentary. A variety of interesting elements surround the Manson Case and just as many odd connections from a wide variety of differing paradoxes and historical irony is staggering.

I don’t need to see or hear about those murdered to enjoy this book…the most interesting  facts of the Manson case are about the Manson Family and ultimately Charles Manson himself. We already know about the murders and we’ve seen the crime scene photos that seem to be the center piece of every Manson documentary out there. Very little info about who the family was and how they lived.

Hendrickson makes some excellent points that really make you think..for example the killers used their victim’s blood to write messages on the walls and various objects at the crime scene..specifically “Pig” “Death to Pigs” and “Political Piggy”.  Also introduced as part of the prosecution’s  case was a Beatles  song “Piggies” (again referring to the establishment and therefore relating to the media Hollywood .involvement…) since Sharon Tate was an actress and her husband was a film maker and because of the prosecutions intent focus on the words “Helter Skelter”  Bugliosi’s natural instinct was to conclude..that the words written in blood referenced the victims themselves and their now mutilated bodies were the actual message intended…

Hendrickson states that the words Death To Pigs and Pigs were meant to warn and intimidate the police…who would ultimately be among the first at the crime scene. The word “Pig” written on the door was put there as a macabre greeting to the cops..aka pigs… ..since Manson and his family, (just previous to the killings) ,had been harassed, raided and arrested by the police on more than one occasion and were covering up the tracks they left (at an unrelated murder) by trying to get the police to think the black Muslims did the crimes. By making  a black panther paw on the wall in blood next to the words “political piggy”…then pig on the door at Sharon Tate’s house the reference here is that pig meant cops which is the title of the book.

I’d have to say that the author’s biggest gripe seems to be with Vincent Bugliosi’s “Helter Sketler” motive.. considerable time is spent on this that not only throws in reputable doubt that Bugliosi lied both on the stand by inventing a motive that would not only secure him a healthy win over the case and prosecution…but his insatiable desire to convict Manson at all costs… and by any means necessary….. including write and close the book on one of the most sensationalized crimes and trials of the 20th century. According to Hendrickson.. Vincent Bugliosi described the case as being so fantastically vast in magnitude that fully understanding all the variables was like peeling an onion with each layer revealing more and more complexity  and unusual. coincidences.

The prosecution’s case was indeed pretty cut and dry; Manson used powerful hallucinogenic drugs and repetitive mind control/programming  on his followers and convinced them to  kill for him  and then send a message to the establishment..i.e. elite Hollywood actors and law enforcement officials..by decoding a prophesy from a Beatles album..the song Piggies is about such established order..and by killing these specific individuals to spark a race war that would essentially be “Armageddon” and the annihilation of the white establishment…

Manson is an American icon of everything that is perceived as evil in our society. If you haven’t already tried to find out as much truth as you can as to what, why, and how something like this happened… If you haven’t read prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s  crime novel Helter Skelter or watched the movie of the same name this set is not for newcomers inexperienced with the intricacies of the case  I have watched all I could find concerning Manson on the internet including just about every  Charles Manson documentary and interviews, listened to interviews from the killers , listened to audio tapes of Manson talking  to people on the phone. I have watched the many parole hearings of Manson and that of those who were also convicted of the murders. I have. listened to the Beatles “White” album looking for “clues” (as Hendrickson describes it) and connecting it somehow to the Manson case or disconnecting it from the case..

The Manson Media Collection has such persons in mind in considering presenting evidence, historical truths, accurate information,  and documented facts. Unfortunately the Manson Gang was never allowed to testify in court to explain their versions of what they think really happened. It’s important to point out that this set release is told and explained  by a  journalist, a documentary film maker, writer, and producer but specifically the Manson Gang.

According to Hendrickson..his 1973 Manson movie was unfairly banned and it was banned against the US constitutions put in place to protect  freedom of speech. His movie was disregarded and forbidden in a ruling by a judge..to continue playing during the trials for fear of affecting the decisions of the jury. That went against the legal constitutional rights that exist as the law… also the fact that the judge super exceeded the law by silencing Manson from testifying and depriving him of his legal right to legally represent himself to put on his defense…. one of the more prominent themes from Mr. Hendrickson’s  book is the corruption and crimes that are committed by those of law enforcement…and it’s clear he thinks that they (the police) and prosecutor Bugliosi is by all intents and purposes, self serving  and ultimately full of shit …

(Lol..I find this undertone to be quite humorous in nature but also because quite possibly the information provided by the author here also makes perfect sense.)

Naturally in light of these facts the treatment of Manson by the prison guards and later by the police..Manson builds up quite a hate and disgust for law enforcement as well as by that of the United States Government….at the time of the Tate killings..it was decided to be a revenge killing /cover up to throw police off the track (concerning another murder that took place shortly before the Tate murders…) the general consensus among everyone involved in the Manson gang..was the intended target was to be Beach Boys producer Terry Melcher..with constant raids to the Spahn Ranch, and continued harassment by police, there was also a building paranoia  about retaliation from the Black Panther militant group.

Personally, because of my extended interest with the Manson case and having exhausted the possibility of discovering new information by researching everything online,  you eventually run into a dead end..and are left to make up your own judgments…(gets old real fast…) and most of all the information available is written according to Bugliosi and with-out-a-doubt is factually misleading , fabricated and decidedly one-sided.

My overall impression and extended review:

A lot of effort is  put into this book to try and make it more intricate..by combining..multiple layers and writing techniques….this is one part movie script, one part interview, one part transcripts from the documentary, one part conspiracy theory, and one part the authors personal life as a filmmaker… Luckily I have an interest in how films are made and understand its importance  on how these elements impacted the films  content.

Otherwise I can see most people becoming annoyed and uninterested in how details like changing the video reel and getting the perfect angle etc…to be over descriptive , unnecessary, and downright boring as hell. Another issue I can see non-fans getting disappointed about is that the book looks like it will be loaded with lots of photographs,  (I actually expected full color photographs to be strewn throughout its pages myself upon ordering.) the book has little to no photos at all..

Although there are dozens of black and white photos of the Manson family members and key witnesses they are added to provide faces with the names. No new or uncut photographs of the victims are included in this book. Hendrickson explains  that the reason for this is because the two films actually serve as the books  pictures.

Whether this is just a good excuse for Hendrickson to save money by going the cheap way out is more likely the reason for absence of photography,  but because Hendrickson is so good at excusing  these shortcomings I quickly felt like it was for the best the book turned out like it did..

I actually  watched the two DVDs and tried following  along with the book…it syncs up perfectly….but instead of just being a copy of dialogue in the movie…the book also reveals additional information upon each segment used from the film as well as  lots of additional segments that are unrelated to the films contents.

However as I stated earlier..these aspects about the case like crime scene photos are no longer interesting or exciting to super fans..we have seen those hundreds and hundreds of times already since the first time we heard about Manson and Helter Skelter… I didn’t buy this media collection to just rehash what I know and learned about the case already…whats the fun in that? I bought the set to hopefully find  newly discovered evidence  that provides  additional insight on what the truth is behind what actually happened and why.

This media collection provides just the sort of complexity that makes this case interesting in a whole new way… I actually feel like because of this release I now am able to formulate a more accurate conclusion as to what I think actually happened now having heard both sides to the story.

I think to gain full appreciation for what Hendrickson has assembled for us to examine in the book  “DEATH TO PIGS” is having the two documentary films as a set together. Since the book was first published in 2011 more than 50 years after the Crime and Trial of the 20th century first gained international exposure, a lot has changed amongst our society. Many of the beliefs shared by the family concerning a world in revolution and war hasn’t really improved much historically and the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan is just like the Vietnam conflict and protests of the 1960’s albeit in a different geographical location.

Hendrickson  insists that the US and its media presents itself to the American people that they are there to fight against terrorism..yet the mass majority of middle easterners insist it’s just merely “US occupation” disguised as a fight against terrorism. I imagine that the events of 911 having just happened at the time publication of his book was ready, weighed heavily on the authors mind and  it serves as the backdrop he uses to describe massive cover-ups by the US military and how the perceptions of the citizens of America is a result of extensive mind control programming our Government agencies have been using and implementing for hundreds of years.

He provides specific techniques that are being used and how to defend against it. Considering some of the current events of white police officers killing innocent minority’s  that have flooded the news lately and how these events  have sparked a great deal of anger once again at our law enforcement officers., we once again see the “Death To Pigs” concept of the Manson Gang   by the heinous crimes committed by the police  and sheds new light upon the “revolution” ideas that Manson and his gang insisted was  going on more than 50 years ago.  As we witness it taking place right before our very eyes. It is these circumstances surrounding us that made the Manson Crime and Trial so interesting to begin with and this is why the Manson case has remained the most sensational and iconic true-crime account in the annals of American History.

Review Conclusion and Final Thoughts: 

I really like the overall personality that is presented by the Author/Director, in his commentary included on the films but particularly of that which is projected by his writing style in his book Death To Pigs. He seems incredibly intelligent and exceptionally down to earth and yet again at times he comes off as being rather eccentric with his preoccupation of presenting the reader with several of his own brand of conspiracy theories. I didn’t feel like I was being forced fed and manipulated to believe him or not. Hendrickson only points out and presents to you possible motives that stand in direct contradiction to Vincent Bugliosi and his book Helter Skelter…even though it is apparent within his writings  that he concedes himself to be anti.Bugliosi and refers to him in a way that makes them sound like arch rivals.

After investigating the information provided through-out the book..it became clear why Hendrickson, dislikes Bugliosi…Hendrickson states that while the prosecution was scrambling to find any information they could about the Manson gang…He was already on location filming the family in person… according to multiple descriptions throughout the book…it is learned that while filming wrapped up at the Barker ranch, it was obvious he was playing with fire. After experiencing ,on a hot day, a smell that was so foul it had to be a dead body …in fear for his life he and his co producer fled Barker ranch in a panicked hurry…lucky to have completed his documentary and glad to get out alive…it was suggested by an attorney that he should contact Bugliosi and discuss with him the evidence collected in interviews of the notorious Manson gang and their accounts about their approval of acts as incomprehensible as murder.

Sadly Hendrickson got word from Bugliosi that he had no interest in viewing his film nor did he have any desire to discuss with him anything involving the case.  Well no wonder he thinks Bugliosi as a low life…the guy is not only ungrateful for Hendrickson’s ability to help but he’s  an arrogant asshole.  A belligerent self righteous  prick! A prime example of the kinds of people our judicial system has deciding the ultimate fate of peoples  lives and the authority to violate their rights and even kill them unjustly. And get away with it.

Hendrickson never blatantly insults Bugliosi outright…in fact the mass majority of the time he simply refers to him in the third person..for example..he refers to Bugliosi as just “a certain prosecutor” or as the “lead prosecutor involved with the case”..which in a sense says more about the authors true feelings about his role in the case… Hendrickson by this time had already completed his 1973 MANSON film and was later nominated for an academy award…unfortunately it’s all about who reaches the market first who makes the bigger impact.  What is presented as the absolute truth to the public which was no other than  Bugliosi’s hit true crime novel HELTER SKELTER

It would seem that had Hendricks film been allowed to play during the trials, its commercial success would have been massively improved. This would be a filmmakers shot at becoming a noteworthy contender in the movie business as a director. I get the sense that because of the extenuating circumstances Hendrickson’s real potential to make it big was taken from him by a judge who made rulings that were later decided by a team of legal consultants to be unconstitutional and therefore illegal. Had he knew that at the time…he would have been able to distribute his film as he intended it to be.

Hendrickson’s bad luck situation and Manson movie is now what is left.. a once struggling independent filmmaker with dreams of making it big stolen away from him by a corrupt judicial system and significant role as part of the “establishment”.. However perhaps now with the completion of his book and re-release of his 1973 MANSON FILM and recently released subsequent companion film  INSIDE THE MANSON GANG…He has successfully proved himself on the hardcore Manson enthusiast as reputable and honest expert. There is no need to take HIS word for anything…because the footage will show… it isn’t about what he thinks…the evidence presented is coming straight from the horses mouths…the only people in the world who actually know the truth, The people who were there . THE MANSON FAMILY GANG.

Additional Notes and Interesting product info:: 

This set was signed by the filmmaker Robert Hendrickson….and personally issued to me, with my name hand printed right on the DVD cover. I actually saw the 1973 Manson documentary before it was removed from youtube…and was quite surprised. The book is over 540 pages.

Shot in 1970-71 the production of this film is actually mentioned in Vincent Bugliosi’s true crime classic “Helter Skelter”. Hendrickson and crew caught the Manson family at the height of its madness in the wake of the Tate/LaBianca/Hinman murders and Manson’s subsequent arrest

.Shot on location at Spahn Ranch and featuring extensive interviews with key “family” members such as Squeaky Fromme, Sandra Good, Bruce Davis & Steve ‘Clem’ Grogan as well as Manson prosecutor Bugliosi himself and ex-family members Paul Watkins and Brooks Poston.

http://www.exclusivefilms.com/index.htm

“There’s Filth Everywhere…” DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS

DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS

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See it at Amazon 

(2.5/5) meh

Pros: It’s amusingly bad and fairly sleazy

Cons: Script is very familiar; movie as a whole seems lackadaisical

Released the same year as the immensely controversial Silent Night, Deadly Night, 1984’s British-made Don’t Open Till Christmas has (perhaps rightfully) taken its place as a back-marker in the field of holiday-themed horror movies. What we have here is a mix between a very typical early ‘80s slasher flick and a police procedural dealing with a London murderer who targets anyone wearing a Santa Claus costume. With eyes that “smile” behind his mask, this killer is attempting to make a “supreme sacrifice to all Christmas is…” whatever that means. Veteran British actor Edmund Purdom plays the detective trying to crack the case, focusing his attentions mainly on a young woman, whose father was killed by the assailant, and her somewhat sketchy boyfriend, a potential suspect. As the body count grows, the woman begins her own investigation when it becomes clear that the police are clutching at straws in their efforts to solve the case. Right when she seems to be making headway in finding the identity of the killer, it becomes all too apparent that she may be his next target. With Christmas right around the corner, can anyone stop the ongoing slay ride?

take that santa
Take that, Santa!

Apparently, Purdom agreed to appear in this movie under the condition that he also direct it. This decision seems not only inadvisable, but downright baffling: why would a screen player with significant credits under his belt wait until he was was sixty years old to direct his first film, a low-grade, ripoff horror flick? While investigating Purdom, I stumbled on a quote of his that read: “One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important,” and that statement goes a long way in explaining his involvement not only with Don’t Open Till Christmas, but also a film like 1982’s Pieces, which would perhaps be even more reprehensible in the eyes of most people. Even if Purdom’s participation does bring some class to Don’t Open…, an otherwise fairly degenerate little film however, his abilities as a director leave a lot to be desired.

there it goes
There it goes…the Christmas spirit, up in flames…

It’s pretty obvious to me that Purdom had little invested in the overall quality of this film and had no grand designs for the picture: working from a script by Derek Ford and Alan Birkinshaw, Purdom’s handling of the material is lackadaisical and frankly, sloppy. Lacking inspiration, energy, or style, Don’t Open Till Christmas, photographed blandly by Alan Pudney, plays out in an extremely familiar manner, with a tiresome array of gory murders occasionally spicing things up when material relating to the police investigation starts to run out of steam. The editing scheme on display here is clunky to the point of being incoherent, especially with regard to the timeline of events taking place. We’re supposed to believe that everything here occurs within a three day period around Christmas, yet the ongoing chronology jumps from day to night in a manner which seems implausible if not impossible. There’s also little regard paid to building honest suspense in the picture at any point: right when one might want or expect there to be a tense stalking and/or murder scene, Purdom has a tendency to interrupt the flow with an unrelated, mostly pointless concurrent sequence.

murder scenes
Murders here range from inventive to dull, though the film does bring new meaning to the whole “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” thing…

In terms of the acting, Purdom himself seems bored to the point of tears by what he’s given to do playing the stuffy lead investigator. His character figures heavily into the SURPRISE twist ending (which borrows heavily from 1980’s Christmas Evil), yet nothing related to this revelation is at all believable. The support cast, at the very least, appears to be having a go at making an impression on the viewer: Mark Jones is the detective who takes it upon himself to find the killer, Belinda Mayne is the young woman conducting her own, clandestine investigation, and Alan Lake is an extremely shady newspaperman trying to get the scoop of his life. It’s worth noting that at some point, the narrative of the film is almost hijacked by a subplot revolving around Kelly Baker who plays a peep show girl who’s become a target of the killer. Good thing then that Baker is both appealing in the role and probably the only actor who the viewer feels a genuine concern for. Despite the best efforts of these unknown actors however, nothing can entirely save the picture from its recycled, familiar plot: I’d have to imagine that any viewer who would watch this film in the first place would have seen everything here before.

rutrow
Rutrow! Starting to get a lil’ sleazy!

As easy as it is to point out problems with this movie, one probably doesn’t enter something like Don’t Open Till Christmas looking for a masterpiece of cinema or even a “good movie:” he wants a movie that’s entertaining or maybe more accurately, enjoyably bad. In ways, Purdom’s film satisfies on that level, existing as an amusingly sleazy and skeezy ‘80s flick. Does this compare all that favorably to a disgustingly grimy and utterly jaw-dropping effort like Don’t Answer the Phone? No, but there’s enough here to ensure that fans of trash cinema have a good time. For one thing, the gore effects are pretty decent: though the script perhaps relies too heavily on the use of knives, a scene in which a man’s face is crushed by a meat cleaver, resulting in his eyes slowly rolling out of his skull is pretty nifty. And how could we forget the scene where a department store Santa is castrated while urinating in a filthy restroom? THAT’s the kind of scene that vintage grindhouse movies were made of. Additionally, the fact that the killer wears a perpetually smiling mask also makes for a few creepy moments, and I thought that a sequence in which he pursues a victim into a circus funhouse was clever. Don’t Open Till Christmas almost reminds me of something like Happy Hell Night in that it has some quietly effective individual sequences even if its pretty shoddy overall.

inspired moments
Despite the many problems, the film does have a few inspired moments that would please horror fans.

Arguably the film’s best aspect is its unrelentingly dark and gloomy mood: this film presents a seedy and depraved side of London that most films ignore and feels downright dirty for wallowing in this filth. Finally, despite the fact that the conclusion is just plain dumb, I really appreciated the bleakness of the finale. None of the characters walk away from this story unscathed, and in the end, the script doesn’t quite play by the usual slasher film rules. While I can’t in good faith claim that this movie is ultimately anything special, it’s hard to completely hate on a goofy ‘80s slasher like this – hell, the movie even offers up cult film actress-turned-singer Caroline Munro performing a funky disco song entitled “Warrior of Love” onscreen. Those looking for high-brow entertainment can just forget about this one, but Don’t Open Till Christmas is precisely the kind of flick that would please fans of trash cinema: they just don’t make ‘em like this anymore!

killer

disc deets
As this film fell into the public domain at one point, there are several home video releases. The DVD from Mondo Macabro is easily the best of the bunch, containing a nice-looking, widescreen print of the film, a featurette about the film’s producer, and a 50-minute making-of program.

blood & guts
6/10 : Some rather extreme moments of gore, though this is not as rigorous as other ’80s slashers.

smack talk
3/10 : A few instances of strong profanity.

fap factor sort of want
6/10 : General sleaziness is palpable, and there are a couple scenes featuring lingering topless nudity. The griminess of the film doesn’t make the nudity all that appealing however.

whack attack
6/10 : Has its moments for sure, but most viewers would have seen everything here before – and in better horror efforts.

GI JOE
“I hate Christmas…I hate everything it stands for…”

VINTAGE GRINDHOUSE TRAILER:
WARNING!! Not Suitable for Work – Contains nudity, graphic violence, and Caroline Munro singing!

A Bizarre Tale of Holiday Horror: CHRISTMAS EVIL

CHRISTMAS EVIL

christmasevil_0

See it at Amazon 

(3/5) decent

Pros: Unusual from start to finish; several amusing “bad movie” moments; wild ending

Cons: Not entirely satisfying as a horror movie

Though made at the height of the slasher craze in 1980, the holiday horror classic Christmas Evil is anything but your typical, lame-brained slasher film. The story deals with a lonely toy factor worker named Harry, described by his brother as an emotional cripple, who has during the course of his life, become obsessed with Christmas. This all sounds fine and good, since Harry’s main goal in his rather mundane existence is to reward all the well-behaved children in his neighborhood with quality, homemade toys, but he’s also hiding a dark secret that occasionally rears its ugly head. You see, Harry’s perspective on Christmas was tainted in his childhood when he witnessed his father having sex with his mother while wearing a Santa Claus suit, and when Harry decides to don the Santa suit for himself so he can deliver a van full of toys to the children at the local mental hospital, there are unforeseen consequences.

wait...what?!?
Wait…what’s going on here??!?

It’s intriguing to imagine what a film like Christmas Evil would be like if it were made today: undoubtedly, the body count would be multiplied by several times and the whole thing would be brutally violent, borderline incoherent mess edited in such a way that it would be difficult to decipher. In the hands of writer/director Lewis Jackson, the result in this original film is something else entirely. Jackson’s script is largely a window into the mind of a damaged individual, examining the ways in which a childhood trauma affects a person down the line. Additionally, the script has aspects that tie it to a film like Taxi Driver since it seems like a study on the ways in which modern society beats a person down. By and large, Harry seems childlike and generally harmless, but eventually, the viewer begins to suspect there’s more to the story – especially when it becomes apparent that Harry has some rather eccentric behavioral tendencies. These eccentric behaviors only seem to be made worse by the situation that Harry faces at his unrewarding job: he’s treated poorly by his fellow workers, and his insistence on making higher quality toys instead of a higher quantity elicits a scornful response from the factory’s business-minded management team. It’s not all that surprising when Harry’s tenuous grip on reality begins to slip, but what happens next is a bit strange.

santa and girl
Some might be surprised by the amount of honestly heartwarming moments in this film; the tone of the script varies wildly.

Following a booze-fueled company party, Harry takes it upon himself to dress up as St. Nick to deliver homemade toys to all the good girls and boys, traveling throughout town in a van painted up to resemble Santa’s sleigh. It’s during these moments when the normally extremely awkward Harry finally seems to have found his calling in life: he’s the perfect embodiment of the Christmas spirit, even if the ways in which he chooses to express this spirit are a bit unorthodox. It’s strange that there’s a heartwarming moment like this in the midst of a so-called horror film, but right after this act of charity, the tone of the film changes significantly. While waiting outside a church attended by all the money-grubbing toy factory executives who had just shunned his plans to deliver more toys to all the “retarded children,” Harry randomly decides to murder four of them in a rather extreme manner, ramming toy soldiers into their eye sockets and slamming them over the head with axes. Obviously, this sort of material positions the film more obviously in line with various ‘80s horror films of the Friday the 13th variety, but the horror elements seem completely at odds with anything else happening in the film.

nice shot
This is easily the single best shot in the movie; most of Ricardo Aronovich’s photography is pretty mediocre.

I almost have to wonder what exactly writer/director Jackson was trying to do here since the film’s tone is all over the place from one scene to the next. Literally, in one scene, Harry’s caught up in the joy of Christmas, giving toys to the underprivileged children, the next, he’s gouging people’s eyes out. It almost seems like Jackson was initially attempting to make a pitch black satire of the Christmas consumer culture, then was notified by the producers that they wanted to make a (presumably more profitable) horror film out of the same script. The few gore scenes that are included here seem completely out-of-place and appear to have been inserted after the fact to give the film more shock value and timely marketability. Overall though, Christmas Evil is simply unable to compete with the much more crude and violent slashers of the day since its horror elements are downplayed to the point of being irrelevant.

knife
Though there is some graphic gore, overall violence in the film is extremely limited.

Despite this failure, I’d have to call the film worthwhile in other ways. For one, the acting performance of Brandon Maggart in the role of Harry is downright impressive. The actor is able to convey the character’s range of moods effectively, making his descent into madness rather harrowing. There are many sequences here in which Maggart’s performance and mannerisms make the film genuinely disturbing, yet there’s something undeniably tragic about Harry (it’s not a coincidence that the film includes a Frankenstein-like pursuit by angry townspeople). He never is reduced to being the heartless killer one would expect in a film like this. I also found that the script offers up quite a few amusing moments for those with a dark sense of humor. You’ll chuckle as one police officer investigating the Santa Claus slayings explains that the murderous Santa isn’t a bad thing at all – it’ll keep kids in line. Other comical moments arise from the fact that this film was made in an era before political correctness was a concern. While spying on the neighborhood children in an effort to determine who’s “naughty or nice,” Harry frequently gets caught up on one ill-behaved little boy named “Moss Garcia” whose Christmas wish is “a lifetime subscription to Penthouse magazine.” It’s unfortunate that the Moss subplot is abandoned at some juncture without coming to any sort of legitimate conclusion, but the material that is here is pretty hilarious.

Maggart
Brandon Maggart losing his mind in the lead role.

It’s quite apparent that Christmas Evil was made quickly and cheaply, yet director Lewis is able to create a sometimes dream-like but more often grimy, sleazy, and creepy mood in the picture that compliments the unsettling story extremely well. Lewis also makes effective use of a continuous, unsettling drone of woozy Christmas music that only accentuates Harry’s deteriorating mental state. Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this film’s transcendent ending is truly one of a kind, ensuring that, at least in some ways, the flick is completely unique. Christmas Evil is not the finest “holiday horror” movie out there and probably isn’t even a film that most viewers would find at all satisfying as a horror flick. Still, this enjoyably bad movie is an accomplished, distressing psychological thriller and is absolutely worth watching. Recommended!

van

disc deets
Several home video packages exist for this title, including a cheapjack double feature release that also includes the surprisingly good Silent Night, Bloody Night. The DVD version from Synapse Films or Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome is the one to get if you’re looking for quality. Aside from providing a great looking print of the director’s cut of the film and assorted other extras, these versions also includes commentary tracks from the film’s director and the one and only John Waters, an outspoken fan of Christmas Evil.

blood & guts
3/10 : Violence in the film is very limited, but fairly graphic, including a throat slashing and an eye being poked out. That said, I wouldn’t at all recommend this film strictly for its slasher film elements.

smack talk
3/10 : Isolated instances of harsh profanity, including one f-bomb.

fap factor
3/10 : While there’s no overt nudity, there is a noticeable air of sleaziness, particularly towards the beginning of the picture.

whack attack
8/10 : A definitive oddity, acting as a rather bizarre psychological thriller and playing somewhat like a relatively bloodless version of the slasher classic Maniac.

GI JOE
“Avoid anyone dressed as Santa Claus…”

Reissued Film Trailer:

Warning! Not suitable for work; contains spoilers!

Marvel Masterworks: The Invincible Iron Man – Volume 2

Marvel Masterworks: The Invincible Iron Man – Volume 2

Price: $16.99

(4.5/5)

Pros: Some very interesting stories at times with action packed artwork

Cons: Somewhat stale villain of the month formula at times

Iron Man aka Tony Stark attempts to stop a robbery which leads to another man beating him to the punch by the name of Umberto. Realizing that he has some type of talent, Umberto decides to turn to a life of crime as the Scarecrow. One of his robbery attempts brings him to blows with Iron Man, while he attempts to burglarize Stark’s home. -summary

Stan Lee indeed had a lot on his table when he decided to pick up writing duties for his various Marvel comics creations back in the early 60’s. While revisiting these titles some of them would be pretty hard to get through due to their outdated feel (Fantastic Four & X-Men), while others seemed to be lacking some form of identity and are just difficult reads (The Mighty Thor). Iron Man doesn’t seem to suffer from these ailments after its rocky start in volume one; I found this batch of issues to be just as easy to get through as Spider-Man. This is because like Spider-Man, Stan Lee was able to make both Iron Man and Tony Stark’s lives interesting to read. He even dabbles with some very down to Earth themes that reads so well in this day.

Marvel Masterworks: Iron Man Volume Two collects Tales of Suspense issues 51 – 65. It’s also worth noting that during this series original run in 1964; issue 58 would introduce Captain America with his own adventures and the two heroes would share the title for quite some time. Captain America’s stories can be found in his own Marvel Masterworks TPB titled Marvel Masterworks: Captain America.

The only real weakness in this TPB is the villain of the month formula occasionally creeping up through some  lame villains, whom never really went on to become that notable; villains such as Unicorn and Scarecrow come to mind. While others such as  the Mandarin would return for two epic showdowns, and Black Widow and Hawkeye, two future Avengers, would develop a very heated grudge with Iron Man. For the most part, these stories deliver the goods.

For the most part, the running background story consists of communist Russian spies attempting to sabotage Tony Stark and steal his military plans. This leads to their operatives such as Black Widow, Crimson Dynamo, and Unicorn attacking and getting into scraps with Iron Man.  Meanwhile there are other events taking place leading to other confrontations along with the developing love triangle between Stark, his secretary Pepper Potts, and his driver Happy Hogan.

Stan Lee does a very splendid job juggling these various story elements delivering loads of action, suspense, and small amounts of comedy. The book was rather difficult for me to put down, because Lee managed to keep the issues story arcs very well paced despite them being meant to fairly stand on their own. I especially like how he handles the love triangle though. Stark does fall in love with Pepper but due to his heart injury which depends on him wearing a portion of the Iron Man suit, he can’t follow up on Pepper’s feelings because he will blow his secret identity. At the same time, Hogan is making it no secret how he cares for her. It’s done in pretty good taste and it never felt at any time forced into the story. This portion of the story looks even better when compared to the exact same situation over in Thor’s title, which I think was being handled kind of miserable.

Now for the action filled segments; even though the reader won’t be treated to some heavy, over the top slug-fests at this moment; the battles with Mandarin, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and even Captain America are nothing to look down on. These battles are very well written with more than enough cool effect going on for them, such as Hawkeye blasting Iron Man with acid-tipped arrows, or the Mandarin displaying his various powers with the Ten Rings in his possession. There’s nothing to be found here but old school comic book fun.

Don Heck’s artwork captures what Stan Lee may have been planning very well. There’s plenty of action-filled imagination going on here; different strategies, nice displays of power, and intensity. The character designs were probably really cool back then, but there must have been a reason why characters such as Hawkeye and Captain America kept their costume styles across decades, while the Mandarin and Black Widow would see makeovers. In any case, the artwork doesn’t appear as dated as some books that were written at this time.

Over the years I have read many of these stories, but I really didn’t imagine that I would enjoy them this much reading them again. I advise anyone interested in giving these early Iron Man stories a shot to start here. They will no doubt feel different from today’s comics. However, there’s still something cool to find.

A Pseudoscientific Apocalypse! THE DEVIL’S GRAVEYARDS: VILE VORTICES REVEALED

THE DEVIL’S GRAVEYARDS on History Channel

History Channel Website 

(1/5) UGH

Pros: Some thought-provoking moments

Cons: Poor acting, bad script, predictable conclusion, and precisely no scientific credibility

Produced by the same company responsible for such glorious bunk as Discovery Channel’s Megalodon specials, The Devil’s Graveyards: Vile Vortices Revealed is easily the worst of the recent slate of phony cable television documentaries which have been passed off as the real deal. Premiering in late 2014 on The History Channel, this program revolves around “investigate journalist” and apparent moron Don Murphy, who sets out to document the rather esoteric experiments being conducted in the Algerian desert by one Dr. Joseph Spencer. A biologist by trade, Spencer is investigating the reasons why his young son was murdered by the family dog two years prior, and has come to the conclusion that disruptions in the earth’s magnetic field have not only led to various instances of unusual animal behavior (including the unprovoked attack that took his son’s life) but also are threatening the whole of human existence. If a series of twelve magnetic anomalies located around the world known as vile vortices or vortexes, the “devil’s graveyards” of the film’s title, are not neutralized, Spencer believes that intense solar radiation will be allowed to seep into Earth’s atmosphere, thus transforming the planet into a lifeless wasteland like Venus or Mars. In an attempt to find a way to neutralize these areas, Spencer and his hapless crew attempt to bombard the Algerian vortex with a powerful electromagnetic pulse. Will this have any significant effect…and more importantly, will any single viewer care?

camera coverage
Good thing there just happens to be twelve cameras situated around the research area so a viewer gets to see everything as it happens…

Based largely on the rather sketchy theories of zoologist Dr. Ivan Sanderson who, while investigating disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle, initially came up with the idea of the so-called “vile vortices,” The Devil’s Graveyard starts off with a disclaimer which states that “this dramatization is based on an actual 1972 document entitled ‘The Twelve Devil’s Graveyards Around the World.” This notice goes on to reveal that the network airing the program does not in any way endorse the claims made in it, thus one can at least say the program makes some attempt to inform an attentive viewer that not everything here can be taken entirely (or at all) seriously. That a similar warning appearing during the end titles flashes on screen for a split second speaks to the fact that the producers are more probably trying to pull a fast one on the viewer. On some level, this is (yet another) obvious extension of History Channel programming of the Ancient Aliens variety; Devil’s Graveyards goes so far as to suggest with a straight face that extraterrestrials were in fact responsible for creating the vile vortices in the first place, a suggestion that’s more idiotic than half of the alien theories presented by the likes of Giorgio Tsoukalos. It also heaps on the conspiracy theories, referencing bizarre Nazi experiments and even the controversial HAARP program while blaming everything from massive bird die-offs to Hurricane Katrina on the vortex phenomenon. Needless to say, when it comes to actual hard proof and scientific evidence, Graveyard comes up short.

and here he is...
And here he is ladies and gentleman…a random actor…I mean Dr. Joseph Spencer.

Even if director Douglas Glover goes to great lengths to make Devil’s Graveyards look and play like a legit documentary however, it more seemed to me like the people responsible for this program had watched a few too many classic sci-fi movies – the show has many aspects reminiscent of the outstanding 1985 film The Quiet Earth and even has a “don’t flip that switch” moment ripped right from the playbook of the classic Ghostbusters. Furthermore, the general premise of the program isn’t entirely dissimilar from the plot of the 1953 low-budget genre flick The Magnetic Monsters since a radioactive isotope, not a flesh and blood monster, is the “villain” of the piece. This, of course, makes Graveyards noticeably uninteresting and plain dull when compared to the likes of Wrath of Submarine or Russian Yeti since the main “threat” presented herein is theoretical rather than something one can see.

periodic table
Sure, aliens might be readying for an invasion, but THIS IS THE REAL ENEMY!

To be honest, the vile vortex theory is simply too scientifically complex (and maybe, too ridiculous) for the average viewer to comprehend: the program does its best to explain things, but this only makes for a very talky and awkward program since the characters literally have to spell everything out for viewers who wouldn’t otherwise understand anything being discussed. I suppose the door for this kind of programming has been left open by the numerous recent television series dealing with unexplained phenomena, but I still have to question the decision to produce a feature length mockumentary about vile vortices in the first place. Could it be that the these fake documentaries have already exhausted the pool of topics to draw from?

bye

Acting throughout the program is frankly awful: we’re supposed to believe that we’re watching real people dealing with real situations, but this notion is simply impossible to swallow. Witness the laughable scene where the actor portraying Joseph Spencer recalls the death of his son, then has an “emotional” breakdown moment. This actor doesn’t do much better of a job portraying the excitement of the scientist when a breakthrough in his experiment seems evident, and it’s similarly amusing to watch the actress portraying the research team’s electrical engineer try to keep a straight face when conducting high school chem lab level experiments and demonstrations. Special attention must be paid to the actor portraying the team’s “conspiracy expert:” why this guy would be needed as part of a scientific team is unclear, but he always seems to provide definitive “A-HA” moments when the scientific gobbledygook gets a little thick. Clearly the worst actor of the bunch is the one portraying reporter Don Murphy: this guy’s “investigative reporting” is atrocious and he gives the most forced performance on display in the program – especially when he’s seen on-camera narrating his own story.

ominous music playing...
…ominous music playing…

Combine the bad acting with the lousy scripting and absurd, utterly outlandish theories the show puts forward and you’ve got the most abominable of the recent, made-for-cable faux-documentaries. The Devil’s Graveyard not only looks cheap and hastily-made, but is extremely clunky in terms of its construction. The prime example of how this production is simply incompetent is the use of “actual cell phone footage” of Dr. Spencer’s son being attacked by his dog: I would assume this sequence was supposed to be dramatic, but it’s downright humorous after being repeated for about the fifteenth time. Compounding the problem is a sense of story development that is overall too tidy and convenient to be a convincing portrayal of reality. Finally, the film leans heavily on explanations that most viewers wouldn’t even remotely be able to decipher: there’s simply too much scientific nonsense presented as absolute fact here, and I suspect the bullshit detecters of most viewers would be sounding throughout the film. Does this program propose some intriguing ideas and offer up some food for thought? Sure: it’s compelling in the same way that most programs dealing with mysterious phenomena are. At the end of the day however, why would one waste his time with a completely illogical and mind-numbingly phony program like this – especially one that’s undeniably this poorly made? (Interesting note: the studio responsible for this program doesn’t even list it among its credits; perhaps they too realized what hogwash they had brought onto the world.) Predictable and ultimately, a complete waste of time, The Devil’s Graveyards is best avoided.

wtf science

This Youtube Video is about as quality as the “documentary:”

The Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 2 Marvel Masterworks

The Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 2

Price: $49.69

(5/5)

Pros: Lee’s writing and Ditko’s art are on point

Cons: Really nothing to complain about

Spider-Man listens in on a radio broadcast and over hears that Dr. Octopus is being released from prison. Since he understands the danger he represents, plus Doc Ock was the first to soundly defeat him on one occasion. Spider-Man rushes to prevent his release and fails. This leads him to tail the villain because he knows that Ock is up to no good. -summary

It’s really no secret that Spider-Man was Stan Lee’s baby. It’s all in his writing and when looking at the issues in this TPB it’s just all too obvious. Around this time Spider-Man must have been the hottest superhero for Marvel, since there’s one annual issue that features a horde of cameo’s that reminded readers back then that other heroes also had books. This TPB features some very good early Spider-Man encounters, and it’s so obvious that Lee’s heart was into this. This TPB collects The Amazing Spider-Man 11 – 19 and Annual # 1.

The action begins immediately with Spider-Man’s trailing of Dr. Octopus leading to an epic showdown. However, it’s not just the action that works out so well, but it’s the Parker luck once again running in full effect as it seems things just can’t work out for him. Along with classic debuts such as the first appearances of the Green Goblin, Mysterio, and Kraven; the reader will also witness the first gathering of super-villains, as Dr. Octopus assembles the Sinister Six to take down Spider-Man. It’s simply action galore through out this volume.

Stan Lee also doesn’t fail to bring in Parker’s personal life, as not only his love life becomes complicated with a classmate beginning to fall for him; but his Aunt May also goes through her own crisis. Lee takes plenty of chances with developing Spider-Man as a character, and his world as he must live on as an unappreciated hero. The Human Torch makes some rather cool appearances as well, and we see the traces of what made him into a house hold name so quickly.

Steve Ditko graces these pages with some artwork. The action is so intense and imaginative. I was able to feel the claustrophobic feel as Spider-Man was trapped in a steel cabin facing the Sandman with no air to breath. Plus his desperate attempts to stay alive with Dr. Octopus hot on his trail and blood thirsty. I really like the vivid re-coloring of these issues. The panels feel full of excitement and it was difficult for me to stop reading these.

Overall, these were some very strong follow up issues to further expand on the world of Spider-Man. Stan Lee’s writing flaws are barely noticeable here. He was definitely on point when writing Spider-Man, and the third volume just may be better than this. Unlike Thor, Captain America, and even the X-Men TPB’s. Spider-Man still reads very well in this day and age, and one can’t really go wrong starting here or with the first volume; but if you’re pretty limited on cash and need a place to start. I definitely say pick up from here.

The Mighty Thor, Vol. 2 (Marvel Masterworks)

The Mighty Thor, Vol. 2 (Marvel Masterworks)

Price: $18.76

(3/5)

Pros: Better use of some villains, cool first appearances

Cons: Shaky writing in numerous places

The Mighty Thor stomps his way through the streets of New York in a rage. His anger becomes apparent as he has grown frustrated with his father, Odin, due to him forbidding Thor to marry or even so much as love a mortal woman by the name of Jane Foster. This soon causes Odin to act. -summary

When I sit back and re-read plenty of these 60’s Thor stories. It’s no wonder that The Incredible Hulk would eventually gain steam and become Marvel’s premier powerhouse. The Mighty Thor quite frankly had some moments of being pretty boring. I will admit though that Stan Lee found some type of rhythm with the God of Thunder, however he still relied on certain gimmicks which resulted in some shaky storytelling at times. This TPB collects Journey Into Mystery issues 101 – 110.

If there’s anything truly outstanding in these stories, then it has to be Jack Kirby’s artwork. He clearly had the fantasy element down to a science very early. When these stories are set on Asgard, Kirby’s imagination was near at its peak.  There’s this grand and epic feel throughout the backgrounds and scenery. This majestic feeling also comes into play with the character designs. The Asgardians, especially the lovely Enchantress are gods through and through. In addition the action has gotten a little bit better as it feels more physical at times. I could look at these panels and rarely get bored, in fact, it’s Kirby’s artwork that keeps these stories from outright drowning.

In regards to Lee’s writing I have to say it’s still inconsistent at best. He drags down the stories quite a bit with his attempts at drama through the Don Blake, Jane Foster, and Thor love triangle. Plus the character development can be downright annoying at times with Odin coming off looking petty and foolish. It’s unreal just how easily tricked he can be when he knows Loki is a trickster. However, this time around Lee does a better job with returning villains Mr. Hyde and Cobra, as they prove to be threats to Thor. The Grey Gargoyle makes his first impressive appearance, by actually appearing unbeatable for Thor with his power to turn anyone he touches into stone.

Stan Lee’s writing was simply mixed for me and I was never compelled to read these stories straight through in one shot.  There were some nice encounters with Cobra and Mr. Hyde using their wits to get the edge on Thor, but then Lee would resort to Thor’s annoying weakness regarding separation from his hammer that would simply ruin the mood. While on other occasions, his writing can be pretty captivating when Odin would help Thor battle against other gods. There was this seesaw effect that would continuously creep up for me. In addition the book ends on a big cliffhanger with things cleared up in the next volume.

This second volume of Thor is better than the first but not really by much. I wouldn’t advise anyone to start here if they’re unfamiliar with this part of Thor’s history. Fortunately, the third volume is much better than this with the conclusion to Thor’s encounter with Mr. Hyde and Cobra, in addition it also features the first appearance of the Absorbing Man, as well as legendary clashes with the Hulk and Hercules. I recommend that volume way before this one.

The Covenant of the Flame by David Morrell – decent premise, but the book fails

The Covenant of the Flame by David Morrell

pic1

 

See it at Amazon 

(2.5/5)

Pros: decent premise

Cons: horrible dialogue, unrealistic romance

Weird statues.  Modern day heretics and inquisitors.  Fanatical environmentalists.  A feud two-thousand years in the making.  David Morell’s The Covenant of the Flame has it all.

Meet Tess. She’s a journalist, dedicating her life’s work toward raising awareness of environmental issues.  She sees what’s happening to our air, our water, our land, and our animals, and she’s trying to make a positive change for our world.

When she meets a mysterious man – and instantly falls in love (I really hate when that happens in books, but in this case it was necessary or the rest of the story never would have happened) her life turns upside down.  The man is murdered in a horrifying fire and Tess is determined to figure out the who’s and the why’s.

Working with a detective, Tess discovers a two-thousand-year-old mystery.  Apparently there’s a secret war going on between two different religious groups.  One who takes environmentalism to an extreme and other who tries to stop them.

The overall concept of The Covenant of the Flame was interesting.  I’m all for books that take a hard look at religion and centuries-old events that trigger modern-day revenge.  The problem here isn’t the premise, it’s the method.

First: way too many coincidences.  Sure, sometimes a coincidence is necessary in a book, in order to keep the plot moving in a certain direction. But when too many of them occur, it undermines the story.  It comes off as cheap, and lazy.  Start with the fact that our main protagonist, Tess, just happens to be an environmentalist, herself, when she gets dragged into a ridiculous plot that just happens to be centered on – you guessed it – environmentalists!  And it only goes on from there.

Then there’s the dialogue.  I’m sorry, Mr. Morrell, but the dialogue in The Covenant of the Flame sounds like it was written by a petulant teenager.  Tess, herself, whines like a bratty kid.  One can just picture her crossing her arms and stamping her feet any time something doesn’t go her way.

I loved when another character actually told her “Sit down and stop interrupting!!”  That character got to tell Tess exactly what I wanted to tell her!

Finally, am I really to believe that Tess instantly falls in love with this strange man, after a single encounter… enough so that she’s driven to extremes to solve his murder?  Fine, I’ll accept that.  But then she’s in love with a different man, someone else she just met, by the end of the book!  How can that be?  Because Morrell, apparently, feels that any time there’s a single woman and a single man in a book, they MUST get together, and we MUST have at least one detailed, graphic sex scene.  I, personally, can do with the whole thing.

I was bored with The Covenant of the Flame, and don’t recommend it.  Despite its interesting premise, it just didn’t work.

 

“Not a Place Where a Human Being Should Be…” The EATEN ALIVE Documentary

EATEN ALIVE on Discovery Channel

See it on the Discovery Channel Website 

(4.5/5) cool

Pros: Pretty intense jungle hunt, good insight into snake anatomy and behavior, finale is kinda crazy

Cons: The misleading ad campaign apparently pissed some people on the internet off.  SURPRISE!  It’s worth keeping in mind that this is a documentary, not a carnival sideshow.

Proving that alongside all the reality TV bunk and staged and/or speculative programming, Discovery Channel still can make outstanding legitimate documentaries, 2014’s Eaten Alive special has to be one of the more jaw-dropping things the channel has aired. This two-hour program followed snake expert/conservationist/explorer Paul Rosalie into the deepest, darkest corner of the Peruvian Amazon in search of a huge green anaconda known locally as the “Chu’ mana.” Though Rosalie’s main goal was to prove that such a creature could and in fact does exist in this untouched habitat, as the title of the program suggests, there was an ulterior motive to the snake hunt. Having constructed a suit specially designed to withstand the constricting coils of a thirty-foot snake, Rosalie intended to capture one of these beasts and offer himself up as prey to demonstrate the truly awesome abilities of this apex predator.

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“Aww, that’s just a baby…”

The first ninety minutes of so of Eaten Alive however plays more like a jungle adventure than a sensational program about a dude getting eaten by a huge serpent. Rosalie, his wife, and a team of researchers, trail guides, and animal trackers head well off the beaten path in search of the virtually unexplored region of the Amazon known as the “Floating Forest,” made up of small, spongy islands floating on a pitch black bog some thirty feet deep. The fact that palm trees growing here barely peek above the water level gives some indication of the make-up of his swampy area, and it’s full of hazards both in terms of its unstable terrain and the various animals that live here. Aside from being prime breeding ground for anacondas, the swamp is teeming with poisonous spiders, snakes, and caiman, seeming to be about the last place any expedition would really want to camp out. Regardless, Rosalie and his team set about exploring the area in search of signs that large snakes are on the prowl – and wind up tracking down several of the creatures.

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Jumping into this mud bog in an attempt to wrestle a thirty-foot anaconda? Not sure that’s such a good idea…

Edited in such a way to both accentuate the dangers of the Amazon and heighten the tension as the team tries to stay alive within it, the indisputable highlights of the first half of the show deal with various, hairy encounters with Amazonian wildlife. At one point, while traversing through a chest-deep creek, the team stumbles on an electric eel ready to throw a charge that could measure six hundred volts their way. This situation hammers home the notion that even when there’s not a large predator of the reptilian variety around, traipsing through the Amazon is incredibly dangerous. The situation only gets worse once the team reaches the “Floating Forest.” Here, they first square off against a twelve foot snake, then one measuring just under twenty feet in length, before finally wrestling with one that could top out at thirty feet long. Even with the smallest of these animals, it’s readily apparent how powerful anaconda really are, and when Rosalie dives headfirst into the pitch black waters of the swamp in pursuit of an animal that’s the size of a bus and could literally swallow him whole, I was forced to come to the conclusion that the man may be entirely certifiable.


Now that is a big ass snake!

The portion of Eaten Alive in which the team attempts to corral a large snake is filmed and edited exceedingly well, often filmed from the first-person perspective, literally putting the viewer in the middle of the action. There are many absolutely astonishing, breath-taking views of essentially unexplored parts of the Amazon; these places aren’t areas that most people would ever want to visit due to the extreme risk involved in exploring them, but they are without doubt stunningly beautiful to look at. There’s even a few moments here that could be genuinely unsettling: in one instance, the camera pans around the bog at night to reveal dozens of glowing caiman eyes glaring at the team members. Along with the solid filmmaking involved, I also really appreciated the fact that various herpetologists (i.e. reptile experts) intermittently provide explanations and insight into the anatomy and behavior of the anacondas the team is searching for. There are some really nifty computer animations demonstrating how anacondas first kill and then devour and digest their prey, and though it’s not the most pleasant thing to hear about, the entire process is fascinating and pretty darn amazing. Along the way, we also get some brief background into legends and myths about giant serpents and, in case the documentary isn’t outrageous or fast-paced enough for viewers raised on a steady string of consistently bonkers reality TV, one segment deals with constrictor attacks on humans. A rather startling actual photograph of a large python devouring a Malaysian man is about the most eye-opening thing in the documentary…at least until the final twenty minutes or so.

Python eats man – Warning! Graphic Image!

I don’t think I’m especially giving anything away by revealing that Rosalie and the expedition team don’t actually succeed in capturing the thirty-foot monster anaconda during the course of this program (honestly, I don’t know how they ever expected to do this in the first place), but that failure doesn’t mean that the genuinely insane stunt/experiment at this program’s center doesn’t take place. Though Rosalie has to settle for an especially aggressive twenty foot anaconda instead of the thirty-footer he’d hoped to find, he nevertheless does don the elaborate snake-proof suit and allows the reptile to attempt to devour him. And this is where Eaten Alive attempts a level of jaw-dropping spectacle that few programs on television these days come close to despite their best, most desperate attempts.

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Rosalie, on the left wearing the snake-proof suit, attempting to goad a twenty-foot specimen into attacking him

It’s pretty remarkable to see how even this comparatively smaller animal is able to pin down a fit adult human male, going so far as to start to wrap its expanding jaws around the oversized helmet that Rosalie is wearing. The fact that I would think that the creature at some point must have realized that this thing in its mouth wasn’t especially edible makes the footage included in this documentary all the more shocking: views directly into the gullet of an anaconda could potentially be quite creepy. It’s not difficult to imagine a snake being able to fully devour a human after watching this program: in the same way that Discovery Channel’s Shark Week seems a bit suspect in its supposed goal of advocating for shark conservation even though it focuses heavily on stories of shark attacks, I’m not sure that Eaten Alive is the best way to get the word out about saving the Amazonian snake habitat. Still, I guess any program that gets easily distracted American viewers at all interested in nature is better than nothing, right?

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Rosalie in the clutches of the snake.

OK OK, so a dude isn’t actually devoured then regurgitated by a huge snake during the course of this show, but honestly, did anyone actually expect that that would happen?   If so, the ad campaign worked flawlessly.  Even though it doesn’t completely follow through on its main selling point, Eaten Alive was positively compelling viewing that only seemed to get more unbelievable as time went on. The jungle adventure portion of the program is quite interesting in and of itself, providing plenty of moments to disturb those afraid of creepy crawlies or large reptiles, but when the program switches gears and focuses its attention on the promise of showing a man being attacked and very nearly eaten by a large anaconda, it reaches another level of fascinating spectacle. It’s a program like this that reminded me how rewarding legitimate documentaries can be, and I have to wonder why Discovery has become more reliant on obviously fabricated programming in recent years. If they are perfectly capable of making a jaw-dropping, positively authentic show like this that’s both extremely entertaining and quite educational, what’s the point of programming like Russian Yeti, Megalodon, or Shark of Darkness that do little more than test the gullibility of viewers? In any case, I’m hoping Discovery makes more programs like this in the future: I have a much easier time getting behind something real than the load of malarkey that the channel sometimes passes off as fact. Eaten Alive comes highly recommended.

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