Bold-faced comedy, a return to the grind, and intellectual horrors are just some of what's been setting the tone of my October 2018...
Click "READ MORE" below to see this month's looks, sounds, vibes & flavours...
Click "READ MORE" below to see this month's looks, sounds, vibes & flavours...
The Walking Dead: Season 9 - the first episodes under new showrunner (but long-time show writer) Angela Kang have demonstrated a return-to-form for the long-standing series. The large cast are being utilised much more fully - and collectively - than in the last couple of seasons (Scott M. Gimple fell into a routine of separating everyone), and the passage of time is much more balanced with an 18 month gap between seasons, and a 35 day gap between the first two episodes. The entirety of seasons 6 through 8 took place comfortably inside Maggie's first trimester!
Deeper themes of co-operation between communities who had previously been at war with each other, and the resulting strains, provide a welcome injection of character-based storytelling and water cooler discussion. Meanwhile, the zombies are now regaining some more threat with a sensible choice to 'feature' the walkers that little bit more (e.g. the infamous 'spider face' walker in the premiere). It remains to be seen how the show will cope after the much-publicised exit of Rick Grimes (and, according to the rumours, Maggie Rhee), but Kang's canny decision to gift multiple characters with purpose and a strong voice (especially Carol, Daryl, and Michonne) promises direction in the wake of All Out War.
The loss of Carl Grimes in season 8 (with those rumours of behind-the-scenes mishandling) as a result now feels decidedly moronic. Having Carl inherit the Grimes throne, as it were, would have provided some superb dramatic opportunities and maintained the franchise-wide theme of a father shepherding his son through not only the apocalypse, but life. Alas, we won't get to see that play out. Still, despite the narrative flaws that Kang has inherited from her predecessor, who hung around in the role a season too long, the early signs from her time in charge look very positive.
Pieces (Blu-Ray) - from the director of the surprisingly fun monster movie "Slugs", this Spanish giallo/slasher hybrid seems to have aged better with time, gaining more viewers as the years tick by. The literal translation from the Spanish script throws up a few too many oddball sentences that just sound dreadful on an English tongue, but that in itself has a certain charm. The flick's biggest success is, of course, the gore scenes which are decidedly effective. J. Piquer Simon, the director, certainly knew how to stage effects sequences. Another decided success of the film is the cinematography, which looks superb in this Arrow Video release. My previous experience watching this flick was many years ago on what can only be described as about the shoddiest DVD release I've ever owned (an unrestored scruffy print transferred to a VHS tape then digitised to DVD with dreadful framing and a lot of tape fuzz). Naturally, this second time around proved to be a much more enjoyable experience.
Roast Battle: Series 2 - I only watched parts of the first series because I can't stand Russell Brand (who was one of the three judges on the panel in series 1), but now that he's been swapped-out for Jonathan Ross I've given it a proper spin. Despite the commitment to uncensored, no holds barred political incorrectness, a few wisps of 'PC paranoia' creep in here or there, but when the comics deeply respect each other and really go for it in their jokes it really works (e.g. Daniel Sloss has absolutely destroyed both times he's been on).
Aenigma (Blu-Ray) - one of Italian gore maestro Lucio Fulci's last films. Kathy, a girl at a private school, is tricked and humiliated by her peers and ends up in a coma. When new girl Eva arrives, Kathy somehow possesses her in order to exact revenge on the wrong-doers while also experiencing a few things that her coma has denied her. The script - by Fulci and Giorgio Mariuzzo - has a lot of great ideas, but routinely stumbles when it comes to threading them through the narrative in a clear, understandable manner. Certain avenues scream out for more development, while other elements are thrown in like grenades and are similarly unsubtle in their on-screen execution. There's a few standout scenes for Fulci fans - death by snails! - but it's clear that a better film is screaming to get out from what was finally presented to audiences, but due to the ailing Italian film industry at the time, there simply weren't the resources to pull it off properly.
There's a 77 minute documentary on the disc called "Aenigma: Fulci and the 80s", which sounds great on the surface, but it's sorely lacking. There's no real through-line given to the subject, so each segment sits clumsily next to the others with a presentation that rarely strives much beyond a collection of talking heads. It appears to have been assembled from a series of disparate interviews, hence the disjointed feel and general lack of perspective. It most certainly isn't anything like a proper look at Fucli's career in the 1980s, which went from the giddy heights of genre success with the Gates of Hell Trilogy to the lows of impoverished budgets and failed releases in the last few years of the decade.
Big Mouth: Season 1 & 2 - a Netflix animated comedy series about a group of teens as they enter the trials and tribulations of puberty. Based on the real life experiences of the creators and writers, there's a palpably uncomfortable sense of reality here as these characters clumsily paw their way through the uncertain darkness of growing up. Indeed, some of the issues discussed - with a surprising amount of frankness - make this a recommended watch for any teens, even with the very grown-up sense of humour running throughout.
Certain aspects of the first season fall a bit flat, but with the second season some of these faltering elements are either pushed to the sidelines (the ghost in the attic) or dispatched entirely in favour of a much stronger focus on the show's real reason for being: the open, honest, and humorous talk about puberty. Sometimes it's hilarious, sometimes it's awkward, sometimes it's downright uncomfortable, but the show has found its feet. It doesn't get everything right and can, on occasion, sound a little preachy when the makers indulge in their personal politics (we get it, you voted for Hillary, but did that add anything in-the-moment?) ... but any flaws are few in number. The show boasts a cracking voice cast and a broad range of character types that keep things fresh, but the show's masterstroke is the inclusion of 'Hormone Monsters' and the 'Shame Wizard'.
South Park: Season 22
Alice Cooper: Brutally Live (DVD)
Videodrome (Blu-Ray) - David Cronenberg's body horror mixes splattery grossness (courtesy of make-up effects legend Rick Baker) with intellectualism. Despite the tech on-screen obviously being dated to the 1980s production, the themes of boundary-pushing entertainment and the possibly dangerous search for more shocking thrills is still relevant today. It flopped at the box office, but found huge success on home video (appropriately enough). This is one of the Canadian's filmmaker's most stand-out achievements of his creative career.
The Last Horror Film (Blu-Ray) - Joe Spinnell and Caroline Munroe team up once again after their iconic on-screen meet-up that was Maniac. This time Spinnell plays a horror movie fanatic with Mommy issues and delusions of cinematic genius who attends the Cannes Film Festival to stalk/convince his favourite actress (played by Munroe) to appear in his own movie. No sooner has he arrived at the festival than people start dropping dead. Spinnell had a reputation for chaos and outre behaviour, and the free-wheeling production of The Last Horror Film (aka Fanatic) seems testament to that. There's plenty of gore and T&A splashed about the screen, but the movie's Ace up its sleeve is filming much of the flick in Cannes during the 1981 festival. This mixture of grindhouse grue and gotcha gonzo documentary opportunism injects the movie with a uniquely impressive feel. Fans of William Lustig's notorious 1980 slasher flick "Maniac", or the two headlining stars, should definitely check it out.
Salo: or The 120 Days of Sodom (Blu-Ray) - arthouse meets grindhouse in Pier Paolo Passolini's final and most controversial film, which is an excoriating and excruciating depiction of the sadistic evils of fascism and absolute power. Based on the book by the Marquis de Sade, the film mixes the notorious author's 18th Century extremes with the horrifying true story of Salo, an Italian town - the last fascist Republic in Italy before the ultimate fall of Mussolini - which bared witness to extraordinary depravity. Over the course of 18 months 72,000 people were slain, 40,000 mutilated, and 40,000 shipped to concentration camps, not to mention a litany of crimes inflicted upon the people by conscripts as young as 18.
The film was banned or heavily censored in many countries around the globe and was only passed uncut in the UK in the year 2000. The central cast of characters are a group of decadent Libertines, luxuriating in the extremes of their lust as Allied bombers drone overhead, meanwhile the rest of the cast are credited as "victims" and "collaborators". The camera's eye tends to linger at a painterly distance, but at times thrusts the viewer into the POV of the remorseless perpetrators. This is especially true in the climactic sequence, which damns us all as the fascism either condemns or converts its sufferers. Suffice it to say, the film is a tough watch and refuses to offer any cathartic relief, but its gruelling presentation speaks of serious real world evils that we must always be vigilant against. Pasolini, one of Italy's most revered filmmakers, was murdered by a thug in a random act of violence shortly after the film was completed.
Eli Roth's History of Horror - AMC's seven-part ode to the horror genre. The first episode concerns the topic of zombies, while the next two episodes cover the slasher genre. Hardore horror fiends will already know much of the history on-show, but it's a good overview for newer fans or those with more limited knowledge of the genre. Occasionally you wish for more detail or subtle examination regarding certain aspects ("28 Days Later" is not a zombie film because the Rage infected people at no point die and zombies don't starve to death after four weeks either, and Umberto Lenzi's "Nightmare City" also wasn't a zombie movie, for example). The two-part look at slashers was good, but was disappointingly America-centric in its history: slashers were birthed in-part out of the Italian gialli movement, so a few brief clips from Mario Bava's "A Bay of Blood" with no commentary doesn't suffice. Minor gripes aside, it's a good watch for horror fans new and old alike. Bizarre how any glimpse of nudity is evaded and every swear word is bleeped - yet innumerable instances of graphic bloodshed paint the screen crimson!
Bloodsucking Freaks (Blu-Ray) - a grotesque dark comedy horror about Sardu's 'Theater of the Macabre', a gritty grindhouse answer to the Grand Guignol, but here the torture terrors on-stage aren't faked like the audience assume. No, these heinous acts of horror are being carried out for real in a bizarre sideline to a white slavery business in a grotty basement theatre in New York's SoHo area. Crammed full with sleaze and violence, the numerous scenes to burrow their way into your memory range from the darkly absurd (the dart board painted on someone's arse) to the genuinely uncomfortable (the Doctor's dark side revealed). Seamus O'Brien, who plays the master of ceremonies Sardu, and his unforgettable right-hand man Ralphus (Louis DeJesus) were clearly having an absolute ball during filming as they merrily chew the scenery and inject every one of their on-screen moments with a delicious caustic venom. If only all the performances were as entertaining or convincing as theirs. Like a Hershel Gordon Lewis movie for the filthy grindhouse vibe of 1976 New York, Bloodsucking Freaks is a bit of a scrappy mess at times, but the movie nonetheless earns its reputation and 18 certificate in spades.
Airborne "Breakin' Outta Hell"
Rob Zombie "Zombie Live", "Spookshow International Live", "Hellbilly Deluxe", "The Sinister Urge"
HIM "Killing Loneliness"
Alice Cooper "DaDa"
The Black Angels "Death Song"
VIBES & FLAVOURS:
"Murder at the Grindhouse" - with all the work I've put into this novel project, my most ambitious to date, I don't want to just stick it out there in the wild west of self-published eBooks where it's so easy to get lost in the shuffle. So, with that in mind, the search is on for a literary agent. Additionally, I'm seizing on the 'age it in the drawer' method, by which you can return to what you've written with fresh eyes, for some further tweaks to spruce up a few bits here and there. It's only once you exit the trees that you can see the forrest.
Red Dead Redemption 2 (Xbox One) - the highly anticipated sequel and five years since Rockstar last released a game (GTA V). Early impressions are, unsurprisingly, very good. The level of detail is astonishing, the art design is superb, and the sense of immersion is impressive - the rough, tough, and morally dubious world of the old west makes for an arresting sandbox (much like it did with the previous game in 2010).
My main criticism, however, would be that the management system is too complex - from health and stamina, to the variety of supplies and so on, it feels in-need of streamlining. Similarly, the player is faced with a barrage of control instructions with various mechanics being thrust upon the player so quickly that it's hard to keep up, let alone remember them all. It certainly doesn't help for NPCs to be chatting up a storm while you're feverishly trying to read and understand the instruction panels in the top left before they disappear, or trying to learn a mechanic as its unfolding (e.g. showdowns), because that inevitably leads to screwing up and having to try again. However, these couple of gripes are dwarfed by the sheer amount of things that Rockstar has got right with RDR2.