Sunday, September 18, 2016

Killer Kids Double Feature Review: Cooties (2014) and Sinister 2 (2015)

The killer kids trope has long served as the go-to narrative device for whenever horror story tellers really want to disturb audiences. (Sure, monsters, ghost and maniacs can be scary, but precious little children? That's inconceivable!) Yet like any other trope, there are ways that it can be used for maximum effect and ways that devoid it of shock. The films I'll be looking at in this review, Cooties and Sinister 2, fall into the latter category but for very different reasons: one could not come up with enough material to support the trope, while the other laid out the trope so explicitly in its dialog that it lost any capacity to surprise or scare. Read on for my complete reviews (with spoilers ahead for those who have not seen the first Sinister movie).

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Photograph the Angry Spirits of Rougetsu Island in Fatal Frame 4: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse

I finally did it--I made it to the end of Fatal Frame 4: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, the game that was released exclusively in Japan in 2008 for the Nintendo Wii. Just getting my hands on this game alone was a chore (you can read about that effort here), so finally finishing it feels like quite an accomplishment in my video game geek-ified mind. Personal obsessions aside, Fatal Frame 4 (or FF4) is an impressive game in its own right and a great addition to the Fatal Frame series. Read on for my complete review.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Evolution of a Cult Classic: Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead

As a horror film buff, I've seen plenty of things over the years. I've watched plenty of timeless classics, competently made yet forgettable films, and godawful turkeys. I've heard other fans talk about various horror film titles from all sorts of critical perspectives. Yet of these many experiences, one that fascinates me more than others is to watch a film grow from being an obscurity into a cult classic. Such is the case of the film I'll be talking about in this post: Lucio Fulci's City of the Living Dead, which was initially released in Italy in 1980 and arrived in the United States in 1983.

Even though I just picked up a region-free copy of Arrow Video's deluxe Blu-ray release of COTLD, I first learned about this movie back in 1985 under one of its alternate titles, The Gates of Hell. While the film itself has mostly remained the same since it first appeared, perspectives about it have undergone significant changes between the '80s and now. Read on for my retrospective of this Fulci fright flick, as well as some thoughts as to how such low-budget films like this one keep popping up in the horror film fan community when so many popular mainstream films fall into obscurity in the years after their theatrical release.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Rewriting the Past to Rewrite the Future, Anime Style: A Review of Erased

I don't consider myself to be a die-hard anime fan, but I understand anime enough to know--and appreciate--that it can be the go-to medium for stories that won't be found in U.S. movies and television. Case in point: Erased, a 12 episode sci-fi/mystery anime series that was released earlier this year and can currently be watched on Crunchyroll.

Erased begins in 2006 and it centers on the character of Satoru Fujinuma. A former manga artist in his late 20s, Satoru has a unique ability that he calls "Revival": an ability that allows him to relive small moments in time (a few minutes at most) to prevent fatal incidents from happening. After he finds his mother stabbed to death in his apartment and the police identify him as the prime suspect, Satoru experiences a Revival that sends him all the way back to 1988, when he was still in elementary school. During that year, three of his classmates were kidnapped and murdered, so Satoru becomes convinced that if can keep his classmates alive in 1988 he can prevent his mother's murder in 2006. But how does one prevent a series of murders if the identity of the killer is still unknown?

Even though it uses the outlandish sci-fi concept of time travel as the foundation for its plot, Erased is a very poignant and personal story. The kind of changes that Satoru seeks to make in time are not momentous and will go unnoticed by most of the people around him, yet he remains resolute in his determination to save the lives of people that he lost in his original timeline. As such, Erased is not so much a sci-fi thriller as it is a slice of life drama that takes place in small town Japan during the late '80s (albeit through the eyes of a child who has the knowledge and experience of an adult from the future). The topic of child abuse plays a dominant role, and it provides many heartbreaking moments as the story progresses. Furthermore, changing the past to change the future is never easy for Satoru, since the changes he sets in motion provide new outcomes that Satoru doesn't anticipate. Even in Erased, no good deed goes unpunished.

The once and future Revivalist: Satoru as a child (left) and as an adult (right).

Some sci-fi fans might be bothered by the series' time travel logic, while some mystery fans might be disappointed in how this particular mystery is solved (and not solved, so to speak). But what makes Erased worthwhile is that is uses plot conventions from sci-fi and murder mysteries to tell a moving parable about the values of compassion and devotion when pushing back against cruelty. Many heroes in the sci-fi genre have traveled through time to save the world, but Erased emphasizes that the most heroic deed of all is to simply be there for others who have no one else.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Party Like it's 1966: Classic Camp Batman and Robin are Coming to Home Video in Return of the Caped Crusaders

Adam West and Burt Ward fans, rejoice: West and Ward--along with Julie Newmar--will be reprising their respective roles as Batman, Robin and Catwoman in the upcoming animated movie, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders animated movie. This movie will be released digitally on October 11 and on Blu-ray and DVD on November 1.

Many of DC's theatrical and home video releases from this year, which include Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad, and an animated adaptation of Batman: The Killing Joke, have tilted toward darker, more violent fare. In contrast, Return of the Caped Crusaders goes back to the lighter, campier mood of the live-action Batman series from 1966, which is a breath of fresh air for superhero fans who appreciate the more absurd and outlandish aspects of the fantasy worlds that these characters occupy.

Not much is known about the plot of this movie, other than that it features the voice talents of three original '66 Batman cast members and will involve Batman and Robin combating a nefarious criminal campaign by Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman. I'm glad to see that this series is still getting plenty of love from the fan community. With the show's recent arrival on digital home video, '66 Batman has also been popping up in comic books, video games and high-quality merchandise. In fact, the Japanese toy company Revoltech is currently taking pre-orders for a detailed, scale-accurate replica of the '66 Batmobile that comes with two sets of Batman and Robin figures (one set standing, one set sitting).

Revoltech's '66 Batmobile replica.

Based on the previews I’ve seen so far, the only thing that doesn’t impress me is the movie's animation. While the character designs are obviously based on the actors and their costumes as they appeared in the original show, the overall quality feels underwhelming and lacks the brilliant color schemes that defined the show's comic book style. If I had the resources of Warner Bros. at my disposal, I'd ensure that this movie's animation matches the look and feel of the animation used in the '66 Batman opening credits (or, at the very least, that it matches the look and feel of the animation style of Batman: The Brave and The Bold). Furthermore, while I'm looking forward to hearing Newmar provide the voice of Catwoman again, it'd be cool to see members of Batman's rogues’ gallery that were specific to the '66 show appear in the movie. If it were up to me, there'd at least be one '66 Batman story involving a campified version of Professor Pyg teaming up with the villain Egghead in a pun-filled fight with the Dynamic Duo. Holy ham omelet, Batman!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Takara Tomy has Rebooted the Diaclone Robot Toy Line

I can't speak for what kids are collecting these days, but adult collectors of Japanese robot toys must be having the time of their lives. The higher-end Transformers collectibles of recent years have not only spawned successful lines of third party items but they also inspired revivals of other Japanese robot toy lines from the '80s, lines such as Machine Robo and Voltron. The latest reboot is Takara Tomy's Diaclone toy line, the line that produced many of the toys that Hasbro would later re-brand as Transformers toys in the United States. Click below for more information and pictures of the cool new releases from this long-dormant line of robot toys.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Netflix's Stranger Things Celebrates the Stranger Things from the '80s

It may be 2016, but the '80s are still alive and well over at Netflix.

Netflix's latest popular series, Stranger Things, is an eight episode sci-fi thriller that is set in the mid-80s and pays tribute to many of the sci-fi thrillers of the '80s. Fans will immediately recognize similarities in the series' aesthetics, plot devices and themes to the popular works of John Carpenter, Stephen King and Steven Spielberg from that era, although Stranger Things manages to put its own compelling spin on them so that it becomes more than just a derivative knock off of superior movies and TV shows from another decade.

One aspect of Stranger Things that will stand out to people like me who grew up during the '80s is a set of geeky, Dungeons and Dragons-playing preteen characters spend the series looking for their best friend, who has been abducted by a strange, plant-like creature. I've noticed that critics and viewers specifically mention '80s movies such as E.T. and Goonies whenever they discuss this particular subplot and how it ties to the rest of the series as a whole. While this might not seem like a big deal in this day and age, with Hollywood cranking out big-budget movies based on popular young adult novels and entire cable channels devoted to pre-teen level programming, but Spielberg and his contemporaries such as Jim Henson and George Lucas inspired a trend of kid-friendly fantasy and sci-fi movies during the '80s. 

What set these films apart from other kid films from eras before or after is that they incorporated what was then considered to be cutting-edge special effects to provide a certain level of amazement and visual grandeur. In my experience, the only titles that successfully recapture the kid-level wonder of '80s cinema are Stranger Things and the 2006 3D CGI movie Monster House. (J.J. Abrams tried to recapture this mood as well in Super 8, but his approach felt like it prioritized imitation over inspiration.)

To give you a better idea of what I'm talking about, click below to see a selection of movie posters that I've assembled of films from the '80s (and one or two from the '90s) that intended to draw kids to the box office by providing visual spectacles that were made just for them. Some of these films are still remembered, while others have gone on to become cult classics or to be largely forgotten; regardless, these films represent a time when kids were a primary audience for special effect-fueled flights of fancy.