Monday, April 30, 2012

Great Moments in Slasher Film History: Bay of Blood (1971)

As horror films go, giallo movies are among my favorites. I enjoy the subgenre's weaving of pulp mystery characterizations and plot devices into its tales of blood-soaked terror, an attribute that sets it apart from its American counterpart, the slasher subgenre. Despite their differences, the Italian giallo did inspire the American slasher, particularly in the case of Mario Bava's 1971 movie Bay of Blood (a.k.a. Twitch of the Death Nerve, a.k.a. Reazione a Catena). Critics have credited Bay of Blood as being the giallo movie that most obviously influenced the slasher film craze in the U.S. during the 80s--particularly Friday the 13th Part 2, which copied a few of Bay of Blood's death scenes almost shot for shot.

I just saw Bay of Blood for the first time the other week, and here are some thoughts about this gory gem and unique relationship to slasher films and the giallo subgenre itself. Read on....

Friday, April 27, 2012

When Hotties and Horrors Collide at Atomic Cheesecake Studios

Pinup models and pulp art for horror and sci-fi go together like peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper, and hacking and slashing. This has been a winning combination for decades, adding curves and creeps to countless movie posters and covers of novels, magazines and comic books. Yet with many modern horror and sci-fi posters and publications trending towards heavily photoshopped pictures, what will become of this dynamic duo that fired the feverish imaginations of fantasy and fright fans for so long?

Meet Stacey Barich. She owns and operates Atomic Cheesecake Studios in Baltimore, Maryland where she specializes in portrait photography that captures the classic pinup look that was popular during the 40s and 50s. Given her choice of style, her models often pose with classic fashions, cars, furniture and other items from the Atomic Age. Click here to read an interview with Barich over at the Pinup Directory site. She will also have a special edition of Retro Lovely Magazine completely devoted to her work; click here to order your copy.

Thankfully for us vintage horror fans, Barich has done a few photo shoots that pay tribute to horror comic books and movies from the same era. Click below to see some examples of her glamorous and ghoulish work.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Gentle Giant's Jumbo Vintage Star Wars Action Figures: A Super-Sized Success or a Giant Gyp?

As geek collectible companies go, I've usually been satisfied by the license selection and quality of work provided by Gentle Giant. However, their recent line of Jumbo Vintage Star Wars Action Figures has left me baffled.

For those of you who don't know about this line of collectibles, allow me to explain. What Gentle Giant has done is to take the original 3 and 3/4 inch Star Wars action figures that Kenner released during the late 70s and re-release them in a 12 inch scale. In other words, they're exactly like the original 3 and 3/4 inch action figures--same sculpts, same paint schemes, same number of articulation points--except that they're larger. Each figure comes in a larger-scale blister card that's likewise modeled after the original Kenner blister cards. In keeping with the larger size, there's also a larger price tag: Each figure costs either $75 or $85, a steep increase from the original figures' 70s-era price tag of $2.

(Curiously, Gentle Giant is not the first company to do this to the original Star Wars action figures by Kenner. According to the Galactic Awesome! site, a Mexican toy company named Lili Ledy released its own extra-large version of the vintage R2-D2 action figure back in 1979.)

Yes, even this guy got the Gentle Giant Jumbo treatment.

When I first heard that Gentle Giant was doing this a while ago, I thought it was some sort of limited-run novelty and that the line would be limited to figures of only the most popular Star Wars characters: Darth Vader, R2-D2, C-3PO, Chewbacca, a Stormtrooper, and maybe one or two of the human, non-masked characters. Yet the last time I checked, Gentle Giant has provided Jumbo Figure versions for almost the entire line of figures that Kenner released after Star Wars and before Empire Strikes Back. So far, only two figures from Kenner's line for the first movie don't have Jumbo versions: the Power Droid and Luke Skywalker in his X-Wing Fighter Pilot suit. Thus, 19 Jumbo figures have been released (so far), costing an approximate total of $1425.

Considering how much these Jumbo figures cost individually, I can't imagine why anyone--even the most die-hard Star Wars fan--would want one. For figures that size, they are much less detailed and less posable than other Star Wars figures that are on the market now and are available for roughly the same size (if not smaller) and the same price (if not cheaper). Even Kenner's "Large Size" Star Wars action figures, another line of 12-inch scale figures from the 70s that didn't sell well, were much more detailed than their smaller counterparts. As one toy reviewer commented in his review of the Jumbo Vintage Star Wars Figure version of Boba Fett, "It reminds me of having an oversized pencil, or a big pair of scissors. It's amusing for a few minutes, then you realize you don't have any place to put it."

Gentle Giant's Jumbo Darth Vader action figure, with the smaller Kenner version ...

... And Kenner's original Large Size Darth Vader action figure.

Oh, well. Given how many Jumbo Star Wars figures Gentle Giant has released so far, someone must be buying them. I'm guessing that somewhere out there, a hyper-obsessive Star Wars toy collector is building a Jumbo-sized Millennium Falcon toy or a Jumbo-sized Death Star play set (which would stand over 5 feet tall) for his Jumbo figures.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Hear What Muppets REALLY Think at the Stuffed & Unstrung Show

For as fun as it can be to watch puppet shows such as The Muppets, it's easy to forget just how difficult, uncomfortable and exhausting the performance art of puppetry can be. After all, puppeteers have to be sure that their puppets perform well while they themselves remain hidden--concealed behind or inside a wide variety of objects--during live performances, sometimes for hours at a time. If you're wondering what that does to a puppeteer's fragile mind, then the live improv show of Stuffed and Unstrung is for you.

I heard about Stuffed and Unstrung the other day because there was a performance of it here this week (which I missed, unfortunately), so I thought I'd spread the word for those of you who might be interested when the show appears near you. Stuffed and Unstrung is a touring performance that's produced by Henson Alternative, a label from The Jim Henson Company that's geared exclusively towards adult audiences. The show consists of six puppeteers who use a large selection of puppets to perform improv comedy skits based on suggestions from the audience. While there are video screens present to show the comedy as it is performed by the puppets, the audience can simultaneously see the puppeteers controlling the puppets on the stage. While the comedy inevitably veers into adult territory, Stuffed and Unstrung is not so much of a parody of wholesome puppet shows like Sesame Street (such as Avenue Q) as it is a showcase of how puppetry and puppeteers excel at absurd, bizarre comedy.

Click here to visit the official Stuffed and Unstrung site, which includes video clips, pictures, articles, a schedule of upcoming performances, and a message from Brian Henson himself.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Look at Okami for Nintendo Wii

As part of my ongoing quest to find and play as many of the top-notch Wii games as I can before the Wii cedes its place as Nintendo's primary home console to the Wii U, I just finished playing Okami. Okami itself has had a unique history: It was originally released for the PlayStation 2 in 2006, and then it was released for the Wii in 2008 with a new control scheme to fit the Wii's motion controllers.

Even though it began as a game for a different console, Okami is one of the best games that Wii has to offer. It effectively utilizes the Wii's motion controls, it looks gorgeous, the game play is challenging but not impossible, and its central story is genuinely epic in scope. Read on for my complete review.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Prometheus Technology and New Aliens: Colonial Marines Game Footage Revealed

Being a die-hard Alien fan, I've been doing everything that I can to avoid spoilers for both the upcoming Prometheus prequel and the Aliens: Colonial Marines video game so that I can experience them as freshly as possible. I speculated about both projects on this blog before (see here and here) but I didn't want to go too much further than that. Nevertheless, too much fun-yet-non-spoilery stuff has happened lately with these titles that I couldn't help but to mention them here.

* In keeping with its viral marketing campaign, two sites have been launched in relation to Prometheus: the Weyland Industries site, and the Project Prometheus site. Project Prometheus has high-resolution pictures and schematics of the Prometheus spaceship, the Med Pod 7201, and the RT01 Transport. Each of these machines are featured in the Prometheus preview trailers, and I'm guessing that more tech specs will appear on the Project Prometheus site in the weeks to come.

* During the PAX East event that was held in Boston at the beginning of this month, Sega released more details about Aliens: Colonial Marines, which is scheduled for release this fall. The game will include a multiplayer co-op feature that allows up to four players to play through the central campaign. The most tantalizing revelation from PAX East (at least in my opinion) was the preview video that shows clips from the game's first mission: boarding the adrift and abandoned U.S.S. Sulaco to retrieve its flight recorder. Check it out:

Click here to see the comprehensive list that the AvP Galaxy site assembled of the Aliens: Colonial Marines press coverage at PAX East.

Friday, April 13, 2012

VHS Rental Memories: The Good, The Bad, and The Schlocky

This morning, I saw in the newspaper an article that discusses how the future of movie distribution largely belongs to the digital, on-demand format and how this shift in distribution will change how people select and view movies. This isn't the first article I've read about this subject, and it won't be the last. In fact, I'm a big fan of any distribution service that allows me to watch films that I want to see (regardless of the films' lacking popularity) when it best suits my busy schedule.

Because I grew up in a time when you had to wait for movies to show at your local theater or search for older and obscure movies on late-night TV broadcasts, I can't help but to think that something is lost in the process of making movies available at the touch of a button. If you're a fan of horror movies like I am, then you know that it's not just the films that keep the fandom going; it's also the stuff that surrounds the movies that give them their appeal and stoke the imaginations of both veteran and virgin viewers alike. I'm talking about stuff like books, toys, model kits, comic books, bubblegum cards and video games, as well as the places where these items are found--libraries, newsstands, toy stores, book stores, and hobby shops. These things not only satiated my interest in the films that were currently playing in theaters and the monsters that populated those films, but they also provoked my curiosity of other films and monsters that I never heard of before.

I've posted before about the books I've read as a kid that introduced me to the weird and wonderful world of movie monsters (see here and here). This post is devoted to another kind of fantastic place where I learned about many obscure horror movies: local video stores. In a previous post, I waxed nostalgic about VHS cover art; in this post, I'll talk about the unique horrors that VHS rental stores exposed to my fragile young mind, horrors that I didn't completely understand until I reached adulthood and decided to give them a second look. Read on...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wonderful, Whimsical Books That Teach Children About Death, Necromancy, and the Flesh-Eating Undead

Even though I write a lot about movies, TV shows and video games, I believe that it's important to encourage strong reading habits among young children. Not only do strong reading skills help them excell in school and develop a sense of intellectual curiousity that will serve them well for the rest of their lives, but they will also prepare them for when they choose to devote countless hours of their lives to reading obsessive and trivial publications such as this blog.

With that in mind, here are two titles that I recommend for the knee-high, up-and-coming movie monster fans in your life.

* That's Not Your Mommy Anymore: A Zombie Tale, by Matt Mogk (Author) and Aja Wells (Illustrator)

When a friend first told me about this book, I thought she was kidding. I'm glad to know that she's not, because who could rightfully deny their child the opportunity to read such delightfully morbid prose such as this:

* Grandpa Won't Wake Up, by Simon Max Hill (Author) and Shannon Wheeler (Illustrator)

The title says it all: Two children find that their sleeping grandpa won't wake up, so they take matters into their own hands. Yes, occultism is involved at one point.

Of course, there are plenty of other monstrous books to recommend for youngsters of all ages. For example, Edward Gorey's The Gashlycrumb Tinies is perfect for helping children learn the alphabet ("A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears. ...."). For more advanced readers, try Gary Larson's There's a Hair in My Dirt! A Worm's Story, which provides an educational and heartwarming explanation as to how human hair inevitably becomes part of a worm's diet. Yummy!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Nerd Rant: Xbox 360 Gets Star Wars Kinect, While Wii Gets Nothing

The weekend saw the release of Star Wars Kinect for the Xbox 360, which got mixed reviews among the game critics. One of the recurring complaints about the game is how unresponsive the controls are. There's much more to lightsaber fighting, blaster shoot-outs and deep space combat than just waving your hands around in front of a TV set, although it appears that the makers of Star Wars Kinect didn't get that memo.

OK, so this makes Star Wars Kinect one of an ongoing series of Star Wars games that doesn't quite succeed and hopefully the next one will be a success, right? That would be true, except that it didn't have to be this way. Had they made something like this game for the Nintendo Wii and its Wii MotionPlus feature, it would've been much, much better. How do I know this? I played Red Steel 2, which is proof of concept that the Wii would've been the perfect system for a first-person, motion-interactive Star Wars game. Forget the over-hyped but underwhelming Clone Wars: Lightsaber Duels Wii game from a few years ago; Red Steel 2 is the real deal, and I can't fathom why the game designers at Lucas Arts didn't figure this out.

If you have a Wii and haven't played Red Steel 2 yet, go get a copy of the game now. It's a mash-up of Japanese samurai adventure with a cowboy western, and the game alternates effortlessly between gun combat and sword duels--no controller glitches at all. On the basis of what I've heard about Star Wars Kinect, Red Steel 2 provides the interactive gaming experience that Star Wars Kinect promises but fails to deliver.

I know, Wii lacks the computational power that the Xbox 360 has so it would've been a shorter game, blah, blah, blah. All I know it that Red Steel 2 speaks for itself and had the latest Star Wars game been made for the Wii, chances are they wouldn't have had enough extra space to add a dancing mini-game where Han Solo prances around in a carbon freezing chamber. Check it out:

Better luck next time, Lucas Arts.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Evidence (2011) Movie Review: The Truth is Not Out There

For as much of a novelty as they seem to be, "found footage" horror movies require the usage of certain storytelling and filmmaking devices to make them effective. In that sense, they're like any other movie: They must manipulate the audience in order to elicit certain emotional responses without the audience actively noticing that the manipulation is taking place. Well-made found footage movies are works of quality cinema in their own right, because it takes a lot of talent to make footage that looks rough and unscripted on its surface be so compelling.

In the case of Evidence (2011), there's enough talent on display to keep you watching but it never assembles its plot threads into a coherent enough whole to make it satisfying or memorable. Read on for my complete review, which contains minor spoilers.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Video Game Symphony is Coming to the Strathmore

On April 7th, the Strathmore is hosting "Video Games Live", an immersive concert event where members of the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale will play soundtrack selections from many popular video games. The concert will include music and video footage from games such as Metroid, Final Fantasy VIII, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, Halo, and many more. The Strathmore is located in North Bethesda, Maryland.

Video Games Live will be performed twice, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. There will also be a pre-show festival that features a Guitar Hero competition and a cosplay contest. Click here to learn more about the Video Games Live event and to purchase tickets.