Saturday, September 5, 2020

Romero's Swan Song

 


THE LIVING DEAD by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus (2020 Tor Books / 656 pp / hardcover, eBook, audiobook)

While I was thrilled to learn a while back the late great George Romero was going to have a novel released (with help from co-author Daniel Kraus), this reader had more than OD’d on zombie novels sometime around 2010-2012. For those not in the know, zombie novels began to saturate the genre around 2004, particularly in the small press, and there were some of us who had been reading them as far back as 1979, when authors like Hugh B. Cave were still writing books dealing with old school, voodoo-spawned zombies. But, being a life long Romero fan, I knew I had to read this, and was confident the man who made zombies famous would surely deliver something new. While the novel has its moments, I regret to say fans won’t find much here they haven’t read before.

THE LIVING DEAD is a complete reboot (if you will) set in modern day and taking us to the very first confirmed case of a body coming back to life. This grim opening section will have zombie fans thrilled, then the authors spend much time setting up a few different scenarios in a trailer park, at a cable news station, and aboard an aircraft carrier, where eventually the book’s most exciting scene takes place. I say eventually, as there is much set up and at times large sections become a chore to get through. Like an epic fantasy novel, there are plenty of characters here, at times making things tough to follow, but they do come together nicely toward the middle and a couple are quite memorable.

Like most of Romero’s work, there’s plenty of social, political, and religious commentary, and a religious cult that grows aboard the aforementioned aircraft carrier kept my interest wherever they appeared. In light of our current political climate, much will hit home with readers, and fans will delight seeing nods to most of Romero’s DEAD films (and there’s even a brief tip to KNIGHTRIDERS). Whether Romero or Kraus wrote these parts is anyone’s guess, but the prose seems uniform enough that anyone will have a hard time figuring out who wrote what. Gorehounds take note: this one doesn’t skimp on the sauce. There’s plenty of lurid descriptions, some that should make even seasoned splatter vets wince.

There are scenes from the zombies’ point of view, although they don’t reach the depth Phil Nutman managed to pull off in his grossly underrated 1993 novel WET WORK, and while THE LIVING DEAD features animals becoming part of the undead, they’re not used here as much (or as fun) as Brian Keene did in his 2003 novel THE RISING and its sequels.

I'm glad a dream project of Romero’s has finally seen the light of day, and it’s great to see his novel was completed by a super fan like Kraus (who also has an impressive list of novels to his credit). Kraus’ lengthy post-novel author’s note is well worth sticking around for, too. But THE LIVIND DEAD will feel a bit too familiar to fans of zombie fiction, hence making much of this lengthy read a bit of a slog. I’m assuming Romero film fans who aren’t familiar with zombie fiction may find this a bit more entertaining.

3/5 stars.


(UK Cover)

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Fiction Fragments

Last week I was interviewed for Michelle R. Lane's wonderful GIRL MEETS MONSTER blog. Enjoy:



Wednesday, January 1, 2020

My Favorite / Least Favorite Films of 2019

Here in NYC we had another great year for retro screenings, but I did manage to see more new releases than usual, but not enough for a Top Ten. However, here are my Top Six of 2019, with a list of honorable/dishonorable mentions:



1) JOJO RABBIT: It has been a while since I went to see a new film twice in the theater, but this comedy from director/writer Taika Waititi had me laughing more the second time. Great performances by the young Roman Griffin Davis and Taiki Waititi himself as Adolph Hitler made this an instant classic that at times brought Monty Python to mind. Kudos to the great Sam Rockwell for stealing every scene he's in.



2) ONE CUT OF THE DEAD: Along with 2016's TRAIN TO BUSAN, this one proves with enough wit there's still plenty of life left in zombie films, although ONE CUT takes a clever comedic angle and is a best bet for father/daughter movie night. The love of film making in the story is taken seriously even on top of all the laughs. Just fantastic.




3) STAN & OLLIE: Released in mid-January and all but forgotten after a one week run, this bio pic of the legendary comedy team was grossly overlooked and way underrated. Instead of focusing on their early days, this mainly deals with a late career comeback they attempted in Britain. John C. Reilly is absolutely perfect as Oliver Hardy, and Steve Coogan's Stan Laurel is uncanny, right down to the smallest facial expressions. I'll be revisiting this one often.



4) ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD: Love or hate Tarantino (I'm somewhere in the middle), this is easily one of his finest films, featuring what is one of the most suspenseful sequences of the year, and an amazing performance by Brad Pitt (and his co-star dog) that left me wanting more. The two hour and forty minute running time flies by. The whole cast shines, Kurt Russell fans are in for a treat, and those of us who are still "following the truce" will love seeing James Remar in a great little cameo. The finale is quite nasty yet ends on a wonderful alt-history note.



5) THE IRISHMAN: To my complete bafflement, Scorsese once again creates a gangster-themed film and makes it fresh, much of that having to do with a curve ball in that Joe Pesci appears as a wise old gangster, not the lunatic everyone expects. This is the story of Frank Sheeran (played by Robert DeNiro), the man who claims to have killed Jimmy Hoffa (played by a perky Al Pacino). Both actors bring their A game, and lots of surprise supporting roles and cameos (most notably Ray Romano as lawyer Bill Bufalino) helped keep me engrossed through this lengthy epic, although I think the final hour of this three and a half hour feature could've easily been trimmed down to twenty minutes. This slight flaw aside, THE IRISHMAN is film making on a grand scale. Seeing it at the famous Belasco Theater in NYC made the experience all the more better...



6) JOKER: Here's another one everyone seemed to either love or hate with a plethora of reasons. I was never a big fan of Joaquin Phoenix, but about ten minutes into JOKER he won me over with his twisted portrayal and re-imagining of the classic villain. Comparisons to TAXI DRIVER (1976) are appropriate and while many said they were bored, I was glued to the screen from the second it started. And what makes this too cool for me is its director, Todd Phillips, had directed the documentary HATED: GG ALLIN AND THE MURDER JUNKIES back in 1993 before directing a string of hit comedies in the early 2000s




HONORABLE MENTIONS / DISAPPOINTMENTS

-It was great to attend the NYC premiere of DARLIN', the third installment of Jack Ketcum's OFF SEASON trilogy, which began with OFFSPRING in 2009 and THE WOMAN in 2011. Pollyanna McIntosh, who starred in THE WOMAN (and this) directs DARLIN' and does a fine enough job, but unfortunately there's not much bite here and things end on kind of a dull note. Sadly, a forgettable effort.

-I was psyched as can be for GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS. While I thought the creatures looked amazing and it was great seeing Mothra finally look like an actual MONSTER instead of a plush kiddie toy, there's plenty of brain dead situations here that will test the patience of any film fan. I think I actually enjoyed it more than most G fans, but upon my second viewing I noticed even more flaws. Great post-credits ending, though, that will thrill any Godzilla geek.

-I gave a lengthy review of why MIDSOMMAR didn't completely do it for me right here: Midsommar Review, but suffice it to say while this is very well made, it borrowed from way too many other films and in the end I felt like I had seen it all before. I still think director Ari Aster has the potential to unleash a real classic (and no, as much as I enjoyed it, it wasn't HEREDITARY). I'm heavily anticipating his next film...

-After GET OUT (2017), all horror fans have had their eyes on Jordan Peele, and his sophomore effort, US, while fine, didn't work as well for me during my second viewing. It plays out like an unaired episode of The Twilight Zone (which is fine), but in the end feels like another take on the home invasion thing, albeit on a grand scale. Like Ari Aster, I'm anticipating his next move.

-I seem to be in a small minority here, but I found PARASITE to be the most overrated, boring, and typical film of the year. I just don't get it. I was promised "the rug will be ripped out from under you" yet it remained firmly in place right through to it's surprise-free finale. This is a home invasion film offering social commentary that's not half as deep as everyone claims. I'm still a big fan of the director but, sheesh...gimme something here.




CABLE/STREAMING FILMS:

Just caught DOLEMITE IS MY NAME on Netflix on New Year's Eve and loved it. Even for us fans of blaxploitation cinema it was informative and just plain fun. Eddie Murphy really brought the goods.

Death metal fans hated it but I thought, as a fan of the non fiction book it's based on, that LORDS OF CHAOS was a blast, and was surprised how grim the stabbing sequence was done.

I was a bit underwhelmed by the Netflix film THE SILENCE, based on Tim Lebbon's killer novel of the same name. They did a good enough job but in the end it felt a bit rushed, and I'm hoping after several similar features we can now get away from the "you better be quiet/don't look" thing that has quickly become played out horror cinema.


I still need to see a boatload off 2019 films, especially SATANIC PANIC, THE LIGHTHOUSE, CRAWL, THE NIGHTINGALE, and READY OR NOT to name a few.




Check out these top ten lists from writers who will soon be a part of a new film blog collective I'll be hosting:

Monday, November 25, 2019

Book & Writing Updates


On Wednesday, October 23rd, Forbidden Planet (NYC's coolest comic/scifi/horror shop) held a book launch party for SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE, my debut film book. We had a very nice crow and I had a great time meeting some people I've only known online, and meeting some new folks, too. Thanks to Matt and everyone for making this a wonderful night. The store has some signed copies if you're in the area, and you can still get it from the publisher for 20% off in hardcover or trade paperback right here: Headpress Publishing

The worldwide official release date is 2/27/20, and if you prefer amazon, pre-orders are now being taken here: Suburban Grindhouse

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My next novella, IL CINEMA DE LUCIFERO, is being co-authored with Andre Duza, a writer I have been a fan of since reading his off the wall zombie novel DEAD BITCH ARMY back in 2004. This one is the tale of a young would-be director who gets sucked into working for an underground snuff film organization, and there's a supernatural element at play. We're over 20,000 words in and hope to have the first draft done by the end of the year, or early 2020

LOVERS, my next novel, is nearing completion. I've been re-writing it perhaps a bit too much, but the story took a turn I didn't see coming in the early stages so I've been busy getting the weirdness in order. I guess the best way to describe it is NEKROMANTIK meets MELANCHOLIA during a ... never mind. I may have given away too much already.

DUKE TORBELLI'S HYDRAULIC CATECHISM, a bizarro novella, has gone out of control and may be entering novel length. It's a bizarro road trip-type story with some of the more colorful characters I've come up with yet.

CHANNEL 79, another bizarro novella, has been completed and I plan to do a second draft once I let it sit a while.

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My second film book, DAMAGED BRAINS: AN OBSESSIVE LOOK AT ROMANO SCAVOLINI'S NIGHTMARE, is currently being looked at by a second potential publisher after the first one didn't pan out. This one is for a very niche market, so am happy to at least be under consideration with presses who are big fans of the film.

THOSE SLEAZY 70s, my look at some of the strangest and most groundbreaking films of the 1970s, is in full swing, and will be my third film book. I'm having a blast revisiting some really obscure films I've loved for years, and hope this will be an enlightening and fun read.

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I LOVE BLOGS! If you'd like to share links on each other's blog list just email me at NickYak@aol.com and we'll make a trade. YES...I'm still on AOL. Life is too short to waste on contacting hundreds of people with a new email addy!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A Whole Bag of Crazy


A WHOLE BAG OF CRAZY: SORDID TALES OF HOOKERS, WEED, AND GRINDHOUSE MOVIES by Pete Chiarella (2018 Happy Cloud Media, LLC / 224 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

by Nick Cato


For the 2 or 3 people who read my column who don’t know who Pete Chiarella is, you may know him better by his nick name “42nd Street Pete.” He has been writing about exploitation films for quite a while, has been publishing GRINDHOUSE PURGATORY magazine since 2013, and authored the book 42nd ST. PETE’S BIG BOOK OF GRINDHOUSE TRIVIA (2015). You may have also seen his name in the old Something Weird Video catalogs and on several DVD releases that bear his name. But what we have here with A WHOLE BAG OF CRAZY is Pete’s life story as it pertains to horror and cult films. And, as the title here says, his times hanging out on The Deuce during the 70s and 80s. There are also some looks at his childhood and teen years, some of it not too pretty.
            
Although he lived in New Jersey back then, Pete recalls the countless times he headed to Times Square to not only see the latest film offerings, but to cop weed, solicit hookers, and experience a few near-death experiences.
                                                                                                          
Every chapter offers things I doubt most readers would readily know about, and certain chapters deliver much information on how Times Square theaters operated or came to be during the “grindhouse” era: case in point is a chapter titled “8MM Madness,” where Pete reveals how hardcore loops circulated and where they came from. There’s as much a history of porn theaters and peep shows here as there are theaters that featured horror, Westerns, action films, and Hollywood hits.

There’s just so much going on in this book to cover in a short article, but suffice it to say those fascinated by life on 42nd Street during its heyday will be glued to the pages as Pete recounts bar fights, hold ups and other crimes committed right out in the open, his alcohol and drug addicted acquaintances, an account of the first time he was stabbed (!), scams that ran rampant, and sandwiched in-between all of this are looks at the films that infested The Deuce, from Mondo films to zombie films to the double and triple features I was lucky enough to catch the tail end of in the mid-late 80s.

While there are several books about life on 42nd street during the 70s and 80s, and while there are some that dig deeper into the films themselves, A WHOLE BAG OF CRAZY is perhaps the most detailed account of how rough, violent, and downright nasty things could get on The Deuce, all from Pete’s firsthand experience. I found his odds and ends jobs quite amazing to read about, as well as how he managed to survive while most of the people he grew up with in the early 70s did not.

People like me and several other film commentators might be able to give you a little peek at the notorious Times Square of years ago, but if you’re interested in reading the real hardcore version from someone who lived it throughout its entire “running” time, A WHOLE BAG OF CRAZY will be impossible for you to put down.



42nd Street Pete

Saturday, July 6, 2019

MIDSOMMAR review


I'm a sucker for films centered around cults, and while I enjoyed the latest from director Ari Aster, MIDSOMMAR, it has much going against it despite the gorgeous cinematography and continual feeling of unease fans of horror films should eat up.

Anyone who has seen MIDSOMMAR's trailer can see this was obviously inspired by THE WICKER MAN (and I'm hoping the 1973 original, not the disastrous Nicholas Cage remake). But there's a difference between inspiration and what Aster has done here, which is delivering a conclusion we know is coming from the second we hear the main protagonist's name (it's Christian. Is that enough of a spoiler for you?). This is a beautiful film to look at and it's genuinely unsettling at times, but the plot will leave any fan of "folk horror" wanting. There are NO surprises other than some misplaced humor, and genre fans will see everything from THE WICKER MAN to THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW to HOSTEL and a host of others.


(Mark (played by Will Poulter) in front of the forbidden temple)

Next to the routine plot (if you can call it that), the characters here, quite frankly, are lifeless. Florence Pugh does a fantastic job as Dani, a girl coping with the suicide/murder of her sister and parents, while dealing with Christian, her asshole of a boyfriend and his three buddies (Pelle, who invites them to visit his small communal family in Sweden, Mark, who provides much comic relief as the stereotypical goofy, vaping dude-bro, and the only person I cared about, Josh, played by the excellent William Jackson Harper, who is on the trip working on his college thesis). But even Pugh's solid performance didn't make me care for her plight: whereas Aster's previous film HEREDITARY dug deep into the human psyche, here we're left wondering why we should care as much about these forgettable people, especially the male members of the cast. And speaking of comic relief, MIDSOMMAR has some dark comedy, which was the ONLY thing I wasn't expecting in a film from a director who gave us something as serious as HEREDITARY. Several sequences were played for laughs, and the audience I saw this with were in stitches during the finale's way out-there sex scene.


(Josh learns how the group receive their teachings from a community elder)

Sure, weirdness abounds, there's still plenty of mystery despite the predictability, but in the end MIDSOMMAR comes off as a missed opportunity. During the expected finale, a caged bear seen when we first arrive at the isolated village could've been put to much better (and gruesome) use (ala 1976's GRIZZLY) and a suicide sequence reminded me of what the snake cult followers of Thulsa Doom did in 1982's CONAN THE BARBARIAN, and societally what becomes of people at a certain age in LOGAN'S RUN (1976). At nearly every turn I was reminded of films I'm sure the director either didn't mean to imitate or did so subconsciously.

Why, then, did I still enjoy this? First, MIDSOMMAR gives a good portrayal of the cult mindset, even showing how Dani slowly and painfully becomes a part of it. When we learn where the cult gets their doctrines from, it's a great picture of the sheer insanity that dictate certain sects. Culturally, it even brings to mind the traditions seen in the life of the very young Pu-Yi in 1987's THE LAST EMPEROR. And second, for a film that is two hours and twenty-seven minutes long, it moves at a fantastic pace, unlike HEREDITARY, whose shorter two hour and seven minute running time could've EASILY been trimmed by thirty minutes. I understand a lot of people identified with it, but to me the first hour of HEREDITARY was a real chore to get through. From the 2018 remake of SUSPIRIA to the last installment of the AVENGERS series, too many recent films are just too damn long for absolutely no reason. Call it a sign of immaturity, call it an epidemic of modern ADD, call it whatever you want and I'll still disagree with you. I don't mind a lengthy film if it's not full of filler and/or repetition, or, in the case of MIDSOMMAR, keeps me entertained. Of course, your mileage may vary. If cult-themed films aren't your thing, you may find this one as tedious as the director's previous effort. But I'm willing to bet at the very least this will keep theater-goers interested, especially those not familiar with the previously mentioned films that came before it.

I'll probably give it another watch sometime down the road, but in the meantime, I'll remember MIDSOMMAR as a film too bogged down by its obvious influences, with a host of missed opportunities that could've easily elevated it to a respectable place in the folk horror cannon.


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Just for shits and giggles:

(An elder member of the pagan group about to commit suicide by jumping off a cliff in MIDSOMMAR)

(A faithful member of Thulsa Doom's cult commits suicide by jumping off a cliff in CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982)).


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(Ruben the Oracle from MIDSOMMAR)

(Margaret the one-eyed Hag from TORTURE DUNGEON (1970))

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(Bear in MIDSOMMAR)


(Bear in GRIZZLY (1976))


(Yogi Bear telling Nick Cato it's time to get off the Internet...)

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

TEEN MOVIE HELL


TEEN MOVIE HELL by Mike "McBeardo" McPadden (2019 Bazillion Points / 352 pp / trade paperback)

McPadden, author of 2014's humongous tome HEAVY METAL MOVIES, returns with another epic batch of film reviews, this time examining teen sex comedies, focusing primarily on offerings from the 70s and 80s but with plenty of extras thrown in. While McBeardo is (obviously) a fan of the subgenre, some of the best reviews feature our author when irked: case in point is his rant against FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF(1986), a film I enjoyed but doubt I ever will again. Examined from the viewpoint of an outsider looking in, this review will make you laugh as much as piss you off, and I laughed my ass off over the author's look at SHE'S OUT OF CONTROL (1989), a lame vehicle which attempted to convert Tony Danza from TV star to major movie star (spoiler alert: it didn't).

If you're a fan of this stuff, keep a pen and paper (or your cellphone notepad app) handy as you'll surely be making a list of films to see you've never heard of. I have about 18 I'm currently hunting for.

A lot of film review books are easy to skim through, but McPadden's wit and humor keeps every review entertaining and I even enjoyed reading about the films I don't plan on seeing (which, to be fair, wasn't many). As if the 350+ reviews weren't enough, TEEN MOVIE HELL also features outstanding bonus chapters and reviews by some of the best film commentators in the business, and a great little piece by the God of teen movie geeks, Eddie Deezen. Bazillion Points has also done a beautiful job with the layout, which features poster reproductions throughout and an 8-page full color section right smack in the center.

TEEN MOVIE HELL, like HEAVY METAL MOVIES, is one of those books you'll surely be revisiting, so play it safe and grab two copies in case you spill beer (or worse) all over the first.

Grab your copy(ies) here: Bazillion Points

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