Buffy Season 8 Trade Post: Volumes 1 Through 8 & Fray

buffy season 8 volume 1 the long way home

It’s vampire week here on UnitedMonkee! Let’s kick things off with one of their all-time biggest enemies, Buffy The Vampire Slayer! Like most of the internet, I loved the series (yes, even the first season). Even so, when Dark Horse first announced they were continuing the show’s adventures with Season 8, I was a bit skeptical, even though series creator Joss Whedon was acting as executive producer of the whole thing. See, back in the day, I bought a ton of Buffy comics from Dark Horse until I realized that they were just kind of filling in holes and playing with the mostly un-chronicled summers. Later on I picked up the Buffy Omnibus volumes and read in the intro that that was part of the whole deal because they didn’t want the comics to step on the toes of the show. As a reader, though, I got a bit bored reading about Season Three characters when Season Four was in full swing, but that’s old water under an old, far more crankier bridge.

The timing thing was obviously no longer an issue with the show being off the air. And, adding to the “good” column, Whedon would have an unlimited budget to work with and some of the best names in comics, TV and film like Brian K. Vaughan, Brad Meltzer, Georges Jeanty, Drew Goddard, Jane Espenson and Karl Moline.

Really, there was no chance I wasn’t going to start reading this book because I was working at Wizard at the time and free comics were everywhere. Like my fellow Buffy fans in the office, we got to reading and really enjoyed it. I might have been a little taken aback by the whole idea of this army of Slayers working around the world S.H.I.E.L.D.-style, but once I got used to it, I was all in. Continue reading Buffy Season 8 Trade Post: Volumes 1 Through 8 & Fray

A Feast Of Friday The 13th Frights!

abbott and costello meet frankensteinI was looking at the calendar last week and realized that there wouldn’t be another Friday the 13th until November. I celebrated last month’s by watching Funhouse and The Shortcut, but wanted to go all out for this one. So, here are a review I’ve been thinking about for a few weeks along with a few new ones! Continue reading A Feast Of Friday The 13th Frights!

Halloween Scene: The Monster Squad (1987)

monster squad

When I was in high school my buddy Eric Toth talked a lot about a movie called Monster Squad. He said it was like Goonies, but full of monsters and that I, being a horror fan, would love it. At that time, I think it was really hard to find on video and I wasn’t really the type to go out of my way to search out a movie, especially when there was still so much at my beloved Family Video that I hadn’t seen yet. Fast forward a few years and I’m at Wizard working with a ton of rad folks including Rickey Purdin who, if memory serves, found one of the creators of the movie selling his own copies or something along those lines. Soon enough he got his hands on a copy and I watched it with him, but I think that’s the only time I’ve actually watched it before last night.

The other night I felt like giving it another watch, added the Bluray to the top of my Netflix queue and was happy to give it a watch last night. Man, I love this movie. Toth and Rickey and all the other people who love this movie are dead-on right, it’s great. I’m not sure how, in a world where Goonies seemed to be on television every weekend I never saw this movie as a kid, but that’s how it went down. The premise follows a group of kids who have their own monster club. They basically sit around and talk about horror movies and how you kill various monsters. Then one day, the monsters come to town and they’re the only ones paying attention so they take it upon themselves to save the day. Said monsters are basically the Universal ones including Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, a mummy a werewolf and a creature from a colorful lagoon of some sort.

A lot of movies like this that people my age remember from childhood can be a real let down if you’ve never seen them and watch them for the first time as an adult. For instance, I liked Lost Boys when I saw it for the first time five years ago, but it didn’t make its way into my list of all time faves. While watching Monster Squad again, though, I was actually really impressed with it and not just because I’m a fan of any movie featuring kids dealing with something crazy (Goonies, The Gate, The Pit, E.T., the Troll movies, even the ball-of-weirdness that is Mac and Me) but also because it’s a beautifully shot (the Bluray looks fantastic, you guys), well thought out flick with lots of extra goodness from ridicuslouly quotable lines (“Wolfman’s got nards!” “I’m in the goddamn club, aren’t I?”) to really fantastic creatures and special effects (big ups to Stan Winston!). It helps that the film was co-written by Shane Black (Die Hard, Iron Man 3) and  Fred Dekker (Night Of The Creeps, RoboCop 3) who both took the material seriously when putting this thing together.

But, the best part about this movie is the fact that the filmmaker never forgets who its heroes are. These are kids. Somewhat goofy, naive kids who never stop thinking like kids. When the wolfman attacks, their leader commands “Fat Kid” to kick him in the nards. Yes! That’s exactly what I would have thought when confronted by a monster as a 10 year old (or whatever age they are). You know, if I wasn’t in the fetal position crying and being eaten already. That’s another thing I love about this movie, these kids are brave and strong even in the face of craziness, which is something I probably wouldn’t have been in their shoes.

I noted on Twitter last night that I could be happy writing these kinds of stories for the rest of my life and I do think that is the case. I don’t want to say that kids today have no idea how good they could have had it, but do they even really do these kinds of movies outside of Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids movies? I’d actually love to do a project watching these movies with modern day kids and seeing what they think of them. I’d also be interested in watching them with a child psychologist and talk about what good and bad messages they might offer to kids. Anyone interested in that? Drop me a comment.

Halloween Scene: Frankenstein (1931)

Frankenstein is the Universal Monster movie I’m most familiar with. When I first got into horror back in high school I remember asking for copies of some of the flicks on VHS for Christmas and wound up with this one and Dracula, though I didn’t exactly wear either tape out, only watching each a time or two. As you surely know, Frankenstein follows the name of the title scientist as he and his assistant Fritz (not Igor, as many assume) try to bring a man assembled from various body parts to life. Dr. Frankenstein doesn’t know that his helper grabbed a criminal’s brain, though, and a series of misunderstandings lead to Frankenstein deciding to end the monster. Understandably freaked out, the monster makes a break for it and accidentally kills a young girl named Marie who tried to befriend him. This leads to the usual UM mob attacking the monster and a very abrupt ending.

Also like the other Universal Monster movies I’ve watched recently (The Mummy, The Invisible Man and Phantom Of The Opera), there’s a lot of scenes of old white dudes standing around talking about things. I actually expected more of an accidental rampage from the monster and was surprised that that’s not really the case until the very end.

But whatever, the reason this movie is so awesome and still considered  classic is because Boris Karloff is ridiculously great in the role of the monster. Even with a pretty limited ability to move his face, he does some amazing things that make you really feel for his character. He’s basically a scared child who doesn’t know his own strength. He just wants to be safe and find people who are nice to him, but doesn’t know how to actually act. He’s the classic misunderstood monster and he nails the role like an expert carpenter.

With a few of these other classic horror movies I’ve said that the proliferation of parodies, rip-offs and homages have diluted the originals. You know what’s happening in Dracula, so it might not be as fun to watch. And some people might feel the same way about Frankenstein, but I think there’s enough in Karloff’s performance to keep you interested even if you know most of the story beats. Oh, and I’m sure it’s because I’m a dad, but few things I’ve watched this October have been as chilling as Marie’s distraught father carrying her limp corpse through the town as their festival slowly turns into a violent mob. Top notch.

Halloween Scene: Phantom Of The Opera (1925)

Much like Dracula, I thought I knew the story behind Phantom Of The Opera from seeing it done many other times in many other forms: disfigured guy loves woman singing in opera, does some nasty stuff to get her the lead, wears funny half-mask, chandalier falls, yadda yadda yadda. As a nice surprise, while all of those things did happen, there was also a lot more going on in this mostly silent film starring Lon Chaney.

First of all, there’s a bigness to this movie as a whole that I wasn’t expecting. The opera set looks gigantic and seems to have a thousand people on it at all times. As the poster here boasts “a cast of 5000 others” it definitely feels like that between the performers, the back stage people and the ubiquitous mob of people going after the Phantom.

On a similar note, there’s a lot going on under this opera house. I thought he was just hanging out in a room somewhere, but there are actually caverns that were torture chambers. This is a nice way of getting to one of my favorite aspects of this movie: the Phantom is basically a death-trap supervillain from a comic book. The girl doesn’t really want to be with him so what does he do? He puts her lover and his cop friend first into a room that generates intense heat and then another that can either drawn them or blow them (and the opera house) to smithereens thanks to barrels and barrels of gunpowder.

The version of the movie that’s on Netflix Instant is a little odd, though I’m not sure if other versions differ. This one has music and even some opera singing on the soundtrack which is all well and good, but there is some really funky stuff going on with the color. Of course, being from 1925, the original film is black and white, but every scene is also tinted with yellow, green, blue or red (I think that’s all, though there might be more). This is kind of neat, but I think it takes away from the starkness of black and white that would have served the film better. Also, it’s very distracting when cutting between two different scenes and the color compeltely changes. There’s also a whole portion that suddenly turns into actual color. Not sure what that was about, but I wonder if a fully black and white version exists out there, I’d like to see that if so.

I’d also like to see more Lon Chaney movies. I must admit that I didn’t really realize that Lon Chaney and Lon Chaney Jr. were two different people. As I’ve said, my experience with these older horror movies is pretty limited, but I’d really like to learn more about both men. Let me know in the comments if you know of any good books or documentaries about them.

I can’t say I was scared by this movie, but I still really enjoyed it. The actual reveal of the Phantom’s true face has been spoiled for me for years, but the way it was done had kind of a derp feel to it. It did become scarier as the movie went on, especially when he’s hanging out on top of the roof of the opera house. Even without being scary (my 17 month old didn’t even flinch when they revealed his true face, though it might have been because I laughed) this is still the kind of movie that has a lot of coolness going for it.

Halloween Scene Trade Post: Frankenstein Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. Volume 1

Frankenstein Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. Volume 1: War Of The Monsters (DC)
Written by Jeff Lemire, drawn by Alberto Ponticelli
Collects Frankenstein Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. #1-7

Back when I read the first issue of Frankenstein Agent Of S.H.A.D.E., I was pretty psyched about this as a comic. I dug the crazy sci-fi set-up created by Jeff Lemire, the spy elements and, of course, the idea of a team of monsters going out and smashing other monsters. For the most part, I’ve liked the weirder New 52 books that I’ve experienced and this is definitely up there. Since reading that first issue, I’ve read a few more Lemire books, like the soul-punch that is Lost Dogs and the first volume of his Vertigo book Sweet Tooth and have become a big fan of his. I also want to check out Swamp Thing which everyone seems to love and have The Complete Essex County waiting for me on my Kindle Fire.

Anyway, I should stay on topic. Here’s the deal with Frankenstein. He works for an organization called S.H.A.D.E. which stands for Super Human Advanced Defense Executive that’s run by Father Time who happens to randomly regenerate his body every so many years and is currently in the guise of a small girl wearing a domino mask. Frankenstein’s ostensibly married to the multi-armed Bride of Frankenstein, but they’re estranged. He also winds up leading a new team of monster-human hybrids based on the classic Universal Monsters: vampire, wolf man, sea creature and the mummy. They go on missions that include stopping an invading horde of extra-dimensional beings, saving a sentient planet from its own demons and fighting OMAC.

I was already into this concept because it’s monster soldiers, a concept I like just about every time I encounter it, including the Marvel miniseries Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos. But Lemire takes things in directions I never would have thought. This isn’t just a big monster fight book, there’s also a great mix of alternate dimensions and even super-tech. The S.H.A.D.E. HQ is actually a shrunken down floating city with an impenetrable bubble around it. You have to get shrunk down and then teleported just to get inside. I love that kind of stuff and there’s a lot of that in here. Oh, I should note here that the shrinking tech was designed by none other than Ray Palmer, which marks this series’ closest connection to the larger DCU as far as I’ve read (aside from the OMAC appearance later on).

All of which is a commentary on Lemire’s versatility as a writer. Dude made a name by writing and drawing real world-based stories and has moved on to some of the craziest comics on the stands. I’m a big fan of that. I’m not as big a fan of Ponticelli’s artwork though. It can get really messy and hard to read. I appreciate the scope they’re going for on this book — our team of monsters fighting legions of evil monsters at one time — but it can get confusing at times. I will say that he does some really interesting things with page layouts where they look like splashes, but wind up actually containing several scenes. Take the page below, see how it all seems like one thing at first glance, but then you realize the water’s surface winds up acting like the panel break? That’s pretty rad. Maybe it’s an inking thing, because when he was inked by someone else on issue #7, it looked so different I thought it was a new penciler altogether.

Anyway, I had a great time reading this comic for all kinds of reasons and would definitely recommend it to anyone. I just did some looking around and saw that Lemire’s only on the book for another few issues. This news would generally bum me out, but then I saw that Matt Kindt took over and I’m pretty excited to see what he does/did with his run.

Haha, oh man, as I finished writing this I remembered that my pal Kiel Phegley had written about some upcoming DC cancellations on CBR. I hadn’t had a chance to read it yet post-NYCC and catching up on things. So, I just gave it a glance and saw that this book will get the axe with #17. That’s a bummer, especially because it feels like the kind of project that could have just as easily been a long-running Image series with like, two tweeks. Ah well, that’s Chinatown or whatever.

Halloween Scene: Dracula (1931)

I’m starting to see the formula behind these Universal Monster movies. Show the audience the monster, so they know it’s real. Then introduce a new person into the monster’s circle. That person will start feeling crazy because people don’t really believe monsters exist. Bad things happen. People talk a lot about those bad things. An investigation begins. More people get in on the action and start believing. More talking about things. Good guys fight monster. Bad guy loses (mostly). At least that’s how the few I’ve seen recently are, which basically equal The Invisible Man and now Dracula.

As you probably know from being a human being on this earth for the past 100 years or so, this story of Dracula — which is based on the stage play which is based on the Bram Stoker book — follows the titular vampire as he makes his way from Transylvania to England only after putting the lackey Renfield under his spell. From there it’s some skulking around and looking creepy, hanging out with some vampire ladies and lots and lots of old white guys talking about what’s going on. Ultimately, it wasn’t a very thrilling viewing experience.

The biggest problem with watching Dracula is having seen so many Dracula adaptations and riffs over the years. Even if you’re not a horror fan, you probably know at least fifty to sixty percent of the story just from seeing sitcom or cartoon take-offs. Since I am a horror fan, I’ve seen all the more. As such, it’s kind of boring to watch this movie, specifically when Bela Lugosi’s not on screen as Drac.

However, I still enjoyed a specific part of this movie a lot: the beginning. Set in Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, there’s a real ephemeral quality to the proceedings that draws you way into the movie. Part of that is because the version I watched on Netflix still has scratches and some of the lightness that comes from old films, but part of it is because his castle looks SO FREAKING COOL. It’s gigantic and run down and has these giant cob webs all over the place. Fun fact: I read on the IMDb Trivia page that they were created “by shooting rubber cement from a rotary gun.” Isn’t that a hundred kinds of awesome? I love finding out all these old movie magic secrets from the old days when people really had to think about how things were done.

So, no, this isn’t the most exciting movie around and I’m a much bigger fan of Tod Browning’s next effort Freaks, but it is an important piece of horror fiction to check out. If you’re just getting into horror, I do recommend watching the Universal Monster flicks early on before everything else comes in and taints your view of the story.