Thursday, October 4, 2018

Ibitsu by Haruto Ryo

Kazuki walks towards the dumpster by his building one night and encounters a young woman in a dirty lolita style outfit. She asks him if he would have a sister and he says yes, as in he has one. Then this girl follows him and even breaks into his house, insisting she is his little sister and generally freaking everyone out. How far will she go to fulfill this delusion? Why is she doing all this?

Ibitsu is a horror manga centered around an urban legend. A demon lolita asks passersby a question and if they answer at all, she will either kill their little sister to assume her role or act as their little sister with the end goal of eventually killing them. The lolita herself appears pretty monstrous with a deranged smile, hastily sewn slashed wrists, filthy clothing, and an equally dirty stuffed rabbit.  Kazuki had never heard of this legend before and has no idea what he got himself into. It starts out with relatively small things like the girl shoving her way into his apartment and washing her filthy stuffed animal, taking the master key to his apartment, eating his sister's makeup, and following him around everywhere to recite everything he's done or bought recently. Her actions escalate past anything I expected. The plot is pretty standard for any horror story where he investigates her past to try to find a way for him and his sister to survive and get her to move on. The lolita is half Samara from The Ring and half Tomie with a splash of urban legend.

I fully expected to like Ibitsu, but one particular aspect really bothered me. The violence towards women took a rather sexual bent for no reason at all. The positions were very suggestive with upskirt poses. The lolita rips open Kazuki's sister's shirt so her breast is exposed and almost presses a hot iron to her crotch, which pushed that act to genital mutilation or female circumcision. That has a whole plethora of connotations that have nothing to do with urban legends or Japan in general. I found that part particularly extreme for no real reason. On the other hand, a death by sledgehammer, which didn't have any sexual connotations, seemed rather censored in comparison to all the other deaths. I found these choices odd. I see the sexualized women and deaths sometimes in manga, but this example is the worst. It simply doesn't belong in this story and should have a good reason for being there. There is a whole genre of manga that people can read if they want sexual content and it felt very forced into this story.

Ibitsu had real promise. Even though it adhered to horror tropes, it managed to set itself apart with the backstory of the lolita and her method of infiltrating the family. The ending was well done, satisfying, and open for continuation. The sexual violence really put me off the story and didn't belong there. There are two small other unrelated stories. One is amazing. It involves another urban legend where couples will be happy forever if they write their name on a particular wall of an abandoned building. The reveal of what's actually happening is so chilling and creepy. The second story is frankly a slight changed rip-off of Stephen King's Misery except with a manga writer. The ending is quite predictable. Overall, Ryo has real promise, but I was a bit disappointed by this story.

My rating: 2.5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews: The Final Destination (2009) and Final Destination 5 (2011)

* The Final Destination (2009)

Nick goes to a car race and has a premonition of a horrific crash. His panic causes him and some other people to be ejected from the event, saving them from a painful death. Afterwards, they start to die in accidents one by one, leading Nick to try to save them before it's too late.

The Final Destination is another decent entry in the series. There are way too many 3D gimmicks, but the characters and deaths are both pretty well done. I was super excited to see Justin Welborn, but his role is so small here. His death is the most hilarious thing about the film. He's a white supremicist attempting to harrass an African American security guard by burning a cross on his yard and ends up dying in the middle of the street by his own car while it blasts the song Why Can't We Be Friends. It's a bit over the top, but effective and funny. The salon death is like a race of so many different factors to see which one will kill the woman first. One death seems totally stolen from the pages of a Chuck Palahniuk novel, another has a man's flesh being cheese grated through a chain link fence, and yet another is the fault of a shoe being caught in an escalator. Who hasn't thought of that at least once in their lives?

The flaws of the film come in the character interactions. Janet almost died in a car wash, one of the weirdest almost death scenes, and she gets mad at the others for being worried about dying. It's like she completely ignored what happened to everyone else. Some of the CGI doesn't look great and the 3D film within the 3D film looks just awful on a normal TV. The ending is incredibly nihilistic and steals a little from the previous film, but it works better here. The x-rays of deaths from all the different Final Destination films during the beginning and end credits look great. This isn't the best film, but it gets back on to what made the first film successful.

My rating: 3.5/5

* Final Destination 5 (2011)

Sam is on the way to a company retreat when he sees the bridge collapse. He leaves the bridge with those he can convince and the rest die. As usual, he sees the pattern of deaths and tries to save his friends and coworkers.

Final Destination 5 is the second best of the series that follows the tried and true formula with a couple twists at the end. The characters are just well drawn enough to care slightly about some them while others are so bland you don't care if they live or die. Sam is an adorable cook who seems genuinely caring. I struggle to remember his girlfriend at all. Tony Todd as the mortician has the biggest role in this film and it serves the film well to have this ominous character singing hymns and dropping wisdom for the hapless characters. The kills are cringe inducing, especially the laser eye surgery gone wrong and the accupuncture death. Even the gymnastics death is one where so many factors could be the fatal flaw and it's fun to guess which one it will be.

The two twists at the end are well done. The first is the twist on the lore. When one of the accident survivors was supposed to die, another tragically died in his place. He seemed to be rejected from the cycle of death, giving another character the idea to kill another on purpose in order to save himself. The other twist is that this film takes place before the first film and leads to the fateful plane crash that started it all. The clues are so small that I didn't even notice them the first time. The second time, it was more apparent since I was looking for them in the flip phones, 90's musical references, and outdated language. Definitely give this one a try even if you've written off the series.

My rating: 4/5

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

Cass sees ghosts after she had a brush with death herself. The world beyond the Veil calls to her. She finds herself entering it, reliving ghosts' memories of their deaths, and attempting to take pictures of ghosts. Even her best friend is a ghost and stays with her most of the time. His name is Jacob and he saved her from drowning. When her parents whisk her away to Scotland so they can host a haunted places show, Cass learns much more than Jacob revealed to her about the Veil and her own power.

City of Ghosts is the perfect Halloween read. It's spooky, heartwarming, and suspenseful. Everything from the characters to the world building sucked me right in. Cass and Jacob are wonderful characters that have their own flaws and quirks. Cass is a lovely girl. I love her embracing being unpopular because being popular has loads of expectations and rules that she simply doesn't want. She has the power to speak to the dead and enter the Veil. She feels a scratching when a ghost is near and watches the memories they are trapped in. Jacob is an anomaly as a ghost who is aware of the world and interacts with the living in Cass. He has a sharp wit and makes funny comments no one else can hear. Together, they have rules like not entering the Veil alone, avoiding certain subjects, and respecting each other's needs and privacy. Their friendship is so lovely that it's rather heartbreaking when they have doubts because Jacob kept things from Cass.

The world building is awesome and detailed. Ghosts have the ability to read minds and be invisible to the living. Jacob doesn't have much power to interact with the living world, but others do. Ghosts who draw power from negative emotions like pain, anger, and regret can be very destructive, moving things and hurting people. The Veil isn't laid out as the real world is, but as a series of time capsules of varying size for each ghost trapped in it. There, Cass becomes less than alive and Jacob becomes more than dead. She thinks she knows what to expect from the Veil in Scotland, but ti's so oppressive with the dead that it sucks her in involuntarily. Almost everything she's learned is called into question especially when a ghost woman in a vibrant red cloak lures children to her. She also meets a ghost hunter whose goal is to release ghosts from the Veil, calling into question Cass's reason for having abilities. The whole thing is so well constructed and interesting that I wish the book was twice as long.

City of Ghosts put me nicely into the Halloween spirit. It has everything: creepy ghosts, lush Scottish landscapes, and beautiful friendships. Victoria Schwab has singular descriptions and metaphors that make her world come alive. This is a middle grade book that would blend in will with Holly Black's Doll Bones and Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. I hope it's the start of a series since there are things left open and of course a whole word of ghosts to explore.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, October 1, 2018

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews: Final Destination 2 (2003) and Final Destination 3 (2006)

* Final Destination 2 (2003)

Exactly one year after the disastrous explosion of Flight 180, a group of people survive a car crash only to die by mysterious, coincidental accidents one by one. Kimberly saw the vision that saved all of them and blocked the freeway onramp until the accident happened. She and Deputy Marshall Thomas try to figure out a way to thwart death before it's their turn.

Final Destination 2 isn't the best movie, but it does have the most horrific care crash scene I've ever seen. It has everything: explosions, people being smashed, logs bouncing along the highway, water bottles blocking brakes, and, most horrific, people seeing what's coming and being unable to stop it. The clues right before it are also on point: a drink responsibly beer truck with a drunk driver, football players screaming "pile up," highway to hell on the radio, and a kid smacking toy cars together. The crash is best and most memorable part of the entire film.The kills beyond that are pretty decent, even thought the lottery winner's is pretty ridiculous. The businesswoman's was one of my favorites because it was so sudden and led to another unexpected and graphic death.

The lore gets pretty convoluted here. The pattern is packwards for no reason and the coroner (played by the amazing Tony Todd) says that new life that wasn't meant to be can restore balance to death. This theory turns out to be useless and the pattern of people dying is backwards for no discernable reason. The main characters chasing around the others actually causes more deaths and they save no one. The only cool reveal is that all of them cheated death once already and you can't die out of order, even if you try to. The way information is revealed makes it almost impossible to figure out the end on your own. Final Destination 2 is very flawed and not very good beyond a few scenes.

My rating: 2.5/5 fishmuffins

* Final Destination 3 (2006)

When she sees a vision of a roller coaster crashing, Wendy freaks out and brings some people with her, saving them from the horrific accident. As each person saved starts dying, she realizes the clues are in the pictures and scrambles to save her friends.

Final Destination 3 is the worst movie in the franchise by far from the characters to basic concepts. The characters are barely more than paper and all pretty unlikeable, from the overly lecherous Frankie to the equally fake Ashley and Ashlynn to the weirdly abrasive Wendy. It was incredibly unnerving that no one cared about Frankie's upskirt shots and over the top gross treatment of women. I cared literally nothing for any of them and it didn't really help that a few characters were literally interchangeable either because of name or look. This is the one where I feel nothing except joy at any of the deaths and any character interaction seemed to take forever.. The clues coming in the photographs sounds like it would be cool, but so many of them were way overreaching that they as well not have used them at all.

The one thing the movie gets right are the deaths, except for the initial crash. It used too much CGI and looked pretty fake. However, the other deaths proved to be amazing. The dual tanning bed deaths of Ashley and Ashlynn were utterly cringeworthy: roasted to death and stabbed with countless shards of glass. The car crash death was a beautiful example of misdirection, resulting in a surprise death. The ending pleasantly surprised me and I liked the references to the previous films. The rest of the film, however, made it clear that the disjointed story was connective tissue barely linking the kills together.

My rating: 1.5/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1972)

Alan leads a theater troupe by boat to a small island where there is a cemetery for the most infamous and deranged criminals. He aims to complete a ritual in order to raise the dead while ridiculing and berating those he employs. An unfortunate dead man named Orville is exhumed from his grave while Alan attempts to raise him with a book he found in the abandoned house on the island. Will Alan raise the dead or will his crew tire of his abuse and nonsense and quit before the ritual even happens?

Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things is a low budget, odd 70's film. Alan is literally the worst person in the world. He demands to have sex with the women in his troupe and makes lecherous comments to them throughout the night. Alternating between scaring and embarrassing his underlings, he torments them in one way or another consistently. What keeps them there and under his thrall is that he supplies the money and has the power to fire them. In order to keep earning money and acting or working on his projects, They feel they have to give in to at least some of his whims, including coming with him to the godforsaken cemetery island for rapists and murderers. Alan is just a trash person who does Nazi salutes, calls his employees slabs of meat, has no respect for the dead at all, and loves to hear himself talk.

The two characters I actually liked were Valerie and Anya. (A note that all of the characters have the same names as the people who play them.) Valerie mocks Alan throughout and doesn't take his crap. She stays to keep her job, but she gives as much mockery as he does. When the actors have had enough, she is the only one who goes up to him to tell him they are stealing his boat and leaving with or without him. Her rendition of the zombie raising ritual was also way better than Alan's and her demonstration silenced him for a time. Anya is an odd character who seems enamored with the dead. She is most upset at how he has disrespected the dead and how the corpse would be angry. Although she sounds crazy, Anya is actually the voice of reason and foreshadows what would happen. All the other characters kind of blend together as spineless.

The first zombie raising is fake. Alan paid actors to pose as the zombies and attack his troupe, traumatizing them further. Some of these people laid in a coffin covered in dirt for over an hour just to create this trick. Their makeup isn't very good and they quickly break character. Later, when the real zombies rise, the difference in makeup effects is stark with the real zombies' looking much more realistic. It takes a while for them to rise from their graves after the ritual, but when they do, it's totally worth it. Most of the characters are either bland or unlikeable, so it's a nice payoff to see them chased down and killed. Alan changes from his cocky facade and realizes the danger they are in. He scrambles to reverse the spell he cast. I wish the real zombies had more of a presence in the film. They only appeared about 15 minutes before the end of the film.

Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things is a slow movie with mostly unlikeable characters. The ending payoff is worth it, but some might not think so. The most annoying thing about the film is the electronic sound effects or music (it's hard to tell which) that never stops and acts as an annoying background. Other than that, it's a pretty decent zombie movie. It's a bit surprising to me that the director Bob Clark would go on to direct one of my favorites Black Christmas. It's definitely worth a watch.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Dark of Night by Jonathan Maberry

Desdemona Fox was part of a caravan of buses transporting children out of her hometown. Unfortunately, they were separated from the rest and stranded by an EMP. She has to find a sace place for the kids before they are eaten by zombies or killed by scavengers. Joe Ledger is travelling with his dog, helping those who need help and killing those who hurt others. Rachael Elle used to be a cosplayer and now is a warrior against the undead. She is part of a community and seeks to find people who need help. All of them will eventually meet up and find themselves fighting against a very human threat.

Dark of Night is a novella continuation of the Dead of Night series, falling in between the second and third books. It's a nice piece to fill in gaps, but isn't really necessary to the story. Dez and Joe are from previous stories and Rachael is a brand new character. Dez is one of my favorite characters ever. She does what needs to be done, even murdering adults who make noise after many warnings of the danger. To save the children, she painted the bus with zombie blood to keep them away and kept them safe until she knew it was time to leave. Joe Ledger is a strong soldier struggling to keep his humanity after losing his family and killing to many zombies and degenerates. Rachael is a former cosplayer who sharpened elven knives and a sword to fight orcs (what she calls zombies) and uses the heroes of science fiction and fantasy as inspiration to keep fighting and keep saving people. Each character brought something different to the story and had a different perspective on the situation.

Many things have happened since the last book. The government thought it somehow prudent to set off nuclear bombs and EMPs to slow the spread of the disease. It only really creates radioacive zombies, horrible weather, and kills what few vehicles were left. The zombies have some new behaviors that they exhibit as time goes on. They seem to be attracted to each other and travel in packs. Smell, sight, and sound make them swarm towards something, moving rather slow and shuffley. As with the previous books, a worm parasite causes this disease and spreads through bodily fluids. The previous installment made it airborne, causing every corpse to turn after death. These developments moved the storyline forward and explained how the characters start this story.

Dark of Night is a colorful novella that combines disparate characters against a common foe. My biggest problems were in the very poor editing (numerous misspellings and grammar mistakes) and in the human enemies. They may as well have been zombies because they blended together in a horde of people calling themselves the Nu Klux Klan. No one stood out and they all acted exactly the same: attacking, slaving, pillaging, and generally being horrible. I wish they were a little different or stood out in some way. The development of the main characters and the world building were all great, but this aspect stood out to me as being a bit lacking in comparison to his other works. It was still enjoyable and I can't wait to read the followup, Still of Night. 

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Friday, September 28, 2018

Zombie Tunes 4

* Like Ooh-Aah by Twice

Twice is a K-pop girl group and this song is about finding love. The beginning of the song speaks of people being attracted to them in one way or another and not leaving them alone, which is comically portrayed with these zombies. The scenes with the zombies are my favorite because the girls are dancing so happily while these creatures would love to eat them. The ending has one being cured presumably by their music or maybe love. It's a light and fluffy portrayal of zombies.

* Last One by The Aces

The song starts out super sugary sweet, not only in their almost overstrained smiles but in the constant eating and presence of gummy bears. As the video goes on, the girls look worse and worse until they are zombies. As zombies, they lose that oversmiley facade and show how they really feel. The song itself is about being tired of an ex sneaking into their songs and promising over and over that this will be the last one, perhaps making the zombism represent obsession over the past relationship. The teddy bear was hilarious with its sign that says "You have 5 days to live."

* Big Zombie by Mekons

Despite the lively beat, this song seems a bit melancholy. The singer drives around town during the zombie apocalypse looking for dinner. He says several times that he's the big zombie and doesn't feel human tonight. I imagine that would be true if  you were surrounded by zombies.