Monday, October 7, 2019

Shibuya Goldfish 2 & 3 by Aoi Hiroumi

* Shibuya Goldfish 2

High school student Aki Touji and her little brother encounter the giant goldfish overrunning Shibuya and flee. They encounter and join up with Shibuya Sable, a homeless man with unparalleled skills and a big reputation. He plans to kill all the golfish, but doesn't care much for the humans around him.

The world of giant man-eating goldfish continues with an interesting character. Shibuya Sable is rumored to be cannibalistic, blood drinking, fabled to have fought off 1,000 yakuza on his own, and maybe he'll grant your wish if you bring him food. The real person is capable of killing many people and giant goldfish, but he doesn't really care about anyone other than himself. He has no moral compass and is pretty unpredictable and unstable. His life essentially hasn't changed since the goldfish came. The yakuza don't bother him much anymore and now he has to fight goldfish, but that's it. It's fun to see someone being a match for the goldfish, but you never know if he'll help someone or screw them over. Either way, he's the most dynamic character seen yet.

The cliffhanger from the first one is picked up here as well. Hajime and Alisa foin up with them as well. We get a glimpse of what the outside world is doing. The government tried to send help several times, but each was destroyed by the goldfish so they've stopped. There's also a glimpse of Shibuya before the goldfish as a place where the good is right next to the bad, schoolgirls and yakuza eating in the same place. I love places like that. The one thing I truly hate about this manga is the gratuitous upskirt shots, one being when a girl is literally being eaten alive. I'm still going to read the series, but I hope these are minimized or completely taken out later.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

* Shibuya Goldfish 3

High schooler Hajime and pop star Alisa are still following the Shibuya Sable, a particularly unstable homeless man who is their only hope against man-eating giant goldfish. His plan to destroy all the goldfish in town instead of waiting for rescue is risky and insane, but what else can they do?

Sable identifies a new nemesis in the albino goldfish who seems to be the leader of the entire school. His plan to kill all the fish is far fetched, but who knows what would happen if he killed the leader. Everyone besides Sable is essentially dead weight who don't know what to do except for Chika Yumioka, a university professor studying the goldfish. Hajime and Alisa are too busy trying to save other people when they can't even save themselves. I'm fast losing sympathy for them and I'm way more interested in Sable even with his dubious morality.

The albino goldfish has a new ability not seen before. It marked some of the people who encountered it with a chemical that makes them develop goldfish spots and corrodes their skin as well as attracting goldfish to them. This new development is devastating and incurable. The ending has a separate comic that might have a clue to the start of the whole thing, but it's not clear yet. This volume returns to form and features some truly horrific stuff while getting rid of the gratuitous panty shots of the previous volume. I'm so excited for the fourth installment.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Universal's Halloween Horror Nights 2019

One of my very favorite events is back with a few changes! There is no terror tram this year, but there are more mazes than ever before plus the RIP tour has changed a bit.

* Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

While I like the presence of the original Universal Monsters, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man felt a little stale. It was the layout of Alien vs. Predator from years ago and repurposing of last year's Universal Monsters maze. It starts out with the Wolf Man's story from gypsy curse to transformation. The coolest room is where they are both on slabs and get electrocuted with lab equipment everywhere as you try to squeeze past both of them. The jump scares were at least in different places than I expected, from behind curtains and movie screens. 

* Killer Klowns from Outer Space

The wacky color scheme and set designs along with the grotesque, giant aliens made this maze stand out from all the others. I always love feeling like I'm walking right into a beloved film and this one accomplished it amazingly. The shadow puppet scene and the bathroom attack scene in particular were fun to see and interact with. Voiceovers from the movie helped tie everything together in such a delightful way. The layout of the maze was less predictable than the others and large stature of the clowns made them pretty creepy to stand right next to. Killer Klowns was easily my favorite maze of the night.

* Ghostbusters

I didn't expect Ghostbusters to be a very good maze because it's more a comedy film than horror, but it impressed me. Many of the effects looked amazing. The room with the ghost storage had walls that faded and exposed hundreds of ghosts. Another had the transformation of the librarian ghost from normal to frightening. The whole maze had scares but also a fun sense of humor like Slimer playing rock, paper scissors with me or Ray jumping out and then saying "I thought you were someone else." Iconic scenes play out with Zuul, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and Slumer and I had a blast. This is the best of the horror-comedy mazes they've ever put on. 

* Us

Us is one of my favorite movies of the year and the maze lives up to it. The outside is a replica of the Vision Quest from the beginning of the film and the inside replicates the mirror maze, complete with creepy owl. Just hearing the score alongside the scenes gave me chills. I loved the school room scene where Red is attacked by Adelaide. The doubles are eerie as they jump out of various places. Our awesome tour guide said their red jumpsuits were used in the film and the same choreographer from the film also worked on the maze. The maze truly encompasses the film in a unique way and I had so much fun going through it. 

* Stranger Things Season 2

I honestly wasn't expecting a lot from this maze because last year's had a lot of statues and not a lot of actors due to the main characters being children. The first room was a bathroom that had walls that changed lighting to reveal tentacles all over as Will struggles with a creature on his face. The next scene had the upside down maze taped up all over with Will looking outside at the Mindflayer. It looked like he was truly looking outside at a huge monster in the distance. The rest of the maze was fine, but the same demodog is used over and over. It was better than last year and than I expected, but not amazing.

* Creepshow

The entrance to Creepshow was a comic book which interested me right away. Three of the original film's segments are portrayed: Father's Day, The Crate, and Their Creeping Up on You plus two bonus segment from the new TV show. The first segment is rather short, but gets in the crazy colors and reveal just right. The Crate focuses on the monster, which is the most compelling part. I love the first scene where a guy's feet are flailing out of the box with a pool of blood under it while Fluffy appears on top to scare you. The third segment always creeped me out and cockroaches on white surfaces always makes my skin crawl. The most stomach churning moment of the film is when cockroaches burst out of a man and it looks just as horrible (but awesome) in person. The new segments seem to be about some sort of mutant creature with plants growing into a house and a werewolf attack. The first was pretty creepy and the second felt familiar with a good werewolf design. I like that it pays homage to the original film and introduces some new stories. 

* House of 1000 Corpses

When I went through this, I was very confused about the beginning. Then I rewatched the film and found that it was Captain Spaulding's Murder Ride in his fried chicken and gasoline shop. The first few rooms have infamous murderers like Lizzie Borden, Ed Gein, Albert Fish, and of course Dr. Satan with animatronics and tableaux. Then we descend into the twisted world of the Firefly family where they torture and kill whoever comes by their home. My favorite room is the final one with Dr. Satan, his chair, and the Professor. After seeing the movie, I wish more of Firefly family had been shown. It's also ironic that Universal treated Zombie badly and passed on the movie altogether and now embrace it as part of their attraction.

* The Curse of Pandora's Box

This is the first year Horror Nights has had full mazes of original concepts. It's loosely based on a hodgepodge of various mythologies. My tour got trapped right outside for about a half hour as all the lights came on and the sounds turned off. No idea what happened but we got lost backstage because not all the guides were back in their positions. The maze was fun with lots of neon colors. I especially liked the part with speckled bright orange everywhere and demons that blend into the background with lights turning off intermittently. The whole thing has an 80's funhouse feel to it but a little updated. The skeleton rooms are what Dark Ride at Knott's tries to be. The Medusa rooms were delightful. Even though 80's and mythologies are kind of a weird mix, it works and it's fun.

* Holidayz in Hell

Holidayz in Hell takes each holiday and injects horror into it. Our tour guide let us know that each room is based on a vintage holiday card, which really shows. The maze starts with January and deranged, evil babies as the new year. The Valentine room has the most deranged heart candies along the walls and a woman being sacrificed. The leprechaun home in St. Patrick's Day is full of gold and bones and the Easter Bunny has giant eggs birthing monsters and giant bunnies terrorizing children. The Fourth of July was one of my favorites with a severely burned man who lost limbs because of fireworks and deranged Uncle Sams. The Halloween room is a bit underwhelming, but effective nonetheless. Thanksgiving has a person instead of a turkey on the table and Santa takes on a more Krampus persona for Christmas. Each holiday had a morbid, amusing twist. I'm looking forward to more original concept mazes.

* Jurassic World the Ride

I prefer the original Jurassic Park ride, but this update is pretty fun. The mosasaurus and a small dip before the huge one completely soaked my boat. There are videos throughout the ride of Jurassic World characters telling us about the dinosaurs getting out of their cages and what to do to stay safe. Before the final plunge, the T-Rex literally swings in to battle the Indominus Rex. It's fun, but prepared to be completely soaked. 

* RIP Tour

The RIP Tour is shown to be completely worth the price tag year after year. My group of around 15 people stuck together the whole time and were led through a backlot tour, each maze, a buffet, and a show (that nobody wanted to see) and then we were set loose the rest of the night. The backlot tour was fun and focuses on horror films. We saw Norman Bates in front of the Bates Motel and got an exclusive photo op that usually has a huge line. We also got to see Amity beach and the house from House of 1000 Corpses plus were treated to some ghost stories. Our tour took the express lane to each maze and never had to wait more than 20 minutes. By the end of the night, each maze was over an hour and Killer Klowns was almost at 3 hours. The buffet was delicious as usual. There was plenty of time to shop and redo some mazes plus access to some rest areas with fun photo op sets. I highly recommend at least getting the express lane tickets because you may not be able to see all the mazes. Keep in mind I went in late September and crowds get worse into October.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews: Blood and Black Lace (1964) and Magic (1978)

* Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Models in a fashion house are murdered by a masked assailant. Everyone involved is suspicious of each other, but all have secrets and ulterior motives. There are secret abortions, drug addictions, affairs, sex work, blackmails, and a growing stack of bodies. This is the first giallo film I've seen with an ensemble cast. No one person has more precendence than another. Each of their stories are woven together seamlessly. The cinematography supports the writing in this way with the camera tracking each main character through the dressing room of the fashion house. Everything just works together perfectly despite the many suspects and victims.

Much of the film feels like a thriller or murder mystery, but the aspects that take it to giallo are the color and composition of scenes as well as the kills. Each scene is so artfully directed and staged with pops of bright pink to contrast the dark colors. Even though the dubbed over dialogue can make the actors seem a bit stiff, the direction distracts from that a bit. The kills of mostly beautiful women are incredibly stylized and surprisingly brutal for the time with some biting commentary. The ending feels nihilistic rather than triumphant. Blood and Black Lace is an early giallo film that was a financial flop, but is cited as one of the first to create the formula. It's a beautiful watch, but not as developed or complex is later giallo films.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

* Magic (1978)

Corky has been trying to break into the magic scene, but is continually frazzled by hecklers and bored audience members. He spices up his act with Fats, a ventriloquist dummy who irreverently makes fun of everyone with baudy jokes and biting commentary. His act catches the attention of  a TV station that wants to give him his own show, contingent on a psych evaluation Corky knows he will fail as Fats' persona threatens to take over. Corky then retreats to the Catskills to recoup only to run into his high school crush Peggy.

I hadn't heard of this film until it came up on Shudder and I don't know why people don't talk about it more. Anthony Hopkins takes on a dual performance of Corky and Fats. One is intorverted, unsure of himself, and bumbling while the other is confident but biting and cruel. As the film goes on, the Fats persona takes over Corky more and more until he's threatens to take over entirely. Hopkins embodies both personas convincingly. Corky is conflicted because he realizes that Fats is a problem, but Fats can also be his ticket to fame and fortune. Getting help or exposing the problem might dash his dreams forever, so he escapes to postpone the inevitable. It's a sad world we live in that he sees this as his only choice and it's even more impressive that it was made in the 70's.

The horror elements don't truly get rolling until the last third of the film, but establishing the background and dynamic of Corky and Fats is important to set up. Corky (through Fats) grows increasingly more deranged while he reconnects with his high school crush, giving rise to more drama as she's married with a jealous, borderline abusive husband. The ending has some unexpected twists and is completely worth your time. I would honestly love to see this remade because the themes are completely relevant to today.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Friday, October 4, 2019

Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab

Cassidy Blake and her ghost best friend Jacob follow her parents once again on their TV show about the world's most haunted sites. This time, they travel to Paris, France where the food is delicious and the Catacombs are full of ghosts. When she is pushed through the Veil into the ghost world there, she accidentally allows a strong, malicious ghost to resurface in the human world. Its antics start out small and then eventually threaten the city at large. Cassidy has to remind the ghost who it was before she can send it on and delve into the mystery with old friends and new while keeping her family in the dark about her abilities.

Tunnel of Bones is the second book in the Cassidy Blake series. She survived the Red Raven but not unscathed. Cassidy is still exploring her powers and their purpose that has put a bit of a rift between her and Jacob. She releases ghosts stuck in memory loops to go wherever they go after here. Jacob obviously feels uncomfortable with this and the only other person with these powers (Lara) keeps saying he will grow more and more powerful and dangerous. It's never far from her mind that she might have to do eventually free a dangerous Jacob since he's getting stronger all the time. The rift between them grows as they both keep their true feelings from each other. This aspect felt so real because friendships suffer when secrets and grudges are kept. Their relationship is most of what keeps the story grounded beneath the supernatural elements.

This new ghost threatens not only Cass and Jacob like the last book, but all of Paris. As its power grows, bigger and bigger catastrophes happen. It feeds off of chaos and causes more and more violence. The ghost Cass loosed has forgotten who he was in life and the normal methods of freeing him won't work unless they remind him, forcing them to investigate this poor little boy who died in the Catacombs. Cass is forced to make new French friends in order to help her out. The Parisian setting is rich with dark aspects of history such as the creation of the Catacombs, the bodies moved there, and the people who subsequently died there plus other various disasters and battles. The Catacombs is a place that is so incredibly creepy, dangerous, and mysterious which is captured so well in Schwab's prose.

Tunnel of Bones is a wonderfully dark middle grade that centers Cass and Jacob's friendship. I do think the first book was a bit better because she was exploring this world and establishing everything. This book is more of a straight forward action book. The problem between Jacob and Cass simmers for most of the story until they have a breakthrough in the very end. It didn't feel as deep as the first book and it felt pushed to the side until the main action was done. I still very much enjoyed it, but a tiny bit was missing from the first to the second book. I am still so excited for the third book and anxious to find out what's going to happen to Jacob!

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, October 3, 2019

The Furies (2019)

Kayla and Maddie are school friends and have a blowout argument only to be kidnapped right afterwards by mysterious men. Kayla wakes up alone without her belongings in a box labeled "Beauty 6." She finds herself entrenched in a death game where the rules have to be learned as it goes along. Whether she encounters other beauties or beasts, figuring out who to trust may not be as clearcut as you might think.

The Furies is a fun, fresh, gory reframing of the slasher genre centered around Kayla, a timid college student who never breaks the rules or rocks the boat. She also has epilepsy that leaves her vulnerable and unable to move at the most inopportune moments. When she wakes up in a black box, everything has been taken from her and the stress of the situation aggravates her condition. Her main goal is to find Maddie, leaving behind their trivial but hurtful squabble. As the film goes on, Kayla finds herself doing unimaginable things in order to survive. Even though it's a well worn trope to have the weakest turn around and become the strongest, it's always gratifying to see a badass, disabled woman challenging others' views about her.

The beasts and beauties seem to be paired and the beast will attack everyone except his beauty. The designs for each beast is varied and inspired. One has a whole outfit and mask made from the skins of presumed victims. Another has a deranged baby doll mask and another has a mask that looks like a disgusting mass of sores. None of them seems able to speak but they know who to fight and who to protect. They are all incredibly strong and brutal in their violence with a unique melee weapon. (My favorite was the scythe.) The practical effects are amazing to behold, especially in the face slicing scene in particular. It feels so refreshing after seeing so many horror films rely on CGI blood.

I assumed most of the conflict would be between the beasts and beauties, but I was proven wrong. One beauty takes on a different tactic than sticking together and leaves the weak for slaughter so she can survive. Kayla accidentally kills another beauty, sowing seeds of distrust with the others, and yet another has clingy tendencies that prove fatal in the end. These beauties are not weaklings nor homogenous. Although it's selfish, killing the others or setting them up to die is a valid survival tactic in an extreme situation where it seems you have to play by a sadist's rules. 

The Furies has such a unique and fun view. I know a lot of people didn't like the whole thing being streamed to paying customers, but for me, it was more about the visuals and Kayla's journey. The whole thing takes place in a eucalyptus forest, which gives such a haunting look with the white trees. Kayla, played by Airlie Dodds, has a well developed character arc and she's a wonderful addition to the final girl pantheon. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, hung on every twist and turn.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Elisabeth is a library apprentice in a world where grimoires hold great power, even have their own personalities and agency, and the potentional to turn into giant, rampaging monsters. She's been told all her life that sorcerers, the only ones who have use of grimoires, are completely monstrous and evil. Her whole life is turned upside down when the Great Library where she lives is sabotaged and her only mother figure murdered. Despite having saved hundreds of people and her lifelong role working at the library, she is blamed for the attack and is set to be questioned by the sorcerer's council. Nathaniel and his servant Silas escort her and challenged everything she thinks she knows about sorcerers. She becomes entrenched in a centuries old plan to destroy the fabric between worlds and desperately tries to stop it with every ounce of her strength.

Sorcery of Thorns is a book that immersed me in such a fully realized, magical world through Elisabeth's eyes. First, we are introduced to the world of the Great Library with sentient books, giant book lice, and dedication to protecting it all. Elisabeth has lived there her whole life, abandoned as a small child there, and hasn't seen much of society outside of it. She accepts what the leaders say as law and hasn't seen much of the outside world to contradict it.Her experience with the grimoires is unlike anyone else. They all have their own sort of sentience and personality that she can recognize and commincate with. Of course she loves to read and wants to be a warden, one who protects their society against maleficts, hulking monsters grimoires become when awakened. I could have stayed in this library world for the rest of the novel, but the rest of the world is just as fascinating.

Elisabeth gets to know Nathianel and his demon servant Silas as they traverse the countryside and fight against minion demon attacks. She finds her worldview is flawed and sees good in both Nathianel and Silas. The upper crust of society is full of riches, gossip, and sorcerers. Elisabeth doesn't quite fit in as one unaccustomed to social niceties, rich clothes, and surrounded by those she thought were evil. Unfortunately, not a lot is different at its core because powerful men, such as the new Great Library director who condemned her with no evidence, abuse their position to dismiss her, keep her quiet, and prevent her from telling the truth in insidious ways. Elisabeth is such a force and does so much completely on her own. Her joining up with Nathaniel (and motivating him quite a bit) only makes both of them stronger. Silas proved to be invaluable and an incredible being. He's a demon and has two sides: the completely monstrous pure demon side and the much more human servant Nathianel and Elisabeth are friends with. His character arc is kind of like Spike's from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and shows that the way you were born doesn't determine your fate, your actions do. The ending didn't come easily with some losses and lots of my tears.

Sorcery of Thorns is good on so many levels. The romance is sweet with a nice build up without superceding the main plot. Elisabeth struggles with her entire worldview being challenged and Nathanial is incredibly conflicted about his family legacy and drawing other people into it. The main villain threatens the very fabric of their world and these two misfits plus Silas do what they can to save it. There are lot of horror elements from the maleficts to the demons entwined into this fantas. The story shattered my expectations at every turn in a very good way and I would love to see more books in this world.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Queen Mary's Dark Harbor 2019

The Dark Harbor is back at the historic Queen Mary for 2019's spooky season! The event has new sets for photo ops and chilling decor to amuse people before it opens. As with the last year, the Captain and the Ringmaster warm up the crowd, heckle all, introduce the event, and release monsters into the crowd. On to the mazes:

* Lullaby

Scary Mary is back and wants to play with you forever! She follows you throughout the maze, singing songs, and threatens your life along with some of her friends. The music is suspenseful and the layout is completely different from last year. The shower room was unexpected, but another later room makes you feel like you're submerged with bodies floating above you. Very eerie! Although it's the same theme, there are many improvements from last year. 

* Feast

Feast is one of my favorite mazes with horrific Chef serves up people for dinner. Right when we walk in, a chef bursts out of the doorway scaring us and then shames us for being late line cooks. I love being included in the storyline of the maze and even something so small can immerse me more into the story. The sets are grotesque and show both the effects of Chef's meals and where they came from. We are forced through a grinder, a passageway we have to crawl through on our hands and knees with spinning blades below us. Then we're forced into the oven ourselves!!! The storyline is perfect and Chef is saved until right before the oven only to return for one more scare afterwards.  

* B340

B340 has a murderer on the loose along with a gruesome crime scene, but the culprit seems to be demonic possession this time! The demon follows you throughout the maze through creepy crucifix flipping rooms, laundry rooms, and a pitch dark corridor. The best scares were in the dark corridor and a caged in bridge high above the rest of the ship that feels like it drops suddenly. The decorations in particular are impressive in this maze. I enjoyed the 80's inspired score (even though it didn't have a lot to do with the acutal maze). The only tiny negative of this one was being scared on the stairs. I startle super easy and I almost injured my boyfriend. Not a safe place for that. 

* Circus

Circus is a fun maze. Right at the beginning, the bearded lady was hilarious, slinging puns and quips with her lobster boy. The mirror maze is always disorienting and I never know where exactly the scare actors are (or where I am for that matter). It's a true maze with a couple of dead ends that totally fooled me. The ball pit is always a miss for me as it's hard to get through without much point. The disorienting spinning tunnel, on the other hand, always impresses me. My favorite room is second to last where the patrons of the circus are secretly being butchered. The cheery circus music and statues of circus freaks really tie it all together thematically. 

* Intrepid

Intrepid returns with some new tricks up its sleeve. At the start, we entered a train with light and sound effects that made it seem like it was actually moving. Then, we arrived at Edinburgh Station and entered a church where people were mourning. I love a room where I don't know which ones are statues and which are real people. The room with heavy fog and green lasers to replicate water (along with monsters within) returns with a clearer path than last year. The rest details Iron Master's deal with a sea witch to merge his flesh with the beloved steel of the Queen Mary, which he helped build. This maze gets better and better, especially with the catacomb sets. 

* Rogue

Rogue is a brand new maze where a huge wave has hit the Queen Mary. It's filling with water and threatening to capsize as the crew keeps directing visitors, but we seem to be going deeper into the ship instead of escaping it. Screens show incoming gigantic waves and put this maze on a different level than the rest. We quickly see the effects on the ship as we pass by: carnage, destruction, and the injured trapped in a sinking ship. The hanging body setup truly scared me, but the ending with the large mass of bubbles was a bit underwhelming. Very good for a debut original maze though.

* Entertainment

There were so many more performances than last year.The hula hoop performer's act became more and more impressive as she added hoop after hoop. The magician was funny, sarcastic, and casually reveals amazing tricks. The fire performers had the longest and most elaborate performance. The voodoo priestess has her followers prove themselves to her with their talents. While the theming is troubling, the performance was magnificent. They had so many different ways to dance with fire from fans and staffs to breathing fire. I had meant to leave right when they came on and I ended up being entranced by their half hour show.

* Food and drink

There was a wide variety of food available. I especially liked the Mexican style corn stand. There are 14 bars on the premises and the bartenders are generous in their pours. If you choose to imbibe, you won't ever be far from a bar. Some are even inside the mazes.

Queen Mary's Dark Harbor improves every year. The mazes played more with format, lighting, and props than I've ever seen. The mazes on the ship have a bit more dead space by virtue of the space, but it's unique and utilized well. The attraction is 10 years old and sets itself apart from other haunts. I look forward to another 10 years of scares. 

Monday, September 2, 2019

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

The small town of Mill Valley talks about the Bellow's legacy in whispers, of a successful family disappearing, deadly stories, imprisonment, and black magic. In 1968, Stella, her friends, and a stranger find themselves in the Bellow's supposedly haunted house where they dread up old memories and accidentally bring the stories to life. To survive, the teens have to delve into the past and dredge up the truth, which turns out to be much different than the rumors still told by the town.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was one of my many childhood obsessions. I remember chasing my brother around and reading him The Red Spot story that scared him so much. The surreal, almost tactile illustrations by Stephen Gammell enhance the stories and make the books especially memorable. A film adaptation is a dream come true for me, even as an adult. These books are a big reason why I'm such a huge horror fan today and it's exciting for this film to introduce more people to such a formative work for many.

The film features a larger narrative of Stella, her friends Auggie and Chuck, and a kind stranger Ramon as they fall victim to Sarah Bellow's scary stories. The characters are well drawn enough to service the story and get the audience to care about them. Stella and Ramon are the most detailed characters. Stella is still dealing with the guilt and pain of her mom abandoning her and Ramon doesn't want to share his brother's fate, who died in the Vietnam War. Their backstories, rooted in trauma, provide emotion to the film and anchor the story in reality. The other characters aren't quite as detailed, but they don't really need to be. The stories and creatures are what people are most excited for.

The stories are pretty faithful to the books and so are the creature designs. Seeing Gammell's art literally come to life in such a creepy way is so amazing. The missing toe corpse (portrayed by Javier Botet), the pale woman, the jangly man, and Harold the scarecrow are all well designed, creepy, and just a little different from their drawn counterparts.  There isn't much blood or gore, but the alternatives are more chilling. For instance, Tommy, a racist jock, is stabbed with a pitchfork and sprouts hay, eventually transforming into the scarecrow in his family's field. The pale woman was the scariest of the monsters because of the oppressive red lighting and the inability to escape her. She didn't even seem outwardly malicious, simply walking toward her victim, but she appeared in every room and hall. Each one is produced by a mixture of practical effects and digital effects that work well together. I am pleased with how they turned out and I would love to see other creatures from the books replicated by the same team.

** spoilers **

The frame story takes place in 1968, during Nixon's election. Real world problems are present in the story even though they ultimately take a back seat to the horror and fantasy. Many of the social and political events in the film reflect things happening today, such as corrupt corporations poisoning locals and blaming someone else and the current president empowering racists. It's an interesting point of view that makes the events feel closer to home. The main message of the film is to not believe the accepted narrative and dig deeper to find and expose the truth. Sarah and Lou Lou, Sarah's only friend and a black servant, are blamed for killing children with scary stories and witchcraft when it was actually the Bellow's paper mill bleeding mercury into the water. Like The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Sarah transforms into an evil force after being blamed as an innocent and punishes the guilty. The kids make racist assumptions about Lou Lou when questioning her in the present and expose a harmful trope seen in many horror films of black people corrupting innocent white people. This film has surprising depth and feels relevant.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a fun, creepy film with fantastical and real world horror side by side. Being a PG-13 movie, the creatures can't be as horrific as some vocal adult fans would have liked, but I was impressed by the balance of scary and keeping the target audience in mind. The Scary Stories books are for children and I would have been disappointed if the original audience were excluded from the film. The ending is definitely open for a sequel and I hope to see another film with even more of the memorable creatures reproduced on the screen.

My rating: 8/10 fishmuffins

Friday, August 23, 2019

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

Louis Creed, his wife Rachel, and his two children Gage and Ellie move from a large city to a small town. Louis works in the university hospital and his wife takes care of the children. They get acclimated to their home and befriend the gruff neighbor Jud Crandall, but something is still bothering them. On their property lies a pet cemetery where local children ritualize their pet's deaths, but the real and very powerful cemetery lies beyond a barrier. When the family cat dies, Jud shows Louis this burial ground, but the cat is simply not the same anymore when it returns. Then tragedy strikes their family and Louis plots to do the same without looking at the grave consequences.

Pet Sematary features an unlikeable protagonist but has some redeeming qualities. Louis Creed is awful and deeply entrenched in toxic masculinity. He's insensitive, quick to anger, and sees his wife as completely irrational and childish. At one point, he literally infantalizes her to the point of seeing her as his own daughter in adult clothes and it's gross. When tragedy strikes, Louis can't deal with his own emotions and sees it as his own responsibility to lead his family through grief. It's almost painful to read. Rachel, on the other hand, is much more sympathetic. She had to care for her disabled sister Zelda and grew to resent her because of her worsening behavior and the trouble it took to care for her. Her parents are the most horrible, abusive people who made her take care of Zelda alone when she was a child on the night Zelda died. Of course that is going to have far reaching effects for Rachel and it isn't weakness or childishness.

** spoilers **

The truly horrific part of the story is Gage's death and return. The grief and sadness of losing the young child is well written. Losing any family member is traumatic, but the loss of a child so young is unimaginable. However, the reveal is completely botched in perhaps an effort to couch the tragedy. Louis talks about it before it happens and completely destroys the shock of Gage getting hit so suddenly by a speeding truck. When Louis digs up his son's body to resurrect, the descriptions of Gage's rotting body are much more extreme than I expected. When Gage returns, he's almost a parody of the boy he was and it's so much more horrific because he was only two years old and could barely speak when alive. The comparison of him living and undead is much more stark and disturbing. The ending is creepy, but again the product of Louis' stupidity. I can't understand why he would make the same mistake a third time.

Pet Sematary has some creepy, disturbing elements that are eclipsed by the awfulness of Louis. He makes the most horrible decisions throughout the book and essentially ruins his family's lives because of his hypocritical inability to accept death. The true horror of the book is in the loss of a small child and its effects on a family, but it's lost in the hamhanded reveal of the death and in Louis' annoying perspective.

My rating: 2.5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Pet Sematary (2019)

Louis Creed, his wife Rachel, and his two children Gage and Ellie move from a large city to a small town. Louis works in the university hospital and his wife takes care of the children. They get acclimated to their home and befriend the gruff neighbor Jud Crandall, but something is still bothering them. On their property lies a pet cemetery where local children ritualize their pet's deaths, but the real and very powerful cemetery lies beyond a barrier. When the family cat dies, Jud shows Louis this burial ground, but the cat is simply not the same anymore when it returns. Then tragedy strikes their family and Louis plots to do the same without looking at the grave consequences.

Pet Sematary is a flawed film that doesn't live up to the book or the original film for me. The family is adorable but their underlying issues aren't really established before anything happens. Rachel and her anxiety and trauma about her sister Zelda are without all the deeper implications of her fear of death and sickness. It's played only for jump scares. One of the best things about the book is the deep friendship between Jud and Louis, but here, it's like they don't even know each other, putting into question why Louis would even follow Jud at all. Even Ellie's relationship with Church seems surface level. When he becomes cruel and weird, she seems happy to be rid of him instead of heartbroken over the loss of her constant companion. Gage's precognition abilities seem to pop out of nowhere and only serve to get Rachel back to their house. The exposition is glossed over probably because it's a familiar story, but those deep relationships need to be established before things happen for it to mean anything.

** spoilers **

The best parts of the film are in the resurrection of Ellie and the ending with big caveats. Ellie's death scene is framed so much like the original with Gage running towards the street. It would have been a perfect twist to have Ellie die instead, but it was literally spoiled in the final trailer. The impact would have been so much more visceral if there was no mention of it at all and frankly ruined the effect of this twist on the story. Louis takes zombie Ellie and cares for her like he would any other child, bathing her, feeding her, and putting her to bed. These mundane tasks take on a tense and unnatural air because she's not the same. Little things remind Louis that she is dead like the brush tangling on the staples in her head. I loved how Gage's death is in your face with graphic descriptions of his decay and I was disappointed with how perfect Ellie looked in comparison. Having Ellie so decayed and disgusting would never be accepted in a film, so this was a good way to portray it. The ending is by far the best part of the film with Ellie making her parents into zombies (in record time) and converging upon a still living Gage locked in the car. The ending is so much more bleak and dark because Gage is like the last bastion of their previous lives.

Pet Sematary is an entertaining movie, but compared to the depth of the book (which I still had numerous problems with) and the original film, it just pales in comparison. The acting was fine, but John Lithgow as Jud felt completely wasted. The vast majority of problems occurred in the writing, especially in glossing over exposition to get to the scary stuff. The ending was unexpected at least. The best twist in the movie was unfortunately ruined in the trailer, so others should take note and not repeat those mistakes. The emotional impact of that scene would have been entirely different if it hadn't been plastered everywhere first. Overall, it was on ok movie, but it really felt short of what could have been.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Gantz Omnibuses 2 & 3 by Hiroya Oku

* Gantz Omnibus 2

More people are called to fight against the alien menace with no instructions or rules communicated. Kei and Kato continue to fight and attempt to lead the various people despite their disbelief and/or ineptitude. Kato takes a powerful stance while Kei's ego is inflated by his newfound abilities and equipment.

Gantz is a series with an interesting concept, innovative creature designs, and completely mean spirited, gross execution. Kei continues to be a horrible person that we are apparently supposed to be rooting for. He abuses his powers by taking his suit to fight bullies and terrorize people only to have to fight aliens without it when teleported unexpectedly. He suffers a little, but somehow continues to succeed. For instance, he kicks out female Kei from his house for not sleeping with him only to randomly have sex with a woman who looks exactly like Lara Croft from Tomb Raider later. It's obvious wish/fetish fulfillment on the part of the author and completely took me out of the story. Kei throws himself into fighting and enjoys it because his life is boring and he doesn't excel at anything else. He's just a pathetic, misogynistic character that I hate.

The things I actually like about this story are Kato and the aliens. Kato is Kei's foil in every way. He refuses to kill the aliens, tries to save everyone he can, and is genuinely nice to everyone around him. Despite that one gross moment in the previous installment, he is the kind of person that should be the hero. Perhaps Kei is meant to be a deconstruction of the hero trope, but I don't have to like it. The aliens have such unique designs and abilities with a flock of bird-like creatures and gigantic statues that are actually alive. It's a shame that I hate almost everything else about it. The action is fast paced and the considerable gore impressed me.

Gantz 2 is better than the first because the misogyny is kept to a minimum. The characters are already established and most of the book is action scenes. There are still pin-up pictures of every female character at the start of each chapter which annoys me. I'm only reading up to the third omnibus because I already owned them . Otherwise, I would have stopped at the first.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

* Gantz Omnibus 3

The team continues to fight the gigantic statue aliens, but the fight doesn't stay away from Kei's personal life anymore.

This installment of Gantz has tons of surprising losses that I never expected. Kei is already an awful person, as I've complained about many times before, but he manages to get so much worse. An alien attacks him at his school and he literally leaves his whole school to die when he's the only one who could even put up a fight. I'm just not sure how the author can expect anyone to keep following this "hero" when he starts horrible and gets progressively worse every single story.

At the very end of the manga (after extra drawings of each female character with even more gigantic breasts than they have in the regular art of the story), the author writes about how people complain about the many gratuitously nude or semi-nude pictures of women throughout his books. He makes it clear that it's for his own enjoyment and further states that it's the same thing as drawing attractive, tall men. It truly isn't. When every woman in the story (except the elderly) are objectified on every cell they're in, it's a lot different than depicting hot guys fully clothed (or censored when nude) and unobjectified. None of the women in the story have any motivations outside romantic entanglements with the male characters. I'm so done with this manga. Gantz has a lot of the same problems as the I Am a Hero series and it's depressing that both series are so popular.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Crawl (2019)

Haley Keller is still recovering from a loss at her swim meet when her sister calls, worried about their father. A category five hurricane is going to hit his town and no one has heard from him. Haley reluctantly searches for her father and finds him in the crawlspace underneath her childhood home with a broken leg and a giant alligator hunting them. As the crawlspace fills with water and more alligators, the hurricane comes closer and closer, making it less and less likely they will get out alive.

Crawl is a basic animal attack movie with a healthy dose of family drama. Haley is close to losing her scholarship by underperforming at swim meets. She used to be close to her father and bonded over swimming when she was growing up, but they have recently fought and become estranged. This extreme event forces them to work together and realize that their fight was insignificant. They support each other completely and go beyond their limits to help each other. It gives the whole film some heart.

The rest of the film is mix between a basic animal attack plot and a disaster plot. Crazy agile and fast alligators keep coming in larger numbers as the water rises and the storm draws closer. The alligators infest the waters and can't truly be escaped and the storm causes extreme flooding, heavy rains, and fast currents. As the film goes on, it gets less and less likely the two will survive. The moments of action and quiet are well plotted and the jump scares are effective and well earned. The gore effects impressed me, especially the father's broken leg. The biggest disappointment is how fake the alligators look at times, especially when their eyes glowed. Maybe if they were kept more hidden like Jaws, it would have been more effective. As it is, the cartoonish creatures brought me out of the film because they are frequently front and center.

Crawl is a fun movie if you aren't expecting much depth or complexity. It has twists and turns, kills galore, and a touching family story at its core. The only things that take away from the film are the horrible CGI alligators at some points and the super abrupt ending. I love that the ending credits has the song "See You Later, Alligator" playing. The acting from the two main characters is believable and their plight tugged at my heartstrings. Overall, Crawl is summer watch worthy of a trip to the theater.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins