Developed by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green
Starring Ricky Whittle, Emily Browning, Ian McShane, Pablo Schreiber
Airing on Starz
I wasn’t really excited for the “American Gods” show. I know, great idea to start off my review by alienating 90% of my readers. Neil Gaiman holds a hallowed spot in the hearts of fantasy fans the world round, and for good reason. Gaiman builds worlds with an elegance and depth that is simply captivating. I’ll always remember him most fondly for the iconic The Sandman graphic novel series, which along with Watchmen became the foundation for my love of comics.
But I’ve always felt just lukewarm on American Gods. Maybe it’s because I had to read it in college, where excess discourse over symbolic minutia sucks the life out of even the most vibrant works. Or perhaps this just stems from my overall fatigue with TV adaptations, the present day equivalent of the found footage craze.
In any case, I went into “American Gods” expecting I’d have to crack open another bottle of vodka to get through it. It took three minutes for “American Gods” to change my mind. This show has enough blood and dismemberment to show a cenobite a thing or two. I tend to watch these things on my laptop at my local beer bar, and I actually shut it off because the amount of violence was making people look at me funny. Heads explode, spines erupt from bodies, fountains of crimson cover people in gore, and an evil hooker eats people with her vagina. And that’s just the first episode.
I always feel silly having to do spoiler-free reviews of shit when the source material is freely available. If you really want to know the plot twists and turns of “American Gods,” read the book. Or the Wikipedia page. Yes, I know shows can diverge from the source material, but the broad strokes are generally the same. However, the good people at Starz have asked me to please keep this spoiler-free, and since the show doesn’t even premiere until April 30th, I’m inclined to accept their terms. So don’t worry; I won’t let slip any specifics in my coming synopsis. If you want to see the official synopses for each episode, check them out here.
I know that somewhere out there exist people who still read books, but as a millennial I’m just going to take the safe bet and assume you haven’t read American Gods. The basic premise is that the gods of old mythology still exist and are wandering around America trying to make the best of things. As people no longer believe in them, they are shadows of their former glory, while new gods representing things like media and the free market have risen to power. Unwittingly drawn into this conflict is protagonist Shadow Moon, an ex-con recently released from prison. Following the tragic death of his wife and best friend, he enters the employ of Mr. Wednesday, a charismatic, yet mysterious god on a quest to unite the Old Gods for something major. As they travel the country, they meet a number of memorable characters, like the brutal Czernobog and the enjoyably brash Mad Sweeney.
And that’s really all the synopsis I can give without getting into specifics, which is fine because the actual plot is only about 20% of what makes “American Gods” memorable. The world of “American Gods” is broad and diverse, and exploring it as a viewer is the most rewarding part. Each episode contains a series of vignettes outside of the main plot, exposing the lives and workings of characters unrelated to Shadow and Mr. Wednesday’s journey. Whether all of these characters will be brought into the plot has yet to be seen, but each serves as its own self-contained story introducing you to the nuances of this world. Easily my favorite so far was the Jinn, which left me both moved and curious.
Speaking of the Jinn, this show also has lots of dicks. As in literal penises. I knew that this being a Starz show, I was in for a certain amount of titties/wang, but the propensity for penis did catch me off guard. Big ol’ hard ones too. And you know what? Good for Starz. It’s been too long that women have been forced to live up to unrealistic standards by watching the ample bare breasts of Playboy models and the perfectly toned abs of superstar vixens. Now I have to live up to the unrealistic CG dongs of the “Gods.” It’s only fair.
The colorful characters are really brought to life by the exceptional cast. Ian McShane is of course great as always, as is the wonderful Peter Stormare, who portrays the vile Czernobog. Ricky Whittle does a great job of selling the confused, skeptical wonder of Shadow Moon, making this totally foreign world feel more human and grounded. The person who really blew me away was Emily Browning as Laura Moon. She gets her own episode that flips your understanding of the characters on its head. The supporting cast is all fantastic, and a more cynical side of me can definitely see a Mr. Nancy/Anansi Boys spin-off in the future.
So far there has yet to be a weak moment. It’s hard to get me to sit still for four hours, but I was hooked on “American Gods” for all four of the preview episodes. I as a rule try not to give high scores to things without seeing how it all turns out in the end, but I just can’t wait for more. Check it out as soon as it’s available on April 30th.
Prodigy Review – This Kid Is Killer
Written and directed by Alex Haughey and Brian Vidal
From the minds of Alex Haughey and Brian Vidal, Prodigy could have easily debuted as a stage play instead of an intimate sci-fi horror film delivered straight to your television. Told with a confident grasp, the story unfolds in only one location with two characters responsible for carrying the entire narrative. Good performances, sure-handed directing, and a solid script highlighting tense moments make the claustrophobic setting seem much bigger in scope. A little telekinesis thrown in to good effect and a creepy killer kid don’t hurt the momentum either.
Under constant surveillance at a remote black site, an aging psychologist named Fonda (Neil) is tasked with assessing a dangerous young girl called Ellie (Liles), who is highly intelligent and possesses supernatural powers. Fonda attempts to inject some humanity into Ellie, but she is cold and calculating and seems to be toying with him at times and the onlookers watching from behind the glass. The back-and-forth between both characters is competitive and often riveting, with Ellie slowly revealing her abilities to her wide-eyed new audience. Wrapped up in a familiar setup, the decision to study or dissect this meta kid is the central question of Prodigy; but the execution of a simple premise is what keeps the story afloat.
On a very small scale, Haughey and Vidal make the setting feel cinematic with crisp images and smart shot selections that help maintain the tension. There’s a strong backbone in place that allows both actors to bounce off of each other in a well-choreographed mental dance as the dangerous game they’re playing begins to unravel.
Several scenes where Elle demonstrates her powers are the standouts in Prodigy with chairs and tables flying and glass breaking to great effect. These sequences diffuse some of the tension for a moment, only to fully explode late in the film when Elle’s emotions unleash. It’s only then that there has been any kind of breakthrough that could possibly help to save her life.
That gets to the heart of the real question posed in Prodigy: Is an extraordinary life still worth saving if it threatens ordinary lives in the process? Also, does the fact that this potential weapon is housed inside the body and mind of a young, lonely girl make a difference to whether it should survive? These questions and how they’re answered make Prodigy a micro-budget standout in the indie horror genre well worth taking the time to rent this weekend if you’re not planning on attending a St. Patrick’s Day parade somewhere.
Prodigy is now available to on iTunes, Amazon, and other On Demand platforms.
The questions raised and how they’re answered make Prodigy a micro-budget standout in the indie horror genre well worth taking the time to rent this weekend if you’re not planning on attending a St. Patrick’s Day parade somewhere.
Cold Hell (Die Hölle) Review – Giallo Terror Invades Vienna
Starring Violetta Schurawlow, Tobias Moretti, Sammy Sheik
Written by Martin Ambrosch
Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky
I have a serious soft spot in my horror-loving heart for serial killer films. Movies like Seven, The Silence of the Lambs, The Crimson Rivers, and the like draw me in with their cat-and-mouse mentality. Couple those kinds of movies with non-US settings and I’m 100% hooked. So when I was introduced to Die Hölle (aka Cold Hell), which just started streaming on Shudder, I didn’t hesitate to enter this giallo-inspired thriller.
Cold Hell follows Özge Dugruol (Schurawlow), a Turkish taxi driver in Vienna who clearly lives a strained, almost broken life. The fares she picks up verbally abuse her, the Thai boxing gym where she lets go of her anger has banned her after a violent sparring incident, and her family has its own fair share of problems, including infidelity, lack of responsibility, and painful memories of early years.
One night, after coming home from a long shift, Özge opens the window in her bathroom only to see across the way into the home of another woman who is lying on the ground, flayed and burnt, her dead eyes staring at Özge. Stunned into shock, she can only look on before realizing that the man responsible for this woman’s death is standing in the shadows, looking at her. So begins Özge’s journey of terror as this killer makes it his mission to find and end her life.
Cold Hell has an interesting juxtaposition running throughout the film where cinematographer Benedict Neuenfels’ gorgeous visuals are used to highlight the near-squalor and seedy underbelly of Viennese life that Özge lives in. Each scene is bathed in vibrant colors, streetlight reds and neon greens painting the frames. Marius Ruhland, who composed Ruzowitzky’s Academy Award-winning film The Counterfeiters, lends beautiful and thrilling music that knows when to coil up and provide tension before exploding to mirror the chaotic frenzy of the on-screen events.
A direct commentary on religion’s antiquated view of the place and purpose of women, Cold Hell doesn’t shy away from making nearly everyone in this movie a flawed character. People who were unlikable become understandable once the breadth of their circumstances becomes more clear, as is the case with detective Christian Steiner (Moretti), who originally treats Özge with an almost xenophobic attitude only for us to later see that he cares for his dementia-ridden father. While not excusing his previous behaviors, such a revelation gives his irritation and frustration a more justifiable foundation.
When the action strikes, we are treated to breathtaking car chases, blood splashing across the screen, and believable reactions. The characters in this film get hurt and they show it, limping painfully with their cuts and bruises open for the world to see.
The film is certainly not flawless. Some characters feel shoe-horned in and there are rather lengthly segments where the film comes to a crawl. However, the engaging and nuanced performance from Schurawlow easily kept me glued to the screen.
With beautiful music and gorgeous visuals, Cold Hell is an engaging, albeit slow burn, serial killer thriller. This is one film that should not be missed.
Butcher The Bakers Review – Even The Grim Reaper’s Got His Slow Days
Starring Sean Walsh, Ryan Matthew Ziggler, Mike Behrens
Directed by Tyler Amm
When someone passes away, all anyone ever thinks of is the one that’s been lost – no one, and I mean NO ONE gives any consideration to the one responsible for reeling in those wayward souls…I’m talking about The Grim Reaper, and what happens when he hits a bit of a dry spell. Let’s cross on over to the other side and give a look at Tyler Amm’s Butcher The Bakers.
This horror/comedy centers around a couple of slackers (Walsh and Ziggler) who are both whiling away the hours working at a bakery, and their motivation is about as stagnant as frozen tree sap. One day the hapless duo are chosen to perform quite a Herculean task – they’ve got to prevent a recently “discharged” reaper named Dragomir (Behrens) from mass-collecting souls so he can open a portal to another world…yeah, I’m not shitting you. Seems ol’ Drago liked to snag some undocumented souls which didn’t put him in the best graces with the Human Resources department…or whomever the hell these guys report to in the afterlife. His actions have cause him to be ostracized, basically, and this is his way of getting back at the powers-that-be, if you will. Bottom line is this: the reaper’s coming-a-callin’ and he’s not planning on making this trip back and forth solo, if you know what I’m sayin.
The film, acting as part horror-fest and buddy-comedy, hits the mark on more than a few occasions, but falls flat on others – it’s all in the eye of the interpreter. There are some moments of beautifully-shot brutality, and the laughs are both subtle and pronounced, but if you’re not one of those people who dig a meshing of the two styles, you could potentially want to hit the kill-switch on this one in the early stages. Crisp editing and some seriously nifty camera-work are definite pluses, and while the acting could be a bit more stable, it’s adequate enough to support the presentation that it’s sandwiched into. Overall, I could see some horror aficionados giving this a singular peek just to break up the monotony of all that’s out there in the scope right now, but there’s not a whole lot more to go on with this one – if you’re in the mood to dissolve 94 minutes of your time, press play on this one.
Horror comedies are far too hit or miss in this day and age, and while this movie tries to resuscitate the dead, it eventually gets dragged off kicking and screaming.
Join the Box of Dread Mailing List
Prodigy Review – This Kid Is Killer
Cold Hell (Die Hölle) Review – Giallo Terror Invades Vienna
2018 Saturn Awards Horror Nominees Include Get Out, The Shape of Water, IT, The Lodgers, The Walking Dead, Ash vs Evil Dead, and Lots More!
SXSW 2018: Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade Wins Audience Award
Netflix’s Lost in Space Reboot Gets Fun Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
Someone Put a Statue of Jason Voorhees in a Minnesota Lake For Divers to Stumble Across
10 Terrifying Moments from Kids’ Movies That Haunted Our Childhoods
Anne Rice Announces New Lestat Novel Blood Communion; TWO More Books on the Way!
Why Netflix and David Bruckner’s The Ritual Scared the Hell Out Of Me
Here’s Why Some People Think A Quiet Place is a Secret Cloverfield Movie
Dread Central Presents’ Imitation Girl NOW ON VOD!
Bad Karma Awaits Tokyo in the Bizarre New Kaiju Flick The Great Buddha Arrival
Terrifier – New Retro Trailer Terrorizes Social Media
Attention SAN DIEGO! Get Your Passes to See Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane HERE!
SXSW 2018: Wildling’s James Le Gros and Troy Ruptash on Werewolves
Reviews5 days ago
Demon House Review – One of the Single Most Compelling Documentaries of Pure Evil You’ll See
Reviews6 days ago
SXSW 2018: Ready Player One Review – Nostalgic Cameos Can’t Save a Mediocre Film
News4 days ago
Zak Bagans Talks Demon House – Exclusive Q&A
News6 days ago
Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Dungeons and Dragons Documentary Looks at the Franchise’s Iconic Artwork
Editorials6 days ago
The Conjuring 2’s Elvis Scene Should Be Seen By Every Aspiring Filmmaker
Reviews6 days ago
SXSW 2018: Ghost Stories Review – A Truly Unsettling Journey
News4 days ago
Breaking: Rob Zombie Starts Shooting The Devil’s Rejects Sequel 3 From Hell with Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, and Sid Haig!
News5 days ago
Exclusive: Whatever Happened to Tony Cadwell’s Behind the Sightings?