Written by James Kuhoric
Artwork by Nick Bradshaw and Sanford Greene
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere. (Carl Sagan)
Never were truer words spoken. Imagination keeps us doing what we love best, going to the far off places that have never been and never will be. It allows us to see what the potential of anything could be. Imagination is the most precious resource we have, and it should be cultivated, mined, and treated as the stuff dreams are truly made of. But we are in an age of anti-imagination. Schools cut art and music curriculums to the barest of bones. Kids plug into games where the worlds are created for them. Their involvement is reduced to hitting buttons repeatedly. Finally, we find that more and more stories are just repeating themselves. Remakes flood the silver screen and video store shelves as if the flights of fancy have just enough imaginative fuel to be in a constant holding pattern.
This is my problem with Dynamite’s recent Army of Darkness collection: Shop Till You Drop Dead. The whole thing is a mess of tired AOD retreads, inconsistent artwork, and silliness that does nothing to amend either of the first two strikes.
Let’s start by discussing the premise of the series. Shop picks up right after Dynamite’s Ashes 2 Ashes storyline. Ash is back in the modern-day doldrums of life. As a “wage slave” in S-Mart, he finds himself the recipient of unwanted attention by his boss, Mr. Smart. Called to the office, Ash recants the whole Evil Dead/Army of Darkness mantra, expecting to get canned. Instead Mr. Smart tells Ash that he is one of Mr. Smart’s favorite employees and that he is just garnishing his wages for store items that were destroyed during the Deadite infestation (as seen at the first ending of the Army of Darkness movie).
Ash is dejected in the idea of losing most of his salary for the next few years to paying off a debt he cooked up trying to save the world, but as he sulks away, it is quickly revealed that Mr. Smart has been playing with the Necronomicon. Yup, Ash’s boss is now a Deadite.
Not stopping there, the evil follows Ash through the store, filling the whole place with Deadites. This is lost on Ash, who is wallowing in his glum. Only the advances of two buxom broads brings boomstick boy out of his bummer. Sheila has traveled back in time to be with Ash, and she commands his entire attention, but Mindy has other things on her mind. She wants Ash for her own. All this fine female attention attracts disdain from two other S-mart employees, Buck and Iggy. They just cannot fathom why a schmuck like Ash gets all the babes.
None of this means anything to the story. It is just a quick way to get involved with the principals of the task at hand. Army of Darkness comics are about Ash vs. some sort of Deadite threat, not character development. Except for a touching moment in Ashes 2 Ashes, the depth here is as shallow as a creek at the height of the dry season.
Deadites appear and overtake the store, which is where we begin to see the problems with Shop. Deadites appear as they always do, floating in the air, spouting the same old rhymes. Ash kills them. Then he fights more Deadites, but along for the ride is Buck and Iggy. I began warming up to the concept. It was engaging in the old school Evil Dead format. Ash kills Deadites without stooping to the whole “Ash is chosen to do some ridiculous task, and ends up bungling it in the end“ level. The addition of Buck, Iggy, and the two girls should have made for a great, more focused story. Ash has a clear legitimate goal, and we get some sort of development other than just Ashley J. Williams does Chuck Jones.
Ashes 2 Ashes turned the whole idea on its ear and kept the story moving through a complex and engaging series of twists and turns. The time travel concept reached its peak of storyline functionality without being exploitation. It was smart and fast. It knew where it was going and did not insult the audience.
Shop Till You Drop gives us no such chance. Once the story gets moving, the narrative keeps calling the reader a “primitive screw head.“ Not only do we have to revisit the “possessed hand” bit, but we have another run in with the Mini Ashes complete with Lilliputian tie-down sequence. Instead of trying to give us something new, writer James Kuhoric wants to beat our heads in with AOD clichés.
Just when things go beyond tiresome, a new time portal opens and Ash is sucked away yet again to a new time and place. There is a glimmer of hope as he arrives not in the past, but into an unforeseen future where the Deadites (now known as Deaduns) are out of control. Overflowing in the lower parts of the cities, the Deaduns appear to be more of a nuisance than a true menace unless you accidentally appear down in the dregs with them. Here is where Ash goes toe-to-toe with a swarm of Deaduns, only to have the battle end with one biting him on the dick. Why? Well, for no other reason than to have it be done. This showcases another problem as a lot of the humor is just off, misplaced, or not befitting AOD.
Long story short, in the future Ash has to get his hand on the Necronomicon program. It is this program that will allow the people of that time to send him back to his own time, ala AOD. Old story wrapped in new package and about to get worse. See, in his travels and tribulations, Ash ends up inside the Necronomicon program. He is dressed in a bright blue costume covering his whole body, and he straddles a like colored cyber cycle. An adversary is all red with a red bike, and the two of them travel along a matrix green colored gridwork fighting each other.
Yes, Ash is in Tron.
I cannot go any further. I have to take a step back and discuss the look of the book up to this point because this would be almost mildly forgivable if the book had a better artistic vision for the whole thing.
Nick Bradshaw begins the book with a style very similar to what he brought to Ashes 2 Ashes. I like the look of Ash, and he draws him very well. There is a believable cartoony-ness to the figure that allows it to be distinctive, yet pull from the iconography of the character. The action is fluid and wild. The colors done by Etienne St. Laurent create a muted pop on each page. The blood is messy and dark. It gives the whole beginning a darkened look that made me excited to keep reading.
Alas, it was not meant to stay this way. In the second installment we say good-bye to St. Laurent’s amazing palette and get washed into color by Jim Charalampidis. This is a degradation from the richness of St. Laurent, and Charalampidis’ work does little to complement Bradshaw. Going from one to the other, the look is less realized, cleaner, and goofier. The blood and gore devolve from the messy and chaotic to a feeling of forced feebleness. The pages flatten under this new artistic team, and as the story goes down, the artwork follows suit.
Now on to the third chapter. You know where we left off. . .in Tron-ville. Yes, it is an even bigger mess. Scott Kester’s colors bring back the richness that was lacking. Unfortunately, they are paired with Sanford Greene’s sketch work. Greene adds a lot of detail, but in contrast to Bradshaw, he is a major step down in design. Ash looks ugly , and Greene appears to have trouble keeping the perspective of the chin under control. Greene’s interpretation of Ash wants to be the subtle cartoon that Bradshaw’s embodies, but it falls so completely short that it doesn’t even fall into parody.
If I saw a picture of Ash’s face outside the context of the comic script as done by Greene, I would have no idea who it was meant to be. The triumph of Nick Bradshaw’s Ash was the distinctiveness and homage all in one. Greene’s work could be okay on its own, but to pair it with Bradshaw’s just highlights the problems. Add to this the silliest of storylines, where Tron-Ash has to escape the matrix, and you have a disaster on your hands.
Thank the elder gods that the last chapter unites Bradshaw with Kester. The two artists flow together well, and they bring a good visual to a book that was beginning to falter. The look never gets back to the completeness of Chapter 1, but it definitely does not go out on a visually bad note. I just have to wonder why Nick Bradshaw and Etienne St. Laurent were unable to handle the entire story themselves. I know sometimes a project will get handed around, but this time it feels like a rush job. Bradshaw did such a great job on the Ashes 2 Ashes project, and even with the color duties being split again between St. Laurent and Charalampidis, there was no great visual continuity break as we get here.
I do have to give credit to James Kuhoric for getting some of the feeling right when it come to Ash and how he reacts to things. There are truly some great and/or funny moments in the book. But these are underscored heavily by the moments where the quips fall flat, the art is distracting, and the story is uninspired. I wanted to love this book, and I found myself more nostalgic for Ash than for anything else. I wanted so much to be in the midst of a new AOD adventure that I did enjoy myself while reading the story. It was in retrospect that I saw the many faults to the series.
One last example: When Ash is sent back to the present, he emerges without clothes. For a while he goes about clad in a sheet toga that was born out of momentary necessity. It gives a great visual. Funny and so very Ashley J. Williams’ style of luck. I was almost ready to give this series a new lease on life, but then it happened…
Ash spots a new outfit in the middle of a department store full of clothes, and he opts for the most ludicrous choice he could make: an Elvis costume.
Now, I realize that Bubba Ho-Tep showed us that Bruce Campbell is able to give a deep and heart-wrenching performance, but to bring that into the AOD world is simply unforgivable. I am aware of the “hail to the king” comment from the film, but that one moment notwithstanding, the choice flies right in the face of the character’s known modus operandi. Ash is a man of resource, a man of courage, and a man of ingenuity. He is not about the bling or the silly fluff that comes with notoriety and extravagance.
All in all, Ash is not self-serving. Sure he is pompous, he is arrogant, and he has moments where he makes questionable calls. Yet, deep in his heart and soul he is a hero. A true hero for the ages, one who has his past, present, and future written for him in blood. This is why we love him. This is why his legions of fans still hail him as the king. And this is why he deserves a series of comics that are much better than this one.
He still has the girl and the boomstick, so we can try again. As long as it takes. Or until Sam makes a new film.
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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review
Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne
Directed by Charles Martin Smith
I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.
Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.
Now let’s get to it.
First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.
Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.
I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.
Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.
It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!
And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.
Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.
This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.
And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.
Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!
In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?
That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.
Rockstar lighting for days.
Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.
Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.
More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.
Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcorn, and if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.
Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.
All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!
Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!
Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.
AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters
Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill
Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk
** NO SPOILERS **
It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.
To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.
That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.
Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.
Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.
Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.
Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.
But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.
But let’s backtrack a bit here.
Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).
And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.
Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.
With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.
Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.
I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.
Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!
Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.
Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?
On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.
That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.
In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.
While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.
Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.
Bring on season 12.
The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.
The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror
Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro
Directed by Nicholas Woods
The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).
The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.
The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.
The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.
The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.
The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.
- Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
- Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
- If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
- “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
- The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
- As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
- “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
- The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
- Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.
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