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Black Static #33 (Magazine)

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Black Static #33 (Magazine)Edited by Andy Cox

Published by TTA Press


Regular columnist and author Stephen Volk opens Issue 33 of Black Static with an affectionate, and very personal, celebration of the late Peter Cushing — paving the way for the Spectral Press release of his novella Whistable. An impassioned, moving piece, Volk’s commentary generates a sense of veneration and respect that immediately serves to elevate his upcoming work to the level of must-read and defies the brevity of his column with the sheer delivery of soul.

Christopher Fowler follows up in his “Interference” column with an equally well measured and thoughtful dissection of taste, tact, and lack thereof amongst genre media — championing the best artists’ calculated use of extremities of both good and bad taste in the name of genuine effect beyond easy audience manipulation. With that, we move on to the showpiece of any Black Static issue: the fiction.

A wide variety of tones cover this issue, beginning with James Cooper’s solemn and offbeat Stray Dogs. Cooper’s narrator is a tortured soul — a social outcast suffering from what he believes to be Renfield’s Syndrome, struggling with an insurmountable desire to ingest and assimilate fresh blood. How he goes about the demands of his affliction, however, is anything but conventional vampiric shock tactics or erotically driven deceit. A fractured and weary mind worn down by not only the lack of the warmth and love of family, but the impotent will to deliver his own to those who would truthfully accept it, our protagonist finds some light in Sam — a young resident of the local children’s home who stumbles across him at the abandoned house that he makes his hideaway. Cooper’s story is a deeply involving tale filled with a palpable sense of longing and regret, reinforced by an ending that reminds us that often the fairest course of action benefits us least. It won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

Next up is Tim Casson’s Dust Storms, which switches between a man’s search for a missing boy and memories of a seemingly terrible event and moment of mystical realisation amongst the war-scattered sands of the Middle East. Unfortunately, it doesn’t particularly manage to come together in as solid a fashion as necessary, with Casson’s approach to the veiled climax failing to pull the curtain back with sufficient intensity. Marred by its reliance on obscurity, the story remains the showcase of a capable writer however lacking in shocks and chills it may end up being.

On the other hand, Andrew Hook’s Rain from a Clear Blue Sky is a knockout, as the author sets us off on a treacherous hiking expedition with a group of friends determined to take on the most infamous locale of their experiences yet. To divulge too much is to spoil this pleasingly creepy chiller, but Hook’s approach to the (very real) Third Man Syndrome slowly pulls us down a path fraught with unease, crisis of identity, and some genuinely spine-tingling passages.

Carole Johnstone’s Sign of the Times delivers the longest story of the issue, and also the most bursting with subtext and social dissection. Set in Scotland, Sign of the Times follows the relationship between young protagonist Pete and his friend Vinnie. Vinnie’s a Dog-Head, one of a race of people who suddenly returned to the Earth — human bodies with the heads of dogs, the kind often noted in the artwork of the ancient Egyptians, for example. In our modern times, the Dog-Heads are relegated to managed “zoos”, kept locked away from humanity and provided for in basic measures. Their plight doesn’t go unheeded by young Pete, as he gradually integrates himself in their lives, especially that of Vinnie’s family and wise old patriarch — much to the chagrin of Pete’s abusive, alcoholic zoo-keeper father. Just why the Dog-Heads have returned, however, is a mystery to humanity — and it just may be a cataclysmic cycle repeated throughout history. The sense of place in Johnstone’s world here is impeccable and populated by similarly realised characters. Pete’s initial encounter and fractured conversation with Vinnie is staged to perfection, with every movement and snort of the dog-headed individual rendered straight to the mind’s eye with ease. A touching core of developing friendship in the face of adversity sets up tragedy and regret that ultimately comes to be not only Pete’s, but ours, in another of the best pieces of fiction to be read so far this year delivered in the pages of Black Static.

Rising star Gary McMahon gives us his usual high quality next, with Sometimes Everything Gets So Strange It Starts To Make Sense and once more confirms that the man’s knack for nihilism knows little bounds. Following a stint in prison, McMahon’s protagonist, Ben, finds himself lost in the cold reality of urban life. Struggling to maintain a job he hates and keep himself on the straight and narrow, his ever-crumbling world begins to come together with the strange inclusion of a seemingly alive, creepy little puppet that he discovers hanging from a tree in his local park. As everything else falls away around him, Ben seeks purpose, solace, and love in his newfound companion before… well, I’ll stop there. Some will certainly dislike McMahon’s entry here solely for how relentlessly downbeat the entire affair is — but the effect is palpable, set to leave a depressive vacuum in the chest and a one-two punch to the stomach to remind you just how shitty a place the world can be. It does its job, and with gusto, so don’t expect to be out picking daisies for a while after finishing.

Michael Kelly’s Turn the Page finishes off the fiction for this issue, with a short and wistful representation of the final moments of an artistic life fulfilled. Lacking an horrific or dark approach, Kelly’s piece seems short on relevance amongst the pages of Black Static, but its literary merit is certainly worth mention, with confident prose and an adoration for the written word carrying it to its conclusion as effortlessly as its peaceful protagonist.

On top of this, we have a lengthy interview with “Knock Knock” author S.P. Miskowski alongside the usual high-quality gamut of book, television, and film reviews. All in all, #33 is a top-notch issue that’s well worth picking up.

Black Static, and its sister magazine, Interzone, are available from the TTA Press Online Shop with subscription options available worldwide. Various book stores across the globe also carry the publication, so be sure to keep an eye out.

4 1/2 out of 5

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Ash vs Evil Dead S3 E1 Review – Ash is Back, Baby!

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Starring Bruce Campbell, Dana DeLorenzo, Ray Santiago, Arielle Carver, Lucy Lawless

Written by Mark Verheiden

Directed by Mark Beesley


In order to appease fans, the third season of “Ash vs Evil Dead” needs to open with a bang and certainly not a whimper. Thankfully, the team behind the series know that and have spared basically no expense and are wasting no time getting right into the story.

We open to a commercial of Ash promoting his new hardware store, a business that not only sells tools and various accessories but also doubles as a sex toy shop. After all, when buying some screws, why not buy a dildo too, right? As Ash is celebrating the Grand Opening, a knock-off of “Antiques Roadshow” plays in the background where we see a young woman bring in the Necronomicon in the hopes of finding that is has worth. A few uttered words later and the blood not only begins flowing, it douses the screen!

Back in Elk Grove, Pablo’s torso fills with strange and foreign letters, a troubling omen of the evil that’s about to descend upon our plucky Ghostbeaters. Also here, we meet Brandy, Ash’s daughter (although she doesn’t know that at first), who, along with her friend Racehl, gets attacked in her high school by Coogie, the school mascot. This leads her to call her mother, Candy Barr, who in turn grabs Ash and reveals that they are married and that Ash’s daughter is in trouble. Essentially one gigantic dump of news, Ash heads to the high school where a blood-soaked battle ensues, one that leaves more than a few corpses.

At the end of the episode, Kelly reunites with Ash and Pablo, Brandy is brought aboard the team, and there’s Dalton, a Knight of Sumeria, who pledges his service to Ash, although I don’t think he knows what he’s getting himself into…

Moving at an almost breakneck speed, the first episode is absolutely packed with blood, gore, violence, and a couple of moments that actually had me laughing so hard that I had to pause the episode. Bruce Campbell still brings his all to the role of Ash and Arielle Carver-O’Neill, I have a feeling, is going to kill it (no pun intended) as his daughter, Sandy…Mandy? Brandy!

Do we get an understanding of what the greater story is going to be this season? Apart from seeing Ruby get her hands on the Necronomicon and do some weird blood ritual with it that impregnates her, not really. Honestly though, that really doesn’t matter. For now, it’s just good to see the old Delta roaring through the streets of Elk Grove once again.

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Atlantic Rim: Resurrection Review – The #MechToo Movement Has Little Regard for the Ladies

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Starring Steve Richard Harris, Xavi Israel, Jenna Enns, Lindsay Elston, Samm Wiechec, Paul Logan

Directed by Jared Cohn


WARNING: This review does contains spoilers! It’s also a review of an Asylum mockbuster of Pacific Rim: Uprising so I’m not really sure it matters. You pretty much know what you’re getting. People inside giant robots punching giant monsters in the face. Sometimes shooting at them. Duh!

It truly is a bold creative decision in this era of #metoo to have the third act of your movie begin with two male characters, neither of whom has been shown piloting a giant robot previously, grounding the two female robot pilots by locking them in a room in order to go do their job for them and kill the giant monsters that have previously defeated the ladies. Oh, sure, there’s some “mechsplaining” as to how these two guys are sidelining the gals for their own well-being, but even then there’s something unintentionally hilarious about these fellas seemingly deciding to not even trust the women to succeed in what is tantamount to a suicide mission.

Not to mention that one of these young ladies has been infected, potentially fatally, by monster venom and hardly anyone seems terribly concerned about this.

But then I am talking about an Asylum production entitled Atlantic Rim: Resurrection about military officers and scientists piloting giant battle bots (that kind of look like 1980’s Tonka robot toys) to fight giant mutant crawdad-like creatures (that look like perfectly acceptable Ultraman foes) along the East Coast of the United States, even though the city being attacked looks suspiciously Californian. In fact, The Asylum website’s own plot synopsis seemingly forgot it was supposed to be set on the Atlantic seaboard and outright states the monsters are destroying Los Angeles. Their website also wrongly lists the film’s release date as February 15, 2017.

Keeping with those high Asylum standards of continuity, Atlantic Rim: Resurrection is The Asylum’s mockbuster sequel of the forthcoming Pacific Rim: Uprising, even though the original Atlantic Rim, released in 2013 to coincide with the original Pacific Rim, was actually distributed in North America under the alternate title Attack from Beneath for reasons I presume were to avoid matters of a litigious nature. Nonetheless, here’s a sequel with a very sequel-y sounding title despite most American viewers probably not knowing the previous film by that title.

And you know what? Absolutely none of that matters.

What matters is that this mockbuster follow-up finally answers one of the great scientific questions of our times: Robonet or Python – which neural operating system is the best for psychically synching Go! Go! Gobots! with their human operators? Or, as I found myself thinking after nearly 20+ minutes of technobabble that is truly more babble than techno, “Are they ever gonna shut up and punch a giant monster? I’m here to see big ugly monsters get face punched by big ugly robots, dammit!”

In the time it takes this sequel to finally get around to its first full-on robot vs. monster battle, the first Atlantic Rim had already seen more monster destruction and chaos, more molten hot robot on monster action, and far more entertaining scenes of a trio of monster-mashing robot pilots hanging out in bars getting plastered. The first had more of everything you would want from an Asylum knock-off of Pacific Rim about insubordinate alcoholics operating giant robots to save the East Coast from gargantuan sea dragons. Despite the main scientist brought in to get the robots and pilots fully synched up looking perpetually hung over, this sequel lacks the “Mighty Drunken Broski Ranger” attitude, the cartoonish delirium, and ham-fisted acting of the original that led me to pen a three-star review.

Not to say there isn’t any fun to be had here; just nothing that entertains quite like watching David Chokachi swaggering through a film like a drunk broski in dire need of an intervention as he and his fellow hard-drinkin’ robot pilots beat a seemingly lost and confused giant monster over the head with huge metal hammers while an unhinged, one-eyed military officer holds his commanding officers at gunpoint demanding they allow him to nuke something, anything. None of the stars of the go-for-broke original returns for this mostly by-the-numbers sequel I almost want to say makes the mistake of being too grounded in reality than its wacko predecessor except it’s hardly realistic.

For a film that devotes so much time to over-explaining the concept, I found myself baffled as to why the pilots still had to manually work gear shifts and push all manner of dashboard buttons to operate robots supposedly powered by their minds. Did my mind sink into the Drift during this endless mind-melding chatter and I missed something clarifying this sticking point?

Anyhow, let’s meet our heroic robot pilots:

  • “Hammer” – The black guy. That means he dies first. There’s also another African-American who’ll climb into a robot cockpit for the final battle. He’ll also die. The main Jaeger pilot in Pacific Rim: Uprising is black. Willing to bet he lives. Not woke, Asylum. So not woke.
  • “Badger” – Speaking of not woke, the men of the #MechToo movement will come to decide they don’t need no stinkin’ Badger.
  • “Bugs” – She’s got a lot of attitude. Claims her nickname is because she “stings like a bee.” She gets stung, alright.

The always dependable Paul Logan makes a brief appearance as a soldier because – why not? Paul Logan always plays a soldier. He isn’t given much of anything to do here, and that’s a shame. Logan already looks like the lovechild of G.I. Joe and He-Man. Why not go for the Transformers trifecta by strapping him into a mech and let him get his Rock’em Sock’em Robot on?

Logan’s primary function is to show only a passing regard for the well-being of his wife and daughter, a tacked on subplot that sees the two women fleeing on foot as kaiju of various sizes rampage in the vicinity. Of course there has to be a family separated, desperately trying to survive and reunite amid the calamity because, of course there is – it’s an Asylum movie!

The resolution to this subpar subplot could not have been any more anticlimactic if dad had just sent an Uber to pick them up from the danger zone, which, honestly, isn’t that far off from what actually happens.

One nifty twist is that a colossal crawdad from aquatic hell spews forth hundreds of little buggers into the streets of East Coast L.A. The characters will refer to these lesser chitinous kaiju as “insects,” “spiders,” and “arachnids” but never “bugs,” presumably to not cause audience confusion with the character who already sports that call sign. They mostly call them “spiders” in spite of the fact that they really don’t look like spiders. More like oversized earwigs. I’m not even sure they had eight legs.

Don’t even ask me to explain what the “Resurrection” in Atlantic Rim: Resurrection means, either. Since this is a mockbuster of Pacific Rim: Uprising, they should have gone with Atlantic Rim: Rising Up since the film begins with giant monsters literally rising up from the sea. Would have made more sense.

On the plus side, any movie where humans using state-of-the-art mind-controlled giant battle bots armed with super science weapons to fight otherworldly giant monsters from the ocean depths yet still has a moment where an injured pilot cracks open a control panel inside his futuristic robot and takes out a plastic blue case labeled “First Aid Kit” that is overstuffed with almost nothing but Band-Aids still earns a merit badge in audacity from me.

  • Film
2.5

Summary

Not nearly the Rimjob I was hoping for.

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The Cured Review – Ellen Page Fights for Her Life

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Starring Ellen Page, Sam Keeley, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Paula Malcomson

Written and directed by David Freyne


Taking a cue from AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the new Irish horror film The Cured begins where most zombie stories end. Drawing more comparisons, the themes of mistrust and social upheaval are front and center here as well. We’re the real villains, and the infectious disease turning humans into monsters is only there to hold up a mirror to show the worst sides of ourselves. The Cured uses the zombie mythos as Romero intended as a commentary on culture, with a little cannibalism thrown in for good measure.

Against the backdrop of a military takeover attempting to reintroduce the recently cured back into society, two people try to return to some kind of normalcy in a war-torn Ireland that’s been turned upside down by the zombie menace. Recently widowed, Abbey (Page) allows her now virus-free brother-in-law Senan (Keeley) to live with her and her son, even though most survivors are forced to live in an army encampment. Under constant surveillance, Senan’s old friend Conor (Vaughan-Lawlor) radicalizes the mistreated survivors of the virus into open rebellion.

The treatment of the survivors isn’t entirely unfair considering that they still have a connection and are not detected by a small percentage of the infected that haven’t responded to the cure. As both sides size each other up, Abbey and Senan are caught in the middle as they try to restore their humanity before the powder keg around them erupts.

Given its far out premise, the story stays firmly grounded in reality, focusing on the growing resistance and its political implications, drawing parallels to the protest movements such as the “Black Block” that have dominated some recent news cycles. When the virus divided the population, it was easy to know what side you were on; now, the cure has created a new class structure where the lower class is maligned until they cross the line and overthrow the uninfected. Clearly still affected and haunted by the heinous acts they committed when they were infected, the cannibalistic rage they still carry reflects the rage felt by the mistreated masses hellbent on overthrowing the powers-that-be.

Whether for budget reasons or simply a style choice, the eating frenzies that occurred before the cure are never fully shown so any gore and graphic images that could’ve been showcases for effects are left to the imagination. Maybe they weren’t shown because these acts were so unspeakable that they are too horrific to see and too painful to fully be remembered by the survivors. The top-notch sound design ratchets up instead and roars to life to the point where just hearing the carnage is enough to make you turn away.

Page’s performance is the emotional core of the film as she goes from understanding to fear to dealing with the ultimate betrayal. It’s important for a slow-developing story like this to have an actress with some star power, and director David Freyne and his team were fortunate to have a high caliber actress ready to deliver in some of the film’s quieter, more intense moments. Freyne directs these smaller character moments with care and also delivers once things open up to show the inevitable anarchy brimming under the surface.

The Cured may feel too closed off at times to allow its bigger ideas to fully breathe, but it never pretends to encompass a more epic scope that would be more in the vein of something like World War Z. Without ever addressing it directly, Freyne, as an Irishman, seems well aware of the history of the country; and he and cinematographer Piers McGrail inject their film with a pathos that makes Dublin come to life inside the world of the undead.

  • The Cured
3.5

Summary

The Cured is a gritty take on the genre that fits nicely into the new type of storytelling that these stories need to embrace in a post-Romero world.

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