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Basilisk: The Serpent King (2006)

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Basilisk reviewStarring Yancy Butler, Jeremy London, Stephen Furst, Wendy Carter, Cleavant Derricks, Griff Furst, Doug Dearth

Directed by Louie Myman


There’s an old saying about how even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while; sometimes even the Sci-Fi Channel manages to produce a genuinely entertaining creature feature once in a while too. Basilisk: The Serpent King may be dumber than Tara Reid at a MENSA convention but it’s a jovial good time that breezes along like an old fashioned Saturday matinee.

What is a Basilisk, you ask? It’s a deadly snake-like creature of ancient mythology said to possess a fatal gaze. As portrayed here, the Basilisk looks as if Reptilicus mated with some sort of bug to produce a huge scaly serpent with stubby arms and an insect-like tail. Its armor is nearly impenetrable, it can spit venom that paralyzes, and it can turn a person to stone with a flash from its eyes. It’s brought to life by the solar eclipse and can only be defeated by the Eye of Medusa, an ancient scepter boasting a mystical gem that can hold the Basilisk at bay and use its own death stare against it.

Now you’d think with such a handy one-two punch of paralysis-inducing venom followed by the petrifaction death glance that the movie would feature a whole lot of spitting and stoning, but you would be wrong. Oh, there is plenty of that. However, this Basilisk likes to diversify its death dealing. Sometimes you get the venom-stare combo; others gets bitten in half or squished or swatted to death with a flail of its mighty tail. It’s kind of a pity the movie set its mind on being so light-hearted because the Basilisk here is a pretty formidable foe and it would be interesting to see what would have happened had it been spotlighted in a feature film that played up its ferocious nature. Just imagine if the Basilisk that was featured at the end of Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets got its own Beast from 20,000 Fathoms type of movie.

Now here’s the real shocker – the CGI is excellent! I’ve lost track of the number of reviews I’ve written of Sci-Fi Channel original movies where I had no choice but to comment on how piss poor the CGI was. With the exception of a handful of unfortunate shots (mostly a few shots of the creature interacting with the actors and the way it sometimes appears to be Photoshopping people into stone), the CGI Basilisk is probably the best computer generated creature I’ve ever seen in a Sci-Fi Channel original. I’d go so far as to say the computer effects are generally on par with that seen in a lot of big screen, bigger budgeted Hollywood productions. Needless to say I was impressed. I hope this is a beginning of trend and not just a one movie anomaly on Sci-Fi’s part.

The film opens with some unfortunate Arabs falling victim to the deadly Basilisk in Cyrenaica 112 A.D. It certainly kills the hell out of them to such a degree you’d never guess how comical the rest of the movie would prove to be. The last survivor managed to use the Eye of Medusa to defeat it, but an avalanche had been triggered. All ended up buried beneath the rubble for centuries.

In what is now modern day Libya, Dr. Harry McCall (“Party of Five” star Jeremy London, here working overtime to channel his inner Brendan Fraser) leads an expedition that has uncovered the Eye of Medusa and what he believes to be some stone statues, unaware that these are the petrified remains of both ancient victims and the petrified Basilisk itself. Despite warnings from some local Arab tribesman that disturbing these remains will bring much misfortune, McCall does so anyway and has it all shipped back to Pueblo Springs, Colorado (of all places!) where it will be put on display at a big soiree in two months.

Enter a new female colleague who specializes in myths and legends from an anthropological standpoint. If ever there was a female lead character that existed for the sole purpose of giving the film a female lead and nothing more then this is it. She’s there to spout some mumbo jumbo correlating ancient mythology with modern archaeology, give London someone to bounce lines off of while in peril, and potentially be his love interest. Heck, the McCall character is already hitting on her within three minutes of knowing her. That’s some real professionalism there, bub.

Then again, the movie itself isn’t into wasting time on things like build up and character development. Ever see The Relic? Remember how it took about an hour before all hell broke loose at the museum with the monster making its presence known to everyone? Basilisk: The Serpent King only takes about 20 minutes to start with the chaos. What are the odds that they’d choose to hold the big unveiling in an atrium on the same day as a solar eclipse?

Our heroes quickly figure out that the key to defeating the Basilisk is with the Eye of Medusa. Unfortunately, two the big unveiling’s attendees were a pair of con artists, one played by “Witchblade”‘s Yancy Butler who vamps it up to almost Alexis Carrington-Colby levels at time. Exactly what her and her metrosexual partner-in-crime’s plan was to swipe the scepter we’ll never know because the moment the Basilisk came to life she decided it made for a perfect opportunity for a little smash and grab. So now there’s a rampaging monster on the loose and the only means to stop it is in the hands of a pair of thieves that are on the run themselves, completely unaware that our heroes, the military, and the monster, which seems to be naturally drawn to the scepter, is in pursuit; a pursuit that will lead things into a shopping mall where much of the remainder of the movie will take place.

Usually I find myself complaining about how dull Sci-Fi Channel creature features tend to be. That is definitely not the case here. If anything, Basilisk: The Serpent King may be a bit too goofy for its own good. For example, during the initial mall attack (A really fun sequence!), the Basilisk will go slithering past a trio of Dungeons & Dragons-playing nerds who will momentarily debate whether the creature that just slithered past them was a dragon, a basilisk, or a wyvern. The monster that had been killing indiscriminately completely ignores them and none of them even bat an eye in shock, surprise, or terror as to what they just saw. Sure, it’s a funny moment, but it’s also one that completely breaks the fourth wall and takes you out of the movie. It’s not the last time something like that will occur. This is a film where Yancy Butler will have her dress ripped off by the creature and she’ll react by turning around to scold it for ruining such an expensive dress rather than react in horror at being face-to-face with a deadly monster that could kill her in a heartbeat.

I also couldn’t help but notice that the military continued to go after the thing with machine guns even after it was established that bullets cannot penetrate its hide. And some even continue to go after it with their sidearms. You’d think they’d have to sense to know that if heavy machine guns can’t get the job done then your tiny handgun is going to do even less.

The performances of just about all of the main actors involved convey that they too are acutely aware of the kind of movie they’re appearing in, perhaps a bit too aware given how overly cutesy they sometimes get hamming it up. Look no further than the father and son combo of Stephen Furst (“Flounder” from National Lampoon’s Animal House) and Griff Furst. Father Stephen plays McCall’s hyper giddy professor superior who organizes the display. When I say giddy I mean we’re talking Santa Claus meets Frank Gorshin’s Riddler giddy. Son Griff plays McCall’s bespectacled dork underling. He follows in his dad’s footsteps, only he does so in an over-the-top Revenge of the Nerds sort of way. Performances like that add an extra layer of silliness to a film already overflowing with silly – perhaps one layer too many. But at least they aren’t clichéd stock characters devoid of any discernable personality like most Sci-Fi Channel movie characters generally are.

Basilisk: The Serpent King is a perfectly fine way to spend an hour and a half. It has no repeat value; watch once and dispose. Given the sheer number of Sci-Fi Channel original movies I’ve endured, especially in the past year, that were slow, boring, and utterly lifeless, I won’t harp too much on this one’s occasional lapses into irritating Stephen Sommers’ quality stupidity. I’ll gladly take a lively, fast paced creature feature that is unfortunately prone to a few outbursts of fourth wall shattering idiocy over the usual Sci-Fi Channel Saturday night suckfests.

Oh, one last time I thought I’d toss out there. Check out this pic of the Eye of Medusa scepter and then check out the toy scepter belonging to that of He-Man’s Masters of the Universe nemesis King Hiss. Look familiar?

3 out of 5

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DIS Review – Not for the Faint of Heart!

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Starring Bill Oberst, Jr., Lori Jo Hendrix, Peter Gonzales Falcon

Directed by Adrian Corona


I’ve made this claim many a time on this website before, and in the company of film friends as well: Bill Oberst Jr. is one of those actors that can literally be thrust into ANY role, and deliver a performance with so much harnessed electricity that you couldn’t believe that it was possible. I was the lucky recipient chosen to get a look at his latest project, titled DIS, and I think that I can honestly say – this is the stuff that nightmares are constructed of.

Directed by Adrian Corona, this 60-minute dive into the black depths of hell, and in actuality DIS is located between circles # 6 and 9 in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and trust me when I tell you – there’s not a shred of comedic relief in this demented presentation. Oberst Jr plays an ex-soldier named Ariel, and his seemingly harmless jaunt through the woods will become anything but that, and judging from the film’s opening scenes, you are meant to feel as uncomfortable about this watch as any you might have checked out in recent memory.

Perversion is the norm here, and lord help you if you’re caught where you shouldn’t be…my skin’s crawling just thinking about what I saw. Ariel’s travels are basically dialogue-free, but it only adds to the infinite levels of creepiness – you can tell he’s being stalked, and the distance between he and the horrors that await are closing in rather quickly.

Visually by itself, this hour-long chiller can sell tickets without any assistance – hollowed-out buildings and long sweeping shots of a silent forest give the movie that look of complete desolation. Sliced up into three acts, the film wastes no time in setting up the story of a killer needing fresh blood to appease his Mandrake garden – seriously guys, I can’t type as much flashy stuff as there needs to be in order to describe this innately disturbing production.

If you’re one of those types who tends to shy away from the graphic side of things, then I’d HIGHLY advise you to keep your TV tuned to the Hallmark Channel for some holiday entertainment, because this one registers high on the “I can’t believe someone thought of this” meter. So the quick recap is this: Oberst Jr in a standout performance, visual excellence, and an unshakable sense of debasement on a cellular level – keep the kiddies out of the living room with this one. Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended, and one that I’ll throw down as a top 5 for me in 2017.

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Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End Review: A Heavy Metal Massacre In Cartoon Form

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Starring Alex House, Bill Turnbull, Maggie Castle, Melanie Leishman, Chris Leavins, Jason Mewes

Directed by Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace


“Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil” – Canadian television’s greatest blend of Evil Dead, Superbad and Deathgasm? Yes. That answer is yes. For two face-melting seasons, Todd “protected” Crowley High from episodic villains who were bested by metal riffs, stoner logic and hormonal companionship. Musical interruptions showcased stage theatrics like Sondheim meets pubescent Steel Panther and high school tropes manifested into vile, teen-hungry beasts. It was like a coming-of-age story got stuck between Fangoria pages – all the awkwardness with 100x more guts.

That – for worse – was until Todd fell to a premature cancellation after Season 2’s clone-club cliffhanger. Indiegogo became the show’s only way to deliver a feature-length finale, except to reduce costs and ensure completion, the project would have to be in cartoon form. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End suggests an animated curtain call for this otherwise live-action production, and from a fan’s perspective, familiar maturation follies befall our favorite bloodsoaked friend group. But for new viewers? Start with the far-superior original show – you’ll be lost, underwhelmed and baffled otherwise.

Alex House retains his characterization of Todd Smith (in voice only). At this point, Todd has thwarted the book’s apocalyptic plan, Hannah (Melanie Leishman) has died, longtime crush Jenny (Maggie Castle) isn’t as horny for Todd anymore, and best friend Curtis (Bill Turnbull) has sworn Todd’s name to Hell (since Hannah was his girlfriend). Guidance Counselor Atticus Murphy Jr. (Chris Leavins) is now Janitor Atticus Murphy Jr. because Janitor Jimmy (Jason Mewes) is now Counselor Jimmy, yet Crowley High finds itself plagued by the same satanic uprisings despite these new changes. Why is evil still thriving! How is Hannah back in class! Who is the new “Pure Evil One” now that Todd has denied the book! Welcome to the end, friends – or is it a new beginning?

At just north of 80 minutes, structure runs a bit jagged. We’re used to Todd battling one baddie over a half-hour block – backstory given time to breathe – but in The End Of The End, two mini-boss cretins play second fifth-fiddle to the film’s big-bad monster (well, monsters – but you’ll see). A double-dose of high school killers followed by a larger, more important battle with the gang’s fate hanging in the balance. Not a problem, it’s just that more length is spent singing songs about Todd’s non-functioning schlong and salvaging relationships from the S2 finale. Exposition (what little there is) chews into necessary aggression time – fans left ravenous for more versatile carnage, underwhelmed by the umpteenth cartoon erection gag. Did I mention there’s a lot of boner material, yet?

These two mini “chapters” – “No Vest For The Wicked” (yarn demon)/”Zits Alors” (acid acne) – never come close to rivaling Hannah Williams’ doppelganger bombshell (“Songs About Boners”/”This Is The End Of The End Of the End”). Hannah [X]. Williams waking up in a room full of other Hannahs, emerging from some sleep-pod chamber; Todd’s gang facing off against this new “chosen one” in a way that erases “Sack Boy” and “Pizza Face” from memory. The End Of The End dashes dildoes-swinging into the show’s biggest mystery while dropping call-backs and bodies with equal speed – maybe too hastily for some.

Now, about the whole pivot to animation – a smooth rendering of Crowley High and all its mayhem, but never representative of Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil‘s very Ash Vs. Evil Dead vibe. All the practical death effects (gigantic man-eating cakes, zombie rockstars) are lost to one-dimensional drawings, notable chemistry between cast members replaced by edited recordings lacking signature wits. This isn’t Metalocalypse, where dismemberment and bloodshed are gruesome on levels that outshine even live-action horror flicks. There’s no denying some of the magic is missing without Chris Leavins’ “creepy uncle” overacting (a Will Forte breed) or the book’s living incarnations of evil. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End plays hooded minion to Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil’s dark ruler – less powerful, a bit duncier, but still part of the coolest cult around. Just try not to think about how much radness is missing inside hand-traced Crowley High?

It’s hard not to strike comparisons between “reality” and ‘toon, because as noted above, live actors are sorely missed in a plethora of situations. Be they musical numbers, heretic slayings, Todd and Curtis’ constant references to wanking, wangs or other pelvic nods (no, for real, like every other sentence) – human reactions no longer temper such aggressive, self-gratifying cocksmanship. It doesn’t help that songs never reach the memorable level of “Horny Like The Devil,” but the likes of House, Leishman, Turnbull and Castle were masters of selling schlock, shock and Satan’s asshole of situations. Instead, lines now land flat like – for example – Leavins’ lessened ability to turn pervy, stalkerish quips into hilarious underage stranger-dangers. Again, it’s not Metalocalypse – and without that kind of designer depth, a wall prevents inter-dimensional immersion into Todd’s extracurricular madness.

If this review sounds over-negative, fret not – it’s merely wishes of what could have been. None of this is to say Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End should be skipped. When you’re already known for masterstrokes of ballbusting immaturity, metal-horned malevolence and vicious teen-angst creature vanquishing, expectations are going to be sky high. Directors Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace successfully service fans with a smile, ensuring that rivers of red scribbled blood spurt from decapitated school children just like we’re used to. It’s just, I mean – ugh, sorry, I just have to say it one more time. BY DIMEBAG’S BEARD, this would have been an epic live-action flick. As is? Still one fine-with-a-capital-F-YEAH return to Crowley High for the faithful who’ve been waiting some 5-or-so years in a Todd-less purgatory.

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The Shape of Water Review: A Quirky Mix of Whimsy and Horror That Does Not Disappoint

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Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stulbarg, Doug Jones

Directed by Guillermo del Toro


“True Blood,” Beauty and the Beast, and Twilight aside, the notion of romantic love between humans and otherworldly creatures has been a popular theme throughout storytelling history. The ancient Greeks told tales of Leda and the swan, while stories of mermaids luring sailors to their lusty demise were met with wonder worldwide, stemming from Assyria c. 1000 BC. To this day, there’s Creature From the Black Lagoon fanfic that’s quite racy… for whatever reason, some people are fascinated by this fantasy taboo.

The new period film from co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water, dives right into the erotic motif with the tale of how Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) fell in love. (While I personally could have done without the bestiality angle, I do applaud del Toro for having the balls to show what’s usually implied.) Having said that, The Shape of Water is about more than just interspecies passion.

The Shape of Water is a voluptuous, sumptuous, grand, and melodramatic Gothic fable at times (there’s even a lavish 1940s style dance routine!), but mostly it’s an exciting and gripping adventure, pitting the good guys against one very bad buy – played with mustache-twirling (minus the mustache), bug-eyed glee by Michael Shannon. Shannon is Strickland, a sinister and spiteful Cold War government operative who is put in charge of a mysterious monster captured in the Amazon and shipped to his Baltimore facility for study. When using cruel and abusive methods to crack the creature’s secrets doesn’t work, Strickland decides to cut him open to see what’s ticking inside.

Elisa, a lowly cleaning lady at the facility, has meanwhile grown fond of “the Asset,” as he’s called. She’s been spending time with him on the sly, not even telling her two best friends about her budding tenderness for the mute and isolated alien. She relates to him because not only is she lonesome, she’s unable to speak (an abusive childhood is alluded to – which includes water torture). Using sign language, she first tells out-of-work commercial illustrator Giles (Richard Jenkins), then her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), about the need to rescue her waterlogged Romeo from Strickland’s scalpel. Needless to say, it won’t be easy sneaking a classified government experiment out of the high security building.

The Shape of Water is vintage del Toro in terms of visuals and accoutrement. The set-pieces are stunning to say the least. Elisa and Giles live in cozy, cluttered, age-patinaed apartments above a timeworn Art Deco moving-pictures palace; Strickland’s teal Cadillac is a collection of curves and chrome; and the creature’s tank is a steampunk nightmare of iron, glass, and sturdy padlocks. DP Dan Laustsen (Crimson Peak) does justice to each and every detail. Costumes (Luis Sequeira) and Creature (Legacy Effects) are appropriately stunning. The velvety score by Alexandre Desplat (“Trollhunters”) is both subdued and stirring.

While the film is a fantasy-fueled feast for the senses, it’s really the actors who keep you caring about the players in such an unrealistic, too-pat story. Jones, entombed in iridescent latex and with GC eyes, still manages to emote and evoke sympathy as the misfit monster. Jenkins is endearingly morose as a closeted gay man surrounded by his beloved cats and bolstered by the belief his hand-painted artwork is still relevant in an ever-more technical world. Spencer is the comic relief as a sassy lady who’s hobbled by her station in life but leaps into action when the chips are down.

Del Toro cowrote the screenplay with Vanessa Taylor, whose credits in the television world are numerous – but she’s probably best-known for her work on “Game of Thrones” – which adds an interesting and feminine perspective. The story definitely feels more comic-book than anything, which is okay I guess, but I prefer del Toro’s deeper delves into history and character (The Devil’s Backbone is still my fave). But, for those who love del Toro’s quirky mix of whimsy and horror, you will not be disappointed.

The Shape of Water is a dreamlike, pulpy adult fairytale that dances on the surface of reality while remaining true to the auteur’s vision.

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