Preview: April Ghouls Drive-In Monster-Rama

dead thingsThose of you in or around the North Vandergrift area of Pennsylvania are in for a real treat this weekend! The second annual April Ghouls Drive-In Monster-Rama is slated for Friday, April 25th and Saturday, April 26th at the Riverside Drive-In.

Located about an hour northeast of Pittsburgh, the Riverside Drive-In will open its gates at 7pm both nights with a quadruple bill of classic horror films scheduled to begin at dusk. The prints are all 35mm and the lineup is as follows:

Friday, April 26th

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)–Loosely based on actual events, the film is set in 1946 Arkansas with a Texas Ranger hunting a hooded serial killer.

Carrie (1976)–Adapted from the novel by Stephen King, Carrie tells the story of a high school girl with telekinetic powers tormented by fellow classmates.

Suspiria (1977)–Dario Argento directed this bloody classic about a young student who attends an acclaimed ballet school only to realize it’s populated by witches.

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)–Savages attack a family after they break down in a desolate area. An early Wes Craven gem!

Saturday, April 26th

Halloween (1978)–Michael Myers escapes from a psychiatric hospital and returns to his hometown of Haddonfield to wreak havoc on the residents.

The Beast Within (1982)–A teenage boy that was the product of a rape between a creature and a woman begins to exhibit strange behavior in this film inspired by the horror novel by Edward Levy.

Phantasm (1979)–Don Coscarelli’s classic featuring a boy and his friends who face off against an otherworldly tall man, his killer silver spheres, and an army of tiny creatures. On a personal note, THIS is the one I would really want to see on the big screen, then stay for…

Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1973)–An acting company travels to a small island and perform a satanic ritual with a corpse named Orville in an attempt to raise the dead. A campy (and ultimately scary) venture from Bob Clark of Black Christmas, A Christmas Story, and Porky’s fame.

Ticket information can be found here but please contact them for confirmation on special events. If you have the chance to catch this eclectic group of fantastic horror films, take it! You won’t be disappointed.

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Review: My Amityville Horror (2012)

My Amityville HorrorIn late 1974, the entire DeFeo family was murdered in their home in Amityville, Long Island, presumably by Ronald DeFeo, Jr., the sole survivor of the massacre and the most likely suspect. A little over a year later, George and Kathy Lutz and their three children moved into the home. Within a month, they fled the house after claiming to be terrorized by supernatural occurrences. Nearly 40 years after the incident, one of the children, Daniel Lutz, gives his account of the paranormal activities in the documentary, My Amityville Horror.

My Amityville Horror is an interesting look at a man deeply affected by both the strained relationship he had with his stepfather as well as the horrific events Lutz claimed to have experienced during the brief time he and his family lived in the house. Lutz still asserts that although skeptics have called many of the events into question, they did indeed occur and have traumatized him over the years.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of My Amityville Horror is the proposal that, at a young age, Lutz was more susceptible to suggestion and, therefore, his vivid imagination compelled him to envision events that never truly happened. Is it possible that his stepfather’s preoccupation with the occult invited something purely evil into the house or did Daniel allow false memories to add vivid episodes to a troubled childhood?

The Amityville Horror is a truly terrifying tale regardless of whether or not there’s any truth to it. However, as a result of what happened back in 1975, Daniel Lutz is a man still plagued by personal demons that he hasn’t been able to shake in nearly four decades.

And that might be the scariest thing of all.

My Amityville Horror grade: B-


My Amityville Horror (DVD)

Director: Eric Walter
Starring: Daniel Lutz
Rating: NR (Not Rated)

List Price: $24.98 USD
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The Amityville Horror (DVD)

Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Starring: James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Don Stroud, Murray Hamilton
Rating: R (Restricted)

List Price: $14.98 USD
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Review: Eaters by Michelle Depaepe

eaters

Eaters is a post apocalyptic tale of the dead returning to life to feast upon the flesh of the living. Of course, that’s the premise for thousands of zombie stories, so what is it about Eaters that differentiates itself from the rest of the pack?

Not a whole lot, really.

When Eaters begins, Cheryl and her fiance, Mark, are returning from a camping trip when the radio offers news of a possible epidemic. Resuming a normal life is short-lived, however, when they witness firsthand the devastation caused by the outbreak. Mark becomes infected and, to save Cheryl, arms her with a gun and sends her out into the world in the hope that she can find a way to survive among the starving undead. Cheryl eventually bonds with Aidan, another survivor, and they strike out together to locate a safe haven far away from the zombie hordes.

Again, that’s pretty standard stuff and what readers can look forward to for a little more than half the novel. Cheryl gets into a jam and escapes with relative ease. Lather, rinse, repeat. Eaters moves from one generic set piece to the other until the final few chapters takes it to another, more interesting, level as Cheryl and Aidan reach their final destination.

Cheryl could have been a more plausible character overall and there’s a glimmer of hope as Eaters progresses, but her development is erratic at best, especially within the novel’s timeline (which is only about a week). It’s difficult to believe that she would adjust that quickly given her lack of skills and abilities and, as a result, her constant methods of escape truly strain the tale’s credibility. In one particular scene, Cheryl and Aidan almost magically escape through a crowd of eaters, largely thanks to Chery’s efforts of using the barrel of a rifle as a makeshift spear:

“During her sophomore year in high school, she’d been on the flag team, where she’d twirled either a flag on a long pole or a fake wooden rifle painted white along with the band’s music at football games. She prayed that her muscle memory, after so many years, would still be there.”

While this is an unusual method of dispatching an eater, the action would have been better served by seeing her twirling a tent pole or something similar at the beginning of the novel to demonstrate she had this particular ability instead of telling us at the time of the incident. It’s a more efficient way to reveal backstory about a character without making it seem forced to the reader and, therefore, out of the blue.

Another off-putting aspect of Cheryl’s character is the “voice” she hears throughout the course of the novel. Granted, the voice is that of Mark, but it’s somewhat of a distraction as the story progresses and makes her more of a passive character than the active one she needs to be.

Apparently, Eaters is the first installment of a trilogy which might explain the extremely slow start to this particular story. There’s a nugget of an interesting idea here which is hinted at near the beginning and revisited at the end. However, the first 3/4 of┬áthe novel is little more than filler which ultimately leaves the reader empty. What would have benefited Eaters is to adhere to the old adage about writing, which is “kill your darlings“. By eliminating the unnecessary fat from the book, you’d be able to get to the real meat and, as a result, a more tasty, polished story.

Eaters grade: C-

*this review originally appeared on The Bookie Monster

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Review: ‘The Walking Dead’ – ‘A’ S04E16

WDA3Prior to this season, The Walking Dead was a good show but it seemed to be shambling along from one point to another with no particular destination, much like the corpses littering the landscape.

But somewhere along the line, The Walking Dead turned into one of the most thoughtful character studies on television by giving us insight into the minds of our protagonists. It was the first time (especially during the latter half of season 4) that we actually began to care about everyone, and that caring is what drives a good epic story, especially one that hopes to last for years.

In ‘A’, the fourth season’s finale, the show finally comes back to Rick who’s been conspicuously absent for most of the last 8 episodes. We learn in flashbacks that Hershel attempted to transform Rick into a peaceful man, not only for his own sake, but also for Carl’s sake. Hershel tells Rick that Carl “needs his father to show him the way” and asks “What way are you going to show him?”

Rick tries to teach Carl about catching food and instructs him on how to arrange a trap whereby the prey is directed in a particular manner to ensure its capture. He shows him how the rabbit they caught had been forced to run down a particular path, with the terrain funneled to lead it toward its inevitable doom. Thematically, it’s a beautiful foreshadowing of a later scene (more on that in a bit).

When Joe and his gang happen upon Rick, Carl, and Michonne in the woods, they plan to kill them until Daryl intervenes. Joe and the others want revenge as Rick killed one of their group a while back. Daryl’s actions cause him to get beaten by a few members of the gang and when it appears Carl will be violated by another gang member, Rick leaps into action, head butting Joe. When it appears Joe has the upper hand with Rick in a bear hug, Rick does the unthinkable. He has nothing left to lose in order to protect those he loves so he bites down on Joe’s neck, tearing his flesh and killing him. The four then proceed to brutally murder the rest of the gang.

WDA1Earlier in the episode, when Rick and Carl are talking about arriving at Terminus, Carl wants to know what they’ll tell those in the settlement.

Rick: “We’re going to tell them who we are.”

Carl: “Who are we?”

It’s evident that these people are vastly different than the ones who tried to make the prison an idyllic place of peace. In fact, the flashbacks (which have been used to great effect this season, and in ‘A’ in particular) show us how Rick attempted to throw away his weapons and come to terms with who he is. However, as Hershel points out, it’s always “right now” to him and that’s always what it will be to everyone from now on.

So what’s best for right now?

Rick, Daryl, Michonne, and Carl sneak into Terminus through the back but not before Rick buries a stash of weapons in the woods just outside the gate. It dawns on Rick that something is wrong with the place. He sees residents holding familiar possessions–an orange backpack, a poncho, riot gear, and Hershel’s watch (the one that he gave Glenn).

Rick pulls out his gun and holds a member of the group hostage, demanding to know why they have these things. Snipers appear on the roof and open fire. Instead of killing them, however, they fire at them with a purpose–to push them in a certain direction just like rabbits into a trap. They’re driven through the streets of Terminus, past a cage filled with bones and fresh meat, through a room with candles which look like a shrine.

And finally to a doorway marked only with an A.

Out in the open, they’re outnumbered and forced to drop their weapons. They’re instructed to board the car of a train one by one with Carl entering last.

WDA4Inside the car, they’re reunited with the other members of the group (save for Carol, Tyreese, Judith, and Beth) and meet the new additions. Abraham points out that they may not make it out but Rick tells him and the others in no uncertain terms that the residents of Terminus have “screwed with the wrong people”.

Way back in my review of season 4′s first episode, ‘30 Days Without An Accident‘, I mentioned that this was the Walking Dead I’d been waiting for. ‘A’ gives us the Rick Grimes we’d all been waiting for.

Andrew Lincoln does some of his best work on the series with material he can really sink his teeth into (pun completely intended) and evolves into a man who has bridged the gap between a man who tries to be the best father he can while teaching his son to survive in the new world with the monster he has to become to protect everyone.

Showrunner Scott Gimple has done wonders with this series, molding it into something with a clear direction and purpose. The writing has also improved dramatically, seamlessly weaving in backstory that’s informative without simply being exposition. In ‘A’, we discover who Michonne’s walker companions were when she first appeared (her boyfriend and a friend) as well as why Rick was preoccupied with farming rather than being the strong leader everyone needed.

The theme of the latter half of The Walking Dead season 4 focused on who these characters were and what they were becoming. When the series returns in October, it will be really interesting to see where they’re headed.

If the last 8 episodes are any indication, it’s definitely in the right direction.

The Walking Dead ‘A’ grade: A+

The Walking Dead season 4 grade: A-

Bye. See you in October!

Bye. See you in October!

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Review: Fright Night on Channel 9: Saturday Night Horror Films on New York’s WOR-TV 1973-1987 by James Arena

Fright Night

It might be difficult for those born after the late 1980′s to comprehend, but there was a time when you were limited in terms of the availability of television programming. Viewers had a handful of options then as opposed to thousands now (not even counting internet content). Until the advent of cable, local stations and three major networks reigned supreme and your UHF stations pulled in signals from only a few hundred miles away (which is why, in Pittsburgh, we had the great WUAB out of Cleveland).

When cable arrived, more stations became available but it was still a far cry from what we have today. One of the blessings we received in Pittsburgh was New York’s WOR-TV which was one of the first cable “superstations”. WOR will always hold a special place in my heart for its broadcasts of King Kong and Godzilla movies on Thanksgiving as well as the various afterschool movies (one of which was Psycho, scaring the hell out of me at an early age) that kept me company until dinner time. So when I became aware of James Arena’s Fright Night on Channel 9: Saturday Night Horror Films on New York’s WOR-TV 1973-1987, I knew that it was a must read.

Fright Night on Channel 9 is a labor of love for Arena, a horror film junkie who was weaned on WOR’s late night offerings of lurid tales of monsters, murderers, and mayhem. In an exhaustively researched and documented book, Arena not only details the programming evolution of WOR but also provides his own insight in regard to each and every offering of the entire Fright Night lineup from its inception to its demise in 1987.

Arena’s assertion that he kept meticulous notes of the films broadcast during the Saturday viewings rings true in his recollection, thorough description, and insight into each and every movie. He also traces the erratic offerings of Fright Night on a weekly basis, even noting when the broadcast was delayed or preempted (there certainly seemed to be a lot of telethons back then for some odd reason).

Fright Night on Channel 9 will undoubtedly appeal only to certain readers, primarily those older TV viewers who fondly recall the bygone days when you could snap on the bulky tube televisions and be treated to either a classic film or something completely bizarre in the wee hours of the morning. However, the book’s glance at the transitional years of television at a major station will also be of interest to those who enjoy traveling back to a simpler time.

Though I don’t recall ever having had the pleasure of watching WOR’s Fright Night, I do remember both the amazing programming WOR had to offer as well as the old blocks of time local stations devoted to airing old horror movies (in Pittsburgh, it was Chiller Theater with Bill “Chilly Billy” Cardille). For genre fans like me and Arena, these broadcasts were a vital part of our childhood and provided hours of entertainment.

If you’re a horror fan, regardless of whether or not you had access to WOR, you should give Fright Night on Channel 9 a look. It will bring back a lot of memories and a smile to your face.

Fright Night on Channel 9 grade: B+



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Review: Dead Living by Glenn Bullion (2013)

dead living

Thanks to the overwhelming success of AMC’s The Walking Dead, it seems as if everyone is out to cash in on the zombie craze. More often than not, you can’t turn on Syfy, Chiller, or a host of other horror genre related networks that don’t feature some variation on shambling corpses. As for zombie related prose? That’s even more prevalent with hundreds of books published during the course of the year, all in an attempt to offer readers something new. Most don’t.

Glenn Bullion’s Dead Living does.

Dead Living begins on the day the world dies. Aaron Thompson is born into a living (and dead) hell where humans are constantly hunted by corpses who are out to feast upon warm flesh. While most tales would continue from that point, Bullion’s novel fast forwards a dozen or so years, picking up with a teen Aaron who has been raised by his “family”, one related by blood and the others survivors who met on that fateful day. The tight knit group have lived a relatively secluded life deep in the woods, far away from the hordes of the undead roaming the cities. Together, they’ve used their skills and expertise to raise Aaron into an intelligent young man who can read, write, and survive in a world fraught with danger.

Years later, after a tragedy has ripped Aaron from his loved ones, he meets Samantha, a beautiful, no-nonsense woman roughly his age. Samantha doesn’t suffer fools (or her fellow humans, for that matter) easily and in Aaron, she meets someone who considers the living far more dangerous than the dead. Will Aaron be able to break down the wall Samantha has built around herself? Can they both learn to trust again and contribute to rebuilding a thriving community within the walls of a local high school? Most importantly, how will Samantha and the others react when they learn Aaron’s secret–that he can move freely among the corpses without fear of being harmed?

Though Dead Living has more than its fair share of gore, those expecting to read a novel with blood dripping from each page might be a little disappointed. Instead, Bullion wisely focuses on the living and their relationships with one another. In any great zombie tale, the author with the ability to create vivid characters with depth and mine the interactions between them will always turn out the superior work. Bullion’s novel is a shining example of that sort of craftsmanship.

Dead Living isn’t without shortcomings, however. While the fast forwarding through decades is an effective device to move the story forward to where it needs to be, it’s somewhat jarring to be thrust into a completely different time and location without notice. Bullion does seamlessly weave information as to the setting through the prose, but it might be more advantageous to the story to provide that at the beginning of the chapter.

The only other minor issue with Dead Living is that it seems to have a longer ending than required with several resolutions added to keep the story going. That said, each resolution flows naturally from events preceding it so that all make sense within the parameters of the narrative. To the credit of Dead Living, the ending in no way hinders the flow of the novel and just stops short of making the tale drag on longer than it should.

All in all, Dead Living is a most enjoyable read and highly recommended for anyone who wants a solid story with a unique twist that also provides plenty of character development while set against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse.

Dead Living grade: A-

*this review originally appeared on Bookie Monster

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Review: Butcher Boys (2013)

Butcher BoysI watch a lot of cooking shows and if there’s one lesson I’ve learned, it’s that a chef who has a poorly conceived dish will try to overcompensate in preparation by adding too many ingredients. Without proper technical knowledge and more than a little luck on his or her side, the execution will ultimately result in inedible garbage.

In the case of Butcher Boys, the basic dish was an updated variation on the horror classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And the ingredients? Take the scraps from the original film, add moments from: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (ala a bridge chase between two cars and the over the top guy looking for his daughter), Blue Velvet (with a foppish character channeling Dean Stockwell’s Ben), Silence of the Lambs (get that classical music in there!), Scarface (excessive profanity as dialogue which in this case works against the film, not for it), and, oddly enough, The Warriors and the TV series Angel (with thugs who appear as if they just walked out of auditions for both and decided to form a club).

All of the ingredients are there and the stuff that’s borrowed is at least borrowed from some strong, memorable source material. So let’s see if the filmmakers had the technical knowledge and luck to combine all of this into a quality dish.

Our heroine is even frightened as to what comes next.

Our heroine is even frightened as to what comes next.

The story goes (and at this point, I’m apt to finish that thought with the lyric “the truth is no one knows” from Steve Winwood’s “Wake Me Up On Judgement Day” because that would be more appropriate) something like this:

Four friends–two boys and two girls–are out at a birthday celebration. Then they stop at a convenience store where one of the girls pisses off two random guys and keys their car. The four take off with the random guys in hot pursuit. In the chase, the two guys hit a dog that belongs to a gang just hanging out. When they stop, they’re beaten by half the gang while the other half (the slick ones wearing leather jackets) picks up the car chase to track down the original four. They find them and, after wrecking their car, continue hunting them by foot through the sprawling, dilapidated urban area in downtown San Antonio. Leather jacket guys kill the boys and capture the girls. They toy with one for a bit and then subject the other (Sissy, played by Ali Faulkner, providing the film’s sole redeeming quality) to medical experiments. They decide “she’s the one”, grown men say “fuck” and “fudge packer”, and Sissy escapes again only to be recaptured. There’s a weirdo dinner party complete with a cross dressing guy who flicks his tongue a lot while a hulking monster growls in the corner.

Just in case you thought I was lying, this actually happened.

Just in case you thought I was lying, this actually happened.

At this point, I peeked to see the remaining running time in the film when a character yells: “Told you it wasn’t over! What’d you think, we were going to let you go?” Obviously they were directing that toward Sissy but I also have a sneaking suspicion they were taunting me.

Eventually, Sissy makes a mad dash in a desperate attempt at one final escape, hurling herself out a window where a crowd is gathered outside protesting…something. Again they give chase and just when I thought the film couldn’t get any more ridiculous, with six minutes left out come the semi-automatics and, inexplicably, a rocket launcher.

Butcher Boys is billed as a horror/comedy. Correct me if I’m wrong, but a horror film is supposed to be terrifying. This isn’t, though there are some decent effects for gore hounds. As for the comedic aspect, I found that I laughed more at it and not with it.

The film has an interesting pedigree as it was scripted by Kim Henkel, the co-writer of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But he’s also the writer-director of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation which means that he’s kind of stuck on this one particular idea and in a creative rut as a result. It was a great idea once, similar to reheated leftovers twice, and by the third go around, it’s ready to go into a refuse receptacle.

You can decide for yourself if Butcher Boys is worth it based on the trailer.

But if you want my advice based on what the chefs concocted for Butcher Boys, they can please pack their knives (and rocket launcher) and go.

Butcher Boys grade: F

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Review: ‘The Walking Dead’ – ‘Us’ S04E15

wdus4

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel for the fourth season of The Walking Dead and ‘Us’ illuminates the way–sometimes brightly, sometimes not so much.

The penultimate episode of what has so far been a pretty solid season of the show (and arguably the best thus far) once again spreads itself a little thin in order to focus on many different characters at once.

Short shrift in terms of screen time was given to Rick, Michonne and Carl who are seen walking along the railroad tracks on their way to Terminus. Carl and Michonne playfully stroll along the rails to see who can go the farthest without falling off. Carl wins the bet and Michonne offers him a candy bar as his prize. Realizing he’s selected her favorite, Carl breaks it in half to share, telling her that it’s what they do. Rick prods them along, telling them they need to pick up the pace, but smiles, knowing that the two are growing closer together.

wdus2

Daryl is still with the roving band of savages he met at the end of ‘Alone‘. While out hunting, he and another member, Ned (I discovered the name only by watching The Talking Dead), both kill a rabbit at the same time. Ned shouts out “claimed” while Daryl insists that it’s his. Joe (Jeff Kober) mediates the argument between the two by telling Daryl the group has established a set of rules to maintain some semblance of order in the world.

Joe: “Still it is survival of the fittest. That’s a paradox right there. So I laid out some rules of the road to keep things from goin’ Darwin every couple hours. Keep our merry band together and stress free. All you gotta do is claim. That’s how you mark your territory, your prey, your bed at night. One word. Claim.”

Daryl: “I ain’t claimin’ nothin’.”

Joe splits the rabbit in half and divides it between the two. Later, Ned accuses Daryl of stealing his half. Joe intervenes once again and asks both to tell the truth (lying is one of the rules not to be broken). He knows Ned is lying and instructs the others to beat him. Later, Daryl discovers exactly how breaking the rules is a detriment to the group dynamic when he sees what’s become of Ned.

Much of the action this week is given to Glenn’s search for Maggie. Along with Tara, Abraham, Eugene, and Rosita, Glenn pushes forward after discovering the messages Maggie left for him in previous episodes. When Glenn and Tara decide to press on through a darkened tunnel, the others warn them against it after hearing the groans of walkers from inside. Tara follows Glenn because she feels she owes him for what the Governor did to those at the prison, Hershel especially. Halfway through the tunnel, they find animated corpses strewn among the rubble of a recent cave in. Reckless, Glenn devises a plan to get around the group of walkers.

wdus3

Of course, things go awry and the two are pinned down, destined to die horribly. Thanks to Eugene deceiving Rosita, they and Abraham arrive just in time to save them–with a little help from Bob, Sasha, and Maggie. The two are reunited and share some quality time before they all continue on to Terminus.

‘Us’ is a pretty uneven episode but a necessary one as it moves nearly all of our major players either close to or actually into Terminus and sets up some possible future plots for the season finale and perhaps beyond. Joe offhandedly tells Daryl that the group wants revenge on whomever killed their friend in cold blood (which was Rick back in ‘Claimed‘). We already suspect that Joe and his buddies would have most certainly killed Rick had they happened upon him, but with the set of rules Joe explained, maybe they would have allowed him to live. That’s something we’ll probably discover the answer to next week.

Meanwhile, now that Glenn, Maggie and the others in their group have found their way into Terminus, it remains to be seen if it will be a safe haven or even more of a nightmare than Woodbury. The sight of Mary (Denise Crosby, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Pet Sematary) welcoming them to the idyllic town may have appeared normal, but there’s something about her all too calm demeanor that sent chills up my spine (most likely due to her turn as a killer in Dexter).

wdus5

‘Us’ was a good, but not great, episode. It sets up what could be an incredible finale not only because it will undoubtedly give us a further glimpse of what lies behind the walls of Terminus, but also because it teases a showdown between Rick and Joe. On the other hand, while I was glad to see Glenn and Maggie find one another, it was a predictable outcome to that particular part of the story without much tension.

What we ultimately learn about ‘Us’ is that you can’t go it alone in the world. Regardless of what group you ally yourself with, survival relies upon everyone contributing something. With Carl, Michonne, Glenn, Eugene, and the others, the dynamic is to share and watch each other’s back; in Joe’s world, it’s winner take all and do whatever it takes as long as everyone agrees to adhere to a specific set of guidelines. Who’s right and who’s wrong? Both lines of thought have validity to them and it’s interesting to see how different factions act in trying to reestablish order in a world gone mad.

And now a question about this season’s end…

When it comes to the finale, what do you think is the most likely to happen?

1) Rick dies

2) Beth is found in Terminus

3) Terminus is filled with cannibals

4) Terminus is a cult

5) The group finally finds a utopian society and the series ends happily

Whatever the outcome, it should be the end of a great ride and leave us hanging until October.

The Walking Dead‘ – ‘Us’ grade: B-

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Review: ‘What Ever Happened To Aunt Alice?’ (1969)

aunt aliceNine years after Psycho and seven after What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? came the twisted horror/black comedy What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? Starring Academy Award winners Geraldine Page (The Trip to Bountiful, Sweet Bird of Youth) and Ruth Gordon (Rosemary’s Baby, Harold and Maude), What Ever Happened To Aunt Alice? is the story of serial killer Clare Marrable (Page), a widowed woman left with nothing but a rusty dagger, a butterfly collection, and a book of old stamps after her husband dies. To survive, she moves closer to a nephew in Arizona and, unbeknownst to him, bilks elderly housekeepers out of their money before murdering them and planting the bodies under trees in her lawn.

Enter Mrs. Dimmock (Gordon), a diminutive and crafty redhead who applies for Marrable’s housekeeping position, a job left open after the rather sudden disappearance of Miss Edna Tinsley (Mildred Dunnock). We see early that Dimmock is not all she appears to be, snooping around the house and knowing a little more about Marrable than she initially lets on. Aided by her nephew, Mike (Robert Fuller, Emergency), Dimmock works hard to gain solid evidence to prove that Marrable is guilty of foul play many times over. Will Dimmock be able to expose Marrable before it’s too late? And in the end, will we ever discover who Aunt Alice actually is and what became of her?

What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? isn’t exactly the movie I thought it would be. Amazingly enough, for a film nearly 45 years old, I managed to avoid any information about it so I went into my viewing under the assumption it would have more of either a slasher feel or perhaps something with supernatural overtones like Let’s Scare Jessica To Death. That’s not to say I was disappointed. In fact, What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? was enjoyable on many levels.

Geraldine Page not only sinks her teeth into the role of Marrable, she uses her acting chops to chew the scenery throughout the entire film, remarkably without creating an over the top caricature as a lesser actress might have done. Ruth Gordon, on the other hand, is more restrained as Dimmock, underplaying her role with a shrewd calmness that’s a perfect counterpoint to the domineering Page. Watching the two of them circle one another as predator and prey as the story unfolds is what elevates What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? above the normal thriller and it makes one wonder why the film has never gotten more exposure.

That’s not to say it’s a perfect film, however. Fuller’s Mike reminded me of a lesser Don Draper and the character really isn’t given much to do other than exist as a link to the outside world for Gordon’s Dimmock. His love interest, Harriet (Rosemary Forsyth, Days of our Lives) is something of a dim bulb and basically little more than a stock character. Beef up both roles and perhaps they could have strengthened the film.

Overall, What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? is a fun little film that really showcases the talents of two great actresses. Give it a look when you have a chance.

What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? grade: B-


What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (DVD)

Director: Bernard Girard, Lee H. Katzin
Starring: Geraldine Page, Ruth Gordon, Rosemary Forsyth, Robert Fuller, Mildred Dunnock
Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)

List Price: $3.98 USD
New From: $27.78 USD In Stock
Used from: $10.94 USD In Stock

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Review: ‘The Walking Dead’ — ‘The Grove’ S04E14

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Back in ‘Inmates‘, I mentioned that we needed to talk about Lizzie. After all, there was a brief moment where she almost killed baby Judith to silence her cries and avoid drawing in more walkers. In ‘The Grove’, it appears that it’s well past time to talk about, or to, Lizzie.

When ‘The Grove’ begins, Carol (Melissa McBride) and Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) have a chat about Carol’s daughter, long since dead after turning into a walker. When Lizzie asks about her, Carol tells her that she didn’t have a “mean bone in her body”. In retrospect, after all that Carol has been through, she believes that mindset is more often than not something that will get you killed.

Later, the gang, including Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), Mika (Kyla Kenedy), and baby Judith, happen upon an abandoned house in the woods. Save for a lone walker dispatched courtesy of Mika’s gun, this humble abode offers the possibility of both a safe haven and an idyllic life.

But this is The Walking Dead and we know how that turns out.

Lizzie has become unhinged, treating a random walker as her friend and playing a morbid version of tag out in the yard. When Carol kills it, Lizzie freaks and tells her that the walkers will be okay and that they’re not as dangerous as everyone thinks. Later, Carol and Tyreese return from a walk and come upon a bloodied Lizzie who’s also brandishing a knife. Lizzie has murdered her sister, insisting that she’ll come back okay because she “didn’t hurt her brain” and admits that she was going to turn Judith next. Carol tells Lizzie that she’ll stay with Mika and asks Tyreese to take Lizzie back to the house.

To which Tyreese said, "Uh...WHAT?"

To which Tyreese said, “Uh…WHAT?”

Later, a distraught Carol tells Tyreese that she should have been able to see this coming. “This is how she is. It was already there.” Carol admits that, at this point, Lizzie “can’t be around other people” which all but seals Lizzie’s fate as well. If Carol was willing to sacrifice those sick with the plague back at the prison, there’s no way she can let this slide.

In a powerful scene, Carol takes Lizzie for a walk and Lizzie thinks Carol is angry with her. Carol calms her, instructing her to “look at the flowers” before shooting Lizzie in the head.

Back at the house, Carol confesses to Tyreese that she’s the one who committed the murders at the prison. It wasn’t Lizzie and it wasn’t a stranger. She slides a gun across the table and tells him to do whatever he feels is necessary. Tyreese forgives her for murdering his girlfriend and the next morning, they’re off on the road to Terminus again.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of ‘The Grove’ was Carol’s acknowledgement that what lies within Lizzie is some sort of sickness–darker, deeper and more disturbing than the infection that Rick revealed long ago resides within everyone. It’s a fantastic parallel to show that humans aren’t much better than the zombies and, at times, don’t have a choice when having to kill each other. Little by little, even attempting to survive is stripping away their souls, forcing them to rely upon instinct rather than logic. It’s a path that, while twisted, is absolutely necessary for the series to move forward.

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‘The Grove’ is another bold episode that has made the latter half of the fourth season the strongest run to date. With only a few missteps, The Walking Dead has become an intensely gripping show which has wisely allowed us to get to know the characters more deeply while also offering enough zombie thrills to pose real threats and not just use them because they have to. Deftly balancing the two was always a weak aspect of the series early on but now the integration has been amazingly successful resulting in better stories and incredible performances (particularly tonight with McBride who, like Norman Reedus, is one of the stronger actors on the show).

There are only two episodes left this season and I can only wonder what they’ll do to top tonight’s tale.

‘The Walking Dead’ – ‘The Grove’ grade: A

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