Friday, July 18, 2014

Book Review: The Five by Robert McCammon

I've been a huge fan of Robert McCammon's work for a long, long time, so when his novel The Five was released back in May of 2011, I was quick to order it. I also quickly devoured it, savoring every chapter, every word. It's been a while since I finished it, and I'm finally getting around to reviewing it, so Mr. McCammon, I apologize for the delay.

Let me start by saying The Five is unlike any other story written by Mr. McCammon. This novel is largely grounded in reality, with a slight supernatural angle, if it can even be called that. The events that occur are eye-opening, world-shattering, and oddly-enough at times, touching.

Artwork by Vincent Chong
 The story follows a small indie rock band aptly named, "The Five," as they struggle with the hardships of being a small band with a small, but stable following, as they are making their way across the country on a tour that is most likely going to be their last. The band is made up of five castaways from other bands, some more successful than others, and the music industry has taken its toll on each one of them. The band goes through the progressions and gets through the shows until one night in the American Southwest, things change.

During a televised interview with a local car salesman, the band is noticed by a veteran of the Iraqi war who has not come home 100%. Guided by his ghostly "Sergeant," the veteran makes it his mission to kill the five members of The Five.
Artwork by Vincent Chong

The Five is a remarkably poignant story of love, friendship, loyalty, terror and violence, all set against the rich backdrop of the American Southwest and the gritty rock-and-roll lifestyle. Beautifully written and a pure pleasure to read from cover to cover, I loved this book and give it my highest recommendations. If you have read any of Robert McCammon's work previously, then you're going to be surprised by The Five, and not in the way you might expect. 

I give The Five a full ***** out of *****. Pick up a copy today and prepare to be blown away.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Book Review: Virginia Creeper by Blaine Pardoe

I love me a good serial killer story, so when I was approached to review Virginia Creeper by Blaine Pardoe, I jumped at the chance. The publisher generously provided me with a .mobi file of the book and I immediately put it on my Kindle and started reading.

Then, a funny thing happened when I was about 20% through the story. The book's print font on my Kindle suddenly changed. It became almost unreadable. The print was either way too large or way too tiny. And it was only happening with this book. Other books retained their fonts. I tried deleting it and reloading it to no avail. I was already caught up in the story, so there was no way I was not going to finish it, so I ultimately had to load the file on to my Android smartphone and I was able to finish reading it using the Kindle reader app, which allowed for a more comfortable font size to be used.

The story takes place back in the 1980s during the time of the Clinton White House scandal and it focuses on the Route 211 Killings in Virginia and the process in which the killer, Andrew Fitzwater, was brought to justice. The author, Pardoe, launches into the tale from his own point of view as the book is written as a play-by-play to the "real-life" events as they supposedly happened and he played a significant role in the killer's due process.

I was immediately drawn in to the story as Pardoe did an excellent job of giving it a deepening sense of dread while continually warning the reader of the unexpectedness that lied in wait. Early on, the story's intrigue and the fact that this notorious killer has been virtually erased from America's encyclopedia of serial killers kept me wanting to find out exactly what the hell happened up there on Pignut Mountain.

The details Pardoe injected into the book left me wanting to know more about this case, but just like he says, you just can't find any information about the killings or Andrew Fitzwater. Since the Clinton debacle was taking center stage at the time, the local serial killer story became page six news. Nevermind the fact that America has an incredible fascination with serial killers; Andrew just happens to have been the latest in an entire family of serial killers that nobody, including anybody on the Internet, seems to know anything about. I was starting to wonder just whether or not Pardoe was pulling my leg in the "true-life" direction he was trying to lead me in.

Ultimately, Virginia Creeper is a tale of two books. The first half of the book is incredibly intriguing and it encourages you to keep reading. But, the second half of the book started to get a little repetitive. Throughout the second half of the book, Pardoe makes countless, and I mean countless, mentions of how busy he was dealing with clients and working on projects and traveling for meetings and just how much work he's always doing. It started to feel as if some lines were thrown in just to make the word count as they didn't add to the story at all. Next, the second half of the book is littered with typos and misspellings to the point that it started to take away from the enjoyment of the story. I mean, I couldn't get through a single page without at least one grammar or spelling miscue. Since Pardoe is a professional writer by trade, I'm hoping that the mistakes are just due to the usual e-book formatting headaches because if they aren't, then he seriously needs to re-read his material or at least hire a better editor before putting out another book.

Sadly, it's because of the problems that plagued the second half of book that I have to give Virginia Creeper *** out of *****. The first half was stellar, but the mistakes and unnecessary self-promotion in the second half kills the book's momentum like the fictional Fitzwater family kills Virginia co-eds.

Movie Review: The Devil's Carnival

From the makers of Repo: The Genetic Opera comes another colorful journey into the world of musical horror. The Devil's Carnival is the latest from the collaborative team of Terrance Zdunich (writer) and Darren Lynn Bousman (director) and it features many of those who starred in their previous effort, such as Bill Moseley, Alexa Vega, Paul Sorvino, and Nivek Ogre. Along for the ride this time are newcomers Emilie Autumn, Dayton Callie, Sean Patrick Flanery, Briana Evigan, Jessica Lowndes, and a host of others.

"What did you say about my chin?"
The film plays like a live-action musical adaption of three of Aesop's Fables. Three poor souls, a kleptomaniac, a gullible teenager, and an obsessed father, each die only to wake up on the doorstep of the Devil's Carnival. Once inside, they are subjected to many of the temptations and tribulations that marred their real lives. Will they be doomed to repeat their past discretion or will they be redeemed? At the controls of their destinies is the devil himself.

With this being a musical, music played a large role in how the stories were conveyed. The film's songs fit comfortably within the design of the sets and the carnival backdrop. Often haphazard and sometimes hard to understand, the rhythms and lyrics of the songs aren't as straightforward as they were in Repo, so listening to them outside of the film probably wouldn't be as enjoyable, but overall, they weren't bad. As far as the film itself goes, Zdunich steals the show as the devil. Sporting some really great makeup, his devil character is brilliant. The other actors don't quite match his enthusiasm, especially blubbering old Sean Patrick Flanery, who kind of started grating on my nerves after a while.
Damn you, Norman Reedus!
Clocking in at a mere 55 minutes, The Devil's Carnival is not your usual movie, but it is enjoyable just the same. On a minimal budget, the creative team did a great job of designing the sets and as crazy as the tunes were, they were impeccably arranged.

From what I hear, this might be the first in a series of these short musicals from Zdunich and Bousman, and I wouldn't mind that at all. Overall, I liked their takes on the fables and the carnival theme, with all of the odd characters, is just great.

I give The Devil's Carnival **** out of *****.

Check out the trailer for The Devil's Carnival below!

Movie Review: Puppet Master X: Axis Rising

Since 1989, Full Moon's Puppet Master series has held a spot in my heart. I can still remember the first time I watched the original after taping in off Cinemax on an old VHS. I remember watching it and thinking, this is awesome! That experience solidified my relationship with Charles Band's Full Moon Studios and forever since that day, I have sought out the studio's films and am thrilled that this little independent studio is still producing movies. Now, 23 years after the original Puppet Master was released, Blade, Pinhead, Leech Woman, Jester, Six-Shooter, and Tunneler return for Puppet Master X: Axis Rising!

You don't mess with America... or Blade!
Puppet Master X picks up where Puppet Master: Axis of Evil left off, with Danny, Beth and the puppets fresh off destroying the Nazi manufacturing plant. Unfortunately, as the film opens, we find that Tunneler has been taken hostage by the no-good Nazi bastards. With the Nazi presence starting to grow in Chinatown and an old scientist working on a regeneration machine for them, it's up to Danny, Beth, the puppets, and the aptly named Sergeant Stone to save Tunneler and America!

As far as the film goes, what can you say about a Full Moon film? After all of these years, you kinda know what you're getting into. The puppets are awesome, including the new ones, Blitzkrieg, Wehrmacht, Bombshell and Kamikaze, the set design is good, the effects are not bad, the acting, well, a little over the top, but it all adds up to a fun time. Actually, I was particularly impressed with the audio and video presentation of the film. Richard Band's music is still the best in the B-movie biz and the video was crisp and clean. The only audio snafu was the fact that every time Beth spoke in the beginning of the movie, it sounded like she was a little too far away from the mic and it made it sound like she was speaking from a cave. But who cares? It's Puppet Master!

His axis, it is rising.
Like the nine before it (with the exception of that dreadful one that starred Corey Feldman), I loved Puppet Master X: Axis Rising. While not perfect, it's everything a B-movie needs to be. It doesn't take itself too seriously and it delivers on almost all counts. I give Puppet Master X: Axis Rising **** out of *****.
Check out the trailer for Puppet Master X: Axis Rising below.

Pick up a copy of Puppet Master X: Axis Rising for your collection!