Author: Tom Panarese

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 81: Nothing Better

Episode 81 Website CoverStella is back and here to talk with me about Nothing Better, the web comic and graphic novel series about freshman year of college by creator Tyler Page.  Over the course of our converation, we take a look at the three trade paperback collections he has released and give them our usual fine-toothed-comb review.  Plus, we talk a little bit about our own college experiences as well as the series’ themes of friendship, sex, and religion.

You can read and purchase Nothing Better here:  Nothing Better

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

Some extras …

The sketches and signatures from the three trades that I own:

The shield/insignia for St. Urho College:

Nothing Better Scan0001

The national anthem of Finland:

The covers to each of the trade paperbacks:

Nothing Better Vol 1

Nothing Better Vol 2

Nothing Better Vol 3

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Origin Story Episode 33

Origin Story Episode 33 Website CoverThis is it!  The big finale!

After 14 months, I have finally reached the end of my comic book origin story, having covered the books from 1986 and 1987 that I bought, read, and enjoyed.  And for this final episode, I will be taking a look at G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #69, which features the return of Destro in a new, gold uniform.  Plus, I take the time to wrap everything up and reflect on my past and future as a geek.

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

G.I._Joe_A_Real_American_Hero_Vol_1_69

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 80: The Blair Witch Podcast

Episode 80 Website CoverSHOCKTOBER CONCLUDES!!!

In the summer of 2017, two podcasters got on Skype to record a podcast about a horror movie. Three months later, their footage was found. Join me and Michael Bailey as we look at the seminal found footage horror film The Blair Witch Project. In this episode, we talk about the movie; its marketing; the tie-in comics/books/TV specials; and its sequels, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and Blair Witch.

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

blair_witch_project

The VHS box for Curse of the Blair Witch

Curse of the Blair Witch

The Sci-Fi Channel special Curse of the Blair Witch in full:

 

The Void

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c.  D-Films/Cave Painting Pictures

One of my favorite things to do on the Internet is to watch trailers for horror movies.  I mean, I rarely actually watch the movies, but very often, the advertisements for even the crappiest movies are well done enough to keep me entertained for a couple of minutes.

And then there was the trailer to The Void, which io9 linked to about a year and a half ago:

Done as a bit of a throwback to 1980s creature flicks like John Carpenter’s The ThingThe Void begins in the middle of … something.  A drug addict named James flees a house and a woman tries to follow but she is killed by two men, whom we later learn are Vincent (Daniel Fathers) and his son Simon (Mik Byskov).  James is picked up by a local cop, Daniel (Aaron Poole), who takes him to the local hospital, which is half-abandoned due to a fire some time ago and has a skeleton crew of a staff that includes Daniel’s estranged wife Allison (Kathleen Munroe), a med student named Kim (Ellen Wong), a nurse named Beverly (Stephanie Belding), and an attending physician named Dr. Powell (Kenneth Welsh).  Including Daniel and James, a young girl named Maggie (Grace Munro), who is very pregnant; and her grandfather, Ben (James Millington) are also there.

It’s hard to write a review for this without giving too much away, so I’ll offer up enough to make you consider looking at the entire film.  There are some very strange things going on at this hospital.  People cut their own skin off and are reborn as creatures.  Members of a strange cult whose symbol is a black triangle are surrounding the hospital and attack anyone who tries to leave.  In other words, something otherworldly is going on and whatever it is, it looks to claim the lives of everyone inside.

So what you have is the conceit for what could be a million low-budget horror flicks going all the way back to Night of the Living Dead, and much like that Romero classic, that particular plot contrivance works for The Void.  The directors, Steven Kotsanksi and Jeremy Gillespie, put all of their major characters in the same place so that they can simply concentrate on building tension between them and build the tension surrounding them.

The former comes in the form of the strained relationship between Daniel and Allison, which came about after she lost their baby, which is played straightforward and with the right amount of emotion from the actors–they spend a lot of time trying to avoid one another even though he is also determined to protect her.  And the theme of loss and coping with loss, especially that of a child, is a major one in The Void and the reason it is more than just a gory monster movie.  Kotsanski and Gillespie put some serious work into practical monster effects and combining that with performances that are all-around solid despite from scenery chewing from time to time, this is well-crafted.  You’re not subjected to shaky-cam or found footage, and everything is not explained to you at every turn.  While the reveal of the movie’s villain makes clear what is going on ad why, they still trust their audience enough to make us fill in the blanks where it’s necessary.

At the time I watched this, it was available on Netflix, so if it is still there, watch it.  If you have to rent it, go ahead.  I think that if you’re a fan of 1980s horror films that deal with more supernatural/cosmic elements and monsters (instead of slashers and dead teenagers), you’ll find The Void a worthwhile viewing this or any Shocktober.

Delivery: The Beast Within

mv5bmtaxmzu1mtcxnzneqtjeqwpwz15bbwu4mdi3mzkxnjex-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_My first movie for Shocktober was the Roman Polanski classic Rosemary’s Baby, which blended psychological horror with a story about a woman unknowingly pregnant with Satan’s child.  Since then, there have been a number of “demon/monster baby movies,” including Demon Seed, David Cronenberg’s The Brood, and a number of B-level direct-to-video flicks that I would have probably passed by on the video store shelves before finding something I actually wanted to watch.  It’s now years later and though we have no video stores around here, I find myself doing the same thing whenever I browse Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon–passing by schlocky B-level stuff on the way to whatever I actually want to watch.  Besides, how many clones of classic horror or monster movies do we really need?

That thought occurred to me when I first saw the trailer for 2012’s Delivery: The Beast Within (as few horror movies I watch, I love watching horror movie trailers on IMDb … I know, it’s weird).  It looked like yet another movie in a long line of tired found footage flicks that promised something horrifying in its trailer but would ultimately be unsatisfying; furthermore, it looked too much like “It’s Paranormal Activity, but she’s pregnant!”  Still, a couple of moments in the trailer intrigued me and I quickly found it on Hulu for free … aaaaaand didn’t watch it and then it left Hulu.  Luckily, as I went to watch the movies for this month’s blog entries, I remembered Delivery and decided that $3.99 was an okay amount to pay to stream it on Amazon Prime (and before you say “that’s too much,” I must remind you that Blockbuster was charging around that much back in the late 1990s).

The film is a pastiche of three specific genres–the found footage horror film, the mockumentary, and the “demon spawn” horror movie.  Laurel Vail and Danny Barclay play Rachel and Kyle Massy, a young couple who are expecting their first child and have decided to allow their pregnancy to be covered as part of a cable reality show called Delivery.  When the film opens, the filmmakers are interviewing the show’s creator and producer, Rick (Rob Cobuizo), and we learn right away through some quick local news footage and interviews with other people (friends and doctors who knew Kyle and Rachel) that Rachel is dead and while the pilot episode of Delivery was put together, the show never aired and it’s possible that the key to Rachel’s death lies in what was left over.

The first half hour or so is the abandoned pilot, complete with peppy guitar music and fast-forward traffic footage in the interstitials, where we are introduced to Kyle and Rachel and hear about how they met and got married and how they have been having trouble conceiving and even had a miscarriage but are now finally pregnant.  They tell Rachel’s mother Barbara (Rebecca Brooks) and then their friends, but the evening of the baby shower, Kyle finds Rachel in the bathroom of their apartment sobbing and bleeding and upon arrival at the hospital, it appears that she has miscarried again.  However, the next morning and another ultrasound reveals a heartbeat and the couple is overjoyed that their baby has, in fact, not been lost.

This, by the way, is where the first odd things start happening.  The footage of Rachel in the hospital room when they find out she has not miscarried has some minor glitches, and when they get home, Kyle’s dog Madden begins growling and barking at her.  Then, when they hunt for houses, Rachel is accosted by a homeowner’s mother who screams “Devil!” at her in Armenian.  She’s rightfully weirded out but things seem to be okay and they buy a house.

There’s a point at which the pilot episode ends and a title card tells us that the rest of the film we’re watching was compiled from the leftover footage of the reality show.  Rick, the producer, provides some background information as to how certain moments went down or the increasing technical glitches that were occurring, especially around Rachel, even having a sound guy isolate an otherworldly scream that was recorded in one particular moment.  Rachel has trouble sleeping and the artwork that she paints becomes darker and darker, and her marriage to Kyle becomes more and more strained.  More and more supernatural-like things start occurring around the house and Rachel becomes fixated on the baby name Alastor, which a paranormal expert (whom she hires) says is the name of a demon.

I honestly don’t want to go very much further with a plot summary because to give more details away would spoil the film’s ending and it’s possible that those who are reading this (both of you) may not have heard of the movie and are actually interested, so I’ll just drop the trailer here and get to my spoiler-free review.

I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I honestly thought I would.  I’ve gotten tired of found footage horror movies (as have so many other people), especially those with cheap jump scares and bad payoffs.  Delivery: The Beast Within actually doesn’t contain very many jump scares (I think I honestly counted one Paranomral Activity-esque jump scare) and it sticks to its premise really well.  If you ever watched TLC during the early 2000s (its Trading Spaces salad years), you may have come across shows such as A Wedding Story and A Baby Story.  Those were reality/documentary shows where each episode followed a couple to the altar or the delivery room.  It was the latter that writers Brian Netto and Adam Schindler (Netto directed) took and really ran with before giving us a look at the leftover footage, making the “found footage” part of this story plausible (and way more plausible than the “camera that can see ghosts” thing from Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension).  Furthermore, as the production becomes increasingly troubled beyond the unaired pilot because of Rachel’s increasingly erratic behavior and Kyle’s increasing rage, the presence of the crew and cameras in themselves become an issue, with the production actually ceasing a couple of months before Rachel’s due date, resuming only with Rick (who says in interviews that he had come to be very close to both Rachel and Kyle) and his camera.

It would seem a little contrived to stage the film this way, going from fake reality show to unused fake reality footage to “third guy in the room” found footage, but Netto actually uses that as a way to make the film feel increasingly claustrophobic and intense until it’s ending, part of which you know is coming but part of which is very unexpected.   The footage is staged in ways that feel like your average reality/documentary show, with people out of the range of the camera having what they say subtitled, the occasional shot of a boom mic or crew personnel who would have been edited out of the finished episode, and self-shot “confessional” footage done via Flip cameras that the producers gave to Rachel so she could shoot her “video diary” for the show.

Plus, unlike other horror movies of the last couple of decades, both actors are likable, so you are actually invested in what is happening to them, so when the pregnancy gets weirder and even scarier, you sympathize with Kyle, who doesn’t know what the hell is going on and doesn’t know what the hell to do (unlike, say, the protagonists you’re waiting to see killed and you hope it’s a good death).  The other performances are just as good and natural, which helps Delivery: The Beast Within with its follow through.   While it doesn’t break any new ground and does rehash old tropes (even including a “she’s craving some rare/raw meat” bit as a nod to Rosemary’s Baby), the film is a tight, entertaining 90 minutes and one I’d recommend checking out.

It Follows

mv5bmmu0mjblyzytzwy0mc00mjlilwi3zmutmzhlzdvjmwvmywy4xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtqxnzmzndi-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_If Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby set the tone for the “psychological horror” film back in the late 1960s, David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is the culmination of nearly 50 years of psychological terror along with so many other important tropes of the genre mixed in.

And speaking of tropes, we open with a mainstay–the opening death scene, which takes place in a Detroit suburb.  A girl named Annie flees her house and seems to be followed by … something.   She makes it as far as the beach but can’t escape whatever is terrorizing her, as her dead body is found the next day.

We then meet Jay, our college student protagonist who has a new boyfriend named Hugh.  As she’s out on a date with him, he keeps seeing a mysterious little girl that nobody else can see.  Later on in the film, they have sex and Hugh chloroforms her.  When she wakes up, he’s tied her to a chair and tells her that he passed some sort of curse onto her–she will be followed by an entity that only she can see and it won’t stop until it kills her (where it will then go after the last person it pursued, which happened to be Hugh).

The rest of the film is basically the story of Jay and her friends trying to avoid, escape, and then ultimately fight back against whatever is following her, although we never actually know what it is except that it takes the form of various disheveled-looking people, including friends and family members.  And unlike, say, Final Destination, where the characters were being killed off in increasingly ridiculous and cinematically staged ways by a “death” entity, It Follows chooses to have fun with the “audience mindscrew” by offering very few jump scares (thank God) in favor of creating a constant feeling of uneasiness.  Like Rosemary’s Baby, the film has a sense of real place (although Mitchell keeps the time period of its setting deliberately ambiguous) and while this does follow the same pattern of “photogenic white kids in the suburbs getting offed after getting off” of your average slasher flick, it’s quite aware of that.

In fact, Mitchell plays with that knowingly–after all, the entire premise of the movie is the Scream-established rule that having sex in a slasher movie means you’re going to die.  And he sends his characters into the seedier parts of Detroit to either try to avoid the entity (although we know they can’t do that) or confront it directly, hitting upon what Polanski does in Rosemary’s Baby by pointing out that our homes are not safe and perhaps we need to second-guess their comfort.  Furthermore, he avoids the “come at me bro” self-aware final confrontation of late-1990s flicks like Final Destination and has his characters make stupid mistakes and confront the entity in a way that feels at best like a desperate attempt to save Jay’s life (and at worst a trap Fred would try to spring on Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated) instead of the machinations of a protagonist who is too smart for the film in which he’s been placed and is therefore deconstructing the rules in order to win.

It Follows is a fun horror movie.  You sympathize with its main character because she spends the film going more and more crazy while her friends can’t seem to figure out how to help her or what is even going on (that is, until they start getting killed) and the ending doesn’t go for a cheap twist or any big reveal that spoils re-watches; in fact, we never get “origin” or even the true identity of the entity and that’s fine.  Plus, the ending is satisfyingly ambiguous and you leave wondering if everything is okay.

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 79: Adults Love Comics at the 2017 Baltimore Comic-Con

Episode 79 Website CoverYou heard from the kids, now it’s the grown-ups’ turn!  Join me and Gene Hendricks (The Hammer Strikes) as we recap our time at the 2017 Baltimore Comic-Con.  We talk about creators we met, comics we bought, and our chance meeting with Darren and Ruth Sutherland of the RaD Network.  Plus, you’ll hear me talking to comics legends Marv Wolfman, Michael Golden, Jerry Ordway, and Joe Staton.

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

Some pictures of our quick podcast meet-up, a picture of Brett with Walt and Louise Simonson, and the comics I had signed and some that I bought.