Reflecting on Halloween

By Melissa Minners

            Ah, Halloween, the eve of All Hallows’ Day (aka: All Saints’ Day), a day of religious festivities celebrated by many as the one day of the year on which spirits can make contact with the physical world.  As kids, all we knew was that on October 31st, we got to dress up in costumes after school and go from house to house, saying “Trick or Treat!” and walking home laden with goodies.  If we were lucky, Halloween fell out on the weekend – twice the time to go Trick-or-Treating meant twice as many treats.  As Halloween roles around again this year, I begin to reminisce on Halloweens past.

            I remember my mother never wanting to buy us a Halloween costume like we saw all the other kids wearing – something you could pick up at the local Woolworth for $5.00.  True, the costumes were cheaply made and my mother had a point about the masks being dangerous, but we always used to grumble about wanting to buy a costume rather than make one.  My mother, not knowing how to use a sewing machine, used to make us costumes out of whatever we had around the house.  Some costumes were pretty cool.  My mother was pretty good at making mustaches out of eye liner and clown faces out of everyday make-up.  We had some pretty cool stuff around the house.  I had a plastic derby and a plastic cigar, thus, I was Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx for a Halloween or two.  I had a cowboy hat and a pair of cap gun pistols and a cute cowgirl outfit was improvised out of everyday clothing making me Annie Oakley one year.  The hat and pistols were used again years later and along with some eye pencil, I became a cowboy.  Some costumes were cool, others, such as the garbage bag for a cape vampire costume…well, not so much.  But we always had a costume which is more than I can say for some of the kids I see Trick-or-Treating these days.

            When I first started Trick-or-Treating, I was confined to one street.  My mom took me in the beginning.  Later, when I was deemed old enough, I took my brother door to door on Halloween, I carrying my plastic pumpkin and Jon with his Casper bucket.  Eventually, the Trick-or-Treating adventure went from one block to our block and across the street.  Soon it was around our block and across the street.  Then it extended to around the block and around the next block.  Eventually, our sister Justine joined us on our trek.  Sometimes, we’d get very little candy.  Other times, we’d have to go back to the house a couple of times to empty out our respective buckets.  It usually depended on the day of the week Halloween fell out on.  No matter how big the score, we were always sure to be left with only half the loot as soon as our mom got through culling out the bad stuff.  “Bad stuff” usually meant haphazardly wrapped candies, unwrapped goods, apples, etc.  Years later, we would be daring enough to eat stuff we were sure our mother would push to the side as rejects.  Sometimes our mother could be a bit more protective than we liked, but we always had our fair share of candy corn, M&Ms, Three Musketeers, Snickers, Hershey’s, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Almond Joy, Mounds, and other assorted miniature candy treats.  My parents would always bring home something from Entenmann’sHalloween cupcakes or cake.

            Of course, we always had to be in by a certain hour.  After 8pm or 9pm, there were other activities afoot other than going door to door with costumes on begging for treats.  Some of the kids enjoyed the “Trick” stuff more and you were bound to see droves of them in the street having egg and shaving cream wars, toilet-papering houses, pumpkin-smashing and more.  For the most part, we stayed away from that stuff.

            When we weren’t busy with Trick-or-Treating, there was always something fun to do.  One year, we bought a huge pumpkin and tried our hand at carving it into a scary face.  I don’t remember him being all that scary, but I remember eating the pumpkin seeds my mother roasted from the innards.  Years later, when I was working at a local store, I would take one of the foam pumpkins we were selling, put a hat on his head and stuff a fake cigarette in his mouth.  Now this was a pumpkin who was fully enjoying his Halloween, proudly displayed on the counter for all to see.

            Leading up to Halloween, one could always count on scary stories being read at school.  Who doesn’t remember the tale of The Teeny-Tiny Woman?  The teeny-tiny woman and the voice from the Teeny-Tiny cupboard that said, “GIVE ME MY BONE!!!!”  Teachers would always read a version of Washington Irving’s spooky tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  There would always be tales of ghosts, haunted houses, zombies, witches and vampires to scare the living daylights out of us.  One year, we read Edgar Allen Poe’s creepy poem, The Raven.  And one year, I decided to freak myself out by reading Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.

            Television and the theaters always had something in the works for Halloween.  Since I was a kid, the Charles Schultz classic, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown has always been something we watched on television.  As I remember it, the 4’o’clock movies on ABC for that week were usually horror flicks featuring Vincent Price, such as The Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Raven, The Conqueror Worm and more.  And you could always count on the voluptuous Elvira: Queen of the Night to star in a tongue-in-cheek Halloween special.  The movie of choice in the theaters back when I was in elementary school was Halloween, a horror flick about a serial killer named Michael Myers.  Years later, kids have their pick of movies to choose from – dozens of versions of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (aka: The Headless Horseman), the multitude of films in the Halloween series, Friday the 13th series, Nightmare on Elm Street series, and more. 

            Nowadays, I’m a tad too old to go Trick-or-Treating, though I’ve been known to wear a costume or two on Halloween.  The house is always decorated with pumpkins, ghosts and vampires.  There’s always a bowl of treats awaiting munchkins in costume – my favorites are the poor babies who have no clue why they are wearing such cute bulky costumes and who are way too young to eat the candy they are receiving.  One day they’ll resent the fact that Mommy or Daddy dressed them up as a huge pumpkin and pushed them around in a stroller all night.  After all, who is really going to eat all that candy when the Trick-or-Treating is done, huh?  Certainly not baby who hasn’t even grown in teeth yet!  Most of the time around Halloween, I sit myself in front of the television and watch a bunch of scary movies and wait for Trick-or-Treaters to arrive.  I’m always a bit generous with the candy when the kids are bashful.  Lately, most kids will just stuff their hands in your candy bowl and make off with handfuls of candy.  But it’s the one or two bashful kids who mumble “Trick-or-Treat” and are polite enough to wait for you to give them their candy who get the most goodies from me.  They remind me of me and my siblings at a different time patrolling the neighborhood, always aware that politeness got you the best treats.

            Happy Halloween, everyone!  May your treats be many, your tricks be few, and may your parents not dress you in something that no self-respecting Trick-or-Treater would ever be caught dead in! 

A very special thanks to http://www.hellasmultimedia.com/webimages/ for all of the terrific graphic art images used in this story.

Kellie’s Diary

Author:  Thomas Jenner and Angeline Perkins

Published By: Survive Entertainment

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                When I first heard word of this horror novel written through the eyes of a nine year old, I was intrigued.  A zombie novel written in the form of a child’s diary – interesting.  The fact that I could download Kellie’s Diary #1 by Thomas Jenner and Angeline Perkins for free made it even more inviting.  I decided to check it out.

                We meet Kellie during the beginning stages of an outbreak.  Kellie describes having just returned from her grandparents’ home, but it doesn’t really explain why she had been staying there (long enough to have been attending school apparently).  We learn that a mysterious outbreak, possibly the flu, has been spreading throughout Kellie’s school.  Kellie is scared, but she believes that this is just a really bad cold.  She has no idea what’s in store for her.

                After a couple of days, Kellie realizes that there is more to this spreading illness than she could ever have imagined.  She finds herself hiding out in a school bathroom while classmates and teachers alike become “monsters,” taking bites out of one another.  Incredibly resourceful for a little girl, Kellie somehow finds her way to the cafeteria and loads up on food supplies before making a break for it and trying to get to her home.  But if and when she gets there, what will she find?  After all, it has been days and she hasn’t seen one member of her family.  Are they still alive, or have they turned into monsters like everyone else?

                Kellie’s Diary #1 is quite an interesting read.  I’ve read zombie tales written in the first person as seen through the eyes of the victim, I’ve read zombie stories written in the first person, I’ve even read zombie stories written in the first person as seen through the eyes of a zombie, but I have never read a zombie tale written as having been seen through the eyes of a child.  I loved the diary format of this novel.  Reading the entries by Kellie in the scrawl of a child with all of its spelling errors and grammar issues gives the readers a sense of youthful innocence.  It actually makes the tale that more disturbing as you find yourself thinking, “What can this little nine-year-old girl do against a horde of flesh-eating zombies?

                Thomas Jenner and Angeline Perkins have really achieved something new here – a zombie story as seen through the eyes of an innocent child.  Writing it in diary style makes the tale that much more real and that much more disturbing.  Their writing draws the reader to the character, making them care about Kellie and hoping against hope that she survives.  My only complaint is that the book was so short – I finished it in a matter of a couple of hours!  I have to get hold of the rest of the Kellie’s Diary series – I need to know what happens to this poor, loveable little girl.

Check out Kellie’s Diary at Amazon!

The Beast House

Written by: Richard Laymon

Published By: Leisure Books

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

            There are stories about the Beast House; stories of horrifying dismemberment; stories of murders so violent that they could only have been performed by some hideous creature.  The Beast House is a tourist attraction in Malcasa Point, a tourist attraction of the most macabre kind, with wax statues recreating some of the most hideous murders to have occurred in the house.  When he first hears about Beast House, controversial author and con-artist extraordinaire Gorman Hardy sees dollar signs.  With exclusive information about the house, Hardy plans to write a new bestseller.  Tyler Moran and Nora are in Malcasa Point to find Tyler’s old boyfriend – the one that got away.  They, too, are directed toward Beast House and what they find there is more shocking than either of them imagined.  Together, Hardy, Tyler and Nora with the help of some newly found friends, will uncover the secrets behind the murders at the Beast House.  They’ll soon discover that some secrets are better left undisturbed.

            The Beast House is one disturbing horror novel.  When it comes to the kingdom of horror, author Richard Laymon reins supreme.  His writing style is infectious – once you start reading, you can’t put the book down until it is done.  Laymon’s idea of horror is two-fold.  This is not a man whose sole idea of horror is bloody death.  No.  This man gets into your head and plagues you with a beast so monstrous that it would normally be beyond imagination.  Unfortunately, Laymon is so descriptive that he actually creates an image in your mind’s eye – one you’ll wish you never saw.  As I said, this book is rather disturbing.  Although the deaths described in The Beast House are horrific, the description of the anatomy of the creature who is committing the brutal murders makes for some of the most disturbing reading I have ever done. 

            What’s a horror novel without some gripping action, right?  Well, The Beast House is definitely no slouch when it comes to that category.  We’re talking edge of your seat, white-knuckled, wonder what’s going to happen next action scenes.  And when it’s all said and done and you think that the mystery has been solved and the story is over…guess again!  Laymon writes the ending in such a way as to leave things open for a sequel. 

            I must say that I was quite unprepared for The Beast House.  I was expecting a creature to be the killer – after all, the word BEAST is a part of the title.  However, such a monstrous creature with such an insatiable appetite for lust and death?  This took me by surprise.  The Beast House will sit proudly on any horror fan’s book shelf as a step above the rest in the macabre category.  But don’t take my word for it.  Check it out on a dark, gloomy night and see how freaked out you feel afterwards.

Check out The Beast House at Amazon!

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The Walking Dead: Compendium Four

Writer: Robert Kirkman

Penciler and Inker (Issue 193): Charlie Adlard

Inker for Chapters 25-32: Stefano Guadino

Distributed By: Image Comics

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               The Walking Dead comic book series has long been completed and the television series based upon it is coming to an end.  All I wanted to know was how the comic series ended.  Thankfully, I received the final compendium of Walking Dead comics for my birthday.

               In Compendium Three, we watched as our favorite zombie apocalypse survivors faced off against Negan and the Saviors.  When the Savior war was over, we flashed forward a couple of years to witness a consortium between Alexandria, The Hilltop, The Kingdom, The Saviors and more.  The compendium ended with a big fair attended by all and an introduction to a new enemy, one with a strange affinity to wearing dead people’s skin and deadly intentions toward anyone who crosses their perceived borders.

               Compendium Four picks up where the last left off with our heroes coming across the heads of their loved ones upon stakes delineating a border left behind by The Whisperers.  Our consortium now finds themselves at war with a strange enemy who not only clothes themselves in dead skin, but also lives among the dead, mingling within the herds and manipulating them against their enemies.

               From there, we move on to the discovery of the new and largest group of survivors Rick and his people have ever come across.  The Community features quite a bit to offer – a home in which dining out is an option and living their lives as they once did before the dead came back to life is the norm.  The big question: should Rick and company join The Community, or are the flaws of those in leadership roles too great?  Can the world really go back to the way it was before it all fell apart or is it time to try something new?

               This is the finale of The Walking Dead, so we get to flash forward a couple of decades in the end to see what our favorite characters are doing in the future, a future that has finally begun to move forward from the zombie apocalypse.  The ending ties up all loose ends and we learn what happens to Rick’s family, Maggie’s family and more.

               Just when you thought that you were used to the surprise injuries/deaths floating around in Kirkman’s imagination, you get hit with something shocking, some mouth-dropping, Oh S#$@! moment that leaves you shaking your head in amazement.  There are plenty of these in Compendium Four.  It was as if Kirkman was saving his best for last in that department.  This compendium had me shouting out loud.

               I loved the huge jump forward in time.  We get to see how the world changes and what our favorite heroes are up to in the future.  I love that Kirkman didn’t just have things go back to normal in the future.  There is still some technology like electricity and HAM radio, but there is an almost western/Pony Express sort of feel to the new world order that makes us realize it’s going to take a while to get things back to the way they were…and maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.  The final comic book in the series ended exactly the way it should have.  You couldn’t drag out the apocalypse forever, but you can’t fix everything in those last few pages.  Let the readers wonder how things will eventually turn out as more survivors find one another and recreate society.

               I thought it interesting that the entire Walking Dead comic book series revolved around Carl when the television series killed him off years ago.  Then again, I have always said that the television series was Kirkman’s ultimate “what if?” to his comic book series.  He could tweak the television series to see what might happen if he didn’t let this one live, if he added a character like Daryl and more.  I think some things worked better in the comic book series and some worked better in the television series.  After all, who can’t deny the great add in Daryl or the badass character the television Carol became.  Andrea’s survival in the comic books was definitely a plus and the way Negan’s people took out Abraham is different, but similar to the death of another character on the television series.  Just like Stan Lee’s “What if…?” series, Kirkman makes us see the possibilities in both worlds.

               I think the best thing about this comic book series is that it has always been in black and white.  Keeping it in black and white didn’t take anything from the horror aspect – I still cringed and moaned when I saw Rick bite someone’s jugular to kill him (yes, he does it in the television series, but it happens much later in the comic book).  However, it does make certain that the story is the most dramatic thing on the page.  The gore is secondary to the horror of the lack of humanity present in the zombie apocalypse.  That has always been this comic book’s main selling feature – the dramatic tale of how horrible mankind is to one another after an apocalyptic event, when all the rules and laws go out the window and all that is important is survival. 

               The Walking Dead reminds us just how cruel humans can be to one another and the most horrific realization coming from reading the comic book series is that it is true.  If we look at the recent pandemic, much of the response equates – people attempting to leave whatever area was affected as if they could outrun it, people hording goods, price gouging, holing up in homes and attacking others seeking help, the paranoia and suspicion.  That, unfortunately, is mankind at its worst and The Walking Dead comic book series shines a light on that reality and then some.  One day we’ll look back at this series and wonder why we haven’t learned anything from it…and I’m not talking about survival skills.

Buy The Walking Dead Compendium Volume 4 at Amazon!

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The Amityville Horror

Distributed By: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.

            I have watched quite a few horror films in my lifetime.  Some of these films left me scratching my head wondering how they could have ever been placed in the horror genre.  You know the type – the films that make you laugh more than cringe.  Some horror films caused terrifying nightmares.  Those are the horror films that have done their job – they’ve scared you so much that your subconscious is still not finished with the subject matter.  Thinking back to all of the horror flicks I have watched over the years, none has scared me more than The Amityville Horror.  I’m not talking about the various sequels and remakes of the film.  I’m talking about the original version of the film that first appeared in theaters in 1979. 

            The Amityville Horror was based upon a novel by Jay Anson that claimed to be the true story of the Lutz family, a family driven out of their home at 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, Long Island, New York by paranormal activity.  The movie starred James Brolin as George Lutz, Margot Kidder as Kathleen Lutz and Rod Steiger as Father Delaney.  The story has been long disputed by paranormal researchers and laymen alike, but one thing holds true – it makes for one heckuva scary film.

            The movie opens innocently enough, with the Lutz family purchasing a home in Amityville for a steal of a price.  The family seems normal enough, with just a small amount of friction, the result of George Lutz adjusting to the role of father after marrying into a ready-made family.  All seems well in the beginning, but there is a reason the Lutz family was able to purchase the home on 112 Ocean Avenue at such a low price.  It would seem that a year ago, a troubled young man had gone on a murderous rampage in the home, killing his mother, father, sisters and brothers.  Knowing the home’s history, Kathy Lutz enlists the aide of a Catholic priest to bless the home.  Unfortunately, the house is not happy with Father Delaney’s attempts to rid the home of evil.  It’s also not very happy with its new occupants.  A series of supernatural events take place which eventually forces the family to move out of the home only 28 days after its purchase.

            Now, of course, the story of a haunted house will sound familiar.  You’re probably saying to yourself, “This has been done so many times.”  However, this haunted house tale is supposedly based upon a true story.  That gives the viewer pause – hmm, I wonder what sort of malevolent history my home has.  When that door slammed shut, was it just the wind as I always tell myself, or was there some other force behind it.  People always say that old homes creak, but are the noises I hear just the house settling, or something more.

            Many horror films employ a great many special effects in an effort to terrify the audience.  The original version of The Amityville Horror does not.  Yes, there are some special effects used, but you must remember that this film was made in the late 1970s.  Special effects were not as sophisticated as they are today.  Instead, the film makers relied on other things to raise the scare factor.  One of the major tactics used was the music.  Supplied by composer Lalo Schifrin, the soundtrack of The Amityville Horror gives me the willies every time I hear it.  The major theme of the film begins innocently enough with children singing a tune.  Laaa-la, laaaa-la, la, la, la, la, la, laaaaaa.  This is repeated over and over, the background music at first reflecting the innocence of the voices, but soon becoming dark and unsettling as the high-pitched voices drone on.  If you can listen to this theme without chills running up and down your spine, you’re made of a hardier stock than most.

            Facial expressions are a big part of the scares in this film.  The audience reacts to the reactions of the characters as they are terrorized by the demons of the home.  We certainly feel the horror expressed by Father Delaney as he vainly makes several attempts to rid the home of evil spirits.  But facial expressions in this case aren’t enough.  James Brolin’s character begins to act strangely – more sullen and angry as the movie progresses.  A happy, handsome face is transformed by the movie’s end into an enraged, pale mask of its former self thanks to some make-up and the talent of James Brolin.

            Darkness, rain and lightning are factors used in many films and The Amityville Horror is no exception.  It’s human nature to fear darkness – to not be able to see what’s in a room or around a bend strikes fear in any heart.  Thus, darkness is used throughout the film to elicit an uneasy feeling in its viewers.  Stormy nights are also a good tool – who doesn’t jump at a sudden flash of lightening or crash of thunder?  Noises – a large part of what makes a horror film unsettling and therefore scary.  But in this film, it’s the unity of sound and visual effects that cause the viewer to become jumpy.  When the horde of flies attacks the priest, the audience is properly disgusted by the sight of so many flies in one place at one time.  It’s simply gross to the viewers, but the sound of those flies buzzing – that’s very unsettling.  If you just heard the sound and never saw the flies, you would still be unsettled, but seeing and hearing them is enough to make you want to climb the rafters.  Windows suddenly slamming shut – the sound may cause you to jump, but the fact that the window slams shut on a young child’s hand, crushing the fingers is what makes the viewer cringe and perhaps cry out.  The scritch-scratch noise of the dog as he whines and yelps, digging at the one section of wall in the basement of the home is grating.  A dog’s whining is often associated with fear and when man’s best friend is fearful of something in the basement, we’re fearful of that hidden basement presence.  And that voice – that malevolent voice screaming at the home occupants and the priest to “Get out!”  Yikes!

            For weeks after watching the 1979 version of The Amityville Horror, I was jumping at every creak and groan of the old apartment we lived in, staring at the cracks in the paint on the walls and half expecting them to erupt with that dark ooze that came out of the Lutz’s walls…the ooze I associated with the deep, dark color of dried blood.  This movie seriously freaked me out the first time I saw it and has had the same effect on me every time I’ve seen it since – I become incredibly jumpy and cognizant of any noise in the house…and that music – yikes!  I’ve seen the 2005 version of the film and I have to say that it pails in comparison.  It doesn’t leave enough up to the imagination and relies too much on special effects.  Sometimes less is more and this is proven by the original 1979 version of the film. 

            I recommend you turn out the lights on Halloween night and pop the 1979 version of The Amityville Horror starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder into your DVD player.  If this film doesn’t send chills up and down your spine from the opening moments until the closing credits, I don’t know what will.

Get The Amityville Horror (1979) at Amazon!

Halloween (1978)

Distributed By: Compass International Pictures

            It’s that time of the year again.  Time to break out the Halloween decorations, candy and old movies.  Time to dim the lights, throw those movies into the DVD player and try to scare the crap out of ourselves.  I have an annual tradition that takes place around this time – I must watch the original movie that made the name of Michael Myers a horror franchise.  The movie is called Halloween and somehow this film still can give me the chills on a dark, dreary night.

            It all begins in 1963 when a six-year-old Michael Myers murders his sister with a large butcher knife, a disaster the likes of which has never been heard of in the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois.  Myers is sent to a psychiatric institution and placed under of Dr Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance), a psychiatrist whose study of Myers has given him reason to believe that there is no way to rehabilitate him.

            In 1978, Michael Myers escapes the institution and Dr. Loomis is certain that he will be headed to his hometown.  Loomis warns the local police, but they downplay his worries.  After all, Haddonfield is a quiet town and nothing like the Myers murder has happened before or since.

            Meanwhile, Halloween preparations are taking place all over the neighborhood.  Teenager Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) takes it all in stride.  While the rest of her friends plan on enjoying the night with their boyfriends, Laurie will be staying at the Doyle’s house, babysitting their son, Tommy.  What Laurie believes will be a relaxing night sitting in front of the television, eating popcorn and watching scary movies turns into a frightfest with Laurie fighting for her life as Michael Myers takes out her friends one by one and then goes after her.

            Now, I must say that Michael Myers doesn’t really seem all that scary until he starts on his murderous journey.  The mask he wears isn’t terrifying, but it does perfectly display the emotionless way Myers goes about his murders.  The scares come from the spooky piano music created by John Carpenter – music that anyone would recognize.  The notes of this song, played over and over throughout the film, sends chills up and down your spine.  The darkness of the film also contributes to that spooky feel.  With the exception of a couple of scenes, the cinematography of Halloween is very dark.  And, of course, the low budget effects gave the film its own brand of creepiness.  This was a film that relied on very little special effects to get its scare on.

            The acting – well, it is a tad melodramatic at times and, with some of the actors, non-existent.  But Donald Pleasance does an excellent job as Dr. Loomis.  One can tell that the doctor truly believes that Michael Myers is pure evil and that he is rattled by his experience with the man.  Halloween is Jamie Lee Curtis’ debut film and although the film doesn’t allow her to show her true range as an actress, there is one thing that this film does showcase – the utter terror she displays is completely believable.  It is no wonder that Jamie Lee Curtis became a household name in the horror film industry, finding herself cast in a number of horror flicks like The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train and a number of Halloween sequels.

            I was talking to a co-worker the other day and I have to agree with his opinion that Halloween is a classic in the horror/slasher film genre.  This was a film that scared the likes of those who scorned horror films in the past.  Halloween was one of those films that had people looking over their shoulders on dark, windy nights wondering whether that shadow down the block wasn’t the local serial killer coming for them.

            There have been many sequels and even a remake, but there can only be one true Halloween – the 1978 John Carpenter version of the film that touched off a whirlwind of copycat films and a never-ending storm of sequels.  This is the only Halloween that you’ll find me watching once the last week of October rolls around.

Buy Halloween at Amazon!

Alien

Distributed By: 20th Century Fox

            “In space, no one can hear you scream.”  That was the tagline of the movie that created a whole new style of science fiction film – Alien.  I missed the movie when it originally aired in theaters.  I had heard terrific things about it – mostly that it was scary as hell.  When the sequel, Aliens, hit the theaters, I made a point of seeing it.  Finding myself loving Aliens, I simply had to rent the movie that started it all.  Many years and numerous sequels later, Alien is still toted as one of the most ground breaking science fiction movies of all time.

            Alien begins rather ominously with a tour of a seemingly empty space ship, a mining vessel called The Nostromo.  The crew, in hibernation for the long journey back to Earth, is called to action after the autopilot comes across a strange message emanating from a planet moon deep in space.  The mining crew’s contract obligates them to conduct an investigation.  Ash (Ian Holm), the ship’s science officer, believes the signal to be an SOS from an unknown lifeform.  Dallas (Tom Skerritt), the ship’s captain, and two other crew members conduct an expedition of the area.

            Meanwhile, the ship’s second in command, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), has suspicions about the message.  Further investigation reveals that the message is not an SOS, but a warning.  The expedition soon discovers that the transmission is coming from an alien ship with a dead crew and a cargo hold full of leathery eggs.  When one of the eggs hatches, the crew finally discovers just what that warning transmission was all about.  The expedition returns to The Nostromo with injured crew member, Kane (John Hurt), in tow.  Dallas breaks protocol and boards the ship with an alien attached to the face of one of the expedition members.

            Every attempt is made to dislodge the creature.  Unfortunately, not only is the alien sustaining Kane’s life, it also threatens it.  Any cut or nick to its skin will cause its acid-like blood to flow.  Any attempt to remove the alien’s legs from Kane’s face causes the tail to tighten around his throat.  Dallas and Ash decide that it would be best to leave the creature attached, with Ash monitoring it constantly. 

            Some time later, the creature removes itself from Kane and dies.  Kane seems none the worse for wear until his chest erupts, revealing an even more hideous creature that promptly leaps from his chest cavity and disappears into the bowels of the ship.  As the crew prepares to hunt down this new creature, they realize just how little they truly know about it.  The hunters soon become the hunted, the alien taking out each crew member one by one.  As the crew numbers diminish, Ripley discovers that one amongst them is a traitor.

            When Ridley Scott created this movie, I believe his intention was to scare the living crap out of his audience.  The locales of the movie are intentionally dark.  Anything can be hiding in any one of the impenetrable shadows and invariably, something always is.  Loud, sudden noises are used to jolt the system causing a rush of adrenaline.  Even the creatures designed for the film are designed to spook the audience.  The initial alien creature that hatches out of the egg scuttles around on numerous legs, giving the impression of a crab or insect.  The large alien is just plain ugly, with a large, double row of teeth, a long pointy tail, no observable eyes, and a dark black, sleek appearance.  Any area it has been in for any length of time is inundated with a slimy substance.  Just plain gross.  It moves in a deliberate slow manner, then pounces in attack mode, screeching in high pitches tones.  Yikes!

            As you watch the film, your adrenaline is pumping into overdrive.  You’re looking for the creature in every shadow, flinching at every noise.  It’s like you’ve become a part of the hunted crew members.  You’re one of The Nostromo’s surviving members and you’re looking to stay that way.  Ridley Scott is a genius!  He’s involved you so deeply that you can’t separate yourself from the movie.  This is no longer a film you are watching, but an adventure you are partaking in.  This was something that was brand new to the science fiction genre and it is probably why the film is still touted one of the best of its kind.

            I watched the film again just recently.  This is probably my fiftieth viewing of the film, but I was gifted with the Alien Quadrilogy DVD set and I simply had to see what new things there were to discover.  Inserting the DVD into the player, I was offered two choices – I could watch the original 1979 version of the film or the director’s cut which would feature deleted scenes inserted into the film.  Naturally, I chose the latter version. 

            The deleted scenes were inserted flawlessly.  They took nothing away from the movie.  In fact, I think that the deleted scenes added more to the film…made it that much scarier with the extra moments of humanity thrown in.  I do wish that the powers that be that put this film on DVD could have managed to shore up the audio quality.  This was always an issue with me – the sound quality of the dialogue in the film left much to be desired.  Otherwise, it was great to see Alien again in the director’s vision of what the original movie should have looked like.

            The Quadrilogy set offers a second DVD comprised entirely of Alien extras – commentaries, documentaries, deleted scenes, artwork, you name it.  Since I watched the director’s cut of the movie, I decided not to bother with the deleted scenes and went straight to viewing the various featurettes.  While I found it interesting listening what went into the film, I found the featurettes to be rather dry.  The film’s creators exhibited some very catty behavior when it came to discussing the various incarnations of the script.  Apparently, the original writers of the script were not happy with what their movie sponsors wanted to do with the script.  I did enjoy hearing how the look of the alien was discovered, but for the most part, I was completely bored by the featurettes.

            Alas, I found myself wishing I had skipped the extras altogether and just stuck to watching the movie.  To me, Alien will always be one of the most original and innovative science fiction / horror films ever created.  I must recommend the director’s cut of the film to any fan of the original release version of Alien.  I agree with Ridley Scott – this is a far better version of the film than the original.  For anyone who hasn’t seen Alien yet, what are you waiting for?!  This movie is a classic!  You can not propose to be a science fiction fan and never have watched Alien!

Get Alien at Amazon!

The Walking Dead: Compendium Three

Written By: Robert Kirkman

Penciler and Inker: Charlie Adlard and Stefano Gaudiano

Editor: Sean Mackiewicz

Distributed By: Image Comics 

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                Now that I was all caught up with The Walking Dead and Season 6 was finally over, I decided I would do some catching up where the comic book series is concerned.  So, I picked up a copy of The Walking Dead: Compendium Three containing issues 97-144 of the comic book series that inspired the television show.

                Things in the comics start off with Rick and his crew attempting to take out Saviors, never truly realizing the strength in numbers of their rivals.  The leader of the Saviors, Negan, and his pet barbed wire wrapped baseball bat, Lucille, not only teaches Rick the lesson of knowing your enemy before agreeing to confront them, but he also reminds Rick that not every past enemy is the worst they’ve encountered.  One more important lesson – even longstanding members can still die. 

                Thus, the fateful Issue #100, in which we lose Glenn.  Before the fight with Negan and his crew is over, Rick’s crew is over, Rick loses a great many people.  Even combining strengths with The Hilltop community and The Kingdom, a new group introduced by Jesus led by a man named Ezekiel and his tiger Shiva, Negan proves to be a formidable and ruthless enemy.  We are introduced to another nasty weapon thought up by Negan – even nastier than Lucille – sort of a skew on germ warfare in the form of zombie-contaminated weaponry. 

                After lots of explosions, losses of life and limb, a couple of misguided assassination attempts and some rather incredible strings of the “F”-bomb by Negan, Ricks combined forces join with disaffected Saviors to beat out Negan.  Rick decides to spare  Negan’s life instead of exacting the revenge everyone was hoping for.

                Flash forward a few years and Alexandria is a thriving community in a trade agreement with The Hilltop, The Kingdom and the Saviors, all equally thriving.  Negan is kept imprisoned in a cell in Rick’s basement where he is visited by Rick every day to remind him of his plight, and separately by Carl who hates Negan, but somehow has a strange bond with the man, respecting his advice.  Maggie is running Hilltop and Carl is hoping to move there to learn the blacksmith trade.  Meanwhile, Alexandria is planning its first fair to celebrate the unity of the various communities and to trade wares, reuniting many an old friend.

                But all is not entirely peaceful – patrols are starting to go missing as they venture further beyond their borders.  A new enemy awaits the survivors and they are vast and well-hidden.  And there are even more enemies lurking within the ranks – folks who are not at all keen on the new leadership.  Can internal struggles and a new enemy destroy all that Rick, Maggie and the others have worked so hard to build?

                A lot behind the scenes characters move center stage in the series while others are taken out.  I can see Kirkman’s vision in the television series now – where his “What Ifs” come out to play.  The television series Ingrid is the comic book series Sophia.  The television series Carol’s struggles with killing and allowing herself to be happy are the same as the comic book Michonne’s struggles.  The television series Michonne is now the comic book series Andrea.  The television series Olivia takes the comic book Abraham’s place, getting killed with an arrow to the eye socket, but I think that the television series Abraham is about to take the comic book Glenn’s place as Lucille’s victim.  We’ll see.

                I love that the television series doesn’t follow the comic book series to the letter and I truly hope that this is the case as it pertains to the Negan storyline.  The war with Negan in the comics is incredibly long and drawn out.  The character of Negan is too similar to that of the Governor with his dual roles of charismatic leader and ruthless despot.  I expect that to carry through in the television series, I just hope that we get to that knowledge faster.

                I enjoyed the direction of the storyline and loved the psychological explanations regarding why Rick keeps Negan alive, but internal dangers are handled differently.  The idea that a leader has to be above the killing and set the example for the new world order is all well and good when the enemy is contained, but what happens in the case of this new breed of enemy?  I guess we’ll have to wait to find out.

                I also enjoyed the artwork as the new growth of the towns called for more complex structures to be drawn.  However, I did see some problems with regard to repetitiveness, like when we first see the jailed Negan and he looks a whole lot like the Governor or when one of the newcomers looks exactly like Maggie’s long dead brother.

                Despite that, I can honestly say that the series hasn’t lost any of its shock value.  We love that no one is safe in this series, not even long standing characters, and that doesn’t seem like a rule that is going to change any time soon.  That being said, how long can we continue this series without ever finding out how this all began or if there is even a possibility for a cure?

                Whatever the future holds for this comic book series, it sure has been one helluva ride!  I hope a Compendium Four is in the works!  I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Buy The Walking Dead: Compendium Three at Amazon!

The Walking Dead: Compendium Two

Written By: Robert Kirkman

Penciler and Inker: Charlie Adlard

Editor: Sina Grace

Distributed By: Image Comics 

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                Well, I’m all caught up on The Walking Dead television series and patiently awaiting its return.  That being said, I can’t go Dead-less this whole time, so I decided to do some catching up on the comic book series the television show is based on.  And what better way than to pick up a volume that contains Issues 49-96!  Of course, it stands without reason that the following review of The Walking Dead: Compendium Two will have some spoilers, so if you are intent on not being spoiled, close this page now.  Those that don’t care about spoilage, by all means, read on.

                Compendium Two picks up shortly where Compendium One left off.  The prison is destroyed and the group has been separated.  Rick Grimes and his son, Carl, are trying to find a place to hole up for the night so that Rick can recover from his injuries and they both can recover from their losses.  Fans of the show will remember this – it was done very similarly in the television series.  Carl begins to grow up a bit, having to protect his father while he is fighting infection from his injuries.  Carl gets it in his mind that he can take care of himself, but soon realizes that he’s just a scared kid who still needs his dad. 

                Meanwhile, Michonne is searching for the others and eventually stumbles on Rick and Carl.  They are found by Glenn and Maggie and brought back to Hershel’s farm, where they find Dale and Andrea, Sophia and the twins.  Maggie is told about the demise of the remnants of her family.  Another group of survivors approaches the farm and convinces them that staying in one place is not safe as there are hordes of Roamers making there way through the area.  Former soldier, Abraham, and his girlfriend Rosita have been helping a scientist named Eugene get to Washington, D.C., where Eugene is sure they can find a way to stop the madness that the world has become. 

                Rick’s group decides to leave the farm with Abraham, but it isn’t long before tragedy strikes.  Maggie, distraught over the loss of her family, makes an unsuccessful attempt on her life.  One of the twins, Ben, having been displaying some disturbing traits of late, kills his brother Billy.  Ben’s fate is decided by Carl.  But not all is bad – the group finds Morgan, the man who saved Rick way back when he had just come out of his coma.  But they eventually lose Dale.  It is not much later that they are met by a young man named Aaron, a recruiter for a community of people living in a secure facility in Alexandria.  Rick is suspicious at first, but, upon arrival and discussions with the leader of the place, decides it might be nice to stay still for a while and enjoy the safety of walls for a change.

                Unfortunately, not all is as it seems in Alexandria and things go from bad to worse when a man accused of beating his wife and son attempts to kill Rick and actually murders the leader of Alexandria’s wife.  Soon after, a horde attacks and the wall is breached, causing the death of many, including a woman Rick was just starting to become involved with.  After mourning their losses, Rick takes over as leader of Alexandria, but while fortifying the town’s defenses, they are approached by a man named Paul “Jesus” Monroe, another scout looking for people to trade with.  He lives in a community known as the Hilltop Colony.  The group is sizable and their resources plentiful, but they are besieged by a group known as the Saviors.  Lead by a psychopath named Negan, this group provides protection from the dead, but at a hefty price, taking half of everything that the Hilltop Colony has and sending bloody messages when he deems his take is not enough.  In exchange for supplies, Rick offers his people’s help in taking on the Saviors, but at what price?

                This time around, the artistry is a little better.  Characters don’t have so many different looks as when the comic series started.  I think having Charles Adlard as the sole penciler and inker was a good choice.  I love that this tale is still told in black and white.  I think adding color would take away from the impact of the character struggles in the story.  The emotions and the drama would be somewhat diminished by adding color and making things brighter.  We don’t need to see the redness of the blood or the glowing embers of the dead that are burned.  We need to absorb what is happening to these survivors. 

                The storyline is exquisite, more than once reminding us that in this world, it’s not the dead one should be most afraid of – it’s the living.  It also reminds us what one goes through having to survive day after day, wondering what day might be your last.  When the time finally comes when you can feel safe, can you accept it?  Or is the post-traumatic stress too great for you to allow yourself that comfort?  Is being safe even an option in this world?

                Now, if I’ve told you too much about what is going on in this comic book series, I did already warn you about spoilers, right?  So don’t read any more if you don’t want to know the differences between the comic book and the show, okay?  Firstly, Andrea survives Woodbury and is with Dale, who incidentally is still alive.  And they are raising the twins – boys, not the girls being raised by Carol in the series, though just as spooky.  Maggie, trying to kill herself?  I just can’t picture the strong and stalwart Maggie of the series doing anything like that, but the comic came out first, so I’ll just have to deal with that.  Rick talking on the phone with his wife – okay, that did happen in the series, just earlier – is just as crazy, yet just as heartbreaking.  How the group meets Abraham, Rosita and Eugene is different, but Eugene’s secrets are not – loved that!  The leader of Alexandria is the husband, not the wife, but the end result is still the same.

                In short, I love the choices Robert Kirkman and his television crew have made in doing the television series – what to leave out, what to keep in, what characters to do over, what characters to invent.  And yet, I would change a thing about the comic book.  What attracted folks to The Walking Dead is the storyline and the fact that the character line-up does in fact change, often shockingly.  This is a great story of survival and of the inherent good and evil of humanity and I love the fact that I can catch up on the comic book series by reading huge chunks of it compiled in a compendium that  only cost me $35.00 (a bargain when you consider the cost of each comic separately).  I can’t wait to read more!

Buy The Walking Dead: Compendium Two at Amazon!

The Walking Dead: Compendium One

Written By: Robert Kirkman

Penciler and Inker: Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard

Editor: Sina Grace

Distributed By: Image Comics 

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                My brother has been reading The Walking Dead comic book series since its inception and has been trying to get me to read it for almost as long.  The same can be said for the television series based on the comic book.  It took me a while to come around.  Now that I have taken an extreme liking to the television series, I decided to see how much of a difference there really was between the comic book series and the television adaptation.

                Of course, I had a lot of catching up to do.  After all, this comic book has been out since 2001.  What was a girl to do?  Well, Image Comics came up with a perfect solution – The Walking Dead Compendium, compiling a multitude of comics from the series into one hefty volume.  Thankfully, my brother was more than happy to purchase the first volume for my birthday.  I couldn’t wait to check it out.

                Compiling issues 1-48 and the Holiday Special 2005, the comic book series starts off with Sheriff Rick Grimes, shot and in a coma, waking up in the hospital and finding he is the only living sole inside.  But he is not alone  – the hospital is filled with shuffling, decaying bodies, all seeming to want to get hold of him.  He manages to escape and get to his home, only to find that his wife and son have vacated the area.  Distraught and disoriented, Rick, after a nasty lump to the head, finds himself in the company of Morgan Jones and his son.  Morgan fills him in on the epidemic and the zombies that have been cropping up everywhere.

                And so the story begins, with Rick heading to Atlanta to try to find his family, getting rescued by former pizza delivery boy Glenn, who leads him to his wife Lori and son Carl.  Lori and Carl have been kept safe by Rick’s partner Shane, who was probably hoping he would never see Rick again, considering how close he has become to Lori.  Also in the group is Dale, a retired man who had been traveling in his RV with his wife before the epidemic took her from him; former college student Amy and her law clerk sister Andrea; Carol and her daughter Sophia; former shoe salesman Allen, his wife Donna and their children Ben and Billy and a mechanic named Jim who watched his whole family get slaughtered by zombies.

                The group travels along, gathering supplies, looking for a safer place to wait out the zombie nightmare, losing members along the way to zombies and other nightmares and gaining members who add just a little more zest to their group, including some prisoners locked in the local prison kitchen, a former veterinarian and farmer and his family, a former football player and his family and a sword wielding former lawyer named Michonne.  While they clear out the local prison and try to eke out a safer existence there, they soon learn that there are more dangers than just the flesh eating dead…they discover that the living are actually just as dangerous, if not more.

                As I read The Walking Dead: Compendium One, I noted the similarities between the comic book series and the television series like the names of characters and various locations the survivors find themselves in, but that is basically where the similarities end.  Some of the storylines that take place in the comic actually do take place in the television series, but actually happen to different characters.  Characters that we meet much later in the television series appear much earlier in the comics and vice versa.  Characters that die early in the comics often get a reprieve in the television series…and sometimes not.

                I noticed that the dead are actually called zombies or biters in the comic book and are categorized as either Roamers or Lurkers, depending on their activity (roam the earth searching for food or lay in wait to bite).  They are never called zombies in the television series.  I loved the fact that Rick actually tells his group that they are the Walking Dead, reminding them that once they die, they are destined to turn into a zombie.  Their time on Earth is limited and they are destined to become the very thing they are running from.  What a great moment in the series!

                There are so many “Oh Crap!” moments in this comic book series and I found myself turning to my companion often while reading, yelling, “Oh Crap they just…!”  “Holy @#%%$#$, they just killed so and so!” and “What the hell!  They just cut off this guy’s hand!”  And what Michonne does to the Governor as revenge for the atrocities he performs on her – Whoa!  And what is up with Michonne anyway…I sense a multiple personality in this character…someone more vulnerable than she seems in the television series.

                I love that the comic book series is black and white, leaving much of the gore to the imagination, while still managing to gross us out all the same.  The artwork is pretty good, despite the minor inconsistencies in some of the characters’ appearances.  The storyline is so captivating that I found myself finishing this 49-comic, 1088-page volume in just a couple of days, only stopping to do things like eat, sleep or work.  The $38.00US price for The Walking Dead: Compendium One is awesome, especially when you consider how many comics are contained in this compendium and the fact that each comic costs about $3.00 apiece. 

                The Walking Dead: Compendium One is a terrific purchase for any fan of the comics (a definite space saver) or anyone interested in reading the comic book series so late in the game like myself.  I can’t wait to read the rest of the compendiums out there – so far I know of three…are you reading this family?  Hint, hint.

Get The Walking Dead Compendium Vol. 1 on Amazon

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