Hell of the Living Dead (6/10)

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I have seen the DVD cover of this low-budget Italian zombie movie a zillion times. It’s pretty cool box art, but I’m fairly certain it was stolen from another zombie movie. Just like the soundtrack to this movie was stolen. The credits say the music is by Goblin, but they are just ripping off tracks from Dawn of the Dead.

The story follows two groups: a paramilitary outfit on a secret, zombie related mission and a group of reporters reporting on the jungle happenings… I guess. Eventually they team up and explore the jungle together and all the wonderful stock footage it has to offer. The films hits its most crazy note when, in order to get in with a group of natives, the lead actress removes her top and covers herself in war paint to converse with the tribe. Many stock footages commence and then everyone’s a zombie and run, run, run.

This movie doesn’t really make any sense, but it manages to keep things interesting with lots of close-up, flesh eating gore and the occasional act of violence against a rubber mask.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (7/10)

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German speaking Spanish conquistadors float down a river in search of El Dorado and eventually the title character goes mad with power. The end. The main reason to watch this is its sweaty portrayal of what it actually might have been like in the olden days. The story isn’t all that engaging since Aguirre is played as a nut-job from the very beginning, but at least you get to see a horse on a raft.

Scene Through Wood: A Century of Wood Engraving by Anne Desmet (9/10)

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While wood engraving was the method of illustrating books for at least a century, there doesn’t seem to be many books about the great works of the media. With the help of Ebay and Amazon’s long-tail I have slowly been collecting whatever books on the topic that I could find. Scene Through Wood is the accompanying catalog for a large Ashmolean Museum exhibition of (mostly) British wood engravings. The exhibition was derailed by the 2020 pandemic but I think it eventually was open to the public by the end of the year. I saw the catalogue hyped by many of the printmaking artists I follow on the Insta-G (Insta-G is what us cool dudes call Instagram), so, of course, I had to buy it.

As one would expect, it is filled with many excellent reproductions of the various wood engravings featured in the exhibition. Even the abstract stuff, which I normally don’t cotton to, is lovely. Of course there are several stinkers, but overall it’s a very good collection of art with lots of variety. The author, Anne Desmet, includes several of her works throughout the book. I can’t decide of this is bold or douchey.

Each piece includes a few paragraphs about the artist. These mostly are just a laundry list of societies and titles which I’m sure is meaningful in Britain’s lingering class-based society, but here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. we just do the patriotic thing and skim over them. I did like the introduction by Simon Brett which does provide some context but, overall, this more of an overview of the variety styles and themes of 20th Century wood engraving rather than a straight-up art history lesson.

Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark by Tim Lucas (10/10)

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This book is massive. Over a thousand pages filled with colorful photos, poster art and columns upon columns of content. It weighs in somewhere around twenty pounds and I think I may no longer be able to have children after the hours I spent with it resting on my lap. This is basically like having an Internet search in book form. Everything you could possibly want to know about Mario Bava is here.

I got it about a year after its release—when the price dropped for a holiday sale—and vowed to read it cover to cover. I combed through every word over the course of the better part of a decade. I’d read a chapter and then seek out whatever film was being discussed. With the arrival of streaming media services, this has gotten easier as the years have gone on. But, to be fair, the first third of the book covers films where Bava’s part was limited to cameraman of special effects so I wasn’t obsessive about most of that era. Everything from Black Sunday onwards is golden.

This is the most thorough account of the life and work of an artist I have ever read. In many ways this level of miniscule detail a bit of a detriment to a casual reader, but, let’s be serious, you probably have more than a passing interest in Mario Bava if you are shelling hundreds of dollars to own a monumental work such as this (recently saw a copy on eBay listed for around $3000!). In the end, I have grown to have even more respect for Bava’s work and his genius thanks to Tim Lucas and this wonderful book.

Death Laid an Egg (7/10)

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This is quite possibly the sexiest movie about chicken farming that I have ever seen. Death Laid an Egg is an extremely arty proto-giallo about a couple who owns a chicken farm, their young secretary, and the husband’s prostitute murder fetish. Not much makes any sense here and it doesn’t really need to. Everything is just so weird/serious, yet set against this ridiculous backdrop of egg farming. I was enthralled… or should I say egg-thralled? No. No, I shouldn’t.

Strip Nude for Your Killer (4/10)

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Well, if there’s one thing you can say about this giallo, it’s that the title is not a lie. I think every person single person, man or woman, gets naked before being killed in this movie. Unfortunately everything else is is just ho-hum. When the final killer was revealed I was like, “Wait, who the hell was that?” Very unsatisfying, unless you are a fan of Speedos.

Wasteland 3 on PC (8/10)

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The Wasteland 2 sequel sorta came out of nowhere for me. The previous game was one of the first big Kickstarter success stories and the finished product was everything I could have imagined. I found it weird that Inxile eschewed Kickstarter and went to another platform for crowd founding. As a result, I had no idea this game was being developed.

When I finally heard about the game, I made it a point to be a release day buyer. This is something I rarely do. I generally avoid buying games for more than twenty bucks, but in this instance I really wanted to show my support. The game was a bit buggy on release. No showstoppers, but a little rough on the edges. As of this writing, there are still problems with the camera and interface, but nothing so bad as to make the game unplayable.

The game itself is a pretty good improvement over Wasteland 2 in terms of interface and graphics. As I mentioned above, the camera is wonky, but there have been many visual upgrades. I especially liked the face-to-face dialogues (alá Fallout 1 & 2):

Vic Buchanan

They really provide some emotion and power to the events that are unfolding. You don’t get that sort of engagement when you are listening to voice over that is supposedly coming out of tiny characters who are fighting for screen-space with the subtitled dialogue. But these close-up scenes are not used as much as I would have wanted.

Throughout the game you are faced with many tough choices. In my humble opinion too many of these were of the lesser of two evils variety. Tough choices can also be between to great alternatives and I would have like to have seen more of those. Not everything has to be, “Do you want the turd sandwich or the turd soup?”

As in the previous game, the turn-based combat is as great as ever. It’s nice to have a role playing game that has some modern context to the mechanics and items you wield. I’ve played 4 or 5 Infinity Engine D&D games and I still have no idea WTF the Color Spray spell does or what THAC0 means. I do, however, instantly know what a flamethrower does, and I actually felt like I was getting more powerful and better at combat as I progressed.

Some stronger writing and the cleaning up of some rough edges would have helped, but all-in-all Wasteland 3 was a worthy sequel and well-worth the 50+ hours I put in to it.

Pulsebeat (9/10)

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Pulsebeat has been on my must-see bucket list for at least a decade. Ever since I found a clip of the showcase aerobics routine on YouTube I have been trying to find a version of this movie to watch. At long last I found a site that posted a crappy transfer of the full movie and that has allowed me to finally see this hidden gem. I will probably write more extensively on the film later, but for now lets just say that this is a hilariously cheesy entry in the short-lived fad of aerobics in movies. I love the seriousness of the acting while wearing shorty-shorts and leotards. Nothing about this movie makes any sense and it is fantastic.