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Those of us of a certain age will remember Friday night strolls through the horror aisle at our local video store. There were the known quantities, of course, but mixed in among the higher-end Hollywood scares was a vast and seemingly unending universe of straight-to-video schlock, sporting lurid, garish box artwork that often had little or no connection to the film that made up its contents.

If you loved those movies then and miss them now, then I might have something for you.

“Hawk & Rev: Vampire Slayers,” written and directed by Ryan Barton-Grimley (he also stars), is an attempt to recapture the energy of those late-night late-80s jaunts through Blockbuster. It is low-budget lunacy, a ludicrous and lively homage to the horror filler of the home video explosion, a story of mismatched buddies devoted to doing whatever it takes to protect their town from the evil lurking all about.

This is a movie that revels in its limitations, celebrating the obstacles to be overcome. This movie winks and nods its way through its brisk 85 minutes; it’s the kind of viewing experience rendered all the more entertaining by the sheer delight being felt by all involved. We’re talking the finest kind of dorky DIY horror filmmaking here, all informed by a love of STV trash masterpieces of the past.

Published in Movies

As someone who came of age in the 1980s, I have a deep affinity for kid-driven adventure movies. From “The Goonies” on down, I’ve always loved stories where young people were the heroes. And thanks to recent offerings such as the remake of Stephen King’s “It” or the wildly popular and nigh-ubiquitous “Stranger Things,” those sorts of films are making a comeback.

And Netflix has just such a film in “Vampires vs. the Bronx,” currently streaming on the service. The movie – directed by Oz Rodriguez from a script written by Blaise Hemingway (though Rodriguez has a story credit) – is an unexpectedly engaging bit of horror-comedy, a kids-against-the-forces-of-evil romp that also manages to have some interesting things to say about urban life and the threat of gentrification. Just, you know, with vampires.

(Can you even imagine how quickly I was in upon hearing that this movie existed?)

Now, just because I love movies like this doesn’t mean I’m blind to their flaws. There are a LOT of ways that this could have gone sideways. That it doesn’t is a testament to the filmmakers and the strong work by the young cast. It’s silly and surprisingly smart and perhaps a little scarier than anticipated. All in all, it’s a ton of fun – particularly at this time of year.

Published in Movies

Everyone has gaps in their pop culture knowledge. There’s just too much content out there. Even someone like myself, a person professionally tasked with maintaining a thorough understanding of the zeitgeist, is bound to miss some things.

And those blank spots can occasionally lead to opportunity.

Take “Twilight,” for instance. Now, I have a general understanding of the overall mythos, as someone who was, you know, conscious during the mid-00s – the whole thing was inescapable – but I never read the books and I actually only saw the final two movies, based on the final book in the series (I was … let’s just say confused). So yes – a basic understanding without much knowledge of the specifics.

This confluence of circumstances means that I get to review Meyer’s return to the “Twilight” universe with eyes of unexpected freshness.

This new offering is titled “Midnight Sun” (Little, Brown and Company, $27.99); it’s a retelling of the events of the first “Twilight” book, only from a different perspective. Instead of the story unfolding from Bella’s point of view, we get to experience Edward’s interpretation of events. And boy oh boy are there some EVENTS.

Now, I can’t speak to the relative merits of this book as opposed to its predecessor – I don’t know how well Meyer has aligned this latest offering with the work that came 15 years before – but I can say that, while I might not have found “Midnight Sun” to be the most literarily brilliant work I’ve read, it certainly didn’t live up (down?) to the less-than-stellar stylistic reputation of the first four books. The writing isn’t spectacular, but neither is it spectacularly bad.

Published in Buzz

There’s truth in the old adage that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. However, I would argue that in some cases, you CAN judge a book by its title.

For instance, take Raymond A. Villareal’s new novel “A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising” (Mulholland, $27). That is one judgeable title – evocative and provocative at the same time, offering a tantalizing and crystal-clear description of what you’re about to experience.

This book is exactly what its title purports it to be – a complex and engaging sort of future history that follows the gradual appearance and assimilation of vampires into modern society. It follows a disparate cast of characters from both sides of the divide, offering first-person accounts from key players while also interspersing interview transcripts and news articles and other secondary and tertiary materials throughout.

What ultimately emerges is a thoughtful and finely-crafted work that reads as particularly insightful pop history – the title’s allusion to Howard Zinn’s seminal book isn’t an accident. It’s got a lot of Max Brooks’ “World War Z” in its DNA as well (though, it should be noted, not in a derivative way). It bears its influences proudly, but is very much its own beast.

Published in Buzz

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