Thursday, October 31, 2019

Scooby-Doo! 50 Years

Growing up one of my favorite cartoons of all time was none other than Scooby-Doo. I would be in a trance watching the show afternoons after school, so much at times that my mom would knew how to punish me taking away Scooby!

I did not know that 2019 was the 50th anniversary of the Scooby gang. I also did not know that a line of action figures celebrating 50 years were going to be released as Walmart exclusives either. When I finally found these a few months ago I quickly snatched up a few of the twin packs. Priced at $5.96 I couldn't pass these up, regardless of how good I thought they would be. 

Now that it's Halloween I finally sat down to open and photograph the figures and I realized I forgot to pick up Shaggy! I almost decided to forego posting this until I got Shaggy, but after's Halloween so here we go!

Frightface Scooby and the Black Knight

Scooby-Doo chases ghosts and ghouls with the rest of the Mystery Inc., but he'd much rather keep busy with a "Scooby Snack!" His best friend is Shaggy, and you can usually find both of them either running away from a monster or snacking on double-decker sandwiches in the back of the Mystery Machine.

The Black Knight is a large, black suit of armor that is rumored to come alive at night when the moon is full. Despite being made out of heavy metal, the Black Knight moves very quickly. You never know where he is - until he is right behind you!

There are two different two figure packs that feature Scooby. I chose this one for the frightface "action" feature. This version comes packaged with the Black Knight, although you'll notice he's actually not black.

Scooby overall has a nice sculpt. His paint apps are all applied pretty good, from his black spots to his nose and collar. Surprisingly his legs feature more articulation that I would have imagined. They rotate a full 360 degrees where they attach to the body. The "elbow" and knee joints are pins and allow for about a 45 degree range of motion. His hips are a little wide, but this almost natural. His tail is not articulated.

On the back of his neck is a little tab that slides up and down. This activates his frightface feature, where his eyes extend from his head and his tongue sticks out. I find this to be a nice touch as Scooby often had a real animated face in the cartoon.

I found the Black Knight figure to be rather boring. I looks like a suit of armor, but it has no real character. The only paint apps are the yellow on the face and the red crest on top of the helmet.

The Black Knight is more articulated than some of the other larger monster figures in the series. He has points of articulation at the shoulders, elbows, hips and knees. This articulation however is limited outside of the shoulders which give a full 360 degrees. The hips are partially limited due to the armor's skirt, but I could pull off a walking pose...imagination required of course.

Daphne Blake and the Wolfman

Fashionable, curious, and a magnet for trouble! Her tendency to plunge into scary situations has earned her the nickname "Danger Prone Daphne," as every choice she makes seems to put her in harm's way!

A supernatural looking creature with frightening fangs, the Wolfman uses his super strength to scare everyone in his path.

When I first ran across these figures at Walmart I could only find the Shaggy and the two Scooby sets. The packs with Daphne and Velma were no where to be found. I don't know the ratio of the figures in the case, but since my initial find I have now found both of the ladies on multiple occasions. 

Daphne comes dressed in her iconic purple dress with pink leggings and a green scarf around her neck. The face sculpt seems to be modeled after her more modern cartoon appearance versus the classic Hanna Barbera cartoon I grew up with. Her right hand is sculpted in a manner with which she can hold something, but as far as I can tell none of the figure packs come with accessories.

The shoulders, elbows, helps and knees are articulated. At first I thought her right arm was assembled backwards as there is a large piece of plastic that hinders the movement at the elbow. I'm still not 100% convinced this wasn't assembled wrong. Her dress also hinders the hip movement, not allowing a sitting motion. I know the figure fits in the Mystery Machine van that is sold separately, but I guess she has to stand inside the van since she can't sit? 

The Wolfman is has that classic look from the cartoon which I love. The oversized coat, tattered pants and the pale skin/face all look great. Not sure why his feet are yellow though when his hands are white?

The only articulation you'll find on the Wolfman is in the arms. His right arm moves up and down while the left arm has a full 360 degrees of motion. His legs don't move and combined with his small feet make him hard to stand, especially if his arms are raised. This makes him more top heavy and adds to the tendency to tip over forward.

Velma and Frankenstein's Monster

Velma is the resident whiz kid of Mystery Inc. Her hyper-analytical mind deciphers clues almost as fast as she can say "Jinkies!" Although the group tries to stick together, Velma often ends up wandering off by herself, searching for the next clue. While Scooby-Doo's weakness is snacks, Velma's weakness is her glasses. Without her black-rimmed specs, she's lost!

He's tall, dark and gruesome. Frankenstein's Monster has jet-black hair and sunken eyes that are offset by sallow green skin...and a scowl.

The character of Velma always got on my nerves, from her smart comments to her losing her glasses and being rendered as utterly useless. This figure, like Daphne, seems to be modeled after her new animation model over the classic. The paint apps on this figure are a little more limited, as the little bows that were molded in her brown hair were not painted. Her eyes are painted on the blue lenses of her glasses. While it works in animation, I can't but think it looks odd on the figure.

Velma is the smallest figure of the Scooby gang, however she sports the same articulation as the other figures. Her skirt too hinders her leg movement, but at least each leg moves independently of each other. Just like Daphne, Velma's right hand is molded to hold something. There is a small hole in her fist, but she didn't come packaged with any type of accessory. Hmm?

Frankenstein's Monster is the best of the monster figures I've purchased thus far. He's big, solid and looks fantastic. His overall sculpt is awesome and his paint apps are spot on. I love his how legs and feet are a little mangled looking.

Articulation is very limited on Frankenstein's Monster. His arms can rotate a full 360 degrees and that's it. I would have liked it if his head moved or even his waist, but for a $3 figure you can't expect too much.

To this day I still enjoy Scooby-Doo and I'm glad that I picked these up. I still need to grab Shaggy and possibly Fred and the Mystery Machine van. I'm not sure where I'll display these in my office, but I'll find a place eventually. Overall for $6 these are fun, yet simple figures. They seem pretty plentiful at Walmart stores in my area so I'm sure you can find them where you live if you are interested in picking them up for yourself or for your kid.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Initiation

The 1980's were a great time for horror movies. The slasher sub-genre in particular enjoyed a plethora of movies during this time. I have no idea how many of these types of movies were made, but I'm still discovering to this day movies from this sub-genre that I've never heard of. The Initiation is one of those movies that I recently came across and watched. Now I'm scratching my head in disbelief of how I've gone this long never hearing of this movie.

The Initiation is about a group of girls pledging to a sorority and part of their initiation is to break into a department store building to steal the uniform of the night watchman. The lead actress suffers from a reoccurring dream and seeks answers from a college professor. While all of this is going someone is stalking them from the shadows, killing the girls and their friends.

I went into watching this movie with no real idea of the story or any expectations. I didn't even realize that it started Daphne Zuniga (Space Balls, Melrose Place) until she appeared on screen. What sold me on watching this movie was the interesting movie poster.

The Initiation was released in 1984 and set in Texas. It was originally directed by Peter Crain, but was later replaced by Larry Stewart. It stars Vera Miles (Psycho), Clu Gulager (The Return of the Living Dead), James Read (Legally Blonde) and Hunter Tylo (The Bold and the Beautiful).

In most horror movies you know who the antagonist is, but in The Initiation it's not clear who the killer is. There are times that you may think you've figured out who it is, but it's not revealed who it is until the end of the movie. Speaking of the end, there is a plot twist that I didn't see coming nor did other reviewers of the movie.

The movie opens up with a young Kelly Fairchild (Daphne Zuniga) sleeping in bed, a storm just outside her window. She wakes up and hears something so she walks down the hall to her parents room. She sees what she thinks are her parents making out in bed, until she realizes that the man isn't her father. She stabs in him the leg (it's not clear where she got the knife) before another man walks into the room and is caught on fire from the fireplace in the bedroom. Her mother carries her out of the room with her looking over her shoulder and the man lying on the floor, fully engulfed in flames.

Kelly then wakes up, only to be in the sorority dorm being hovered over by one of the lead sorority sisters in charge. Kelly and 3 of her friends are the last of 20 original pledge members to Delta Ro Kai and are being lead downstairs where they learn of their fate. They are tasked with breaking into the Fairchild building, which is essentially a giant department store (or mall if you will) that her father owns and where Kelly happens to be working. They are to steal the night watchman's uniform to complete their task. However one of the sisters has other plans for them...essentially to have a little fun at their expense and scare the crap out of them.

Before the night of the break-in, Kelly tells one of her instructors that she wants to do her term paper on dreams. He thinks she is trying to be a brown nose as that is the subject he is working to get is degree in. They strike up a conversation and she reveals to him the re-occuring dream she has been having from her childhood. This is where we also learn that she has amnesia after falling out of a tree house at the age of 12, losing all of her previous memories. This is played up too much, but does factor into the ending.

We also see a private sanitorium that is located 300 miles away from the Fairchild's home (the mileage is given by Clu's character). There an over the top nurse is trying to relay some information to her patients when she sees the gardner out the window. She starts tapping on the window, yelling at him to leave. All we see of this guy is his disfigured face and hands as he takes his large garden trowel and continues to dig into the ground. Later that evening several of the inmates escape the sanitorium, killing the nurse. The next day is when the Fairchilds receive a call regarding the escape. This made me wonder if there was some sort of connection between the two.

The second half of the movie takes place in the Fairchild building, which actually was a real working mall. Much like the crew in the original Dawn of the Dead filmed in the real Monroeville Mall at night, the crew had 12 hours each evening to film before they had to wrap up and get out. This mall doesn't look like your traditional mall. From the outside it looked more like an office building, but as the cast runs around the mall you can clearly see individual stores. The setting helps add to the fun and suspense once the killer shows up. I don't want to say too much more about the movie because it really warrants a view, if not a purchase.

The kills in this movie aren't all that original, but they get the job done. The killer's weapon of choice (for most of the kills) is a large garden trowel, however other instruments of destruction are used such as a knives, a machete and even a harpoon gun! A few of the kills are done on screen with practical effects. The character Alison (Hunter Tylo), one of Kelly's friends probably has the bloodiest, most gruesome kills.

I thought the acting at times was bad, however Vera Miles comes through playing the role of Kelly Fairchild's mother. Clu Gulager is good, however is killed off fairly early in the movie. What I didn't know is that The Initiative was the first cinema role for both Daphne Zuniga and Hunter Tylo. Both of them are great throughout the entire movie.

Lately I've watched a lot of bad 80's horror movies so it was refreshing to watch a good movie for a change. While The Initiative didn't reinvent the slasher sub-genre of horror movies, it did a good job keeping the viewer guessing who was the killer. Now that I've seen it I was able to piece things together from earlier scenes that I originally missed. This is far from the perfect horror movie, but it is a fun movie nonetheless and one that I'm glad I stumbled across on TubiTV. Arrow Video recently released a 2 disc collector's edition Blu-Ray in late 2018 that I may have to track down because I enjoyed the movie that much.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Hot Wheels: Volkswagon T2 Pickup (Volkswagon 3/10)

From a young age I've always been intrigued by Volkswagon automobiles, thanks in large part to the VW Beetle. While I don't know a lot about the brand or it's history, when I saw this T2 pickup hanging on the pegs of my local Target store I didn't hesitate to grab it.

This T2 is part of a subline of Volkswagon vehicles, so the design may have something to do with that. The majority of the truck's die-cast metal body sports this nice metallic copper with streaks of yellow, orange and red down the side. Fifteen52 is stamped on the top of the truck's cab. The truck does it low on it's frame with shiney gold rims peaking out. Silver chrome bumpers and side running panels finish off the look.

On the back of the truck where the tailgate would normally be, sits a cut out are with the engine partially exposed. The engine appears to be die-cast metal and painted (?) black. You can see that the bed of the truck is flat with small grooves. Some red paint on the taillights would have been a nice touch.

Overall this is a fun Hot Wheels vehicle and one that I'm glad I picked up. I don't buy a lot of die-cast vehicles, but when one stands out like it's bound to catch my eye.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Sand

There is an old saying that you can't judge a book by it's cover, but does that extend to movie posters? Going into this movie I figured it would be true and this movie would be as silly as the poster. Was I right? Was I wrong? Before I get into the movie, why not watch the trailer.

Some movies start out slow, introducing you to the various characters and setting the stage. The Sand jumps right into the thick of it. The movie opens with shaky cell phone video of young adults (?) partying on the beach at night. Most of the main characters are shown partying, but outside Kaylee (girl in the red bikini top on the poster) you really don't know these other people will be part of the main staff. The party scene happens over the course of just a few minutes and doesn't show much outside of partying and two guys carrying some large slimy round thing. What?

The next morning Kaylee wakes up in a lifeguard hut on the beach. She walks outside to the ramp and sees 4 others a sleep in a car sitting just below, one girl asleep on a picnic table and one other guy still asleep that was stuck into a garbage can. The movie doesn't really address what happened to everyone else, just has the camera pan across the beach showing empty sleep bags on the beach.

Immediately everyone starts to wake up and when the girl on the picnic table steps off and onto the sand, her foot is immediately stuck in the sand. The others question how she could be stuck and give her crap. Then she falls over and catches herself only for her hand to become stuck. One of the guys in the convertible decides not to be a jerk and jumps out to help her. This is when you really know that something is up. This is also the first (and only) gory scene in the movie. The special effects I thought were pretty good...too bad they couldn't keep that up as the movie progressed.

Something carnivorous is under the sand and anything with a heartbeat that directly touches the sand is basically food. If I still have your attention and you're thinking this is one of those bad SyFy'd be right. While I've not seen another other movies with killer sand, I know of at least one other horror movie that I believe has a similar plot. Thankfully the movie clocks in at just under 1 and half hours because I have better things to do. I didn't hate the movie, but I've seen better.

The acting was OK. I've seen worse. The special effects started off great, but quickly fall apart. The CGI used in both attack scenes and of the monster underneath the sand aren't well done and comes across as cheesy. The ending of the movie leaves it open for a sequel...but Lord I hope that never happens.

I streamed this movie on TubiTV for free. Had I paid to rent this movie I would have been highly dissapointed, but seeing how I didn't have to pay a dime to watch it made it a little easier to swallow. I can't recommend this movie, but I also can't say it's the worse thing out there.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Sleepaway Camp

I have a confession to make. I've seen a lot of horror movies and the slasher genre is one of my favorites. The 80's produced a lot of movies, some good, some bad and some down right unwatchable. Sleepaway Camp is one of those movies that has grown into a cult status over the years and just about every horror fan has seen it...except for me.

Again, thanks to TubiTV I was finally able to sit down this weekend and watch this movie. Going into this movie I knew all about the killer and the shockingly, twisted ending of the movie...yet I've never seen even a scene from the movie. It's highly regarded in a lot of horror fan circles so I thought I owed it to myself to watch it.

I doubt at this point much can be said that hasn't already been said about this movie. If you're reading this I'm going to guess you've seen the movie or at least know about it's premise. The story centers around a young 14 year old girl, Angela, who is sent off to the summer camp with her cousin. However years earlier she was traumatized on the same like that Sleepaway Camp is located. All throughout the movie Angela is bullied and picked on, by both her fellow female campers as well as the boys. Then one by one many of these same people end up dead. The camp owner tries to keep things down, worried the camp's reputation will take a hit and no parents will want to send their kids the next year. Eventually the killer is a manner most shocking.

I know this will be not be popular opinion, but I just didn't care for this movie. From very early on a sexually pervasive undertone is set and that just made my stomach churn. A large majority of the cast are young children and the early comments were just too much. The mannerisms and language of many of the children/young teens is horrible. The way they treat each other is pretty over the top and at times they seem to go overboard. I'm a child of the 80's so it's nothing that I haven't seen or heard, it was just crazy the way a lot of the kids behaved in this movie.

Slasher movies are usually about the kills and Sleepaway Camp does offer a pretty large body count. I didn't find the movie to be over the top bloody or gory, but many of the kills do use practical special effects. The kills are violent, but usually not too bloody. One kill (involving mother nature) I thought was interesting, but not realistic. Most of the kills weren't drawn out either, happening rather quickly. Some you don't even see happen, just the after effects.

The acting was hit and miss. The camp owner I couldn't understand most of the time either because of his acting or his accent. The kids were brats and one in particular camp counselor wasn't so great either. The setting of the movie wasn't bad, in fact we've got a camp near where I live on a lake that I was reminded of while watching. The score and sound effects were standard fare, nothing that stood out to me. 

Fun fact, the late father of the great James Earl Jones has a small role a cook in this movie!

All in all I really thought this movie to be average. Perhaps if I had went in completely and totally spoiler free I may have a different opinion. I'm glad to have finally checked this one off my list, but I was expecting more based on this movie's reputation. I'd give this movie a C.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Mil gritos tiene la noche (Pieces)

I remember seeing the VHS jacket for Pieces in our local Video Visions movie rental store back in the 80's. I knew my parents would never let me watch a movie like this when I was young, but I've always been curious about this movie for some reason. Thanks to TubiTV, I was finally able to watch this movie in all it's 80's, grainy (and bloody) glory.

What I didn't know before watching this movie that it was a Spanish film, pretending to be American. The movie is set in Boston, MA and was partially filmed there, but the producer (Juan Simon) was Spanish himself and most of the movies he's known for were filmed in his native country.

The movie opens in 1942 and you see a little boy sitting on the floor of his room, singing a line from Humpty Dumpty while working on a jigsaw puzzle. When the camera pans up over his shoulder you can see the puzzle is a painting of a nude women. The boy's young mother stands at the door of his room, watching. When she enters and sees the puzzle, she instantly goes beserk, hitting her son. She starts tearing apart his room looking for more "filth", while threatening to kill him if she ever finds this sort of items again. She commands the boy to go get a trash bag so she can clean up this mess, only he returns with an axe and brutally kills his mother. A concerned neighbor goes and gets the police after no one answers the door bell and while that is happening, the young boy begins to cut up his mother with a hand saw. Yup, this movie is "exactly what you think it is".

The movie fast forwards to 40 years later (1982), to the campus of a New England college. A young female, studying out on a lawn somewhere on campus is attached by a masked man wielding a chainsaw, decapitating the girl. When the police show up to investigate, the find the body...but the head is missing. Hmm...

The police detective, Lt. Bracken is played by Christopher George. His assistant was Sgt. Holden, played by Spanish actor Frank Brana. I immediately recognized Christopher George, but I couldn't place him in any other movies I had seen. Then later it hit me as he played Peter Bell in Lucio Fulci's cult classic, City of the Living Dead. George's wife, Linda Day, also plays a roll in the movie as the undercover cop, former tennis pro. 

While I like Christopher George as an actor, the rest of the cast wasn't that great. Now knowing that it's a Spanish film makes a little more sense with some of the casting. There are several plot holes and goofs in this movie that it's hard to take it seriously. That and some 80's movies just haven't aged that well. However the special effects and gore, while tame to today's standards, were really good. I can imagine this movie causing quite the stir with audiences and the media when it was original released in 1982. 

Obviously the idea behind the killer wielding a chainsaw as their weapon of choice had to come from Tobe Hooper's classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre, however don't mistake Pieces for just being a knock off as the two films are quite different from one another. Texas Chainsaw wasn't that gory of a movie, cameras cutting to a different view at the last scene so the viewer could imagine in their mind what was happening. Not in Pieces. If you're squeamish in the least bit, then there are a few scenes you'll want to close your eyes to or turn your head.

I'm glad I finally watched this movie because while it was silly and comedic at times (which I believe were unintentional) it was a fun ride. I can see why this movie has a world wide cult following and has become a horror classic. It's gritty, dark, gory and centers around a perverse and corrupted killer (who has style...they wear a fedora!). If you like 80's slasher movies and you've never seen this movie, then do yourself a favor and head over to TubiTV using this link and watch the movie for free.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Screechers Wild!: Whammoth

If you aren't that familiar with Alpha Toys' Screechers Wild!, I wouldn't be surprised. Even though there was a CGI series that aired on YouTube, I believe this line mostly flew under everyone's radar. Or at least mine. I didn't find my first toy until last Christmas while shopping a K-Mart that was going out of business. I later found a few others on clearance at Walmart and the eventually they landed at Ollie's stores.

The concept of Screechers Wild! can best be summed up by saying it's an amalgamation of: Hotwheels, Transformers, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!. The animated show does a good job at blending these concepts as it features young kids that use these "toys" in a battle arena type setting. However these Screechers also are found in the wild of sorts as fully autonomous robots. 

The line consists of small plastic cars that feature a spring loaded transformation gimmick. They come with small plastic discs that when "caught", triggers the transformation and flips the vehicle into the air 360 degrees only to land in it's transformed animal mode. 

Pretty much all the toys released across the 3 series were cast in translucent plastic with minor paint apps added here and there. I would have preferred an opaque plastic with more paint apps, but I gathered Alpha Toys was a rather small company so I imagine their budget was limited.

One of my favorites so far of all the ones I've acquired is Whammoth. He hails from series 2 and sports a back hoe construction vehicle. This was a departure for the more common sports car theme prominently used in the first series. As you may be able to see, this mold has some decent design in the treads as well as the body itself. For the most part the animal bits are integrated quite well into the overall design. Of course the name gives away it's alternate form, but just looking at this you might think it's a regular Hot Wheels type toy.

I don't know what scale these would be considered, but they are a tad bit bigger than your traditional die-cast vehicle like Hot Wheels or Matchbox. Whammoth does have free rolling wheels on the underside and the gray bucket piece does move forward and backward just a bit. The paint apps are limited overall, but in vehicle mode the only paint I see is the blue used on the side of the treads and the black for the windows. The rest of the toy contains molded plastic in either dark gray (treads), light gray (animal bits) or the translucent turquoise blue.

At the front of the vehicle you'll see an open space in the treads with a light blue plastic piece. This is essentially the capture point for the included plastic discs. I failed to take a picture of the discs, however when the front of the vehicle comes in contact with the disc it will auto transform.

As you can see in my video, you can simply push the vehicle along a flat, smooth surface towards the disc to trigger the transformation. You can also purchase one of the Screechers Wild! launchers that are sold separately to launch the vehicle I believe there is also a disc launcher that you can use to aim and launch the discs towards the actual vehicles. The one time I saw that for sale at Ollie's I passed on it and I haven't seen another one since. 

I would not recommend holding the vehicle and inserting a disc manually as the spring underneath is under quite a bit of tension and if that plastic piece on the bottom of the vehicle were to snap and hit your finger it will hurt. Think of it as a loaded mouse trap. For this reason along these toys are not meant for children under 6...and even then I would think adult supervision would be necessary.

Once transformed Whammoth looks pretty awesome. I love how he's standing on the tank treads with his head ever so closely arched up. The red paint used for his eyes really pops on the translucent body. Because of the transformation you can move the tusks up, but why would you need to do that? In the animated show the animals like Whammoth here that transform and are standing on the base of the vehicle are not depicted that way, but as free running animals. I guess they could have made some of these detachable from their base, but honestly I like the way it looks in this mode as-is.

I have acquired the majority of my Screechers Wild! collection at Ollie's thus far. Most of the toys there can be had for $3.99 with the larger 3rd series ringing up for $5.99. Every toy line seems to have a gimmick and this one is somewhat original. I know it's not the first toy line to feature a spring loaded transformation, but Alpha Toys did a good job with this line in my opinion.

size comparison from series 1 (left) to series 2 (right)

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Hell House LLC 3: Lake of Fire

After watching the first Hell House LLC movie and discovering it was actually part of a trilogy, how could I not watch the two sequels? I found part 2 on YouTube, however part 3 recently debuted in September 2019 as an exclusive to Thankfully I found a promo code on Shudder's Twitter account that gave me a two week trail to the horror movie streaming service. I signed up for the free trial just to watch the third and final (?) installment to the Hell House LLC franchise.

Lake of Fire continues the narrative that was hinted at in the original movie. However like part 2, this movie relies on re-using footage from the first two movies to help advance the story. I've read some reviews where decision was criticized, but it kind of makes sense in a way. This is yet another documentary style movie and it tells you that the footage has been assembled from various sources. If you've watched the first two movies you know there is a lot of filmed footage regarding people entering the Abaddon Hotel, whether it was the Hell House staff, people that broke into the Abbadon Hotel after the events of Hell House, or the Morning Mysteries staff that filmed their own journalistic investigation. So to set the record...the first movie was a journalistic investigation to what happened the night 15 people died at Hell House. The second movie was a journalistic investigation to what happened to the team that investigated the events in the first movie. Finally we have yet another journalistic investigation into what happened to the previous two events. Original, huh?

The premise of this movie really is to wrap up the story and put a bow on it. In the second movie it was eluded but not elaborated that the hotel was purchased by multi-millionaire and owner of Wynn Media Group, Russell Wynn, right before it was scheduled to be demolished. For reasons unknown, Russell decides to move his interactive drama show, Insomnia, out of New York and into the Abaddon Hotel. He invites the new host of Morning Mysteries, Vanessa Sheppard, behind the scenes all-access to Insomnia in the days leading up to opening night. From what I could gather this Insomnia show is a play that moves from room to room in the hotel. It has a Faustian basis...which I admit I had to Google. Basically the theme is good versus evil...which spills over into the movie's story.

Vanessa, being a reporter, has done her homework and is a little anxious about this assignment. You later find out she accepts the job (and stays) because 1) she's only been on the job a few months and 2) she doesn't want to be labeled or viewed in a weak way that sometimes women in the workforce can be. While she knows the history of what has happened at the infamous hotel, Russell claims he wasn't aware of what happened just a short time before he purchased the hotel...or was he?

In typical fashion, the camera catches all sorts of mysterious images and figures. The camera will drop or turn, only to go back to it's original point of view and you see something. Lights go out and come back on and you see something. It's the same tricks used in the previous two movies, just with a different cast. Speaking of the cast, most of the cast are "actors" in the Insomnia show so they lay it on thick. While I wouldn't call the acting outright bad, it wasn't good either. Elizabeth Vermilyea plays Vanessa Sheppard and her character comes across as pretty authentic. Gabriel Chytry's Russell Wynn character is supposed to be shrouded in mystery, but it just doesn't work. Much like the super fake looking scar he sports on his face. There are some scenes in the movie where I couldn't take my eye off the scar because it was so obviously fake.

Acting aside, this movie uses a little more special effects (i.e. CGI) than the previous two movies and it's not great. I assume the budget for each consecutive movie was increased, but I don't know about this one. The interior of the hotel has been changed, altered for this movie. This makes sense since the hotel was abandoned yet again after the events of Hell House. I like some of the changes made to the "set", but again this is more of the same. I've seen this before. Give me something different. Thankfully as the movie and the story progresses, more and more info is given to the viewer. I went into this movie spoiler free, but it didn't take long for me to start piecing everything together to figure out just what was going on. By the time the movie is over, the overall story is wrapped up. There is a conclusion...but for some it wasn't satisfying. I found it to be interesting and can say I honestly didn't see the movie ending this way.

In my opinion producer Stephen Cognelli could have let Hell House LLC be a stand alone film and it would have been fine. However I assume this was always meant to be a trilogy based on the third movie. While the first movie was great and I highly recommend it, the second movie was average. However if you've seen the first or second movie you might as well finish off the trifecta and watch this one. I believe the movie will lose it's Shudder exclusivity in early 2020 so if you don't want to use the free trial like I did to view the movie, give it time and I'm sure you'll be able to view it somewhere else online.

If you do decide to watch this movie, make sure you stick around through the credits as the real ending of the movie is told between said credits.


I don't normally divulge too much about the movie to spoil things, however I have a few issues with this movie.

1) We know the Abaddon Hotel was sold to Russell Wynn in the 2nd movie, but who owned it before this sale? It almost sounds like it was owned by the city and if that was the case, why wasn't it demolished after the first movie?

2) Why are the clowns still in the house in the 3rd movie? If they were essentially gutting the haunted attraction for the Insomnia play, then why are there still so many Hell House props in the house?

3) Why do so many people keep going into the house...and the freakin' basement?!

4) What does the priest send Russell towards the beginning of the movie? Towards the end of the movie he can be seen doing something with the safe in the attic.

5) Similar to Sara Havel in the second movie, are we to believe that Russell isn't really Russell throughout the whole movie?

What I gathered from this movie is that Russell Wynn was "in the picture" before the group of friends transitioned the Abaddon Hotel into Hell House. We know from the previous movies that the original hotel owner, Andrew Tully, was searching for the literal gateway to Hell...which he found in the basement of the Abaddon Hotel. We know that the hotel was essentially using all of the various filmed footage to "invite" more and more people into the hotel so their souls could be claimed. The priest confirms that once the gate is opened, no man can close it...only an angel. We know that at some point Russell "died" in a car wreck is now said angel. This is who we see confront (the devil?) in the basement at the end of the movie.

Russell is successful in closing the gate to Hell and everyone that perished in the house has been restored...but they are trapped in the house. Does this mean they aren't dead? Are they spirits? The movie doesn't really say and this drives me crazy.

Basically the overarching story of this trilogy is good versus evil, or more or less Heaven versus Hell. I know Christianity and horror don't really go hand in hand, but I've seen several movies with a similar premise now and this is one of the better ones...despite some of my criticism.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Hell House LLC 2: The Abaddon Hotel

I enjoyed the first movie so much that when I discovered it was actually a trilogy, I sought out the sequel. Luckily someone recently (at the time of this post) uploaded the entire movie to YouTube. I looks like this movie was exclusive to the movie service, Shudder, so I'm not sure if it'll stay on YouTube or not.

This movie is basically a re-tread of the first Hell House LLC. Some may think that is a good thing, but for me it wasn't. The movie isn't bad, but it's not as good as the first movie. In the original, the producer/writer, Stephen Cognetti, did a good job at leaving bread crumbs for the viewer to figure out what was going on in the movie. He didn't give too much away (well the ending did) which left me and I'm sure others scratching their head at the end of the movie. 

This sequel gives away a little too much for my tastes. While I like that it expands upon the story in regards to the original hotel owner, Andrew Tully, and what happened in the hotel before it became the Halloween haunt, there are other parts that just show too much. Like in the first movie however, you really have to pay attention to catch some of the more subtle details.

When I said this movie is more of the same it's because the premise of this movie is another documentary investigation. This time it's a group of people lead by Jessica Fox after she is mysteriously given information there is proof stored in the hotel of what really happened with Andrew Tully. Jessica recruits Mitchell, the guy who organized the documentary footage from the first movie. His co-worker and friend, Diane was the one seen entering the house after interviewing the sole survivor from the Hell House cast. It turns out Mitchell is just as curious as to what really happened to Diane as Jessica is to find this supposed proof in the house. They decide that they'll work together and enter the house to find the answers they seek. Oh yeah, the proof is stored in refrigerators and of course not in the kitchen but in guessed it, the basement.

With just about every horror movie the viewer puts themselves in the shoes of one of the victims and starts yelling at the screen not to go upstairs, open the door or in this case go down into the basement. Through out the movie you see various clips from social media of young people entering the house to fulfil a bet or a dare, only for them to go missing afterwards. Combine that with all of the footage from the first movie and why on earth would anyone want to go inside that damned house?!

I know the first movie had a relatively low budget and I imagine the sequel had a bigger budget, but there were times where the movie felt cheaper. For the most part, I found the acting to be worse. Vasile Flutur who plays Mitchell did a good job, but Joy Shatz' character, Molly was so annoying. I was rooting for her to die just so I didn't have to hear her annoying voice!

After viewing the movie I found it to be entertaining, but not without it's flaws. If you've seen the first movie you might as well watch this one too. If nothing else it may confirm what you thought happened in the first movie...or it may leave you with more questions than answers. Your mileage may vary. As long as you can view the movie for free, I still give it my recommendation.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Transformers Cyberverse: Sky-Byte & Driller Drive

The Transformers Cyberverse line of toys seemed to start off a little flat in my opinion. The designs of core characters such as Bumblebee took design elements from other iterations of the character, but put a new "kid friendly" spin on things. Initially I dismissed most of the gimmick filled releases and focused more on the Transformers War for Cybertron: Siege series instead.

As later waves of figures begin to hit store shelves, I started to pay the series a little more attention, starting with Shockwave. Suddenly Cyberverse began to at least gain my attention. More and more classic characters were starting to be introduced into the series. While they all had a twist on their look, many of these classic characters were modeled after their Generation 1 (G1) selves that I grew up with.

The most recent wave of Cyberverse toys includes characters from other "universes" such as Cheetor from Beast Wars / Beast Machines appeared, followed by Sky-Byte from the Robots in Disguise universe. When I first saw these images solicated online I didn't know what to think of them. Silly maybe? Out there? Creative? Maybe a little of all of the above? When I finally found the Spark Armor releases at retail I just stared at them. I looked them over and over and before you knew it I was headed to the checkout with several in my hands.

While I never liked the Transmetal 2 Cybershark mold that Sky-Byte's RID toy was based on, I loved the goofy character he was portrayed as in the animation. The more I stared at Sky-Byte in the store the more I became intrigued with this toy. Sky-Byte comes packaged on a blister card and retails for $14.99. Starscream, Prowl and Jetfire are his wave mates.

Hasbro has used so many terms to describe their various size points of Transformer toys that I don't even know what this size toy is called. It's smaller than a standard deluxe scale figure, but a little bigger than the old basic size. For me it's the perfect size of figure to fiddle around with. In fact, he became my desk-bot for several weeks after opening him for this post.

Sky-Byte resembles his Robots in Disguise self pretty good. While not as big or detailed as his original toy, there is no mistake who this character is. This size Spark Armor toys are a little more simplified than some of the other larger releases, but that doesn't mean the toy doesn't pack a punch. The design is simple, but gets the job done. Paint applications are limited, but well applied. Articulation is much better than I anticipated as well. There are hollow parts on the toy, but that is the new norm when it comes to Hasbro.

Transformation into shark mode only takes a handful of steps (10) before you are done. I was able to go between the two forms rather easily without the use of the instructions. In shark mode Sky-Byte resembles a submarine more than a cyber-shark. Actually I love this new look.

One of my pet peeves is when you can see the robot parts or kibble in the alternate mode, especially the robot head. The designers did a good job at concealing most of the robot parts in shark mode. Here on the bottom you can make out the robot's waist and legs, but they are glaringly noticeable. 

Sky-Byte's Spark Armor is Driller Drive. While I've not yet watched any of the Cyberverse animation, I'm going to assume these armor pieces like Driller Drive are not sentient robots and just weapons. My first impression of this piece upon pulling it out of the packaging was it immediately reminded me of Bandai's Machine Robo Mugenbine toys. If you're not familiar with Mugenbine, those were transformable toys that had a core robot that could form a cube and all of the included pieces could be assembled with the core robot to form various animals, vehicles and more.

Sadly the wheels and drill piece on Driller Drive do not move. In fact you can't do much with Driller Drive on it's own other than to use your imagination. However his real purpose is to form a set of battle armor (or Spark armor) for Sky-Byte.

Driller Drive easily separates into a few pieces, mainly the drill piece, each side of the drill vehicle and the center portion. The two side pieces simply attach to the sides of the upper arm, while the center portion folds in half to reveal the battle helmet. This piece fits over top of Sky-Byte to form armor for the chest and back. The drill piece can be wielded using the attached 5mm peg.

While I've only opened one other Spark Armor release, it seems as if the battle helmets all have some sort of theme that matches the main character. In this case the battle helmet has a fish motif...fitting for Sky-Byte. I like the look of the helmet, even though the Sky-Byte's actual face sets back in the helmet and makes it a little hard to see his face.

Here you can see Sky-Byte compared to a Legends class Sharkticon from Titans Return. While the figure is small, it's a fun release. I know the Cyberverse series isn't aimed at me, but this toy has reminded me that it's OK if my Transformer isn't super detailed or super articulated. Toys are meant to be fun and if I was a kid I would be all over this toy as well as others I've seen in the series.