Review: “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove” By S.D.Perry (Novel)

Well, although I’d planned to review a different novel today, I didn’t really get along with that novel – so, I decided to re-read S.D.Perry’s 1998 novel “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove” instead 🙂 This was a novel that I first read at some point during my teenage years and, intriguingly, it’s an original spin-off story rather than a direct novelisation of one of the classic “Resident Evil” videogames.

So, although this novel is a sequel to Perry’s “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy“, it is sort of a stand-alone story. There are lots of recaps near the beginning and the main story is reasonably self-contained. However, it is worth taking the statement on the blurb (that this novel bridges the gap between the first two “Resident Evil” videogames) with a pinch of salt.

So, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1998 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove” that I read.

The novel is set in the American city of Racoon City. Following the local S.T.A.R.S (Special Tactics And Rescue Service) team’s recent mission inside the zombie-filled Spencer mansion, there has been an official cover up by the nefarious Umbrella Corporation. The team have been discredited in the press and are suspended, pending an investigation.

Team medic Rebecca Chambers travels to Barry Burton’s house to meet up with the rest of the team and plan what to do next. When she arrives, Barry introduces her to a member of another S.T.A.R.S team called David Trapp. David is an old friend of Barry’s and has agreed to help him gather evidence against Umbrella. As such, David suggests a covert mission to infiltrate an Umbrella facility in Maine called Caliban Cove.

However, before the team can finish planning the mission, masked henchmen start shooting at Barry’s house. After a firefight that wounds Barry, the team flee to the abandoned house of their cowardly pilot Brad Vickers and lie low. After a while, they decide that – due to her scientific expertise – Rebecca should travel to Maine with David in order to investigate the mysterious Caliban Cove facility…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it gets off to a reasonably slow start, it’s a fairly good sci-fi/horror thriller novel. However, it is at least slightly different in style and tone to the videogames it takes inspiration from. On it’s own merits, it’s still a fairly good novel, but don’t go into this novel expecting “Resident Evil 1.5” or anything like that.

One of the most noticeable differences are the novel’s horror elements. Whilst this novel still includes a few gruesome moments of grisly zombie horror, don’t expect the kind of all-out gorefest that Perry offered in “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy”. Instead, the majority of this novel’s horror elements consist of suspenseful horror, character-based horror and medical/scientific horror.

The story’s attitude towards monster design is pretty interesting too. The main “monster” of the story is a megalomaniacal scientist called Griffiths who has refined the zombie virus to the point where he can use it to control the zombies. Whilst this does result in some rather silly elements (eg: teams of zombies with machine guns), it is used to brilliantly chilling effect in the scenes showing how Griffiths has turned some of his co-workers into zombified slaves.

The novel’s thriller elements are pretty interesting too, with slightly more focus on suspense and exploration than combat. For the most part, this works reasonably well, with the suspense being increased via things like David’s team losing their boat, the squads of armed zombies prowling the grounds or the fact that a character starts slowly succumbing to the zombie virus.

However, the novel’s suspense is undercut somewhat by the fact that David’s team stays together for most of the story. One of the things that made the original games so suspenseful was the fact that the characters are frequently separated from each other and, for the most part, this novel doesn’t include too much of this. Likewise, the reader also gets to see a lot of Griffiths’ evil schemes before the other characters do, which kind of ruins the mystery slightly.

Like in the videogames, the characters also have to solve a series of puzzles in order to progress. Although there is an explanation for these puzzles (eg: a scientist hid something in the zombie training area), they seem a little bit more random and contrived than usual. In other words, they seem more like an episode of “The Crystal Maze” than a natural part of the story. Even so, the glorious silliness of these parts of the story is wonderfully reminiscent of the classic “Resident Evil” games.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly good. In addition to an extended cameo from series regulars Barry Burton, Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield at the beginning, the novel mostly focuses on Rebecca Chambers – and adds some extra depth to a character who was, at the time the novel was written, little more than a background character in the first videogame.

Likewise, the new characters (eg: David and his teammates Karen, John and Steve) are all reasonably well-written and, of course, Griffiths is a brilliantly creepy villain too. Whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra deep characterisation, there’s enough characterisation here to make you care about the characters.

In terms of the writing, Perry’s third-person narration is a reasonably good mixture of informal fast-paced thriller narration and more descriptive narration. Since the novel focuses on Rebecca, there’s a little bit more scientific jargon in this story than you might expect. Even so, the narration fits the story really well and helps to keep everything compelling.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 242 pages, this novel is gloriously concise and can be enjoyed in just a few hours 🙂 The novel’s pacing is mostly fairly good, consisting of lots of slower moments of suspense punctuated by frantic moments of action and horror. However, the first forty pages or so of this novel (which mostly consist of recaps, dialogue etc…) are far too slow-paced for a story of this type. A good thriller novel should start with something thrilling.

As for how this twenty-one year novel has aged, it has aged reasonably well. Although there are possibly a couple of mildly dated descriptions, the story is both timelessly gripping and wonderfully ’90s at the same time. Everything from the random silliness of some parts of the story, to the 1990s suburbia setting of the novel’s early scenes, to the story’s “classic Resident Evil”-style elements are a wonderful source of ’90s nostalgia 🙂

All in all, whilst this novel is kind of like “Resident Evil lite”, it’s both a reasonably fun (if a little silly) spin-off story and a fairly suspenseful sci-fi/horror thriller novel. If you’re a fan of the series, then this novel is an interesting addition to it.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a four.

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Review: “Stargate SG-1” By Ashley McConnell (Novel)

Well, thanks to the hot weather at the time of preparing this review and being slightly busy, I’m still in the mood for some relaxing easy reading. So, I thought that I’d take the opportunity to check out Ashley McConnell’s 1998 novelisation of the pilot episode of “Stargate SG-1”.

This was a second-hand novel that I bought, along with a couple of other old “Stargate SG-1” novels, a month or two earlier – mostly since I was feeling nostalgic about binge-watching this show on DVD a few years earlier.

However, I only got round to reading one of these novels at the time and, since that novel didn’t impress me much, I ended up abandoning the other two. Still, since I needed some easy reading, I thought that I’d give another one a try.

So, let’s take a look at “Stargate SG-1”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.

This is the 1999 Channel 4 Books (UK) paperback edition of “Stargate SG-1” that I read.

The story begins with a few American troops who are on guard duty in a military bunker. They’re guarding a room that contains nothing but a mysterious object covered in a tarpaulin. Due to the sheer boredom of the job, they’re passing the time by playing poker. However, in the middle of their game, the ground begins to rumble and the tarpaulin falls off of the object – revealing a giant, rippling portal.

Mysterious metallic serpent-headed figures emerge from the portal and begin to fire energy weapons at the troops. Although the troops prevent the intruders from advancing further into the base, one of them is kidnapped before the attackers retreat back into the portal.

A short time later, a US Air Force officer visits the house of a retired colonel called Jack O’Neill with orders to bring him to the base. Before his retirement, O’Neill had led a mission through the portal (or “Stargate”) in order to protect Earth from an alien invasion. So, it looks like his expertise will be needed once again…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really good memory jog if it’s been a while since you last watched the pilot episode of “Stargate SG-1”, since it is a fairly accurate adaptation of the episode. However, when seen on it’s own merits as a sci-fi novel (rather than a TV show adaptation), it’s a somewhat pulpy old-school sci-fi adventure/thriller novel.

However, if you’re expecting loads of extra stuff that wasn’t in the episode, you’re probably going to be disappointed. Still, given the time that it was written, this is fairly understandable. After all, the series was still fairly new when the novel was published. Although, if you’re a fan of the show, then all of the recaps (about the original “Stargate” film) and the story’s “mysterious” moments may seem mildly redundant. However, it’s still a fascinating glimpse into the days when this show was new.

One interesting aspect of this is that the novel’s initial description of O’Neill seems to possibly be based on Kurt Russell’s character (who has blond hair, if I remember rightly) in the original “Stargate” film, rather than Richard Dean Anderson’s interpretation of the character in “SG-1” (even so, the novel contains a reference to “MacGyver” – so, maybe not). Plus, the novel includes some earlier elements of the show that seemed to disappear in later episodes, such the temperature of anything or anyone travelling through a stargate being reduced due to molecular compression.

Even so, you probably won’t get too much more out of this novel than you would get from watching the episode it is based on. There are a few small extra background details and stuff like that but, for the most part, this is just a pretty standard/ordinary adaptation of the source material.

However, whilst the episode itself is fairly dramatic, the story can sometimes come across as cheesy or pulpy when converted to the written word (the novelisation’s brief reference to more sophisticated works of science fiction by Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov etc.. doesn’t exactly help the comparison either).

In terms of the writing, it’s reasonably ok. This novel’s third-person narration is written in a reasonably fast-paced, but descriptive, way that is fairly reminiscent of older thriller novels from the 1970s-80s. The narration is informal enough to be quickly-readable, whilst still being slightly more formal than the average modern action-thriller novel. Still, some elements of the writing do seem a little bit clunky, such as the fact that Teal’c is described almost every time that he appears or the fact that “Jaffa” is misspelled as “Jaafa” during an early part of the novel.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is excellent 🙂 Not only is it an efficient 202 pages in length but, thanks to the reasonably fast pacing, it probably won’t take you too much longer to read than it takes to watch the pilot episode of the show.

As for how this twenty-one year old novel has aged, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Thanks to the writing style, it can come across as being a little bit like an old pulp sci-fi novel (but, saying this, the nude scenes in the original version of the episode seem more understated in the novel – although this somehow makes the story seem even pulpier) or possibly a thriller novel from the 1970s-80s at times.

Plus, since the novel is fairly close to the source material, it mostly just comes across as being as old as the episode in question. Even so, it’s still reasonably gripping and is a good nostalgia piece for fans of the show.

All in all, this is a competent adaptation of the first episode of “Stargate SG-1”. It’s a great reminder of the episode and it doesn’t take too much longer to read than it takes to watch the episode. Yes, when transferred to a novel format, the story seems a bit more pulpy than it does on TV – but this is still a competent adaptation. However, if you’re looking for extra depth (like in the best film/TV/game novelisations) or stuff that you wouldn’t find in the episode, then you’re probably going to be slightly disappointed.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and three-quarters.

Review: “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy” By S. D. Perry (Novel)

Well, a while after I finished the previous novel I’d reviewed, I was still in the mood for some relaxing literary comfort food. Naturally, my thoughts turned back to an old favourite of mine that I’ve been meaning to re-read for ages. I am, of course, talking about S.D.Perry’s 1998 novel “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy”.

This is a novel that I first discovered when I was about thirteen or fourteen and, along with classic 1980s splatterpunk horror novels like Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus“, it showed me how utterly awesome novels can be 🙂 Yes, I’d read other novels before then, but these old 1980s/90s horror novels were the things that really got me interested in reading (and writing too).

Not only that, S.D.Perry’s “The Umbrella Conspiracy” (and it’s sequels) were based on the classic “Resident Evil” games – which were one of my favourite computer/video game series at the time. Perry’s novels were everything that my younger self had really wanted these slow-paced, atmospheric survival horror games to be – fast-paced, ultra-gruesome, pulse-pounding thrillers.

So, yes, this novel made quite an impression on me when I was younger 🙂 But, I was curious to see how I’d react to it now that I actually am one of the “mature readers” which the patronising content warning on the back cover recommends the book for.

So, let’s take a look at “The Umbrella Conspiracy”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.

This is the 1998 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy” that I re-read 🙂

The novel begins in the near-future year of 1998 (the original videogame came out in 1996), with a series of newspaper reports describing a series of mysterious grisly deaths in the forests surrounding the American city of Racoon City. The reports speculate that cannibals or wild animals are behind the horrific killings.

With mounting concern about the deaths, the local police chief authorises the force’s elite special tactics units (“S.T.A.R.S”) to go in and investigate. But, when Bravo team loses radio contact with HQ, S.T.A.R.S leader Albert Wesker decides to send Alpha team into the forest. As their helicopter gets closer to the forest, they notice a pall of smoke from a crashed helicopter. Bravo team’s helicopter!

After landing near the crashed chopper, Alpha team notices that it is completely abandoned. During a search of the surrounding woodland, Alpha team soon find the dismembered remains of one member of Bravo team. But, seconds later, they are menaced by ferocious mutant dogs. Fleeing for their lives, Alpha team find a disused mansion and take shelter inside. But, far from being a sanctuary, they have unknowingly entered the world of survival horror…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, even though I’ve read it before and even though I’m very familiar with the game it’s based on, it was still just about gripping enough for me to read all of it within a single day. Yes, this novel will be more suspenseful and dramatic if you haven’t played the game. But, even if you know everything about the story, then it’s still a fairly atmospheric and gripping novel.

And, although this novel isn’t that scary, it’s still a brilliant horror novel. Not only do the earlier parts of the novel build up ominous suspense quite well, but the novel’s creepy mansion setting also has the kind of gloomy, claustrophobic atmosphere that you would expect too. Plus, as mentioned earlier, this novel turns the gruesome elements of the source material up to eleven – giving this novel the macabre, vicious and grisly atmosphere that the original game lacked somewhat.

Likewise, this novel works really well as a thriller novel too. Since the main characters quickly find themselves separated when they enter the mansion, this allows the novel to jump between different areas and include lots of mini-cliffhangers. In addition to this, the main characters are frequently menaced by an assortment of zombies and mutant monsters, which gives the story much more of an action-packed feel. This fast-paced combat is also expertly contrasted with slower moments of puzzle-solving, suspense and characterisation too. Seriously, this is a thriller novel 🙂

As for how good an adaptation it is, it’s a really great one. Since “Resident Evil” is more of a story/puzzle/exploration-based game than an action game, it translates really well to a novel format – with Perry also being able to expand on all of the characters’ backstories in a way that really makes you care about them.

In addition to this, the novel also cleverly interweaves the game’s two campaigns (Jill’s campaign and Chris’ campaign), allowing the story to include many of the best moments from both of them. Plus, a few of the game’s signature lines of dialogue/text (eg: “You were almost a Jill Sandwich”, “…pecked to death by crows”, “Itchy. Tasty” etc…) also make an appearance too 🙂

The novel also takes a few interesting creative liberties which really help to keep the reader on their toes too. Not only does a mysterious new character called Trent (who is expanded upon more in Perry’s “Resident Evil: Underworld”, if I remember rightly) make a couple of cryptic appearances, but there are also a few amusing moments – such as Jill taking a much more common sense attitude towards a few of the game’s contrived puzzles (eg: just shattering the glass in the statue room, just climbing down the outdoor lift shaft etc..) too.

As for the writing, it’s really good. Perry’s third-person narration strikes just the right balance between being atmospherically descriptive and grippingly fast-paced. It’s written in a fast-paced, informal “matter of fact” way that allows you to blaze through the whole thing in a single day – but there’s enough description and formality to really give the story a sense of depth (compared to the game). In classic splatterpunk fashion, many of the novel’s most elaborate descriptions are also often reserved for moments of grisly, grotesque horror too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really great 🙂 Not only is it an efficient 262 pages in length, but the novel’s pacing is utterly brilliant too – with a really good contrast between fast-paced action scenes and slower moments of suspense and characterisation. Seriously, even if you know the story by heart, then this novel is still fairly gripping.

As for how this twenty-one year old novel has aged, it’s aged really well. Yes, there are a few obviously “90s” elements (such as a “futuristic” PDA that is more primitive than a modern smartphone) but, for the most part, this novel has lost none of it’s atmosphere, intensity and drama. Plus, of course, if you’ve played the original “Resident Evil” game, then this novel is a wonderful nostalgia-fest too 🙂

All in all, this novel is an absolutely brilliant adaptation of “Resident Evil” 🙂 If you’ve never played the game, then the story will be a lot more suspenseful. If you have played the game, then this novel is a deeper, more expanded and more intense version of a familiar story 🙂 Regardless, it’s a wonderfully gripping horror thriller novel. Yes, whilst it didn’t quite evoke the feeling of wide-eyed awe that I felt when I read this novel for the very first time, it’s still a very gripping and well-written novel.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

Review: “Word Made Flesh” By Jack O’Connell (Novel)

A couple of days before I wrote this review, I was waiting for some books to arrive and wondering what I was going to read next when I noticed my copy of Jack O’Connell’s 1998 novel “Word Made Flesh” propped up against a stack of DVDs near my computer.

It had been there for several years, perhaps even a decade. It had been a mere decorative item right up until that point. If I remember rightly, I found this book in a charity shop in Brighton sometime during the late 2000s/early 2010s. I bought it purely on the strength of the cool-looking cover art, the “18 certificate”-style logo on the cover (for my US readers, an “18 certificate” is the UK equivalent of a “hard R” or “NC-17” film rating) and the critic quote that likened it to “Blade Runner“. It seemed really cool.

Yet, it languished near my computer for years before I actually thought about, you know, reading it. So, yes, this review has been a long time coming.

So, let’s take a look at “Word Made Flesh”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2005 No Exit Press (UK) paperback edition of “Word Made Flesh” that I read.

The story takes place in a New England city called Quinsigamond. It begins with a description of a man called Leo Tani being cruelly murdered by persons unknown. Then, we see an ex-police taxi driver called Gilrein being beaten up by two gangsters who are looking for something they believe that Gilrein owns. However, they are interrupted by one of Gilrein’s cop buddies called Oster, who scares them away.

Oster insists on driving Gilrein to a derelict printworks where the local police (who are more of a gang than a law enforcement agency) now reside. Gilrein hasn’t returned to this building since his wife, Ceil, was killed by a bomb blast there whilst investigating a case. Oster tries to convince Gilrein to re-join the police, but Gilrein refuses and they part on unfriendly terms.

Meanwhile, another taxi driver called Otto Langer talks to a mysterious passenger called the Inspector. He tells the Inspector of his younger days in a European city called Maisel. He talks about how he belonged to a Jewish sect called the Ezzenes, who were singled out for cruel, violent, genocidal persecution by the city’s authorities.

A while later, Gilrein is still puzzled by the threats against him from the gangsters and about Leo’s murder. So, he decides to investigate…

One of the first things that I will say about this book is that, although it isn’t for the faint-hearted, it is an astonishingly good novel 🙂 Imagine that Clive Barker, Neal Stephenson, William Burroughs and Raymond Chandler decided to sit down and write a novel together. If they did, the book they would produce would probably look a lot like “Word Made Flesh”.

In other words, this novel is a brilliantly unique combination of a disturbing horror novel, a detailed cyberpunk dystopia (without the computers), a work of surrealist beat literature and a complex noir detective story. And all of these different elements are blended together in a complex and seamless way that almost becomes it’s own new genre.

Still, when you start reading this book, it can be easy to mistake it for a horror novel. And a very potent one at that!

The story begins with a macabre flourish of extreme horror and chilling dystopian horror that will make even the most jaded of horror fiction and dystopian fiction readers wince and recoil with shocked and unsettled disgust. Yet, if you have both the stomach and the stoutness of mind for the first 40-50 pages, then the story begins to become more than just a shocking and deeply unsettling extreme horror story.

This story, like Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age” is a complex story that will require your full attention. It isn’t easy reading in any sense of the word, but it is well worth putting in the effort. Not only is the writing in this novel filled with atmospheric descriptions, historical/cultural allusions, realistic dialogue, respect for the reader’s intelligence and lots of brilliantly quotable turns of phrase – but this novel also has a wonderfully intelligent level of thematic and narrative complexity too.

Basically, if you can understand the labyrinthine plot of a Raymond Chandler novel, then you’ll be in your element here. If not, you might get confused. And, yes, you need to pay attention when reading this novel.

For example, the solution to the murder mystery at the beginning of the novel is never explicitly spelled out, yet the reader is provided with enough clues to work out who probably did it (and why). Likewise, unless you pay careful attention to various pieces of backstory, then some of the later events of the story may not make sense. This is a story that respects the reader’s intelligence and demands that you think about it.

Thematically, this story is really interesting. One of the major themes, consistent with novels like “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson and some of William Burroughs’ novels is the idea of language and/or knowledge being a cross between a virus and a magical thing. In essence, “Word Made Flesh” is a story about stories (or a “metafiction” if you want to sound pretentious).

More particularly, it is a novel about the power of stories. This includes a woman whose entire life is shaped by seeing a film about a mysterious 19th century murder case, a man who repeats his life story to all those who will listen, a man who believes that he can hack people’s minds using language, a plague spread by a book, some fourth-wall breaking moments and a chilling tale about how an attempt to document an unspeakable atrocity (by turning it into a story) ends up inadvertently glorifying the perpetrator.

Another interesting theme in the novel is the theme of skin. This is probably more of a motif than a theme, but there’s a lot of skin-related imagery and events in this story. Although this is partially there to add an unsettling atmosphere to the story, it also possibly has some metaphorical significance too. This is because there’s one part of the story that talks about how people are separated by language, how everyone is alone because we only see others from the outside etc… So, presumably the emphasis on skin is related to this theme.

The novel also includes a lot of other themes (eg: religion, history, the nature of evil, mental health/PTSD, culture, authority etc..) too, but I should probably get on with the review.

The novel’s characters are extremely well-written and are a motley crew of washed-up, eccentric and/or morally ambiguous characters who are all unique individuals with realistic (if occasionally strange) motivations. They are all people who have been influenced or affected by their pasts in some way or another too.

This novel is also wonderfully atmospheric too. The story’s settings are left deliberately ambiguous, with the reader given enough information to picture individual locations – but with enough vagueness to make the larger “world” of the story seem like something unsettlingly strange and confusing. Along with the excellent writing (possibly influenced by writers like Neal Stephenson, Raymond Chandler and William Burroughs), this really helps to lend the novel a compelling atmosphere that will make you want to read more.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. Whilst the story is a little bit slow-paced, the story’s atmosphere, intelligence and writing will ensure that it remains compelling nonetheless. Likewise, at 314 pages, this novel never really feels bloated. Seriously, most writers would be lucky to cram a story like this into 500 pages, let alone 314.

In terms of how this twenty-one year old novel has aged, it has aged extremely well. Not only are the novel’s moments of horror still extremely effective, but the novel’s themes and complexities are pretty much timeless. A lot of what helps to preserve this novel is the ambiguity about when it is set (eg: the future? the 1990s? the 1950s? etc..) – this lends the story a slightly timeless quality which means that it still holds up really well to this day.

All in all, this is a unique, creative and intelligent novel that I’m really glad that I read 🙂 Yes, it probably isn’t for everyone. But, if you’re open-minded, if you don’t mind intelligent storytelling, if you aren’t easily-shocked and if you want to read something that is like a mixture of Clive Barker, Neal Stephenson, William Burroughs and Raymond Chandler – then you will absolutely love this novel 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Review: “Hard Rain” (Film)

Since I was still in the mood for watching films from the 1990s, I thought that I’d review an action/crime/thriller/disaster movie from 1998 called “Hard Rain”.

I have vague memories of watching this film on VHS (I can’t remember if it was a rental, ex-rental or recorded off of the telly) when I was about thirteen or fourteen, but I couldn’t remember that much about it. So, after finding a cheap second-hand DVD of it, I thought that it was worth rewatching.

Note: In the time between preparing and posting this review, there has been a fairly recent scandal about one of the film’s main cast members.
After some thought about what to do with this review, I’ve decided to remove any references to celebrities (in general) and to focus only on the film’s story, pacing, writing/scripting, special effects, lighting etc… This slight change in focus will not affect the film’s review score.
This seemed to be a good balance between current sensibilities regarding these types of scandals and the principle that creative works should be primarily judged on their own merits (eg: judgments about a creative work should be made separately from judgments about those involved in making it).

So, that said, let’s take a look at “Hard Rain”. I’ll try to avoid major spoilers in this review. But, the original trailer for this film spoils one of the film’s main twists (so, don’t watch the trailer before you see the film).
——-

“Hard Rain” is set in the small American town of Huntingburg, Indiana and it begins with two security guards called Tom and Charlie who are collecting money from banks in their armoured truck during the early parts of a gigantic rainstorm.

What could possibly go wrong? Oh… this.

After a while, their truck gets stranded in the middle of a flooded road. So, they radio headquarters and are told that the national guard will arrive in a few hours. Then, a while later, a car shows up.

Well, that was a rather short film. What? There’s more….

However, the car belongs to a group of criminals (led by a man called Jim) who are after the money in the truck! After a short gun fight, Charlie is shot and Tom flees with the money, in the hope of hiding it somewhere until the authorities arrive. Needless to say, the criminals quickly give chase….

They even use jet skis at one point. Jet skis!

Soon, the local police and one or two of the townspeople also end up getting drawn into these events too. But, with the floodwaters rising and the town’s dam in a precarious state, who will survive and what will happen to the money?…

One of the first things that I will say about “Hard Rain” is that it’s an even better film than I remembered. Like with “Broken Arrow“, it’s just fun to watch. The film is a wild rollercoaster of suspense, plot twists, humour and action that reminded me again of how much fun action/thriller films made after the end of the Cold War and before 9/11 were.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, the people writing action and thriller movies during the 1990s couldn’t just rely on current events for story ideas – so, action/thriller films from that decade often tend to be a bit more imaginative and often also have a somewhat lighter emotional tone too. In other words, they’re more “fun” than “serious” and they tend to have a bit more uniqueness and personality.

Plus, unlike many action movies, “Hard Rain” isn’t some grand drama about saving the world or anything like that. Virtually all of the events in the film take place within a single flooded town and, surprisingly, this focus on smaller-scale events really helps to add a lot of extra drama and suspense to the film.

Yes, modern films could learn a lot from this. Small-scale drama is more dramatic than large-scale drama.

This is also helped by the fact that this film has a reassuringly lean running time of about 93 minutes (seriously, I miss the days when films had editors).

But, although the film has a sensible running time, there are still a few points where the narrative feels a little bit unfocused as it jumps between events happening in different parts of the town. This isn’t a major issue, since these scenes are all extremely compelling, but the pacing doesn’t feel as thrilling as usual during a few brief parts of the film. Even so, most of the film is a lean, focused action thriller that is absolutely crammed with suspense.

Seriously, this film’s suspense elements are absolutely brilliant! Not only are all of the characters constantly threatened by the rising flood waters (and other environmental hazards), but this film also contains a few surprising plot twists that help to add to the suspenseful atmosphere too.

There’s also a surprising amount of humour in this film that really helps to complement the thrilling suspense and fast-paced action. Interestingly though, most of this humour is “cynical old man” humour – which still works surprisingly well.

However, as the film progresses, the amount of humour drops slightly as the narrative focuses more on drama and suspense, even including a couple of genuinely creepy moments (eg: when one of the townspeople is menaced by an extremely creepy guy).

But, for the most part, the emotional tone of this film never strays too far towards “grim”, “disturbing” or “depressing”, and the film’s overall emotional tone can best be described as “suspenseful” and “fun”.

And did I mention the jet skis? Seriously, these were so cool during the 1990s! I mean, I even remember playing a jet ski-themed videogame back then.

Although this film is surprisingly timeless, it also contains at least a small amount of 1990s nostalgia too – such as CRT computer monitors in some scenes and a scene involving an audio cassette.

The characters in this film have realistic motivations and, occasionally, some degree of moral ambiguity. Both the heroic and villainous characters (and everyone in between) come across as being actual characters, rather than just stock characters or anything like that. Although the film is still a gloriously silly action movie and doesn’t contain any seriously deep characterisation, the characterisation that is there works really well.

Virtually all of the special effects in this film (except for some obviously CGI/super-imposed fire effects in one scene) are really good too.

Unfortunately, the DVD I bought didn’t have a “making of” feature, but I’d be really interested to see how the makers of the film managed to create an entire flooded town. Seriously, pretty much all of the effects in this film not only stand the test of time but still look fairly impressive in a “how the hell did they do that?” kind of way.

Seriously, the flooding scenes look really realistic. I’m guessing that they must have used a very large swimming pool or something.

Likewise, the lighting in this film is absolutely superb! As I’ve said so many times before, people certainly knew how to use lighting well during the 1990s and this film is no exception!

As well as lots of awesome gloomy lighting and/or high-contrast lighting, one interesting thing in this film is that the lighting will often have an orange/blue colour scheme. This is one of the most visually-appealing colour combinations and, although it is over-used by Hollywood these days, it’s kept fairly subtle in this film.

Seriously, the lighting in films from the 90s is AMAZING 🙂

Although it’s a bit of a visual cliche these days, the blue/orange lighting in this film still works reasonably well.

In addition to this, the film’s music is also fairly good too. The stand-out piece of music in the film is probably the dramatic (and thoroughly “cinematic”) tune that accompanies the opening credits. But there are also a couple of good musical moments in other parts of the film too.

All in all, this is a really fun and suspenseful film. I’m not sure whether I prefer it to “Broken Arrow” or not, but it’s another stellar example of how great the action/thriller genre could be during the 1990s. It contains some really cool lighting, special effects and action sequences. Plus, the characters, humour and emotional tone of the film are really great too.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five. They don’t make films like this these days!

Review: “Practical Magic” (Film)

Given that I’m absolutely fascinated by the 1990s and that comedy horror is one of my favourite genres, I’m genuinely surprised that it took me as long as it did to discover a film from 1998 called “Practical Magic”.

But, after finding a vaguely sensibly-priced secondhand DVD of it online, I thought that I’d check it out. And, surprisingly, it was a very different type of film to what I had initially expected.

So, let’s take a look at “Practical Magic”. Needless to say, this review will contain SPOILERS.

“Practical Magic” is a romantic comedy, with horror and dark comedy elements, that focuses on two sisters called Sally and Gillian Owens (played by Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman) who come from a family of witches and live with their two eccentric aunts, Frances and Jet (played by Stockard Channing and Diane West), in an old mansion.

Needless to say, Gillian is more of an extrovert and Sally is more of an introvert.

However, due to the tragic history of one of their distant ancestors, their family is also cursed too. The ancient curse claims the life of anyone that a member of the family truly falls in love with. Although Sally tried to protect herself from falling in love by casting a spell when she was younger, she eventually ends up starting a family with a fairly ordinary guy called Michael. Gillian, on the other hand, leaves town and ends up with a stunningly handsome and intriguingly mysterious guy called Jimmy.

Of course, things start to go wrong for both sisters after a while. After narrowly avoiding being run over by a swarm of cyclists whilst crossing the road, Michael is promptly hit by a truck. Stricken by grief, Sally returns to her aunts and begs them to bring him back from the grave. But, they refuse, claiming that such things don’t usually end well. Eventually, she decides to settle in her ancestral home and open a shop in the nearby town.

A while later, Gillian breaks up with Jimmy after he becomes violent towards her. When Sally goes to pick Gillian up from a motel, Jimmy shows up and kidnaps them. However, a while later, Sally accidentally ends up poisoning him. Panicked, the sisters attempt a resurrection spell.

With whipped cream, no less!

Jimmy suddenly returns to life as a zombie and, after a brief fight, Sally ends up killing him again with a frying pan. The sisters bury him in the garden and decide to keep the whole matter secret from their aunts. But, a few days later, a detective arrives in town looking for Jimmy….

I have very mixed views about this film. One the first things that I will say is that it is both more depressing and more uplifting than I’d originally expected. Although the film certainly contains some brilliantly comedic moments, it really isn’t as much of a comedy as I had expected. Likewise, the film’s horror elements are somewhat creepier and more “serious” than I’d originally expected too. In addition to this, at least one of the film’s romances is both predictable and implausible at the same time.

I don’t know, the film foreshadows this part of the plot, but their romance progresses in a somewhat random way.

Yet, it was a film that really had an emotional impact on me after I’d finished watching it. Although the actual story of the film is a somewhat strange mixture of tragedy, comedy, joy, tedium, creepy horror and emotional drama – this film is much more than the sum of it’s parts. Thanks to the characters, acting, settings and general “atmosphere” of the film, it is the kind of film that will linger in your imagination long after the credits roll.

What initially seems to be one of the film’s main weaknesses – the slightly slow pacing and occasional lack of narrative focus – actually helps the film quite a bit. This is mostly because it allows the film to focus more on the characters, the “atmosphere” and the settings. And this is where this film absolutely excels!

Both the acting and characterisation in this film are absolutely brilliant, with the friendly- but somewhat complicated- dynamics of the Owens family being a central part of the film.

And they even have random late night cocktail parties too.

All of the main characters are really interesting too – whether it’s Sally’s somewhat introverted personality and conflicted attitude towards her magical powers (and towards teaching her daughters magic), or Gillian’s more extroverted (and somewhat paranoid) personality, or Frances and Jet’s brilliantly sarcastic and relaxed attitude towards life, the characters in this film are absolutely excellent.

In addition to this, the film also creates an atmosphere of community through the adversity that the witches face. Whether it is the family curse, the business with Jimmy or the fact that everyone in the nearby town seems to be somewhat suspicious of them, the main characters often have to rely on each other a lot. This feeling of community is another emotional element that will probably linger with you once the credits roll.

However, there is a somewhat implausible (but incredibly uplifting) plot twist later in the film when a lot of people from the town suddenly rally around the witches in their hour of need, despite despising them earlier in the film. This sudden shift is a little bewildering, but it carries a surprising amount of emotional power. It also seems to carry a very slight amount of LGBT subtext too, with Sally’s mention of her own powers being likened to coming out.

Yes, the film tries to explain why some of the townspeople suddenly help out the witches by showing some of them mentioning vaguely intuitive/paranormal experiences in their own lives. Even so, their change in attitude is somewhat sudden/random – even if it works really well in emotional terms.

Likewise, the set design, lighting and effects in this film are astonishingly good too. The film’s locations often have a wonderfully interesting “olde worlde” look to them that is also very distinctively “90s” too. The old wooden mansion that a lot of the film takes place in is almost a character in and of itself, and it’s the kind of place that will linger warmly in your imagination after the film finishes.

The lighting in this film is, in a word, spectacular. As I’ve probably said before, people in the 1980s and 1990s certainly knew how to use lighting well and this film is no exception! Not only are many scenes filled with beautifully gothic gloom, but there are also some absolutely beautiful exterior shots of the mansion at night and even a really cool montage scene when Gillian drives a car.

Seriously, the lighting alone in this scene is brilliant, not to mention the cool time-lapse effects too.

And, wow! Just wow! This scene is a work of art!

And just check out the lighting here too. As I said, filmmakers certainly knew how to use lighting during the 1990s!

The film’s special effects are also really good too, mostly because – for a film about magic – they are surprisingly understated. Since they aren’t the main focus of the film, they often just seem like an organic part of the film rather than a “special effect”.

Although the film probably uses some CGI effects in a couple of scenes, these don’t really stand out as “old CGI” due to the fact that the audience’s attention is drawn towards the events that are happening, rather than the effects themselves.

For example, I’m not entirely certain whether the dust effects in this scene are CGI or not. Since this film’s effects are a bit more understated, it avoids the pitfall of “old CGI” that other films from the time can experience when viewed these days.

Likewise, if you’re a fan of the 1990s, then this film is crammed with 90s nostalgia. Whether it’s the fact that Faith Hill’s “This Kiss” plays during one scene, or the gloriously retro costume design in the film, or the optimistic parts of the ending, or the total lack of mobile phones, or the set design etc…. this film is very much from the 90s.

All in all, this is a film that is worth watching for everything except the story. The characters, the atmosphere, the set design, the lighting, the 1990s nostalgia, the comedic moments, the positive emotional moments and the horror elements are all absolutely brilliant. The story, on the other hand, is somewhat unevenly-paced, somewhat unfocused, occasionally implausible and occasionally rather depressing though.

Even so, as I mentioned earlier, this is one of those films which may not seem that impressive when you’re actually watching it but will linger in your imagination after you’ve finished watching.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least three and a half.

Review: “John Carpenter’s Vampires” (Film)

Back when I was a young teenager, I tried to watch as many horror movies as I could. Since I didn’t really look old enough to buy them on VHS/DVD and since I could hardly ever convince anyone to buy them on my behalf, I often just ended up recording them off of the TV with my VCR. Amongst many of the rebellious late-night horror movies that Channel 4 had to offer back then, there was a film called “John Carpenter’s Vampires”.

Needless to say, when I was in a bit of a nostalgic mood recently, I vaguely remembered this film. After a quick look online, I noticed that second-hand DVDs of it were going ridiculously cheaply on Amazon. And, since my VCR doesn’t work any more (and the tape with “Vampires” on it seems to be lost to the mists of time), I decided to get it on DVD.

So, let’s take another look at “John Carpenter’s Vampires”:

Seriously, this cover art is really cool 🙂

“John Carpenter’s Vampires” is an action/horror movie from 1998 (Wow! It’s 20 years old already!) starring James Woods, Daniel Baldwin and Sheryl Lee. As the title suggests, it is also directed by renowned horror director John Carpenter.

The film focuses on a group of rough, tough American vampire hunters, led by Jack Crow (Woods), who have been hired by the Catholic church to track down and kill the master vampire, Valek.

And, yes, they are that gloriously ’90s combination of “badass” and “silly”.

Initially, things seem to be going fairly well. After the hunters successfully battle a nest of vampires in New Mexico, they immediately rush to the nearest church to pray for… Ha! Only joking! In true ’90s action hero fashion, they travel to a nearby motel to have a wild party. However, as the party gets into full swing, an uninvited guest shows up….

You honestly weren’t going to have a decadent party without a vampire, were you?

After the ensuing bloodbath, only Jack Crow, his buddy Montoya (Baldwin) and a party guest called Katrina (Lee) manage to get out of the motel alive. Well, mostly.

Katrina has been bitten by Valek and is slowly turning into a vampire. Although Montoya wants to shoot her before she turns, Crow realises that she has a psychic link with Valek. A psychic link that will allow them to track down Valek and get their revenge…….

*sigh* If only the American government had invested in decent public transport for rural communities…

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it is probably more of a gritty action movie than a horror movie. However, this really isn’t a bad thing – since it seems to have a vaguely Robert Rodriguez-esque style, tone, setting and atmosphere. Although it was directed by John Carpenter, this film is at least vaguely reminiscent of some of Rodriguez’s greatest hits from the 90s (like “Desperado” and “From Dusk till Dawn).

In addition to this, this film is a vampire film from the 90s! This decade produced so many amazing things in the vampire genre, including films like “Bram Stoker’s Dracula“, “Blade“, “From Dusk till Dawn“, “Interview With The Vampire” and “Dracula: Dead And Loving It“, to novels like “Lost Souls” and TV series like “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel“.

Back in the 90s, vampires weren’t sparkly romantics – they were usually either fearsome monsters or really handsome goth guys. In this film, the vampires mostly fall into the “fearsome monsters” category.

The only “Twilight” here is the time of the day when the vampires rise from their graves to feast upon the blood of the living.

Like with many vampire movies, this film has it’s own unique interpretation of the vampire genre too. Not only is the film’s main villain, Valek, given some backstory – but Crow and his team usually kill vampires by harpooning them with a crossbow bolt before dragging them out into the sunlight (where they burst into flames in the traditional fashion). Interestingly, the vampires in this film are also totally unaffected by things like garlic, crosses etc.. too .

Yes, these vampires are literally standing right next to a giant cross!

The film’s pacing is reasonably good too, alternating between blood-spattered action scenes and more suspenseful scenes. Likewise, the film’s lean 100 minute running time helps to ensure that the story moves along at a decent pace too.

The film’s writing is very much from the Quentin Tarantino-style school of writing too. But, although it lacks much of the wit that Tarantino’s films have, the dialogue here is suitably gritty and irreverent for a film of this type.

In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably good. Crow and Montoya are the kind of morally-ambiguous, rough characters who are only distinguishable from common criminals by the fact that they also fight vampires.

Katrina is something of an under-developed character though – and she spends a fair amount of the film having visions, trying to stop herself turning into a vampire and occasionally being treated roughly by Crow and Montoya.

Seriously, upon rewatching “Vampires” these days, I realised that I’d forgotten how misogynistic this old film can occasionally be. Although the vast majority of the film doesn’t really have this problem, there are at least a small number of scenes that will raise eyebrows. Still, given that Crow and Montoya are meant to be “unlikeable anti-heroes”, this might explain these elements of the film. Even so, a few moments of this film will be more “disturbingly dated” than anything else when seen these days.

Valek, on the other hand, is a really great villain. Not only does he have a suitably interesting backstory, but he’s able to be both menacingly sophisticated and fearsomely vicious.

Nooo! WHY won’t anyone join my Cradle Of Filth tribute band?!

The only real criticism I have of his character is that he really doesn’t turn up often enough. Still, given that he’s meant to be a mysteriously elusive villain, then his relatively few appearances probably add to the mystique.

Likewise, the Catholic priest who ends up joining Crow, Montoya and Katrina about a little under halfway through the film is a reasonably good character too. However, he does the usual silly Hollywood thing of suddenly turning from a slightly bookish archivist into a badass action hero within a relatively short amount of time.

Seriously, he goes from a nervous, nerdy guy who Crow dislikes so much that he actually violently bullies him at one point….

…. to being an expert member of the vampire-hunting team within the space of about a day or so!

The fight scenes in this film are fairly well-choreographed and the special effects are also suitably splatterific too. Since this film is from just before the time when CGI effects began to become common, all of the special effects here are good old practical effects – which helps to lend the horror-based scenes a bit more realism. Not only that, the film even manages to squeeze in a (somewhat unrealistic in context) badass explosion too:

And, yes, James Woods walks away from it in the classic action movie fashion too.

In terms of the lighting and set design, it’s reasonably good too. Although most of the film takes place in abandoned parts of rural New Mexico, these run-down buildings and deserts are sometimes enhanced by some really cool lighting, which occasionally seems to involve some kind of red filter being placed on the top of the camera lens.

Seriously, the lighting is really cool in some parts of this film.

Plus, there are some really cool contrasts between light and darkness.

Not to mention that this location reminded me a little bit of the old “Silent Hill” games too.

All in all, this is a really good action/horror movie. Not only is it another great example of why the 1990s were the golden decade of the vampire genre, but it’s also thrilling, suspenseful and dramatic too. Yes, the dialogue could have been slightly wittier in some parts, and the film is occasionally somewhat misogynistic, but – despite these faults – it’s a great example of how awesome the vampire genre used to be.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would maybe just about get a four.