Monday, October 24, 2016

Marvel Collector Corps October Doctor Strange Unboxing.

As if October weren't jam packed with enough fun as is a mystery box arrived. The timing was rather perfect as it made up for some frustrating mail about health care. Silly as it may sound, mystery toys can almost completely make up for bullshit paperwork.
So what magical mystery box have we this time around? Well it just so happens to be the Marvel Collector Corps themed entirely around Doctor Strange. While I would have preferred a more directly frightening theme like Monsters or Tomb of Dracula, Doc Strange is still spooky enough to work for this time of year, and it doesn't hurt that I am stoked for that movie to come out. Setting aside the hype, could this installment make up for my slight disappointment in the past two boxes? Let's dig in and find out.

Starting off we've got the usual patch and pin Duo. The pin is hands down one of the best if not the best they've ever offered. The eye of agamotto perfectly illustrates that this is all about Doctor Strange while avoiding the usual floating head syndrome.
This month's patch on the other hand isn't quite as exciting. Granted I can't complain too much since I just keep all the patches stashed away. Still, this one just looks too much like the art Marvel uses for cheap kiddie products like notebooks an dinnerware.

After that baseball cap from the Spider-Man box it's a treat to receive a proper t-shirt again. Overall it's a solid design not unlike the Deadpool shirt from way back in February. Good lines, nice colors, a definite step up from the weak Spider-Gwen design. I've actually seen folks mention they won't wear these as they think they're too old or what have you. If you're one of those people I can attest that Pop-Tees are quite comfy as undershirts too. I mean it's always nice to have options and feeling confident in your nerd cred while wearing some official monkey suit is priceless.

Our comic this time around is issue #1 of the newest volume of Doctor Strange written by Robbie Thompson. Nothing really wrong with the book so much as it's just kind of basic. Outside of a nifty two page spread where Strange and Merlin walk back through time, navigating through giant versions of each other. If more of the book came across as that crazy and inventive I probably would have enjoyed it more.
Likewise the art doesn't seem quite right. It's not poor by any means so much as it seems misplaced. It's sort of a sketchy vibe to it that doesn't completely mesh with this style of story except for as noted before, that awesome two-page spread.

This month's extra marks a return to Pop Home goods with a Mug. While not as unique as the Starlord mug from last year, Funko once again made the wise decision to leave an indent in the old doctors hair for proper mouth placement. Hell, maybe they didn't do it intentionally but it works fine all the same.
Won't be surprised to see folks complain about the inclusion of another mug. Admittedly it sucks that we have to forgo more toys in order to have this but it's still a decent item that works well for those of us who enjoy large quantities of coffee.

At last the centerpiece of any Funko box. This month's pop is Stephen Strange himself meditating in his astral form. In a bizarre change of pace this pop actually stands on it's cape which leaves it a little lopsided. Generally I'm not one for keeping pops in box but this is one specimen that's gonna stay mint since I can imagine the cape weakening over time. Other than that is issue this is still a pretty righteous pop.

Overall this was a pretty solid box of mystery. Question is whether or not it's enough to keep me coming back for more. I've been feeling the pull to try out another subscription service. It's not that this is a bad service. If anything it's that the box is suffering from the law of diminished returns. Obviously there's certain items I always want to see included like the pop, pin etc, but with that expectation comes a certain level of repetition. Granted Funko tries to mix it up with fabrications, mugs, and such but they're usually in the same wheelhouse while other times they've offered something weak like the hat. It's a tough act to maintain and lord knows if they'll ever find the perfect balance of consistency and surprising extras.

That's all for tonight ladies and gents. Sorry if this seemed a bit more rushed than my usual unboxing but I've got a massive laundry list of things to wrap up this week in preparation for the big day, not to mention that Q&A session on Saturday. I plan to return with one more post before the month is out. Until then, you all keep enjoying the wonders of Halloween. See you soon.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Halloween Adventure 2016: Awaken Haunted Attraction vs. Darksyde Acres.

There's a number of ingredients to making a perfect Halloween season. One has to amass and balance just the right amount of seasonal snacks, booze, attend special events, pick out a fine costume, watch ludicrous amounts of horror films, and have at least one good adventure to a haunted attraction. Last year I failed to check off that last item much to my dismay. This time around I wouldn't let the opportunity pass by. In the heart of an extended work weekend I studied nearby haunts and restaurants in order to figure out a proper Autumn adventure. Question was, would we visit an old favorite, check on the improvements of another, or maybe venture into something completely new?

Note: Apologies for not having many pictures. My phone died early that night with no car charger so you'll just have to take my word on some of this.

Oddly enough, the Lansing Metro hasn't always had the best selection of spooky places. More often then not we're forced to take long treks east or south to find something worthwhile. Over the years I've been to giant record setting indoor haunts like Erebus, multi-event farms like Shawhaven, and even basic backyard haunts like the Duck Lake Haunted trail. My brother-in-;aw and I both agreed we wanted to try something new this year, luckily I found out there was a brand new spot called Awaken not far from here.

We set out on a journey to Leslie Mi. A small town just shy of 2000 people. Major props to the town for embracing this holiday as much as they have. The streetlamps were decorated by different folks with a competition where people could vote for their favorite. Didn't get to see them all but there were some fine entries all the same.
Before hitting the frightful festivities we had to fill our bellies while indulging in a little family history. The Crossroads bar and grill was formerly known as Ginnies and owned by my grandmother. We stopped in to check out the burgers and have a brew. It was odd to think the place once belong to my family but I decided not to lord that fact over the wait staff. The burgers were good, not the best I've ever had mind you, but definitely solid food in a comfy environment.

We found Awaken just a short ride out of town located in a former car dealership. That point in the night was quiet so we were practically treated to a private show. The first thing I noticed that set this place apart was the lighting. I've been in far too many haunts were you can't see an inch in front of your face but here each area had proper lighting which allowed us to see the work put into each scene. This wasn't a place wasn't the basic black walls with loose fabric. No sir, there were some sturdy materials in there made to look like bricks, tile, wallpaper, you name it. More than that items are placed in a sensible manner. There's no attempt to create atmosphere by simply piling junk in a corner. Each spot had a little story of its' own like the bedroom of a doll obsessed killer, scientists labs, barbershops, etc.

You might think the good lighting would make for a less scary environment, that's not the case at all. If anything the better lighting lulls you into a false sense of security. On top of that the scenes are so well designed you can't predict where all the scares are coming from. One spot in particular was outstanding in this regard, It was essentially an alleyway with zombies and a monster dog. There were just enough dark corners for performers and animatronics to be hidden while other actors shouted from windows and such to draw your attention.
On the occasions when you could accurately predict where the scare was coming from an additional element like a change in lighting would throw you off and make the moment scary. Across the board the place was impressive in both production and exaction.

On the downside, being the events first year combined with a rushed start-up left the place with somewhat less content than I'd hoped for. As it is you still get plenty of bang for your buck, but a little more would send it over the top. We were able to talk to one of the head honchos and he hopes to expand by at least 50% next year which could mean great things. Both my brother-in-law and I are planing on returning next year if only for one reason, it was actually scary. Sure most of these places surprise and shock with noises, jump scares, etc, Here, the effect didn't immediately wear off. The scares were so plentiful and well-done we actually stayed pumped for some time.

Bellies still full of burger and senses heightened by fright we decided to extend our adventure all the way to Jonesville to visit Darksyde Acres. This place has been around for something like fifteen years. I've heard of it over and over again but never took the time to visit.
The drive down was something of a thrill in itself. After normal stretches of highway and city we hit thin winding dirt roads positively encased by trees and darkness. Upon emerging we found the lights of a vast farm surround by a trailer community presumably made up of farm workers. Honestly it's a pretty amazing setting, but what about the event itself?

The haunt was divided into three primary sections. The first started off decently enough. There were a few good jump scares here and there. A bit featuring 3-D paint and black lights was a good touch but near the end of this portion things started to turn sour. There were stretches where we simply couldn't see anything. The last room of this chunk was pitch black and you have to feel around while someone taunts you for not being able to find your way out. This wasn't scary so much as annoying, not the feeling a place like this should inspire.
The second section was a maze made out of old wood and populated by chainsaw wielding goons. In theory this was a decent setting, in exaction not so much. You could easily see the monsters long in advance which meant they're best method of trying to scare is to fire off a chainsaw right next to you. Once again this is not scary so much as irritating. Doubling down on the issue is the layout. This isn't so much a true maze as it is a messy path for them to force you through until after enough dead ends they take mercy and reveal the way out.
The third and final portion was thankfully much better, featuring the best material. This chunk had the best mix of lighting, set dressing, and scares. The hallway of mirrors with a ghost girl was a legitimately well-designed set-piece as was the usage of a performer on stilts. If more of the event had been like this I would have had a much better opinion of the place but after the lame middle section the mood had been lost for me.
On the positive side there is a lot of content here for the price and some if it is good, just not enough for my liking. No doubt I've been to worse haunts, I've also been to much better and this night I'd already seen better at Awaken.

Also feel I should talk about the performers. Both places featured healthy sized casts and overall I think the crew at Awaken did a better job. Some of the Darksyde crew such as the stilt man or the mirror ghost had excellent timing but they were offset by many other actors who weren't scary so much as loud. Not to mention pet peeves of mine, body odor and bad breath were in abundant supply. By and large the Awaken cast had excellent timing, respect for personal comfort, and proper hygiene. More than that, I can remember more of them individually such as the mad doctor, doll room girl, and a rotten bunny. Wouldn't have minded hanging back with bunny girl actually. I can be scared and a Lothario at the same time, it's a free country.

As you can probably guess my endorsement this year goes to Awaken over Darksyde Acres. Not trying to tear Darksyde down. They do have some good people and scares, they just gotta fix the middle portion. Awaken on the other hand may have been quick but it was a strong show that I'm excited to return too. Essentially the double feature amounted to a great short film versus a bloated Summer flick. The latter may give you lots for your buck but there's something to be said for straight quality over quantity.

All in all it was a good night. Even the radio was in fine spirits, playing Freaks Come Out at Night as we drove through the dark woods. It was the sort of experience that helps elevate this time of year above all others. Since that's as mushy as I'm willing to get, let's wrap this up. Has anyone else out there had a good spooky trek yet this season? Any cool local haunts you like to include in your festivities? If not, I hope you're still having a good October. Get out there and drink in the Ghoul-Aide.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Star Wars Book Club Special Halloween Edition. Galaxy of Fear: City of the Dead.

We've got a very special edition of the Star Wars book club for you folks tonight. Instead of the latest and greatest in current cannon storytelling, we're stepping back into the old expanded universe for a spooky tale from the Galaxy of Fear series called City of the Dead.

Some of you may recall from my last update at the local book sale I was lucky enough to pick up this second entry of Galaxy of Fear. This was a series from the late nineties that attempted to cash in on the popularity of franchises like Goosebumps that had made horror a big ticket item for kids of the day. Can't say as I blame them for trying, as a kid of the time both Star Wars and spooky stuff were premium entertainment. A combination of the two should have been a slam dunk.

The basic outline for the series revolved around a brother sister pair. They're Tash, the older, wiser, sister with good instincts and an interest in Jedi and the ways of the force. Younger brother Zak, is the impulsive, sports savvy, gearhead. After the destruction of Alderaan leaves the kids without a home, they're taken in by their mysterious uncle by marriage. Uncle Hoole is a Shi'ido, a race of shapeshifters and an archaeologist. The more active caretaker for the kids is DV-9. more affectionately known as Deevee. Think of a more sassy version of C-3P0 and you'll have a decent understanding of what Deevee is all about. Together the group travels the galaxy getting into horrific misadventures related to the mysterious Project Starcream.
Not that Starscream.

Apparently the first novel involved the group dealing with a man-eating planet only to have their butts saved by original trilogy heroes who drop them off on a planet called kidding, True to form for Star Wars, the planet is uniform, this one characterized by fog, Gothic architecture, and cemeteries. The whole place is essentially a Universal Monster flick. They even have a tradition of welcoming visitors by dressing up as ghosts and scaring the shit outta people. Sounds like a fine vacation spot.

Let's get something out of the way right now, this is not a particularly well done book. It suffers from many of the cliches native to this type of story. Kids frequently encounter terrifying situations only to have nobody believe them. Dialogue is on the nose, character development is basically nonexistent. Every chapter wraps up with a cliffhanger. If you've ever read Goosebumps, you know the drill. Galaxy of terror took that drill and refuses to give it back.
As with most things, it's not all bad. In fact, there were a few details I found surprising. For instance every chapter ends with a cliffhanger, yet unlike most kids horror it's not always a fake scare. A part will end with zombies coming out of the ground, and the next picks up with the zombies attacking. It wasn't a dream, someone in a costumes, or a simple misunderstanding, just real monsters on the prowl. The other improvement is that the story isn't entirely bloodless. Generally in these sort of tales the threatening force either fails to take out any kids or miraculously returns them to reality upon defeat. Here though a kid actually flat out dies. No way to save him, he's just dead. Having a real threat significantly ups the stakes.

Something that really through me for a loop was Tash's interest in the old jedi Masters. It's a hobby of hers to hop on the holonet to learn everything she can about their religious exploits. In the new continuity, the Empire redacted and banned everything about the Jedi, to the point that kids born just a few years after the prequel trilogy doubt the existence of space wizards. The new bent makes infinity more sense as the Empire would have a significantly easier time controlling the galaxy by also controlling information. To think that in this old cannon a kid could just look up the wiki page on Jedi without issue simply makes no sense. Reading Tash's early interactions with Luke told me I was in very different territory than what I'm used too.

Another odd element that completely blew my mind was the villain. At first I though he was someone who only existed within this book. As a freaky looking mad scientist he certainly didn't come across as anything special. After looking the series up on wookiepedia I found Dr. Cornelius Evazan was actually someone from the original trilogy. Who you ask?

This asshole!

Turns out during the old expanded universe, this guy had a whole backstory and multiple appearances detailing his exploits as he studied life extension, body swapping, you name it. Once again I gotta point out some disconnect with this narrative. Here we have Dr. Evazan as a classical mad scientist raising an undead army. Now think of him as the random dick who picks bar fights with farmboys. This was a theme that bothered me within the old books. I've got nothing against learning more about the various inhabitants of the universe but something like this is just too much. Wasn't it good enough for someone in the background to just be a boring nobody? I always figured that dude was just a skeezy criminal and nothing more. Turning him into Space Frankenstain was more than a little unnecessary.

Thankfully Boba Fett fares better in his small role. He stays mostly true to character and doesn't overstay his welcome. If anything, childhood me would have loved the bits with him blasting super zombies. I thought it was funny that back then there was still an air of mystery about him. No one ever sees his face or knows his past. This really was a long time ago.

Overall, City of the Dead was a pretty lame read. That said, I'm not sorry I gave it a shot. I've always held a fondness for young-adult horror and having this window into the old expanded universe was a real trip. I'm almost interested in checking out more of the series just for the hell of it but let's be honest, I've got enough on my plate as is. Speaking of which, don't be surprised to see more frequent posts as I've got some special goodies to share with you all. That's something for another night. The Moon is bright, the wind is howling, I'm thinking Hammer flicks and nachos.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Halloween Book Sale 2016

Holidays are all about traditions both big and small. Something I've been able to count on fairly reliably for the past few years has been our local library book sale. Since it strikes in early October I make a point of searching for old horror novels to spice up the month. Like anything else that's supplied entirely by donation there's a chance of getting a lame crop and sadly this year is probably the weakest offering ever. It wasn't a total letdown though, there were still a few nice finds plus there was an entirely different item that absolutely made my day.

Let's kick things off with the books though. First up is Those who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly. This was the first title I decided to pick up at the sale as it seemed like a unique blend of vampires and Sherlock Holmes style mystery. The plot apparently revolves around a couple who are forced into investigating a series of murders within London's vampire community. Even of the book turns out to be a flop, looking at the authors wikipedia proved entertaining enough as she has a bizarre career of work consisting of original stories, licensed fair, and some episodes of animated series like She-Ra & Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.

The God Project is an old John Saul terror tale about children dying and/or disappearing as part of some larger scheme. Over the years of going to this sale I've picked up multiple Saul novels though I've yet to read any of them. Usually the excuse is that the to-read pile is full of so much good stuff, he get's pushed to the bottom, this year there's actually a chance of me giving this a shot.

You know the kind of purchase where you simply say “why not?” That attitude is exactly what inspired me to buy the next two books. Haunted has such a limited plot explanation on the dust jacket that it at least has the chance to surprise me. All they give you is that there's a haunted summer home and the owners invite some paranormal investigator to check it out for himself, spookiness occurs. Likewise Headhunter sounds like it should be some extra bloody serial killer fare. Generally that's not my bag but if anything I'm giving it a shot solely on the quality of that cover.

Neanderthal is very much a wild card entry. From the look of it the whole thing is a Michael Chrichton style adventure, only one of the less classy ones like Congo. This sort of best-selling blockbuster style novel was very much in fashion in the mid-nineties and I always carried a little bit of a torch for them. Back then it wasn't odd to see books like The Relic or the aforementioned monkey tale turned into major movies and though I wasn't a reader back then, I had a fine diet of those movies. The hope is that this one can take me back to that time when authors competed for the next great Hollywood paycheck.

Over in the kiddie section I picked up some perfect article material. Standing out in the open among a smattering of outdated young adult titles was the second entry in the Star Wars: Galaxy of Fear series. A late in the game entry to the kids horror phenomenon of the nineties, Galaxy of Fear ran I think for a dozen entries or so. From what I know the series follows two orphaned siblings who travel the galaxy with their uncle encountering both supernatural menaces along with some classic villains. I guess in one of them, Darth Vader has to fight his evil....errr, more evil clone. If I get enough time to read this weekend, expect a full review soon.

The media section was very sparse this year. Usually I'm able to pick up a couple new additions for my VHS collection but there were none to be found. On the upside I was lucky enough to get my mitts on a Reb Brown flick I've never seen before. If you need any indication of the kind of movie this is just read that tag line, “They jumped out of the frying pan and into the firing line.” Amazing stuff.

Like I said earlier it was slim picking this year, there was nowhere near the amount of horror titles and even less decent normal stuff to read. I wasn't the only one with a smaller pile this time either, usually between myself and the few family members who come along we pick up at least one paper bag of unbelievable weight. This time we took extra people and didn't even match the usual haul.

All in all this would have been a bigger letdown if I hadn't come across a golden idol at Goodwill just hours before. Behold the very embodiment of Halloween.

This tacky masterpiece comes from pacific rim imports, and yes, everyone who came in contact with this had to mention the damn movie. I can easily cast aside conversations about lackluster kaiju flicks for such pure majesty. It's like someone juiced Halloween night itself and formed the pulp into a work of art. It only gets better when plugged in. There are three colored bulbs inside and they change at a rapid rate just shy of a strobe light. This beauty is the very embodiment of that one singular all encompassing decoration usually found in the apartment of every old lady. I mean you couldn't ask for much more than what this has to offer. It's big enough to be noticeable, small enough to be easily stored, serves as lighting, and features a devil, ghost, witch, pumpkin, cat, skull super combination not unlike a demonic Voltron!
More than anything my new decoration will serve as a mood booster right next to my bed. Anytime I start to loose that warm seasonal feeling I can just stare at this while wrapped in a warm blanket and meditate on the simple pleasures of this season. That's always important to take in that this point in the year. Sure some of our traditions may disappoint but what really counts during these final months of the year are those slight alterations to the daily grind. I've updated this site so many times, often with a theme of showing off whatever oddities I've found in the world but only in October do I write this all down by the alternating lights of a ceramic devil. That's the sort of silly touch that elevates a normal night into something special.

That's all for now folks. Gotta wrap up a few small projects before a weekend full of work. Hope you all have the opportunity to do something more fun than guarding a condemned factory. Be a pip and leave a comment, what horror flicks are you watching this weekend? What's your favorite snack this season? Think of it as your good deed for the day by giving me some slim margin of human contact during my toils. Yall stay spooky.