The Return of the Vampire

Holy Holocaust, Batman! This movie rocks! 1944's The Return of the Vampire was initially going to be a direct sequel to Universal's Dracula, but Universal threatened to sue Columbia (the production company behind this film) if they didn't change the characters. Make no mistake about it; this is a sequel in spirit. We open at a foggy cemetery where a werewolf creeps over to a coffin that houses the body of Armand Tesla, a 200-year-old vampire. Tesla has enslaved the werewolf and cast his lost soul under a wieldy spell. This is the first fright flick to feature both a vampire and a werewolf. That's a zillion brownie points right there.

The make-up effects are actually quite proficient. In fact, I'd wager to say that the werewolf looks better than the varmint in The Wolf Man. The first 10 minutes are sweet. I never use that word, so you know that I really dug the first 10 minutes. We're treated to tombstones, bilging rollers of mist, an overcast sky, and Bela motherfuckin' Lugosi. What more do you need? Lugosi's performance is delightfully compelling and doctrinaire. He had yet to turn into a full-blown wash-up, and you can tell that he's enjoying himself. Matt Willis is competent as the werewolf, although his ambulatory mole was a huge distraction. It jumps from cheek to cheek more than once.

Frieda Inescort plays Lady Ainsley, the woman who heads the vamp-hunting group of protagonists. She's a strong heroine. None of the other characters stand out, but they don't really need to. Something I liked about Return was the fact that Ainsley believed the fanciful talk of monsters from the get-go. It didn't take much to convince her that vampires and werewolves really existed. So that was a nice change of pace from the usual character tension you see with these types of movies. The pacing is controlled, and with a running time of 70 minutes, I didn't get a chance to roll my eyes out of restlessness.

That's another thing; The Return of the Vampire ends with a bang. Again, these movies usually exhibit similar behavioral traits. The endings are usually flat and abrupt. But not this one! There is a sense of closure that caps the film off with desistance. I couldn't find many setbacks. Of course, I'm judicious with my Z'Dar's, but this is certainly one of the better horror films from the 1940's. It stands above The Wolf Man and The Ghost of Frankenstein (I haven't seen House of Dracula yet). If you're fond of any of those creature features, this bloodsucking bash will put a toothy smile on your face.



When it comes to Christ-raping death metal, you can't do much better than Deicide. Is the Satanic schtick getting old? Well, yes, but inverted cross-branded frontman Glen Benton explored new territory on the band's latest album - 2008's 'Til Death Do Us Part. Just one problem...the music was a letdown. That's why I'm going back to 2006's The Stench of Redemption, which is easily one of the best death metal albums of this decade. It set the bar so high, that any follow-up would have sounded meager. The revamp line-up consisted of death metal stalwarts Ralph Santolla and former Cannibal Corpse axeman Jack Owen. Needless to say, the guitars on this record are fucking epic.

Every song is charged up with extended soloing. The lead work could be considered wanky (because it is), but I don't care. Each solo feels carefully mapped out. Whether or not they were carefully mapped out is kind of irrelevant. The title track is my favorite organ-grinder. Glen sounds positively demonic. I like his delivery, although I don't hold him in the highest regard as a death vocalist. He doesn't enunciate very well, and on the earlier albums, his dry tone didn't jive with the thin production. "Death to Jesus" is self-explanatory. Fuck, that's a metal song. The solo is almost too beautiful for such a brutish song. Almost.

The first half of Redemption is infallible. After Satanic Conjuration #6, the dashing "Homage For Satan," the relentless nature of the album grows tiring. It's a lot to take in, which isn't to say that the last four tracks are grotty rummage. It's just a hard album to listen to all the way through. It's a good thing that you can hear every instrument clearly. The production is clean without sounding too digital. The sound quality is both "old-school" and "new-school" in its reach. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Steve Asheim's spectacular performance on the drums. He puts on a clinic. There is something about his blastbeats. I don't know, man...there is something about them.

Do I need to talk about the lyrics? They're serviceable, I suppose. I'm not a Satanist, but I do enjoy unapologetic blasphemy when I see or hear it. It's like watching a good b-movie. If Motorhead is the AC/DC of speed metal, why can't Deicide be the AC/DC of Satanic death metal? It it ain't broke, sacrifice it and offer it to the Prince of Darkness! While I'm at it, I'll tell you that 2004's Scars of the Crucifix is another winner. Don't expect the same kind of gymnastic guitar solos, though. Also, check out Order of Ennead, a cool black metal four-piece that features Steve Asheim on the skins. Tasty stuff.


Dracula (Spanish Version)


The Spanish version of Dracula is heralded as a refined, more stylish film than its American counterpart. It's true that the picture is finespun. It certainly has a visual flair that Tod Browning's Dracula lacks. But aside from the obvious differences that any pair of eyes could pick up, I found this romantic sibling to be rather lifeless. To justify my opinion, I'll cite the running time, which is 30 minutes longer than that of the Lugosi chiller. Why is this film longer, you may ask? Because there is excess dead air between each line of dialogue. This is one slow movie. I'm talking slow-slow. Slower than sorghum. Slower than a turtle with busted kneecaps. Don't even think of watching it late at night. I tried to, but I fell asleep twice (yes, I rewatched it).

The cast is tremendous. Carlos Villarias makes for a great Count and Pablo Alvarez Rubio makes for an insane Renfield. George Melford does a splendid job behind the camera. The imagery is enchanting, but there wasn't enough meat to sink my teeth into during the sedated scenes. While the storyline is virtually identical to that of Browning's Dracula, the execution failed to enthrall me. I still recommend watching this flick since most horror fanatics disagree with me. At the very least, it's a novel curiosity. If you don't already own it, buy the Dracula Legacy box set from Universal. It contains both versions of Dracula, Dracula's Daughter (a 4-Z'dar sparkler), Son of Dracula and House of Dracula. Not a bad line-up!


Dracula ('31)


Here we have another review subject that I'm flip-flopping on. As a teenager, Dracula was my least favorite Universal horror film. I recognized its place in horror history, but to be blunt, I didn't like it. Well, it's official...I like it. I watched the version with the exquisite Philip Glass score. I finally see what all the fuss is about. Tod Browning's direction is imperial. He knows when to zoom in, when to keep the camera still and when to let Lugosi do his thing. The atmosphere is suffocatingly bleak. The opening scene where the Count meets Renfield in the austere hills of Transylvania is absolutely chilling. This is a movie you need to watch under a thick blanket.

Speaking of everyone's favorite Romanian dipsomaniac, he was in his magnetic prime here. At times, all you see is his pasty visage floating in the darkness. Creepy! I'm a big Lugosi fan, although I prefer Max Schrek's turn as Count Orlock in Nosferatu. Both performances hit home, and I can't imagine anyone but Bela himself playing this Dracula. The film is chalked full of iconic imagery...the castle, the winding staircase, the widow's peak, the bats, the coffins, the undead concubines and their soulless eyes. Now that's what I'm talking about! If you don't put Dracula on your Halloween party to-do list, you're crazy.

The last 20 minutes are dull. I'm more patient than I used to be, but most die-hards will tell you that this film's climax doesn't have much of a pulse. It's for this reason why I've always preferred Frankenstein. Be that as it may, I'm glad that I took a chance on Browning's adaptation of the Bram Stoker classic. Tomorrow, I'll be posting a mini-review of the Spanish version of Dracula, which was filmed at the same time as the American version (using the same script and the same sets!). Early next month, I'll be tackling another Drac pic. When it comes to bloodsucker romps, it's my personal favorite of the lot. What could it be??? Stay tuned and find out!


Infernal Majesty - NONE SHALL DEFY

If you were to look up "badass" in the dictionary, you...probably wouldn't find it because it's considered slang. Let's assume that it was an actual word for a moment, shall we? If you were to look it up in the dictionary, you would see the album cover pasted above. Infernal Majesty's None Shall Defy is a landmark achievement in extreme metal. It's one of the most underrated albums of all time. I have no earthly idea why this record isn't referenced alongside Reign in Blood and Altars of Madness as required listening for real metalheads. Badass indeed. IM were one of the first bands to play what would become black metal. It wasn't just black metal, though. It was blackened thrash/death metal. Think Slayer mongrelized with Possessed and Morbid Angel.
Regrettably, IM didn't release a follow-up until 1998, which may have factored into their obscurity. If these guys had remained active throughout the late 80's and at least the early 90's, they would have a Venom-sized cult following. None Shall Defy is an immaculate debut. The production is flawless, the riffs are ominous, the songwriting is top-notch, and the vocals seethe with antagonism. Don't let the woozy album cover throw you off (is that Puff the Magic Dragon?); this stuff is dead-serious. As a fairly simple-minded heathen, I admit to being drawn to IM's Satanic image. The lyrics are over the top and the songtitles are so metal. I know that it's cliched, but I can't help it...I love that nonsense!

Album opener "Overlord" is beyond heavy. The chorus churns out a megalithic riff that sprawls itself out over a driving, yet discombobulated beat. The second track is a passive instrumetal that leads into the epic "Night of the Living Dead." "S.O.S." loses me just a bit until the title track pulls me back in. This one builds on eerie melodies and finds its strength in guitar work, a trait that most black metal bands omit in favor of raw, animalistic effrontery. I'd say that "None Shall Defy" is my favorite song, although I have a soft spot for album closer "Hell on Earth." This isn't a perfect collection of skull-crushers, but overall, it has a special something that I look for in every CD that I pop into my boombox. I can't describe it.
Of course, if you're familiar with this band, you know what I'm talking about. You can certainly find None Shall Defy online, but if for some miraculous reason you see it offline, pick that fucker up. If you see it on vinyl, mail it to me. You can have my first-born child. Infernal Majesty released a solid album in 2005 called One Who Points to Death. For a veteran band that has only cobbled three records together, they still sound relevant and incredibly angry. They could be seen as the first band to combine thrash, death, and black metal. Why hasn't anyone heard of them? It's a cruel, cruel world. Pay your respects.


Dr. Giggles

Dr. Giggles is one of those pre-Scream slashers from the 90’s that no one cares about. One-off genre films that failed in propelling next-generation horror icons into the limelight are poised to dangle in an amphibolic limbo for all of eternity. Dr. Giggles, Brainscan, Shocker and Popcorn are b-flicks that strained ever noticeably to kickstart a franchise. Nowadays, said reels are virtually non-existent in the pop culture vernacular. And I love all of them! Something is seriously wrong with me. I am obsessed with Dr. Giggles. I first viewed it as an impressionable youth, and since then, I have seen it at least twenty times. It just clicks with me. I’m not entirely sure why, but it clicks with me like chemotherapy clicks with a cancer patient.

How sick am I? I own a Dr. Giggles comic book. Yes, it’s gotten that bad. I’m not blind to the film’s obvious flaws, but I really don’t care about them. The plot is nothing special. A loon escapes from a mental institution and sets up camp in the small town that made a martyr out of his father. He fancies himself as a doctor, which gives way to dozens of glorious gimmick-induced one-liners. This flick is all about creative death sequences, hammy acting, and juvenile scares. The pace is restless. I never get restless watching the film, despite the fact that I could probably sketch out the storyboards from memory at this point.

Larry Drake. That’s all I need to say, but I’m bound by the gregarious nature of journalism to patter further. Drake’s bequest is distinguished enough without Dr. Giggles on his resume (to horror freaks anyway), but he knocked this fucker out of the ballpark. In my sugar-coated opinion, his performance as Evan Rendell is up there with Robert Englund’s many turns as Freddy and Tony Todd’s portentous play dates with Candyman as one of the most formidable interpretations of a villain in modern day splatter cinema. A bold statement, I know, but I can back it up. If not for Drake, this would be a devastatingly ordinary slasher. He prescribes a concentrated dose of colorful character to a role that could have easily been a throwaway baddie. Can you spot the medical reference???

Unfortunately, Larry Drake is the only opalescent asterismal in the cast. The rest of the players are about as opalescent as MY COCK! Future the-other-girl Holly Marie Combs is profoundly boring. Future corpse Glenn Quinn is bland as the “cool” boyfriend. Every slasher stereotype is accounted for. Surprisingly, the token black guy isn’t relegated to being a stock cartoon. In fact, I don’t remember him spitting out any urban parlance. I am tempted to change the subject. Let’s see...acting, Larry Drake, death sequences, one-liners...I’ve got it! Manny Coto! Coto directed this brainless bouillabaisse (that’s fish soup, asshole) as though he actually cared what the final product was going to look like. You’ve got to love the opening credits. You’ve got to.

Coto also helmed 1997’s Star Kid. Wait, that’s not interesting at all. I better wrap this up while I’m still behind. Dr. Giggles is too much fun. It does suffer from the same pratfalls that every “hack ‘em up” picture suffers from. The teenagers are idiots, the script is shot full of holes, and the slut doesn’t drop her top. What’s that about? Still, this jocular junket is a sentimental favorite of mine. I must be out...of my mind!


The Navy vs. the Night Monsters


Some movies have a way of burrowing deep within the tapestry of cult classic cinema. 1966's The Navy vs. the Night Monsters is one such movie. I can't remember how I stumbled upon this one, but I'm glad I did. Sort of. I'm proud to own it, but it's not exactly a keeper. The plot concerns a scientific expedition in Antarctica. What other type of expedition could it possibly be? Plant life is inadvertently shipped to a Navy base where the sadistic seedlings come to life and attack whichever poor schmuck happens to be standing in front of one of the perverse perennials. Jesus, my alliteration is out of control. The cruddier the film, the cruddier the review...is that how it works?

Anyway, I don't have much to say about Night Monsters. The script seems lively at first. The dialogue is relatively sharp and the characters are likable. Halfway through, the film arrives at a standstill. It takes way too long to get to the mutant tree mobocracy. I almost nodded off during the third act, but I snapped out of it when one of the "night monsters" ripped a guy's arm off. Priceless. Believe it or not, this drive-in cheapie might have influenced Alien. No shit! The verdant goblins bleed acid. There are a couple of scenes where the blood burns a hole into the floor. Coincidence? Probably, but I thought it was interesting. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the Navy wins. Spoiler alert! Oops, too late. Sorry for ruining the movie for you. You'll get over it.


Pearl Jam - YIELD

Pearl Jam's Backspacer has moved me to revisit every other PJ album. I'm choosing to review this one since it's the last one I bought (on cassette tape, bitch!) and the last one I listened to. For years, I wrote it off as experimental garbage, but upon repeated listens, I see it as a hearty step up from 1996's No Code (easily my least favorite PJ offering). The boys were in a rocking mood. A frenetic energy is reflected in the music, and the songs are much more focused. I was a dumb teenager when Yield came out, so all I wanted was another Ten. Clearly, Yield is not another Ten. It's not another anything, which is why it works.

My opinion is an about-face from where it was eleven years ago. In my eyes, the first four tracks are flawless. They have an inexplicable charge that I can't pinpoint. The riffs are in the right spots, the arrangements progress with an exertive ease, and the vocal melodies strike me a certain way. "Given to Fly" is a textbook example of craftsmanship. The verses are stately and majestic, soaring like an eagle flittering above a pebble-ribbed mountain range. Relaxed chords crash into a huge chorus that brings "Animal" to mind. I can't think of a more appropriate title than "Given to Fly."

"Wishlist" follows with a whimper. This is the album's first indiscretion. I've never liked this track, and I never will. Boring, repetitive, clumsy, boring, repetitive, repetitive...you get the idea. Yield goes into hibernation until "Do the Evolution" comes along and wakes everyone the fuck up. Man, Eddie is pissed off here. He sounds like he's about to jump out of his skin. You gotta love those lyrics ("I'm in love with my lust/I can kill 'cause in God I trust"). The accompanying music video demonstrated the fact that PJ were approaching an artistic zenith. Unfortunately, we are confronted by a filler track in the guise of "-." It's as pretentious as the title would suggest. I'm sure they were just goofing around, but couldn't they have tacked some more music onto the disc?

"Low Light" is a highlight. I'm a sucker for layered harmonies. "In Hiding" is the most complete incantation on display, as far as I'm concerned. It's amazing that there is a live staple on all of PJ's albums. I don't know how they do it. We get a second filler track after "In Hiding," and this one is even more aggravating because it had potential to become catchy. This is why I initially saw this record as experimental garbage. PJ is notorious for having extra songs left over from each recording session, so why not use one instead of dumping junk like "Push Me, Pull Me" onto precious polycarbonate plastic?

Yield ends with "All Those Yesterdays," a throwaway that wasn't thrown away. You can see how conflicted I am. Most of the tracks are solid gold, but the others reside on the bottom end of the spectrum. My take is that it's 70% excellent. Pearl Jam began to click with this opus and they would fully realize their veteran discernment on 2000's Binaural (an underrated jewel, if you ask me). Thank Satan that they are still waving the Seattle flag high. I've enjoyed every record since Yield, so hopefully, they won't break up or overdose on recreational narcotics anytime soon. With Alice in Chains alive and kicking, I feel like it's 1992 again. Now if we can just get Soundgarden to reunite!

Big Announcement

Dear Readers,

I'm changing the focus of this blog. From now on, I will only write movie reviews (mostly horror/sci-fi) and music reviews (mostly rock/metal) with the occasional drink review thrown in for good measure. The review subjects will still be incredibly random, so I'm keeping the title. I might review a Cannibal Corpse album and Critters 3 on the same day. Why? Because I can!

Later tonight, I'm going to post a music review concerning one of the last standing grunge bands. If I'm not able to finish it, I will let you know. I strive to keep my readers in the loop because I want you guys to come see me every day. Awwww.........


The Alligator People


A woman searches for her missing husband in the paludal peat bogs of Louisiana. She finds that he has transmorphed into a half-man/half-alligator as a result of being inoculated with a life-saving serum. This is a fairly unique motion picture. The Alligator People was released in 1959, but it feels like a Universal monster mash from the early 40's. It has the murky atmosphere of The Wolf Man, and it also shares an actor with said creature feature - Lon Chaney Jr. Chaney plays a grizzled loon who has an Ahab-esque vendetta against alligators. He was close to the end of his career (not to mention the end of his life), and you can tell. His performance is lackadaisical, careless almost. It's nice to see him pop up every now and then, though.

The plot is engrossing and most of the characters are fleshed out. As for the croc shocks, the make-up effects really aren't that bad. I got a kick out of the full gator suit. Like the titular beast in
The Hideous Sun Demon (see the blog archive), the alligator person roams around in a pair of pants. Did both movies commission Half-Ass Visual Effects Limited? At any rate, I say that the film is unique because our scientist isn't mad. He actually apologizes to his "patient" for turning him into an unsightly mutant. There is no conflict between the main characters. Toward the end, they are all trying to reach the same goal. That is, they want the alligator person to change back into a regular ol' person.

It may not seem significant, but that was a novel approach to take in 1959. All in all, The Alligator People is a fun little b-soiree. The cast is strong (with the exception of "Blotto" Chaney), the pace is brisk, and the monster is neat-o. Watch it together with The Wasp Woman and call me in the morning.



The Wilson sisters have voices that could impregnate a virgin. Ann, in particular, sings me into a state of euphoria every time I listen to Heart. Dreamboat Annie was the album that introduced Heart to America, and it proved that chicks could rock just as hard as guys. Today, female-fronted metal bands are taken for granted. Most of them only have girls at the forefront to sell records, but Heart was no marketing scheme. Ann's plumose, authoritative voice was backed by a band of excellent musicians, including the angelic Nancy Wilson. It's so easy to listen to Heart. Those voices...there are no suitable adjectives I can use that would accurately describe these mellifluous sirens (aside from "mellifluous").

This record is full of winners. "Magic Man" kicks things off with a walking groove and vocals that drip with sex. I love the guitar solo. Every song is packed with careening melodies that gently brush against your eardrums. "Crazy On You" is a classic that sums Heart up in a candy-coated nutshell. Ann's cries of passion drive the song forward with such ardor, it's almost as if she is ordering each instrument to stand at attention. You can feel the music sweating. "Soul of the Sea" is a beautifully orchestrated ballad. Vocal harmonies sweep over acoustic strains like seagulls taking wing over a calm ocean. It's quietly intense.

"White Lightning & Wine" and "Sing Child" are heavy hip-shakers. Dreamboat Annie strikes a flush balance between hard rock and acoustic folk. Overall, I would classify Heart as a folk/progressive rock group. Yes, the Zeppelin influences are obvious, but I think they have a sound all their own for reasons that are just as obvious. I have yet to discuss the title tune, which is split into three tracks. That's because I don't have an opinion on it one way or the other. It's the only piece of music on the album that doesn't make me feel something, which isn't to say that it's substandard. It's very "eh."

Nonetheless, I'm giving Dreamboat Annie a perfect rating. I don't hand those out to just any film/album/whatever I love. I reserve them for true five-star efforts (or in this case, five-Z'dar efforts). I'm also quite fond of Little Queen and Dog & Butterfly. Sadly, I haven't heard any of the other Heart albums in full. I'm not interested in their fluffy 80's material, but of course, I enjoy "Alone" just as much as the next old-school dude (I'm a closet poser). Feel free to recommend a record down below. Is Jupiter's Darling worth picking up? What's the deal with Bebe le Strange? Is the self-titled release really that bad? Say it isn't so!