The Soda Jerk #3


Thanks to eBay and my cousin's husband (a soda fanatic himself), I have consumed mass quantities of Vanilla Coke in the past month. As with the subject of the previous edition of "The Soda Jerk," this beverage is hard to find. For some reason, it's harder to find than Cherry Coke and Coke Zero. That's just not fair. Being a fan of vanilla extract and any cream soda, I knew that Vanilla Coke would be worth the shipping charges on eBay. It rivals IBC's cream soda, which is no small feat. Before I get into the meat of the review, I'll say that in most cases, if you bother your local supermarket enough, they'll stock fugacious items if it's within their power. Heh, I sound like the Native American mystic in Poltergeist II: The Other Side. Bet you weren't expecting that reference, were you?

Vanilla Coke is refreshing as soon as it's poured into your mouth. It's always the right temperature, even if it's been sitting on the kitchen table for 30 minutes. If you're not a Coke person, you may not find Vanilla Coke to be to your liking. You need a built-in immunity to that inexplicable Coke aftertaste. Having said that, the vanilla flavor isn't sponged in carbonation. You'll taste the vanilla before you taste the Coke. That's important because some folks are simply anti-Coke, and they won't try anything if it's a Coke product.

This pop does have a tendency to taste flat right out of the can, but it won't happen every time. The packaging is a tad mundane. I'd like to see this flavor relaunched and the label redesigned with it. I recently visited the World of Coke in Atlanta, GA, and Vanilla Coke is given just as much love by the company as the other flavors. So why is it hard to find? The answer is obvious. I've spoken with some vendors, and apparently, you have to be in the right town. Well, no shit! How do we get Vanilla Coke shipped to more towns? Spread the word!

One of my goals with this column is to put a bright spotlight on some of my favorite carbonated beverages that are hard to find in certain parts of the country. If you're a soda junkie and you'd like to see Vanilla Coke in your local supermarket, make some noise. Talk to a manager, send an e-mail, forward a review...hey, there's an idea! Everyone has a self-important cause these days; why not get behind one that doesn't matter? Makes sense to me. Read the first two editions of "The Soda Jerk" below. They're delicious.

The Soda Jerk #1
The Soda Jerk #2



This album is a holy grail of sorts for fans of Floridian death metal. Solstice was fronted by Rob Barrett who would later join (and leave...and rejoin) Cannibal Corpse. Listening to
The Sentencing, it's easy to hear why Barrett was chosen as the singer for this recording session. I never realized he had such a cool, throaty voice. He's not a death vocalist in the modern sense. He sounds like a young, demonic Max Cavalera, and his urgent screams augment the adrenaline-pumping music. This shit is lethal. Imagine if death metal was a person. Now imagine that person hopped up on speed and bleeding heroin from every orifice. That's Solstice.

Unfortunately, Rob left the band after this album. The follow-up, 1995's Pray, is rock solid, but it doesn't match the piercing intensity of The Sentencing. These songs peel your groin. They ignite your temples. They fuck your eye sockets. Okay, you get the idea. What kind of metal does Solstice play? High-speed thrash/death metal with purling squirts of New York hardcore. Every song violently barrels through tempo changes and dizzying leads. The musicianship is, shall we say, athletic. Tunes like "Transmogrified" and "Cleansed of Impurity" are maliciously heavy, throwing it down like they want to kill your stereo system.

What's a classic death metal album without guest solos by James Murphy? James Murphy kicks your ass, and the sooner you know it, the better. I love his stratospheric shredding on "Netherworld," which may be my favorite song on this disc. It's one of the best songs that Murphy has ever played on period. I have to mention the rad artwork by Ed Repka. Repka is a legendary metal cover artist with an instantly recognizable style. He did the artwork for Death's Leprosy and Spiritual Healing. Need I say more? The album was engineered by Scott Burns, another death metal staple. The production is loud and fucking raw. I'd love to hear it on vinyl.

Included is a well-placed cover of Carnivore's "S.M.D." I like to refer to it as the cherry on top. The bottom line is that you want The Sentencing if you consider yourself to be a death metal buff. The first pressing didn't have a title, so keep your eyes gouged for a self-titled Solstice release. If you can find this album under any title, you're one lucky bastard. The band has recently reformed with different members and they're about to release a new collection of ripping death/thrash numbers. I wish that Rob Barrett could have been a part of the reunion, but hey, I'll take the new Solstice over no Solstice. Robert Z'Dar says, "horns up!"


The Curse of the Cat People


The Curse of the Cat People doesn't have much to do with cat people, but it's just as accomplished as its predecessor. Truth be told, I found this flick to be more welcoming than Cat People. The plot thread picks up where the first film left off. This is a direct sequel all the way down to its returning troupe of players. Simone Simon reprises her role as Irena, this time in the form of a forbearing apparition. Kent Smith and June Randolph return as husband and wife. Their daughter spins fantastic yarns about a friend that she plays with in the garden, but naturally, her parents write off this hidden playmate as an imaginary entity. If you think you know where this synopsis is heading, think again.

Curse isn't a spookshow. I can't even call it a thriller. It's basically a children's movie that borrows themes and characters from a horror film. Instead of alarming you with dancing shadows and paralyzing panthers on the prowl, Curse tugs at your heart strings with coming-of-age melodrama. One thing I really liked about the film's disarmed approach is that it portrays childhood in a grounded way. The child actors are given intelligent dialogue to work with. Speaking of the child actors, all of them give exemplary performances, especially the adorable Ann Carter. She upstages a rigid Kent Smith who never seems to settle into a groove. To me, he was more attentive in the original.

Most of Curse was directed by Robert Wise. He was cutting his teeth behind the camera, but his bicuspids were already fairly sharp (ugh, just ignore that sentence). His understated style suits a film like this, and he doesn't try too hard to dress everything up in genre gimmickry. I imagine that The Curse of the Cat People will baffle many horror goons. It baffled me to some extent. However, it works as a blithe, lighthearted ghost story. Just don't expect the thrills and spills of a typical Val Lewton photoplay.


Cat People


I'm torn. On one hand, I love the grim, frosty atmosphere of 1942's Cat People. On the other hand, I find said film to be disaffecting and hard to plug into. As a general rule, I'm a fan of Val Lewton-produced chillers, especially when they are directed by Jacques Tourneur. I regard I Walked With a Zombie as a bonafide classic. But for whatever reason, I couldn't warm up to Cat People. The plot follows a seductive artist who believes that her Siberian heritage has made her susceptible to turning into a feline creature. It's a hard story to summarize. Simone Simon is enchanting as the tacit, mysterious Irena Reed. She makes for a superb cat lady. Kent Smith gives a strong performance as the concerned husband. The acting is fine. So what's my problem?

Maybe it's the glacial pace, but I was never involved in the proceedings. I wasn't invested in the characters, and when you're not invested in the characters, you're not going to care about what happens to them. Usually when this occurs, it's the film's fault, but I think it was my state of mind. If I had more time (and less unopened DVD's staring at me), I'd watch it again before writing about it. I do recognize why Cat People is lauded by fans and stuffy critics alike. The B&W cinematography is beautiful, the tension is palpable, and the characterizations run deep. On a negative note, things move slower than they probably should. It takes awhile to get to the "swimming pool" scene, which is the only bit of action we get (great friggin' scene, though!).

Tomorrow, I'm hitting the sequel, and later this month, I'm hitting the remake. Hopefully, I'll have more luck with other cat people. I guess they can't all be Sleepwalkers. Yes, that was a joke.


Happy Thanksgiving!




Gorguts are commonly mentioned alongside Atheist, Pestilence and Cynic. The absurd technicality didn't really hit until after this album, but Considered Dead is still considered (pun intended?) a tech-death classic. By Gorguts standards, this is a fairly straightforward release. It sounds like early 90's death metal. If you love early 90's death metal as much as I do, no worries. If you're looking for something as inhuman as 1998's Obscura (not to be confused with the AMAZING band of the same name) and 2001's From Wisdom to Hate, you might be disappointed. This record has its core competency aligned with Suffocation and Cannibal Corpse. In other words, it's more of a back-breaker than a head-scratcher.

A few of the tunes are downright catchy. "Disincarnated" is enhanced by flowing, tractile lead guitars that pervade most of the other tracks. Overall, Considerd Dead has a New York feel to it, even though the band members hail from Canada. The music is dense and claustrophobic. There are speedy sections, but the devastating mid-tempo passages stood out for me. Guitar god James Murphy contributes a whirling, vorticose solo to the mammoth "Inoculated Life." When you resort to using a thesaurus to describe a guitar solo, you know it kicks ass. Chris Barnes appears on three songs, my favorite being "Hematological Allergy." The Gorguts guys should have asked him to growl on the entire album.

Sorry, but I'm not a fan of Luc Lemay's vocal style. It's a subjective thing. I can't really put it into words. It just doesn't register with me. Lemay sounds very average against Barnes, who was in his prime when Considered Dead was recorded. Having said that, this should be required listening for death metal novices. I have a soft spot in my rotting heart for simple, bludgeoning death/thrash, and this cassette tape (you heard me) fits the bill.


The Gray Man


For years, I've had an idea for a screenplay called "The Gray Man." The title is a reference to a nickname of one Albert Fish. Fish was a notorious serial killer who had a penchant for eating children. He was also a sado-masochist who would routinely stick pins into his testicles. Allegedly, he would also ball up a piece of cloth, insert it into his anus, and set it aflame from time to time. Up until now, filmmakers have been afraid to touch this story. My screenplay was going to be a unique conversation piece, but I've been beaten to the punch. Such is life. As it turns out, The Gray Man is a swell biopic that maneuvers around sensitive subject matter with class and panache.

Patrick Bauchau is fucking disturbing as Albert Fish. Frankly, he doesn't look much like the real McCoy, but frankly, it doesn't matter. His performance is uneasy and composite. It's such a complex role because Fish needs to seem as reticent as his victims on top of being a threatening presence. Somehow, Bauchau does a masterful job of juggling these disparate identities. Jack Conley gives a sturdy, full-bodied performance as Will King, the detective assigned to the case. This isn't a suspenseful murder mystery or a blood-tingling "chase" movie. King is merely there to give the script a protagonist, and while his character isn't terribly deep, he's a cool guy. If you know anything about the case, you'll know how The Gray Man ends, which is the only thing that holds this "true crime" narrative - and others like it - back.

Still, the plot is engrossing. Fish is a fascinating person, and director Scott Flynn finds a way to communicate his sick fetishes to the viewer without making a low-brow exploitation flick. The Gray Man is nauseating without being overtly gory, disquieting without being sensationalistic. I wish I could have made this film. Honestly, my version wouldn't be all that different. If you're into "true crime" cinema, but you hate films like Ted Bundy and Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield, The Gray Man is worth adding to your Netflix queue.


The Incredible Melting Man

The Incredible Melting Man is an extremely rare film. I was so thrilled to find it on eBay, that I didn't really care if I liked the movie or not. I own it. That's good enough. Of course, I did want to pull something away from the viewing experience, even if it was the tape being pulled out of the VCR and flung across the room. Thankfully, it's a decent b-movie. I wasn't bowled over, but I wasn't struck with disappointment either. The main problem with this flick is a tough one to overlook; the plot is too thin. Here, I'll prove it.

A man is launched into outer space to study the rings of Saturn. Upon his return, he begins to melt. In a convenient turn of events, he decides that he wants to kill people, so he roams the countryside for 80 minutes while a cop and a doctor search for him. That's it. No trimmings, no garnish, no subplots...no subplots? A full-length motion picture with no subplots? You better believe it. What's worse, the trip to Saturn takes up two minutes of screen time, and the "spaceship" footage is recycled throughout the film. Yeah, no subplots PLUS inadmissible stock footage!

So why the wishy-washy rating? The make-up! Rick Baker did the gruesome make-up effects, and seeing as how I'm an unabashed whore for cool monsters, I loved The Melting Man. His gooey, mucilaginous effusion of a face hit all the right horror buttons. The final "meltdown" is gloriously disgusting. Without Baker's meritable contributions, this pic would be nearly impossible to sit through. Maybe that's a bit harsh. I still had fun in spite of stiff acting, lousy editing/camerawork (what's with all of the slow-mo?), and routine death sequences. We do get a few nice aftermath shots. Again, Baker made it happen big time!

Apparently, the studio was looking to whittle the next Frankenstein out of first-rate special effects, but two years later, Alien would come along and make every other creature feature from the 70's look like Sesame Street. Unfortunately, The Incredible Melting Man hasn't aged very well, the "melting" effects notwithstanding. And yet, I'm recommending it to all of the horror collectors out there. From what I gather, it was one of the first films to be reissued under the "MGM Midnite Movie" banner. I can't confirm that piece of information, but if anyone can confirm it, let me know. If it's on VHS, it has to be relatively old. Anyway, check it out if you are...me.



If you scroll down a bit, you'll see that Random Reviews is now accepting donations. I don't expect anything, but it wouldn't hurt to try, right? I think most people in my condition would try the same thing before resorting to Google AdSense (which is always an option). I'm not asking for pity. It's just that writing online is tough and from a financial standpoint, not very rewarding. Since I can't do the 9-to-5 thing, I thought I'd give the "donation" thing a shot. All donations would be used on review materials. Without review materials, this blog doesn't exist. I'd like to keep this blog up and running for as long as possible, and I'd like to keep the updates flowing. I could hire other writers, but then RR might lose some of its singularity and distinctness. Plus, I'm an egomaniac!

Think of it as supporting a local band. I'm basically a one-man metal supergroup trying to keep it underground. That makes me sound really cool. Anyway, there is no update today because of homework. I have a lot of gnarly stuff planned for this week, so stay tuned!


Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan


Originally titled Burial at Sea, Jason Takes Manhattan is the slasher sequel that everyone loves to disparage. To be perfectly honest, I dig this flick. Yes, the poster is misleading and yes, the MPAA had a field day draining the death sequences dry, but this is a fun ride if you accept all of the flaws going in. Jason is still a badass. I like his swampy look here, and Kane Hodder's performance is full of personality. The pace is relentless, the body count is off the charts, and the heroine is somewhat agreeable. The side characters are ridiculous, but the core protagonists are easy to warm up to. Overall, this film is no worse than The New Blood or Jason Goes to Hell.

I, for one, appreciated the change in scenery. The campgrounds were getting old by the fifth installment, and I'm a rare bird anyway. You see, I'm not too crazy about the first four F13 chapters with the partial exception of
Part 3. The first two entries, in particular, put me to sleep quicker than a cap of Benedryl. They took themselves too seriously. At least with Jason Takes Manhattan, the filmmakers were in on the joke. You have to admit that the opening kill is well-executed. Nudity? Check. Atmosphere? Check. Cheesy music? Check. A harpoon impalement? Check. That's all I need, ladies and gentlemen. That's all I need.


RRR #2: Trancers


My second Random Review Request is dedicated to a little boy named Ike. He also asked me to hit a homerun for him, but hey, I'm only one man. Ike is a Full Moon freak. His obsession with Charles Band has his family worried. It's destroying his relationship with his stepmother Jayme, and his brother Dylan killed himself because of the stress. Okay, enough in-jokes. Trancers is quite entertaining. Usually, I'm not into straight sci-fi, but this flick turned me on with its Scanners-esque storyline. Band also borrows liberally from The Terminator. At least there aren't any killer dolls gallivanting about.

A cop is sent back in time to save the ancestors of higher-ups from a rogue body-hopper named Whistler. Tim Thomerson plays our hero, and believe it or not, a fresh-faced Helen Hunt plays the love interest. I've never found Hunt to be an appealing actress, but she's adorable here. Thomerson is badass as Jack Deth. He's so badass, that he doesn't even need clever dialogue to be a debonair daredevil. Everyone else is forgettable. The pace itches with transience. Things happen quickly and it feels like the script is bringing itself to a boil. However, the ending sputters out, leaving the viewer a bit disenchanted.

The villain is phenomenally boring. He doesn't put up much of a fight, which makes the "explosive climax" seem like a mere scuffle, a minor altercation. I did enjoy Trancers. I have a habit of pointing out all of the drawbacks to movies I like, but only because I try to avoid writing one-sided reviews. In the end, I consider this film to be one of the better Full Moon features. It's a gas. I own Trancers III, so I might cover it in the near future. I can't be bothered to buy/rent all of the other sequels, though. For the record, my favorite Full Moon outings are Castle Freak and Subspecies II: Bloodstone.



These movies are review-proof. Let's face it; I can't really say that Thankskilling is good or bad. All I can say is that I had a fun time watching this no-budget spectacle. I don't know why more filmmakers haven't taken advantage of this holiday and tried to create the Black Christmas of Thanksgiving-related fright flicks. The only other film I can think of that features a turkey monster is Blood Freak, a hallucinogenic anti-drug reel from the 70's that has nothing to do with Thanksgiving. Of the two, Thankskilling is infinitely more gratifying. In the first minute alone, we see a bare-breasted pornstar-cum-pilgrim (pun of the year) being murdered by a sleazy turkey who has stolen a few pages from Freddy Krueger's one-liner handbook.

The plot concerns a...killer turkey. Well, that was easy. The turkey's backstory is recounted via cool animated sequences that add a unique flair to an otherwise z-grade smut piece. I would have liked to see more of them. The digital video transfer is bright and full of autumnal colors. The audio levels are all over the place, but to be fair, my screener copy may or may not be the finished product. Writer/director Jordan Downey got plenty of mileage out of a fistful of dollar bills. Normally, I despise shot-on-DV features, but this one is well-groomed.

The cast is fucking cancerous. I hated everyone, which is a shame when you think about it. This is a b-movie. There is no reason why the characters can't be likeable. I mean, I realize that Thankskilling is a slasher parody, but I shouldn't have loathed the actors as much as I did. On the upside, the slut is illegally hot in a very slutty way. CALL ME! The heroine is cute, too, but everyone else can fuck right off. The puppetry is godawful. Again, Thankskilling is review-proof, so take all of this with a grain of salt. This paragraph is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

You can tell that this flick was a labor of love, and for that, I commend Downey for pulling it together and promoting this sucker like a champ. I'm enrolled in an entrepreneurship program at a community college, so I appreciate proficient marketing. I guarantee that this is the only review to mention such a thing. I take it into account because I enjoy seeing young filmmakers creating something out of nothing. Plus, Thankskilling is entertaining. That's important. It's worth renting on a dreary weekday night, and it's clearly the best "killer turkey" vehicle of the century. Gobble, gobble!


Godzilla vs. Biollante

Godzilla vs. Biollante picks up after the events of Godzilla 1985. This film marks the christening of the Japanese Heisei period of the Godzilla series. It’s a distinct picture for a number of reasons. Toho Studios held a contest where kaiju fans were given the opportunity to devise the storyline for the next Godzilla film. The results are interesting, to say the least. Biollante stands apart from all of its antecedents. It has a different style, a different tone, and of course, a different monster. The involute plot is relayed to the viewer in a scrambled, convulsive manner. The filmmakers bit off more than they could chew, but a merry slab of entertainment manages to glow through the tangled lattice of a storyline.

After sifting through rubble leftover from Tokyo’s previous kaiju-related catastrophes, scientists discover billets of Godzilla’s skin. It is believed that these cells could be used to create bacteria that would feed on nuclear waste. Several terrorist organizations angle to plunder the mutant dandruff, and confusing espionage ensues. Cut to five years later; the Godzilla cells have been fused with plant cells. The vines do their best triffid impersonations by strangling a couple of bad guys. Before you know it, there is a giant rose rising out of the ocean. A random psychic is tossed into the mix, although her relevance is never explained. She “talks” to Biollante using extra-sensory perception. Whatever.

This flick is just loony. The exposition hops from scene to scene like a pedophile hops from playground to playground. At one point, the narrative skims over quite a few defined plot details (details given by people in different places on different days) in the span of 30 seconds. The script is in such a hurry, that several key dialogue exchanges are easy to miss. I did catch one brain-raping line that beautifully encapsulates Biollante’s schizophrenic leanings. The main character (his name escapes me, as do the names of the rest of the characters) speaks of a government-funded project that involves the preservation of semen, that of Nobel Prize winners (?).

The film never settles on a target audience. While the violence is somewhat graphic, the ending is a saccharine mess fit for a Fox Family sitcom. And yet director/screenwriter Kazuki Omori felt that it was necessary to pepper the script with PG-13 profanity. Beats me. I know it sounds like I abhor this movie, but I actually think that it’s one of the better Heisei entries. Godzilla looks badass. He has a sculpted physique, and he moves like an action figure. The special effects are superb. Biollante is a massive construct. We only get to see the botanical beast in monster form for about 10 minutes, but I dug the “alligator on steroids” design that they were shooting for. There isn’t much to the battle sequences. I got more out of the military encounters than I did the kaiju-on-kaiju action.

This flick is almost as nutty as Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, which is why I recommend watching it with a group of chemically-enhanced friends. The pace is breathless, the optical effects are polished (you gotta love matte paintings), and the overall vibe of this oddball creature feature is wholly unique. I can’t figure out why Godzilla vs. Biollante has yet to hit DVD. It may be deeply flawed, but if Godzilla’s Revenge is on DVD, than this motherfucker should be on DVD. It’s only fair. VHS saves the day!