Fanboy News Network Episode 11

Fanboy logo

Hidden Gems of Horror Part 2

Jeff is joined by Jennifer Lovely ( and Michael Montoure ( as they continue their discussion about little known of rarely viewed horror films that they think horror fans should be paying attention to.


Fanboy News Network Episode 10

Fanboy logo

Hidden Gems of Horror Part 1

Jeff is joined by Jennifer Lovely ( and Michael Montoure ( to discuss little known of rarely viewed horror films that they think horror fans should be paying attention to.

Midnight Ballad for Ghost Theater Review


Midnight Ballad for Ghost Theater is a 2006 Korean film that is very hard to categorize. Let’s call it a musical comedy that utilizes horror themes.

It is hard to find, as it has never had an official American release; however, it is possible to order  a copy from Korea.

The plot revolves around Seong Sodan (played by Kkobbi Kim), a teen age girl who lives with her Grandmother. One night her grandmother leaves the house, saying she is going to the theater to watch a movie she starred in when she was Sodan’s age. Sodan tracks down the theater to find her grandmother, but no one has seen her. Interrupting a suicide attempt by the theater manager (played by Chun Ho-jin), she is given a job as ticket seller, where she hopes that eventually her grandmother will show up.

It turns out that the theater is haunted by the ghosts of the rest of the theater troop who made the film with Sodan’s grandmother. They are doomed to haunt the theater until they can see that film, (“Minosoo: The Bull-headed Man”) once again.

At first frightened of the ghosts, Sodan befriends them and they help her come out of her shell. She, in turn, tries to find out what happened to the film, both to help her new friends and hopefully to find her grandmother. All the while, the theater manager tries to dissuade her (between his botched suicide attempts), saying that finding the film will lead to tragedy.

If I had to sum up this movie in one word, it would be charming.

The overall feel of the film has a clear Tim Burton-esque feel to it, mainly of his earlier films like BeetleJuice. There is a sense of “what the hell am I watching”, while still enjoying the ghost’s antics.

The characters of the ghosts themselves are immediately engaging. First we have Elisa (played by Joon-myeon Park), who claims to be a Joseon Dynasty Princess. She is loud, bossy, and often threatens to execute the others.

Next is Hiroshi (played by Jo Hie-Bong), a Japanese solider who was stationed in Korea where he fell in love. All of his dialogue is in Japanese, but he can understand Korean, and still be understood by the other ghosts.

Wanda (played by Ae-Ri Han) is a former Kisaeng (similar to a Geisha), who fell out of favor after giving birth to a client’s child. She is bulimic and obsessively counts her hair.

Finally you have Mosquito (played by Yeong-su Park), who is made-up like a demented Harlequin (or let’s be honest, the Crow). Of all the ghosts, he is the only one who is given no back story.

The theater manager is clearly involved with the ghosts’ story, and as Sodan unravels the mystery of the missing film, she learns more of what that is.

All the back story of the ghosts, the manager, and the film itself are done though song. And those songs can be very catchy, even for someone who does not speak Korean.

If you are looking for deep character analysis, Midnight Ballad for Ghost Theater is not the movie you want. It is a light hearted romp, with no real concern for character development.

I give Midnight Ballad for Ghost Theater a B-. It is appealing, and fans of films like BeetleJuice or The Rocky Horror Picture Show will enjoy it and possibly want to own it. Non-fans will likely be left lukewarm by its surreal nature and lack of character depth.

American Horror Story: Coven and the subversion of typecasting

American-Horror-Story-Coven-The-ReplacementsHaving watched the season finale of American Horror Story: Coven, I wanted to take this opportunity to write about something that I think it did very well:  the unexpected way it treated a couple of its characters.

Specifically I was struck by the characters of Nan, played by Jamie Brewer, and Queenie, played by Gabourey Sidibe.

For background Jamie Brewer is an actress who has Down Syndrome. She is very active in theater and is a member of the Groundlings. She is also a disabled rights activist. In the first season of American Horror Story: Murder House, she played the daughter of Jessica Lange’s character. It was a fairly clichéd portrayal of someone with Down Syndrome. She was childlike, mistreated, and had trouble understanding the world fully. It wasn’t a gross portrayal, it just didn’t stand out as anything ground breaking.

Brewer did not appear in season two Asylum; her return in Coven however was fantastic. Her character, Nan, is a clairvoyant and thus often knows more about what is going on than most of the other characters. She is also clearly very intelligent and in a rivalry to attract the attention of a handsome neighbor, and wins over the pretty starlet in the coven by treating him as a person rather than a prize.

Nan is a complete subversion of what we would expect from a character who has all the physical signs of Down Syndrome. In fact I can’t think of a single point in the season where there is any dialog making any reference to her having the condition, although I could not check back with the earliest ones thanks to how On Demand works. I think it shows Brewer’s strength as an actress, combined with the strength of the writing, that by the third episode we aren’t thinking of her as anything other than a member of the coven, and a strong one at that.

New to the show this season was Gabourey Sidibe as Queenie. Sidibe is best known for the movie Precious, for which she received an Oscar nomination. Obviously her weight is going to be something that people notice. As an actress she has had to face a lot of fat shaming in her career, and has always dealt with it like a champ.

As Queenie, there are hints of that in the first episode, again from the pretty starlet who joins the coven. She quickly deals with that and, honestly, it is never brought up again. Instead, the issue of her race is more central, which is logical as race relations are a central theme of the season and her character’s arc includes her being torn between the largely white coven, and the lure of joining the exclusively black voodoo group. She also is the primary character to deal with a racist slave owner, brought to modern times, whom she attempts to teach the error of her ways.

Queenie, like Nan, is given agency, and the writers avoid going for any of the easy routes they could have, given her appearance.

American Horror Story: Coven had an overabundance of excellent actresses and it would have been easy to overlook the gems they had in Brewer and Sidibe, or gone the easy route of playing on the stereotypes of their appearances. That it didn’t, and gave both actresses plenty of opportunity to shine, is a testament to the entire production and makes me eager to see what season 4 has in store for us.

Horror Review: A hit and a miss

Today we have our first article by Fanboy News Network Horror Correspondent Jennifer Lovely:

The success:
jugfaceJug Face grabbed me the moment the credits began; it pulled me in with its primitive
folk art animation that foreshadows the movie’s undertone, style and people. I was
really struck by the charisma of each the primary characters. The sympathy that you
feel for the young woman in the lead role is surprisingly strong in a short period
of time. You immediately gather that she has wits and is struggling to survive as
well as she can in a backward, cultish community. Having grown up in a small town in
a rural area, you see a lot of that tough, almost emotionless, rearing. It was very
familiar to me and I understood how emotionally starved she was, and why she would
make choices that would normally horrify or disgust me. Both the special effects and
sound effects are well used and give a sense of foreboding, while never being
intrusive or overplayed. This is a girl who fights and you root for her to make her
escape, yet when the end comes you understand the choices she makes.

The movie that fails:
the-lords-of-salem-posterThe Lords of Salem is not completely without merit. The quality of the supporting
cast is amazing. Whenever Bruce Davison, Patricia Quinn, Judy Geeson, or Dee Wallace
enter the scene you are captivated. Every time I was about to turn it off, they
reappeared. The atmosphere and set combine to create their own character that
completely stands out. But, as soon as the story starts, things go downhill.
Firstly, the ominous sound use is ham-fisted and oppressive, it starts well but is
so overused it becomes cliché. Next, everything around Sheri’s character shows how
strong and what an individual she is (female DJ in a male dominated industry,
especially metal), but when she is on the screen you never see any of what they hint
at. The fact that she is attending NA and fighting to stay sober speaks of strength,
to me, in theory. But after five days of what is, in essence, bad dreams she starts
using again. It’s like she is only the shadow of an amazing person, walking around,
but that you never really get to see on screen. She is empty and defeated, and that
isn’t interesting. I don’t place the blame completely on Sheri Moon Zombie’s
shoulders. All she did is work within the story, and it was the story that failed
her. Because the moment things start going badly, it’s just a descent into oblivion
with no effort on the character’s part for any other outcome. And I just don’t find
that interesting.

Fanboy News Network Episode 4

Fanboy logo

“The Year In Horror Part 2”

Jeff sits down again with horror author Michael Montoure and Fanboy News Network’s resident horror expert Jennifer Lovely to discuss the year in horror. This time they focus on the year’s horror offerings outside of cinema.

Fanboy News Network Episode 3

Fanboy logo

“The Year In Horror Part 1”

Jeff sits down with horror author Michael Montoure and Fanboy News Network’s resident horror expert Jennifer Lovely to discuss the year in horror.

There was so much to talk about that there will be a second part to this episode later this week.

Universal Horror: The Wolf Man


The Wolf Man is a 1941 horror film from Universal Pictures. Even though it came out a decade after the releases of Dracula and Frankenstein, it stands with them as one of the all-time horror classic films and the three characters form that iconic trinity of horror icons.

The Wolf Man stands apart from the other two films in that it is not based on any pre-existing work; it is, instead, an original screen play by Curt Siodmak.

The Wolf Man was Universal’s second attempt at a werewolf movie. Six years earlier, they had produced The Werewolf of London. While that film was a moderate success, it was considered a knock-off of Dr. Jeykll and Mr Hyde, which hampered it at the box office.

As with any review of classic Universal Horror, the challenge is to try and review it separately from the pop culture it helped create.

The plot revolves around Lawrence Talbot, the son of Sir John Talbot. After the death of his older brother, Lawrence returns to the family home in Wales, after spending the last 18 years in America. Lawrence and Sir John have a slightly strained relationship, due to Lawrence being the second son, and thus not heir to the title and estate. With his brother is dead, things have changed and both men mean to make amends with one another.

Lawrence becomes smitten with Gwen, a shop girl in the local village. He convinces her to join him at a carnival being put on by a tribe of Romani (the movie uses the term gypsy through-out, but since that is often considered a slur, for the purposes of this review I am going to use the term Romani).

At the carnival Gwen’s friend Jenny is attacked by a wolf that Lawrence kills with the silver headed cane he bought earlier from Gwen’s shop. Bitten during the fight with the wolf, Lawrence comes to realize that what he fought was actually a werewolf and that he has now had the curse passed on to him.

To a modern audience, this movie is not going to seem frightening on a jump scare level, but what does stand the test of time is the mental toll the curse takes on Lawrence as he comes to accept what has happened to him, and tries to find a way to deal with it.  The movie also plays with psychological horror, as most people believe that Lawrence is losing his mind and merely hallucinating that he is a werewolf.

Director George Wagner creates a suitably moody atmosphere, by 1941’s standards, including several shots that would come to be considered iconic, including several of the misty Welsh moors. He also put together an excellent cast. It is clear that Universal wanted a hit.

Naturally the movie rests squarely on the shoulders of Lon Chaney Jr. While not his first major role (having played Lennie two years earlier in Of Mice and Men) starring in The Wolf Man was significant, as he was firmly stepping into the horror genre that had made his father a star. The part calls for him to start as a jovial ladies man, but end as a character that would be at home in a Greek tragedy.

Claude Rains was already a Universal Horror star, thanks to his lead performance in The Invisible Man. As Sir John Talbot he conveys a man who hopes to mend fences with his son, only to see that hope dashed as he believes Lawrence is succumbing to madness, and later has to make a tragic choice when the grim truth is made clear. It would have been easy for this part to have been played as disapproving father, but Rains elevates it by making Sir John aloof, yet loving.

Oscar winning actress and revered Hollywood acting coach Maria Ouspenskaya plays  Malva, the Romani woman whose son inadvertently passes the curse on to Lawrence. It would have been easy to have Malva be a sinister figure, but between the script and Ouspenskaya’s performance she is one of the most sympathetic characters in the movie, and the only person to truly try and help Lawrence.

Bela Lugosi appears as Malva’s son, also named Bela, whose bite infects our hero. He plays the part well, but it seems like an oddly small part for such a big name making it seem like a case of stunt casting.

Evelyn Ankers plays Gwen, the shop girl Lawrence becomes enamored with. She conveys her affection for Lawrence well and her concerns for him as his troubles mount. I find this notable, as Ankers and Chaney very famously did not get along. Despite this, they ended up starring, opposite each other, in four movies.

No review of this film would be complete without making note of the Wolf Man makeup, created by legendary makeup artist Jack Pierce.  The iconic look of the Wolf Man would serve as the model  for werewolves, in film, for years to come.

But the real legacy of this film is the werewolf lore it created. Almost everything we take for granted in werewolf mythology was actually created from scratch in the script by Curt Siodmak. The curse being transmitted by a bite, the vulnerability to silver, the involuntary transformation, the mark of the pentagram, and iconic poem are all creations specific for this movie. Interestingly the transformation under the full moon was not from this movie, but came in the Siodmak’s script for the sequel Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man. In fact the moon is never seen in the film at all.

The other horror trope codified in this film is the misty moors. In fact, the back drop of the moors used in the opening credits was reused by several other Universal Horror films, as it conveyed the mood so well.

Overall, I give The Wolf Man a solid B. It is a superior film for its era, and any classic horror film fan should make a point of seeing it.


Horror Review: The Cabin in the Woods


The Cabin in the Woods is a hard film to review.

Not that I didn’t understand it, or would have problems explaining the set up, it’s just that it has a complex script, and is full of clever reveals that are best viewed unspoiled. The problem, I find, is how to write about the plot without spoilers; I’m basically going to adapt the rule that anything revealed in the first 10 minutes is fair game.

But before we get into the plot, some background:

The script is by fan favorites Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, and the film marks Goddard’s debut as a feature film director. Even though Goddard directed, this is considered a Joss Whedon project due to the scripting and the fact that he produced it. Also, the cast is filled with several Whedon regulars.

The movie was made in 2009. Unfortunately, due to several factors(not the least of which was the Bankruptcy of the MGM studio), the film was not released until 2012.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get into that plot.

The Cabin in the Woods follows five college students as they prepare to spend a weekend at The Cabin in the Woods, that was recently purchased by one of their relatives. The students are Curt and Jules who are a couple, Jules’ roommate Dana, Curt’s friend Holden (whom he and Jules are trying to match-make with Dana), and Marty (their mutual friend, whose dominant characteristic seems to be that he is a stoner). While prepping for their trip, the five are under surveillance by a mysterious group.

And that is all I feel I can safely say without spoiling anything.

What The Cabin is the Woods really is, is a self-aware deconstruction of the horror genre.  It does for supernatural horror what Scream did for slasher films. But it goes even more meta than that.

The script plays heavily with standard horror tropes; however, instead of defying them, it reinforces them( but in a very coherent way), all the while pointing out the ridiculousness of many of them. The best part about it is that at no time does the movie assume the audience is stupid which, in this type of horror film, is incredibly refreshing.

The film creates a connection, not just to the five designated victims, but also with the people behind their torment. It’s no easy feat to make you sympathize with both the heroes and the villains, but Whedon and Goddard find a way to do it.

It’s also worth noting that while the five friends all fit standard horror movie character types, each one also contains major subversions of those types.

Looking towards the cast you find a mix of unknowns and fan favorites.

Chris Hemsworth is the most notable name in the cast, even if this was not the case when the movie was filmed. Playing Curt, who fills the alpha male archtype standard to the genre, Hemsworth of course has the look, but also has to convey an intelligence required by the subversions in the script. A fun bit of trivia, Whedon finalized the deal to make The Avengers while working on The Cabin in the Woods and reached out to Thor director Kenneth Branagh, who was casting at the time, to suggest he take a look at Hemsworth for the lead.

Kristen Connolly stands out as Dana, who is fit into the
standard final girl role. Of course this role is going to get focus and Connolly pulls it off well.

The true stand out of the five kids is Whedon regular Fran Kranz as Marty, the stoner fifth wheel. Filling a role very similar to Jamie Kennedy’s character in Scream, Marty is the one member of the group aware that something is not right with their situation. Kranz manages to combine the characters laid back philosophy, while still conveying his increasing awareness, making him an excellent audience proxy. Again a bit of trivia. During a scene were the other characters go swimming, Marty stays on the dock and smokes a joint. The reason is that, in reality, Kranz is very athletic and actually has better muscle tone then Hemsworth, and Goddard did not think it would be a good idea for the stoner to be shown in better shape than the Jock.

Ana Hutchison and Jesse Williams do fine in the roles of Jules and Holden respectively, but neither really stand out in the way the other three do.

Two other amazing cast stand outs are Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as the leaders of the group that is observing the kids. I wish I could point out what makes them stand out, but there is nothing I could say about them that would not be a spoiler.

Working with Jenkins and Whitford, you will spot Whedon regulars Amy Acker and Tom Lenk.

There is one other stand out actor who appears towards the end of the movie, but to even name who that actor is would be a spoiler. Yes the film really is that intricate.

But I think it illustrates the strength of the writing that, even with a script that intricate, at no point does it become confusing or not make sense.

Using the Fanboy News Network rating system I give The Cabin in the Woods an A. It is a top flight effort that even non-horror fans can enjoy, and is ripe for repeat viewing.

A testament to the films popularity is that this year at Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando, one of the signature haunted mazes is based on The Cabin in the Woods. And yes, that maze has spoiler warnings.

Horror Review: Jekyll

jekyllJekyll is a 2007 six episode BBC miniseries written and produced by Doctor Who writer, and current show producer, Steven Moffet. It was his first take at doing a modern interpretation of a classic Victorian character, which he of course followed up on, 3 years later, with Sherlock.

The series follows Dr. Tom Jackman, a successful research scientist, who inexplicably starts transforming into another persona, complete with physical changes. Fearing the violent behavior of the other persona, Jackman leaves his family, quits his job, and sets up an apartment where he can try to unravel what exactly is happening.

With the help of recordings and surveillance equipment, the two personalities are able to communicate enough to come to an arrangement that basically equates to a time share agreement on their body.  To facilitate this, they hire a psychiatric nurse named Kathryn to act as an impartial aid to both of them.  Once the other personality learns about the book The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde he adopts the name Billy Hyde.

Additional complications to the arrangement include: Jackman wanting to keep the existence of his wife and twin sons from Hyde, fearing he might harm them; his wife hiring an investigator to try and learn why he left his family; his old employer, and friend, wanting to know the same; and why a mysterious organization is now following him, claiming to be Hyde’s owners.

And all that is just part of the first episode.

Jekyll is a smart series that uses its set up to explore several questions. Of course you have the concept of duality, as you always will with the Jekyll and Hyde story. You also have a recurrent question through the series, is Hyde actually evil, or is there more to him? And like the original story, the heart of it is the mystery: why is Jackman transforming in the first place?

Two things make this series really stand out; the smart script by Moffet, and the acting. Moffet does not fall into the easy clichés of the traditional interpretations of the characters, but instead looks at them from a more layered perspective. The horror comes from the idea of Jackman not being in control and Hyde possibly hurting his family. Several tense scenes are based on Jackman waking up from being Hyde, at least once covered in blood, and having to piece together what Hyde has done, fearing the worst. There is also the dread that Hyde is taking over and one day will not turn back into Jackman.

From the acting side, any show like this is going to live or die by the lead actor, and how he handles the dual role. Fortunately Jekyll had the good fortune to cast James Nesbitt as Jackman/Hyde. Non-UK readers will know Nesbitt primarily as Bofur in The Hobbit movie. The challenge is making Jackman and Hyde distinct characters. It would be one thing to just play Hyde as completely over the top, and while he is at times, there is more to the character than that and Nesbitt makes that clear. The makeup for Hyde is subtle, just enough that he is recognizably different but can still be mistaken for Jackman at first glance. Nesbitt manages different body language and vocal styles for the two characters, and it is clear which is which even if he is far away enough that you can’t see the makeup.

Another stand-out, in the impressive cast, is Gina Bellman as Jackman’s wife, Claire. Audiences will recognize her as Jane from Moffat’s sitcom Coupling, as well as being the grifter Sophie on the TNT series Leverage. Claire has an impressive arc, as she struggles to deal with her husband abandoning his family and her growing realization of what is happening to him. Her story arc is as central to the show as is Tom/ Billy’s.

Other notable cast members include: Denis Lawson (who was Wedge in the Star Wars films) as Jackman’s friend and former boss, Michelle Ryan (who was Jaime Summers in the brief Bionic Woman reboot) as the nurse Jackman and Hyde hire to help facilitate their arrangement, and Paterson Joseph (the Marquis de Carabas from Neverwhere) as the mystery man claiming that his company owns Hyde.

But for all the good things about Jeykll, there is one glaring problem, the final scene of the series.

I’m not going to spoil it here, but everyone I have ever talked to about the series, who has seen it, agrees that the final scene is terrible, and makes several plot points in the series make no sense. And that it was not needed. You could have ended the series on the previous scene and had a satisfying end. Also the final scene basically ends as a sort of cliff hanger, and since there was no second series it leaves the story in limbo.

I’m not sure why Moffet felt the need to include this particular plot point, other than perhaps he thought it was a cool idea, which it might have been if there had been more there to mitigate the plot holes it creates.

Using the Fanboy News Network rating scale I give Jekyll a B+. It is a superior effort, but the last scene keeps it from getting an A.