Special Edition: The History of the Holiday Horror Film By Shawn McKee

Charles Dickens’s 1843 novella A Christmas Carol is as familiar as the holiday itself. As a quintessential story of redemption, it’s hard to imagine a world before Ebenezer Scrooge. Roughly a hundred years later, director Frank Capra delivered a similar redemptive tale with the Jimmy Stewart classic It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

Both stories had elements of darkness within their exploration of humanity, but neither delved into the murder and mayhem of the Christmas slasher films that followed. It was only a matter of time before Santa Clause became a serial killer, which audiences would get their first glimpse of on screen in the brief “And All Through the House” segment in the 1972 film Tales From the Crypt.

The1970s and 80s introduced a decidedly macabre take on the holiday genre. Nonetheless, these films exhibited a certain charm amid their profitable nihilism. It was a special time and place, where young filmmakers thrived in merging horror tropes with the holidays, long before Tim Burton arrived on the scene. One of the earliest examples of this twisted trend began with the aptly titled Black Christmas, a horror film that remains frightening to this day.

Black Christmas (1974)

Director Bob Clark played a pivotal role in launching the slasher genre with this tense, atmospheric film that entirely lives up to its reputation. Initially dismissed by critics, the movie has since gained a deeper appreciation for its artful cinematography, serious themes, and stark horror. Clark helped shape the prototype slasher film with a level of quality not often associated with the genre. There have been two worthless “name only” remakes, largely unrelated to the original plot.

The story involves a group of sorority girls being harassed by an unseen psycho who may or may not be known by them. Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, and Kier Dullea round out the talented cast, with some other familiar faces in the mix. As the murders continue unabated, we never learn the identity of the killer, which was something rarely, if ever, seen before. Black Christmas heavily inspired John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), which led to the slasher boom of the 80s. Not content with one genre, Bob Clark later went on to direct the cherished holiday classic, A Christmas Story (1983).

Ralphie’s childhood quest for a Red Ryder BB gun is quite different than anything seen in Black Christmas, and it’s a testament to Clark’s versatility. Writer Jean Shepherd’s humorous, semi-fictional accounts of growing up in the 1950s is about as far from a slasher film one could get. Both films, in my opinion, can be appreciated on different levels. Clark cemented two equally enjoyable holiday classics for generations to come.

Olivia Hussey is terrorized in a scene from Black Christmas (1974).

Silent Night, Deadly Night (Part I-V)

The abundance of slasher films throughout the 80s weren’t without controversy. Bloody, elaborate special effects were often removed, following a merciless MPAA crackdown. In short, fans were left with tedious buildups to off-screen kills, amid other frustrations.

These films were seen as an affront to decency by parents and religious leaders alike, and maybe they were right. But nothing angers gore-loving teenagers more than censorship. I can attest to that. One movie, Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), earned special derision from critic Roger Ebert, who called the profits from the film “blood money” in his heated review. He may have had a point as well. Horror movies, in general, are driven by profit. Violence sells, especially when it’s holiday themed.

Silent Night, Deadly Night continued the psychological tropes first introduced in Christmas Evil (1980). In both cases, traumatized, disturbed men unleashed their fury on society, dressed as Santa Clause. I’m still amazed that Silent Night, Deadly Night garnered five sequels, rendered unrecognizable by the fifth installment. The first film remains the best one, and the lengths they went to extend the series are a riot.

The initial outing tells the story of Billy Chapman (Robert Brian Wilson), who witnessed his parents’ murder at the hands of a Santa Clause-costumed killer. Chapman’s subsequent attempts at a “normal life” are derailed when he takes a job as a mall Santa and predictably snaps. It’s a straight-forward slasher that contains a certain depth to its portrayal of an orphaned child, doomed to the failures of the system.

The movie was pulled from theaters, following an outrage campaign in response to its commercials portraying an ax-wielding maniac dressed as Santa Clause. Simpler times, indeed. The shameless sequel presents forty minutes of footage from the original film through flashbacks recited by the brother of the original killer.

Ricky Caldwell (Eric Freeman), our demented lead, supposedly remembers everything about his brother’s descent, even though he was an infant at the time. All of this was intentional. Due to the first movie being pulled so quickly from theaters, the producers didn’t think anyone would notice if they “reassembled” the first film into a sequel. In the end, we were given an enjoyably bizarre suburban rampage, containing the brief but immortal “Garbage Day” segment. The movie is trash, but earnestly tries to breathe life into a pointless endeavor.

Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out (1989) is an anemic straight-to-video concoction, featuring a girl with psychic powers inexplicably linked to the killer, ala Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988). Back then, plenty of films shamelessly stole from the Brian De Palma’s masterful Stephen King adaptation Carrie (1976). It’s a movie so dull and boring, that it completely earns Ebert’s ire from the first installment.

The best thing that could be said about Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1990) is that it tries to be something completely different, even while copying Rosemary’s Baby (1969). It’s a cult movie, directed by the talented Brian Yuzna and starring the legendary Clint Howard. A young, ambitious reporter gets intertwined with a deadly witch cult. There’s plenty of mystery and intrigue that’s as enjoyable as a fourth entry can be. I appreciate their attempts to change things up, even if it has nothing to do with the original. It does take place during Christmas, allowing the cynical holiday tie-in to continue.

They weren’t even trying for consistency by the time Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991) rolled around. This bizarre entry features a deranged toy maker, as promised, portrayed by Mickey Rooney. My explanation of the plot wouldn’t do it justice, but it’s worth seeing out of morbid curiosity. In retrospect, I give it even more credit for shifting away from the source material. It’s the most ridiculous Christmas-themed movie you could see outside of Santa Clause Conquers the Martians (1964). One thing is for certain, Silent Night, Deadly Night films are less disturbing than the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, which still ranks as the most traumatic viewing experience of all time.

Since then, there has been an explosion of sorts of modern Christmas horror films, including a loose Silent Night, Deadly Night remake simply titled Silent Night (2012), as well as Krampus (2015), A Christmas Horror Story (2015), and Red Christmas (2016), among others. Each of these tried to put their own unique spins on the holiday horror genre, and all with varying results. But the above-named earlier films will always remain the go-to’s for anyone searching for true fright during the Christmas season.

Series Review: What We Do in the Shadows Season 3 (FXP)

By: Shawn McKee

The FX series What We Do in the Shadows is top-notch, quality entertainment. No detail is spared, from the sets, costumes, special effects, and makeup, the show retains every theatrical element of the 2014 New Zealand horror comedy film of the same name.

The movie was directed by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame and Taika Waititi, writer/director of the acclaimed Jojo Rabbit (2019), among other films. Their unique, fresh, and often hilarious take on the vampire genre was seamlessly adapted into a television series that just wrapped up its third season. Clement and Waititi are heavily involved in the show’s production and even reprise their roles from the film as sitting members of the esteemed Vampiric Council.

The series continues the trend of portraying centuries-old vampires living together in modern times. Their escapades are captured by a documentary crew in the vein of The Office and other “mockumentary” comedies. This is Spinal Tap (1984) was an early example as was the Albert Brooks satire Real Life (1979). Brooks’s movie is about a documentary filmmaker living with an all-American family to capture their daily lives, but in Shadows, we don’t know who the documentary crew is. Most of the time, we forget they’re even there.

I contend that Shadows is the best comedy show since It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (now approaching its fifteenth season). They both rank, in my twisted opinion, as the finest sitcoms of the past decade. Their sharp, outlandish humor and perfect casting lead to hysterical results. They’re also both property of the FX network, who played their cards right with two gems that continually restore my waning faith in American comedy.

What We Do in the Shadows premiered on television in 2019. At the time, I was a tad confused by the trailers showing a different group of vampires living together in New York. I didn’t know if it was a direct adaptation of the movie or something completely different. A few episodes in, I was sold by its fast-paced humor, deft comedic timing, and high production values.

The show follows four vampire roommates in their gothic Staten Island home, having traveled to the U.S. from Europe decades prior. There’s suave, sex obsessed Laslzo Cravensworth (Matt Berry), his vampire bride Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), bachelor Nandor the Relentless (Kayvan Novak), dedicated familiar (now bodyguard) Guillermo de la Cruz (Harvey Guillén), and energy vampire outcast Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch).

Each character plays a vital part to the overall story. As roommates, the vampires are dysfunctional, aloof, and completely moronic. That, among other traits, is just part of the charm. The undeniable chemistry between the cast propels the show’s offbeat, unique brand of humor and clever writing. Though seemingly episodic in nature, there is an evolving plot that advances with each season. And if the largely brilliant third season showed us anything, it’s that Shadows shows no signs of slowing down.

The premiere of the ten-episode season begins with “The Prisoner,” featuring hopelessly loyal familiar/servant Guillermo locked in his vampire masters’ basement after slaughtering a hoard of vampires who had entrapped Nandor, Nadja, Laszlo, and Colin into attending the prestigious Nouveau Théâtre des Vampires. The entire event was a trap to execute them for murdering other vampires, namely the ancient Baron Afanas from the earlier season. What no one knows is that Guillermo has been inadvertently behind all the vampire deaths thus far. As a descendent of famous vampire killer Abraham Van Helsing, it’s in his blood.

Following the theater massacre, the vampire roommates are unsure what to do with Guillermo. He saved their lives, but he is also a vampire killer by nature. Though Guillermo is caged and presumably prisoner, the gang don’t notice as he slips out of his cage each night to do his chores at night and look after them. He even has time to go to Arby’s during the day. They eventually decide to let him live and “release” him with a promotion to bodyguard. This, of course, follows an ineffective ritual where they engage in a hypnosis ritual to prevent him from harming them.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Vampiric Council deliver a videotaped message, informing Nandor, Nadjga, Laszlo, and Colin that since all the powerful vampires of New York area were killed, they, in fact, will be appointed the head a new council. Nandor and Nadjga immediately square off for the throne as Guillermo schemes in the background.

Guillermo’s intriguing development throughout the series continues unabated. After ten years of service, he remains entirely dedicated to his master, Nandor with hopes of becoming a vampire one day. It’s revealed early on, however, that no familiar ever actually becomes a vampire. But Guillermo’s budding confidence and increasing friction with Nandor provide some of the show’s most genuine depth.

The third seasons contains four brilliant episodes, four good ones, and two that are slightly filler. In one particularly stellar episode, the troupe go on vacation to Atlantic City, where they barely survive due to the cleaning woman throwing out their bags of native dirt needed to sleep. In another, Nandor joins a cult-like wellness center of “formerly fanged” iconoclasts who have rejected vampire lifestyle and wish to become human.

We see the return of the Baron Afanas (what’s left of him anyway), incredibly played by Guillermo del Toro regular Doug Jones. Nadja rises in the council ranks as Nandor grows sullen and depressed by his loneliness and immortality. Laszlo strangely links up with Colin Robinson for many episodes, and we soon find out why. Energy vampires only live for a hundred years, and Colin is nearing his 100th birthday.

The third season begins and ends on a high note. Both episodes are perfect bookends to an engrossing storyline that provides real growth for its characters, despite their farcical environment. Shadows shows that, human or vampire, we all desire purpose. By the finale, Nadja has been invited to join the Supreme Council in London and frets leaving Laszlo, her love, due to his hatred of the old country.

Nandor, meanwhile, embarks on his journey of self-discovery, leaving Guillemro feeling distraught and abandoned. Their shocking all-out brawl is a series highlight, where Nandor, acquiescing to Guillemero, turns to the camera and says, “That little fucker can really move when he wants to.” A lot more happens, including Colin’s death and bizarre rebirth, and we’re left with a litany of questions by the end. The fourth season can’t come soon enough.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Metallica and More at Welcome to Rockville 2021 in Daytona Beach, FL By Jesse Striewski/Photos By Brooke Striewski

For the first time in its ten-year history, the massive Welcome to Rockville music festival came to the International Speedway in Daytona Beach, FL for four straight days and nights from November 11-14. And with press credentials extremely limited for the event, it did not look likely that Rewind It Magazine would be able to make it. But as luck would have it, our very own photographer Brooke Striewski managed to pull off winning four day passes from local rock station WJRR.

Each night featured an array of different bands on the stage (and to anyone that was able to make it all four days and survive, I applaud you), and having just acquired wristbands the day of the first show and having numerous prior engagements, there was no way we would be able to make much more than the headlining acts. But photo passes be damned, we were still determined to get in as much as possible, and see as many friends of the extended family also attending as possible (including Mike Jones, Josh Kelly, and Rewind It Magazine contributor Shawn McKee).

Although I’m ninety-nine percent sure the first band we saw onstage upon entering that first night on Thursday, November 11 was indeed Brass Against, we did not witness the now-infamous “peeing” incident from lead singer Sophia Urista (shame, I know). Our first “real” introduction to the music was via A Day to Remember, a band I first saw back in 2011. Can’t say I was ever a huge fan of theirs, but songs like “Mind Reader,” “Resentment,” “All Signs Point to Lauderdale,” “Brick Wall,” and “All I Want” were all decent enough live numbers.

From there it was on to catch hip hop icons Cypress Hill, who just about any middle/high school misfit in the ’90s will remember as the go-to stoner group. Along with Public Enemy’s DJ Lord in tow, the group actually started off somewhat promising with tracks like “I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That,” “When the Shit Goes Down,” “A to the K,” and “Hand on the Pump.” But as soon as they did “Pigs” and started preaching their hypocritical anti-law enforcement rhetoric from their oh-so protected stage (From what again? That’s right, law enforcement!), they began to lose us. More stunning achievements in songwriting followed, such as “Bilingual,” “I Wanna Get High” (where a nearby fan became falsely excited, mistaking it for another, similar sounding song), “Dr. Greenthumb,” and “Hits From the Bong.” By the time they reached their biggest hit “Insane in the Brain,” we were already making our way over to the main act of the night.

Slipknot are one of those rare exception, nu metal acts that I can actually tolerate. and having previously photographed frontman Corey Taylor and guitarist Jim Root on stage with Stone Sour for another magazine at Earthday Birthday back in 2013, I was actually intrigued to finally see them behind their “other” faces. They were also our fifteen year old son’s favorite act of the entire festival, so to be able to watch them alongside him was no doubt a special moment for me. They definitely did not disappoint, coming out strong with somewhat newer track “Unsainted” before finally launching into the likes of “Before I Forget,” “The Heretic Anthem,” “Psychosocial,” “The Chapeltown Rag,” “Wait and Bleed,” “Vermilion,” “All Out Lie,” and “Duality.” At some point during the night, Taylor also took a minute to address the recent tragedy at Astroworld, forging a moment of honest solidarity between band and audience.

Slipknot headlining the first night of Welcome to Rockville on Thursday, November 11, 2021.

Night two was definitely a step up, and one to remember. By the time our crew arrived this time around, Chevelle (another band I once photographed at EDBD, but in 2012) were mid-way through their set. Although more up my son’s alley once again, hearing tracks like “The Clincher,” “Send the Pain Below,” and “The Red” took me back to another, more simple time.

Social Distortion has been a band on my list for some time now, and although I’ve had close calls of seeing them in the past, I was finally able to catch them this past Friday night. Tracks like The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb,” “Ready For Love,” “California (Hustle and Flow),” “Far Side of Nowhere,” “Lude Boy,” “She’s a Knockout,” “The Way Things Were,” “Story of my Life,” “I Was Wrong,” “Ball and Chain,” “Don’t Drag Me Down,” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” were all powerful in a live setting (although I would have liked to have heard just a little more older stuff, like maybe “Mommy’s Little Monster” at the very least). The laid back demeanor of founder and lone original member, frontman Mike Ness (now joined by former U.S. Bombs/Youth Brigade guitarist Johnny Wickersham in place of the late Dennis Danell since 2000) was a stark contrast to Cypress Hill’s set the previous night around the same time frame, and just echoed an overall coolness.

Former White Zombie frontman Rob Zombie was up next, and like Slipknot, was playing his final show of 2021. Although there’s still plenty of visuals to behold throughout his shows via videos of everything from clips of his films, to half naked go go dancers, I remembered not being all that impressed the last time I caught him live in 2006, either. Now joined by not one, but two former members of Marilyn Manson (guitarist John 5 and drummer Ginger Fish), Zombie and his crew made plenty of noise with tracks like “The Triumph of King Freak (A Crypt of Preservation and Superstition),” “Dead City Radio and the New Gods of Supertown,” “Superbeast,” “Living dead Girl,” “The Eternal Struggles of The Howling Man,” “Well, Everybody’s Fucking in a UFO,” “More Human Than Human,” “House of 1000 Corpses,” and “Thunder Kiss ’65.” A quick solo from John 5 followed before closing things out with “Dragula,” but overall, it was not much more than simply a pretty “meh” performance.

And finally, after waiting forty years (the age of both myself, and the band themselves), I was able to come full circle and complete seeing the last missing piece of the “Big Four” of thrash metal that also includes Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer. It was truly surreal to hear Metallica tear through “Whiplash” off of 1983’s Kill ’em All album, before going into “Ride the Lightning” from the album of the same name. More classics new and old followed, including “Harvester of Sorrow,” “Cyanide,” “The Memory Remains,” “One,” “Frantic” (yes, from 2003’s St. Anger album, which lead singer/guitarist James Hetfield even poked a bit of fun at), and “Moth Into Flame.” More classics like “No Leaf Clover,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Whiskey in the Jar,” “Fade to Black,” “Master of Puppets,” “Fight Fire with Fire,” “Fuel,” and “Seek and Destroy” followed. But I also noted how, curiously, nothing from The Black Album was performed, and I would indeed find out why soon enough (stay tuned). Although packed in like sardines in one of the largest crowds any of us have ever been in, it was truly an unforgettable experience to have together.

Having already seen the majority of bands on Saturday night’s roster – including The Offspring, Staind, Lamb of God, and Gwar – and having previously committed to the third annual Stogies and Spirits event at Henry’s Depot in Sanford, FL (where we watched local cover act Skin Deep perform instead) we wisely took a night off from Rockville and waited until Sunday to return, which was a gamble that paid off perfectly. Upon arrival on Sunday afternoon, the weather had cooled down considerably, and the all-female trio The Warning were well into their set. Not only were some pretty faces a welcomed addition after staring at nothing but dudes for days now, the girls actually rocked pretty damn hard, too…

…Yet not as hard as the mighty Anthrax. The last time I saw them back in 2010 (where I photographed them at Hard Rock Live along with Megadeth and Slayer), they were full of energy, and absolutely tore up the stage. And despite a member change since (Shadows Fall guitarist Jonathan Donais has since taken over for Volbeat’s Rob Caggiano), the band still had it. Staple tracks like “Among the Living,” “Got the Time,” “Caught in a Mosh,” “Madhouse,” “Finale,” “I am the Law,” “Anti-Social,” and “Indians” still all sounded crushing live, making Anthrax easily one of my favorite bands of not only the night, but the entire weekend as well.

Former Escape the Fate frontman Ronnie Radke’s band Falling in Reverse were next up. Although another of the many bands I photographed at the three consecutive Earthday Birthdays I covered (I believe it was 2012 this time around), the appeal has definitely worn off for me, and is once again something more appreciated by my teenager. Still, it was interesting hearing “The Drug in Me is You” again alongside newer tracks like “Believe in Me,” “Drugs,” “Just Like You,” and “Popular Monster.”

Mastodon were up next, and admittedly, we only caught a glimpse of their set due to it being time to find some grub. But we filled our bellies just in time to catch a reunited Mudvayne, who, despite their laughable costumes and makeup, did not cause anyone to lose said dinner. I can’t say I was ever a fan of Mudvayne, or vocalist Chad Gray and guitarist Greg Tribbett’s other band HellYeah, who once again I photographed at – you guessed it – Earthday Birthday! The only songs I even recognized in their set were the early 2000’s hits “Not Falling” and “World So Cold,” and after listening to Gray struggle to hit the right notes (to be fair, I understand he may have recently recovered from a case of Covid), we began making our way to the next stage.

Legendary southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd have somehow also managed to escape from my radar until now, but it was totally worth the wait, even with virtually no original member present at the time (sole surviving member Gary Rossington was out due to recent medical issues, leaving long time vocalist/younger brother to late original vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, Johnny, and guitarist Ricky Medlocke, who played briefly with the band in the early ’70s and has been back with them for a good twenty five years now, as close as it gets). Still, this did not stop them from bringing the house down.

Lynyrd Skynyrd performing the final night of Welcome to Rockville on Sunday, November 14, 2021.

Thin Lizzy/former Brother Cane guitarist Damon Johnson took over duties for Rossington with ease and enthusiasm, and the band opened their set admirably enough with “Workin’ For MCA.” More classics like “I Ain’t the One,” “Saturday Night Special,” “That Smell,” “Gimme Back My Bullets,” “The Needle and the Spoon,” “Simple Man,” “Gimme Three Steps,” and “Sweet Home Alabama” followed before ending with an epic, ten-plus minute rendition of “Free Bird” (all these years of hearing it yelled at concerts, and we finally heard it live). Skynyrd’s set was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the night, and the entire weekend.

Things could have easily ended there and been just fine. But instead, Metallica had to play a second show of the weekend, and it was immediately apparent the energy of Friday night’s show just wasn’t quite there this time (from both band and audience), and opening with the semi-newer track in the form of “Hardwired” was a clue of what was to come. Things did actually pick up briefly though, as the guys dove through a couple of classics (and two personal favorites of mine) “The Four Horsemen” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).”

But then, the unexpected happened; they started playing The Black Album (remember what I had said about Friday night’s set?), and to top it off, backwards. That’s right, the most boring album in Metallica’s “classic” era catalog, was played from “The Struggle Within,” all the way to “Enter Sandman.” I get that it’s a milestone for the band and recently just turned thirty years old, but I could have easily lived without hearing every moment from it (and judging by the crowd’s reaction, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way). The Black Album was actually the first Metallica album I ever owned, and it did little to nothing to win me over as a fan; it took going back to their earlier efforts to finally win me over.

Although the band did briefly redeem themselves afterwards by ending with “Damage Inc.” and “Creeping Death,” it still did not measure up by any means to their Friday night set. But I think it’s safe to say that all those who attended and lived through the incredible, exhausting experience that was Welcome to Rockville 2021 will surely have many a story to tell for a long, long time.

Film Review: Last Night in Soho (Universal Pictures)

By: Shawn McKee

Last Night in Soho is one of the most visually impressive films I’ve seen in a while. Its vibrant cinematography, sweeping camera movements, and gorgeous colors effectively recreate London during the Swinging Sixties. Though set in present day, the movie shifts back to a different time and place through multiple dreamlike segments, while presenting the mysterious and tragic downfall of an ambitious singer caught up in the glitz and glamour of a bygone era.

We don’t see movies like this too often, an entirely original concept with a large budget and backing of a major studio (Universal). It’s not related to any franchise or pre-existing property. As a psychological horror film, it’s also not associated with the Blumhouse “horror” assembly line or A24 cerebral art house fare. The story was conceived by British writer/director Edgar Wright. And how much you enjoy his film is based on how willing you are to get immersed in its world.

Like any worthwhile art, Last Night in Soho is inundated with symbolism. There’s a lot going on in every scene. On the surface, the serpentine story unfolds as a full-length Twilight Zone episode. It’s unlike anything Wright has ever done before, and if you know his versatile body of work, you can appreciate how far he’s come.

Wright is known for the comedy horror film Shaun of the Dead and its equally farcical action counterpart Hot Fuzz, featuring the dream team of British comic actors, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Both films are notable for their striking wit, over-the-top violence, and fast-paced editing, for starters. Wright then went on to make the superbly crafted and hilarious Scott Pilgrim vs. the World based on the comic series of the same name. His unique brand of fast-paced British humor was established early on with the TV sitcom Spaced, also starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

For movie lovers and film buffs alike, Wright remains the gift that keeps on giving. Even with a misfire such a Baby Driver, in my opinion, his artistic talent is clear. His films can also be bombastic and tend to go haywire in the third act. I was expecting as much in Soho. I can’t say that it doesn’t fall into the same trap, but what I witnessed overall was any cinephile’s dream. The abundance of clever camera shots that masterfully blend its real world and dream world segments together must be seen to be believed.

In a time of unending corporate factory filmmaking, Soho stands on its own. The characters are appealing, the suspense is brooding, and the payoff is well earned. It’s an unlikely film from an unlikely director, made with the careful precision as love letter to 1960’s cinema and music. The soundtrack thunders along with songs of the era and even more recent songs reimagined as sixties tracks. But Wright also doesn’t shy away from reality as he demystifies nostalgia to present a nightmarish underbelly that existed during that time. Through it all, the movie is a tour de force of sight and sound with excellent performances of its two female leads.

The plot involves an aspiring fashion designer named Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie), who gets accepted into the London College of Fashion. After some friction with her inconsiderate dorm roommate, Ellie rents a room from an elderly landlady named Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg). The room, however, turns out to be haunted, and Ellie vividly dreams of a mysterious singing beauty from the 1960s named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). The dreams grow more intense as time goes on, and Ellie finds herself engrossed in a murder mystery that she’s unable to separate herself from.

By sheer quality alone, Soho should be destined to become a classic. Its enthralling visuals, carefully selected period music, and topnotch storytelling form an exciting two-hour tale of macabre. It might just be one of Wright’s best films. There were some moments that tested my patience, but the abundance of imagination on display won me over. I walked into the movie knowing nothing about it beyond being an Edgar Wright film. The gamble paid off, and I was pleasantly surprised. Movies like this breathe life back into cinema, making that trip to the theater well worth it in the end.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Series Review: Creepshow Season 3 (Warner Bros./Shudder)

By: Shawn McKee

In 1982, horror legends George A. Romero and Stephen King collaborated on the seminal comic horror anthology film, Creepshow. This masterpiece of macabre was Pittsburgh native Romero’s first and most successful foray into studio filmmaking. Warner Bros released his horror classic to respectable financial and critical success. It remains, in my opinion, a resounding display of Romero’s sheer talent as a director and visual artist. And for the record, everything here is just my opinion, especially when discussing the new TV series.

I was both excited and skeptical when horror streaming service Shudder premiered their Creepshow series in September 2019. It appeared to have the right elements, having two names heavily associated with the genre. This included John Harrison, composer of the original film and director of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990), and Greg Nicotero. Nicotero is the incredibly prolific special effects protégé of Tom Savini, and best known for his work on The Walking Dead. Chances are, if you’ve seen a movie made in the past thirty years, Nicotero worked on it.

His career in groundbreaking effects began with Day of the Dead (1985), my personal favorite Romero zombie apocalypse entry. He then worked on Creepshow 2 (1987), Evil Dead II (1987), and Misery (1990), where you can thank him for the “hobbling” sledgehammer scene. He’s done effects for Quentin Tarantino, John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese, Wes Craven, and scores of other major directors. He co-founded the special effects studio KNB EFX Group, which raised the bar with their work on The Walking Dead, creating unbridled gore unlike anything ever seen on television. Nicotero and Harrison both wrote and directed a handful of Creepshow episodes throughout its current three season run. As executive producer, the show seems to be mainly in Nicotero’s hands, in addition to his Walking Dead duties. This isn’t a man who slows down.

The third season has its share of hits and misses like any anthology show. It even recalls the uneven but sometimes rewarding Masters of Horror series from Showtime, which gave us hour-long segments from John Carpenter, Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon, Tobe Hooper, Dario Argento, and John Landis, among others. My first rule in providing analysis of these recent horror outings is to first appreciate that they’re there. The fact that there’s a Creepshow series that earnestly tries to emulate the look and feel of the movie and old horror comics that inspired it is a win for me. I’m happy enough that a major network like AMC chose to invest the talent and resources into this show via Shudder. Such acknowledgments aside, how does the third season measure up? It’s quite like the previous seasons; some good, some bad, and an overall worthy endeavor for any fan of the genre.

For starters, the show has an excellent opening and theme song. I also applaud their decision to maintain “The Creep’s” non-verbal cues. The now enhanced, hooded floating skeleton chuckles between segments, much like the original film. The music throughout the series remains rooted in John Harrison’s original style, which is also a plus. The comic to film transitions can be subtle, heavy-handed, and weak at times, but they try. The poorer episodes generally fail because of lackluster acting and writing. Nothing about the series looks cheap, however, and it’s clear that there’s a budget behind this. Unfortunately, certain episodes sometimes resort to appalling CGI effects that nearly sink the production. The third season’s six episode run felt like a mixed bag, but I watched each time, hoping for it to get better.

The season premiered with the “Mums,” a story that tries to emulate the simple revenge/comeuppance troupe of Creepshow lore. A kid’s mother is murdered by her backwoods beer-guzzling militia caricature of a husband for being too “free-spirited.” Buried in the ground, the mother returns as a killer plant and exacts her revenge. There was nothing else to this hokey melodrama, and it started out the season on all the wrong notes. In “Queen Bee,” a trio of teens venture to a spooky, dimly lit, off-limits hospital to spy on a pop singing superstar who’s about to give birth. There’s some great atmosphere and nice effects in an otherwise unremarkable outing.

The second episode features “Skeletons in the Closet,” directed by Greg Nicotero. This one involves a film buff couple who run their own movie museum, displaying old horror movie props and collectors’ items. I can see why Nicotero would be attracted to this story, and it speaks to the fandom in us all. But like many episodes, it meanders and ultimately doesn’t go anywhere satisfying. “Familiar” involves an aspiring lawyer who realizes that a demon is following him after a drunken visit to a fortune teller one night. This borrows from and pays homage to “The Crate” segment from Creepshow to mixed results. The acting is hard to get past in this one.

“The Last Tsuburaya” features an obnoxious trust fund millionaire who collects expensive art for his own amusement. With a character so rotten, I was surprised to find much better acting than usual. Brandon Quinn delivers quite well in an episode with astounding practical effects, involving an immortal demon who exists in one of the priceless paintings acquired by Quinn. The following segment, “Okay, I’ll Bite,” was directed by John Harrison, paying homage to Creepshow’s cockroach segment, “They’re Creeping Up on You!” but with spiders. It involves a sympathetic convict’s struggles in prison, amid his pet spiders. There’s a lot of meandering again to an unsatisfying conclusion in one of the most forgettable episodes of the season.

Our fourth episode begins with “Stranger Sings,” about a gynecologist lured into the home of a deadly siren who wants him to remove her vocal cords and transplant them into her friend. Great practical effects mired by an incredibly unappealing story and weak acting. The ambitious “Meter Reader” follows, displaying an apocalyptic hellscape in the not-to-distant-future. There’s a lot to like about this segment, involving a deadly plague and eerie social commentary. The only misfire was the obnoxious lead character “strong woman” prototype.

“Time Out” is a Twilight Zone-type tale about a magic armoire that pauses time. Passed down through generations, the armoire winds up with an eager law school grad who soon uses it to his advantage. This episode ranks as one of the series’ most imaginative ideas, and the execution isn’t bad. A gory animated segment follows with “The Things in Oakwood’s Past,” co-written and directed by Nicotero. The voice acting is top notch, featuring Mark Hamil and scream-queen Danille Harris. Overall, an inventive and enthralling outing with strange animation that makes you want to see it in live action.

The finale episode is the strongest of the entire season. “Drug Traffic” is an absolute horror show, featuring a monstrous girl apprehended at the U.S./Canadian border, followed by “A Dead Girl Named Sue.” This final back-and-white segment exists in the Night of the Living Dead universe from the original movie, and it’s pure magic. Nicotero directed the first episode, and Harrison directed the second. Both show the full potential of greatness of the Creepshow series when it’s firing on all cylinders. With all its hits and misses, I regularly enjoy watching the show each week. I hope they keep it going for years to come.

Retrospective: 30 Years Since we saw ‘Ernest Scared Stupid’ By Shawn McKee

For most of us who grew up with him, Jim Varney was Ernest P. Worrell. He embodied the goofy, oblivious, and patently good-natured everyman whose antics were ripe for a barrage of movies throughout the eighties and nineties. Ernest resonated predominantly with children during his heyday but was just as popular with adults taken with his abrasive harassing of unseen counterpart “Vern” in dozens of commercials leading up to his movie success. “KnowWhutImean, Vern?” was a catchphrase for the ages.

It was hard to imagine that Ernest was just one character of many from a versatile impressionist. Varney had a long, established career in stand-up comedy, television, and commercials long before his breakout character. He found fame as Ernest after staring in several commercials for the Nashville-based Carden and Cherry advertising agency. Executive vice president of the company, John R. Cherry III, helped conceive the character and would later direct the surprise hit Ernest Goes to Camp in 1987 and every Ernest film to follow. Disney’s Touchstone Pictures produced and distributed four theatrically released Ernest films, ending with the 1991 Halloween-themed extravaganza Ernest Scared Stupid.

Ernest’s latest adventure begins with a clever montage of black-and-white horror/science-fiction movies, effectively setting the tone. Our hero sneaks around the darkness, reacting to clips from Nosferatu (1922), White Zombie (1932), and several other chiller classics as the opening credits roll. We’re then given some elaborate backstory about a 19th century killer troll vanquished by the townspeople, with Ernest’s own ancestor among them. The captured troll places a curse on the Worrell village elder, promising that his lineage will grow dumber with each new generation. Fast forward to the present, we find Ernest working in sanitation, not far removed from his job as a janitor in earlier films. We also learn that he lives in the same 19th century town that had sealed the captured troll under an oak tree.

Through inadvertent stupidity, Ernest releases the troll, while innocently helping some kids who built a treehouse upon its tomb. Once released, the troll captures children by turning them into wooden dolls and feasting on their energy, which is creepy enough. There’s also a wild performance by Eartha Kitt, singer of the classic song “Santa Baby,” playing Francis “Old Lady” Hackmore, replete with dark, low angled shots throughout her lair. Bill Byrge, one half of the hilarious Chuck and Bobby duo, returns once more as the silent Bobby. His brother Chuck (Gail Sartain), who Bobby had been paired with since the Hey Vern, It’s Ernest! days, is absent this go-round, replaced in this entry by his “cousin,” Tom (John Cadenhead).

Scared Stupid stands out easily as the most bizarre Ernest outing, and as a Halloween movie, it works. The trolls soon multiply and attack the entire town, but not before a scene between Ernest and lead troll, Trantor, where Trantor beats the complete crap out of Ernest during a school Halloween party. Ernest took a lot of abuse in his movies, starting with the beatdown he received in Ernest Goes to Camp by a burly, sociopathic construction worker he had the misfortune of provoking.

On the set of Ernest Scared Stupid. L to R; Actors Bill Byrge, Eartha Kitt, John Cadenhead, and Jim Varney.

After his umpteenth savage beating, Ernest soon discovers that milk destroys the trolls. This scene, of course, follows a humorous segment of Ernest’s misreading of milk as “miak” in ancient scrolls and proudly displaying a jar of seasonal Bulgarian “miak” to a ward off the head troll. A dizzying, climatic spectacle preludes Ernest’s eventual defeat of the troll army as he saves the day and brings peace to the cursed town.

Perhaps the most eerie thing about the film is that all the children turned into wooden dolls by the trolls are presumed dead until the very end. Even Ernest’s beloved Rimshot (the feisty, lovable terrier seen both in this movie and Ernest Goes to Jail) falls prey to the ensuing troll rampage, only to be brought back to life in the end. And by the end, we’ve seen enough trolls and goo for a nice, long shower.

Scared Stupid rivaled the ambition of Ernest Goes to Jail, where Varney played multiple roles, including murderous convict and Ernest look-alike, Felix Nash. This latest Ernest movie would contain the most elaborate special effects and makeup of any of his previous films. It would also be the last of the Disney-back theatrically released films before Ernest went straight-to-video. Varney pumped out five additional Ernest films before tragically dying of lung cancer in 2000.

The Scared Stupid commercials back then ran nonstop, with Ernest taunting an evil troll, moments before backing over him in a pickup truck and saying, “How about a bumper sandwich, booger lips?” Were these movies dumb? Sure. Were they reviled by critics from the start? Absolutely. But something lost on any “serious moviegoer” back then was the sheer amount of fun Ernest films offered impressionable youths. It may have been just another holiday cash-grab, following Ernest Saves Christmas (1988), but it was also the closest we would get to seeing Ernest in a semi-horror film. In a time where culture is so seriously grim, we could all use a little Ernest P. Worrell to lighten the mood.

Retrospective: The Buzz Remains 35 Years After ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2’ By Shawn McKee

In 1986, director Tobe Hooper released the last film in his three-picture deal with Cannon Films, a follow-up to his 1974 landmark horror tour de force, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Like many of our modern horror greats, the 1980s gave Hooper his most consistent and impressive output, unmatched in proceeding decades.

The success of Chainsaw launched Hooper from independent filmmaking to mainstream studio productions. He directed the well-received TV miniseries of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (1979), the atmospheric carnival slasher The Funhouse (1981), and the Steven Spielberg-produced supernatural horror classic Poltergeist (1982). Spielberg tapped Hooper to direct primarily from the visceral strength of Chainsaw, presenting Hooper with the challenge of directing a movie Spielberg had intended to make himself but couldn’t due to contractual obligations with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Controversy over “who really directed the film” aside, Hooper proved to be undoubtedly the right choice for Poltergeist, and the evidence lies in his body of work.

Hooper’s deal with Cannon Films was something of a blessing for the former adolescent movie lover who spent his childhood in Austin theaters, absorbing everything he could. In two short years, he made three big budget movies with complete creative control. Unfortunately, Lifeforce (1985), his apocalyptic science-fiction epic, and Invaders from Mars (1986), a remake of the 1950s film of the same name, failed both critically and financially upon their release. This left Cannon with one last hope to cash in on the movie that had made their star director. They wanted a sequel every bit as harrowing and unsettling as the first one, and most importantly, just as successful. What they (and we) got was something completely different, a deranged sequel parody courtesy of Hooper and screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 was a film Hooper initially only wanted to produce. Making a sequel more than a decade later to his most seminal work was a feat itself. He eventually took the helm and presented the cannibalistic Sawyer family in a modern setting. In the film, Leatherface & company have since moved underground thirteen years after the original massacre. But, as the opening title crawl tells us, “Reports of bizarre, grisly chainsaw mass-murders have persisted all across the state of Texas.” The story begins on a bizarrely satiric note that never lets up throughout the film’s all-out assault on unsuspecting viewers.

Hippies from the original have been replaced with obnoxious eighties yuppies, two jocks, on their way to see an Oklahoma-Texas (OU) football game. The blitzed yuppies shoot passing signs and scream and giggle hysterically as they call a local radio station with their bulky car phone to harass on air DJ Vanita “Stretch” Brock (Caroline Williams). They soon reach a bleak end after playing “chicken” with the wrong pickup truck along a desolate Texas highway. Inexplicably unable to hang up, Stretch listens in horror as Leatherface (Bill Johnson) dispatches her two pesky callers with his massive chainsaw. General mayhem ensues with comic gore effects by the legendary Tom Savini and accompanying music by Oingo Biongo. Their song “No One Lives Forever” decidedly separates the sequel from any notion of being a straight horror film. Unbeknownst to the killers, Stretch records audio of the slaughter and keeps it as evidence.

The highway aftermath sees the arrival of Dennis Hopper, portraying Lieutenant Boude “Lefty” Enright, a former Texas Ranger. Lefty is obsessed with finding the Sawyer family and avenging the death of his wheelchair-bound nephew Francis (from the first film) and maiming of his niece Sally, the lone survivor. Hopper was the movie’s biggest star at the time and would solidify his comeback with David Lynch’s Blue Velvet later that year. Discovering the tape on hand, Lefty convinces Stretch to play the incriminating audio on air to “lure” the killers out of hiding. Meanwhile at the state-wide Chili Cookoff, Drayton Sawyer “The Cook” (Jim Siedow, the only returning cast member) has established an enterprising business from his family’s ritualistic killings and processing of human meat. Drayton later hears the recorded audio of the highway murders and sends Leatherface and “Chop Top” (Bill Moseley) to the radio station to eliminate the problem.

The tense confrontation between Caroline Williams and Bill Moseley is perhaps the movie’s most “nuanced” moment, followed by an ingenious jump scare that launches a chainsaw wielding Leatherface from the shadows and roaring into the room. Stretch screams, runs, and hides as her radio technician L.G. (Lou Perryman) is comically slaughtered by Chop Top. Leatherface then corners Stretch and uses his chainsaw in a perverse and overbearingly phallic manner. She survives their encounter by coaxing him into simulated chainsaw sex, and the rest is cinema history.

The movie screeches into its third act with Stretch making another inexplicable decision to follow the Sawyer family to their hideout. Lefty trails her and admits that she was used to discover where the Sawyer family is hiding. The two are separated as the movie plays out in the catacombs of Tobe Hooper’s twisted sensibilities. Lefty arms himself with multiple chainsaws and battles Leatherface in the only chainsaw duel of its kind.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 was not well-received when it first came out. It also had the misfortune of being released at a time of unadulterated MPAA tyranny, where slasher films were rubber-stamped with X ratings to no avail. Hooper chose to release the film unrated, similar to George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead (1985). In both cases, horror fans are fortunate to not have to track down uncut versions thirty years after the fact. Such a move took guts, and frankly, the movie is not that violent. There are maybe three on-screen deaths, some casual bloodletting, and a grotesque moment involving a skinless L.G., but it’s hardly worth the fuss. Call me desensitized, but there’s nothing in the film that warrants an “X.” The movie ends on the same chaotic note it began with, portraying Stretch manically dancing around with a giant chainsaw, having survived her own traumatic brush with death.

Chainsaw 2 defines subjectivity. Critics hated it, fans were disappointed, and the movie failed to achieve the success Cannon was hoping for. They wanted a horror film and were given a black comedy evident by the movie poster’s parody of The Breakfast Club (1985). It’s a mad film, equally unsettling as the first, but with an entirely different tone. Roger Ebert called it a “geek show” in his one-star review. Other critics said that it only proved Hooper’s “contempt” for the original. Leonard Maltin gave the film a “Bomb,” saying, “Frenetic overacting and attempts at black humor sink this mess.” It’s a polarizing but no less memorable film. Hooper wanted to bring the comedy he felt existed in the first one to the forefront. In the process, he unleashed an insane commentary on modern times.

Hooper could have easily made the same movie again. Instead, he created something unique beyond the countless mind-numbing sequels, remakes, and reboots. It’s a film that embraces chaos, absurdity, and schlock to its lasting status as a cult favorite. Sadly, Hooper passed away in 2017, leaving us with one less pioneering auteur. We didn’t just lose a horror icon, we lost a talented filmmaker with an uncompromising vision, something rarely seen today.

Retrospective: 25 Years Since ‘The Frighteners’ First Freaked Moviegoers By Jesse Striewski

The ’90s – especially the mid-to-late ’90s – were a unique time indeed for cinema when it comes to horror films; The Silence of the Lambs paved the waved for more ‘sophisticated’ thrillers in the beginning of the decade, while typical slasher franchises originally led by the likes of Freddy, Jason, and Chucky, were laid dormant to make way for the more realistic meta-horror of the Scream franchise and all its numerous copycats. As a fan of both horror films, and Michael J. Fox since his Back to the Future and Family Ties days, I was eager to see this new intriguing horror flick with him in it (something he had not yet attempted to do), and was at the theater to watch it with friends within its first couple of weeks of release (see original ticket stub photo attached below). What ensued was nearly two full hours of dark, brooding insanity, and big budget, zany chaos.

Before it there were also the more surreal horror flicks that bordered on equal parts fantasy, and silliness. Films such as Leprechaun (1993) and Brainscan (1994) stretched one’s imagination while taking liberties with reality as a whole. When Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners was released on July 19, 1996, it definitely ticked many of the same boxes as said previous films, yet in its own unique way. Author and Rewind It Magazine contributor Shawn McKee commented on the film; “The Frighteners is one of those films that has gotten a lot of reevaluation over time. It was both a precursor to (film director) Peter Jackson’s mainstream success with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the rise of the Weta Digital and the Weta Workshop, the New Zealand (where the film was also filmed) special effects company co-founded by Jackson.”

He continued; “Upon its release in ’96, the scare trailers that followed made little mention of it as a Peter Jackson movie, who was still unknown at the time to most audiences. It was instead marketed as a supernatural comedy by Universal Pictures and Robert Zemeckis, the film’s executive producer. The trailers also struggled to explain what the movie was even about. This most likely led to its brief theatrical run, low box office performance, and eventual second chance on home video.”

Original 1996 ticket stub from the author’s personal collection

The plot is fairly simple; Fox plays Frank Banister, an ex-architect turned ghost hunter who uses the help of a trio of spirits (played brilliantly by John Aston, Chi McBride, and Jim Fyfe) that only he can see to con locals into believing they have an actual haunting. Things start going awry once would-be client Ray Lynskey (Peter Dobson) mysteriously drops dead (among many others), and his widow Lucy (Trini Alvarado) immediately enlists Frank’s services to solve what happened. Further complicating things for Frank is an aggressive detective (Jeffery Combs) dead set on proving Frank had killed his own wife years before, a newspaper editor (Elizabeth Hawthrone) hell-bent on proving Frank’s a fake, and other spooks like Master Sargent Hiles (played by the late R. Lee Emery in a role which emulates his Full Metal Jacket performance from 1987) disgusted by Frank’s chosen methods.

It turns out that Frank is not the only one with the power to see those from beyond; local patient Patrica Bartlett (Dee Wallace) has been helping her long deceased lover Johnny (Jake Busey) continue his killing spree from beyond the grave for years, and along with a little help from his ghosts and Sheriff (Troy Evans) Frank and Lucy have to put an end to the twosome’s rampage once and for all. In an October 2020 interview, Wallace revealed to me what it was like to play a villain in place of her usual squeaky clean “mom” roles; “Oh God, I had so much fun doing that! I love exploring all of the different sides of me, and the psyche, and I just loved the arc of going from the little victim, to becoming the killer towards the end!”

The Frighteners was far from a runaway hit; grossing just under $30 million on a $26 million dollar budget, it received a lukewarm reception from moviegoers and critics at the time. Though it had the potential to become the Ghostbusters of the ’90s, it was too “out there” for the casual viewer to “get;” too dark for the family friendly crowd, and not gory enough for the usual horror fanatic. Still, a quarter of a century after its release, it remains a stepping stone in Jackson’s flimography, and worth a revisit, whether it’s your first time ever seeing it, or fifth.

Album Review: Danz CM – The Absurdity of Human Existence (Channel 9 Records)

By: Shawn McKee

Like a young, earnest Trent Reznor, Danz utilizes technology to arrange, produce, and sometimes mix music all her own, while embodying an abundance of influences, to include Gary Numan, Thom Yorke, Blondie, Depeche Mode, Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk, and beyond. She also has a clear passion for film, pop culture, and science-fiction, notably reflected in most of her work. Her numerous music videos often reach cinematic heights, as seen in the grainy, glitchy magnum opus “Fuzz” from her debut album, “Davos.”

Danz CM reemerged last March with the release of a new album, citing the name change from Computer Magic as one of growth. The album title is anything but subtle and was purportedly conceived during a low point in the artist’s life. This is mostly the case with good music in general. “Absurdity” leads us on an introspective journey through uncertain times. There are a few standouts, with some minor lulls in an album that remains consistently fresh and unique. Danz CM delivers a symmetrical ten-song lineup at just under forty minutes, where no song sounds the same.

The opening track, “Idea of You” immediately launches into a thumping, electronic beat over layed with pulsating synth loops and distant guitar strumming. She sets the tone with, “I don’t want another… heartbreak on my record” and proceeds to pick up the pieces of a fractured relationship. The song’s arrangement is near perfection and offers an accessible sound that should pique the interest of any casual listener. The second track, “Domino” quietly delves into the struggles of love. Here, Danz displays a rarely heard vulnerability, further exploring themes of confusion and melancholy. The song deploys a litany of direct and indirect questions, such as, “How can I be so weak / How could you let me fall for you / How can I let you in, over again.” It’s an appropriate second track but far from an album favorite.

A cosmic slow burn follows of overlapping synth waves in the equally somber, “My Other Self.”The otherwise mellow song has a lot going for it, including disillusioned lyrics combined with a spacey sound. “You’re just a distraction… From myself,” repeats the chorus, as though the situation at hand has grown old. “Low” proceeds with some impressive electronic arrangements and keyboard layers wrapped in lyrics of paranoia and confusion, this time involving someone waiting for their lover to return. “You’re not the only one missing something…You’re not the only one.”

The album reaches a midway high point with the dance-oriented, Bjork-sounding “Don’t Stop,”where Danz channels her inner Debbie Harry. Her harmonized vocals are strong throughout the infectious tune. The isolating sadness of “Breaking Point” follows in a winding sonic fashion that recalls an 80s movie synth score. The Cars-sounding “Something More” picks things up again, with a cruising rock beat that’s fun and catchy. The lyrics convey a yearning beyond the ordinary while “working at a restaurant,” for little return. This seemingly harkens back to Danz’s own early days in NYC while attending college. I initially dismissed the song, only for it to grow on me later.

“I Don’t Need a Hero” is as a real standout and one of the best songs on the album. The rock-induced, synth-pounding ballet charges forward with industrial-sounding fervor. Danz takes no prisoners in her escape from the “monster” she’s left behind. “I don’t need a hero,” she says with a tone of finality, “It could never be somebody like you.” The song also represents her uncanny ability to layer catchy pop tunes with depth and emotion, a technique Kurt Cobain reportedly admired about The Pixies and wished to emulate.

The album winds down with the big band, disco-sounding “Not Gonna Stand By,” erupting in a plethora of strings, an intense, funky bass line, and fast, tight drums. Its undeniable groove is reminiscent of Abba, ELO, and KC and the Sunshine Band mixed into one. The lyrics and music present a more optimistic side of her existentialist journey. “I won’t hurt you, I won’t leave you, I won’t make you cry / But if you don’t let your guard down, I’m not gonna stand by.” Seems like a fair compromise to me. “Human Existence” is a touching and beautiful closer. Its simple, synth-driven aesthetic feels like something created at the edges of the earth… after the apocalypse. Powered by haunting lyrics and impressive vocals, the song offers hope amid a crumbling world. “Hold me…Hold me tightly.” It’s a fitting end to an enjoyable album that doesn’t outwardly hammer its appeal. It takes a few listens, like many albums, to draw you in. As a fan of electronic music in general, her music resonates with me. But I also believe that there’s a lot here to offer anyone who can appreciate it

Rating: 4/5 Stars