brendan halpin


Ah, Christmastime! Santa! Reindeer! People bleeding out in the snow!


I had a three-hour solo drive to do, so I went to the ol’ Libby app to grab an audio book. Ah, here’s Bob Dylan’s The Philosophy of Modern Song! With narration by a passel of respected celebrities!

I’m not a Dylan cultist, but I do know he’s got an encyclopedic knowledge of (American, at least) popular music, and he has written some great songs, so I thought it would be entertaining to hear a well-informed master of the craft give some insights into various songs.

WOW, was I ever wrong.


Everybody else in my house is sick, which means horror movies on the big TV for me! This week’s selections go from the sublime to the ridiculous, and if you think you can tell which is which just by the title, you’re absolutely right!


The Netflix show, not the anti-reproductive-freedom Sex Pistols song. (How did John Lydon end up a fascist? Real head-scratcher!)

Anyway, Bodies actually concerns one body that is found in four different time periods and investigated by four different detectives. The performances are top notch, the script is smart and convoluted and features a number of those WTF twists we expect in a time-travel show. (Yes, Futurama fans, a character in this show does in fact do the nasty in the pasty and thereby become their own ancestor, just like Fred Ward in Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann).

But what I’d really like to talk about is the moral courage this show displays. This is gonna involve some spoilers, so…


Oh, wow, this is a gloriously awful movie. Christopher Atkins (star of The Blue Lagoon, A Night in Heaven, and The Pirate Movie) and Michelle Johnson (of the execrable Blame it on Rio as well as Waxwork and Death Becomes Her) star as a TV reporter and her cameraman who investigate a series of bird attacks.


So I read Schrader’s Chord by Scott Leeds over the weekend. It’s a horror novel about cursed records that open a portal to the land of the dead. I’m a music nerd with a soft spot for stories about forbidden texts (or, in this case, records) filled with dangerous arcane knowledge. So this should be right up my alley.


Decided to check out Messiah of Evil on Shudder, even though it was made by Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, the duo who brought you the most racist Indiana Jones movie (no, not that one—Temple of Doom) and the execrable Howard the Duck movie that I, as a huge fan of Steve Gerber and the original HTD comics, am still angry about 37 years later. (Oh yeah, they were also involved in Best Defense, a horrible movie with Dudley Moore and “strategic guest star” Eddie Murphy in a glorified cameo. Saw it with my mom, and I’m pretty sure we’re the only people ever to see that movie.)

Anyway, the blurb called this a “forgotten classic” or something, and while that may be stretching it a little, it’s definitely worth watching despite its flaws. So let me start with the flaws. It just doesn’t really hang together as a story, and we never really get to know the protagonist (played by Marianna Hill) that well and anyway Michael Greer as Thom steals every scene he’s in. ( Apparently he did a couple of gay porn movies and basically ruined his non-porn acting career, which is a shame because he’s got a great screen presence, and the question of whether and how much we should trust him is the most engaging through line in the movie.)

The setting seems very creepy because we only see brightly-lit, mostly-deserted spaces at night. The island of fluorescent light in a sea of darkness turns out to be a creepy rather than reassuring image here.

And there are two sequences that are among the best I’ve seen in a horror movie. I’m not going to go into detail, but the supermarket scene and the movie theater scene are both absolutely top-notch. The movie theater especially is a masterpiece of slow burning dread.

The movie is surprisingly squeamish about gore for a movie about cannibals, but those two scenes alone make it worth your ninety minutes.

#review #movie #horror #shudder

Doing my best to stay spooky this month, so I’ve watched 2 horror movies in the last two days! Well, one and a half horror movies.

Let’s start with Spirit Halloween. I couldn’t resist the premise, which is that complications ensue when some kids get locked in a Spirit Halloween overnight. And then I saw Christopher Lloyd and Marla Gibbs both being creepy as hell! This could be good!

And yet, it wasn’t. The movie focuses on the kids, who are…let’s just say not as interesting as the old folks. And the whole thing was pretty devoid of either scares or laughs, and you’ve gotta have one or the other in a movie like this.

Ultimately I turned it off halfway through because, unlike so many horror movies, this one felt like it was made with no love. One of the reasons I love horror movies so much is that the folks who make them so often have a deep love for the genre, and the love shines through even when budget constraints or lack of skill get in the way of a really good movie.

Here, though, it’s all really professional to the point of feeling cynical. We’ve got some kids on bikes for that Stranger Things vibe (the main kid here even bears a strong resemblance to the main Stranger Things kid), we’ve got a brand-name tie in, (Which prevents any interesting exploration of the cause of the abandoned storefronts where Spirit Halloween makes its home) and we’ve got some kind of scare-free supernatural happenings with an incoherent explanation. Ultimately a waste of Christopher Lloyd, Marla Gibbs, Rachel Leigh Cook, and 45 minutes of my time.

But surely you can’t go wrong with a Hammer Dracula movie starring Christopher Lee! O, would that it were so! Dracula Has Risen From the Grave does have Lee and a couple of really great images (why are Dracula’s blooshot eyes so creepy? I don’t know! Also him whipping the hell out of the horses is genuinely disturbing), but overall it spends wayyyy to much time with the anodyne young lovers. I realized that apart from the tempera paint blood and the cleavage (only the barmaid gets to show any in this movie so it’s clearly before Hammer fully figured out their brand), what a Hammer Dracula movie needs to succeed is a worthy antagonist for Dracula. That’s where Peter Cushing comes in, except he doesn’t in this movie. So instead of Van Helsing’s steely obsessiveness, we’ve just got some horny young people, and a subplot about how fighting vampires can cure you of atheism.

I watched it all, but if you’re making your way through the Hammer Dracula movies, this one is VERY skippable. It’s on MAX along with Horror of Dracula and Dracula A.D. 1972, both of which are superior to this. (A.D. 1972 also features a great party scene where a San Francisco roots/psychedelic band is inexplicably playing at a posh party in England!)

#review #movie #horror

Watched two really good works of fantasy media within the last week. One was Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. This, as many others have said, was a fun, funny, rollicking adventure movie with a great “found family” theme and wonderful performances top to bottom. (Hugh Grant is an especially delicious craven villain) You do not have to know anything about D&D to have a fun time watching this movie, but if you do know something about D&D, it will only add to the fun. Unless you’re one of those killjoys who would point out that this two-hour movie would probably take months to run as a D&D campaign because of how incredibly much combat slows down the game. But I digress.

Fun adventure movies are few and far between. Pixar always wants you to cry, and Marvel somehow got a sense that they’re Important, and so the idea that you can have a good time at the movies watching a bunch of folks do something difficult and heroic seems to have gotten lost. I’m glad this movie found it.

On TV, I watched a really good fantasy show. Karen Pirie (on Britbox) doesn’t have magic or wizards or Owlbears, but it does feature a familiar fantasy trope: the incredibly competent cop who will stop at nothing to solve a case, even if it means taking on the entire power structure of the city.

If you can suspend your disbelief and remind yourself that this is only a fantasy, you’ll have a very good time with this well-acted, cleverly-plotted show. Lauren Lyle is especially winning in the title role, but there really isn’t a weak link in the cast. Of course it’s easier to turn in a good performance when you’re working from a good script, and Emer Kenny’s adaptation of Val McDermid’s novel (I was impressed enough by her 1979 to want to watch this because it was based on her writing) is really strong.

Fantasy media is fun, but it’s important to remember that if you see a guy in a robe on the street, he’s not going to be able to do any actual magic, and, similarly, you shouldn’t expect the folks in your town cosplaying dedicated, hyper-competent, deeply moral characters like Karen Pirie to actually be like that.

[Tangent: I watch a fair amount of British fantasy police shows, and everybody is DS this and DI that, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity for a “DS Nuts” joke that nobody has thus far taken advantage of. I hope British TV will get on this ASAP.]

#review #tv #movie #fantasy

This is a weird book that I think only a big-name author like McDermid could get published these days. I picked it up because Scotland and also because of my ongoing project to read and watch more mysteries that don’t center police detectives.

(This is partly due to my political problems with police forces in general, but also the police detective has just been done to death, and I can’t stand the cliches of cop fiction anymore. Oh, he’s haunted by that one case? Oh, he drinks too much because he’s seen to much? Oh, he has a daughter and struggles to be a good dad despite the aformentioned drinking and caring too much about the job? Feh. Seen it. And then seen it again. And again.)

But back to 1979. It’s about a plucky young woman who gets stuck writing dumb “women’s page” stories and kind of lucks into becoming an investigative reporter. But here’s what’s weird about the book: the structure. The first two thirds of the book center on the nuts and bolts of putting two big investigative stories together. This is pretty compelling, but it’s neither mysterious nor particularly suspenseful. The last third concerns a murder that is ultimately solved offscreen by the police for which there are only really two suspects.

In short, this is a crime novel that features a lot of crime and almost no mystery or suspense. That’s why I think it’s weird. The protagonist is winning, but I’m not sure I’ll be on board for the next one. Then again, I’m not sure I won’t be. Like I said, It’s weird. I’m still making sense of it.

#review #books