<p>Costas Mandylor plays Hoffman, a cop with a connection to Jigsaw, the mysterious figure at the heart of the ongoing 'Saw' series.</p>

Costas Mandylor plays Hoffman, a cop with a connection to Jigsaw, the mysterious figure at the heart of the ongoing 'Saw' series.

Credit: Lionsgate

HorrorFest 2009: 'Saw VI'

Can a casual viewer jump back in and keep up with horror's most complicated franchise?

Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.

Oh, my.  I had no idea how much work it was going to be to step back in and review the newest film in the long-running "Saw" series.

I didn't intentionally sit the series out, but I also didn't make any big effort to catch up with them at any point, either.  The last "Saw" film that I know for sure I saw was the second one.  I think maybe I saw "Saw III" at some point, but I couldn't swear to it in court.  I definitely didn't see the fourth or fifth one.  I just felt like I got the point already, and I didn't find the films to be fun or interesting.  I could see why you might enjoy them if you buy into Jigsaw as a character and the underlying mythology of what his big plan is and why he's doing it, but I wasn't convinced that there was a righteous anger to the character, no matter how hard the series tried to convince me there was.

So when I was sent the invite for "Saw VI," I almost didn't go.  And then my sister-in-law, who lives with us, found out I had an invite to the new "Saw" film and went, to put it politely, berserk.  She's a big fan of the series, and she basically informed me that I had no choice but to go with her to see the film, and if I tried to get out if, she knows where I sleep.

Point taken.

I sent a Tweet to Scott Weinberg, horror nerd supreme, because I know he's a fan of the films, and I asked him if he could give me a short primer on what I'd missed so I wouldn't be too lost, and I was promptly hit with a ton of replies from people telling me that I'd never be able to figure it out because of how complicated and continuity-heavy the films have become.  I was worried, too, based on how many of those responses I got.  I figured if I needed help, my sister-in-law knows the movies well enough that she could explain things to me.

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<p>An image from the cover of David Wong's 'John Dies At The End,' set to be adapted into a film by Don Coscarelli</p>

An image from the cover of David Wong's 'John Dies At The End,' set to be adapted into a film by Don Coscarelli

Credit: Thomas Dunne Books

HorrorFest 2009: 'John Dies At The End'

Internet novel finds a mainstream publisher

Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.

It's been a long strange journey so far for John Dies At The End and its author, "David Wong," and there's still plenty of journey ahead. I'm late to the party, but now that I've read the book, I'm onboard, and I am ready to recruit others this horror world equivalent to The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

Jason Pargin is editor-in-chief of the very funny Cracked.com, and it should come as no surprise that he was able to write a very funny supernatural novel, using the internet to self-publish starting back in 2001.  It's impressive, though, that he was able to create a novel that feels organically scary without sacrificing any of the absurdist attitude, and that the book continues to have a life above and beyond that original online publication.  Don "Phantasm" Coscarelli is set to turn the book into a film, and is hard at work on the script right now.  And now, St. Martin's Press has just issued the book as a hardcover edition that collects and refines the online version of the novel, and which they sent to me for review.

David Wong is not just Pargin's pseudonym, he's also the narrator and main character in the book.  He goes from being a normal midwestern dude working a crappy job to being a supernatural warrior trying to head off an invasion of our dimension with only his best friend John to help him.  Their adventure brings them in contact with all sorts of crazy monsters, alternate worlds, a mysterious drug called "soy sauce," Shadow Men, Molly the Dog, demons, and a bad guy named Korrock who exists in all worlds at once.  If there's any negative I'd offer up about the book, its origins as a serial show a bit in the way it sort of keeps lurching forward breathlessly with cliffhangers at the end of each chapter and with a sort of barrage of ideas that isn't paced in any traditional narrative manner.

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<p>Excuse me, Mr. De Niro, but it looks like you've got a little something in your... OH, GOD, WHAT&nbsp;IS&nbsp;WRONG&nbsp;WITH&nbsp;YOUR&nbsp;EYES?!?!</p>

Excuse me, Mr. De Niro, but it looks like you've got a little something in your... OH, GOD, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUR EYES?!?!

Credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

HorrorFest 2009: 'Frankenstein,' both Branagh and Shelley

A new BluRay and a new annotated edition illuminate two takes on the classic tale

Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.

Two things arrived in the mail in quick succession recently, and it seemed like a lovely bit of synchronicity.  First up, Sony sent the BluRay of Kenneth Branagh's version of "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," and I decided to brave it out and watch the film for the first time since it was released in theaters.

Second, Vintage Classics sent me a new paperback edition of the book, and I almost just tossed it on a shelf without looking at it.  I've got several copies of the book in the house already, and I couldn't imagine why a new edition would be newsworthy.  Then I happened to glance at it a little closer and I realized that I don't have this book in the house yet, and that it was indeed newsworthy.

Charles E. Robinson is sort of an expert on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.  He's spent much of his career helping to sort out the true creative origins of the book, and also trying to sort out what, if anything, is the definitive version of the novel.  With this new edition, he's finally cracked it, I think, and the result is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the creative process and in historical mythmaking.  In this new edition, Robinson presents two distinct versions of the book.  The first is the original manuscript written by Mary Shelley, reproduced exactly here with punctuation and spelling issues intact.  The second is the manuscript that was created by Mary Shelley and her husband Percy, working together, which is something I never realized before.

Makes sense, I guess.  He was, after all, already an acclaimed and published author, and she was a girl who met him at sixteen, when he was already famous.  There is no doubt that the spine and the soul of Frankenstein  is hers when you read this new edition, but looking at the work he did suggests that the story might never have seen publication at that time without his help.  Their collaboration made a huge difference to the overall finish of the book, and it is that version which first made its way into publication. 

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<p>David Anders and Chris Wylde party like the undead in 'The Revenant'</p>

David Anders and Chris Wylde party like the undead in 'The Revenant'

Credit: Putrefactory

HorrorFest 2009: 'The Revenant'

Undead buddy comedy defies easy description to excellent effect

Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.

One of the films that played Fantastic Fest also played the LA Screamfest this week, and there are reports that the version that's playing is a work in progress, a little different and a little more finished each of the times it's screened.  For the purposes of this review, I'll be discussing the version that played in Austin last month.

Not that anyone involved should worry.  The film plays, and if they're fine-tuning it, that just means it's going to play even better.  One would hope, anyway.

"The Revenant" is a movie that covers a lot of genre territory, shifting gears narratively several times over the course of the film.  One of the things I admire most about it is the way the film seems sort of fearless in regards to tone.  Bart (David Anders) goes off to war.  Bart comes home in a box.  Bart's best friend Joey (Chris Wylde) and Bart's girlfriend Janet (Louise Griffiths) are broken up about it.  Bart comes back, and he goes to Joey for help.

When I say "Bart comes back," I mean " from the freakin' grave," of course, since this is ostensibly a horror film.  There's no explanation or backstory to why he comes back, which is just the first of many choices that I think make the film work.  By leaving out any elaborate mythology, the film focuses instead on the human-scale implications of a return from the grave.  There are rules, but they take a while to sort out for Bart.  He eventually realizes that he needs to drink human blood to keep from decomposing.  After a drink, he looks almost alive again, but when he's desperately in need of a drink, he looks horrible, rotten, decayed.  Even worse, when it's daylight, Bart appears to be dead, immobile and without any signs of life.  It's only when the sun goes down that he is able to move about on his own.

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<p>Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Leonardo are going to be able to buy a looooooot of pizza with the $60 million Paramount just paid to own 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles'</p>

Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Leonardo are going to be able to buy a looooooot of pizza with the $60 million Paramount just paid to own 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles'

Credit: Warner Bros.

Are the 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' worth $60 million?

Paramount becomes studio #3 to take a shot at the franchise

Wow, that's a lot of money.

Paramount Pictures has closed a deal to pay $60 million so that they now have the right to produce new "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" films and TV shows.  I'm sure Nickelodeon will make a fine eventual home for the Turtles, and that we'll see at least one or two theatrical films about the characters, but is that enough to justify that price tag for a property that's already seen at least four film incarnations and been exploited in games, TV, books, and toys for over 20 years?

We'll find out in 2012.

I suspect that answer is "yes."  It's hard to believe how big the property continues to be, especially considering the underground smart-ass roots of the comic, but it has been a consistent earner over the years, and awareness of the title remains incredibly high.  My son, who has never seen a "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" film all the way through, knows the characters on sight and by name and can probably put his hands on a dozen toy versions of the characters here in the house right this moment.  They are culturally huge by sheer osmosis, just by virtue of hanging around as long as they have.

Development is already underway on the first new "Turtles" film and the first new "Turtles" TV show, both eyeing a 2012 release date, and I expect Paramount and Nickelodeon will spend much of the time between now and then slowly building their presence on every Viacom owned media outlet in the world, making them quietly omnipresent so when those new projects are released, it will be to an audience that already feels like the Turtles are part of their daily lives.

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<p>Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) goes through some ch-ch-ch-changes in Universal's oft-delayed 'The Wolfman'</p>

Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) goes through some ch-ch-ch-changes in Universal's oft-delayed 'The Wolfman'

Credit: Universal Pictures

New 'Wolfman' trailer turns up the mood

Can Joe Johnston resurrect this classic Universal monster?

I like it.

I think this film is going to be pure surface.  I've heard enough about it now to set my expectations at a certain level and hope that what this trailer promises is what the film actually delivers:  a weird, creepy reinvention of one of the most iconic and personal of all the Universal monsters.  Benicio Del Toro looks deranged in the movie, and he has the exact same sort of permanent sadness that Lon Chaney Jr. always had.  Even as a kid, watching those films, I felt like Chaney was so raw it was almost embarrassing.  

This new trailer has a modern score, and it sells the imagery harder than any earlier trailer or footage we've seen.  It still saddens me that much of Rick Baker's original physical make-up has been augmented with CGI... but I can't lie... some of what I see in this trailer is working for me.  It's weird.  It's dark.  It's somehow sort of degenerate.  Hopkins looks like he's playing a glorious scumbag.  Anyone want to bet on the source of the curse?

I know this film's had a ton of post-production work done, a lot of additional photography, new sequences, rethinking, and reworking.  It's moved release dates several times, finally landing at the start of 2010.  I'm curious to see how much of Mark Romanek's work on the film in pre-production actually made it through in the finished style.  It really doesn't look or feel anything like Johnston's other films.

The high-def version of the trailer, the one you absolutely should be watching, is at Apple.com right now.  Seriously... go watch that one.  It's the right way to see it.

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<p>Patrick McGoohan stars as No. 6 in 'The Prisoner,' which is about to get a BluRay release</p>

Patrick McGoohan stars as No. 6 in 'The Prisoner,' which is about to get a BluRay release

Credit: A&E Home Video

The Morning Read: 'The Prisoner' escapes on BluRay

Plus trippy visuals, Akiva Goldsman, and trading cards that never existed

Welcome to The Morning Read for Tuesday, October 20th.

Happy 15th anniversary to Kevin Smith's first film, "Clerks," which played its first commercial dates in theaters this week in 1994.  That's a wild anniversary to pass as a viewer and I'm sure it's doubly strange for him as a filmmaker.

I've been watching some episodes of "The Prisoner" on BluRay this weekend, and I'm amazed by how good they look.  Clear, colorful, clean, with no sign of age or wear.  Whoever's been holding on to the elements for this show deserves a raise and a new office because they are impressive.  Not just good, but sort of unexpectedly great.

I'm going to be writing a series about this series soon, since I've never really done a good run at it in all my years online.  I've crowed about how much I love it, but not why.  Just looking at two episodes, my love's been rekindled with the same passion I always feel when I actually watch the show again.  So much fun.

I've also been trying to do the tail end of the catch-up after my month on the road, and part of that is cleaning up the browser.  I bookmark things all the time with an eye on either writing a piece about them or including them in a Morning Read, and since I didn't do one for so long, there were a number of things that stacked up that I should have posted earlier.  I decided to start this week by blowing out everything I still had bookmarked, everything that wasn't a pressing news story, with one big fun Start Of The Week Morning Read grab bag.

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<p>I&nbsp;have a dream... a dream of a full-contact NBA&nbsp;using Hong Kong stuntmen and flaming baskeballs... a dream that looks an awful lot like 'Fireball'</p>

I have a dream... a dream of a full-contact NBA using Hong Kong stuntmen and flaming baskeballs... a dream that looks an awful lot like 'Fireball'

Credit: Grindstone Entertainment Group

The M/C Review: 'Fireball' and 'Marantau'

If business is kicking ass in Asia, then business is good

I'm not even sure what the first martial arts film I ever saw was.

With a lot of films or genres, I can tell you where my interest began, but with martial arts movies, it's not that easy.  All I know is, I have always had a deeply-seeded love for watching dudes kick the ever-lovin' crap out of each other in the movies.

It's strange that it doesn't translate to real life.  MMA fights and ultimate fighting and even pro wrestling... that stuff does nothing for me in a real-world context.  But movies in which guys bust out the same skill sets and battle?  Count me in.

Like most martial arts fans, I'll sit through a whole lot of crap in a movie to get to a great fight or even just a couple of great moves within a mediocre fight.  And when you see someone who can handle themselves fairly well on-camera, doing it as real as possible, it's exciting.  It seems like every few years, there's a new guy or a new country with a new industry, and we gets lots of potential new movie stars, although of course, not all of them connect in the long run.

The reason Bruce Lee was one of the most amazing movie stars (which is something totally different than an actor) ever was not because he fought well, but because of HOW he fought well.  Bruce Lee was intensely aware of the camera and how he looked when he was running through a fight.  He thought like a filmmaker. 

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<p>Basil Fawlty, a modern-day Sisyphus, prepares to paste Manuel with a solid right in just one of the many crescendos of frustration that typify &quot;Fawlty Towers,' one of the best sitcoms of all time</p>

Basil Fawlty, a modern-day Sisyphus, prepares to paste Manuel with a solid right in just one of the many crescendos of frustration that typify "Fawlty Towers,' one of the best sitcoms of all time

Credit: BBC Home Video

DVD & Games Forecast: 'Blackadder' and 'Fawlty Towers' remastered

Plus 'Transformers 2' and 'Easy Rider' on BluRay

Welcome to the DVD & Games Forecast for October 20th, 2009.

It's a strange time for those of us who have been writing about DVD since the early days.  I started my coverage of DVD back in 1998 or so for Ain't It Cool, and I've been writing about it continuously ever since.  And for years, the studios wanted coverage of the product they were selling.  And to make sure you knew what you were writing about, they sent that product to reviewers.  These days, they seem to want people to buy the product, but they don't want to show that product to anyone ahead of time.

Imagine if the studios told every reviewer that they were having a screening of their biggest movies, and then told every reviewer that they only had four seats available to see the film.  At all.  That's the situation with DVD these days.  So I'm pretty much out of pocket on a good half of what I write about in this column, or maybe even more at this point.  I don't know if the studios have just decided to let DVD die, or if they figure no one cares at all about DVD reviews when it comes to buying them.  Whatever the case, the paradigm is shifting, and I expect it will affect the coverage you read not just here but everywhere online.  Unless they're one of the four or five.  Good sites that do nothing but DVD and BluRay coverage are having to consider their policies right now, and it makes me sad to see.

I'll be honest... it affects how I choose my featured titles.  I certainly don't feature everything that's sent to me, but I would have a hard time featuring something I haven't seen unless there's an undeniable significance to the release.  I consider my featured titles to be the recommendations each week, and recommending product you can't take for a test drive is, at best, an iffy proposition.

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<p>Gianna Jun is a movie star just waiting to happen, but 'Blood The Last Vampire' isn't doing her any favors</p>

Gianna Jun is a movie star just waiting to happen, but 'Blood The Last Vampire' isn't doing her any favors

Credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

HorrorFest 2009: 'Blood The Last Vampire'

Disappointing horror-action film mixes many elements, ruins all of them

Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.

If you want wire work that always feels like wire work, CG gore that never once feels wet, and action that just lays there onscreen, totally inert, then I have great news for you.  "Blood The Last Vampire" is about to hit BluRay.

I love "Kiss Of The Dragon," the Jet Li action film that Chris Nahon directed for producer/writer Luc Besson.

I love "My Sassy Girl," which features an amazing performance from Gianna Jun as the title character.

Seeing the two of them work together to adapt a popular anime series should have been an easy home run, a favorite of mine right away.  So why is it that it took me three attempts just to make it through the movie on BluRay?

Maybe there's only so much pandering condescension I can take from one film, and "Blood The Last Vampire" pushes the envelope past overstuffed and well into spilling over, and the result is one of the most cynical, boring, by the numbers examples of either horror or action in recent memory, a totally joyless affair that feels like it was made by an artificial intelligence that had only ever had vampires and demons and martial arts described to it second-hand.

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