4-minute Blu-ray review: Count Dracula’s Great Love

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Title: Count Dracula’s Great Love

Starring: Paul Naschy & Haydee Politoff

Directed by: Javier Aquirre

Specs: 1973 / Spain / 83 minutes / 1.85:1

Blu-ray release: Vinegar Syndrome, September 27, 2016

The film

Count Dracula’s Great Love is basically a Waldemar Daninsky film with Dracula instead of the Wolf Man, using a familiar Paul Naschy set up: A bevy of beautiful, aristocratic-looking women traveling on a remote country road are forced to seek shelter when their stagecoach is disabled and their horses run off in a panic. In this film, however, it’s not the wealthy recluse Waldemar Daninsky/Wolf Man who offers the hospitality of his gothic estate but rather the wealthy recluse Dr. Wendell Marlow/Dracula offering the hospitality of a former sanitarium that only looks like a gothic estate.

If you’ve seen Hammer’s Dracula, Prince of Darkness, you know what happens next. And, if you know anything about the history of Spanish art, you’ll be aware it’s not known for its restraint. Which is good for fans of exploitation horror cinema, because Count Dracula’s Great Love offers plenty of lurid elements to keep us entertained through most of its 83-minute running time.

Strengths

Plenty of sex and violence, fluid camera work, a gothic setting, and a story that goes in unexpected directions during the final act.

Weaknesses

The same problem with nearly all early 70s Spanish horror films … pacing. A film should accelerate as it draws to a climax. This movie moves forward like your uncle drives; he’ll get there safely but probably could have passed on the right a few times to speed things up. Also, excessive sequences of women wandering around darkened hallways in nightgowns while carrying candelabras. That may be considered a strength, of course, depending on your fetish.

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Video

If you’ve seen previous iterations of Count Dracula’s Great Love on VHS or DVD, you will be stunned by the rich, warm colors and vivid contrast offered by this Blu-ray. Yeah, it’s grainy like a 70s exploitation flick should be, but that’s part of the appeal. There are a few minor warbles and print scratches within the first couple of minutes, but those quickly clear up. Here and there a few shots look fuzzier than others, likely attributable to the print, not the transfer. Overall, the video quality is quite pleasing and by far the best any of us have experienced with this movie.

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Audio

I’ve made it known in prior reviews that I have hearing loss and, therefore, am not the guy to discuss the fine points of sound mixing. This Blu-ray is mono anyway. The music and voices were all very present and punchy sounding, and the signal strength seems quite hot, because I had to keep the volume on 3 to avoid waking the neighbors at 1 a.m.

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Overall

Vinegar Syndrome did a bang-up job putting together a good-quality release with little to no fanfare. Let’s hope they issue more Paul Naschy titles in the future.

Final thought

Paul Naschy is the Tom Cruise of low budget Spanish exploitation horror. His acting ability and the quality of his films may be debatable, but the guy earnestly tried to deliver the goods every time and ensure his fans walked away satisfied.

3-minute movie review: BB

Jennifer Mae in BB

The hook for micro-budgeted indie film BB reads like many a B-movie thriller: A hard-up woman becomes a web-cam model to make some fast cash, only to find herself being stalked and harassed by an obsessed fan.

BB differs notably from typical direct-to-video genre fare, however, in its presentation. Filmed documentary-style, sans narration, fly-on-the-wall clips of heroine Leah (played by real-life web-cam model Jennifer Mae) are interspersed with found-footage style sequences of her #1 fan Hal (Kristian Hanson) being generally creepy and obsessive. Director/writer/editor CJ Wallis cleverly works around the absence of studio sets and effects through rapid cuts, parallel editing, and musical montages that show Leah’s life spiraling out of control while events build toward the inevitable collision between the protagonist and her tormentor.

According to press material, non-actors were deliberately chosen to lend a raw, real-world feel, and for the most part it works. Jennifer Mae acquits herself rather well in the lead role and gamely goes full-frontal several times, in addition to pounding lots of booze and drugs (we’ll assume that part was simulated) and freaking out a lot. Hanson isn’t quite as natural at emoting for the camera, but he’s far more believable, looks-wise, as a stalker than the generic hunk who would have been cast in a Hollywood production.

bb-poster-smallAs a filmmaker, Wallis is highly creative if still raw in terms of long-form storytelling. The multiple static shots of camera lenses suggest commentary on voyeuristic culture or perhaps the artifice of modern visual media, but neither theme is explored in much depth. Also, it’s hard to figure why Leah is “down on her luck,” stripping and abusing drugs when she seems to have a nice apartment, a relatively new car, and a loving relationship with girlfriend Alina (Victoria Fox). The causes for her life falling apart come across as slightly contrived when her backstory goes unexplained. These flaws are hardly fatal, but more signs of trouble from the outset would have lent credibility to a few of the story turns.

Readers interested in a gritty, raw character drama wrapped in the veneer of the low-budget thriller can check out BB here.

Happy viewing!

Review: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 Blu-Ray by Shout Factory

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It’s almost pointless to review these 2K masters anymore, because they’re always the best version you’ve ever seen of whatever old splatter movie is being discussed. But fuck it, I’m going to anyway. I’ll talk about the film itself after I ramble about the disk for a minute:

tcm2 blu rayVideo – The color saturation is beautiful, almost glowing, especially in the “lair” scenes late in the movie when the viewer gets a chance to experience the cinematography as intended. There’s a bit of grain, as you’d expect in a low-budget film from 1986, but overall the transfer shows good depth and clarity. In a few dimly lit shots, the contrast is flattened by graininess, but this adds up to about 15 – 20 seconds of the 101-minute film. Furthermore, one or two shots suffer from fuzzy focus, though that may be the fault of the source material. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 has simply never looked good enough for me to notice before now.

Let’s put it this way: the worst moments on this 2K transfer are still better than the best moments in any previous version, including the theatrical release.

Audio – Fuck if I know. I’m half deaf. The screaming was loud and clear, that’s for sure.

Extras – If some asshole is seriously going to complain about 3 commentaries, a feature-length documentary, outtakes, set footage, and interviews from a 30-year-old flop of a B-movie, he needs the phrase “first-world problem” explained in no uncertain terms.

The Movie – OK, a lot of people dislike The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (certainly the audience I saw it with in 1986, based on the shouts of “This sucks!” hurled at the screen throughout the showing). True, it lacks the pure, visceral power of the original. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the greatest horror films of all time, after all. Tobe Hooper, while boasting a pretty strong horror resume, was never quite able to capture that lightning-in-a-bottle thing again. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the drive-in movie that transcends drive-in movies.

I didn’t like Part 2 all that much when I saw it those many years ago, either, and the film so disturbed one member of my small horror crew that she wouldn’t watch movies with us anymore, taking her boyfriend with her. Which left me.

Before you go trashing her, it was 30 years ago. We’re all good now.

So anyway, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 has grown on me considerably over the years, and I began to truly embrace it upon experiencing a recent epiphany: The relationship between The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is exactly as that between Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2. That is, the originals are the seminal, raw, visceral horror films of their respective decades, and both sequels are essentially comedic remakes beneath all the gore.

So why does everyone love Evil Dead 2 while dismissing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, when in fact Hooper came up with the approach first? I’d go as far as to say TCM2 is a more substantial cinematic achievement. Stop grumbling and let me explain!

TCM2 013Evil Dead 2, which I love by the way, is a loopy, slapstick romp. It’s great that Sam Raimi made a comic send up of his own film. But it does not satirize the genre the way that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 did a year earlier. Just as an example: We can agree that Tobe Hooper invented, in Leatherface, the first slasher-movie icon. This is four years before Michael Myers, eight before Jason Voorhees proper, and ten before Freddy. How clever, then, that the murderous family of terrifying backwoods cannibals in the first TCM had become local celebrities by the events of the second, as if their trajectory in off-screen life followed that of their cinematic horror brethren’s on-screen rise.

The two Chainsaw films, in a sense, are the bookends for an entire phase of independent horror cinema in which raw, high-energy violence was the signature attribute. By 1986, animatronic (and puppeteered) creature effects were becoming the selling point of horror films, no longer violent gore. Peruse the Fangoria covers of the age and see what I mean.

Whether he knew it or not, Tobe Hooper was putting a cap on the “chainsaw” era with violence that was so ridiculous it became ironic. TCM2 is certainly more self-aware and self-parodying than any other horror film of the time that purports to “play it straight.”

So. Yeah. Buy the damn movie. It’s good. And tell ’em Grandma sent you.

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My review of THE MUTILATOR Blu-ray

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by Alex Vorkov

The Movie

THE MUTILATOR (1984) is a fucking terrible film. That said, so is almost everything else in my DVD collection. As far as bad ‘80s slasher movies go, this one is pretty good.

Originally dubbed FALL BREAK, The Mutilator concerns a bunch of bored college kids who go to a beach house to get murdered. The first 35 minutes of the movie should be called Fall Break, because it wants to be a dumb teen comedy called Fall Break. In actuality, it’s an excruciatingly unfunny first act. A dumb teen movie, sans comedy.

Fortunately, director Buddy Cooper seems to have whacked his head at this point in the production and thought he was making a horror film. Either that or he realized just how much we all want these irritating fuckers to die, so he brought in FX wizard Mark Shostrom to kill them in satisfyingly gruesome ways.

The kills make your painful first-35-minute investment worthwhile. I won’t spoil them if you haven’t seen the film, but I will say there is one murder that is sure to make you squirm. I’d put The Mutilator next to THE PROWLER on the splatter scale. Certainly not in the Lucio Fulci class, but pretty gory for a throwaway slasher movie.

Plus: Great splatter; weapon variety; a good beach location

Minus: No likable characters; a gratuitous hairy chest; and the absolute worst theme song you ever heard in your life. Seriously, it’s like they took an adult-education songwriting class one night at the local high school and crammed every bad rock-pop cliché into one song. Remember how Kenny Loggins used to do all those catchy movie songs like Footloose and the one for CADDYSHACK? This song is to Kenny Loggins what I am to Wayne Gretzky. I mean, I can sort of skate in a straight line.

The Blu-ray

Sorry. No scans from the Blu-ray available yet. Enjoy shit shitty VHS screen shot in the meantime.

Sorry. No scans from the Blu-ray available yet. Enjoy this shitty VHS screen shot in the meantime.

I am so in love with Arrow Video I want to strangle it and violate  its corpse (we all have our own ways of showing affection). There’s are a lot of disappointing Blu-rays out there, but Arrow has a way of taking old, murky, grainy movies you thought were shot on garbage film stock by people with no talent and making them look like brand-new productions.

If you haven’t picked up an Arrow disk yet, their work is a revelation. The Mutilator suffered from a particularly bad pan-and-scan VHS dub back in the day, with many of its night shots lost amid a grainy, indecipherable haze. This Blu-ray is crisp and bright, and the contrast is excellent. The blood in the kill scenes flows a wonderfully vivid crimson.

You know what? In the context of micro-budget slasher films with bad acting and witless scripts, Buddy Cooper turns out to be a pretty good director. Now that we can actually see what he shot in the proper aspect ratio and on a 2k transfer, there are many well-composed sequences, the shot coverage all edits together nicely, and the cinematography is stronger and more creative than previously evident.

I’m not going to get into the audiophile stuff. I’m half deaf from playing drums for years and wouldn’t know the difference anymore. Suffice to say, the dialog, sound effects, and music are well mixed and up-front.

There are shit-tons of extras, including 2 commentaries and a lengthy making-of documentary as well as a booklet and reversible artwork.

The Mutilator is recommended for lovers of ’80s horror and slasher films and for people who like to torture themselves with godawful theme songs.

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“Famous Monsters of Filmland” covers, Part three: Issues 11-15

To start from the beginning, click here.

Famous Monsters of Filmland #11

fm11For the first time since issue 4, Famous Monsters went with a non-humanoid cover monster, and the result is quite successful.

Basil Gogos‘ rendition of the Godzilla-like reptilian giant Gorgo is a seminar in blending texture, color, modeling, and composition to create a superior magazine cover. The lighting effects lend a three-dimensional quality to the image, and the pockets of shadow cast by the light playing across the creature’s bumpy skin effectively suggest size. The 1/4-turn pose, coupled with the extended claws, further activate the image by creating a diagonal plane running from upper right to lower left.

The graphics are wisely limited in color palette and the cover space they consume. The yellow lettering pops against the blue background yet does not compete with the cover subject. This layout is a win all the way around

Overall: 10/10


Famous Monsters of Filmland #12

fm12Out of context this cover might seem a bit odd, with it’s sparse image and graphics, but in terms of grabbing eyes form the newsstand and avoiding repetition from previous cover designs, it is successful.

Wisely seeing no need to deviate at this point, FM once again retained the services of painter Basil Gogos, who rendered a rather furious looking Oliver Reed from Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf. With a modern eye, we may look at old Famous Monsters covers and think of the magazine as stuck in the old-school monster movie era, but it’s important to remember that Gorgo and Curse of the Werewolf were new films at the time they graced their respective covers.

Anyway, Gogos went with a limited (but not limiting!) color palette of black, red/orange, and yellow, and the minimal graphics match it note for note, save for the hint of green in the masthead. The floating head composition is somewhat weird and lacking in geometry, but the effect is striking nonetheless.

Overall: 7.5/10


Famous Monsters of Filmland #13

fm13Some online sources credit Basil Gogos as the cover artist, and other sources say the artist is unknown. I do not own a copy of this issue and cannot confirm either way.

If the artist is Gogos, it’s not one of his better works. The quality is rather more on par with that of previous cover artist Albert Nuetzell, which is to say it’s done in a respectable painterly style with good colors, but the composition is unremarkable otherwise. It’s recognizable as Frankenstein’s monster but seems slightly cartoonish, and the top half of the monster’s face is out of proportion to the bottom half.

The simplistic graphics do little damage to the overall effect, and the colors of the masthead connect well with the depiction of the cover subject. The font of the sidebar plugs is rather too large and clunky, though. Three plugs in a smaller font would probably foster a more harmonious balance.

Overall 4.5/10


 

Famous Monsters of Filmland #14

fm14This issue features another Gogos depiction of Vincent Price from an A.I.P. Poe film (see issue 10), though this one isn’t nearly as successful, perhaps owing to a wishy-washy color palette.

Regarding the positives, Gogos once again proves his skill as a portrait artist. This is definitively Price, right down to the musculature of the mouth and the wrinkled skin around the eyes. The slight head turn further livens the image by suggesting Price is reacting to something within his painted universe that we cannot see.

On the other hand, Gogos chose a fairly bland moment to depict. Furthermore, the colors are drab, and green and mustard-yellow lettering over the blue-green background gives the overall impression that the magazine is under water.

Overall: 4/10


Famous Monsters of Filmland #15

fm15There’s a lot to like about this cover art, and there are personal biases of mine that negatively influence my reception to it.

The painting by Basil Gogos is a portrait of TV horror host Zacherly, the second time FM used his likeness for a cover. The rendering is much more detailed than Albert Nuetzell’s schematic rendering from issue 7, and you either love the kitschy “detached head floating in nightmare ether” effect, or, like me, you think it’s weird. Perhaps it’s a reference to events on Zacherly’s TV show, but out of context I see it as goofy. I also question whether a regional horror host warrants two covers in a little over a year.

On the plus side, the red and white backdrop is eye catching, and the masthead stands out nicely. The color palette shared between the artwork and the graphic is pleasing and smartly chosen, and the layout is  uncluttered.

Overall: 6/10

See you next time!

[image source: comicvine.com)

“Famous Monsters of Filmland” covers, part two: Issues 6 through 10

I gave all the blah blah blah last time. Let’s get to it!

Famous Monsters of Filmland #6

Fm6Albert Nuetzell‘s third cover for Famous Monsters is a fairly steep drop from his excellent War of the Worlds alien portrait that graced issue #4 (see last entry), though the relative mediocrity here is not entirely on the shoulders of the artist.

On the positive side, he chose a strong color palette for his King Kong, mostly earthy tones with a touch of green for balance, and the reds highlights help sell the great ape’s fury. The overall technique, though, does not seem as refined as his previous covers and looks more cartoonish than painterly.

More offensive than the so-so artwork are the giant blocks in the sidebar. Instead of teasing the contents, they nearly push Kong off his own cover. No wonder he’s annoyed. Fewer plugs, with black and red text to match the masthead and no blocks of background color would have gone a long way toward improving the general design.

Overall: 3.5/10


 

Famous Monsters of Filmland #7

fm7James Warren and Forrest J. Ackerman brought Albert Nuetzell back for yet another cover, this one featuring a likeness of TV horror host Zacherly.

Again Nuetzell proves his strength at choosing a color palette. Against the solid black background, Zacherly’s yellow face with red accents pops out and was likely to grab the eye of someone browsing a newsstand. The light and shadow on the face is rendered schematically instead of modeled in a sophisticated way, but at this point in the short life of the magazine, they were about grabbing the attention of kids, not art critics. The composition is pedestrian but sufficiently lively.

The graphic artist did well in tying the yellow and green of the masthead to the highlights in the figure’s face. On the other hand, those giant blocks in the sidebar once again threaten to overwhelm the image. At least this time they align with the color palette of the figure, including the whites of the eyes.

Overall: 4.5/10


 

Famous Monsters of Filmland #8

fm8Albert Nuetzell’s minimalist cover for issue 8 can be appreciated or derided, depending on your view of minimalism. The stark, uncluttered composition is eye catching from a distance (or set among a bunch of other magazines on a newsstand), and the Rothko-like red-to-orange background fade is strikingly unusual. I do really like the patch of unbroken red in the upper right area.

That said, the figure itself is, to put it politely, primitive. Less politely, it’s not a very good illustration, at least not for a standalone character. It’s like they just went with a preparatory sketch instead of the finished product.

From a graphics standpoint, I still don’t love the sidebar blocks, but they tie nicely to the limited color palette and are appropriately sparse. The wavy shapes also evoke a ghostly quality to align with the overall cover concept. This would be a pretty knock out cover if the figure illustration weren’t so rough.

Overall: 3.5/10


Famous Monsters of Filmland #9

fm9If you are a Famous Monsters reader of even the most casual variety, you should still know the name Basil Gogos. This isn’t a biography story and space doesn’t permit anyway. Suffice to say, Gogos was born to paint monster magazine covers.

Gogos’ rendering of Vincent Price so captures the essence of his tortured “Poe” characters, it’s as if he had been on the set and had Price sit for him. Like with Nuetzell’s cover for issue 5, Gogos uses the hourglass form, but this figure dominates both in cover space taken up and gravitas.

Fortuitously, FM’s graphics took a great leap forward the same times as the skill of their cover artist. Gone are the sidebar blocks that vie for attention with the character image. Now they are merely lettering that shares a background with the figure, and the red and black color mix ties directly to the figure’s garment at the bottom, leaving the green-tinted gray face to captivate the viewer. The complete layout is geometrically pleasing and harmonious.

Overall: 9/10


Famous Monsters of Filmland #10

fm10For the fourth time in 10 issues, FM went with a red backdrop, although the choice was not ideal on this occasion, for the masthead gets fairly lost in the details of Gogos’ Claude Rains portrait, and the general feel is too busy.

That said, the artist’s beautifully modeled figure is mix of textures and stylish colors and, even without the eyes visible, conveys intelligence and purpose. Not quite as dynamic a pose as the Vincent Price portrait, this image of the Phantom is still somewhat activated by the wavy hair and lighting effect that prefigured Mario Bava‘s innovative cinematography for Black Sabbath by a few years.

Some black tracing around the masthead lettering and a simplifying or reduction of the sidebar plugs wold probably have limited the clutter and bumped this cover up in the rankings.

Overall: 7/10

 

 

Reviewing classic “Famous Monsters of Filmland” covers, part one: Issues 1 through 5

 

Horror and science fiction are visual genres, and artwork, fonts, and illustrations are critical in connecting fans to the content they desire. For many of us, a great horror poster or movie still is at once a nostalgia trip and a reminder of why we love the genre. I’d bet that most serious genre fans share the same childhood experience of having stared at and been inspired by a particular image, which could be anything from Lon Chaney as The Phantom of the Opera to Doug Bradley as Pinhead to the doll from Annabelle.

For me, as a lifelong horror and monster movie fanatic, it’s the covers of classic Famous Monsters of Filmland issues that hold the most magic. Though the content between the covers hasn’t held up that well over the years, I still get a rush from a good Basil Gogos or Ken Kelly painting gracing the front of a given issue.

Now I’m going to put my college minor in Art History to use and review the great and not so great cover art of the original Famous Monsters run from 1958 to 1983, starting with issues 1 to 5.


 

Famous Monsters of Filmland #1

fm1Can we start with what is surely one of the most iconic mastheads ever? It is simply brilliant in lettering and layout and is the equivalent of hitting a grand slam the first time at bat. For a magazine that, honestly, was produced on the cheap, this nameplate is spectacular.

However, the venerable magazine’s debut cover art does nothing to indicate Famous Monsters of Filmland would be anything more than a one-off to be quickly forgotten. It’s not a painting or even a movie still. It’s a dude in a mask next to a model. The sidebar lettering isn’t very inviting either. It’s a drab font and unspecific about the content inside.

On the plus side, the layout is uncluttered and the red pops behind the white logo. The right-triangle geometry of the composition is passable (the Frankenstein’s monster forming the vertical side and the hypotenuse laying across the model’s head) and activates the image ever so slightly.

Overall: 3/10


 

Famous Monsters of Filmland #2

fm2

Hrmm. The orange and black color scheme lends a Halloween vibe (I’m assuming orange and black were associated with Halloween in 1958). Again, the lack of clutter is generally a good thing, but this cover borders on bland. It’s another guy in a suit wearing a cheap rubber mask, perhaps signaling to shoppers they are about to pick up a Halloween supply catalog rather than a film magazine.

While we’re on a geometry kick, the figure is pyramidal, which is a form used popularly in the Italian Renaissance (the Mona Lisa being a classic example). It has the psychological effect of suggesting calmness and stability to the viewer. Which is great if you are painting Jesus but not if you are trying to scare people. Would you go see a monster movie that promised a safe, gentle, reassuring viewing experience?

The heavy black background at the top squashes the image a bit as well, though it probably does help the cover to be more noticeable from a distance.

Overall: 2/10


 

Famous Monsters of Filmland #3

fm3Now we’re getting somewhere. While the layout may be simplistic, we see our first painted cover. I don’t have this issue on hand to identify the artist, but it’s a nicely gruesome rendition of Lon Chaney as The Phantom, extrapolating from the black-and-white film the discolorations of his damaged flesh and even mimicking the harsh lighting. A setting for the figure would have taken the artwork to a higher level.

This time the sidebar plugs are offset by a torn-paper graphic, which abstractly echoes the haggard appearance of the phantom. This effect would probably work better of they were closer to the sickly yellow seen in the phantom’s face, though.

A return to the red background helps the whole thing pop off rather vividly.

Overall: 5/10

 


 

Famous Monsters of Filmland #4

fm4Thus begins the legend of great Famous Monsters’ cover art. Can we start with the unusual color palette? Yellow, orchid purple, green, and black? Somehow it works.

The painting by Albert Nuetzell (about whom there is scant information available online) depicts what I assume to be a Martian from George Pal‘s 1953 film version of H.G. Wells‘ War of the Worlds, rendered in a painterly style that imbues the character with pathos and places it in an appropriately vague and shadowy setting. Kudos to the graphic artist who pulled from Nuetzell’s palette for the lettering, though that yellow box at the bottom is too big and blocky, thus making it a distraction. The yellow is otherwise an excellent choice for the masthead, which pops out from the somber background.

Overall 8/10

 


 

Famous Monsters of Filmland #5

fm5Nuetzell returns for issue 5 with a painting of Bela Lugosi‘s test make-up for Island of Lost Souls, a pretty unusual choice for a magazine cover. I do appreciate his painterly brushstrokes and fanciful color palette, but the figure seems more like an eccentric artist than a horror character. The black masthead goes unnoticed, further obscuring the fact that this is supposed to be a magazine about horror and science fiction movies.

The vaguely hourglass composition and the head tilt juice the image a little bit, but not enough to make the cover particularly memorable. A painted cover is still classier and more substantive than a photo of a guy in a rubber mask, but this artwork, layout, and subject matter, while skillfully rendered, misses the target.

Overall 3.5/10