My top 5 Halloween family favourites

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… Happy Halloween!

Once upon a time I was a video store guy that wrote reviews (they’re all here)!

To celebrate the festivities, I’ve sifted out my top five reviews for spooky films to enjoy with the whole family.

Ready to trick or treat? Let’s go!

5. Godzilla (1954)

The review.

The original and the best. Need an in to introduce Kaiju to the kids? There have been many fine entries in recent years including Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) and Shin Godzilla (2016), but the original is still the best.

The destruction effects are top notch and the story is surprisingly engaging.

A solid classic.

Note: There is an English dub for the little ones not quite ready for subtitles.

4. Hotel Transylvania

The review.

With three to choose from (and a fourth on the way), if you are going to start somewhere – this is your ideal entry point. Adam Sandler is no stranger to spooky performances from the son of the devil in Little Nicky (2000) to the bumbling title character of Hubie Halloween (2020). His best, in my humble opinion, is his Dracula; a protective father afraid of being left in the past.

With all your favourite monsters, this one is guaranteed to get some giggles.

3. Metallica Through the Never

The review.

Okay bear with me, I know this is a stretch. Heavy metal and horror go hand in hand and Metallica are no exception. Their sound and lyrics draw from a rich history of horror influences from Universal Monsters to HP Lovecraft, the bible to Vietnam.

Metallica are all about horror, and the surreal trip of a movie that surrounds this live concert draws heavily on the tropes we’ve come to know and love.

And besides, is it ever too early to introduce your kids to some of the finest music of the 20th century? I think not.

2. Frankenweenie

The review.

Tim Burton’s career is tent-poled by Halloween classics. Edward Scissorhands (1990), Sleepy Hollow (1999), and Corpse Bride (2005) just to name a few.

Frankenweenie began life as a live-action short film in 1984. It was Burton’s love letter to his spooky and sci-fi cinematic influences. This stop-motion remake expands on that idea with more mayhem and higher stakes to deliver a rollercoaster of fun that stays true to the monochrome aesthetic of the original.

1. ParaNorman

The review.

The best zombie movie you will ever watch with your kids. Part ghost story, part coming of age drama, this is storytelling at its finest. The stop-motion animation is second to none with tons of fun, scares, and genuinely touching moments by the spoonful.

A genuine classic that will not disappoint.

What are your Halloween favourites? Share your memories and recommendations in the comments!

Reviewed: In The Dark Spaces – Cally Black

Book Review – by Morgan Thistlethwaite

Category: YA Sci-fi/Fantasy Thriller

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On its journey back to Earth, a deep space mining freighter is attacked. The aliens responsible are vicious, crow-like in appearance and very efficient killers. The assault leaves few survivors. Tamara, a stowaway on this ship, escapes death only when she attempts to communicate with the creatures using words from their own language. Once taken captive, Tamara must learn more words and submit to the aliens’ demands if she is to survive. Driven by her belief that Gub (a small child she helped raise on the freighter) is still alive somewhere out there, Tamara endures many horrors in the hope that she might somehow escape and begin her search for him.

If you like sci-fi laced with edge-of-your-seat thrills and action, then Cally Black’s Ampersand Prize-winning novel is a must read. The word ‘genre-bending’ seems to crop up frequently in conversations surrounding this book. After reading In the Dark Spaces, I can certainly see why. This novel is difficult to categorise. On the one hand it’s a science fiction thriller, but it’s also a hostage/survival story. It’s got straight-up action sequences and the drama feels very much like what you’d find in a tale about the American frontier or the Australian settlers—except it’s in space.

Tamara’s story is one of survival and explores the moral dilemmas faced when self-preservation conflicts with loyalty. It’s about family, belonging and bridging the (sometimes vast) gaps in communication that have, and continue to exist between cultures. By showing both sides of the coin, Cally Black allows the reader to empathise with and understand, not only the alien crow-people or Garuwa (as they come to be known), but also the money-driven mining company. The motivations and consequences of failure that each side face is very real, and Tamara experiences the grey area that exists between the often black and white arguments for and against war.

If it weren’t for a few scenes in this book, I would be happy to recommend this for younger readers but due to the violence, it’s more suited to 14+. Basically, if you’re a little squeamish when it comes to violence, tread with caution.

Cally Black’s In the Dark Spaces is a well-paced story with a strong, original voice and believable characters. Tamara, with her limited yet insightful view of her world, will stay with you long after you’ve read this one.


Price: $19.99

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Hardie Grant Egmont

Country: Australia

Published: 1 August 2017

Pages: 328

ISBN: 9781760128647

Reviewed: Tank Girl (1995)

Review – by Morgan Thistlethwaite

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All the recent Gorillaz talk prompted me to revisit the film that introduced me to Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin’s Tank Girl.

When I was an impressionable 13-year-old way back in 1995, I saw a news item on TV covering the forthcoming set-in-Australia film Tank Girl. I guess this sort of thing was, and still is, considered newsworthy simply because Australia. We do love it when this little old chunk of land we occupy turns up in the movies (even if it’s not actually shot there). The fluff piece/promo was no more than two minutes in length, but it was enough to get me excited about this brand new movie about to hit the cinemas. The bright colours, punk aesthetic and weaponry on display only added to my anticipation of this cult comic adaptation, of which I had previously never heard.

I didn’t see it at the cinema. I did, however, become quite familiar with the soundtrack, which is a pretty good cross-section of ’90s alternative music featuring Bjork, Portishead, Hole, and more. Devo also appear with a version of their song Girl U Want. It was re-recorded to sound more like Soundgarden’s 1992 cover of the song, something that was cheaper to do than procure the rights for the Soundgarden version.

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So yeah, the soundtrack got me more excited to see the film and when I was able, I got me a copy of that flick on VHS.

Directed by Rachel Talalay and starring the likes of Lori Petty, Malcolm McDowell, Ice-T and Naomi Watts; the movie itself is a strangely-charming mix of comedy, action and general weirdness. I’m quite sure my fondness for this one is mostly from nostalgia for my childhood.

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It’s a wildly uneven romp, and as reflected on IMDB, Hewlett and Martin do not have positive memories of the Hollywood process. The comic’s creators and Talalay have each commented on how studio interference hindered the project, along with many production problems. The addition of the animated sequences were not so much a stylistic choice but a necessity, when it became clear that portions of the film had not been shot.

I’m tempted to say that Tank Girl is a product of its time. As with many comic book films of that era (Judge Dredd, The Phantom, The Mask), it was homogenised to become a family-friendly romp, with little to no regard for the original source material. But then, two years before, we got The Crow. So, what the hell? I have to concede that Hewlett is right and that it’s the studio that turned this anarchic and subversive comedy into the child-friendly blandfest that occasionally gleans moments of brilliance, but not anywhere near enough to actually call it a good film.

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Visually, the creature effects by Stan Winston hold up, and the digital effects aren’t too bad either. As with a handful of films around this time, James Osterberg pops up in a grotesque blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo. Like the aforementioned film, The Mask, there’s a song-and-dance routine in this one too. The animation, despite its last minute inclusion, works well and adds to the eclectic tone. The whole package feels a bit like a scrapbook of ideas hastily jammed together.

As a 13-year-old in 1995, I thought this movie was great. The music, the animation, the dumb jokes, the creatures, and a leg of ham from Malcolm McDowell absolutely sold it. But today, it looks cheap, the pace is all over the place, and it feels very much like a film from the ’90s.

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A curiosity at best, this was one of many comic book properties being turned into films before Marvel got their shit together, and it’s certainly not the best. It’s an oddity and a sketch that shows potential for what might have been.

That said, if ever there was a time to try bringing Tank Girl back to the big screen, perhaps this post-Deadpool/Dredd era is it. We’ve got the technology to do it right (seing fully realised Rippers in mo-cap would be great) and the big studios now seem more willing to risk not playing to the lowest common denominator (either that, or the bar has been raised).

Watch it under the influence and you may not feel the regret Naomi Watts feels with this experience.

Reviewed: Portal 2 (2011)

Game Review – by Morgan Thistlethwaite

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I’m a casual gamer. I haven’t played a large selection of games nor do I claim to be an authority on the subject. I’m just some guy who bought a PS3 back in the day when I needed a Blu-Ray player. I don’t need to play a bunch of disappointing titles just to find that hidden gem as I have friends who do this for me. When I’m looking for something new, someone else can tell me what’s good.

Now, one game I wasn’t looking for was Portal 2, the sequel to the Valve Corporation game that brought us companion cubes and “The cake is a lie”. I didn’t ask for it but it did come highly recommended.

So, roughly two years later, I guess it was 2013, I got around to playing this thing.

Portal 2 picks up some time after the first instalment (like me, you don’t need to play it first but if you hate spoilers, I suggest you do) resuming the character of Chell. In the first game, Chell was a human test-subject trapped by an insane AI named GLaDOS inside the Aperture Science facility. GLaDOS put Chell through a number of ridiculous life-threatening tests with plans to keep her there until her demise because, over the years, it came to resent her for being human.

The gameplay for Portal 2 is FPS-style, but instead of killing everything in sight, you use your problem-solving skills on level after level of puzzles. You get to carry around a big-ass gun but it’s non-lethal. The portal gun enables you to create doors on solid surfaces that create entry and exit points for you to travel through in a space-bending mind-fuck kind of way. The execution of this idea is brilliantly simple despite the complexity of what is actually happening.

Now, if you’re not a fan of puzzle games generally, I suggest you give this one a go just to experience the characters, dialogue and story that have been developed to enhance what might otherwise be a fairly dull game.

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With voice acting by Stephen Merchant (the awkward bespectacled guy that occasionally hangs out with Ricky Gervais) and J.K. Simmons (who is to Spider-Man’s J. Jonah Jameson, what Mark Hammill is to Batman’s The Joker), no matter how challenging the puzzles, you’ll want to solve them to push the story forward to learn more about the characters and hear these fantastic performances.

Having played this and then going back to the original to see where it all started, I can confidently say that this is a great sequel. It takes all the elements of a damned fine first effort and brings them back for a second helping of cake with additional frosting and little crunchy bits that, although you don’t quite know what they are, make the cake better and you eat them anyway without further hesitation.

This is how a game should be; a near-perfect symbiosis of story and concepts developed around solid game mechanics to create a unique player experience. There’s also a co-op mode, which I’ve not had the pleasure of playing, that adds even more to this package. It doesn’t hurt that it looks pretty great too.

There’s enough thinky brain stuff mixed with some pretty silly humour, so if you’re a fan of games that combine these elements in equal doses, certainly check this one out.