Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Movie Review - "Night of the Dolls"

Do you want to immediately get my attention in a horror movie?  Do you want to get a cringe out of me?  Do you want to show something that makes me want to cover my eyes or look away even though I watched countless horror movies?  It’s an easy solution.  Just show the cutting, slicing, crushing, or any other mangling of eyes, tongue, or Achilles tendon.  Night of the Dolls opens with a woman being tortured/operated upon (depending on how you want to look at it) and having her tongue cut out of her mouth.  There, the film makers have managed to get my attention.  Now, it is their task to hold that attention.  In this task, director Daniel Murphy and his cast and crew succeed fantastically!

“It's been 20 years since the Sheriff's Department made the gruesome discovery in the basement of the Brookhurst Sanitarium. Unspeakable crimes of freakish experiments performed on female patients at the hands of the sick and demented monster, Dr. Graves. Kari, the lead singer of the all-girl punk band The Lolita Dolls has been obsessed with the story about his victims since childhood. After receiving a mysterious e-mail, Kari befriends a 'Fan' online who invites the Band to the Sanitarium to film a video for a song off of their new CD, Fallen Angels. With the help of a van and their friends Lenny and Steve, the Girls set out on a punk rock road trip of a lifetime, only to discover that the legacy of terror hidden behind the walls of the Brookhurst Sanitarium is far from over.”  (IMDB)

The opening scene is brilliantly brutal beyond the tongue scene without going into the realm of torture porn.  It gives us a very solid example of the debauchery that has been taking place at the asylum.  All of the flashback scenes are shot in black and white, adding a real ambiance to the film.  From the first cuts on the initial victim, we can see that make-up and special effects artist, Harry McCane, is very talented and will be providing a lot to look at throughout the movie.  The effects are not the only promise of things to come from the very start of the film.  The shot of the little girl sitting at the top of the stairs wearing a mask is simple, yet extremely chilling.

Further backstory is given in a very natural manner.  It is the twenty year anniversary of the discovery at the asylum.  A news report gives all of the relevant background that the viewer could possibly want without the need for awkward, forced conversation between characters that often takes place in movies that are not as well written.  From there, we flash between the scenes driving the main characters towards their impending doom, further backstory shots from the asylum, and watching Detective Baily pursue the facts behind the cold case.  Detective Baily’s investigation may be one of the few issues I have with the film.  His motivations to solve this case that has been closed for twenty years to the extent that he apparently just drops everything and puts his entire concentration into investigating this particular case was not clear to me as I was watching. 

One of my favorite aspects of this movie was the characters.  Writer, Tom Comisar, creates some very realistic and entertaining dialogue.  The casting choices were good and each of the actors and actresses really seemed to give a great effort.  For me, bad characters are an easy way to pull me out of the story being told in a movie and good characters and acting are a major hook.  These characters are done very well.  There are only really three major pieces of information we learn about the girls as we are introduced to the characters.  These character insights are that they are all in a band together, that they are an extremely close group of friends, and that they all enjoy partying.  Despite the lack of further individual characterization, each of the actresses makes the role her own and they never feel like simply carbon copy characters.  I particularly enjoy the performance of Linda Schrader, who plays one of the rockers, Lydia.  The girls are supported by a group of talented actors and actresses. 

The two “roadies,” Steve and Lenny, provide a good dose of comic relief without going into slapstick, especially Eric Reaume, who played Lenny with perfect timing on his comedic relief.  The other two standout performances for me, despite not having a lot of screen time, was that of Dustin Lawson as Dr. Graves and Paisley Blackburn as Ingrid.  Lawson’s stoic expression while cutting into his victims is truly frightening.  Blackburn is creepy with her torn mask and unsettling giggle, leaving you wanting to check the corners everywhere you go after watching.  While they are the biggest part, the characters and actors are only a piece of what made this film so good.

Director Daniel Murphy definitely knows how to take all of the separate pieces of film making and bring them together into an effective whole.  The setting of the asylum is fantastic.  It sets the atmosphere from the moment the characters enter.  The movie was very well lit and the camera work was done professionally, avoiding very common errors in independent, low budget films.  There are a few moments where it seems a little slow paced getting the girls to the asylum, but tedium is avoided by breaking into this part of the plot with flashback scenes and scenes of Detective Baily’s investigation.  As far as the style goes, there is great use of the black and white in the flashbacks.  I only wish that Murphy had stuck to the use of black and white exclusively in the flashback scenes and not utilized this during some of the music video shooting scenes as well, which I felt took a little away from the effect.  Perhaps using different lighting or color schemes could have added the music video look without taking from the unique filming style during the flashbacks.

Overall, this film did not fail to please at all.  The scenes of violence were done without overkill, yet utilizing some impressive makeup and special effects to provide a great balance.  The acting was solid and the characters were mostly well-written.  The premise may not be the most original idea seen recently, but the execution of the idea is excellent.  Overall, I highly enjoyed this film and look forward to see what the cast and crew come up with next!

So, what’s the Rage score?  Here it is:

Acting – 4/5
 Story - 4/5
 Effects - 4/5
Camera Work/Production Skill - 5/5
Overall Entertainment Value – 4.5/5 
Total Score – 4.3/5 – Check it out for yourself and see if you can survive the Night of the Dolls!

Currently, the filmmakers responsible for bringing you Night of the Dolls is working on getting their online store up and running.  However, you can follow them on Facebook and there are links from there that allow you to purchase the DVD or soundtrack.

Cincinnati area fans, you are in for an extra treat!  On July 21, Legacy Arcade will be holding a screening from 6 PM to 10 PM with the cast and crew of Night of the Dolls.  Admission is only $10 and includes four hours of gaming and horror fun!!  Details and advance ticket sales are available at:

Monday, June 23, 2014

Book Review - "Transport" by Peter Welmerink

This book review is provided as part of the Transport blog tour, however, the standards and scrutiny applied to this review are no less than those given to any other work presented through the views of The Rage Circus Vs. The Soulless Void, your blog for all things horror!

I think by now we all understand that the true horror behind any apocalyptic scenario would not be whatever caused the apocalypse.  In a short matter of time the bigger threat would quickly become the human race stripped from the bonds of society’s expectations.  Zombies are a prime example of this idea.  According to any zombie movie or book, the dead will one day rise and cause the fall of civilization and put the human race on the endangered species list (if there was anyone around who still cared about that list).  The concept has become a cliche.  To successfully create such a story any more, there must be unique elements to make the new tale stand out from the countless others out there.  Transport succeeds in this endeavor and provides a zombie story not quite like ones you have seen previously.

“The HURON, a 72-ton heavy transport vehicle and an army of four; tracked, racked and ready to roll, to serve and protect the walled metropolis of Grand Rapids—both her living and her undead. Captain Jacob Billet and his crew patrol the byways, ready for trouble.

William Lettner, the North Shore Coalition High Commissioner, has enemies from the mainland to the lakeshore and needs to be covertly transported home after his helicopter is shot down en route to Grand Rapids. He has no love for a city that give unliving civilians the right to survive. Lettner’s venomous outbursts assaults Billet and his crew along every mile traveled as they are assigned to safely bring him through the treacherous landscape outside the city back to his hometown.
The HURON and her crew will have to face domesticated zombies and the feral undead; marauders holding strategic chokepoints hostage; barricaded villages fighting for survival, and a group of geneticists who've lost control of one of their monstrous experiments if they want to complete their mission.

The crew will need to stay strong and trust one another in order to finish the mission and bring their “precious” cargo home, even knowing, all the while, the terrible deeds Lettner has done.
Traveling through West Michigan was never so dangerous.”

Central to the story is Captain Billet and his crew.  These characters jump off the page not only on their own, but as a cohesive unit that has obviously been through a lot together.  The way Billet looks after his crew is a testament to how any good military commander would act.  All of the characters really seem to round each other out and are crafted in such a way as to give Welmerink great room to create some fantastic dialogue.  If I have a single complaint about this novel, it is that I want to know more about the rest of the crew as individuals.  Enough is given to make them seem realistically human, but you are left wanting to know more about their pre-apocalypse lives.  As Welmerink has this listed as the first of a series of books, I am hopeful that more of the backstory of the crew members will be examined over time.  A group of heroes is only as entertaining as their villain, however.  In this area, Welmerink does not fail to provide.

One of the greatest antagonists I have ever read in a novel was the character was James “Big Jim” Rennie in Stephen King’s Under the Dome.  His evil was fueled by pure greed and desire for power, making him terrifyingly human.  He believed that everything he did was the right thing and that he was destined to lead.  We see the same intensive power hunger in Welmerinks’ villain, William Lentner.  Lentner does not see himself as the villain.  He believes that he truly knows what is best for the world at large in dealing with the zombie threat and rebuilding society.  The fact that he is sadistic and determined to elevate himself no matter the cost makes him a twisted, but believable character.  There are no over-the-top monologues here.  No convoluted motivators to drive Lentner.  Very much like Rennie in Under the Dome, Lentner is more terrifying than any creature or ghoul that can be thrown our way, because we can see too many examples of him in the real world.  What’s worse (or better depending on how you look at it) is that at times, his motivations and plans make sense, even if he does take it to a twisted extreme.  One of his main goals is to rid the world of zombies.  While that may seem like a pretty universally accepted idea in most undead inhabited worlds, this is not everyone’s view in the world of Transport.

Perhaps one of the things that set apart Transport for me was the split in people’s reaction to the zombies.  As of the events that take place in Transport there is a major rift between those who feel the undead should simply be exterminated and those who believe they should be kept “alive” on the chance that there might one day be a cure to their condition.  You might be saying to yourself that this sounds a lot like the plot of George Romero’s Survival of the Dead, but there is a key difference.  In Survival, the dead being kept were isolated to a single island that was cut off from everyone else.  The situation in Transport is much more drastic. 

There are large areas of major cities dedicated to keeping the undead.  A special meat has been developed known as Bram or Z-rations that contain sedatives to keep the dead docile.  In this, we are given two main different types of zombies.  The first is the UCRA (Urban Civilian Retention Area) citizens (zombies being kept docile, but “alive”) and the ferals. The feral zombies (or FZs) roam the wilds and outskirts of the cities and are the largest zombie threat.   People who are against using limited resources to keep the undead around, such as Lentner, believe that all zombies should be eliminated.  In Lentner’s case, this is believed to such as extreme that it doesn’t matter if innocent lives are lost in the process.  Others work to keep the undead around in hopes that they may have a future.  Despite all this, just as in the real world, sometimes individual conflicts can overshadow the larger issues.

The crux of the conflict in the story is the mission of Captain Billet and his crew.  While the zombie action is constant, horrific, and furious, you will find yourself caring a lot less about that than what is going on with the characters.  The zombies will keep you turning the pages, but it is Captain Billet’s struggle with Lentner and the past that will have you on the edge of your seat until the last page.  Billet is faced with deciding which is more important, revenge or duty, and Lentner does not make it easy for him to make the decision.  If you are like me, you will find yourself wanting to cheer when everything finally comes to the resolution of the climax.

This story has a lot going for it from the very beginning.  The characters are well-created and believable.  The action is tightly written, but descriptive enough to satisfy any horror fan.  The pace is fast and intense, it does not let up for a moment once it gets rolling.  We find ourselves faced with the two most common threats in modern horror, zombies and basic human nature, yet it does not feel like something we have seen time and time again.  This story will have you groaning like a UCRA citizen waiting for its next z-ration until the next in the series arrives.

So, let’s take a look at the Rage Circus breakdown:

Story Concept - 5/5
Story Execution - 5/5
Story Flow - 5/5
Character Development (give-a-damn factor) - 4/5
Gripping visuals/details - 4/5
Entertainment Value/Story Engagement - 5/5
Editing (including grammar and spelling) - 5/5


You can pick up your copy of Transport in either print or e-book format:

About the author: Peter Welmerink was born and raised on the west side of pre-apocalyptic Grand Rapids, Michigan. He writes Fantasy, Military SciFi, and other wanderings into action-adventure. His work has been published in ye olde wood pulp print and electronic-online publications. He is the co-author of the Viking berserker novel, BEDLAM UNLEASHED, written with Steven Shrewsbury. TRANSPORT is his first solo novel venture. He is married with a small barbarian tribe of three boys.

Find out more about his works and upcoming projects at:  You can also follow Peter Welmerink on Facebook or Twitter at: 
Twitter:  @pwelmerink

If you want more of the Transport virtual tour, find out all about it here:  Tour Page URL:
The book/eBook being reviewed was provided for an honest review, and no compensation was provided.