6 Trailers from Wes Craven


(Credit: Gracja Waniewska)

(Credit: Gracja Waniewska)

Last night, we were all stunned by the news that director We Craven had passed away after a battle with brain cancer.  If you want to see a great tribute to Craven, check out this 4 Shots From 4 Films that Arleigh posted on his birthday.  If you want to read a great reflection of Wes Craven and his career, check out this tribute from Ryan the Trashfilm Guru.

As for me, I’m going to share an anecdote and then, I’m going to pay tribute to Wes with a six trailer salute.

First, the anecdote.  I can still remember the first time that I ever watched Last House On The Left.  It was a film that I had mixed feelings about.  On the one hand, as a horror lover, I could not help but be impressed by the terrifying performances of Fred Lincoln and David Hess.  I could not help but by moved by the way Hess’s haunting song, Now You’re All Alone, was used in the film.  And, as low-budget and exploitive as the film may have been, I could see that Wes Craven was more interested in critiquing sadism than in celebrating it.

At the same time, it was still an unpleasant film for me, as a woman, to watch and the addition of some clumsy humor pretty much confirmed that Craven was still finding his way as a filmmaker.  It was one of those films that I knew, as a horror fan, I had to watch but I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed it.

However, that night, I did end up watching the movie twice.  I watched it a second time so that I could listen to the commentary from Wes Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham.  And — oh my God — both of these guys were so funny and charming!  Craven, especially, seemed to enjoy pointing out scenes that didn’t quite work and the frequently awkward dialogue that he had written.  Craven and Cunningham both came across as being two of the nicest guys in the world and it was indeed an experience to hear them cheerfully talking while these absolutely vile images were flickering by onscreen.

And really, that taught me an important lesson and it’s one that I remember to this day.  Whenever I hear some judgmental know-it-all claiming that only a sick person could direct or write a horror movie, I remember that charming Wes Craven audio commentary.

And now, here are six trailers for six of Wes Craven’s films.

Wes Craven, R.I.P.

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In Praise of Stripes’ Sergeant Hulka


HulkaIn the army comedy Stripes, we never learn Sgt. Hulka’s first name but we do learn to never call him “sir.”  As Hulka himself puts it, “You don’t say sir to me, I’m a sergeant, I work for a living!”

It’s true.  Sgt. Hulka never stops working.  He’s the toughest drill sergeant this side of R. Lee Ermey and he’s going to turn this latest raw batch of recruits into a worthy collection of soldiers.  When he tells you to move, you’ll move fast.  When he tells you to jump, you’re going to ask, “How high!?”  And make no mistake. He don’t care where you come from, he don’t care what color you are, he don’t care how smart you are, he don’t care how dumb you are, ’cause he’s gonna teach every last one of you how to eat, sleep, walk, talk, shoot, shit like a United States soldier. Understand!?

I have lost track of how many times I have watched Stripes.  It’s one of my favorite comedies, a movie that can be quoted in almost every situation.  (“Lighten up, Francis.”)  Not only does it star Bill Murray and Harold Ramis at their anarchistic best but it also features everyone from John Candy to Judge Reinhold to John Larroquette.  Sean Young and P.J. Soles make for two of the sexiest MPs in military history.  But, for me, the best thing about Stripes is Sgt. Hulka and the man who played him.

Ironically, considering that he was famous for being a pot-smoking wild man who hung out with fellow anti-establishment rebels like Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Sam Peckinpah, Warren Oates played his share of no-nonsense military men.  (Oates actually had experience, having served in the Marines before becoming an actor.)  Of all the army roles that Warren Oates played, Sgt. Hulka is the best remembered.

And why not?  His performance in Stripes is a master class of good film acting.  Watch him as he does a stone-faced double take at the latest bit of insubordination from Murray and Ramis.  Watch the way he grins as he barks out his tough drill sergeant dialogue, hinting that Sgt. Hulka understands and has come to accept the lunacy of army life.  Originally, Hulka was supposed to be killed halfway through Stripes but both Warren Oates and his performance proved to be so popular with the film’s cast and crew that Hulka was given a reprieve.

Warren Oates and Bill MurrayIn Stripes, Sgt. Hulka accomplishes something that few other film characters have done.  He gets one over on Bill Murray.  After spending almost all of basic training dealing with John Winger (Bill Murray) and his bad attitude, Hulka confronts Winger in the latrine.  Hulka tells Winger that he’s concerned with “discipline and duty and honor and courage” and that Winger “ain’t got none of it!”  Hulka dares Winger to take a swing at him.  When Winger does it, Hulka floors him with one punch.

This is the only dramatic scene in Stripes.  It was so dramatic that nervous Columbia studio execs asked director Ivan Reitman to cut it.  Wisely, Reitman did not listen to them and the latrine scene is one of the best in the film.  When John eventually emerges as enough of a leader that he is able to invade Czechoslovakia in an armor-plated RV, we all know that it goes back to getting punched in the latrine.

(This was also the first “serious” scene that Bill Murray ever appeared in.  His subsequent work in films like Rushmore, Lost in Translation, and St. Vincent can all be linked back to that tense confrontation he played with Warren Oates.)

At the end of Stripes, Sgt. Hulka retires from the army and opens up a chain a Hulkaburger restaurants.  Here’s hoping that Sgt. Hulka had a happy retirement.  He earned it.

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A Tribute To Wes Craven


Whatever words I have to say about Wes Craven would never be enough. But here’s my pathetic attempt at a tribute, anyway.

Trash Film Guru

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If I had a dime for every time I heard “I didn’t even know Wes Craven was ill” today, I’d be a very wealthy man. And if I could add in the times I said it myself, I’d be doubly rich. Sadly, no one’s paying me for either either hearing or saying it, so all that means is that we’re stuck with the shitty reality that one of the true masters of modern horror is no longer with us. And I’m still broke. The latter,can probably be fixed — the former, tragically, can’t.

Brain cancer is an especially horrific way to go, and I hope that Wes was surrounded by family and friends and went peacefully into the land of eternal sleep and nightmare. I add “nightmare” in there because, let’s face it, he’d probably be bored in an afterlife that was all rainbows, candy, sunshine, and smiles. I’m sure…

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Artist Profile: Victor Olson (1924 — 2007)


Victor Olson was born in Connecticut and studied art at the Art Classic School of New York.  He was a well-known painter, whose work currently hangs in the Smithsonian Institute Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.  He was also an illustrator who painted several paperback covers for such publishers as Doubleday, Avon Books, MacFadden Books, Bantan and Monarch.

A sampling of his work can be found below.

Bad 'Un Down and Out Georgia Hotel Pierre's Woman Scandal Stella and Joe The 49 Deadly Virgins The Harem The Heat of Day The Marijuana Mob The Shadowy Sex Treachery is Trieste

Val’s Movie Roundup #20: Hallmark Edition


Not a whole lot to talk about this time, but let’s take a look anyways. Also, I have finally reached a point where the amount of these films going out is greater than coming in. Meaning the Hallmark streak is going to be coming to an end. There will be more, but hopefully not in such large amounts.

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Always and Forever (2009) – First off, this movie is directed by Kevin Connor who brought us the epic disaster that is Strawberry Summer. However, this one is pretty decent actually. We have a boy and a girl who were an item back in high school, moved on with their lives, but come back to town for a high school reunion. They also happen to be there for their jobs too. He is renovating a hotel and she is the interior designer. As seems to be standard in Hallmark movies, she comes prepackaged with a kid from a previous marriage and a current boyfriend. Nevertheless, they obviously still have strong feelings for each other and they drift back together very quickly. In fact, it’s kind of funny to go from a scene where they practically want to start going at it on the spot to her telling her friends there’s nothing between them. The movie worked well for me and it even had Ted (David Lascher) from Hey Dude. However, what didn’t work for me was when they put product placement at the center of the film’s climax!!!

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Really? What were they thinking!!! That pops out and ruins the scene, and thus the ending. It’s like if at the end of The Warriors, the guys walked over to a vending machine and starting drinking Pepsi to refresh themselves after their journey.

Still, this one is okay. Just know that Kay Jewelers is going to make an unwanted guest appearance at the end.

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After All These Years (2013) – After all these years, I still find Wendie Malick funny. Kind of a PG-13 Kim Cattrall. Anyways, I haven’t said it before, but I usually go into these movies blind. As a result, I was surprised to discover this was a murder mystery. However, unlike most of these, we use The Fugitive model here. Malick breaks up with her husband but in short order finds him dead at her house. When fingers start pointing at her, she goes on the run. What follows is rather humorous. It’s kind of what happens when Hallmark stops trying to sanitize, pander to a Christian audience, or add a political agenda, and just makes some family friendly entertainment. There’s really nothing to talk about here except to say it was fun. Well, except that it showed computer screens so here are two shots.

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The first one shows that her hacker friend is also a hardcore Excel user. The second seems to show that the production crew knew how to run a traceroute. It’s funny, but if you lookup some of those IP addresses, then you’ll find out they are in Canada where Lifetime and Hallmark movies are often produced, if not shot.

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A Bone To Pick: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery (2015) – Going way back here to my 7th roundup and the beginning of this long streak of Hallmark editions to the first Aurora Teagarden movie I watched. I didn’t particularly care for that one and wondered if this first one was better. It is. This one begins with Teagarden working as a librarian and going to meetings of the Real Murders Club. An old former librarian friend of hers dies and leaves her estate to Teagarden. They were friends, but that comes as quite a shock since they weren’t that close. Then Teagarden finds a real skull in her house. Start the mystery!

I mentioned it when I reviewed the second Teagarden movie, and I’m still not sure if these aren’t meant to parody murder mysteries. Well, this one has Teagarden start looking into the skull with interest and she only moves faster and faster till she comes careening into the killers. This one works better in that sense because she has a start point that she builds from. In Real Murders, she finds out about the murder, then starts acting like she just took a massive snort of cocaine. It still gets a little ridiculous here, but works.

It’s funny, but when I watched Real Murders, I read a review for this one on IMDb and someone mentioned a green dress that she buys. There is a scene where she buys a supposedly expensive and great looking dress that people keep telling her looks great on her, but the review was right. It looks bad and clings to her stomach and crotch.

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Also, minor complaint, but maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to have Candace Cameron Bure elaborately braid her hair. I guess she could be redoing the braid between showers or something, but honestly, it kind of tells us which scenes were shot in succession and which scenes, without the braid, were shot at other times. It also reminds us of the short amount of time in which TV movies are made.

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And yes, there was one computer screen, but pretty well done. I’m not sure why they could explicitly say she was using Google Earth to look at satellite imagery, but not have her at LinkedIn. Maybe because there would have been ads or real content that shouldn’t be in a movie. The only problem I see is that the URL is a wee bit long for a homepage. At least they thought to simply delete the local URL and type in a fake real looking one for the shot.

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The only other thing worth mentioning is the conversation the killers have with her at the end. I love when the one tells the other to kill her using the bat to which they reply that they don’t like the bat, so let’s drown her instead. It’s a rather humorous scene that I enjoyed.

Oh, one more thing. Now that we have both Candace Cameron Bure and Lori Loughlin doing these mystery movies on Hallmark, it’s crossover time! I want Aurora Teagarden vs. Garage Sale Mystery. I would love to see the two of them not work together. Have them both discover the mystery, but stumble over each other trying to solve it independently. If they’re willing to work with each other again on Fuller House, then Hallmark should strike while the iron is hot.

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Daniel’s Daughter (2008) – IMDb said that if I like this, then I might also like Your Love Never Fails. You all remember what I thought of that offensive piece of propaganda. Luckily, the two are worlds apart. You know what the huge difference is that makes them very different movies? In Your Love Never Fails, she was dragged from her successful job in the city to a small town through legal coercion, then kept there through more legal coercion. In Daniel’s Daughter, she willingly returns to her hometown because her father has passed away and wanted her to see him off. That makes an enormous difference.

It still is a little bit much. At least at the start when we are introduced to her and her job at Perfect magazine. I can’t really do it justice in how over the top it is, but it’s about as subtle as this kid in Nukie saying, “America! Help us!”

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But let’s back up a little because it doesn’t begin there. It begins in a rather vague way. It really could have used a little more exposition. We pick up the gist though. Mom died, Dad basically dumped her on strangers, and their lives went on apart from each other. This all happened in a little town on the East Coast called New Kerry that is on an island.

After some initial hesitancy, Cate Madighan (Laura Leighton) decides that if she is going to espouse the values she does in her magazine, then she needs to return to the island to respect her father’s wishes. She takes her assistant in tow. He’s actually the most likable character in my opinion. He is a city guy, but agrees to go along and makes the most of it. For example, they are at a fair and while he would never have sought it out, he has fun going around and finds some nice things to pick up. He even finds a piece of crystal for his collection that he couldn’t find elsewhere.

When she arrives she finds that two of her father’s friends that used to sing together don’t like each other anymore. Apparently, they had some argument and don’t talk now. We don’t find out why till the end of the movie. The rest is her moping while a guy on the island starts to bring her around and the two begin to fall in love. However, I’m not sure why it was necessary to have him be a former world traveler who then settled on the island. But didn’t just settle there, he says someone told him after he moved there that “There’s a whole world out there” to which he responds “That’s why I’m here.” So he saw the rest of the world and fled into seclusion? They put something at the end that seems to imply that his attitude is a little unhealthy, but till then it feels like an anti-city anti-modern life pro-small town thing. It probably wouldn’t if the opening scene at the magazine wasn’t so over the top.

All that said, this movie is pretty good except for one thing. It’s a bit of a spoiler. Up until the very end of the movie, the father is just a guy who abandoned her and was never a part of her life again. However, after her and the guy get the two bickering singers back together to perform at her father’s funeral, suddenly they remember they have a whole cache of letters that were sent to them about how much he loves her. You don’t say? Couldn’t have shown her those letters the instant she showed up in town? Kind of important, would’t you say? And no, I didn’t hear them say that it was her father’s wish they don’t share the letters with her to give them an excuse for holding back so long. Stupid, but it doesn’t ruin the movie. This one’s okay.

Review: Fear the Walking Dead S1E02 “So Close, Yet So Far”


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“I’m about to step into a world of shit. You know that, right?” — Nick Clark

[some spoilers]

Is watching a zombie apocalypse unfold during it’s early days something that fans of the original series, The Walking Dead, want to actually watch happen? That was probably the least important question asked by AMC producers when they were brainstorming about how to take advantage of the pop-culture phenomena they had in their hands with The Walking Dead. This was a show that consistently beat every show it went up against and even manages to surpass some Sunday Night Football games in viewership.

The show enjoys viewership ratings of every type of metric one can think of that only the biggest network shows today can pull. Yet, the question remained of whether a second series exploring the world that Robert Kirkman created in his Image Comics title of the same name would have a similar reaction from fans. If the numbers brought in by the pilot episode of Fear the Walking Dead would be of any indication then the answer was a resounding yes.

The pilot episode of this new series introduced viewers to a cast of characters that wouldn’t look out of place from any family drama on network tv, cable or even the big-screen. It’s a world focused on the densely-packed Los Angeles area with all it’s different neighborhoods from glitzy and glamorous Hollywood and Beverly Hills to it’s surrounding middle-class areas like East L.A. and Venice Beach. One could substitute any major American city as location and we’ll still be able to relate to the opening narrative beats of an apocalypse descending on an unprepared populace.

Witnessing a zombie apocalypse in it’s early stages has it’s drawbacks and for some fans it’s the lack of the very zombie mayhem which made the original series so “must-see” that has become this companion series’ own weak point. Yet, there’s a logic and reason to the lack of zombies. It is the early days and the lack of zombies doesn’t mean the show lacks in tension and dread-building moments.

As Madison Clark’s drug-addict son succinctly says during the second episode, and could mean for the rest of the cast in the show, they’re all about to step into a world of shit.

“So Close, Yet So Far” jumps into literally right after both Madison Clark and Travis Manawa sees the truth in Nick’s words about what he witnessed in the drug den during the pilot episode. Their disbelief still governs some of their rash decisions (like splitting up to find other family members), but it also gives them a leg up on some of their neighbors and most everyone of the Greater Los Angeles area. Outside of Travis and Madison we’re given glimpses of others like Tobias (Madison’s paranoid but well-informed student), a next door neighbor looking to stock up and flee the city right up to a cop on-duty stocking up on water supplies. The city and the surrounding seem oblivious to the hell about to land on everyone, but that primordial part of everyone’s brain the says something is wrong seem to be working more efficiently for some.

The episode finds both Madison and Travis and their respective families split up when it looks like the zombie apocalypse is finally hitting it’s stride. Police actions turn into riots as civilian bystanders witness cops shooting (many, many times) and killing who look like innocent homeless people. As an audience we know better and it’s that knowing the rules of the game while those in the series are still so uneducated to the changes in this world of theirs which gives Fear the Walking Dead a fresher look at Robert Kirkman’s world.

This advance knowledge of this new world’s rules make for both a exhilarating and frustrating show. We wait for when the rest of the cast catch up in how to deal with the zombie apocalypse, but we also worry that some characters may not get the time spent during this shortened first season to survive. Rick Grimes was the lone babe in the woods in The Walking Dead. His family, best friend and the other survivors he has met with since he awoke from his coma already knew the basics on how to survive in this post-apocalyptic world. Madison, Travis, Nick, Alicia and the rest do not have the luxury of knowing what’s happening. They’ve seen examples of what’s coming, but they’re still dealing with it as if it’s your typical natural disaster. That everything will sort itself out in the end.

Tobias, our on-screen oracle, knows better and in just two episodes have become the audience’s proxy for a series cast full of babes in the woods. His very insular nature of spending way too much time on-line has given him an insight to this current calamity that everyone else around him seem oblivious and/or not extremely worried about. Whether Tobias survives the season has been left up in the air and with 4 episodes left in this inaugural season there’s not much time to dwell on who will live or who will die.

As we saw with Madison stopping Alicia from running out of the house to help a neighbor being attacked by another neighbor (the same one Travis saw earlier that day planning to get out of the city but already sick and infected) zombified, some have begun to worry about just protecting those closest to them and leaving the rest to fend for themselves.

Fear the Walking Dead has navigated a narrative that could get frustratingly old and stale with some great character work from it’s cast. Yes, even the annoying way the teenage children of the two leads have been written. The series has chosen to focus on the lives of your typical American family of the 21st century and that includes the annoyances and warts of parents and children.

Will fans continue to tune in without the zombies showing up more often? That will depend on whether show’s writers slows things down just as the apocalypse is hitting or just press the pedal to the floor and ride the zombie apocalypse wave and hope it lands with a bang instead of a whimper.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode was written by Marco Ramirez and directed by Adam Davidson.
  • The episode’s cold opening of the high school principal walking the grounds of an empty high school made for an eerie sequence.
  • While it seems like instances of zombie attacks have been concentrated in the more densely populated city area of LA, we still saw some signs of it hitting the outer areas like East LA. Alicia’s boyfriend Matt being one on the way to turning.
  • Interesting way for the writers to incorporate the current climate of distrust the public have with law enforcement into the series with civilians protesting then rioting over cops shooting what they think were innocent people. Audiences know better and we see how this civil disturbance look like it’s adding to the chaos that helps the zombie apocalypse take a foothold in the city.
  • Always nice to see Ruben Blades on-screen.

Season 1

George Romero’s Grand(?) Finale Begins In “Empire Of The Dead : Act Three” #4


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Do those title-page recaps that Marvel runs on the first page of all their books these days bug you? I have to admit that they usually work my nerves and that I see them as a less-than-clever way to shave a page off the actual story and art in any given issue while still enabling the publisher to cynically claim that their books offer “21 pages of editorial content.” In the case of George Romero’s Empire Of The Dead, however,  I’ll make an exception, for one simple reason : as we all know, Romero uses his zombie tales as  allegory for socio-political commentary here in the “real world” (think of Night Of The Living Dead‘s cautionary messages about racism and prejudice, Dawn Of The Dead‘s bleak examination of rampant consumerism, and Day Of The Dead‘s gleeful deconstruction of Cold War paranoia), and the intro page that’s currently running in Empire sums up the creator of the modern concept of the zombie’s primary political message for this series quite nicely indeed with the simple sentence “New York has become a fortress of isolation against the undead plague.”

Now, think about this : Donald Trump is proposing the absurd idea of building a wall along the entire length of the U.S./Mexican border,  and doubling down on the crazy by suggesting that he’ll force Mexico to pay for it, while just yesterday, one of his rivals for the GOP nomination, the risible Scott Walker, one-upped Trump by suggesting that we should do the same thing along the Canadian border, as well — because apparently poutine smuggling is becoming a huge problem or something. Now, while this “Fortress America” idea may sound appealing to the genuinely paranoid out there, I would humbly suggest that before we all stand up and cheer for this new emphasis on “national security,” we should take a moment and consider the fact that walling the rest of the world out also necessarily means that we would be walling ourselves in —and as Romero has shown us both in Land Of The Dead and here in the pages of Empire, that’s a recipe for disaster.

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Don’t get me wrong — the American populace has good reason to be angry and afraid these days : our home values have plummeted, the stock market is being exposed as the high-risk casino it is, our meager retirement savings are slipping away, the cost of living is going through the roof, wages are stagnant at best for most of us, and we’re staring at a heap of debt that will take centuries, probably even generations,  to pay off. Obviously, those problems didn’t just create themselves — someone is to blame. But what Trump, Walker, and too many other demagogues looking to cash in on the wave of populist anger are looking to do is to misdirect that rage while keeping the party going for themselves and their billionaire buddies. Who’s fault is it that we’re in the mess we’re in? Are a few illegal immigrants the cause of our predicament, or is it the billionaire class?

Come on, you know the answer — the problem is that folks see the billionaire class as being untouchable, and don’t think that’s ever going to change. Those illegal immigrants, though — why, we see ’em just about every day. They’re scattered about here, there, and everywhere. They represent an easy target, while the rich are a tough one, and if there’s one thing Americans have become accustomed to, it’s taking on easy targets. Why, just look how well that worked out in Vietnam. Or Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Now it seems we’re being prepped to bring the war home and take on the Mexicans who are doing the menial labor that our economy needs to keep going. And, I guess, the Canadians, too. I expect this new “war” to be just as successful as all those others.

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In Empire Of The Dead : Act Three #4, Romero’s vampire-run New York finally falls. The vampires, obviously, are a stand-in for the capitalist ruling class in this particular story, and while we don’t see a number of our key players (there’s no sign of Paul Barnum, Dr. Penny Jones, Mayor Chandrake, Xavier, or Detective Perez, for instance), it’s nevertheless a reasonably exciting issue in that we get to witness the Federal Reserve robbery go, as the Brits would charmingly put it, “tits-up,” the aerial war between the so-called “rebel” factions do the same, and everyone’s escape plans — most notably Dixie Peach and Runyon’s — come to a screeching halt. Once the shit hits the fan and the barbarians (or, in this case. zombies — who are, of course, Romero’s fictional equivalent for “the rabble,” i.e. those of us who aren’t part of the so-called “1%”) are inside the gates, all bets are off, and no amount of “security” can save you.

That being said, the decision to leave most of the principal cast out of the picture in this series’ penultimate issue is a curious one, to say the least, and I have to wonder how exactly Romero intends to wrap up all their various storylines in a scant 20 pages next month. My best guess is that we’ll probably be getting an extra-length issue with a $4.99 cover price.

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Or will we? With sales on Empire hovering around the 8,000 mark (for an idea of just how bad that is, consider that my current favorite comic, Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence, is selling over twice that despite the fact that it’s being published by Avatar Press, pretty much the smallest publishing outfit going, it hasn’t been optioned for television, and it’s barely being promoted by Diamond — oh, and it may also be worth noting that Providence is eschewing all current sales trends by actually selling better every month so far, while Empire is the poster child for the years-long trend of books dropping in circulation every month), it’s hard to imagine Marvel editorial “green-lighting” a higher page count for the finale. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

In any case, it’s apparent that by the time Empire Of The Dead ends, there won’t be too many of us left paying attention, and that’s a shame. The third act has been a fun and exciting roller-coaster ride with unifrmly better scripting and characterization than the second, and the arrival of Andrea Mutti (aided by Roberto Poggi,who takes over as full inker on all pages with this issue) has really kicked the quality of the artwork up a notch. Throw in some fantastic covers from Francesco Mattina, and all in all this has been $3.99 (fairly) well-spent every month. I’m going to miss this book when it’s over — but I guess we’ve still got the TV series to look forward to, and hopefully if that’s a success people will pick the comics up in trade paperback format to see what they missed out on.