Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron

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Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron Book Cover Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron
Star Wars
Alexander Freed
Del Rey
June 11, 2019

On the verge of victory in what seemed an endless war, five former rebel pilots transform from hunted to hunters as they strike out against the vestiges of Empire. Set after Return of the Jedi, Alphabet Squadron follows a unique team, each flying a different class of starfighter as they struggle to end their war once and for all.


Alphabet Squadron takes place shortly after the events of the Tie Fighter comic mini-series. While readers do not have to read the comics beforehand, it does help by pre-establishing some characters and events. This Star Wars book takes place six months after Return of the Jedi, during the final days of the Empire. Other related events are mentioned throughout the novel, such as Operation Cinder from the 2017 Battlefront 2 video game. The immediate aftermath of Return of the Jedi has been a popular topic in Disney’s Expanded Universe, so there are a lot of little details here for fans to notice.

The focus of this book is a New Republic intelligence unit hunting down one of the Empire’s top remaining fighter squadrons, the 204th (better known as Shadow Wing). But the leadership is not 100% on-board with this idea, so the team’s resources are stretched thin. A hodgepodge group is put together, each flying a different ship with different levels of speed, mobility, and other crucial factors that often determine how well a squad flies together. But there is one thing each of these pilots have in common: a vendetta against Shadow Wing.

Readers should remember that Alphabet Squadron is going to be a trilogy. New characters and ideas are introduced, but most plot points are not 100% resolved by the end of the book. That being said, it is refreshing to see the Disney canon use new characters. While there is one familiar face, all the other characters are new (or relatively so, if you read the prequel comics). Not every single Star Wars story needs to be about the big heroes from the movies. This is a recurring theme from Freed’s previous Star Wars entry, Twilight Company.

Unlike many other new Star Wars novels, Freed is actually expanding on the Star Wars universe instead of focusing on character development. There is a good 30-years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens that is still mostly blank. Early on, it felt like Disney wanted it that way to keep things open for future projects. But with the new trilogy of films wrapping up, they seem more open about it now. One of the key things about Alphabet Squadron is noting that the Rebel Alliance won their war too soon. Their resources are stretched extremely thin from being forced to take advantage of the Emperor’s death. All while they try to figure out how to make a new galactic government without becoming another Empire. Seeing more of the history and intricacies, the world building, is just as important as the characters.

December 1, 2019

Terminator: Dark Fate

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Poster for the movie "Terminator: Dark Fate"

Terminator: Dark Fate

Welcome to the day after judgement day

20192 h 08 min

More than two decades have passed since Sarah Connor prevented Judgment Day, changed the future, and re-wrote the fate of the human race. Dani Ramos is living a simple life in Mexico City with her brother and father when a highly advanced and deadly new Terminator – a Rev-9 – travels back through time to hunt and kill her. Dani's survival depends on her joining forces with two warriors: Grace, an enhanced super-soldier from the future, and a battle-hardened Sarah Connor. As the Rev-9 ruthlessly destroys everything and everyone in its path on the hunt for Dani, the three are led to a T-800 from Sarah’s past that may be their last best hope.

Director Tim Miller
Runtime 2 h 08 min
Release Date 23 October 2019
Movie Media Cinema
Movie Status Available
Movie Rating Good

The original Terminator film was a fantastic film for the low-budget 80s movie that is was. Terminator 2, still the highlight of the franchise, is one of the best action movies ever made. And then there’s the rest. And that’s not even addressing The Sarah Connor Chronicles tv show. While the TV show was not bad, movies 3-5 were nowhere near as good as Terminator 2. Despite the franchise trying desperately to mimic its success ever since. This time around, the tactic for doing so was ignoring everything that happened after T2 entirely. Which, thankfully, turned out to be a good idea.

So, just to be clear, Dark Fate is a sequel to T2 and ignores all the previous sequels to it. While Dark Fate is not on the level of the first two movies, it is not an objectively bad film. The action feels almost non-stop with only brief reprises. The new villain Terminator is much more of a threat than previous models, even more so than the T-1000 from Terminator 2. Every Terminator is hard to kill, but this thing is damn near invincible. And it has a bit of personality, seeming to actively enjoy its job of killing. Despite that, it only kills people in the way.

While the action, effects, and scenery were all top-notch, the characters were somewhat lacking. And that is really what made Terminator 2 special, the writing and acting. Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger both did fantastic jobs reprising their old roles. The rest of the cast felt like they could have benefitted more from stronger writing. The thing that made John Connor special was that he was a kid. He knew bad things were coming but still had a bit of a wide-eyed view of the world. Dani (Natalia Reyes’ character) is an adult and more able to take care of herself (albeit still being the least badass main character).

The biggest issue with Dark Fate is not the movie itself, it is the franchise. Terminator as a whole is a victim of its own success. The franchise knocked it out of the park with T2 and have been trying to do that again ever since. And audiences have seen, time and again, that they just can’t. Dark Fate is definitely a step in the right direction, but audiences will always compare a new Terminator to T2. Given that T2 is considered one of the best action films ever, that is one heck of a high bar.

November 24, 2019

Benevolent King

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Benevolent King Book Cover Benevolent King
Joe Albanese
September 25, 2019

Travis, a gangbanger, has aspirations of being the most powerful gang leader in all of Baltimore. After boosting a shipment of Colombian Devil's Breath, his goals may become reality. That is until Isaac, a small-time drug dealer, finds out a secret about Travis that may ruin his plans. When Shannon, torn between the two and herself, becomes a fissure in the gang, there is no telling who will come out the victor, and where each may end up. A story of drugs, guns, loyalty, blackmail, betrayal, and identity.


A copy of Benevolent King was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Benevolent King is my second time reading something by Joe Albanese, the first time being Caina. Unlike Caina, Benevolent King is a full-fledged novel rather than a novella. The genre is also a bit different; while both are crime stories, Caina was more of a mystery story while Benevolent King is a thriller. This story is more about suspense and focuses its attention across an array of characters. It is not really about just one person, but rather one story. And how all the different characters are connected through that story’s telling.

This book takes place in Baltimore, which is a great setting for crime fiction for obvious reasons. More importantly, it takes place in the bad parts of Baltimore. The places filled with desperate people who scare the daylights out of “normal” folks. In fact, there really are not many normal people throughout Benevolent King. Some pop up here and there, mostly as background characters, but the cast is almost entirely made of criminal underworld elements. Even the normal people who are not merely background are only minor characters.

Despite how all the characters could be described as “a criminal”, the characters are incredibly diverse. The key factor here is why each character is a criminal. Some live that way because they have no choice, or at least think they have no choice. Others chose this lifestyle because things outside the law like drugs and violence appeal to them. There is a wide gap between the people who seek power and the people who just want to survive. Not to mention the relative isolation of the characters from the rest of the world as the city does its best to ignore them or sweep them under the rug.

While certain elements of Benevolent King are exaggerated, everything in this novel is real. That goes without saying for Baltimore’s crime rate (although the level of homicide in this book teetered on the edge of believability). It is also true for the Colombian Devil’s Breath drug. While the effects are exaggerated for the sake of the story, it is a real drug with similar effects.

On the whole, Benevolent King shows how Joe Albanese is improving as his career a writer continues. The extra page count of a novel vs. a novella really gave him the chance to spread his wings. There was more room for character development, story progression, and everything else that makes any novel great. This is a good story that shows a side of society rarely if ever seen by most people. I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

November 17, 2019

Overlord, Vol. 11: The Dwarven Crafter

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Overlord, Vol. 11: The Dwarven Crafter Book Cover Overlord, Vol. 11: The Dwarven Crafter
Kugane Maruyama
Light Novel
Yen On
October 29, 2019 (English); September 30, 2016 (Japanese)

In search of the lost art of rune crafting, Ainz journeys to the land of the dwarves. Accompanied by Aura and Shalltear, he arrives only to find that the Dwarven Kingdom is beset by an invasion run by someone besides himself! He soon strikes a deal to obtain the secrets behind the making of runes in return for assisting the natives in reclaiming their capital, but it may not be so easy when a legendary frost dragon stands in his way!


The Dwarven Crafters is a little more tame than the previous two volumes of Overlord. With the Sorcerer Kingdom (still mistranslated as “Kingdom of Darkness” in the official translation, argh!) more or less established now, Ainz can focus his attention elsewhere. Which translates to letting Demiurge and Albedo handle the bureaucratic side of things so he can do that he wants. Readers see once again that more than anything, Ainz longs for the good old days of adventuring with his buddies. So, with a handful of his servants, he decides to venture out into the unknown and investigate the dwarven country he has heard rumors about.

Most of this book focuses on Ainz, more so than most of the previous books at this point. Shalltear and Aura join him as the sidekicks for this adventure along with one of the lizardmen and various unnamed minions. It is fun to see that even several years into the story, Ainz has to repeatedly tell his subordinates, “Do not just shoot first and ask questions later.” While they are growing as people and developing better critical thinking skills, most of them still view wholesale slaughter as their go-to option during any sort of confrontation.

There are several parts of this book that show other characters viewpoints, namely the new dwarf characters. This includes a single dwarven craftsman as well as their country’s governing council. Their reaction to someone like Ainz showing up on their doorstep goes about how you would expect. This includes Ainz BSing his way into success by making vague/innocuous statements and having others fill in the blanks. Oh, and magic. Lots and lots of super-powerful magic to scare the pants off anyone who witnesses it (and lives). While not as extreme as Volume 9’s events, this is a clear reminder that Ainz and co. are playing this game with God Mode cheat codes.

Overall, this was one of the more fun Overlord books. The stakes were not high and while the events were not action packed, they were not bland either. We get to see Ainz doing what he most wants to do: going on an adventure. Exploring the unknown, fighting monsters, and finding treasure. All the things that adventurers do. While he still must play the role of king to some degree, that is almost more of a secondary objective. In the end he gets what he wants, in more ways than one, as Nazarick’s world conquest continues.

November 10, 2019

City of Night (Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein #2)

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City of Night Book Cover City of Night
Dean Koontz's Frankenstein
Dean Koontz
Bantam Books
July 26, 2005

From the celebrated imagination of Dean Koontz comes a powerful reworking of one of the classic stories of all time. If you think you know the legend, you know only half the truth. Here is the mystery, the myth, the terror, and the magic of…


They are stronger, heal better, and think faster than any humans ever created–and they must be destroyed. But not even Victor Helios–once Frankenstein–can stop the engineered killers he’s set loose on a reign of terror through modern-day New Orleans. Now the only hope rests in a one-time “monster” and his all-too-human partners, Detectives Carson O’Connor and Michael Maddison. Deucalion’s centuries-old history began as Victor’s first and failed attempt to build the perfect human–and it is fated to end in the ultimate confrontation between a damned creature and his mad creator. But first Deucalion must destroy a monstrosity not even Victor’s malignant mind could have imagined–an indestructible entity that steps out of humankind’s collective nightmare with one purpose: to replace us.


Dean Koontz’s first Frankenstein book definitely left audiences wanting more. City of Night picks up almost right where The Prodigal Son left off. With the serial killer plotline resolved, the protagonists move on to tackle their real enemy, Dr. Frankenstein himself. But before delving into this particular book, readers should know that this is very much a “Part II” story. Things are no more resolved at the end of City of Night then they were at the end of The Prodigal Son. It is pretty clear that Dean Koontz intended this to be a trilogy from the get-go, so buckle in for all three books if you want the full story.

There is a bit of a different feel to City of Night, likely since Koontz’s co-author was changed from Kevin J. Anderson to Ed Gorman. It is not blatantly different, but the subtle changes in writing are there. But while the writing is only a bit different, the story really starts to pick up here. Victor’s endgame begins to unfold as the protagonists realize just how close his plans already are to fruition. An unexpected race against the clock begins to stop the mad doctor’s plans of world conquest.

The characters are still a bit wooden here. Book 1 in a series typically establishes who these people are, while Book 2 works on who they are going to be. What kind of actions will they make in the face of this crisis? And how will those decisions and the events that unfold reshape them as people? But the dialogue is still just kind of there out of necessity. It feels stiff, not like something a real person would say. Think SyFy Channel original movies (which this trilogy would actually work as, given the plot).

Are these books fun? Kind of. Saying that Koontz’s take on Frankenstein is dull would be a stretch. But great literature this is not. I personally started this trilogy at a friend’s recommendation and do intend to keep going since I am already two books deep. But saying that this series is recommended and worth reading would also be a stretch. This series did start off as an idea for a TV show, so maybe that just did not translate well into book form. Either way, go into these books expecting some light reading (unless maybe if you are a big Koontz fan).

November 3, 2019

The Gunfighter

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Poster for the movie "The Gunfighter"

The Gunfighter

Just another period western meta comedy short film.

20140 h 09 min

In the tradition of classic westerns, a narrator sets up the story of a lone gunslinger who walks into a saloon. However, the people in this saloon can hear the narrator and the narrator may just be a little bit bloodthirsty.

Director Eric Kissack
Runtime 0 h 09 min
Release Date 21 March 2014
Movie Media Other
Movie Status Available
Movie Rating Excellent

Normally short films are not my thing, but a friend recommended this one and I will watch darn near anything with Nick Offerman in it. Being only 9 minutes long (counting end credits), the whole short is one big joke. It starts out stereotypical, with a mysterious stranger walking into a saloon in the wild west. Then the voice of the Narrator (Offerman) kicks in to set the scene. The thing is, the characters can hear the omnipotent Narrator.

The scenery and set-up here are perfect. Anyone who has seen a western knows what the stereotypical old west looked like. The saloon full of ruffians and vagabonds who are all as ready to shoot you as look at you. But that is where the similarities with classic westerns ends. As the ominous Narrator starts to spill secrets out into the open, everyone’s trigger fingers get itchy. While the Narrator is pretty clearly manipulating everyone, people are still angry (at him as well as each other) as their dirty laundry is all unfolded.

The Narrator’s dialogue is set up like an audiobook. If a character says something, the Narrator might tack on “he lied, as he hand wavered towards his gun” and tip off the rest of the cast. The Gunfighter provides a unique mix between classic western, modern comedy, and breaking the 4th wall. The actors all played their parts extremely well, even the unseen Offerman with his unique voice. Despite the whole scene being one big joke with a few smaller ones sprinkled in, it never gets stale and viewers will be laughing from beginning to end.

October 27, 2019

The Core (Demon Cycle #5)

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The Core Book Cover The Core
Demon Cycle #5
Peter V. Brett
Del Rey
September 28, 2017

For time out of mind, bloodthirsty demons have stalked the night, culling the human race to scattered remnants dependent on half-forgotten magics to protect them. Then two heroes arose—men as close as brothers, yet divided by bitter betrayal. Arlen Bales became known as the Warded Man, tattooed head to toe with powerful magic symbols that enable him to fight demons in hand-to-hand combat—and emerge victorious. Jardir, armed with magically warded weapons, called himself the Deliverer, a figure prophesied to unite humanity and lead them to triumph in Sharak Ka—the final war against demonkind.

But in their efforts to bring the war to the demons, Arlen and Jardir have set something in motion that may prove the end of everything they hold dear—a Swarm. Now the war is at hand and humanity cannot hope to win it unless Arlen and Jardir, with the help of Arlen’s wife, Renna, can bend a captured demon prince to their will and force the devious creature to lead them to the Core, where the Mother of Demons breeds an inexhaustible army.

Trusting their closest confidantes, Leesha, Inevera, Ragen and Elissa, to rally the fractious people of the Free Cities and lead them against the Swarm, Arlen, Renna, and Jardir set out on a desperate quest into the darkest depths of evil—from which none of them expects to return alive.


The Core marks the end of the journey for Arlen, Jardir, and all their allies in this demon war. This is the finale; do or die. Arlen, Jardir, and Reena have a chance to end this once and for all. Their efforts may be humanity’s last chance. Meanwhile, their allies on the surface prepare to face a seemingly unending demon horde. Faced with numbers and tactics never before seen against the seemingly mindless demons, the Free Cities will be forced to fight to the last man. Humanity has yet to truly unite in their efforts, but time is up. Sharak Ka is upon them all now.

With all that in mind, The Core is by far the most hardcore book of the Demon Cycle. It is as dark as it is violent, with the demon’s evil now fully mixed with the horrors of war. For a long time now, the rediscovery of magic has given humans hope. It has made them brave. And unafraid. That courage is more than tested here. While the previous book mostly set things up for finale, there is a little bit of final prep work in The Core. But once the action starts, it does not stop. Fighting takes place across the country simultaneously with the chapters jumping between different locations mid-battle.

The last book in any series is always hard. Authors must decide how this story ends and the ultimate fate of their characters. Since The Warded Man, about 30 years have passed in this story. Readers have been with some of these characters from their early childhood to the present day. We have seen them go from scared peasants to leaders and warriors. But by the end, every character from great to small has had an impact on this story. If even one person was not there, things would have turned out differently.

With the war kicking off, other conflicts cease to matter. The human characters realize real quick that their politics and schemes mean nothing in the face of total annihilation. But by the time the dust has settled, so has everything else. There can never be a final battle where the good guys just win. Defeating the bad guy must always come with a cost. A cost of life, a change in the status quo, or some other equally momentous sacrifice. This is not an easy thing for any author to accomplish, but Peter V. Brett has delivered.

October 20, 2019

The Saga of Tanya the Evil, Vol. 2: Plus Ultra

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The Saga of Tanya the Evil, Vol. 2: Plus Ultra Book Cover The Saga of Tanya the Evil, Vol. 2: Plus Ultra
The Saga of Tanya the Evil
Carlo Zen
Light Novel
Yen On
March 27, 2018 (English); May 31, 2014 (Japanese)

The Saga of Tanya the Evil Novel Volume 2 is written by Carlo Zen with illustrations by Shinobu Shinotsuki."Girl--this, this is war." After being reborn and becoming a magic wielding soldier in the Imperial Army, Tanya Degurechaff bemoans her fate of being placed at the very edge of the front lines instead of a comfy place in the rear. Swearing revenge on Being X, she plunges head-first into battle, dragging her subordinate along with her!


Like the first volume, Plus Ultra is long for a light novel. None of the books in The Saga of Tanya the Evil are quick reads. They take about as long as a standard western novel. For readers who watched the anime first, Plus Ultra goes from partway through Episode 5 to partway through episode 11. There is also a side story at the end which the anime shows at the end of Episode 2. This is where The Saga of Tanya the Evil differs from many other anime adaptions of light novels.

Typically, an anime adapted from a light novel tries to match pace with the books. This series does not do that. The end of an episode does not necessarily coincide with the end of a chapter. The pacing is readjusted for the anime adaption and while that is not necessarily a bad thing, it is unusual. That being said, it could even be viewed in a positive light depending on your outlook. The alternate narrative techniques used by the anime tell the same story, but in a different way. While the book has more focus on geopolitical analysis, the anime more focuses directly on fighting and warfare.

With all that in mind, Plus Ultra continues to be an already impressive series. This is the point in the story where WWI and WWII analogies start to mix. The first book showed more of the WWI side of things with notions such as the geographic location of the Not-Europe nations and trench warfare. Plus Ultra starts driving WWII-era points home, such as the application of new technology and tactics on the battlefield. All of this is obvious to Tanya, who is from Earth and has knowledge of WWII history. But to everyone else in the world, this is all new.

The Empire is newly established as a potential world superpower. However, they are surrounded by other countries on all sides. While their country is not landlocked, areas the size of the English Channel are the only waters between them and other nations. Some of these other nations are superpowers and want to prevent the Empire from becoming one as well. This is where The Saga of Tanya the Evil differs from real history. The Empire (Not-Germany) is always the defender (thus far). They have yet to attack first. And their military leaders 100% expected any potential wars to happen that way. How their plans of national defense will ultimately turn out in the face of a reacting enemy remains to be seen.

October 13, 2019

The Rising of the Shield Hero, Volume 3

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The Rising of the Shield Hero, Volume 3 Book Cover The Rising of the Shield Hero, Volume 3
The Rising of the Shield Hero
Aneko Yusagi
Light Novel
One Peace Books
February 16, 2016 (English); December 21, 2013 (Japanese)

Naofumi Iwatani, an uncharismatic Otaku who spends his days on games and manga, suddenly finds himself summoned to a parallel universe! He discovers he is one of four heroes equipped with legendary weapons and tasked with saving the world from its prophesied destruction. As the Shield Hero, the weakest of the heroes, all is not as it seems. Naofumi is soon alone, penniless, and betrayed. With no one to turn to, and nowhere to run, he is left with only his shield. Now, Naofumi must rise to become the legendary Shield Hero and save the world!


Volume 3 of The Rising of the Shield Hero is where things start to pick up. While the last book did not 100% wrap up the intro sequence, readers start to see that here. For you anime watchers, Volume 3 covers episodes 9 to 13. This time around, existing character development and plot advancement take precedence over introducing new characters. Volume 3 primarily revolves around the Heroes fighting the next wave, including prep work and the aftermath of the battle. Readers also get to see the first hints at behind-the-scenes politics going on within Melromarc, and their influence.

But that is not to say that the plot-lines from Volume 2 are all wrapped up. Naofumi continues (to his frustration) to clean up the messes left by the other heroes. And his relationship with Melty, the newest member of the group, continues to develop. Moreover, Raphtalia begins this book still cursed following the battle against the zombie dragon. Suffice to say, the group is kept busy prior to fighting the next wave. But the wave does come and this time around Naofumi is properly prepared and ready for a real fight.

The wave itself is one of the best parts of Shield Hero up to this point. Naofumi has gained a lot of experience, both personal and as a leader, since the last wave. And it shows. Whereas the other heroes do what they did last time (run off seeking glory), Naofumi marshals what forces he can and rallies a defense. And does this job well enough that he starts to outshine the other heroes. By the time the battle is said and done, it cannot be denied that Naofumi played the most pivotal role. Between that and his travels, public opinion is starting to sway in the Shield Hero’s favor.

That is not to say that everyone is happy with this outcome. The Shield Hero still has many powerful enemies who want public opinion of him to stay as-is. People who care more for their own personal power than the safety and survival of the citizens under their rule. Or even of the world. Once again Naofumi finds himself falsely accused without so much as a chance to defend himself. But anyone who thinks he will go down without a fight this time is a damn fool. Despite everything, he persevered once and is damned determined to do it again. How that turns out will be revealed in Volume 4.

October 6, 2019

The Banana Splits Movie

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Poster for the movie ""

The Banana Splits Movie

Tra la la terror!

20191 h 30 min

A boy named Harley and his family attend a taping of The Banana Splits TV show, which is supposed to be a fun-filled birthday for young Harley and business as usual for Rebecca, the producer of the series. But things take an unexpected turn - and the body count quickly rises. Can Harley, his mom and their new pals safely escape?

Runtime 1 h 30 min
Release Date 26 August 2019
Movie Media DVD
Movie Status Available
Movie Rating Bad

I have seen a lot of horror movies over the years with many different premises. It is very rare to get a brand-new idea for any movie, let alone a horror film. Yet The Banana Splits Movie did just that by adapting a children’s show from the 1960s into a horror-comedy. Conceptually, it is such a strange idea. Not Sharknado strange or WTF-did-I-just-watch strange, but just strange. How many people today still remember the original Banana Splits show? It has been almost 50 years since it went off the air. But that is part of why this movie works too. It is not like anyone else is doing anything with this franchise.

The Splits themselves are dated enough that modern viewers may not even realize this was once a real children’s show. I myself would not have realized that if a few reviews I read had not mentioned as much. So, in this version, the titular Banana Splits are animatronics instead of people in costumes. I know what you are thinking, we are all thinking it: Five Nights at Freddy’s. Maybe there is a connection there, maybe not. No one who worked on this film has confirmed or denied that.

There were two areas where this movie suffered. Unfortunately, they were big ones. The first was the lack of humor. Despite being labeled a horror-comedy, there was not much comedy here. Aside from the concept of children’s show characters going on a murder spree, there is no real attempt at humor. It felt like they were trying to pull off a low-key style of humor but just fumbled the ball. The other thing was the acting. Considering the horrific life-or-death situation, the characters did not seem very afraid outside of their death sequences. The actors seemed to really try when they were about to be knocked off, but there was no general sense of fear.

Ultimately, The Banana Splits movie was just another mediocre horror film. If you, like me, enjoy mediocre horror films, then this is for you. But it is not a film likely to appeal to a wider audience. When you boil it down, this is a low-budget slasher. The bad guys are just robots instead of people. Maybe it is different for people who watched the original Banana Splits show, but considering it is a 50-year old program there are probably not many people still around who fit into that category.

September 29, 2019