Reviewing Hell: The Shannara Chronicles Episodes 3-4

A lot television shows struggle after the first few episodes. In those first few episodes, you have to so much to do: introduce characters, build a world, establish tone, etc., that it’s easy to carry the first few hours along. Then the hard work begins: you have to come up with new stories every week.

The Shannara Chronicles seems to be settling into its week to week episodes fairly well. The show is beginning to establish a “demon of the week” pattern, where our trio of dreamy adventurers will confront and overcome a demon: the fury in episode 3, the Changeling in episode 4, and it seems like the Reaper in episode 5. Throw in the quest motif, and it seems like the series will be able to keep things moving nicely along.

General atmosphere/demonic spookiness: Lots of demons, special effects, and elfstone magic. The show has kept things brisk and exciting, and the demons seem like enough of a threat to keep the action moving forward. I’m worried that if our heroes keep defeating the demons so easily, they won’t come across as very demonic. Perhaps once more demons escape and threaten the kingdom with some demon armies . . .

Faithfulness to the book: At this point, The Shannara Chronicles is completely off-script from the book. In the books, Eretria isn’t always hanging out with our other two heroes Wil and Amberle. In the show, they’ve gone to convoluted lengths to get them all on screen at once. They’ve also greatly beefed up Eretria’s father’s role. These are probably good additions. You can’t have a love triangle unless it’s triangle-ing.

All in all, The Shannara Chornicles has been a good demon show through 4 episodes. It presents a new kind of demon on screen, and it’s interesting to see a fantasy world where demons (and not dragons or orcs) are the enemies. I hope they can keep up the momentum.

Score: 7.5 out of 10 demons.

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Reviewing Hell: The Shannara Chronicles, Episodes 1-2

It may strike you as odd to see a review of The Shannara Chronicles here at Hell Mythos, but Terry Brooks’ fantasy series is heavily rooted in the demonic. *Light spoilers follow*: the main antagonists in Elfstones of Shannara, the novel The Shannara Chronicles are based on, are demons, and Brooks linked those demons to our our own world in his World and Void Trilogy. Those books start with Running with the Demon (review up shortly), and are super demon-focused. So, all in all, Shannara is deeply inflected by visions of demons. As such, it goes up here at Hell Mythos!

It’s also the golden age of demonic-themed TV shows in January 2016: Lucifer debuts later this month. I’ll also do weekly reviews of that series once it starts. I’ll be interested to see if such Hellish television can be successful.

So how is The Shannara Chronicles? I won’t use my standard  rating criteria until the season is over, but here are my thoughts on the first episode:

General atmosphere/demonic spookiness: This is where the series shines. The landscapes are beautiful, complete with well done CGI to keep the vistas impressive. Since Shannara takes place in our world after technology has fallen, we get a good amount of wrecked buildings, roads, etc., amidst the bright green landscape. The first episode showed an impressive range of locales as well.

The demons were equally impressive and frightening. In the first episode alone, we get numerous demons and even a full-fledged demon fight. That’s a far cry from Game of Thrones‘s slow burn with their supernatural enemies. I thought the demons looked good, even if the CGI was a little on the fake-side in a few scenes. The design of the Dagda Mor was genuinely disturbing (influenced by Hellraiser). I look forward to seeing more of them.

Plot/action:Shannara is more of a straightforward epic quest than Game of Thrones. There was a little too much exposition in this first episode (there has to be to explain a complex fantasy world), but plenty happened. It looks like Shannara will be very fast-paced, which should help the series out.

Acting: The knock on The Shannara Chronicles is that it’s the “teenage romance” Game of Thrones, and that certainly is reflected in some of the acting and dialogue. The main characters are the kind of blandly pretty stars you often see: cast more for their looks than for their acting talent. When they’re dealing with each other, they don’t have a lot of chemistry yet. The show also tries too hard (at times way too hard) to sex things up. We’ll have to wait and see if the cast can develop some more chemistry. The actor playing Allanon did an excellent job, to the point that he seemed to be in a different and far more serious show.

Faithfulness to the book: They changed a fair amount from the book, mostly to get us into the action faster. They sped stuff up, gave Amberle an initial boyfriend (why?), gave Allanon a spurned lover (WTF?), and added an early fight with a demon. While the increased romance angle was a little jarring to a fan of the book, I’ll take a wait and see attitude. Overall, the first episode was faithful to the characters and general plot, if not particularly faithful to details. Eretria looks like she’ll have a much bigger role here than in the books.

So, all in all, a promising start to a new series. It’ll be interesting to see if the television show can capture the urgency of the book, and whether or not they can successfully get Terry Brooks’s vision successfully on the screen.

Initial rating: 7.5 out of 10 demons.

Reviewing Hell: Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell, Season 1 (2013)

One of my goals here at Hell Mythos is to explore all aspects of Hell in popular culture, even the comic ones. There’s have been a few standout “funny” depictions of Hell in recent years. I guess Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) kicked this trend off, but we’ve had lots of Hell in South Park, including the South Park movie (1999).

But it might just be the TV show Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell that has set a new standard for an absurdist, comic Hell. Part of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming, this is a live-action sitcom that depicts Hell as an office workplace. Episode are short (11-12 minutes), the special effects crude (red paint and horns), but there’s a madcap zaniness and violence to the series, all underlined by a kind of surreal horror. Whatever else it is, it’s certainly unusual.

The Set-Up: Pretty Face imagines Hell as an office job, with Satan your typical asshole boss grinding down the little man. Our main character is Gary, a completely incompetent demon who messes up every assignment he’s given. He has an intern, Claude, who is far better than him at the job, and each brief episode usually has them trying (and failing) to carry out some damnation related task set by Satan. They have to tempt a baseball player, put on a demonic musical, get Satan’s face on the nickel, etc. Gary messes everything up, Claude succeeds, comedy ensues. 7/10.

Scope: A typical episode has some scenes in Hell, with deliberately crude CGI and your standard office cubicles. Then Gary and Claude will usually held up topside to try and mess around with humans. There’s an endearing quality to the relative lack of money being spent on the series; these aren’t slick Hollywood effects, but their slapdash quality makes the series funnier. This isn’t the first work of the imagination to show Hell as a bureaucracy, but I don’t think I’ve seen Hell depicted as kind of demented Dilbert comic before. 7/10.

Horror: Your Pretty Face is casually horrific. While the aim here is definitely comedy, to make us laugh at the sufferings of our bumbling demons, there’s a desperate undercurrent. Gary sometimes has to go to the “break room,” a cube of whirling blades. Everyone, demons and damned alike, are constantly being tortured. The series can be quite disturbing in its depiction of casual violence, so be warned. 6/10.

Originality: Hell hasn’t been adapted to the sitcom format often, if ever, so you’ve got to get points for that. The different pieces aren’t particularly original—this is part The Office, part Dilbert, part South Park—but putting them together in this way is. 7/10.

Enjoyability: I like this series in short doses. The jokes can get a little repetitive, and it’s more of an absurd diversion than a serious inquiry. If you can get past the effects and are able to laugh at some of the crude jokes, this is a surprisingly solid (if light) contribution to the literature of Hell. 7/10.

Overall: 34/50. This isn’t a classic of Hell literature by any means, but it’s definitely above average take on the afterlife. I’m not sure what it says about Hell that we’re now laughing at it . . .

Reviewing Hell: Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

Hellbound is in an odd position. Hellraiser is an acknowledged horror/Hell classic, but a lot of viewers ignore the rest of the Hellraiser series. That’s understandable: horror movie sequels are notorious for being cash-ins. You take everything that was great about the first movie and then you do it cheaper and worse. By the time you get to Halloween 7 or Nightmare on Elm Street 4 or Hellraiser 8, you’ve lost everything that mattered.

Hellbound isn’t a mindless cash-in. Clive Barker still designed the story, and several of the actors from the first film return. Hellraiser was special because of its unique mix of gore and psychological horror; Hellbound loses some of the psychological angle, but it has an interesting enough version of the underworld to make it worth watching.

Set-Up: Traumatized by the events of the first movie, our heroine Kirsty starts out locked up in a mental ward. She tries to warn everyone, but no one listens. The first half of the movie has too many flashbacks to the first film, but once the story gets going, we find more and more people tortured by the Cenobites and the puzzle-boxes, with plenty of gross-out gore. 7/10.

Scope: Hellraiser takes place on Earth, but the second half of Hellbouund takes our characters to a highly stylized Hell/labyrinth. In my opinion, this is the most interesting part of the movie. The effects suffer a bit, but you’ve got some spooky nightmarish stuff. 8/10.

Horror: This isn’t as scary as Hellraiser, largely because it lacks the psychological elements of the first. The gore is just gore, the scares just scares. Despite this, Pinhead and his hooks are as creepy as ever, even if they have less of an impact the second time around. 7/10.

Originality: You can’t be original by repeating yourself, and that’s exactly what Hellbound does. This is very much a direct sequel, happening immediately after the fist movie. It never really establishes its own identity. Still, the world is disturbing enough that a deeper look at it is intriguing. 6/10.

Enjoyability: All of that said, Hellbound is still a better than average horror film. Some of the gross-out moments are chilling, and seeing more of Pinhead’s Hell is never bad. 7/10.

Total: 35/50. Well worth watching if you liked the first film, and the final decent chapter of the Hellraiser saga. Any true Hell fan owes it to themselves to read The Hellbound Heart and watch Hellraiser and this movie.

Other Takes: There’s a wide range of opinions about Hellbound on WordPress; some like it better than Hellraiser, and some don’t:
Late to the Theater
The Satellite Show
Films and Lice
The Pork-Chop Express

I’m intrigued by the idea this film is better than Hellraiser. I never felt that myself, but I guess you could argue this is a more coherent horror film with more effective pacing; Hellraiser was a short, great film about the Cenobites attached to a somewhat duller film about infidelity. At the least, this is more unified.

Reviewing Hell: The House of Shattered Wings (2015) by Aliette de Bodard

Depending on how you look at it, the recent boom in Urban Fantasy has either been great for Hell literature or problematic. Urban Fantasy started by putting your standard monsters (vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc.) into a present-day setting, often complete with noir trappings and detective plots. As vampires became overused, authors moved on to more exotic creatures, and it wasn’t long before demons and angels joined the fray. This led to an absolute explosion of devilish works. Everything is good, right?

Well, Urban Fantasy thrives by putting the extraordinary into the ordinary, and this has the capacity to diminish the impact of devils, demons, and Hell. If your standard wizard can banish a devil, how impressive are devils? This is why Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings is an interesting and unique take on the genre.

Set-Up: House of Shattered Wings is halfway between a Post-Apocalyptic and an Urban Fantasy novel. It takes place in a ruined Paris where “the Fallen” have taken over. These fallen angels rule by a series of houses, and our book brings us into their power struggles. Lucifer is missing from House Silverspires, and it’s up to our characters to make sense of that. de Bodard’s set-up is thus pretty original: we get a real world setting (Paris), fallen angels, and a nice “everything is ruined” twist. 8/10.

Scope: One of the most intriguing parts of House is that it hints at a broader scope: we have an important character from Vietnam, and he seems to be from that mythology, hinting at a broader range of creatures than just Christian angels. We don’t really get to see those up close and personal (sequel?). In terms of this book, we have a good scope through Paris, but not necessarily the vision of Heaven and Hell you might want from this genre. They spend much of this book looking for for Lucifer, but more as the leader of Silverspires than the lord of the underworld. 7/10.

Horror: Urban Fantasy isn’t really a horror genre. You may have lots of monsters monsters, but the point isn’t cosmic terror. In fact, the opposite often happens, with the monsters being easily controlled. I think this book avoids that trap, and between the ruined city and the fallen angels, we’ve got a nice threat of metaphysical terror running through. 7/10.

Originality: de Bodard deserves high praise here: this is one of the most unusual and original fallen angel stories ever written. Who would think of a ruined Paris filled with the fallen? 10/10.

Enjoyability: I liked the book, but I wanted to love it. Maybe too much is going: mystery, post-apocalypse, angels, house politics, different POVs, drug use, etc. That’s a lot to cram into 300 or so pages, and I think the book suffered for that. When you take risks as an author, you can lose some of the smoothness of the narrative. Maybe de Bodard can patch that up in the sequel. 7/10.

Total: 39/50. A unique take on the Fallen, and a solid contribution to the literature of the afterlife.

Other Takes:
This book has kicked up a lot of interest on WordPress, with other bloggers really liking what de Bodard has done here and others a little more measured:
Read at Midnight
Intellectus Speculativus
SF Bluestocking
Outside of Dogs

“Long Road to Ruin” Free to Download Until Saturday

The first short story from my Hell Mythos series is free to download on Amazon until Saturday. Check it out!

Amazon has a system where you can make each volume free for 5 days every 3 months. I’ll be trying to take advantage of as I can.

Here’s the details on “Long Road to Ruin”:

Long Road Large Cover

Never trust a demon in love. When Beelzebub shows up pregnant and afraid, Moloch has to pick up the pieces. What do you do when a thirty-foot long beetle fallen in love with a pile of rancid eyeballs? You do the only thing you can: you try to turn things to your favor. Can Moloch help Beelzebub’s 412 children escape, and with it start a revolution in Hell?

In the tradition of the Kindle Singles, “Long Road to Ruin” is a bite-sized voyage into the underworld (~40 pages). “Long Road to Ruin” is part of the Hell Mythos, a connected series of short stories, novellas, and novels that tells the inside story of Hell, from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high. Come see the devils as they live their demonic lives, in all their glory, evil, and confusion.

This collection also includes “A Walking Tour of Hell,” a pamphlet designed for the newly damned, and “The Kindness of the Twins,” a stirring call for democratic elections in the underworld.

Reviewing Hell: What Dreams May Come (1978) by Richard Matheson

What Dreams May Come is an intriguing novel about the afterlife. Richard Matheson is best known for his horror writing, including the classics Hell House and I Am Legend. Tonally, What Dreams is different, focusing less on horor and more on life after death. The book is tinged with a more hopeful, optimistic view of the afterlife than the other books and movies I look at here at the Hell Mythos. This is still a classic of the afterlife, even if it isn’t a particularly Hellish book.

Set-Up: If we’re comparing this to Dante, What Dreams May Come is as much Paradiso as it is Inferno, with a lot of its pages spent to developing a coherent, realistic view of Heaven. Matheson even overwhelms us with a 6 page bibliography of spiritualistic references at the end.

The novel starts when Chris dies in a car accident. He’s trapped briefly on Earth, seeing his own funeral and what not, before he’s taken up to “Summerland,” this novel’s version of Heaven. There, he learns about eternal life. Back on Earth, though, his wife has killed herself out of grief, and Chris must descend to the “other place” (i.e. Hell) to rescue her. Think of this as a reverse Divine Comedy: Heaven first, then Hell, with Matheson taking us on the same grand tour of the afterlife that Dante does. In fact, I’d argue that this is the best Dante-esque afterlife novel of the 20th century. 10/10.

Scope: Matheson takes us from Heaven to Hell: how much more scope do you want? Matheson’s main intent, though, is to turn Heaven and Hell into “real” places. Both are depicted here as a continuation of earthly life rather than a more radical break from it. There’s a well-worn tradition of this in American spiritualist literature, of trying to (for lack of a better word) humanize the afterlife. There are pluses and minuses to this strategy: Heaven and Hell come across as fairly pedestrian, but they also come off as more likely. If you’re looking for the grand spectacle of Dante here, you won’t find it. 8/10.

Horror: For all of Matheson’s credentials as a horror writer, horror isn’t the focus of What Dreams May Come. There’s no gore, no fire, no brimstone; when we finally get to Hell, it’s almost purely psychological. Within those limitations, I think Matheson does an excellent job. When Chris confronts his wife in a faded, broken-down version of their own home, things are truly creepy—but more in a “this is awful” than “this is terrifying” fashion. Just be aware this isn’t a horror novel when you go in, and you should be fine. 8/10.

Originality: While this is definitely written in the shadow of Dante, not many 20th century writers have attempted such a broad look at life after death. There aren’t many novels like What Dreams May Come; it stands out as pretty fundamentally different than the other Hell-focused works coming out of the Clive Barker tradition. While it might not be really about Hell, it’s still a fun and original read. 10/10.

Enjoyability: I like What Dreams May Come. It’s brief and too the the point, and the afterlife it constructs is realistic and always interesting. It doesn’t have the same punch-in-the-gut feel of some other Hell works, but that might be unfair to ask of this book. On it’s own terms, as a kind of modern updating of Dante, this is quite enjoyable. 8/10.

Total: 44/50. If I was ranking the books as being the “best books about Heaven and Hell,” it would have scored higher. The Hell bits are buried in the second part of the book, but this is still a very solid novel, well-worth reading.

Other Takes: My fellow bloggers on WordPress haven’t reviewed this book that often; only a few discussions exist. I would have thought with the movie there would have been more interest in Matheson, but live and learn.
Physics and Art
Weekends in Paradelle
BCF Book Reviews
Nashville Book Worm
Coffee and a Book Chick

Several reviewers noted that they liked the film better than the book. Very interesting.