Book Review “Phantasm Exhumed: The Unauthorized Companion”

Author: Dustin McNeill
Paperback: 268 pages
Publisher: Harker Press
Release Date: April 21, 2014

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

Grab your balls horror fans because “Phantasm” is finally getting an amazing behind-the-scenes book coming the franchise. I think “Phantasm” is a horror franchise that never really got the love that it deserved. When the first film came out it was a sleeper hit. The second film had a big budget and wasn’t really given a huge reception with its theatrical release. This led to the third and fourth films to be released direct-to-video at the time. Not that they weren’t successful but in general but I have always felt the series never got expanded beyond its core fan base. Again don’t get me wrong it has quite a large core fan base for sure. When I think about “Phantasm”, I go back in time to walking down the horror aisle at the local mom and pop video store looking at each box trying to find something to rent. I remember the first time that I rent “Phantasm” and instantly falling in love. If you have that same experience then I cannot recommend “Phantasm Exhumed” anymore. It is the best (and only) Unauthorized Companion to this series.

I have no idea why it has taken this long to get a book about the making of “Phantasm” series made but author Dustin McNeill has done it. And done it well that is. I literally received this book in the mail and honestly didn’t but it down till I was done with the last page. The book kicks off with an amazing  introduction by the Tall Man himself, Angus Scrimm. There are more than sixty new interviews with cast, crew, effects creators and studio executives. Dustin takes us deep into the behind the scenes of this franchise and history of Phantasm that starts with “Jim the World’s Greatest” to “Kenny & Company” and right through “Phantasm: Ravager”. No that is not a typo BTW, Dustin actually includes the new fifth film that was secretly filmed over the last two years. Some of the long lost production stories are amazing to read in this book and have never before told by the filmmakers.

There are more than 250 rare photographs, many never-before-seen. There is information on deleted scenes and script changes. There is some rally in-depth research and insight into the series’ effects, props & set construction. There are also rare letters, memos, production artifacts and even excerpts from Angus Scrimm’s personal 1977 set journals. This is worth the purchase alone of the book since it has never been released before. What I also love about this book is that besides the films that we know and love. There is also a section focusing on sequels that never came to be like “Phantasm 1999”, the 2005 remake and “Phantasm Forever”. It is cool to be able to get the inside scoop on these as well since there isn’t too much available on those. I would love to someone get Don Coscarelli to somehow release that recorded table reading with the added special effects, this would make many fans very happy.

If you are wondering, how Dustin McNeill has was able to gather all this information about this franchise, he has been a long time fan and he also launched the popular website “Phantasm Archives”. He worked with actor Michael Baldwin personally to return to the convention scene for several cast reunions. He authored an article for the 30th anniversary “Phantasm” retrospective in the best horror magazine of all-time, Horrorhound and much more. This book is literally a half a decade of research but the work pays off in every amazing page of this book. This is Dustin’s first book and I can’t wait to see what he covers next. If you are a fan of “Phantasm” and are looking for an amazing glimpse into the mind of this franchise, pick up “Phantasm Exhumed” and be sure to recommend to your friends as well!

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Book Review “The Guild: The Official Companion”

Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: July 16, 2013

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

If you are a nerd…they you love “The Guild”. Plain and simple. Especially if you are a gamer nerd. Then it should be almost required. I remember “The Guild” dating back to when XBOX Live was just getting into hosting indie video and clips. I started watching it out of the blue and became completely hooked.  The show has come such a long way and has developed so much over it’s last six seasons.  Thanks to Titan Books, who are the best when it comes to fandom, they are hooking us guildies up with the first ever official companion to this amazing web series. They really know how to give the fans what they are looking for because I am sure that they are fans themselves and that is key! I have been following this show since it first started and I was still able to pull new content out of this book. So for me that is a real key factor for enjoying this. So I would have to say that this is a must for any fan of the show.

Official Premise: Since launching in 2007, the comedy web series The Guild has become an Internet phenomenon, with over 150 million views. Created, written by and starring Felicia Day, it follows the story of a Guild of online gamers who finally meet in real life. Here at last is the official companion to the show that fans have been waiting for, featuring an Intro from Felicia, in-depth interviews and scores of photos.

Felicia Day really hit it big co-starring in Joss Whedon’s Internet musical “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog”. Since then she was really taken off and really became a leader of the geek world. She gives a create intro to this book and really stands behind it and to me that is important.  This is not just a cash-in for the series, it is backed by the shows own creator. “The Guild” was a web series but it also paved the way for the future of other web series’. The book really gives great insight into each of our characters, each of the seasons and the fun and craziness that has come out of this show since 2007.  The images in the book range from great to just ok but the overall impressive and very jam-packed layout makes up for any slight resolution issues. Fans will definitely be impressed with this companion book. Hopefully Titan is planning future volumes like they did with other fan favorite show “Firefly”.  Hint Hint!

Tara Bennett talks about her companion book “The Art of Epic”

Tara Bennett is the author of several movie and TV companion books including the upcoming “The Art of Epic“, as well as “The Art of 300”, and “The Art of Terminator Salvation”. She also contributed to the media tie-in books for ‘The Official Firefly Companions Vol. 1, Vol. 2 and Vol. 3’ and ‘Firefly: Celebration’. She has also done interviews and features for print and online publications, including The Walking Dead Magazine, Once Upon a Time Magazine, SCI FI Magazine, Blastr and many more. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Tara about her latest book and her love for pop culture.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you get involved with your latest book “The Art of Epic”?
Tara Bennett: I’ve worked with Titan Books since 2005 when I contributed to their Making of Fantastic Four book. I’ve been blessed to continue working with them over the last decade contributing to their Firefly Companions. As an individual author, I wrote for them all four of the 24: Series Companions, The Art of Terminator Salvation and Terminator Salvation Movie Companion. Late last year, they contacted me about writing The Art of epic and I was thrilled. I’m a long-time animation nut and this was my first opportunity to write a concept to creation book for an animated film so I jumped at the opportunity.

MG: Where you able to see the film “Epic” before working on the companion book?
I had the special opportunity to go to the Blue Sky Studios in Connecticut last September, where I got to meet the entire epic team. While there, I had a fascinating three hour presentation from epic Art Director Mike Knapp, who walked me through the entire conceptual evolution of the film. I got to see all of the concept art featured in the book, watched animatics, partially completed scenes and completed scenes. Just this past February, I got to go back to Blue Sky as part of my coverage for Total Film Magazine and watch about 25 minutes of the completed film. They only locked the entire film around the first week of April so I’m excited to see the final film next week.

MG: After working on “The Art of 300” and “The Art of Terminator Salvation”; how does “The Art of Epic” compare?
The common thread when doing any “art of” book is getting to see the early ideas that are developed for each film. “Art of” books are about documenting the creative path a film takes before it becomes the finished product, so all three books afforded me the opportunity to see, and explain, the design and aesthetic evolution of each film. I graduated with a degree in TV/Radio and Film so behind the scenes stories about making films have always fascinated me and as a professional who worked in the business, I know every project has a very unique story. So that being said, it’s hard to compare those three books because they were all very different types of films. But I think the epic book is unique in showing off the wide array of artists who contributed their ideas for environments, characters looks, costuming and more, and then how their work was all distilled into the final design after a long span of trial and error. I think the book shows off their work beautifully and just how much each design phase inspired what would become the final film.

MG: How much research is required for you to do before authoring these books?
It varies on every project. I do my homework with the materials provided to me by my editor and publisher. Often, I get to do interviews with key members of the production where I really get into the history and the practical decisions surrounding every aspect of making the film. My background and general love of the film and television industry also means I’m already always reading about, or keeping up with, trends and technology so I know the right questions to ask when I get the opportunity. Honestly, it’s the fun part of the job for me.

MG: I am a huge “Firefly” fan, tell us about your work on “The Official Firefly Companions Vol. 1-3” & “Firefly: Celebration”?
Hello fellow Browncoat! Working on all of the Firefly Companions has been an absolute dream. It’s got an incredibly passionate fan base so from the start I knew I would get to write for the real hard core fans who want to know the tiniest details about every aspect of that show which was exciting. Those books are not for a watered-down, mainstream audience; those books are for the true believers and that means I got to geek out in my interviews and with my writing. Also that cast and crew is just such a special collection of people so getting to talk with them and reminisce officially about the show was incredible. It’s always thrilling to meet a new Firefly fan, of which we are legion now and always growing, so those books make me very proud.

MG: Tell us about your print and online work including The Walking Dead Magazine, SCI FI Magazine, Blastr etc?
I’ve been an entertainment journalist full time since 2003 when I transitioned out of television producing into writing full-time. Along with writing books, I also cover television, film and pop culture for an array of online and print outlets. For Titan Magazines, I’ve worked on just about all of their series and film-centric specialty magazines from 2003 to today including most recently The Walking Dead Magazine, Once Upon a Time Collector’s Magazines and Grimm Magazine. I am the east coast editor for SFX Magazine and contributor for Total Film Magazine. I write for SCI FI Magazine. Online, I write for, FEARnet, Blaster and more. I keep myself as diversified as possible because this business is rough and I never know when an outlet might disappear or not need me. Having a lot of places to write for makes my freelancing life a little more stable…if possible.

MG: What is your current obsessions now in pop culture, whether TV, comics, film etc?
Good question. Currently, I’m in Game of Thrones mode. I really love this season and am a little more invested because two of my graduating students work on the series in the visual effects department so their names in the credits every week always makes me smile. The summer movie season is here so I’m excited about Star Trek Into Darkness, epic (obviously), The Wolverine, Elysium and more. I’m a huge The Hunger Games nerd so I’m excited about Catching Fire in the fall. And then the upcoming TV season has some exciting possibilities and I love covering new shows anticipating if any will become one of my new favorites.

MG: What do you have planned next? In terms of “Art of Books”?
The book writing world is extremely mercurial. I’m at the mercy of a publisher or editor knocking on my cyber door to see if I’m available, so nothing is currently on my calendar but I hope something pops up soon and I’ll be back in the trenches again.


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Book Review "Frankenweenie: The Visual Companion"

Author: Mark Salisbury
Reading level: Ages 18 and up
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Disney Editions (February 5, 2013)

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

When I first heard that Tim Burton was making a full-length stop-motion feature remake of his original 80’s short film of the same name. I think I did a back flip.  When I saw the film on the other hand I was a little bit disappointed.  Don’t get me wrong the film was visually amazing.  I am huge fan of the art of stop-motion and I feel that it doesn’t get enough attention that it deserves.  The film has grown on it quite a bit with repeat viewings. There is a lot to this film that can be missed with just one viewing.

Let me tell you after reading through “Frankenweenie: The Visual Companion”, I have more appreciation for the amount of work that was put into this film.  I will be scheduling a screening within the next week to revisit this film again just thanks to this book.  To start off there is a terrific foreword by the man himself Tim Burton.  This project has been a real labor of love for him and it really setup up the pace for this book.  Disney Editions has delivered a absolutely gorgeous hardcover book with some really amazing photos jam-packed throughout. I end up reviewing quite a bit of companion or art-of books for various films or video games and this one literally is one of the best I have seen since “The Art of Tron Legacy”.

When it comes to the author Mark Salisbury, if he is doing a companion or art-of book then I know that it is going to be amazing.  Just in 2012, he also authored “Dark Shadows: The Visual Companion” and “Prometheus: The Art of the Film”.  They were easily two of my favorite in 2012.  If you are looking for an in-depth look at the making of “Frankenweenie”, then you will not be left wanting more there.  There is everything from early sketches, puppets development and tons of amazing behind-the-scenes photography. The film is black and white but this book is packed with great color while still respecting and giving ode to the black and white charm the film carriers.

This book was originally scheduled to be released with the film’s theatrical launch but was pushed back to February, which I guess is time with the recent Blu-ray release.  I have to tell you that this is worth the wait for sure.  It is too bad that this film was not better received since like I said after reading this book, you really have to tip your hat to these talented people that are responsible for this film.  Lastly be sure to take a little peak behind the dust cover for a very nice surprise.  I look forward to future releases from Disney Editions, as they have literally never delivered nothing but perfection.

Book Review “Dark Shadows: The Visual Companion”

Author: Mark Salisbury
Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: November 27, 2012

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

When I first saw Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s “Dark Shadows”, I have to say I was a little let down.  I am very familiar with the 70’s Soap Opera series and I thought this would have been a perfect collaboration for them.  After my second viewing of the film, I enjoyed it a bit more.  Honestly after reading this visual companion, I am feeling very compelled (vampireget it?) to watch this film again. This book literally takes you through every aspect of the film from the characters to the score.  If you have your doubts about this film, I suggest you check out this book it will easily convince you to give the film a chance.

“Dark Shadows: The Visual Companion” is wonderful produced by Titan Books, yet another gem. Author Mark Salisbury was in close cooperation with Tim Burton and the production team during its creation.  It includes a very nice foreword by Depp, an Introduction by Burton and an afterword by the late producer Richard D. Zanuck.  I really enjoyed Zanuck’s words, it is sad that this was his last film but at least from his what he said it seems like he really enjoyed the experience.  Mark Salisbury is the former editor of Britain’s magazine, Empire, and has worked with Burton before including “Alice in Wonderland: A Visual Companion” (one of my favorites) and also on “Burton on Burton”.

Like the film itself, this book really took two going throughs in order to really wow me.  I did my usual quick flip through to see what catches my eye and I though it looked good but not great.  But when I really dug into this book, I realized that it was in fact a great visual companion, as it is titled.  It is jam packed with wonderful photos, concept drawings and production designs.  You really get to learn about the characters and their part in the film.  There are also some great interviews with the cast and crew.  All that would normally be good enough for me but there is still more.  They touch on the visual effects, creating the town of Collinswood and even the score from Danny Elfman.  There is not a detail left out here.  So if you whether you are a fan of this film or a curious party, I highly recommend picking this up.

Book Review “Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion”

Author: PopMatters
Paperback: 496 pages
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: May 1, 2012

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

I am one of the biggest fans of Joss Whedon and this is easily the Essential Guide to the Whedonverse.  I just feel like it more accumulated knowledge from the internet, than an actual bio on his career.  The book runs at almost 500 pages and covers everything in Whedon’s career from his TV Series, Movies, Comic Books and more.

Included within this book are essays and interviews about Whedon’s work and also conversations with key collaborators Jane Espenson and Tim Minear.  Since this book is complied by 40 contributors from PopMatters, I feel that the direction of the book is a little confused.  This is why I am never a real big fan of unofficial companions, it just doesn’t seem like the information is original.  I mean, the book definitely contains EVERYTHING you need to know about Joss Whedon but seems to be miss a proper narrative.

Where you are a fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Angel”, “Firefly”, “Dollhouse”, “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”,  or the upcoming “The Avengers”, this book has it.  I also noticed that there is a lack of illustration in the book.  I would have liked to see images to accompany this vast amount of information.  Even if PopMatters, didn’t have rights to the screenshots, I would have liked to see some fan art…just something to push the book a long.  If you are a die-hard fan of Whedon and his work, you should check this out but don’t expect much besides a bunch of known information about his work.

Book Review “The Cabin in the Woods: The Official Visual Companion”

Author(s): Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: April 17, 2012

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

Joss Whedon is literally a God amongst his fans.  He is the creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”,”Firefly” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog”, just to name a few.  He also wrote/directed a little film called “Marvel’s The Avengers”.  Match that with the genius of Drew Goddard, writer of “Cloverfield” & “Serenity” and you get one of the best horror film of the year.  This book is official visual companion and it is easily the best companion book that I have ever seen.  It is not only caters to fans of Whedon but all horror fans a like.

This book features an amazing 40-pages visual in-depth interview with both Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard.  It simply answers ever single question any fan can have about the film and its production.  It also includes the full screenplay by Whedon and Goddard accompanied by some fantastic production art and hundreds of color photos.  The images included are really high quality and although no hardcover it still looks great.  Lastly the film goes into great details on the film’s creatures, but I will stop there as not to spoil anything.

Be warned if you have not seen this film, do not pick it up prior to watching since it contains mucho spoilers.  If you have seen the film then you can’t pick it up quicker as it is not only super descriptive about the film but it encompasses every aspect a fan can wish for. Overall this book is really well produced by Titan Books, who delivered yet another amazing release.  They are the best when it comes to providing fans with the official visual companions.

Book Review “The Walking Dead Chronicles: The Official Companion Book”

Author: Paul Ruditis
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Abrams
Release Date: October 1, 2011

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

Hey “Walking Dead” fans, this is the first and only authorized, behind-the-scenes guide to your favorite show.  It focuses on the making of the first season of the Golden Globe–nominated TV show.  “The Walking Dead” is a really rare show, it is not your typically television programming yet millions have latched on and love it.  I couldn’t be happier for the show as it honestly deserves it.  Season one is short with only six episodes but that doesn’t mean that this book isn’t packed with content and interesting aspects of the show.

“The Walking Dead Chronicles” is jam packed with amazing illustrated with never-before-seen unit photography, storyboards, set designs, makeup and visual effects shots, and page-to-screen comparisons of the comic and TV show.   It also features new interviews with series creator Robert Kirkman and executive producer Frank Darabont, as well as the cast and crew. Also included is a detailed episode guide, including excerpts from early drafts and final scripts.  Since this show was original based on Kirkman’s comics, it has a lot of room to grow in the future as the comic is still releasing new issues often. This is honestly the best companion book to one of the best shows on television.

This book is guaranteed to satisfy any fan of the show easily.  Paul Ruditis really did a fantastic job of providing a shit load of information as well as making it a very easy read.  Make sure to also check out the fantastic introduction by the creator Robert Kirkman.  I also recommend highly the foreword from Frank Darabont.  They both start off and end this companion book with a bang. If Abrams is reading this review, I have they are going to be releasing a second volume very soon as the second season just ended.


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Book Review “Watching the Watchmen: The Definitive Companion to the Ultimate Graphic Novel”

Author: Dave Gibbons, Chip Kidd, Mike Essl
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: October 21, 2008

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

I have been a huge “Watchmen” fan dating back to the original graphic novels. When the film came out, which I LOVED, I felt like it literally jumped off the pages of the novel. This is the ultimate visual companion to the amazing graphic novels. You know that this book is going to get some love since it is authored by award-winning artist of the “Watchmen” series Dave Gibbons. We get a chance to dive into his profound personal archives. It is really a must own for all fans of the series, no questions.

It is really rare that you are given this candid of a look into new material. I mean you feel like you are sitting looking through Gibbons’ personal diary. Fans of this series you are going to flip out with the reveal of never-published pages, original character designs, page thumbnails, sketcher, alternate posters, covers and rare portfolio art. The detail in the image are just so crystal clear and high quality. It is the kind of book that you are going to look through and then read it completely and then look through it again.

This book had a lot of love put into it and you can tell. With a series like “Watchmen” it has a very loyal fan base and it’s obvious that Gibbons is a really big fan himself. Props need to also go to Chip Kidd and Mike Essl for some amazing design in this book as well. Props should go to Titans Books for continuing supporting this series and releasing book after amazing book keeping this series alive and continuing to deliver new and exciting release to their fans.

Book Review “Firefly: The Official Companion- Volume Two”

Author: Joss Whedon
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: May 8, 2007

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

This the second volume to the official companion of the cult classic TV series “Firefly”. Titan Books released Volume One in 2006 and it was a wonderful ode to the fans of this show.  The book follows in the first volumes path and continues to deliver “Firefly” to its fans.  It is jam packed with new unseen photos and great behind the scenes materials.

Continuing from the first volume, this contains the second half of an extended interview with Joss Whedon, as well as new exclusive interviews with the cast, writers and crewmembers.  In this volume, there are more full, uncut shooting scripts including “Jaynestown” (one of my favorites), “Out of Gas”, “Ariel”, “War Stories”, “Trash”, “The Message”, “Heart of Gold” and “Objects in Space”.  There are also sections on the shows out-of-the-world production design and visual effects. This is where the show really was way advance in its approach and it is great to see it showcased here.

Joss Whedon has really created one hell of a world surrounding this little show and this book manages to complete the circle.  This show is guaranteed to last many years into the future and until it is recreated in some sense.  This book is definitely a great tribute to the fans of the show and will leave them satisfied until then…or at least until the next volume “Firefly: Still Flying” is released.

Book Review “Firefly: The Official Companion- Volume One”

Author: Joss Whedon
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: September 1, 2006

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

I have been a fan of the “Firefly” show since it originally briefly aired on Fox back in 2002. So you can imagine that the fact that they have an official companion to one of my favorites shows must be a thrill. Well the book definitely satisfies my “Firefly” lust. The book is jam packed with exclusive interviews with Joss Whedon, cast, writers and crewmembers. This book is definitely perfect for the mega fans aka the ‘Browncoats’.

There are full, uncut shooting scripts for the following episodes “Serenity”, “The Train Job”, “Bushwacked”, “Shindig”, “Safe” and “Our Mrs. Reynolds”. Each shooting script is backed with comments from both the cast and crews. This is something that is priceless if you are a fan of this series. Normally you would think…just shooting scripts? But this book takes that and builds on it to cater to the fans and deliver a great tribute to a great show.

There are many rare and previously unpublished photos from the show, as well as many great behind-the-scenes images. Also showcased in the book is the amazing production art from the show. One of the great parts of the series are their original props and costumes and this book has photos of both of them which have been shot specifically for this book. Fans of the show should definitely purchase this book if you don’t own it already.

Book Review “Serenity: The Official Visual Companion”

Author: Joss Whedon
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: September 1, 2005

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

“Serenity” is one hell of visual movie and a great follow-up to the “Firefly” TV series. My favorite part of this book is the beautiful movie stills, storyboards and rare pieces of production art. Most of the book consists of the the full shooting script accompanied by these photos. It really brings you into the development of the film. Either way this it is definitely great for the fans of the series and movies.

If you are unaware of the premise for the film it takes place “five hundred years in the future, Captain Mal Reynolds and his crew of the transport-for-hire ship Serenity take on two new passengers and soon find themselves in a crossfire between an invincible military force and cannibalistic savages”. It is written and directed by Joss Whedon, creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”. in his feature film directorial debut. It wasn’t a success at the box office, which I wish it was, so the future fate of the show was mostly lost, though fans have keep it alive in their own way.

This paperback edition includes full color pictures from the movie and looks really sharp. There is a great introduction by Joss Whedon and it is an ode to his fans. Also included is a very in-depth interview with him about the making of the film. One feature I found very neat was the shooting script that is included in the book also includes scenes cut from the final film. There are production and background memos provided by Whedon, which are great to be able to read. Lastly if you really want to emerge yourself in the film there is a great “A Brief History of the Universe”, circa 2507 A.D. Final word: No-brainer for fans.