HALLOWEEN OF HORROR REVIEW: HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1999)

CAST

Geoffrey Rush (Shakespeare In Love)
Famke Janssen (X-Men)
Ali Larter (Heroes)
Taye Diggs (Basic)
Peter Gallagher (American Beauty)
Chris Kattan (Undercovr Brother)
Bridgette Wilson-Sampras (Billy Madison)
Max Perlich (Blow)
Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator)
James Marsters (Caprica)

Still from House on Haunted Hill (1999)

The head of a now abandoned asylum, Dr. Richard B. Vannacutt (Jeffrey Combs), once performed grotesque experiments on the patients, killing many in the process. The hospital was closed in 1931 after the patients escaped from their cells, killing the entire staff (except five who were not present) and setting fire to the hospital. Vannacutt had rigged the building with numerous iron gates, activated by cranks and levers that cannot be reset for twelve hours, to keep patients from escaping. He closed the gates during the fire, dooming the patients and himself to death. Decades later, during reconstruction of the facility, several unexplained deaths result in the building being dubbed “The House on Haunted Hill”.
Still from House on Haunted Hill (1999)
In 1999, Evelyn Stockard-Price (Famke Janssen), a spoiled trophy wife, is in a disintegrating marriage with Steven Price (Geoffrey Rush), an amusement park mogul with a wicked sense of humor. Price leases the house from the owner, Watson Pritchett (Chris Kattan), for Evelyn’s birthday party. Evelyn gives Price a lengthy guest list; he shreds it to spite her and then creates one of his own. Five guests arrive for the party – Jennifer Jenzen (Ali Larter), Eddie Baker (Taye Diggs), Melissa Margaret Marr (Bridgette Wilson), Dr. Donald Blackburn (Peter Gallagher), and Pritchett himself. The guests are not the ones Price invited—neither Evelyn nor Price know who they are. Despite this, Price continues the party’s theme, offering $1 million to each guest who stays in the house and survives until morning, with any person not making it having his money added to the pot.

The security gates are tripped, locking everyone inside. After finding some hand guns, Jennifer, Eddie and Pritchett decide to take one of the guns. Meanwhile, Price scolds Carl Schecter (Max Perlich), a company employee – who has developed a series of harmless traps to scare the guests— for not letting him know he planned to pull a stunt like closing the iron gates. When Schecter states that he is not responsible, Price believes Evelyn is responsible. Meanwhile, Pritchett, Eddie and Jennifer go into the lower levels to find a way to open the gates. As Eddie and Jennifer explore the dungeon-like basement, Jennifer confesses to Eddie that her real name is Sara Wolfe, and that she’s an out-of-work assistant to the real Jennifer Jenzen. And that she attended the party in Jennifer’s place because she needed the prize money. However, the two are separated, and Sara is nearly drowned in tank of blood by a ghost impersonating Eddie. Though the real Eddie arrives in time to save her.

Melissa disappears when she wanders off in the basement, leaving behind a massive trail of blood. After Melissa’s disappearance, Price goes to Schecter to accuse him of faking the killing and hiding her; when he turns the seat around Schecter is found brutally murdered. Price sees a doctor walking through the room with a bloody knife on a surveillance monitor and fruitlessly chases after him. Shortly after, Evelyn dies in front of the others, when they find her mysteriously strapped onto a hypercharged electroshock therapy table. Furious, Price pulls a gun on the guests, demanding to know which one of them killed his wife. Sara nearly shoots him, but Eddie knocks him out before either one can kill the other. The remaining guests lock Price in the “Saturation Chamber”, an archaic device that Vannacut used to treat schizophrenics. Blackburn volunteers to stay behind to guard Price, while the others search for another way out. Seemingly clueless as to what the machine is or how it works, Blackburn turns the chamber on with Price still inside, and leaves him trapped. The chamber bombards Price with moving images and ghostly hallucinations until it drives him catatonic.

Meanwhile, Sara and Eddie find Vannacut’s office. Inside, they find a portrait of all the head staff, most of which have their last names, as well Price’s and Evelyn’s maiden name, on a staff picture from the asylum. Pritchett explains that that the spirits themselves created the guest list specifically to include the descendants of the five members of Vannacutt’s staff who did not die in the 1931 incident. The only exception is Blackburn, whose name does not appear amongst the staff.

Blackburn is revealed as Evelyn’s lover and they are working together to kill Price. Evelyn, who was brought back to life by Blackburn, kills him and uses his body to frame her husband. Sara, who heard Melissa moaning in the basement, comes across an incoherent Price in the basement, still delirious from his “treatment” in the saturation chamber. Believing that he is Blackburn’s murderer, shoots him as he begs her to help him. After the others return upstairs, Evelyn approaches Price to gloat, and Price, protected by a bullet-proof vest, attempts to kill Evelyn. The two scuffle before Price throws her through a decaying door. Inside the rotting room, the two realize they just stumbled upon the evil core of the house. The Darkness – a dark, shape-shifting creature composed of the spirits in the house – awakens and begins to take form. Evelyn is captured by the Darkness, which assimilates Evelyn into itself, killing her while Price watches in horror. The Darkness emerges in front of Price, revealing that it is composed of “everyone who died and is responsible”. This force begins to pursue Price. Pritchett is killed by The Darkness, allowing Price to evade it. Price tells Sara and Eddie that “the house is alive” and deduces that the only way to get out is through the attic. The three flee as The Darkness begins to seep through the house, manipulating the walls and shattering the floors as it chases them.

As they flee, Sara trips, and the Darkness uses Melissa’s form to try to lure her to it. Price activates a pulley that reveals an opening in the window of the attic. When the Darkness seeps into the attic, Price sacrifices himself to give the others time to escape, but the Darkness reactivates the iron gate after Sara escapes, trapping Eddie inside. When The Darkness confronts Eddie about his ancestor’s actions, it takes on several forms of all the guests who died during the party. Eddie screams out of desperation that he was actually adopted. As the Darkness prepares to assimilate Eddie, Pritchett’s ghost appears and opens the iron gate. The Darkness is distracted by Pritchett long enough for Eddie to escape out the window to Sara on an outside ledge. Pritchett’s ghost and the Darkness then both fade away. As Sara and Eddie watch the sun rise, they notice an envelope on the ledge. It contains all five $1 million checks, made out to cash. After the credits, a black-and-white film shows the patients torturing Evelyn and Price in the afterlife.

Overall the film starts like any other Hollywood horror but the clever direction, creepy music and imaginative visuals of Dr Vannacutt all create a creepy feel to the film that is better than the gore that also comes. The final section slides back into standard fare with the old CGI evil coming to get us – but up till then it’s surprisingly good stuff.

REVIEW: NEW GIRL – SEASON 3

Starring

Zooey Deschanel (Bridge to Terabithia)
Jake Johnson (Jurrasic World)
Max Greenfield (Veronica Mars)
Lamorne Morris (Game Night)
Hannah Simone (Oldboy)

Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson in New Girl (2011)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Merritt Weaver (Signs)
Dreama Walker (Compliance)
Eva Amurri Martino (Saved)
Curtis Armstronng (American Dad)
Brenda Song (Dads)
Riki Lindhome (The Lego Batman Movie)
Jon Lovitz (Happiness)
Taye Diggs (Go)
Damon Wayans Jr. (Let’s Be Cops)
Jessica Chaffin (The HEat)
Brian Posehn (The Big Bang Theory)
Bob Gunton (Daredevil)
Gillian Vigman (The Hangover)
Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween)
Ben Falcone (Enough Said)
June Diane Raphael (Year One0
Josh Gad (Frozen)
Prince (Graffiti Bridge)
Adam Brody (Jennifer’s Body)
Mary Elizabeth Ellis (Santa Clarita Diet)
Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip)
Linda Cardellini (Scooby-Doo)
Alexandra Daddario (Baywatch)
Stevie Nelson (The Mad Ones)
Kerri Kenney (Wanderlust)
Rob Reiner (EDTV)

Zooey Deschanel, Mark Proksch, Angela Kinsey, and Dreama Walker in New Girl (2011)Coach’s return was a little unexpected, there was already a great ensemble, why mess with it? For those who don’t know, Coach was one of the original characters from the pilot. Wayans’s was already cast in Happy Endings, but with Happy Endings suffering in the ratings, it was expected to be cancelled, leaving Wayans’s free to find another role. It didn’t get cancelled, and New Girl even benefited with the addition of Winston. Eventually, Happy Endings was cancelled, and Coach comes back. Coach’s return to, guess what, coaching was inspired, and his slight change in focus really benefits both him and Schmidt, as well as the show as a whole. By the end of the season, it feels like Coach has always been there!Max Greenfield and Jake Johnson in New Girl (2011)Then there is Winston. It really is a testament to Lamorne Morris’s ability as an actor and comic that he has got so much out of character that doesn’t really have much to do. I think he’s one of the least developed characters, and with so much focus on Nick & Jess, the re-introduction of Coach and Schmidt’s all round issues, he’s left to fill out episode storylines without getting much development himself. The comic relief Winston provides is necessary to balance out the drama with the other characters, but it’s a shame so much of it is just short story arcs or lasts just a single episode. If there’s any area I’d like season 4 to develop, it’s Winston. There is just too much talent and comedy to ignore.Zooey Deschanel, Max Greenfield, Damon Wayans Jr., Lamorne Morris, and Jake Johnson in New Girl (2011)New Girl continues its solid track record, producing a classic relationship season without losing the fact it’s a comedy at heart. Well executed by all involved.

REVIEW: GO

CAST

Katie Holmes (Batman Begins)
Sarah Polley (Mr. Nobody)
Scott Wolf (V)
Jay Mohr (Small Soldiers)
Timothy Olyphant (Hitman)
Suzanne Krull (Mousehunt)
Desmond Askew (Roswell)
William Fichtner (The Dark Knight)
Taye Diggs (Chicago)
Breckin Meyer (Garfield)
Melissa McCarthy (The Boss)
Katharine Towne (Evolution)

Told from three perspectives, a story of a bunch of young Californians trying to get some cash, do and deal some drugs, score money and sex in Las Vegas, and generally experience the rush of lifeThis movie is absolutely brilliant. Take one eighteen-year old,sulky, skint supermarket cashier named Ronna, thrown in a stoner friend-Mannie, a concerned friend-Claire, an angry drug dealer, some chewable aspirin and a drugs bust and you have the first story. She faces the choice of either being evicted or dealing drugs to get some money- but everything seems to go wrong. This is undoubtedly the best of the three mini-tales. A. Katie Holmes’ Claire is just a badass.  Timothy Olyphant is suitably scary, funny and horny as drug dealer Todd.The second story revolves around Simon, an English guy going for a weekend in Vegas with some mates. This story involves group sex, tantric sexuality, a strip joint, a sexy red car, a car chase and Simon running through the hotel butt naked. Simon is the daft stoner who is always getting himself and his friends into bother and he succeeds big time, managing to piss off half Las Vegas in the space of a few hours! This story will having you crying with laughter and falling off your seat with anticipation. Simon is lovable and dorky, and you can’t help laughing at his stupid remarks and antics.The third story revolves around Adam and Zack, a pair of gay actors who try to bust Ronna in order to get out of a charge themselves. However the cop they are working for, Burke, keeps hitting on them for some reason. They whinge and bitch at each other for a while and then they get involved in a ‘little accident’. This story is the least active but it makes up for it in the amusement stakes. Jay Mohr (Zack) and Scott Wolf (Adam).astonishing-x-men-gifted-20100915105837328-000Go is confusing the first time you watch it, the second time around, it rocks. Throw in a brilliant soundtrack, a bunch of charismatic characters and a real ‘culty’ feel and you have a totally unmissable independent movie.

REVIEW: BASIC

CAST

John Tarvolta (The Punisher)
Samuel L. Jackson (The Legend of Tarzan)
Connie Nielsen (Gladiator)
Tim Daly (Superman: TAS)
Giovanni Ribisi (Ted)
Brian Van Holt (S.W.A.T.)
Taye Diggs (Chicago)
Dash Mihok (Gotham)
Cristián de la Fuente (Driven)

In Panama, a team of Army Ranger trainees and their instructor, Master Sergeant Nathan West (Samuel L. Jackson), engage in a training exercise: navigate the jungle in hurricane conditions using live fire to hit targets before rendezvousing at a bunker. Later, a rescue chopper sees Sergeant Ray Dunbar emerge from the jungle, carrying wounded Second Lieutenant Levi Kendall. The two men are pursued by a third soldier, Sergeant Mueller, who is shooting at them. Dunbar kills Mueller in self-defense. Although no other bodies are found, the rest of West’s team are presumed dead.
Dunbar refuses to talk to Captain Julia Osborne (Connie Nielsen). Instead he insists on speaking to a fellow Ranger from outside the base and draws an “8” inside a circle on a piece of paper. Spooked on seeing the “8”, base commander Colonel Bill Styles (Timothy Daly), calls in an experienced interrogator and friend, DEA agent Tom Hardy (John Travolta) who is also an ex-Ranger. Even though he is now under investigation for suspicion of bribery, Styles assigns him to Osborne. The pair have only 6 hours before the CID transport from Washington arrives to take Dunbar and Kendall away.

Dunbar’s story

Hardy begins by revealing to Dunbar during the initial interrogation that he served under West as a Ranger. He also mentions that he knows West is infamous for being a ruthless, tough-as-nails sergeant.
Dunbar relates that another trainee who went on the Panama training mission with Dunbar, Kendall, Mueller and two others, Nuñez and Castro, was named Pike. Pike had earned West’s wrath, because West thought he was not following orders. Hardy and Osborne suggest that with plenty of reason to hate West, Pike had motive to murder him. Dunbar refuses to say more. Before Hardy and Osborne leave, Hardy asks for cigarettes because he had “forgotten” them in his car.
 

Kendall’s story

Hardy and Osborne then go to see Kendall, son of a Joint Chiefs of Staff general, recovering from gunshot wounds. At the hospital, Hardy runs into Dr. Peter Vilmer (Harry Connick Jr.), an old friend and Osborne’s former love interest. Kendall, after recognizing Hardy as “the DEA agent with friends in low places”, reveals he is a homosexual and claims West hated him because of it, and that West silently threatened his life shortly before the mission began, partnering him with Castro for the mission, and feared West may have ordered Castro to give him a “training accident”.
 
Kendall claims West died when hit in the back with a white phosphorus grenade and that Pike confessed to the crime, thinking his comrades would be “on board” with him in support. However, the team decided to turn Pike in. In the night, Pike tried to gain Kendall’s sympathies, playing on their mutual hatred of West. Pike proposed killing Mueller and Nunez and convincing Dunbar and Castro to back them up. Kendall dismissed Pike’s suggestion, but later spots Pike whispering to Dunbar. Kendall says Dunbar went back to his bag, extracted his pistol and aimed it at the sleeping Mueller. A firefight ensued, and Mueller shot Castro, who fired and hit Nunez, Kendall and Pike. Nunez and Pike die and Kendall is wounded. Dunbar then carried Kendall, exchanging fire with Mueller to the pickup point, as seen at the start of the film. Asked why Dunbar would rescue him, Kendall suggests maybe Dunbar expected him to cover for him in gratitude.

Dunbar’s second story

Dunbar, now accused of murder, says Kendall is lying and claims he didn’t shoot West. Hardy notes Kendall claimed West died from a grenade, not shooting. Dunbar claims Mueller and Castro were selling prescription drug kits called “combat cocktails” to help dull physical pain and sharpen the mind; that Mueller shot West, who became aware of their drug dealing, and claims Mueller then used Pike’s grenade, stolen from his pack earlier. At the bunker, Mueller tried to pin the blame on Pike, but Pike pointed out evidence throwing suspicion on Mueller. A fierce argument ensued and Mueller executed Pike. A firefight broke out and Castro and Nunez die. Dunbar rescued Kendall and during the pursuit killed Mueller before the helicopter pickup. Dunbar provides proof of the drug-dealing operation, and states Vilmer supplied the drugs to Mueller and Kendall.
 

Kendall’s second story

Osborne and Hardy return to the hospital and speak with Dr. Vilmer, who admits that he distributed drugs to Mueller and Kendall and that he falsified drug tests so the soldiers would come up clean. Vilmer is placed under arrest. After his case discussion with them, Styles orders Osborne and Hardy to not talk to Kendall again.
 
But Hardy and Osborne confront Kendall, who is acting very strangely and refuses to give them any useful information, such as why he pinned the three murders on Dunbar. However, Kendall, still claiming that Dunbar was the guilty party, forces them to ask Dunbar about “all the murders he’s covered up for his drug dealer”. They soon discovered that they planned the murder on West, and after a brief chat between Hardy and Osborne, with Kendall still making fun of the two, they are threatening to charge him with the crime as an accessory, which he does not want any part of it, and Kendall continues to laugh at them, thinking that they got nothing on him. Suddenly, while Osborne tells Kendall that they find one of the dead bodies, Hardy noticed him beginning to bleed out of his ears, and calls for a nurse. While Osborne is trying to hold Kendall, he suddenly starts vomiting blood, and abruptly dies. Before he dies, he uses his blood soaked finger to draw on Osborne’s palm what she thinks is the sign of infinity. Shortly after, she realizes it is an 8. She shows this to Hardy, who indicates ignorance of its significance. She suspects he knows. After a brief physical fight, he takes her aside and explains the conversation he had earlier with Styles. There is rumored to be a group of ex-Rangers in Panama, trained under West, who turned rogue and became drug-dealers. They call themselves Section 8.
 
Styles is furious that Osborne and Hardy talked to Kendall a second time after he explicitly ordered them not to. He relieves Osborne of duty and asks Hardy to leave. He informs them that Dunbar and Vilmer will be taken away shortly on the transport plane that has arrived from the U.S. and he considers the investigation closed.
 
At the stockade, Vilmer casually observes to Hardy and Osborne that he will be on the same plane with Pike. Hardy corrects him, saying that he’ll be on the same plane as Dunbar, but Vilmer says that’s not right. He reveals that Ray Dunbar is black. The white “Dunbar” Hardy and Osborne have been questioning is in fact Pike, the man whom West antagonized during training (according to his own story). Pike had switched his tags with Dunbar’s, in order to throw off the local authorities and disappear, after being transported for trial. Hardy and Osborne rush back to the base just as Pike is being taken onto a transport plane. Hardy grabs Pike, but not before he grabs a gun from one of the guards, and holds his face dangerously close to the plane’s whirling propeller. The two engage in a brief screaming match, although what they say is inaudible. Pike then drops to his knees, out of breath. Afterward, Hardy and Osborne lead Pike away to interrogate him again now that they know the truth.
 

Pike’s final explanation

In Pike’s new story, West was not shot, and he claims West knew about the main operation going on at the base: cocaine smuggling. He claims West confronted the Rangers in the bunker and told them that he would turn them in to authorities in the morning and tell Styles everything. A brief Mexican standoff ensued and West escaped the bunker. Nuñez chased after him and was shot by West. Shortly after, Castro and Mueller went looking for West, Pike found Dunbar dead, West shot Kendall, wounding him, and tried to convince Pike to give himself up. Pike says Mueller managed to kill West, that he then shot at Mueller, and knowing that he would be blamed if West died, took Dunbar’s dog tags. It is still established that he managed to escape, carried Kendall through the jungle, killed Mueller and was picked up by the helicopter.As proof, he gives Hardy, Osborne and Styles the number of a crate where Vilmer had stowed cocaine, and they open it.
 
Hardy then talks to Styles alone. He asks why West wouldn’t tell Styles about the drugs as soon as he suspected something. He then accuses Styles of lying, and believes West did in fact go to him, but that Styles was behind the drug dealing operation the whole time; that rather than side with West, Styles ordered Mueller and Kendall to kill him in the jungle and then poisoned Kendall afterward to keep him quiet. Osborne, meanwhile, approaching the office, overhears, and secretly listens. Styles laughs off the accusations, but as Hardy starts to leave by turning him to the authorities, Styles offers him a percentage of the operation, once he’s back in business, in order to keep his mouth shut. Hardy, realizing that Styles has been involved in this whole operation all along, says he’ll have to think about it and turns to leave. Styles draws his weapon to force Hardy to accept his offer, but is killed by Osborne.
 

Final twist and explanation

After the Military Police wrap up the investigation into Styles’ shooting, Osborne is about to leave the base for the night and Hardy tells her that everything’s fine and all they have to do, concerning the shooting, is “Tell the story right.” Osborne recalls hearing that phrase during both Kendall and Pike’s stories, describing how members of the conspiracy planned to cover up West’s death.
 
Osborne suspects Hardy may be involved, especially since he hated West and because Section 8 contains West’s former trainees. She tails him out of the base, and sees Pike run out from some roadside bushes and get into Hardy’s jeep. She follows them by car, and then by foot through the streets of Panama City crowded with costumed revelers and watches as the two of them enter a doorway with a big eight ball hanging above it, revealing it as their headquarters. Osborne sneaks through a long hallway, down a flight of stairs, and up behind Hardy and Pike, with her weapon drawn, believing that they are behind both Section 8 and West’s murder. Then West, very much alive, walks up behind her. Castro, Dunbar and Nuñez are also there, fixing breakfast. Hardy reveals them as his colleagues.
 
They reveal to Osborne that Section 8 is actually a black-ops anti-drug unit led by Tom Hardy (who is addressed as “Colonel”). The “Section-8” insane-mercenary story is a cover to spook the cartels. “Dunbar”, “Castro”, “Nuñez” and “Pike” (not their names) infiltrated the base to investigate the cocaine trafficking that was going on, and discovered Mueller, Kendall and Vilmer were responsible. West, not realizing Styles was also involved, informed him of the findings. Styles responded by ordering Mueller and Kendall to kill West. The training mission ordered by West was in fact a covert Section-8 set-up to get rid of Mueller and Kendall, faking West’s death (in order to transfer him to Section 8) and Hardy had been called to the base by the coded message from “Dunbar” to confirm Styles’ and Vilmer’s involvement. West and Hardy then offer Osborne a job.
Basic is an interesting military mystery thriller, strong, convincing performances by the leads helps sell it, combined with a twisting story. That arguably is a little bit confusing at times, while your interpretation of the film come the finale, will hinge on the ending itself.

REVIEW: THE SUPER HERO SQUAD SHOW – SEASON 1-2

CAST (VOICES)

Charlie Adler (Wall-e)
Alimi Ballard (Sabrina: TTW)
Steven Blum (Wolverine and the X-Men)
Dave Boat (Ultimate Spider-Man)
Jim Cummings (Darkwing Duck)
Grey DeLisle (The Fairly Oddparents)
Mikey Kelley (Gravity Falls)
Tom Kenny (The Batman)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)
Tara Strong (Batman: The Killing Joke)
Travis Willingham (Dragon Ball Z)

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RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Shawn Ashmore (X-Men)
Dee Bradley Baker (American Dad)
John Barrowman (Arrow)
A.J. Buckley (Disturbing Behavior)
Ty Burrell (Muppets Most Wanted)
LeVar Burton (Star Trek: TNG)
Taye Diggs (Private Practice)
Michael Dorn (Ted 2)
Suisan Eisenberg (Justice League)
Carl Lumbly (Alias)
Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: TNG)
Greg Grunberg (Heroes)
Nika Futterman (Futurama)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)
Tricia Helfer (Powers)
Cheryl Hines (The Ugly Truth)
Josh Keaton (Justice League: Gods and Monsters)
Wayne Knight (3rd rock from The Sun)
Maurice LaMarche (Futurama)
Phil LaMar (Free Enterprise)
Jane Lynch (Glee)
Jason Marsden (Full House)
James Marsters (Smallville)
Jennifer Morrison (Urban Legends 2)
Scott Menville (Teen Titans)
Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
Adrian Pasdar (Heroes)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica)
Kevin Sorbo (Hercules: TLJ)
Ray Stevenson (Divergent)
Fred Stoller (Little Man)
George Takei (Star Trek)
Cree Summer (Batman Beyond)
Michelle Trachtenberg (17 again)
Hynden Walch (The Batman)
Jim Ward (Danny Phantom)
Adam West (Batman 60s)
Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries)

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When I saw a preview of The Super Hero Squad Show back in February of 2009, I thought it looked pretty interesting, but certainly aimed at the kiddies, and as it aired on Cartoon Network, I never saw an episode. In fact, I forgot all about it, and when I got my hands on this disc, I thought it was an animated take on the old Fisher-Price Marvel kiddie figures. So I had no expectations coming in. Well, my only expectation being that it would be bad. So it was with a good deal of shock that I found it to be a pretty entertaining action-comedy series, if you don’t mind the cheese-level of many of the jokes.MV5BMTY4MzMzMzM2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTE2OTc3MjE@._V1_The Super Hero Squad (sort of a loose version of the Avengers) is made up of an assortment of Marvel heroes, including Iron Man (as the leader), Captain America (who provides aid on a regular basis), Wolverine (adding the X-Men’s popularity,) The Hulk, Thor, a spacey surfer-dude version of the Silver Surfer, and Falcon (obviously added to bring some diversity.) Joining them is the mostly unknown Reptil (a dinosaur-powered bit player from the Avengers comics) who is both a young guy and Hispanic, helping fill out the P.C. scorecard a bit more and give younger viewers a stand-in.  They go up against Doctor Doom and his legion of bad guys (and ineffective henchmen), as he searches for the Infinity fractals, shards of the Infinity Sword (which seems connected to the Infinity Gems of the Infinity Gauntlet. Infinity.)MV5BMTUwMzc1OTEzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjU3MDg3MjE@._V1_Though the storylines are pretty solid and offer big action-packed battles, the bulk of the show is comedy, with the character’s out-sized personalities carrying the jokes, be it Thor’s overwhelming concern about his appearance or Captain America being stuck in the ’40s. Maybe I don’t give kids a lot of credit, but I can see a large portion of these gags flying over their heads, which will make the show far more enjoyable for adults than one would have expected. There was more than one joke that got a genuine laugh out of me, though many of them rely on bodily functions or pratfalls for the punchline. The wordplay and character-generated jokes are much more entertaining and fun, especially Thor’s Asgardian versions of modern language, the Silver Surfer’s alien view of Earth life, and anything involving the always-ridiculous floating head known as M.O.D.O.K. (voiced hilariously by Tom Kenny.) One joke about the Hulk swallowing a yo-yo is technically genius. The only thing about the show that doesn’t really work is Reptil, who feels like the Poochie of the show, coming off as a bone tossed to kids, with his dino-focused power, youthful role and extreme behavior.MV5BNzQ1MjI0NzUzOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzk1OTc3MjE@._V1_This version of the Marvel Universe smartly keeps the same look for its characters, giving long-time Marvel fans an in for the series, but presents them in a super-deformed style (squat bodies, large heads and feet, four fingers) that’s kid-cartoon friendly and which easily separates it from any other version of the Universe you’ve ever seen. That way, there are no issues with continuity or previous incarnations, and the show can be enjoyed on its own merits (allowing them to do something like make Dr. Strange a complete lunatic.) That’s a good thing, because the show is loaded to the gills with fan-service goodies, like the episode titles (which reference famous comic titles) and title cards which replicate memorable cover art. The show also pulls characters from the depths of the Marvel roster, like Screaming Mimi and the Melter, and having silly cartoon fun with them. Taken simply as a silly, almost What The–?! treatment of the characters, it’s well worth a look for comic-book fans out of grade school.MV5BMjM1ODQ2NDUxNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjk1OTc3MjE@._V1_On a non-story note, the theme song, provided by Parry Gripp of Nerf Herder, is an energetic blast, while the voice cast for this series has to be one of the best for a non-prime time animated series, with tons of veterans of the cartoon industry, like Kenny, Tara Strong, Jess Harnell, Grey DeLisle, Cree Summer and Charlie Adler, along with plenty of genre stars, including Robert Englund, Tricia Helfer, Jennifer Morrison and Adrian Pasdar. It’s rare to see a show like this pull this kind of voice cast.MV5BNzQ1MjI0NzUzOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzk1OTc3MjE@._V1_The overall plot of the cycle will feature the villain Thanos seeking the six stones of the Infinity Gauntlet, a powerful cosmic weapon. Opposing him will be the titular Super Hero Squad, which is made up of goofball takes on Iron Man, Thor, Falcon, Wolverine, Hulk, Ms. Marvel, original character Reptil, Scarlet Witch, and sometimes Captain America. While the first two shows focus specifically on the Thanos plot, other episodes detour into one-off excursions. For instance, “World War Witch!” takes the heroes back in time to when Cap was fighting the Red Skull alongside the Invaders in WWII, while “Support Your Local Sky-Father!” pits Olympus vs. Asgard, and it features the Marvel Universe rendition of Hercules.