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COLD MEAT (2023) Review by Steve Kirkham

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COLD MEAT (2023)

3 stars
Signature Entertainment. Digital platforms. Out Now

A drone shot drifts slowly over a snowy forest landscape – the opening voiceover speaks of a Native American legend of evil spirits that come out of the woods. ‘…a wandering soul, seeking human flesh’. A werewolf perhaps or Wendigo?

It’s nearly Christmas time. The weather is closing in.

Ana (Nina Bergman) is a waitress at a roadside diner. The cook has just left due to the incoming storm, so she is about to close up. Bespectacled and slightly nerdy David (Allen Leech) is her last customer. He looks on as her angry husband Vincent (Yan Tula)arrives and starts harassing her. David interjects which riles up Vince even more, but he manages to talk him down as it were, and he leaves without any violence erupting.

Later, the still angry Vince, spots David stopped at a gas station and as he leaves follows him. Thankfully he manages to lose the disgruntled hubby but, by now, the blizzard is in full force, and David skids off the road ploughing into a snow bank and becoming completely stuck. Inevitably, otherwise this would be a very short movie, there is no phone signal to call for help – as the white stuff begins to build up and bury the car, he is faced with being completely trapped and potentially freezing to death. Does he go outside and try and find help or does he stay there and hope someone finds him?

All is not as it seems. What are the noises he can hear? What is out there prowling in the sub zero temperatures? Also the seemingly meek David has a dark secret… to say more would spoil the the twists and turns in this taut thriller

Sebastien Drouin, in his feature directing debut (he is better known as a visual effects supervisor), make good use of a limited setting to wring tension from the situation. You can feel the chill, with a well constructed script written by Drouin with Andrew Desmond and James Kermack, which takes some unexpected turns in this fight for survival and is well acted by the small cast. Drouin also edited the movie. Unfortunately, it overstretches it’s premise and also promises a menace that isn’t fully realised and hence disappoints.

Steve Kirkham

V/H/S/85 (2023). Review by Steve Kirkham

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V/H/S/85 (2023)

3 stars
Acorn Media International. A Shudder Original. DVD, Blu Ray and Digital 4th March

I have to admit I am at a loss why they continue to make these movies, but I guess they must have their fans (and Shudder need content to fill their schedules)… give me a Amicus portmanteau any day of the week. But here it is… another hit or miss collection of shorts from various filmmakers, though it think this one is more miss than hit.

The wraparound – ‘Total copy’ from writer/director David Bruckner (who worked on the original release) is about a strange unknown alien/person/organism. Scientists are studying him/it to find out more about them and their abilities. Has a slightly touch in cheek ending and is intercut with the other segments but overall feels slight.

First up is ‘No Wake’ from Mike Nelson – a bunch of friends go out to the lake to mess about in a boat and try out water skiing, ignoring the sign that says ‘No Swimming’ – something deadly happens. Has the classic found footage annoyance of somebody still filming when they should either be helping out, or getting the hell out of there. Goes nowhere!

Story two is Gigi Saul Guerrero’s ‘God of Death’. Mexico 1985. A morning tv news programme with Lucia de Leon (Gabriel Roel) at the news desk in the studio. Gabriela Maldonado (Gigi Saul Guerrero) is reporting on location at a building complex… then an earthquake hits. Just about justifies continuing filming despite circumstances, as it’s a news outlet. As the survivors try to escape something is uncovered due to the seismic activity and things get bloody and freaky. Quite effective if very shaky.

Next up is Natasha Kermani’s ‘TKNOGD’. A solo female performance artiste rails against the fact that technology is the new god in her stage presentation. She shows a film with a guy demonstrating VR goggles – and she then proceeds to don the same type of gadget and things go awry – but is it part of the performance. Will you care?

Mike Nelson is back with ‘Ambrosia’. A big party – Ruth is the latest in her family to celebrate a long running, odd and deadly tradition – something related to VII which all her other relations have tattooed on them. Inconsequential and unsatisfyingly oblique with the usual found footage, terrible, wobbly camerawork.

Scott Derrickson brings us the intriguing and gory ‘Dreamkill’. A detective on the scene of a brutal and bloody murder thinks he has seen it before on a video tape that they were sent some time ago – which he thought was a staged killing and not real. Then it happens again at another crime scene. How is it possible? One of the better stories here in this fairly disappointing addition to the series.

Much of the footage throughout the film is framed at 4×3, as it would have been back in the day and random scenes are sometimes inserted into the various stories, as if this was all taped onto a previously used VHS. Clever? Or annoying? None of the shorts presented here are particularly successful in delivering either scares or twists in the tale.

Steve Kirkham

DOCTOR JEKYLL (2023). Review by Steve Kirkham

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DOCTOR JEKYLL (2023)

3 stars
Hammer. Digital Download. 11th March

When is a Hammer film not a Hammer film? When it is produced by others and then scooped up to be put out by the newest incarnation of that famous entity as their first release. I have to say it was kind of odd, when watching my review copy, to see Anderson Entertainment as the main producers – though I understand the actual version, when it is available, will feature a new logo for Hammer.

They have history with Robert Louis Stevenson’s much adapted gothic novella – see TWO FACES OF DR JEKYLL (1960), DR JEKYLL & SISTER HYDE (1971) and not forgetting the little seen comedic take THE UGLY DUCKLING (1959).

Rob (Scott Chambers) is aimlessly flicking through tv channels, lounging on the sofa – he lands on PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE… as Vampira leers out of the screen the titles start. Behind the credits various headlines about trans CEO and pharmaceutical billionaire Nina Jekyll (Eddie Izzard) flash across the screen setting up the story that she has gone into hiding.

Much to Rob’s surprise his brother has set up a possible job for him – he dutifully turns up at the remote house of Jekyll for the interview. He needs the work as he has a sick daughter (you know this will be important later) and is out on parole.

Much to his surprise Jekyll warms to him and he gets the job – over the objections of snooty housekeeper Sandra (Lindsay Duncan) with whom his new boss seems to have a slightly contentious relationship. The post is a live-in one and part of his duties are to administer Nina’s drugs. This being a Jekyll/Hyde story you know that may not be a good thing!

Of course before long Rob starts to realise there might be something not quite right with his employer. Now what could that possibly be? The fact that the young man is a bit inept doesn’t help and draws an angry response from Jekyll (or is it?). There is something more going on than what appears on the surface…

Judging by some of the comments I have seen online I quite expected this to be an unmitigated disaster – it isn’t. Is it a classic Hammer outing (whatever that means) – no not really, after all it has a big legacy to live up to. It is however a compellingly told and modern take on the story of duality – I suspect much of the vitriol is because of the starring role given to Izzard. He is however excellent in the lead and plays the subtle character changes without going way over the top (and without disappearing behind the sofa to turn into some kind of grotesque monster). You are never quite sure which personality you are dealing with. Scott Chambers as Ben, captures the naivety of his character well.

It is a bit slow to start with, however it does have some nice comedic touches (crunchy nut cornflakes anyone?) and builds to a suitably bonkers ending. So overall not as bad as expected but perhaps not as good as one would have hoped.

Steve Kirkham

V/H/S 94 (2021) Review by Steve Kirkham

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V/H/S 94 (2021)

Acorn Media International. A Shudder Original. DVD/Blu Ray/Digital. 26th February

3 stars

Fourth in the ongoing series of anthology films, which started in 2012 V/H/S 94 takes the found footage genre and the sometimes grungy look of VHS tapes as its central aesthetic.

It features cut together shorts by various filmmakers, some who have worked on previous outings in the series, plus fresh writers and directors.

The wraparound by Jennifer Reeder, has a cameraman following a SWAT team as they raid a supposed drugs lab and find a bunch of dead people with their eyes ripped out! This is intercut throughout and is messy and pointless.

In the first actual complete story (“Storm Drain”, directed by Chloe Okuno) – a TV reporter, Holly Marciano (Anna Hopkins) and her cameraman enter a sewer to investigate tales of a Rat Man. This is nicely to the point and ends with a suitably gory, if slightly silly, punchline.

Next up is Simon Barrett’s “The Empty Wake” a fairly obvious tale of young Haley (Kyla Legend) being left to babysit a casket containing a body overnight at a funeral home. As a storm rages outside, she begins to think the dead person in the coffin is actually still alive. A so-so story enlivened by good make-up fx.

Best of the bunch is Timo Tjahjanto’s “The Subject” which has a crazy mad scientist desperately trying (and usually failing) to create a cross breed between a human and a mechanical construction. Of course when he succeeds things do not go to plan. Bonkers and wild this is the best shot of the shorts (less grunge and video artefacts overload over the footage) and the gory excess reminded me of those outrageous Japanese films that were all the rage like VAMPIRE GIRL vs FRANKENSTEIN GIRL (2009) or MEATBALL MACHINE (2005) with a touch of 1989s TETSUO about it. Startlingly gloriously splatterific!

Last up is Ryan Prow’s “Terror” about a ‘well regulated militia’ preparing an attack on the government using a supernatural ‘weapon’ created from a prisoner that they seem to keep killing and then being resurrected. Whilst this might be read as a comment on how things are in some parts of America, this was the least successful and the most annoying as it cleaved closest to one of things I hate about found footage – the shaky cam.

Steve Kirkham

Extras – 4 stars

Behind the Scenes (26 mins) – a good mix of talking heads and behind the scenes. Interesting to see the sets etc in the clear light of day.

San Diego Comicon Panel (28m) – shot during the pandemic so all the participants appear via Zoom.

Commentary hosted by Boo Crew and a separate commentary by Simon Barrett for his segment “The Empty Wake”

Also: Behind the Scenes Gallery; Special FX with Patrick Magee (6 mins); Breakdown of the visual fx on “The Empty Wake” (1 min); Hail Raatma! (2 mins) – a look at the costume/creature for Rat Man; 6 deleted and extended scenes; full length version of the Veggie Masher commercial.

NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN (1981). Review by Steve Kirkham

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NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN (1981)

4 Stars
Severin Films. Special Edition 4K UHD/Blu Ray. 26th February

Me and NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN have history – during the whole video nasties debacle, of which this a ‘prime’ title, I was working in a video store – so saw first hand what was occurring at the time. Fast forward a few years and the title had been rehabilitated enough to be released on DVD. I was involved in that disc, creating the sleeve artwork (based on the classic World of Video 2000 cover) and also did the DVD authoring on it, if memory serves! Since then it has been previously released on Blu-ray in the U.K. by 88 Films and now we have this new iteration from Severin in a UHD/Blu combo of this gore extravaganza.

Sleazy and blood-soaked from the beginning, this takes no prisoners, with plentiful nudity and lashings of the red stuff (and no I don’t mean tomato sauce). I expect most readers are familiar with the story about a patient, George Tatum (Baird Stafford), who has undergone an experimental treatment which has supposedly cured him of his violent tendencies – he is released from the asylum, and rather than becoming a model citizen is soon on the rampage, brutally slashing several victims.

This is actually one of the better of the so-called nasties – though whether it would be remembered today if it hadn’t been caught up in that furore we will never know. Certainly David Hamilton-Grant, the original distributor on VHS in the UK didn’t hurt its reputation, as he released it uncut despite submitting it the BBFC who demanded edits to the film. He also ran a “guess the weight of the brain”competition to promote it! All this found him sent to prison for several months!

The film itself is presented with it’s original onscreen title of NIGHTMARE and, whilst I didn’t have the pleasure of viewing the 4K, I suspect this grungy film is difficult to scrub up too much. Much of your decision to buy will be based on the extras on offer – and as usual Severin come through.

Extras 4 stars

You have two commentaries – one with Baird Stafford, Cleve Hall, Lee Christian and David DeCoteau and a solo one with William Paul; an interview with director Romano Scavolini; Cast and crew interviews – both new and vintage cut together like a documentary to tell how the film was made; Interview with erroneously credited Tom Savini.

The jewel in the crown is a 71 minute documentary from the talented writer/director Sarah Appleton called Damaged: the Very British Obscenity of David Hamilton-Grant. This is a fascinating journey through the life and work of the enigmatic Grant which also encompasses the history of evading censorship, pornography in the UK, sex education movies, x-rated cartoons, sex comedies, hardcore versions of films for foreign markets, the coming of home video, Electric Blue (who remembers those) and the World of Video 2000 label – and, of course, video nasties. This paints a picture of Grant’s involvement in various escapades and his murky life, but he remains something of an enigma. Talking heads include Fiona Richmond, David McGillivray, Vic Pratt, Françoise Pascal and many others. Worth the price of admission.

Steve Kirkham

UNDERGROUND (2023) Review by Steve Kirkham

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UNDERGROUND (2023)

3 stars
Miracle Media. Digital. 26th February

Set in Guernsey in the Channel Islands, the film starts with a police officer reporting on the case of missing girls. The story then goes back in time to introduce the girls who are lost: Ella (Maaike Tol), Claire (Nadia Dawber), Riley (Charlotte Dawn Potter, who co-wrote the script – such that it is – with director Lars Jannsen), Jessica (Caitlyn Barber) and Ziggy (Sappire Brewer-Merchant)… though to be honest they are all pretty interchangeable and annoying!

Ella is getting married and one of the girls decides to document the whole thing, including the bachelorette night out, with a video camera – thereby trying to establish a reason why we must endure the typical shakycam of the found footage genre.

We then spend half an hour with the girls, as there is some attempt to establish their various personalities – but honestly, by the end you are unlikely to care! They get dressed up in costumes (I guess to give us some chance of telling one from the other), go out and get pissed and then misbehave in the back of a cab, with one of them throwing up – meaning they are chucked out in the middle of nowhere. Much of the dialogue here feels improvised.

There is talk of the Nazi hospital and tunnels on the island – which is an actual location… check Wikipedia! Wouldn’t you know it, Ziggy manages to fall down a hole, which drops her injured into to one those tunnels. The other ladies have to go into the creepy and dark environs of the abandoned World War II relic to rescue her and, in a shocking turn of events (he said sarcastically), find themselves trapped down there.

What follows is much wandering about lit and unlit subterranean passages and rooms with lots of prattling and arguing amongst each other. Odd sounds are heard. Lights flicker. Ooh, scary!

Then one of them goes missing – cue more meandering around poorly lit concrete corridors and lots more yapping.

Apart from a couple of scenes that try to make things creepy – including a blink and you’ll miss it appearance of an apparition – this fails to generate any tension or atmosphere. There is clearly the possibility of building an effective horror in the real location of the underground hospital but this fails to capitalise on this. It also begs the question that so many (most?) found footage films throw up – why the hell do they keep shooting footage?

The production may well have worked better as a straight narrative, with tighter editing and a stronger, more focussed script – as it is, it is ultimately just exasperating and tiresome.

Steve Kirkham

BAD BIOLOGY (2008) Review by Steve Kirkham

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BAD BIOLOGY (2008)

3 stars. Severin Films. Special Edition 4K UHD/Blu Ray. 26th February

Frank Henenlotter has never been noted for his subtlety – and BAD BIOLOGY does nothing to dispel that view. This was his return to the director’s chair after a significant hiatus – his last film prior to this being BASKET CASE 3 in 1991. He is probably best known for the BASKET CASE trilogy and FRANKENHOOKER (1990). Always presenting his own uncompromising and somewhat weird world view – if you know his work you know what to expect!

Jennifer (a committed, all-in performance from Charlee Danielson) tells us that she was born with seven clitorises. She is a photographer and a raging nympho who constantly craves sexual satisfaction – often ending up killing her paramours as she climaxes. She also captures the faces of her lovers as they orgasm with her camera. Not weird at all! Adding to this, she becomes pregnant and gives birth to deformed offspring just hours after having intercourse – she heartlessly discards the babies without a second thought.

Meanwhile, across town we have Batz (Anthony Steed), who injects steroids into his penis – which had been reattached after being accidentally amputated, and now is a huge member with a life of it’s own! A drug addict, he also has a growing need for sex… of course, ultimately, these mutated individuals are destined to meet – what could possibly go wrong? Especially after his manhood detaches itself and goes on a rampage. We aren’t watching a Disney movie that’s for sure!

Clearly created on a low budget, Henenlotter has made another crazy curiosity. Part horror, part twisted comedy, part sex film this isn’t entirely successful narratively and is more like a series of outrageous scenes strung together than a cohesive storyline.

Co-written by Henenlotter and hip hop artist R.A. “Rugged Man” Thorburn, the film is never remotely believable, has variable acting and is probably best viewed as an often shocking and over the top comedy than anything else. It features rubbery creations from Gabe Bartalos – often a close collaborator with the director.

EXTRAS 4 stars

You get 2 commentaries on the UHD – one with Henenlotter, Nick Deeg and Anthony Sneed and an archival one with Henenlotter and Thorburn.

On the Blu Ray you get the same commentaries and a whole bunch of other special features: Spook House (30 mins) tells about the creepy mansion used as the filming location – which was apparently haunted. Interviewing Henenlotter and Thorburn, production coordinator Michael Shershenovich, Nick Deeg, retired detective David Henenlotter and production manager Chaz Kangas.

A rather odd and short, 3 minute interview with Charlee Danielson… and a basketball – from 2006.

Plus Interviews with Deeg and Sneed in conversation (66 mins); Make Up FX creator Gabe Bartalos (11 mins); 31 minutes of behind the scenes footage; Photographer Clay Patrick McBride shooting the photos used in the movie in Henenlotter’s apartment (7 mins); a weird short called Suck, written, edited and directed by Anthony Sneed (11 mins); a music video from Thorburn and an Image Gallery.

Steve Kirkham

DELIVER US (2023) Review by Steve Kirkham

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DELIVER US (2023)

3 stars. Altitude. Digital platforms 19th February

DELIVER US, another film in the long running fascination with the Anti-Christ, opens strongly with several naked folk being lined up and beheaded. Their back skin is sliced off as they feature tattoos that predict the coming of satan and the messiah at the same time. Sister Yulia (Maria Vera Ratti) awakens from seeing this nightmare vision in her dreams – is it reality?

Father Fox (Lee Roy Kunz – who also co-directed with Cru Ennis and co-wrote the script with his brother Kane), is a priest well versed in exorcism, though he usually looks for a more scientific explanation than that of satanic possession. He is tasked with helping Sister Yulia, who is somehow pregnant with twins – by immaculate conception it seems – and may well be the fulfilment of the prophecy of one evil and one good child being born. Fox reluctantly agrees to try and assist – despite him looking to leave the priesthood and wed his also pregnant girlfriend Laura (Jaune Kimmel), who comes from a rich mining family. Added into the mix is Cardinal Russo (Alexander Siddig). As luck, and plot contrivances go, Laura’s family have a remote cabin where they can all hide out – as they are being chased by a secret cult lead by creepy, one eyed Father Saul (Thomas Kretschmann) who we saw overseeing the skinning in the opening sequence. Will evil triumph?

Films involving priests battling the devil are rarely subtle and this is no exception, presenting a trashy plotline that often reminds one of those Italian exploitationers that followed the release of THE EXORCIST back in the 70s. It rarely meets those heights but gives it a good go, though it is tonally all over the place. It starts well, but then slows down and sags a bit in the middle, before going for it at the end – with the final denouement being somewhat cheesy. Still it has beheadings, psychic babies, attacking wolves and secret cults to recommend it, and a central conceit where those involved must try and discern which of the new-born babies is good and which is satanic. It’s nothing if not ambitious – even if it can’t quite deliver.

Steve Kirkham

OUT OF DARKNESS (2023) Review by Steve Kirkham

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OUT OF DARKNESS (2023)

4 stars
Signature Entertainment. Cinemas 23rd February

Set 45,000 years ago, OUT OF DARKNESS opens around the campfire with a disparate group of six telling tales of horror – there is Adem (Chuku Modu) their leader, Heron (Luna Mwezi) his son, Ave (Iola Evans) Adem’s “wife”, who is pregnant, the old wise man Odel (Arno Lüning), Geirr (Kit Young), who acts as second in command and then there is the stray Beyah (Sofia Oakley-Green) who has attached herself to the group (and may be important as a possible “back-up” to Ave, if she miscarries again).

What follows, as they set-off on a journey to the ‘promised land’, is a story that could easily have been spun around that self same fire.

They need to survive and search out food across the bleak barren landscape. As they make their way over this forbidding terrain they find themselves being followed by some unseen force – is it a dangerous animal… a monster… a demon? Strange screeching and squeals emanate from the forest; from the darkness. Then one night Heron is snatched into the impenetrable gloom – do they try and follow and endanger their own lives?

Much like the cave people in ONE MILLION YEARS BC (1966) they communicate with their own dialect – though it is rather more nuanced than the grunts from that movie – and thankfully it is subtitled!

This is being sold as a horror movie and whilst this plays into that, it’s denouement and big reveal fails to deliver on that promise. That’s not to say it’s not effective – director Andrew Cumming uses the highlands of Scotland atmospherically and the cinematography by Ben Fordesman captures beautifully the dance of light from the fire, the desolation of the countryside and the grey, foreboding skies of the day.

The thrumming, percussive music and the use of sound add to building the ambience and the director also knows when to use silence to build tension. There is great use of the murk of night with minimal lighting highlighting the action – with firelight and moonlight used to illuminate, especially faces.

There are a couple of successfully executed jump scares and the film remains compelling throughout with a message that what threatens us may well be doing the same as us – trying to survive.

Sadly there are no dinosaurs!

Originally called THE ORIGIN – I assume this was retitled due to Ava DuVernay’s higher profile production ORIGIN, which is due out around the same time.

Steve Kirkham

INSIDE (2007). Review by Steve Kirkham

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INSIDE (2007)

4 stars
Second Sight. Blu Ray. 5th February

Label Second Sight take another dip into the tranche of films which have become known as ‘New French Extremity’ – a group that includes their recent release HIGH TENSION (2003), plus FRONTIER(S) and MARTYRS (2008) among others. And oh boy, do those folks over the channel know how to make brutal productions – with INSIDE wearing it’s tag of extreme with uncompromising pride.

The story opens with a car crash. It is raining. Sarah (Alysson Paradis – younger sister of Vanessa Paradis, in case you were interested), one of the drivers is pregnant and left bloodied and bruised from the accident. Her husband is killed.

Some time later, she is near full term and alone at home, still scarred both physically and emotionally from the incident.

A knock at the door is the prelude to a shocking and sanguinary night. A woman (played by famous actress Béatrice Dalle, identified only as La Femme in the credits), asks to use the phone and seems to know rather too much about Sarah. She refuses her entry and calls the cops. However they find nothing and Sarah is once again on her own – the stranger manages to gain entry and attacks her with a large pair of sharp scissors – she wants to cut out the baby! What follows is a night of gory excess as the heavily pregnant Sarah tries to save both herself and her unborn child from this crazed intruder. Much splatter follows…

This was the filmic debut of directing duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julienne Maury (who also wrote the script) who have crafted a ferociously violent and blood soaked horror – the sort of film you find yourself saying “holy f*ck” at the screen. Having seen this when it first came out, at FrightFest, I’d forgotten quite how savage this was – it’s lost none of its power! There is one scene near the end, in particular, where you think “surely they won’t go there…” but after the blood-drenched scenes that have preceded, you just know the filmmakers won’t be able to resist.

Bustillo and Maury have gone on to a successful career including such films as LIVID (2011), LEATHERFACE (2017) and THE DEEP HOUSE (2021). Inevitably this was a remade in the US in 2016 – watch this much better original instead.

Steve Kirkham

Extras
New audio commentary by Anna Bogutskaya
New audio commentary by Elena Lazic
Several Interviews – Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury;Actor Alysson Paradis; Producer Franck Ribière; Cinematographer Laurent Barès; Stunt Coordinator Emmanuel Lanz
The Birth of a Mother: Jenn Adams on Inside

The Limited Edition comes in Rigid slipcase with new artwork by James Neal and includes a 70-page book with new essays by Chad Collins, Kat Ellinger, Annie Rose Malamet and Hannah Strong and 6 collectors’ art cards.

Also available as a non-limited edition which just has the extras