Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Pan's Labyrinth - Horror Film Review

An ex friend brought me Pan's Labyrinth as a Christmas present a few years back.  Despite knowing it was supposed to be great I have only just got round to watching it. It is a spiritual successor to Del Toro's ghost story The Devil's Backbone.  Rather than a ghost story, this time around the story is one of Fantasy.

The film is set in Spain during World War 2.  A girl and her heavily pregnant Mother go to a remote Army outpost where the Mothers husband is stationed.  He is the Commander of the Troops there who are tasked with wiping out a resistance movement that is operating in the forests around the base.  The Commander is very cold and brutal and shows no love to the child or her Mother, just obsessed with the Mother giving birth to his son so that he has a successor.  The girl is obsessed with fairy tales, next to the base is a labyrinth.  Led there one night by a fairy, she comes across an entrance to a mysterious dungeon type place.  There she finds a creepy looking Fawn monster.  The Fawn tells the girl she is the reincarnation of a Princess who left the underworld many years ago.  To be able to go to the underworld and take her place as a Princess she has to pass 3 tasks.

The film is split into two parts.  Half the story is focused on the Army leader and his search for the resistance fighters, as well as the staff of the house he is staying at who are secretly offering aid to the resistance.  The other half is fantasy with the young girl going about her 3 tasks so that she can enter the underworld. 

The Army leader is very brutal, and most the films violence involves him in some capacity.  He is shown early on to be evil when he smashes a civilians face in with a bottle.  He is also involved in a scene where someone gets a smile cut into their face in a scene that The Dark Knight shied away from showing and just insinuated.  Quite gruesome!

The monster effects are really really good.  The Fawn looks otherworldly, but not fake, as do the various other monsters that appear.  The best scene in the film involves one such monster, a humanoid whose eyes are in the palms of it's hands.  This sequence was quite tense indeed.

I was really impressed with this, the fantasy and the normal sequences are very well done, with the acting of a high standard.  You can always tell when your watching a good foreign film because you forget that you are reading subtitles due to being so involved in whats happening.  That happened here.

A really good, affecting story with many layers to it. I would go as far to say it is essential viewing, though don't expect many laughs, this is quite a serious moody film.


Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Masters of Horror: The V Word - Horror TV Series Episode Review

Here it is, the last episode of Season 2 of Masters of Horror.  I don't recognise the director for this episode, the actual story was written by Mick Garris who came up with the idea for Masters of Horror in the first place.  The V Word is a classic Vampire tale, very bloody.

Two videogame geeks decide to go to a mortuary to see a dead body of a jock from their year at school who had died recently.  Though one of the geeks cousin is supposed to be working the night shift there, the place is deserted.  It's dark and creepy there, and Gothic organ music is coming from upstairs.  Kinda freaked out the geeks go to leave, only to find the door to the mortuary locked.  Scooby-Doo like they explore the creepy house looking for a alternate exit, stumbling around and walking into dead bodies.  Finally they discover a fire exit, but also a whole host of dead bodies on gurneys, including the cousin of one of the geeks.  The cousin has recently had his throat ripped open.  After discovering this one of the corpses comes to life, a Nosferatu type Vampire.  One of the geeks is caught and seemingly killed, while another one escapes.  Unfortunately the Vampire follows him home...

The episode is set in modern day, and starts with a montage of one of the geeks playing Doom 3 on the X-Box 360 (it is compatible, but odd they would use a last gen game on the 360).  The videogame nerd stereotype is quite apparent, but not to the point where it is insulting.  Nearly though.  The characters comment how much the mortuary is like a level from one of their videogames, and how there so used to seeing dead bodies in games it's about time they saw a real life one.  At the episodes end a character says 'it's Game Over' which made me wince.

The episode is very bloody with lots of throats being tore open, and sliced, lots and lots of blood and gore.  Michael Ironside is ace as the master vampire, really veiny and crazy looking, the geeks as vampires look quite terrible though, especially one of them who really overacts with his 'cool vamp' thing he has going on. 

It is a very basic story, and it does drag to begin with, but later the episode does improve somewhat, it's dumb, and fun, a good end to the series.

Overall Masters of Horror series 2 just hasn't been as good as Season 1.  Season 1 had far more nudity and gore while the episodes in Season 2 where much more of a mixed bag.  Still I hope a third season is created.  As long as they keep making them I will keep watching them.


Monday, 29 March 2010

Dream Cruise - Masters of Horror Episode Review (DVD)

Dream Cruise is the Japanese effort for Season 2 of Masters of Horror.  It is directed by Norio Tsuruta whose films I have never seen (include Ringu 0, and Premonition).  The episode is a ghost story, told in that creepy Japanese style.

The episode revolves around 3 characters.  An American Attorney, Yuri the woman he is having an affair with, and Yuri's rich husband.  They are together on the husbands small luxury boat.  He is a client of the attorney, but it becomes apparent that he knows about the affair that is going on with his wife.  Before things come to a head though the boat dies.  Stranded in the ocean with no chance of help things get worse when the vengeful spirit of the wealthy mans first wife appears to get her unholy revenge on those she sees responsible for her watery death.

The majority of the episode is confined to the small cruise ship The Yuri.  The 3 characters interactions are really good, and as a threesome they play off each other well, each knowing the secret of the affair, but none revealing that knowledge.  What first seems like a episode that is going to be about the wronged husband turns into something more with the arrival of the evil spirit.  The spirit is creepy in the usual Japanese ghost way; a woman with lots of dark hair covering her face.  The woman looks quite slimy, her skin and clothes having a sticky sheen to them, and her skin glowing slightly green.

The episode works very well, the small location never getting stale, the creepiness comes and stays.  I don't know what it is about Japanese horror, but it always scares me far more than it really has any right to.  It is no exception here.  While not terrifying, it is definitely the most creepy tale of Season 2 (not that that has been hard).  Though filmed in Japan most the episode everyone speaks in English though this is plausible with an American character who professes to not knowing much Japanese.  The acting is of a good standard, Daniel Gillies seems a very serious focused actor who really wants the episode to be as effective as possible.  Japanese horror is nearly always good from the moderate amount of it I have seen.  Well worth a watch.


Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Damned Thing - Masters of Horror Episode Review

The Damned Thing is Tobe Hoopers (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) episode for Season 2 of Masters of Horror.  It is at it's heart a monster story, but with lots of madness inspired horror also.

Sean Patrick Flanery (The Boondock Saints) stars as Kevin; Sheriff of a small, slow paced Texan Town.  In his childhood he witnessed a horrific incident at his family home where the arrival of a black oil type substance led to his Father becoming enraged, gunning down Kevin's Mother and then pursuing Kevin in a bid to kill him also, before being ripped apart by an unseen demonic force.  24 years later it seems that whatever happened that night is going to occur again as the Townsfolk slowly descend into violent madness killing themselves and each other in nasty ways.  Kevin's aim is to escape the Town, along with his young son, and estranged Wife while avoiding the madness that is sweeping the place.

The film is at times very heavily similar to John Romero's The Crazies, with Townsfolk being insane it's not hard to see the likeness.  Unlike that film though there is no outside intervention, and has a supernatural cause.  The plot is exciting, but it does appear that the script writer had no idea how to end the story.  There is quite a lot of violence in the film, most of note is a carpenter who beats himself to death with a hammer, and a woman whose body got sliced in half after a car crash.

The characters are interesting, and some of them you even come to care about.  The Sheriffs inept almost comedic friend (can't recall the actors name; he was one of the main characters in Freddy VS Jason) brings a light side to the episode which is mostly bleak.  A villain of the piece comes about in the form of a crazed Priest played with gleeful malice by Ted Raimi.

The film falls apart at it's end with a very low quality CGI oil monster appearing looking very fake, and as mentioned the lack of a conclusion.  The setting of a dusty small Town is well done, and the violence is cool, so overall a pretty enjoyable episode.


Friday, 26 March 2010

Fracture - Action Videogame Review (X-Box 360)

Fracture is a third person shooter which uses a unique feature of being able to rise and lower terrain.  It received average scores on release, being described as mediocre, and lost in a sea of much better shooters.

I'm not quite sure exactly what the story of Fracture is, the game jumps right in and assumes you already know what is going on.  It seems that America has been split into two different groups with different ideologies for the advancement of humans.  One group sees technology as the way forward, there soldiers armed with the best weapons, and armour protected by force fields, they are the ones who got the technology to raise and lower ground, which it seems they used to great effect to stop the country flooding or something.  The 2nd group are based in west America, with their HQ in San Francisco, these are the Pacificans.  They are led by a rebel General Sheridan.  The Pacificans see genetic alteration as the step forward, and are seen by some as less than human after altering their DNA so much.  They have minor powers of telepathy, and are altered to suit their needs, for instance the ability to jump massive distances, and move faster than the eye can see.  Anyway the Pacificans have declared war on the non-Pacificans after DNA altering was declared illegal or something.

You play as a battle scarred soldier of the technology loving soldiers.  The game is split into 3 chapters, each being a few hours in length.  First you are pursuing Sheridan, then later discovering his secret weapon, before finally getting the means to destroy it (it being a humongous gigantic crab like robot base which has free thought)

The weapons in the game are quite cool.  The usual suspects are here under different names (Shotguns, sniper rifles, and machine guns etc) but also different weapons.  There is a lode gun that creates a mini vortex that sucks objects and enemies into it, there is a gun that fires mines that burrow into the ground before exploding, and missiles that fly under the ground before bursting out and exploding among others.

The Pacifican soldiers are fun enough to fight, as well as the normal grunts you also get special classes with unique abilities.  Cheetahs are able to pretty much teleport, flaming soldiers armed with rocket launches can jump tremendous heights, while heavily armoured soldiers fire green explosive blobs at you.  There is only really 2 proper bosses in the game, and these are disappointingly exactly the same pretty much to fight.

The ability to higher and lower ground is put to good use, better than reviews suggested.  highering ground can protect you from gun turrets, create bridges over poisonous rivers, and can even be used to crush enemies against ceilings!  Lowering ground can create safe trenches for you to hide in, as well to make small buildings collapse, and tunnels to be better traversed.

The game is well paced level wise, though it does put in a pointless and boring driving level.  Your vehicle can create ramps to jump off, as well as dig under narrow bridges, but the level for the driving stage is boring, and over long.  The end of game boss is a nightmare, but there's a glitch (which i used) that makes all its attacks useless.  The plot is silly, and not explained very well, it's kinda inadvertently funny that if you ever have other soldiers with you during cut scenes they will almost always be conveniently killed off just before the next level starts.

The game looks good, but overall is a tad generic.  It was fun enough and what I expected.  For £5 I can't complain.


Thursday, 25 March 2010

Masters of Horror: The Washingtonians - Horror TV Episode Review

After the cruddy Sounds Like episode my faith had been shaken a bit with the Masters of Horror.  Thankfully it is now restored with the light hearted and fun The Washingtonians.  With a subject matter as ridiculous as this it is good that a serious tone wasn't attempted, instead Director Peter Medak goes for a humorous vision with characters hamming up their parts, and quite a few laughs.

A man inherits his late Grandmothers house, while looking through the basement he comes across a document that has the power to alter American society, and shake deep held beliefs to their core.  He finds evidence that George Washington was actually a child eating cannibal!  It seems a group of homicidal flesh eating period dramatists called the Washingtonians will do anything to keep this grisly secret a secret.  The man, his wife, and young child soon find themselves under persecution by powdered, wigged, horse riding historians who have infiltrated every facet of society, from Cooks to Police.  Will they survive, or will they meet their makers?

This is a really fun episode, and is very silly, but knows so.  The cannibals wear period costumes and nasty false teeth, and are armed with axes and muskets, they are not something you can be scared of, and come across as really stupid, and are mostly really old, but still they are shown as a tangible threat.

Being cannibals there is lots of body parts through the episode, severed fingers, beating heart, and a gruesome banquet all feature, as does a flashback of Thomas Jefferson being ripped apart by old times ghouls.  Also featured in flashbacks is the man himself George Washington, and featured in paintings showing what he was really like.

The plot is really silly, but doesn't ever get too padded rushing along at a fast pace.  The film takes a swipe at American politics which isn't too covered (leading to a really weird but funny ending), Peter Medak says that this swipe at politics was one of his aims in making the episode.

It really seems the cast and crew had a lot of fun making this episode, this is reflected in all that happens.  A worthy addition to the Masters of Horror, though not in the least bit scary.


Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Sounds Like - Masters of Horror Episode Review

Sounds Like is another Season 2 Masters of Horror episode. It is directed by Brad Anderson whose past films include the interesting 'The Machinist'. The set up for the episode sounded like it was going to be a cool episode, but it really wasn't.

Chris Bauer stars as a middle age call monitor at a software helpline call centre. He has a very special gift in that his hearing is incredible, everything to him is super loud and clear. By concentrating he is able to drain out all sound apart from that which he wishes to hear. His beloved child died of a incurable disease in the recent past (well a year or so back), he seems to have coped with his grief by throwing himself into his work, while his chatterbox wife wants another child. His hearing begins to get out of control, unable to control it everything is agony to his ears, from light bulbs to insects, absolutely everything is making horrendous noise driving him slowly insane. As his grief over his dead son intensifies, and his life starts to fall apart the noise of the world increases and increases leading to pure madness.

The story for this episode sounded great. I once read a short teen horror story about a girl who could hear everyones thoughts which drove her insane, also there was an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which she gets the gift to hear everyones thoughts, also leading to bad consequences. Due to these I kinda thought I knew what to expect.

This episode is bad. To show the noises the man is hearing extreme close ups of the object in question are shown. These are used far to frequently leading to frankly boredom as it seems most the episode is these extreme close ups with annoyingly loud sounds. There is some violence in the episode, but all occurs off screen, so nothing really happens on screen of any note.

I hate people who just throw loads of insects at the viewers and thinks that is horror. No, that is not horror, that is just disgusting. There are hundreds of maggots, worms, and flies in this episode, they repulsed me, and made me feel sick, they did not scare me. The call centre monitor started the episode as a jerk, and never advanced at all. The story just seemed to drag on far too much with no need to, I could have easily edited the episode down to a brief 30 minutes.

As stated the extreme close ups got old fast, but one sequence in which Bauer has a chest mounted camera attached to him really shows the characters insanity, I love that type of camera shot, of an odd close up of someones face as they spastically jerk around spinning the view.

I didn't enjoy this episode. Also the director Brad Anderson come across as a dick.


Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Shutter Island - Movie Review

Shutter Island is a adaptation of an early 2000's Thriller novel. The film is directed by Martin Scorcese, and stars Leonardo De Caprio.

The film is set in the early 1950's. De Caprio is a US Marshall called Teddy. He travels to an Island (Shutter Island) which is home to an Asylum for the Criminally Insane with a new Partner after the Asylum authorities report a break out from a female inmate housed there. The Asylum is very well guarded with high walls and electric fences, and seems also that the escapee managed to do so out of a room which was locked on the outside. Teddy's investigation is hampered by the Asylum staff who are evasive, and seem to be doing their utmost to impede his investigation. As he investigates it seems more and more like something sinister is occurring, and that he cannot trust anyone, as Staff and Patients both appear to be hiding information, and know things that they wont share. It may be that Teddy was lured to the Island purposely, and that he may be stuck in a trap caused by his own curiosity.

The film has a very paranoid feel to it, but creeps up, and builds throughout the film. The viewer discovers information the same time as Teddy, and so share the growing sense of dread and malice. The films tone reminded me heavily of several different films. The Wicker Man in the way Teddy seems to be on a fools errand that only he is not privy to. Also reminded me heavily of Identity, and the TV series The Prisoner.
The film is a Thriller first and foremost, but does also go into near supernatural territory as Teddy dreams about his dead wife a lot, as well as frequently hallucinates that she’s there in real life, as well as has visions of dead children (from flashbacks it is shown he was a soldier in WW2 who liberated Dachu and was severely affected by the amount of murdered there). A key element of the film is the weather, a typhoon rages around the island which seems almost paranormal in its ferocity, Characters liken the storm to God's rage.

There are plot twists and turns at every point of this, certainly a film where if you re-watched it, many scenes would have dramatically different connotations. The film mostly succeeds in creating such a sense of foreboding and dread. You really want Ted to discover the Islands secrets, but at the same time I found myself silently willing him just to flee the Island and run as far away as possible (possibly while screaming)
The film looks great, the 1950's setting is fantastically realised, and the characters are all really well done and convincing (everyone from Ben Kingsley as the head Dr, to Ted's deceased attractive wife). The twists are mostly really well done, and hit more than miss. I really don't know if it is a film I would want to see again knowing the plot as I do now.


Monday, 22 March 2010

We all Scream for Ice Cream - Masters of Horror Episode Review

We all Scream for Ice Cream is the first episode on the 2nd Season 2 boxset of Masters of Horror. It is directed by Tom Holland (who directed films including Fright Night, and Child's Play)

As children a gang played a cruel prank on local retard Buster (the local friendly ice cream truck driving clown) which accidently resulted in his death. Now grown up and with families it seems thier guilty secret has come back to haunt them, as one by one the grown up members of the childhood gang meet a (literally) sticky end as they are turned into melted ice cream caused by voodoo ice cream eaten by thier possessed children by the angry spirit of the not so friendly clown Buster(!) One of the gang, a man wracked with guilt all his life of what he did that fateful day sets out to discover just who is actually responible for the murders, and how to stop him.

The episode is ok, it is certainly not a bad episode, and is not boring, it is just a bit loose at the edges. There are quite a few key plot points that are never explained, and some plot holes, as well as some plain ridiculous moments. The character of Buster is someone you can feel pity for, but in the present his spirit is kinda bland. Mostly he just dishes out ice creams to children from his ghost ice cream van, only at the end does he actually leave it, and then for a slow bizarre fight that keeps leaving him momenterily frozen. He certainly looks the part; like a bad bad clown, but this isn't reflected in his actions.

The acting is of a good quality by the adult actors, and the flash back children, but the present day children are all emotionless drones which leads to thier possession having them not act much different to when they are normal. Death by ice cream is a hard thing to make look good, mostly it works though, especially the melting man in the hot tub, but sometimes the deaths are too computer enhanced and just look really fake, like bad 90's CGI.

The Director states the image of a clown delivering ice cream is a universal one, and so easy to relate to. Prehaps in America, but here in the UK ice cream vans are run by very obese bitter men, or so my experiance tells me, so just seemed plain bizarre. It is a original idea; death by ice cream, it's just a bit too silly to take seriously. Still not a bad episode, and has an actor from the ace Devils Rejects in it.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Night of the Living Dead - Zombie Film Review (Spoilers)

Taking it old school, the very first (with the exception of Thriller) zombie film I ever saw. There are various versions of this film out. This is because the film was never copyrighted, so it is open domain, available to anyone who wants to sell it. It was originally black and white, but the first version I saw was one with colourisation added to it which made it look quite bad.

Everything about this film is fantastic. Though it was made in the late 60's it is still quite violent in places. The Hitchcock-esque murder of the mother by the zombie child via garden trowl is still shocking today.

The plot is simple. There has been a zombie outbreak, various people take refuge in a country farm house. These include a girl called Barbara who had been visiting a nearby graveyard with her brother, a family ruled by a angry little man, a young couple, and Ben, the 'hero' of the piece. As the night wears on more and more zombies turn up to lay siege to the house. Defences are built, the survivors need to hold out until help arrives.

This is the best siege film. The stress and strain gets to the characters as they formulate various plans, and argue amongst themselves. TV and Radio give the apocalypse greater scope, and the tension really ramps up as more and more zombies turn up to pound on the walls. Being black and white the ability to discern who is infected and who is not is made harder, giving the whole thing more believability. The film starts with Barbara being teased by her brother that a strange man they see in the graveyard is going to get her. The original black and white you cannot tell that the man is a zombie. In the coloured version the man is green so looses something in transition.

This film does a lot of conventions and turns them on their head. The hero of the piece is a black man (for 1960's this was not very common). The antagonist of the survivors actually has the one decent plan which would have ensured their survival. The young couple get killed in a ridiculously inept way, rather than being the focus of the film. The one survivor is mistaken for a zombie and killed.

The film goes along at quite a quick pace, the small location doesn't get stale, right to the very end the threat increases and increases. The ending is very bleak, and very well done, the hunters throwing the dead survivor on a heap of bodies and burning them.

There was a remake in the early 90's, I only watched that one, it did somethings different, but no where near as good. Also recently Night of the Living Dead 3D has been released with the fantastic Sid Haig in it.

Night of the Living Dead is a fantastic film, but then you already knew that didn't you?


Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Overblood - Horror Videogame Review (Playstation)

Overblood is a janky sci-fi tinged survival horror game released on the Playstation many years ago. I have a love/hate relationship with this seemingly as on 3 occasions I have brought it, only to sell it at a later date. Being a game concerning amnesia it is fitting that I have not played this in over 10 years, so my memory might be a little hazy and rose tinted.

A man wakes up from a deep freeze, he is in a mysterious room with no memory of who he is, or where he is. Exploring the strange labs and rooms of the compound he meets a lady. She too has no memory. Along with a small robot they must work together to find the answers to who they are, and where they are, as well as escape the gigantic place.

The games plot is the best thing about it. The clinical setting, and the signs of devastation that have laid waste to vast sections of it, as well as the lack of any other people leads to many questions which play out well through interesting cut scenes. It may seem an odd reference, but it has a lot in common to Ico, or Shadow of the Colossus in it's stark loneliness. The location is like the Marie Celeste, bizarrely absent of people where there should be them. As a result you get to like the 3 main characters, and care about them.

The game is very puzzle based, rather than combat based. This is certainly a good thing as the combat is hideously implemented, very awkward and cumbersome. Thankfully there are literally about 3 enemies in the entire game. All 3 are zombies, and act the same way leaping around. There are many time based, and instant death puzzles, which can lead to some unfair automatic deaths. The game from the very start features these; the start room is freezing cold, you have to find clothes for your character, and escape the room before you freeze to death.

The game is not that long, around 3 or 4 hours I would guess, perhaps shorter, and it looks awful, with ugly polygons used for the character models. The story is great though, and a atmospheric experience, always leading you on to discover the next plot point. I want to buy this, if I see it cheap on E-bay I shall.


Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood (2009) - Action Videogame Review (X-Box 360)

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is the second game in the series, it is a prequel to Call of Juarez and centres around the rivalry between two violent brothers - Thomas and Ray (Ray being one of the main characters of the first game). The game again is a FPS, with most levels letting you select either the nimble Thomas, or the strong Ray. I realise this game is not remotely horror orientated unless you class it as real life horror, it is very defiantly a Western, and has no real place in this blog (I don't know why I reviewed it).

The game starts during the American Civil War. Thomas and Ray are fighting for the South. They disobey direct orders and instead desert fearing for the safety of their young brother, and Mother whose house lay in the path of the North Army. Soon after the war is over, the commanding officer of the South refuses to quit the war, and holds Thomas and Ray personally responsible for the city of Atlanta being lost. Meanwhile Thomas and Ray are travelling with their young Priest brother around America, getting ran out of town after town due to their increasingly violent and criminal ways. They head to Mexico after hearing about a hidden treasure near the Town of Juarez. Along the way they rescue a beautiful Mexican woman called Marissa. As the brothers both fall for her tension starts to boil up between them...

The game starts at the games end with the two brothers just about to have a fight to the death. The younger brother via inner monologue then starts to recount the tale of how things got to this point, how their family was destroyed. The levels are kinda varied, enough variation to keep things from getting too stale. The straight up shooting sections are split up with escort missions, static shooting sections (such as manning a cannon), and driving sections (such as being on a horse, or boat). Most the levels can be played by either of the two characters. Thomas can use his lasso to get to higher sections of level, and he has excellent rifle skills. Ray can kick open locked doors, and use dynamite leading to slight level variations. I pretty much used Thomas all the time for his rifle skills.

There is something about the game that just isn't right, to me there was something missing that made it feel like a proper Western. I am not quite sure what it is that was missing. The music in games such as Red Dead Revolver is really exciting calling to mind classic Westerns like High Plain Drifter, here the music is just bland, it is in a Western style for the most part, but just quiet and meandering. High action points bring in a almost modern sound which jars with the setting, having a fast drum beat just feels out of place. A few levels are open world where you have a series of missions you can do in any order, over a large landscape. These two levels feel really out of place, and are mostly completely empty, and just feels like it's from a different game entirely.

Enemies include American Indians, lawmen, and bandits, but all act the same way, and look quite similar. Locations as mentioned are varied taking in ghost towns, forests, and forts, but they feel like levels rather than locations. The highlight was a level set on the side of a giant mountain which was a great location.

The game is ok, just not brilliant. There is something just not right with the game, whether it's the unlovable characters, janky music, or lack of variety I just can't tell. An ok game, but not great, least it's not bad I guess.


Monday, 15 March 2010

General Update - March 2010

Just a general update as I have not posted for a while. Another Zombie game appeared on X-Box Live Indie Games last week. It's a tower defence game, and was 240 Microsoft points, so is expensive compared to most. Yet to play it, but when I do I will give my view.

Zombies were mentioned on a few more Spongebob Squarepants episode. In one it was merely commented that a character looked like a zombie, the other episode the customers of the Krusty Krab got food poisoning and turned a pale yellow colour. Spongebob sees them stumbling towards him groaning, he runs to Mr Krabs office door and starts hammering on it shouting 'Aggh! Zombies!', heh.
I am 50 hours into Persona 4 now, I reviewed it back when I was about a day into it, so will be doing a follow up review I think.

I had a violent zombie Armageddon dream the other day. I was in a big shopping centre, I walked down these many concrete stairs to a concrete basement full of zombies, as soon as I saw them I fled, but the zombies followed, pretty soon they were all over the shopping centre killing people in graphic detail, while I ran and ran trying to escape from them. Cool dream!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Shellshock 2: Blood Trails - Zombie Horror Videogame Review (X-Box 360)

Shellshock 2: Blood Trials is a low budget first person zombie survival horror set during the Vietnam war. Shellshock: Nam 79 was also set during the Vietnam war, but was a serious third person shooter, though just as gory, featuring lots of popping heads and swearing. Perhaps it was a natural path to follow for the sequel descending into fantasy horror with zombies, as it is just as serious and bleak as the first. 
You play as Walker; an American drafted into the Vietnam war. You are brought to an outpost on the edge of the conflict due to your brother Cal. Cal had been with a squad of soldiers who had headed into the jungle to retrieve an American weapon with the code name 'Whitenight'. However all contact was lost with the squad until a week later Cal turned up psychotically insane. The Army hope that him seeing his brother will return him to his senses so that he can tell them what he knows about Whitenight. Moments after you meeting him however your base is attacked by the Viet-cong, in the chaos Cal escapes his restraints and charges off into the jungle. The rest of the game sees you hunting down your brother, as well as avoiding the Viet-cong led by a man called Trang (searching for Whitenight for himself), and avoiding the victims of a zombie outbreak caused by your brother.

The games overall look and feel is that of a dodgy low budget 80's b-movie. The grimy violence, and gore, the unlikeable characters, and silly storyline combine for a almost later grind house feel. By the games end you have been involved in a car crash, several boat crashes, as well as several helicopter crashes. You have leaped out the way of falling rubble in-numerable times, and avoided jungle traps many times also.

At times the game is fantastically atmospheric. The opening level where the outpost is under attack is tenseful as you sneak through darkened rooms, and across balcony's while people scream in the distance. A later level set in a mansion at night is excellent, with zombies stumbling around every corner, Viet-cong fighting zombies outside. Other levels are not so good. A level where you are escaping a Viet-cong encampment is annoying due to the enemy firing though walls at you with un-nerving accuracy, and some levels are just too dark to enjoy, even with your flashlight on the way forward is confusingly frustrating.

The enemies as already said consist of Viet-cong, and zombies. Viet-cong are quite weak, but usually armed with machine guns and in groups. Zombies on the other hand are weaponless, and come in running and shambling varieties. The running ones can be a pain, especially in the darker levels where they are on you before you have even seen them. As is usually the case, head shots instantly kill them (usually with their heads popping in a satisfying way), other body shots are alarmingly ineffectual for the most part.

Weapons are numerous, but ammo isn't. A really annoying design of the game is that even to collect ammo you have to press a button, rather than just walk over it. Add to this fact that it is very hard to collect weapons or ammo if your being attacked leads to some frustrating moments. There are many bottle neck moments when you are under attack and tasked with just holding out until all are dead, these are more numerous than needed in my opinion, and sometimes the opposite happens; enemies constantly respawn until you get to a certain point. Locations are ok, a bit bland at times with caves, and wooden bases being the norm, The game consists of around 10 shortish levels, bookended with explosions and air lifts.

At £5 this is worth a purchase, just be aware it is low budget, and partly broken. It features lots of zombies, so that has one thing going for it.


Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The Crazies (Remake) - Zombie Horror Film Review

Another day, another horror remake. The Crazies was originally released by George Romero midway through doing his Living Dead trilogy. It shares some similarities with the zombie genre.

The Crazies starts with the Town drunk of a small farming community turning up to a baseball game armed with a shotgun and behaving erratically. This one incident is followed by more and more strange instances of violence. The local Sheriff discovers a crashed government plane in the river which is the source of the Towns water supply. It seems that slowly the Town is being driven insane by a chemical released in the crash. Secretly monitored by the government the Town is quarantined and totally cut off from the outside world, then the army wearing gas masks and haz-mat suits invade, capturing the Towns folk, separating the infected from the uninfected who are driven to the Towns border. The Sheriff, uninfected sneaks back into Town to rescue his wife who was classed as an infected. With the help of some other apparently infected he and his group must avoid the lethal Soldiers of the Army, as well as the insane inhabitants of the Town (they all managed to break out of the Army holding camp) and escape the sealed off Town.

My memory of the original is a bit hazy which is probably a good thing. What I do remember of the original is that the basic plot was the same (a man and his wife in a small group trying to escape a quarantined Town). The original didn't have too big a budget. It as I recall centred more on both sides; the Army and the Towns people. In particular the head of the Armies operation had a large part as he dealt with the situation the best way he could. In the remake the Army have a much less personal part. Nothing is shown from their perspective, they seem like a collective, acting as one, cold and calculated. Only one scene are the Army shown as anything less than machines, and this is just one young soldier in particular.

The real question this film asks, much like the original is; just who are the Crazies? Are they the infected Towns people, for the most part violently insane, or are they the Army, killing everything with extreme prejudice, gunning down women and children, extreme overkill in their desire to contain the outbreak?

The remake is good, the characters you can care about, but there is not really any question of whether they might actually be infected or not, unlike the original where it wasn't so black and white, and you were kind of left guessing. It is a good film, and while does plod a bit in the middle, is a worthwhile remake.


Monday, 8 March 2010

Fungus Among Us - A Spongebob Squarepants Episode Review

Fungus Among Us is a slightly horror themed episode in Season 5 of Spongebob Squarepants. Can you tell my mind has gone blank as to what to write for the days post? Heh.

Spongebob finds his pet snail Gary eating some weird green fungus growing on his bedroom floor. After admonishing Gary Spongebob tried to clean up the goo. In doing so he accidently gets some on his head. Patrick visiting notices this and informs Spongebob before fleeing in terror from the 'Ick'. The green goo is itchy and attempts by Spongebob to remove it only result in it growing and covering more and more of him. After Squidward sees Spongebob the militery are called in. Spongebob is captured by a biohazard containment team and put in isolation, but Squidward has been infected by the green goo. At the Crusty Crab Squidward ends up contaminating Mr Crabs, as well as the many customers. With everyone infected anger rises, the crowd want someone to pay for the infection. Then Spongebob appears in a portable oxygen bubble. Finally before any lasting damage is done it is discovered that Gary can safely eat the green ick, problem solved.

This episode had a contagion outbreak feel to it, the way the infection spreads, most shown through the disgusting cooking montage is similer to real life viral outbreaks. The episode was quite disgusting with everyone scratching away at the green ick.

What more can I say? A contagion episode, and contagion is in a similar genre to Zombie outbreaks prehaps?

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Valerie on the Stairs - Masters of Horror Episode Review

Valerie on the Stairs is Mick Garris's effort for season 2 of Masters of Horror. Chocolate; the episode he directed in season 1 was easily the worst of that series so I did not have high hopes. Based on a story written by Clive Barker I hoped it couldn't possibly as bad as the last one.

A unpublished writer Rob recieves an invitation to a kind of hostel for failed writers. The aim of the hostel is for the writers there to get peace and quiet to write. The stipulation is that if their work gets published they must leave. Rob learns straight away the previous tenant of the room he's in committed suicide. Soon after moving in he is plagued by noises coming from the walls, and of a knocking on his door, yet there is never anyone there. Finally he sees a distraught woman on the stairwell. A monster appears and drags her off. Rob chases only to find a wall where the monster had taken her to. Investigating the hostel he starts to become suspicious of the other guests who seem to be hiding knowledge of just who the woman on the stairs is.

The plot is clever in that what starts off as a ghost story soon turns into more of a fantasy tale, with elements of beauty and the beast thrown in. Valerie (the lady on the stairs) and the monster both seem to be characters co-created by several of the hostels writers, they had poured so much anger and hate into thier joint novel that it had led to the characters breaking out into reality.

At times I had hoped the hostel would turn into a Haunted situation (a Chuck Palahniuk novel). The retreat is certainly a character onto its own feeling like a seperate place to the rest of the world. The weird characters help this feeling, Christopher Lloyd in particular is fantastic.

My problem with this is the utterly ridiculous, dreadful, and cringeworthy ending. It was funny to see in the extras Mick Garris and Clive Barker saying how well done the ending was, but it just looked awful, and laugh out loud bad! It ruined what was otherwise quite a cool episode. There isn't much violence, but what there is, is quite cool (for instance someone described as spineless gets their entire spine ripped out their body via the mouth!). Much better than Chocolate, and the direction for thios episode while obvious was well done.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Conan (2007) - Fantasy Videogame Review (X-Box 360)

Recently I got Conan for the 360, it only cost me £5 so my review is tainted by this fact. Conan is a 3D brawler with slight platforming sections, obviously based on Conan the Barbarian. Think God of War or Golden Axe: Beast Rider.

The story starts with Conan at an ancient ruin treasure hunting. After fighting past ghosts he gets to the central chamber and to his reward. Instead of gold though he accidentally unleashes a powerful sorcerer who had been imprisoned there. Waking up several days later on a beach he finds all his armour has been stolen, and no clue as to how he got there. He soon teams up with a woman called A'Fanna. She tells him a black plague is sweeping the lands, infecting everyone and turning them into mindless psychotics. He discovers his missing armour is the cause of this spread, and that it has been cursed by the Sorcerer he mistakenly freed. Conan must acquire all the missing armour, and then hunt down the Sorcerer to end the misery.

The Conan books are fantastic works of fantasy. The world of Conan is faithfully recreated here. The locations all take place near the coast, as at the end of each level you sail to the next location on A'Fanna's boat. There are a variety of locations though. Primitive tribal villages, towns, temples, forts are all fought through. Many of the races and locations of Conan's world are mentioned, and Conan himself stays mainly faithful to the character of the book.

There are many different enemies in the game. Mostly these boil down into three different types - weak enemies (who Conan is instantly able to throw around) medium enemies who Conan must stun before being able to do more powerful attacks on, and strong enemies who have unblockable attacks and cannot be thrown. Conan has many many moves, hundreds it seems. Enemies release experience orbs which can be used to purchase new moves from a seemingly never ending list. These include special grappling moves such as tombstones (which pop the poor victims head) as well as instant kill moves such as lopping off an enemies head, or cleaving them in two. Conan can pick up most dead enemies weapons, being able to hold up to two at a time.

Conan also has access to magic. In the books Conan hated magic, and it seems blasphemy that he would use magic. In the game the reason is that his re-acquired armour is now infused with magic. I think this lets the no magic rule off as despite being magical the armour is his, and I think he would be stubborn enough to keep the armour despite it now being magical. There are four types of magic Conan can use each using up more magic. He can turn enemies to stone, rain down a meteor shower on enemies, unleash a horde of hellish crows, and create a mini black hole to swallow up enemies.

The bosses are the games highlight. Each is a joy to fight as they are so different and exciting. There is a mix of human and monster bosses. One boss will see you fighting a snake sorceress at the top of a temple, while another will see you in a running battle against a sand dragon in the ruins of a long dead civilisation; fun to do. The game is also quite gory, as well as plenty of blood, there is more impressive violence such as when you cleave an enemy in half there intestines billow out in slow mo, cool! Dotted through out the levels are captured women, these are near naked and topless, sure it is sexist but in keeping with the tone of the books. You get a heap of experience as a reward for freeing these, as you do for finding hidden treasure chests.

I really enjoyed this game, it helps I was actually reading a Conan book at the same time. This is most like Golden Axe: Beast Rider but unlike that this never gets boring, and has great checkpoints dotted all through the levels meaning you never get frustrated at having to replay large chunks of the game.