Monday, 25 August 2014

Flu (2010) by Wayne Simmons - Zombie Horror Book Review

I met the author of Flu; Wayne Simmons at last years Leicester based Zombiefest and found him to be a really nice and friendly guy. I picked up this book whilst there and have finally gotten around to reading it. Flu is set in Northern Ireland, the only Irish zombie tale I knew of before this was the average Boy Eats Girl film.

A deadly new strain of flu swept Ireland that the government were struggling to contain due to it being airborne. The infected were quarantined but things rapidly devolved as the authorities went to more and more desperate methods to deal with the outbreak. The virus mutates again with the result being that the victims of the disease reanimate upon their deaths. Six weeks later and the survivors are few. A woman named Geri meets some thugs, meanwhile another woman finds herself under the protection of a middle aged man; Pat who used to be a gunrunner for the IRA. Elsewhere retired Major Connor Jackson is called back into service and whisked away to a secret Army base where bizarre experiments on the undead are being performed.

These three plot lines run concurrently and for the most part are entirely separate from each other and provide stories that have different feeling and emotions to them. The most interesting one was that of Geri and the people she ends up surviving with. Characters who initially seem to be bad get moulded via their actions into people to root for. Ones who appear to be good guys are revealed to be far more human. In general the events here feel much more real than the usual stereotypes, characters are shown to have a whole range of emotions and motives. Pat and Karen have a more insular dynamic going on with much of their time being in confinement from the outside world. Pat has regret for some of his shady past and sees this new world as a way to make amends almost. For Karen Flu charts the loss of her innocence whether for good or bad. Jackson's storyline is much more simple and has some traditional elements from the zombie genre but is interesting nonetheless.

The zombies of Flu are a mixed bag, they are able to hunt in packs and show limited signs of intelligence, feed on human flesh and are slow and lethargic. The flu virus makes the victim bleed out of every orifice, the results is that the zombies here are pretty much deaf meaning guns are at the forefront of the action. As grim as this world is I think it is preferable to the chocking suffocation of David Moody's Autumn series where any noise is sure to draw the attention of the undead.

Nothing much seems to happen during the book yet the characters were so interesting that I didn't mind at all, they are more fleshed out, in part due to flashbacks of events that happened before the apocalypse. It is a common problem in zombie books that people have no idea how to combat the living dead, here is no different with the idea of zombies seemingly unknown to the survivors until they are faced with them. An airborne virus being the root cause spices things up as any character at any time can suddenly contract the virus even if they are safe in hiding. this lends a more tense aspect.

All the troubles Northern Ireland has faced in the past contrast with the present, issues becoming less important when people must unite to survive but in the realistic way Simmons writes some things are hard to forget. His down to earth writing is what wins the book for me, sometimes bloody and violent, other times more sedate. Sometimes he travels down paths somewhat too predictable but is always well written and vivid.

Flu is well worth a read if your into your zombie fiction and due to the somewhat open ending I was pleased to see there is a sequel titled 'Fever', so will have to check that out!


Thursday, 21 August 2014

Evil Feed (2013) - Horror Film Review

It's lazy to draw comparisons to explain a film but hell, I'm tired after a long day at the lab so here I go... Evil Feed is Hostel crossed with the very best of Jean-Claude Van Damme. Having recently covered this film in a news post (here) I received a copy of it for review and must say it was delightful to consume.

There is an exclusive secret restaurant named The Long Pig where the food served is all of a cannibalistic nature. Ruled by the psychotic Steven it aims to provide a range of services and entertainment for it's clientele. One of the features is what Steven calls 'tendertainment' in which kidnapped martial artists are forced to fight, if they loose they are killed and served up. One such fighter; Nash, and his girlfriend Jenna are captured along with Jenna's Dad and her sister. The father's students (Tyrone, Brian, and Carlos) discover the location of The Long Pig and head there with the intention of infiltrating the place and rescuing their friends and sensai.

Directed by Kimani Ray Smith Evil Feed is one gory film but all done in quite a tongue in cheek way. While providing horror and lots of martial art fighting there is also double helpings of humour, it really does not take itself seriously which is probably good considering the subject matter (the house special is called the Dicky Roll for instance, not hard to imagine what body part that consists of).

I was expecting something that looked like it was filmed in the back of a shed somewhere but I actually found myself impressed with the quality of the film, it all looks solid and while the relatively small sets do indicate a low budget this is more than made up for with non stop action and humour that even when it falls flat does not detract from the experience. It did fall flat a lot for me but I will also state that at least once I found myself laughing out loud.

The special effects are pretty good and are mostly used for the brutal fighting sequences. The fights are held in an MMA style ring and always end with fantastic finishing fatalities that could come straight out of Mortal Kombat, a favourite one was someone getting their face peeled off and then eaten by the victor! Punches really feel like they connect with lashings of blood and gore and a bunch of severed body parts by the films conclusion.

Along with all the bloody violence comes a fair bit of nudity. Now I have said before that I don't think naked females needs to be an essential part of horror films and far too often is used to titillate but here it just fits into the style of the film well, like a 70's exploitation film made for the modern day. It is pretty much essential for one scene that has a really gruesome pay off to it!

The plot is quite basic but it does do the job well, there is not too much depth to things, a mild sub-plot involving a rival restaurant owner boils along nicely while the main one is silly and fun. Main bad guy Steven is played manically by Terry Chen while his love interest crazed Yuki (Alyson Bath) nearly comes across as irritating but narrowly avoids it. The good guys are also not bad, at least hard man Tyrone (Alan Chanoine), portly Brian and maybe the main female lead Jenna have good parts. The acting all around really cannot be complained about. Even the not so good characters such as Carlos and wimpy Pete are let down not due to bad acting just bad uninvolving parts. The right people were picked for the right roles.

With a hell of a lot of fighting and a hell of a lot of violence Evil Feed was a real thrill ride that I really got into. Sure it is dumb and sure the humour is slightly off kilter but I found myself having a real enjoyable time. Evil Feed is released by Solo Media on 25th August on Digital (VOD) and On Demand, well worth a watch.


Monday, 18 August 2014

The House on the Wrong Side of the Tracks (2013) - Horror Film Review

The House on the Wrong Side of the Tracks shares both title and the premise of home invasion with the likes of The Last House on the Left and The House on the Edge of the Park but takes a modern twist by being a film from the much maligned found footage genre. The film was apparently filmed in just 23 hours and I have to say this did set alarm bells ringing in the halls of The Rotting Zombie HQ as I was concerned how a film shot in such a short time frame could be any good.

Three scum bags; psychotic Ray (Eric Sopko), his besotted girlfriend Liz (Amanda Baker), and brother Nathan (Alec Drake) decide for fun they are going to invade the house of a middle aged couple and rob and trash the place. Also for fun they are going to film the whole event to watch back later on. Initially things go to plan but the arrival of the couples intellectually disabled son sees the tables turned with the invaders becoming prisoners of what turns out to be a very crazy family.

The first twenty minutes of The House on the Wrong Side of the Tracks actually really impressed me, there are long scenes without a break including a fantastic one in which the worlds longest train goes by all while Ray almost preaches about why he does what he does. The three delinquents have a certain charm to them and come across as a tight unit, Ray with his psychotic behaviour is a nut bag but all had a magnetic aura around them. The acting as I expected was not great but I was able to look past that for these three. It is just a shame that as soon as the home invasion begins the film starts to unravel.

I expect a lot of this film was ad-libbed, characters frequently stumble their words and over emphasise but this never bothered me. The introduction of new characters sadly ruins things. The middle aged couple whose house the trio invade over act a lot, the wife in particular I just did not enjoy. When tied up she looked like she was trying not to laugh, and throughout her hair looked like a wig that was distracting. No one seems sure of what to do once they are in the house, the three invaders are just kind of standing around while Ray shouts at his captors. When the three become prisoners this trend continues with the actors playing the family seeming unsure of what to do, obviously not wanting to actually hurt the actors playing the thugs they instead meekly push them around while shouting abuse which does not look good on camera.

With the three now captive the film changes tack and goes on a misguided and sadly boring tangent of focusing on the family. Losing the most interesting characters was a bad move, it falls flat with the wind knocked out of the sails and never manages to recover despite an almost enjoyable finale. With feeble non threatening antagonists it falls down to special effects to save the day but again just does not excel. Some severed fingers and other body parts look quite terrible with virtually no blood to be seen at all. A body in a bath tub looked like a mannequin, I guess with the bizarre design of the house maybe it actually was. On that note the house is well designed, I approve of the look with so much clutter and detail (the front room full of TVs, the Star War dolls on the shelf in the hallway, great stuff!).

The influences that this film cribs from are plain to see, the huge son dressed up like a werewolf brought echoes of Leatherface, while the whole insane family could be straight from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre also. Meanwhile a later scene in which Liz apologises to her family while crying at the camera was a big nod to The Blair Witch Project. The house the film takes place around features a load of horror  pictures on the walls such as a drawing of a zombie from Night of the Living Dead as well as a poster featuring Planet Terror and Death Proof (I have the same poster in my house). It was cool to see these films displayed in the film but they did feel very out of place.

Filmed in Youngstown (the home of RagNBone Productions who produced this) and filmed in such a short space of time what was achieved is admirable. It was just a disappointment that the strong beginning was too much for the rest of the film to live up to and that the most interesting characters got relegated to the background in exchange for less interesting ones. A nice idea having the hunters become the hunted though!


Sunday, 17 August 2014

Metro: Last Light (2013) - Horror Videogame Review (X-Box 360)

Metro: Last Light is the sequel to Metro 2033; a post apocalyptic first person shooter set in Moscow's underground metro system. The first game followed closely the plot of Dmitry Glukhovsky's book of the same name but while that had a follow up Metro 2034 this game is not based on that but instead goes off on a tangent. Plot spoilers for the first game ahead.

Last Light follows the bad ending of the first game in which main character Artyom destroys the home of the mysterious creatures known as the Dark Ones via missile strike, learning too late that they were a benevolent race who only wanted peace. Set around a year later Artyom is now a member of the Order (a group of soldiers tasked with keeping peace in the metro). Learning that one of the Dark Ones avoided annihilation the Order task Artyom with heading to the ruins of their home and killing the survivor as he is the only one who has resistance to the Dark Ones mind control powers. Meanwhile the metro is heading into a state of war, the bunker D6 which was used to launch the missiles from (in Metro 2033) is wanted both by the Fourth Reich and the Red Line who are happy to go through the Order to take it.

Last Light is far more of an action based shooter than the horror and survival that it once was. The whole experience is more game based now with clear HUD elements to show your ammo and other items. This removed some of the immersion for me that was quite a shame as the first game felt like such a real, living place. The horror elements have been stripped back somewhat and while they are still there they take more of a back seat with the brewing war between different human factions really being the focus of the game.

A good chunk of the game involves stealth sections which unfortunately do not work very well. The stealth here feels like late 90's videogame stealth. A light on your wrist shows you if you are in darkness or not but it is very generous. Enemies patrol in limited A.I routines and all can be killed via a button prompt should you creep up on them. The soldiers you take out in these sections are extremely dense, you can literally crouch walk right up to one and kill them without them seeing you. These stealth sections are far too easy and there are far too many of them for it not to become an irritation.

The variation of the games world also is called into question. Like before things are split between the metro and the surface world. The metro has you walking around friendly stations where you can buy guns and ammo and listen to people talking. There are lots of conversations you can listen to but they seem a bit artificial in that they only start when you approach people making them seem less real and more like animatronics at a museum, Artyom has no way he can interact with these people he meets. The metro is a lot more bland this time around, a low point was sneaking through the Red Lines armoury, dull as dishwater to look at. Abandoned stations are usually full of giant spiders but again nothing special. There was a lot more variety in Metro 2033 I'm sure of it. Files are hidden around levels but rather than give depth to places just serve to provide Artyom's current thoughts, a missed opportunity.

The surface world really shines here. In the first game going to the surface felt really quite scary, having to rely on filters to enable your gas mask to continue functioning and monsters everywhere. The ice of that game has gone, now the world is full of rain and thunderstorms, it looks amazing and the rain hammering on your visor really restricts your view but again what made these levels feel so desperate are reduced with ammo and filters literally everywhere, I never once felt a sense of panic as supplies were in such abundance. Maybe over used but these are still a highlight of the game and the ones set in the darkness really did create some fear when creatures are attacking in force, though the pools of water seem to just be there to limit your exploration while top side.

There was always something new to do in Metro 2033 but here the set pieces are less, the levels more bland, there is just nothing to rival locations such as the library, or the crazy radio tower climb. The game does look good in places, of course the great over world, and the friendly stations have lots of detail put into them to make them seem like places people lived in but it is just not the same.  There is an optional Ranger mode that apparently brings Last Light more in line with its predecessor but this mode is locked away behind paid for DLC that is quite a shameful decision.

Metro: Last Light is a living example that more accessible doesn't make for a better game, the stripped back functions and more user friendly interface actually detract from the feeling of being in the world of post apocalyptic Russia. I had fun here for sure, the controls are less clunky and it looks a lot better but the magic I was expecting was diminished.


Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Venus de Vilo - Horror Themed Music news

When it comes to music I have to admit that I know next to near nothing, my taste is varied having never really settled on a genre to call my home and so I never feel comfortable when I am given music to listen to or review. Music in particular cannot be bound by words on a page to describe, hearing is the only way to know for yourself if something is up your proverbial street.

Venus de Vilo makes horror themed music, she describes herself as "A Dublin based horror-shock musician with metal-punk leanings". Her first EP 'Edgar Allan Ho' was released in 2012 with a second EP 'Till Death Do Us Party' released 2013. Venus is currently working on her first full length album 'Handle With Scare!' (13 tracks of course) to be released this year...or maybe it is already out, not sure on that one!

Below is her track 'Crazy For You' the video of which is set out like a 1920's silent film complete with grainy look and description cards. In the video Venus plays a crazed fan of 20's movie star Vlad Valentine who corners him one evening and butchers him. Not a bad song, kinda catchy, and the video does not take itself seriously, check it out for yourself...

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Downfall (2009) - Horror Videogame Review (PC)

It has been a long time since I played a decent point and click adventure game. Downfall is a horror based one from the golden days of the genre. With the internet being a mere click away the trouble nowadays is whether someone has the patience to slowly explore game worlds searching for puzzle solutions or to just have a cheeky peek at the answers. Did I control my urges to cheat, and is this game actually any good?

Downfall starts late at night with main character Joe arriving at a small town with his wife Ivy. Joe decides to spend the night at a hotel; The Quiet Haven before continuing his journey. His wife has been acting very oddly; cursing, talking in dark riddles and pretty much taking a break from reality. After heading to their room the two fall asleep. The next morning Joe awakes to find his wife missing, he heads out his room to discover the hotel and area around it has changed with blood and corpses everywhere. In this weird new reality he learns to have any chance of getting his wife back he must destroy an evil spirit of a woman called Sophie that has control of this nightmare dimension.

This is quite a traditional adventure game. You play via the mouse, the left button used to interact with people and objects, the right button used to examine people and objects. The majority of the game takes place in a hotel, there are some areas outside such as a local film studio but for the most part you are exploring the hotel searching for keys to open locked doors. Puzzles are simple, I never got too taxed at all by them, usually they involve finding a particular item to use on something. For example finding an iron pole in order to make a lightning conductor.

The horror aspect comes in the fact that you are in a place that is littered with ghosts, corpses and murder. A lot of the puzzles of the game result in you having to kill living beings, your character Joe coming to terms with this by acknowledging all the crazy events are not real, the people all ghosts so already dead. An early example is brutally killing a cat that has swallowed a key, was a shock to find that was what was needed. By the games end many people have been killed by your hand, it all felt natural and key to progression as I did it, but looking back; it was pretty messed up the things I did! The crux of the game to demonstrate the strong theme of killing is that to rescue your wife you must kill four versions of the evil Sophie being from various times in her life prior to her becoming the monster she has become.

The themes of regret, deception, darkness bring to mind the world of Silent Hill. The characters you meet are all quite vague and speak in riddles, seemingly knowing more than they are letting on. A sub plot involves an axe murderer who years previous had gone on a killing spree in the town, while Sophie's back story is plain sick and not something I had seen done in a game before! While this is all suitably gloomy the script can be really quite corny at times, the dark words characters speak kinda reminded me of something a 'troubled' teen would write in their journal, cheesy lines about maggots eating souls, and the futility of living were kind of cringe inducing to read.

There are some well done pieces in Downfall though, a mid game shift that saw you control a second character led to a knowing sense of doom, while the twist ending while nothing really new still caught me by surprise. The game has a sometimes terrible art style with different locations not seeming to match up very well visually, it's more that Joe does not fit into these sometimes great looking rooms rather than bad art I guess. The music is used sparsely but was all good. At some points you are hunted by someone who is able to actually kill your character. While you do get the option to continue should you get killed I still do not approve of being able to be killed in a point and click game!

While not the longest game, best written, or hardest out there I still found myself intrigued as to what was going to happen. Not a feel good game, and some of the violence is almost to torture porn levels (such as a room of corpses all dead by different suicide methods) but is something different to play and can be picked up quite cheap on GOG.


Thursday, 7 August 2014

Evil Feed (2014) - Horror Film News

Due for release from Solo Media on 24th August comes Evil Feed; a comedy horror splatter fest. It is due to be released on demand and digital. The premise of the film is that there is an underground restaurant named The Long Pig Restaurant that serves human flesh as its main delicacy. Recently a new feature called The Pit of Gore has appeared. Customers watch combatants fight to the death, the loser becomes the meal.

Described as being like grind house cinema the trailer certainly looks like belonging to that genre with nudity, violence, gore and insanity all checked off. I am in two minds about this, could either be a work of genius or a chaotic mess. The idea is a fun one and I have to admit I appreciated all the terrible puns. Check out the trailer below...