Monday, 30 June 2014
With a budget under $3000 I was not expecting much from A Plague So Pleasant, I figured the low cost would mean poor acting, and pathetic zombie make up and gore effects. How wrong was I!
The film takes place one year after zombie apocalypse, an apocalypse that occurred for just 12 hours and ended when the human survivors figured out if they simply just did not attack the undead then the undead would not fight back. With a world total of around 2 billion casualties life carries on as best it can. In America where this takes place it has become illegal to attack the walking dead, people have learnt just to deal with the corpses that roam the land. Clay Marshall (David Chandler) is disillusioned with this new existence. Discovering his disturbed sister is still in love with her dead boyfriend, he decides to do something about the unhealthy relationship she has...
Written and directed by Benjamin Roberds with co direction and cinematography by Jordan Reyes A Plague So Pleasant appears at first to be filmed entirely in black and white. I figured this was a good way to disguise bad zombie effects and it certainly added to the charm of the film bringing to mind Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead. It also seemed to amplify the bland and empty life people are now living. With so many dead in the apocalypse jobs are under staffed, no one seems to have drive in their lives, just stuck in monotonous routine. Clay seems frustrated with the new world, and via his monologue he wonders if he actually misses the excitement he had with the apocalypse. He has come to despise the harmless zombies, they are walking embodiments of death, a permanent reminder of the fate that awaits anyone who dies.
Without ruining things a mid point stunning moment occurs that results in the film bursting into colour, suddenly there is colour everywhere. The scene this happens in was an absolute master class in directing, while watching I just started saying out loud 'oh my God, oh my God' and had to actually put the film on pause to appreciate just what had happened! Needless to say the tone of the film utterly changes from here on out, it is almost like a completely separate film, from an art house discussion on life and death to a living nightmare, I swear I have had zombie dreams just like what is shown in this film.
This is a really gory film, the zombies dribble stuff out of their mouths, and there is so much blood, plus some stomach churning scenes with glass embedded deep in flesh with all the trauma that comes from that. The zombies look fantastic and there are some really fun scenes with them, but it really would spoil the surprise to reveal much. In mobs they are effective at creating chills, alone they are also darn creepy, such as when Clay (who the film very much follows exclusively) has to outwit a blind zombie who reacts to sound. To get an idea of the tone of a lot of the film just imagine the start of 28 Weeks Later but instead of escaping on a motor boat Don just kept running.
Now I will say that this did start to drag ever so slightly, there is just about too much slowly creeping around buildings that may or may not be occupied by zombies, and a late introduction of a child character did nothing for the film. The ending did not really take me by surprise but it was fantastically done regardless and does leave what the future holds open to question.
It is utterly criminal that this has not seen a commercial release (currently can be viewed free on YouTube) when it is so much better than the average straight to video zombie travesty. I implore anyone who thinks this sounds at all interesting to go watch it, it will not be a 80 minutes wasted.
Sunday, 29 June 2014
I have not been blogging much lately due to my despicable day job tiring me out with its incessant overtime, need to power on through and blog even when I am tired out from a long and boring days work. E3 was a few weeks back, for those that don't know it is perhaps the biggest gaming event of the year where a ton of new games are announced and shown off. This being a horror blog I shall cover the games of a scary nature that popped up this year, just the most exciting ones though mind!
First of all from 2K studios we have Evolve, created by the makers of online zombie co-op game Left 4 Dead. Again it is focused on online co-op play so will probably be one I miss. Four players take on the role of human hunters, their aim is to kill the fifth player who takes on the role of a gigantic monster who itself is tasked with killing the hunters. Sounds interesting for sure but let's be honest - zombies are always better!
From Bethesda we got a teaser trailer for the long awaited Doom 4...which is actually titled Doom. Now Doom 3 is one of my favourite games of all time so I am quite excited for this, I hope they stick to the realistic nature of that game as that so insanely immersive. Also from them was more information on the Shinji Mikami (creator of Resident Evil) survival horror game The Evil Within which looks to borrow a lot from the Silent Hill series (a good thing, where exactly is the new Silent Hill game?).
Deep Silver had a teaser trailer for Dead Island 2, I really loved the first game of survivors trapped on an island of flesh eating ghouls, I have the sequel to that (Dead Island: Riptide) but have yet to play it and have heard it is pretty sloppy. Here's hoping 2 is a more thought out game. It looks like it is going to be set in America this time around.
Developer Digital had Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number on show. I loved the first ultra violent game due to the fantastic addictive nature and awesome music. The sequel looks to be more of the same which I do not think is a bad thing.
From Electronic Arts there was Dragon Age: Inquisition which is the third in the Dragon Age series. After the rushed and lazy job that was Dragon Age II (enjoyable nonetheless) the team behind this have a lot to prove if they are going to draw back the fans that got burned. They also had an announcement for Mass Effect 4, an inevitable release and I for one really hope they go back to what made the series so good, I do not think Mass Effect 3 was a fantastic game, it felt sloppy and rushed in a lot of places and more like a videogame than an amazing adventure 1 and 2 felt like.
From Microsoft came Sunset Overdrive which is an open world zombie slaying third person adventure that has been described as 'Tony Hawk with guns'. The game world is a bright and vibrant place, looks like it could be a lot of fun and had many people touting it as the game of the show.
Sega had Alien: Isolation that looks to be shaping up nicely, for once in an Aliens game there is just the one creature, hopefully this will make it back into something to be scared of, rather than the cannon fodder of most games from that licence. Warner Bros. had Dying Light which is an open world zombie survival game set in South America, it looks a lot like Dead Island but features free running, and has zombies getting more intelligent and capable at night time, could be great.
So there you have it, again quite a few zombie and horror games. There are quite a few games I didn't mention, but they are the ones that most stood out for me. Hopefully by this time next year I will have one of the new generation of consoles!
Sunday, 22 June 2014
In 2012 I reviewed Zombie/Apocalypse 2012: A Political Horror Story, now the author Ian McCellan has another semi humorous zombie story released which is not related as far as I can tell and takes place in 1969, though not in space as I had originally assumed. I read the E-Book version and I readily admit that I really struggle with reading books digitally!
Film maker Mark Matthews is visited by the military whilst he is under arrest for having sex with an under-age girl. They request his assistance in making a special film, if he complies his charges will be dropped. Taken to a secret location he is tasked with making a film that shows the apparent Apollo 11 moon landings. He discovers the whole Russian and American space race was actually created as a distraction to the populaces of both countries to hide the fact that a zombie apocalypse was occurring. Meanwhile in an American city Will a barman and a bunch of other people band together when the undead start roaming the streets. Joined by some soldiers as well as some local gangsters together they try and find a way to escape the hell the place has become.
The sub plot of faking the moon landings was an original hook that I found out after the fact was based on alleged real events. In reality Stanley Kubrick was rumoured to have been hired to create the moon landing footage (just watch The Shining; it is full of references to Apollo 11) so that was a cool idea to use. This really was a minor subplot with very little book time devoted to the subject but by far the most humour comes from these scenes such as the incompetent actors Matthews is forced to rely on.
Where McCellan's previous zombie tale was like a road trip and focused on just the one character here it is almost the opposite. The majority of the book takes place in the one street of the city, a lot of this contained to a block of buildings. Many characters are used this time around, at first almost too many as I found myself getting confused a lot, as is the case with zombie stories the amount of people is slowly whittled down to more manageable numbers. McCellan doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the characters that get killed off, in fact he seems to revel in ones you would usually assume to survive being taken out. All the characters here are dysfunctional in one way or the other and none of them are perfect, drunks, gangsters, soldiers and one messed up family, out of the main characters none of them are bland and lifeless. The book is told from many different perspectives which keeps things feeling fresh.
One Undead Step is certainly a more serious story, the humour takes a further back seat than before with some real gruesome scenes occurring, and themes of sexual deviancy that keep popping up. The main story is almost a spoof in the bad luck the people get into, forever going to shop after shop almost like a commentary on the capitalist nature of Western society (maybe I'm reading too much into that!). Along with the moon landing sub plot there are other smaller ones that crop up that usually paint a scene only to then have the character introduced brutally killed that was just a bit too grim and didn't fit that well to the over arching story but interesting regardless. Deaths in general are well written though and usually feature the last thoughts of the victim just before they die that was a fitting send off for each one, also loved how the drunk characters really mess things up for the others!
The zombies of this book are runners, and seem more pack inclined with them reacting to noise and attacking relentlessly in order to get to their food source (living beings of course). Due to being in mobs for the most part these sections are always quite exciting. I could really picture the locations the book went to so quite vivid descriptions. I was impressed how McCellan manages to subtly morph unlikeable characters into people you actually care about as the book goes on
There is a lot to like with One Undead Step, it could be argued that it does not do too much new to the traditional zombie formula but the writing is consistently good and I really got hooked once it got going and some of the excess characters were culled. I look forward to McCellan's next book to see where he goes next.
Saturday, 21 June 2014
I picked up Tomb Raider for £5 a few weeks back, I had always wanted to play it, but hey, I just can't afford new games anymore. I really enjoyed the previous reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise but this new reboot goes even further away from old school Tomb Raider.
Lara Croft is on an expedition with some friends to discover the lost kingdom of Yamatai, she has a hunch it is located within an area of sea named the Devil's Triangle east of Japan. During the voyage a vicious storm appears, it destroys the ship she is travelling on and her and her colleagues all wash up on a strange island. Separated from the rest of the group (kidnapped by a cannibal as it happens) she escapes her captor to find the coast of the island is full of wrecks of ships and planes dating back hundreds of years up to present day. There is a strange storm that appears whenever anything gets close to the island, once on it it is impossible to leave. If things were not bad enough Yamatai (for this is where she has turned up at) is controlled by a murderous cult led by a deranged leader who worships an ancient dead Queen and who wants nothing more than to kill the new arrivals.
I loved this game, really loved it, the game plays out like a better Uncharted. Now I never minded those games but did feel they were over rated. Lara is just a better controlled character and has more to her personality. Being an origin story it charts the rise of her as a scared victim to a resolute heroine. It is a baptism of fire for this woman and the game does the great idea of changing her appearance as the game progress. Her clothes get torn, she gets covered in blood and dirt, she gets cuts and bandages, just brings a lot to the experience.
It wouldn't be remiss to call Tomb Raider a survival horror game, it is brutal, violent, extremely bloody and full of dark moments, from someone attempting to rape Lara near the start of the game things just get worse and worse, so much bad stuff happens to her. By the end of the game you have murdered hundreds of enemies, but this didn't detract from my experience, I never got the ludo-narrative dissonance that I did from something such as Bioshock Infinite. Criticised as promoting violence against women upon its release I disagree completely with this claim, nothing is glamorised here. The games world adds to the horror with thousands of corpses you encounter strewn about, hung up, and reduced to bones; a lot of people have been killed on the island. There is even a literal river of blood at one point!
The island of the game is a wonderfully made construct that always feels believable, the game is semi linear as you are always barrelling forward but camp sites allow you to travel back to old locations if you so wish. Areas you visit are very big and open with multiple routes but it is always obvious where you should be heading. Hidden objects such as diaries and treasure are all over the game world, by finding treasure maps these show up on your map and reward you with experience (used to upgrade your abilities) as well as materials (used to upgrade your weapons). The way the game is paced I didn't really like to have to back track to go to previous areas as it all moves at such a lightning pace that it took me out the immersion to then break this flow.
The game world is very vertical, you clamber around objects much in the way of Uncharted, you can slide down ropes, climb cliff faces, and swing from poles. You get new abilities as the game goes on, such as being able to create your own rope slides. The other part of the game is the combat of which there is a hell of a lot. You get 4 weapons; shotgun, rifle, pistol, and bow and arrow that can all be upgraded. The bow in particular is used a lot for environmental puzzles due to it's fire arrows (that can also destroy enemy cover) that are usually simple but fun to do, a few times I got stuck on a puzzle for a bit especially in the puzzle tomb areas. Combat is of the cover based kind and in a novel twist you don't have to press a button to take cover, instead you naturally duck down when you get to some if there are enemies around. This was a great idea that other games should copy from. Bad guys can be finished off with brutal close range kills that range from jabbing an arrow into someones neck to executing them close range with your pistol.
My favourite part of the game were the load screens...as in there are not any at all! Sure areas load as you walk down corridors but it is so expertly done that I never noticed, fantastic not having them (though dying and fast travelling use a load). The graphics are near stunning with the forests, bunkers, mountains and more all looking really good. Weather effects are also prominent with much of the game taking place in the rain that also looks great. The HUD is kept to a minimum only appearing small and in the corner when changing weapons, as such it just looks fantastic, it would have been nice to have the option of having the map displayed at all times though as I admit it is a pain to have to go onto the pause screen to look at it.
At between ten and twenty hours long this is a really long game which I really appreciated, at several points there are false endings that always delighted me when I discovered I still had a long way to go. Frequently splitting up the normal action are set pieces that usually involve you having to run whilst chaos happens around you such as a temple burning down, a cave collapsing, or a fantastic bit where you are on a construction that is collapsing all around. Artificial platforms in general are likely to collapse as you traverse them to keep things exciting. Other sequences include you getting caught in a trap and hanging upside down while being attacked (The Last of Us also did this), sliding down hills, and more. Thankfully there are no bland turret sections and while the game does feature QTE's these are always simple and infrequent.
I was quite simply unprepared for how much I liked this game, everything from the plot (simple but effective) to the way the game is laid out, and the sublime way Lara controls made this a joy to play. Well worth a play, there be fun here!
Wednesday, 18 June 2014
In 2002 a series of strange events revolving around an old mirror occurs at the house of siblings Tim (Brenton Thwaites), Kaylee Russell (Karen Gillan) and their parents which results in Tim ending up in a mental institute and his parents dead. Now ten years later in modern day (well 2012) Tim has just been released and his sister upon picking him up requests his help in a task she has to do. Kaylee has tracked down the cursed mirror and wants Tim's help in finally destroying it. Her brother is convinced that his sister is crazy as he has blocked out his memories of the past, but he accompanies her to their childhood home anyway where she has set up an experiment. Rather than just destroy the mirror she wants to set out to prove that it is actually a thing of evil and restore her families tarnished name by recording everything that happens. This proves to be quite the error though as insanity and madness arrive in increasing amounts as the night of the experiment goes on.
Oculus is split between the past and the present day, I would say almost half the film is shown via flash backs of when Tim and Kaylee were kids, while the other half has them attempting to defeat the mirror. As the film goes on these two time lines merge with clever camera work so that it constantly shifts between the two times seamlessly. I have to say the modern day segments were a lot better and more involving so the gradual spill over to concentrating on the past was a bit disappointing.
The mirror is an interesting object in that it causes it's victims to hallucinate and see and hear things that are not there. Kaylees speech she gives to the cameras about the history of the mirror was fascinating and really sets up the mirror as something to be feared. Previous victims involved a woman who died of thirst whilst laying in a bathtub full of water, and a man who ran out into traffic and was killed just moments after he attempted to smash the mirror. It has strong defences and can trick it's victims into causing themselves harm. A hanging blade on a timer is set up to destroy the mirror automatically if Kaylee or her brother does not reset the timer every half hour, thus preventing the mirror from killing them and with that they hope to record enough evidence to clear their family, this leads to some great story beats, especially as the mirror keeps confusing the two so that they keep finding themselves standing right in the potential path of the hanging blade.
Pretty Gillan is fantastic as the older Kaylee, her confidence is slowly eroded throughout the film and as a result her character change from in control to terrified is greatly done, Thwaites as Tim on the other hand does an ok job but comes across as bit wooden at times. The young versions of them are more irritating than anything, running around being annoying as kids in horror films can be. Their parents include Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica) who does the best with her role but the parents in general are just there to portray the effects of the evil. With just a handful of characters and the majority of the film taking place in the one house it is good that things never get too dull.
What irks for me is the whole gathering evidence part of the plot. If they had just destroyed the mirror in the first place than nothing bad would have happened, rather than messing around trying to show proof (though this does lead to some great moments when the footage they have filmed is vastly different to what has just happened to them in the film. Also after a very strong first half the film just begins to unravel, the majority of the second half is just dragged out and looses its impact, ending on a very unsatisfying note. Maybe as Oculus was based on a half hour short they could not think of anything to pad out a 100 minute run time. As an aside I am sure Apple sponsored the film as every damn electronic device they use in the film has the logo glaring out at you.
This is a scary film though and I was glued to my seat really thirsting to find out how the story played out, I cared for the main characters in the present day segments at least. The idea of a cursed mirror is something that has not been done that much before, the mirror despite being an inanimate object manages to come across as pretty darn scary! Being a 15 there is not much gore but what is there is grim and made me look away on occasion such as when a character gets tricked by the mirror into biting down onto a light bulb rather than the apple they thought they were eating! A lot of strangulation occurs if that is your thing, and a lot of ghost type figures with creepy shining eyes pop up and look wrong as hell.
Oculus is a tarnished film, on the one hand it is genuinely scary and has an interesting premise, the parts taking place a decade after the horror happened feel really fresh. On the other side flash backs feel kind of stale and a mid film slump sees the ideas well run a bit dry. Still it succeeds as a horror film and kept me dedicated right to the end.
Monday, 16 June 2014
First off is The Mansion which is a new zombie comic written by Patrick Scattergood and with art by Lee Taylor. Scattergood is well aware of how crowded the zombie genre is so hopefully The Mansion will bring something new, or just do something not new but in a very cool way. Over on his blog you can see a few pages from the comic which look decent (here).
Next up is the gruesome trailer for Brutal. Described as a mixed martial arts action-adventure it nonetheless looks pretty...well pretty brutal. It seems to be a film about MMA but with ultra violent fights going on with bones snapping, eyes being gouged out and plenty of blood. Check out the bloody trailer below...
Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects are near to infinity as it is possible to get, they are the current vogue and so many of these projects fail. With that out the way I received a message regarding an Indiegogo campaign to get a new American horror magazine created called Monster Magic. It would be released both digitally and in print. What is cool with this one is that even if their budget of $20,000 is not reached (currently stands at $311 with 24 days left) then they will still try and honor the pledges and create the magazine with a refund given if this is not possible. All the best to them, and if this sounds like your thing then head to their Indiegogo page.
A zombie trailer next and one that I really didn't know what to think of. Hans Crippleton is a film about a family of inbred rednecks whose home is visited by a reporter who wants to discover the mystery of why once a year hordes of zombies show up to assault the farm house the family live at. The film looks kinda weird and the trailer was also bizarre though the late arrival of zombies saved it for me...
A kickstarter campaign next for a new UK comic label Kiss Comics with zombie comic 'Game for the Living' as their first one. Game for the Living is a post zombie Armageddon tale set in Scotland that focuses on 3 friends that spend their time battling the zombie masses and getting drunk. I like the art style for this one. If the kickstart is successful (currently on £987 of the £3000 goal with again 24 days to go) then there will be other comics set in the same universe released. The Kickstarter page is here.
Last but not least is yet another Kickstarter, this time for a zombie themed board game called Bunnies VS Zombies that is described as an action packed cooperative board game. Gotta say I thought the video for this was fantastic. The game comes with plastic playing pieces which look awesome, and a bright cartoony style to it all. These guys have raised $35,399 of thier $50,000 goal with 16 days left to go, so good luck to them also. Check that out here.
Wednesday, 11 June 2014
Gila! is a remake of the 1959 creature feature The Giant Gila Monster, it is directed by B-Movie legend Jim Wynorski (whose first film as director was of course The Lost Empire in 1985). I have never seen the original Gila film but if it is what I think it is then it would have been from the classic time of monster movies in which real animals were used and super imposed onto footage to make them seem like monsters.
Set in the 1950's in a small rural American town Gila! opens with a young couple being attacked by a huge lizard creature as long as tall as a bus. It appears that some small time criminals storing chemical waste in a remote cave for a quick buck may have resulted in the mutation of a lizard living there. Now the monstrous beast is getting ready to hibernate and so is searching out human victims to feed on. Local good guy mechanic Chase Winstead (Brian Gross) ends up being caught up in the mystery of just what is killing people and teams up with the Sheriff in order to stop the beast.
I was dubious when this started, especially as the Gila monster is created using bad CGI that looks terrible. I thought that if a serious film was attempted using this computer generated mess then I would be in for a rough ride. Thankfully and despite this only being made a few years back it is a decent B-Movie and a kind hearted look back at the creature feature genre of the 1950's. I found myself really enjoying this, the characters are all likable and features some pretty attractive females in the lead female roles (Madeline Voges as Chase's girlfriend Lisa, and Christina DeRosa as bad boy Waco Bob's girlfriend). I find having attractive leads always makes watching even the worst move more bearable.
It all follows a predictable format, at first the monster is unseen by the local populace and for the first half a few people try and work out the mystery of what is occurring, then there is the final half where the heroes try and defeat the beast. I will say that I did get slightly bored in the middle with characters travelling to various locations with little plot reason to do so. The CG at times is quite off putting and the amount of shots of the monster booming down roads with dust swirling about gets quite silly as it does not look part of the landscape in the slightest. The bad computer generated effects also are used for the death sequences of characters which while inventive (such as the monster's tail swatting a chemical filled drum which bursts over two men who then have their flesh dissolved off by the substance) always looks kinda silly. This does add to the B-Movie charm. Also a shame was that the creature never shows any damage, even when it has been blasted by thousands of bullets it shows no damage at all which does detract.
The soundtrack is all rock n' roll music, lots of muscle cars are used that are fun to look at, and again those two female leads make for an entertaining yarn that just about doesn't outstay it's welcome. It was a shame to leave the town the film is set in as it seemed such a nice place. In all honesty I would rather watch this over the snooze-fest that was Godzilla (2014) any day of the week, that film may have better creature effects but this is just a more fun film and didn't feel like a waste of my time to see.
Gila! does nothing at all original and has really bad special effects but it is feel good and a great B-Movie, the acting is decent also which is a big plus in my book! Gila! is out now on DVD.
Sunday, 1 June 2014
Well The Lost Empire is certainly no horror film, but what it is is a prime example of an 80's B-movie. Originally created as a tax loss but director Jim Wynorski in his first directing role didn't know this and so tried to make a great film with the small budget he had.
It starts with a robbery at a Chinese jewellery store by 3 costumed villains looking like Foot Soldiers from Turtles. Their robbery of an ancient jewel via use of magical shurikens is thwarted by the arrival of police that results in everyone being killed, one of the officers surviving long enough to give his bad ass older sister (also an officer) one of the shurikens. Her boyfriend; a clumsy Detective recognises it as belonging to an international terrorist organisation whose leader Sin Do (played by The Tall Man legend Angus Scrimm) is allegedly in league with an immortal wizard Lee Chuck who must kill someone every day lest the Devil appears to claim his soul. Wanting vengeance for her brothers death she recruits American Indian Whitestar (Raven De LaCroix), and convict Heather McClure to head off to Sin Do's remote island fortress where he regularly advertises for female warriors from around the globe to join his organisation.
This is B-movie in every sense of the word. Dodgy acting, awful special effects, and the fantastic cheesy soundtrack along with a bananas plot that doesn't make that much sense. It could also be seen as a female exploitation film as every single female is either half naked, wearing very few clothes or has a giant cleavage, the film even opens on an extreme close up of a woman's bust. With the exception of a few people on the male side the men are fully clothed, most wearing face concealing robes. The main female leads are strong women though, very capable and skilled fighters and full of quips and belligerence. Some racist tones such as Whitestar who never stops making insensitive jokes about American Indians such as saying at one point the place they are staying at is preferable to her wigwam.
There are some real bad special effects but at times it can get quite good. The initial robbery scene is by far the most violent scene on offer, it was kind of a shame that there was nothing really to match that scene in terms of not only outlandishness but also in gore and brutality (someone later on does get a sword stuck through their face which was fun). Magical effects are obviously added later and look abysmal, while sound effects are very over the top and out of place.
B-movies can often get bogged down in long, tedious dialogue scenes but here these are kept to a minimum with the 3 main females for the most part content to reel off lists of one liners that are always terrible. The film moves along at a moderate pace and never takes itself too seriously at all, even throws in a man in a gorilla suit for good effect, and starts with a screen of text which is also a staple of B-movies I have found out. It is fun to see Angus Scrimm as bad guy Sin Do though he doesn't get much screen time.
The Lost Empire and its island of soldiers reminded me a bit of classic James Bond films, even a bit of the first Mortal Kombat film. While it is not a classic and looks and sounds terrible with bad audio mixing and poor picture quality there is plenty of eye candy if that is your thing, and is a prime and watchable example of an old school B-movie. The DVD release includes a commentary as well as trailer and cast biographies.