Thursday, 29 January 2015

Unseen Evil (2001) - Horror Film Review


The folks at The Movie and Music Network have a whole bunch of films available to watch online for cheap prices, but in a neat move they also have a film available to watch for free each day. Today's free film is Unseen Evil (also known as The Unbelievable apparently) and so I felt a review was in order.

A bunch of hikers including Dr. Peter Jensen (Richard Hatch), Kate an archaeologist, and a couple of men have hired a native guide to take them into the American wilderness in search of an ancient Indian burial mound. Not long in to the trip and it is revealed that the not so good Dr intends to rob the mound of its treasures and that the two men with him are actually also robbers. Finally arriving they indeed find vast treasures but as soon as they remove the loot from the cave system the trouble really begins. An invisible deadly creature starts to hunt the group and one by one they get picked off. The survivors have to find a way to stop the nightmare creature.


This is an amazing film; amazingly terrible that is! Obviously low budget in nature everything about this is pretty awful, but thankfully it fits neatly into the 'so bad it's good' category of film making. First off the props are not the best ever, the gold treasure in particular looks like it is made out of plastic while most the sound effects sound like they have been taken straight out of the public domain library. The creature being invisible is a blessing in literal disguise as it obviously saves on budget a lot, though more pressingly the creature when you do see it is abysmal. It is CGI straight out of the early 1990's and looks very fake and unrealistic.

The characters are one dimensional and while the acting can not be complained about (it is passable) they fall into the common trap of acting unrealistically. The cast spend too much of the film pointing guns at each other and fighting to be 'in control' as they put it, the amount of times this happens is farcical though Kate does mention this at one point. The bad guys are idiots it has to be said. You have the token angry black man who causes more trouble than he's worth, while Jensen does his best to be the films bad guy but is not the least bit threatening. They are not dull characters at least and their plight is fun to watch.


When action does happen it is swift and violent, each of the kills in Unseen Evil is fun to see, the creature has deadly claws and there is plenty of blood and even a decapitation at one point. The moral of the film seems to be if your a good and humble character then you will end up dead sooner rather than later, while the more darker characters mostly fall prey to their own hubris. There are lots of shots of the invisible creature interacting with the environment, such as smashing into a car, while the first person perspective of it as it chases the group reminded me a lot of the evil spirit from The Evil Dead.

The plot is simple, but made sillier by the ridiculous decisions characters make and it is this silliness that saves the film from being boring. This is in no way a good film, but it is not a boring film either, instead I had a lot of fun watching it and shouting at the characters as they go out their way to ruin things. All in all an enjoyable 90 minutes and I must confess...knowing there is a sequel has gotten me pretty excited!

SCORE:

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Chicken Pi: Twisted Tales by S. Lawrence Parrish (2013) - Horror Audiobook Series Review


Chicken Pi: Twisted Tales is a collection of fifteen short horror stories written and spoken by S. Lawrence Parish (he of Where Evil Grows and Yog-Sothoth's Box fame), each one roughly twenty minutes in length. His previous audio books have been straight up narrations and featured him doing a variety of voices. The stories contained in Chicken Pi all have sound effects and music added which really gives them some added flavour.

Parrish gives all his audio work away for free and this is no exception and so the only aspect to look at is are these stories any good, and are they worth the listen? The resounding answer would be yes. I was very impressed with the variety and quality of these tales with only a few coming across as anything but excellent. While all the stories are different there are several themes that he keeps coming back to. A few of the stories concern demons and vampires while a fair few of them are post apocalyptic in nature. It is the apocalyptic ones in particular that had a real power of dread behind them.

Not all the stories in Chicken Pi were amazing, in particular I did not enjoy Givin' the Dog a Bone which was about an old man and woman trying to survive nuclear fallout, it was depressing from the start and ended a bit strangely. The other one which I did not think was as good as the others was final story Kitty Kitty about a witch and a very hard to kill cat. For that one I just straight up got confused as to what happened. That is not to say these are badly written, far from it, Parrish never disappoints with his style of writing and he is skilled at coming up with different voices for the characters in that particular unique voice of his.

On the other end of the spectrum the best tale by far is Current Events that brings real horror of nuclear Armageddon into play, it is harrowing throughout and ends in such an amazing and descriptive way that I got goose bumps hearing it, something very special there. The two parter The Prophet was also another stand out story. That one concerned a feudal based civilisation who are approaching end times and had a sense of urgency and frustration and again ended on such a blinder of an ending.

Most of the stories here finish badly for the characters being followed, it almost come to be expected that everything would go wrong and so I came to look forward to getting the ironic or deserved end to these people. A few curve balls are thrown also with the best oddity being A Fistful of Rubber that seems to be a post apocalyptic based yarn about the day after a wild party. The story is narrated by Stumpy who speaks in a very A Clockwork Orange way with his own little language that was fun to hear.

With stories set hundreds of years in the past and future, demons that crawl into people via their bottoms, aliens who can take over your mind with just a touch, Scanner style head explosions and exploding babies the variety is always consistent leading you to never know what is going to be next. This is essential listening if you are a fan of short horror stories, I cannot recommend it enough.

SCORE:

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Tower Block (2012) - Horror Film Review


Tower Block was a film I decided to watch on the spur of the moment, the brief description for the film on Netflix caught my interest. It is a British thriller set in a tower block (as the title would suggest).

A tower block is set to be demolished but first all the council tenants in the building need to be re-housed. As such all but the top floor of this building is deserted of people. In the intro sequence a terrified young man is chased by two masked men into this place, his attempts to get assistance are met with silence by the inhabitants who don't want any trouble (with one failed exception) and he ends up being murdered by the two men. An unknown amount of time later (months at least) and the people of the block suddenly all get fired on by a deadly accurate sniper. The survivors of this initial attack make it out into the corridor but soon learn that any attempt to leave the building results in the sniper opening fire. Even worse is that many of the escape routes have been booby trapped and the exits sealed up. It seems someone is determined that everyone there is to die...


I really enjoyed Tower Block, it had a real sense of constant threat and fear that continued all the way up to the ending. It is not without its flaws though. One small annoyance is that there was no indication the prologue took place in the past, it was at least 45 minutes into the film that someone casually mentions that event in the distant past tense. A wide spectrum of poor people stereotypes all happen to live in the building. There are a pair of drug dealers, an arguing husband and wife, a single mother who abuses her children, an alcoholic, a nasty little chav and a fair few others. These initially all seem so one dimensional and also all so unlikeable that you don't really feel any worry for their well being and I found myself wishing the more annoying ones would get killed off. Sheridan Smith as Becky is the one truly likable character which is good seeing as she is the main one. As the film progresses though the survivors (there is a high body count here) really come into their own and show layers that initially they did not have. Kurtis (Jack O'Connell) as an example starts off as an angry bullying thug but as the bond with the survivors form he manages to become far more well balanced and offers some humour into what is otherwise quite a dark film.

With around 98% of the film set inside a mostly windowless building it is no surprise that the films set design is quite dank and gloomy, but it feels natural and I got flash backs to The Cube at times with such a small location used and the theme of strangers having to work together. The place is full of odd smiley face symbols that it seems the sniper has placed which made the dirty setting even more ominous (how no one noticed someone going around stencilling these things everywhere I do not know!). As mentioned before there is a high body count which even includes teens and children. With a large number of characters it keeps you on your toes trying to work out who you reckon will survive as death comes so swiftly by the sniper master (my friend pointed out it seemed a bit weird how the sniper could immediately kill anyone who shows their face regardless of where they appeared). The violence looks good and feels quite visceral, so no complaints with the special effects department.


The plot sang to me here, just wanting to find out just who the sniper was and why they were trying to kill everyone kept me glued to the edge of my seat waiting for the reveal. Without going too much into spoilers I feel it would have been better to have the prologue removed as I did feel that made the reason seem far too obvious. While the plot was quite simple the film managed to avoid becoming stale and did not outlast it's 90 minute running time. There was always something new happening and perfectly fitted into the time given. Any longer and I do feel my interest would have started to fade. Sometimes with thrillers and horrors it all ends with a dramatic, over the top finale, I was pleased to see this was not the case here though maybe it was a bit too understated (a great pay-off though).

While not without its flaws such as stereotypes and stupid blips (such as a teen who is able to identify the exact type of rifle used by the killer, as well as it's street value based purely on his experience with videogames!) I nonetheless found Tower Block to be a thrilling and addictive film and one I would certainly recommend.

SCORE:

Monday, 26 January 2015

Escaping the Dead (2015) - Zombie Horror Film News and 2015 Trailer


Escaping the Dead is a Danish zombie film that has been influenced by the real life drug Krokodil (previously mentioned here). For those who don't know this particular drug has the nasty as heck side effect of rotting the skin off of the users, it is the closest thing we will probably ever get to real life zombies.

In the film a new street drug is released that has the very bad side effect of turning its users into actual undead zombies. Stoner drug dealer David and his friend Ahmir get a hold of this new drug and mistaking it for cocaine they sell it at a concert with deadly effect. The film follows David as he attempts to escape the city that is quickly becoming over run.

It looks quite low budget with some dodgy effects but who knows, it could be so bad it's good, and with zombie films you never need the biggest budget to create an enjoyable film. I was pleased to see Kim Sonderholm in the trailer; that man just gets everywhere. Also it was good to hear Troma legend Lloyd Kaufman has a cameo in the film. The whole 'drugs turn people into zombies' set up has been done quite a fair bit before (Go Goa Gone and Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave spring to mind) but as I always say, it can be pretty damn hard to make a zombie film that isn't somewhat entertaining. Escaping the Dead is due to be finished at the end of this year.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Stake Land (2010) - Horror Film Review


Now normally I'm not too keen on vampire films, but the trailer for Stake Land piqued my interest. This film shares far more in common with zombie films then a film about blood suckers normally would.

Stake Land starts with a mysterious man (Nick Damici) saving Martin; a teenage boy from a vampire attack which leaves the rest of his family dead. The man named as 'Mister' takes the boy under his wing and teaches him the skills needed to fight the undead. What started off as sporadic attacks out in the American countryside soon heads to populated areas and an unknown amount of time later vampire apocalypse (for a change) has swept the globe. Humans survived by banding together in barricaded townships, while the cold blooded feral like vampires roam the rest of the world. Mister is unsurprisingly a vampire hunter which earns lots of respect in this terrible new world. With rumours of an undead-less land up north (named New Eden) Mister and Martin head on the road trip to end all road trips. Along the way they collect new allies and make enemies with a powerful and dangerous cult known as 'The Brotherhood'.


A post apocalyptic vampire road movie then? It sure sets the scene well with no end of devastation and lots of bleak, sombre music that brought to mind elements of The Last of Us. The main characters are all a quiet bunch, Mister himself in particular being the understated figure head of silent suffering, while Martin's transition from scared kid to hunter is well handled. For a lot of the film there is little dialogue, the people who find themselves united together don't need deep conversations. The supporting cast also do a good job; pregnant Belle, the middle aged Nun; Sister, and the ex soldier Willie all bring something to the film. When good people die as is often the case their loss here is profoundly felt.

The vampires of Stake Land are different to the normal type. There are different types of vampire but for the most part they look very zombie like and are almost animal like in their behaviour; unable to speak and with limited intelligence they exist only to drink the blood of their victims. These creatures face all the usual weakness of their kind; sunlight burns them up, a stake through the heart stops them for good, while even garlic burns them. The special effects for the ghouls are pretty great, though that may also explain why there seems so few of them.


For a post apocalyptic world I sure did expect to see more vampires but I think the most you ever see on screen at once is around six of the things. That isn't to say there is not a lot of violence as there is a tonne of it and it doesn't shy away from having children and even babies becoming victims. As usual the real menace of this new world are the humans themselves, more specifically the Brotherhood led by Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris) who is unwisely made into the films main antagonist. Loven is an over the top, unbelievable character whose screen time sucks out the quality and atmosphere built up elsewhere. It doesn't help his dialogue is all hammy and terrible.

It is all very well directed with some scenes in particular really standing out from other films as a whole. There is a very well shot scene involving a female vampire and a car for instance, while the appearance of a Santa Claus vampire later on was both messed up and darkly humorous in its framing and pay off. The human settlements offer hope into the bleak world of Stake Land with humanity banding together and singing and dancing in a way that you don't often see in the suspicious worlds of Armageddon aftermath. It made for a nice change even if these short brief interludes are all over too quickly and are a little too bit sweet and sugary to be taken seriously.


There is a lot to like with Stake Land, it shows vampires in an awesome new way and it knows how to pull (ever so gently) at your heart strings. Meanwhile the relationship between Mister and his young ward Martin is expertly handled, much better displayed by looks and actions than any amount of talking could ever do. Sad, poignant but also betrayed at times by what appears to be a low budget and an over the top antagonist, this is nonetheless well worth a watch.

SCORE:

Saturday, 24 January 2015

How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse (2015) - Horror Web Series News and Interview with Justin M.Lesniewski


How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse aired its first episode on 12th January of this year. The series takes place ten years after a zombie apocalypse that swept the globe was ended and heralds the start of a second zombie apocalypse. The creators of the show have decided crowd funding is the way to go to get the rest of season 1 funded. I got an interview with the creator/writer/executive producer Justin M.Lesniewski to find out more about his vision for the show...

Can you sum up How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse in one sentence?

Sure. From a plot standpoint, here's our logline:

Ten years after the zombie apocalypse was supposedly averted, a new outbreak causes 18-year-old Norm Elman to learn the frightening truth of both the zombie threat and the safe haven that has kept him and others alive.

From a thematic standpoint:

It's the next evolution of zombies that makes us consider our humanity and why we live the way we do.

Why did you decide to do a web series about zombies when it could be said to be an over saturated genre?

With the technology that's available to create and distribute content, every genre is over saturated. Don't believe me? Go to Amazon and look at all the self-published novels. It's an amazing development in our civilization, but you can't let it stop you if you have an idea you love and want to make happen. That's why I made it--because I love it. And I believe that, with this production team, we can do it well.


Do you have the show already planned out, or are you looking to adjust it in line with feedback from fans should your campaign be successful?

I have it planned out, but plans change. Casting some of the roles caused me to reconsider and edit my outline. Sometimes things happen that cause you to reconsider your choices. Those occurrences are part of the beauty of creating a story over time rather than releasing it and being done with it. Viewer feedback and fan response could certainly have an influence. But it can go too far. I'm not an advocate for bringing Beth back in The Walking Dead, JK Rowling changing her original intended ending of Harry Potter, or how Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof handled Nikki and Paulo on LOST.

Would you say The Walking Dead is your biggest influence or is it the genre as a whole that inspires you?

My biggest influence is LOST, but the ramifications of that show on The Walking Dead are clear. As for the zombie genre in particular, my biggest influences are George A. Romero's films, as I think he used the creatures most effectively, Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake, and Danny Boyle's 28 Weeks series.


The promotions for the show mention you are looking to 'evolve the zombie'. What do you mean by this, or is this something that you would need to watch the show to find out? 

To understand it fully you'll need to watch the show as it's an integral part of the story, but I mean that I have a new addition to the concept that builds on, but doesn't contradict, the common definition of zombies. I don't want to say more as the specifics are revealed in the story, but the reveal is already shot. We just need to shoot all the other footage to get from Point A to Point B.

There seems to be a trend lately of people focusing on the characters rather than the undead threat they face in zombie fiction, do you plan to have a balance between introspective survival and all out action?

Yes, 100%. I love this question because I couldn't have said it any better. Balance is important in any story. Theme, character, plot, setting, and style all have to work together for a story to be effective. If you're privileging one of the others, you're hurting your story in the long run. LOST fell apart in its finale because it privileged the characters over the island. If the island isn't important, why set the series there and reveal so much of its history? The same is true for the zombie apocalypse. If people watch the series and think that the story would be the same if it were set in any other apocalypse, as can be said about The Walking Dead and many other zombie stories, then I've made a grave error in the writing process.


Your bio on the Indiegogo page says your favourite zombie film is the Dawn of the Dead remake, do you prefer running zombies to the traditional slow movers? What type are going to be used for your web series?

We're using running zombies. I think the type to use depends on the story you're telling, but it would be very difficult to use slow zombies these days. We live very fast-paced lives and can trend towards instant gratification, so I don't think audiences would understand slow zombies. There would be a disconnect there. In many ways, I think that's why Snyder's Dawn of the Dead, Boyle's 28 Weeks series, and Zombieland were so successful.

Lastly, what would you say to people undecided on whether to donate to your cause?

Did you enjoy the first episode and want to see what happens next? Then donate. Any amount helps. Seriously. We appreciate even $1. It's as simple as that. You have to understand that we're a completely independent project. We have no backing from anyone. The budget comes from our pockets. I'm doing this because it's what I live for. I love it and hope you do too. 

Need more convincing? Shoot me a tweet at the series account @how2zombie or my personal account @TheMidside or shoot me an email at how2zombie@gmail.com.


Currently the Indiegogo campaign has reached $812 of it's $10,000 goal but with 49 days left to go there is plenty of time for that to be reached. You can donate to the cause here as well as read plenty more about the show and the cast, as well as watch episode 1 of How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse. There can never be too many zombies in the world so I wish Justin and his crew all the best.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Craft (1996) - Horror Film Review


I'm about 95% sure I actually own The Craft on VHS somewhere or other, but watching it on Netflix the other day was my first actual time seeing it.

Sarah Bailey moves to a new town with her Dad to start a new life. At the local Catholic school she befriends three outcasts; timid Bonnie (Neve Campbell), bullied Rochelle, and mouthy Nancy (Fairuza Balk) who practise witchcraft together and invite her to be their fourth member. Soon after the magic spells they perform actually start working and each of the four girls gets their biggest wish to come true. With their new found power and confidence they set out to do greater and greater things but everything has it's price and soon it comes back to haunt them, Sarah in particular.


The best thing about The Craft is it's excellent 90's soundtrack (including Elastica, Portishead, and Siouxsie and the Banshees among others) it is used well also, appearing at appropriate times. Sometimes you just forget how good music was but it also has the adverse effect as marking this very much as a film of that time. The film is not actually horror per se, sure there are witches and there is a body count as well as some scenes of straight up horror (such as a house full to the brim with insects and reptiles) but this is more a teen high school flick, focusing on the different cliques that exist in the American school system.

The characters themselves are all interesting in their own ways, for the main four girls at least. They all have some depth to them, especially with crazy Nancy who yearns to get out of her trailer trash hell, and with the reasoning behind Bonnie's shyness. When these characters get evil they do a good job, Balk who goes overboard with the insanity is a real fun person to hate. For all their bad ways though they always seem a bit ineffectual, more likely to try and scare people than actually set out to do them harm (for the most part they just float around and laugh a lot), It is telling that there is not a single good male character to be found here. The boys at school are all horrid jock types, while the male parents are shown to be either abusive or missing. I guess this rode on the waves of girl power that swept the world around that time.


The Craft did seem to drag ever so slightly, around twenty minutes before the end the last real plot twist happens and from then on it is just lots of running around when things should have been tied up quicker. The final action scene is very well done though it has to be said and things all wrap up in a satisfying manner. It just seems stupid that these girls get access to working magic and are able to use it so freely with little real risk to themselves. All I will say is the magic shop lady has a lot to answer for!

Overall I really did not mind The Craft, it whiled away a few hours and entertained me and that is not a bad thing at all.

SCORE:

Monday, 19 January 2015

Motivational Growth (2013) - Horror Film News


Motivational Growth is a horror comedy that has won a few awards including best narrative feature, best comedy film, and best feature. It is coming out on DVD and Blu-ray on February 17th.

Ian Folivor is a depressed loner in his 30's who discovers a sentient growth living in his bathroom. This growth referred to as 'The Mold' offers to help Ian fix his life and seems to be doing a successful job. However signs start to appear that indicate The Mold may not be as benign as it claims to be...

The general set up for this film sounds similar to one of the tales I saw in a horror anthology many years ago about a creature found living in a loner guys fridge. It looks like it will be full of grossness and craziness but is certainly something that sounds interesting. Check out the trailer below.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

The Women in Black 2: Angel of Death (2014) - Horror Film Review


Now when I was younger I saw The Woman in Black stage production at a creepy old theatre and stuck in my mind as one of the scariest things I have ever witnessed. When Hammer Horror The Woman in Black film came out (starring Daniel Radcliffe) I never got around to watching it which is strange, especially seeing as my parents went and saw it despite them not even liking horror films. Going to watch the sequel I had a pretty strong idea in my head of what would have happened previously regardless.

Set in 1941 during World War II in England, and with London being bombed to pieces by the Germans children are being evacuated to the countryside where it is a lot safer. Angel of Death stars Phoebe Fox as Eve Parkins who is helping relocate one such bunch of youngsters to apparent safety. However for some weird reason it was decided the relocation spot would be a dilapidated, haunted mansion out in some marshlands that while safe from bombing is not without it's own peril. Soon Eve learns of a ghostly woman in black who is haunting the property and seemingly determined to kill all the children under Eve's care.


Angel of Death is a very dark film, and by that I mean it is almost devoid of colours with muted whites, greys, browns, and blacks being the order of the day. Interiors are dark and oppressive, while outside is no better with constant thick mist chocking the landscape. It is a scary film, the design of the titular ghost herself is effective with fleeting glimpses doing far more than constant exposure could ever achieve and yet most of the scares are of the jump scare variety which I always feel is a cheap way to make the audience shudder. There are so many of these jumps and they become more and more sign posted leading up to an entirely predictable twist ending. The set design is pretty robust with some locations that just scream 'get out of here' at you but a lot of the atmosphere of these places is squandered.

So while the special effects themselves were not bad the same cannot be said of the characters who at best were flat but always let down by bizarre actions. Jeremy Irvine as pilot Harry Burnstow had an interesting back story at least, but Eve's back story mostly revealed by bland dream sequences did not engage me. For a lot of the film no one believes Eve's somewhat sketchy evidence that the house they are at is haunted but then all of a sudden everyone does believe her with no real explanation given for this sudden change. With regards to plot characters appear as if by magic to push along the story. At three points during Angel of Death people miraculously appear by chance to save the day, that is three times too many in my book and further takes away the believability.


Usually in haunted house films characters resolutely refuse to leave the location the horror is occurring at and with the location here being an island that easily gets cut off from the outside world by rising marsh water I expected this would be used to contain events. I was surprised to see later in the film the plot move to a different setting which was a nice touch. That is about the only original thing that does happen. There is a creepy child who may or may not be possessed by the ghost who as is near always the case comes across as irritating rather than spooky, those dream sequences I mentioned earlier and those jump scares. I have seen it all done before and the story was just not engaging.  The main victims are children and Angel of Death doesn't shy away from showing the after effects of their brutal demises and I do admit when they later appear as messed up ghosts they were freaky.

All in all Angel of Death is just plain average. It has some decent set design and effects yet the plot is just not interesting and nothing I hadn't seen before. I failed to care about any of the characters and while I did jump a lot there was not any lasting horror to come out of this. I did feel that I was missing references to the first film in the series, so I am at least interested to go back and watch that one now.

SCORE:

Saturday, 17 January 2015

In the House of Flies (2012) - Horror Film News


While In the House of Flies has previously been released via digital means the 20th January marks it's first physical release. It has previously been an official selection of the British Horror Film Festival as well as spent three weeks in the iTunes Top 50 upon it's digital release there.

Set in 1988 a young innocent couple find themselves abducted by a mysterious figure (voiced by legend Henry Rollins). Locked up in a basement the figure begins a series of mind games against them.

It kinda sounds similar to Saw though with more mind torture than actual torture. The DVD release includes deleted scenes, director commentary and a documentary about the creation of the film. Check out the trailer below.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Fear Town, USA (2014) - Comedy Horror Film Review


Fear Town, USA is a comedy horror directed by Brandon Bassham and populated entriely with a group of film students. It is of course an indie film and often humour does not mix well with zero money.

Four geeks learn that there is going to be a wild party to celebrate St Blevin's day (a national holiday celebrating a pilgrim who drowned a load of Polish children). They decide to head to the party in the hope they will finally loose their virginity but along the way they cross paths with all manner of obstacles.  At the party itself a girl arrives with friends but she holds a dark supernatural secret that soon makes itself known. A psychic learns that the devil himself is also in attendance at the shindig and to top it all off in the nearby woods lurks a dangerous psychopath who has recently escaped from a mental asylum.


I was not sure what to expect of the humour but to be honest in a lot of places it is actually quite funny, only once did I actually laugh out loud but once is still an achievement. A lot of the comedy comes from silly scenarios and crazy characters. For instance the geeks get pulled over by a cop who it is discovered thought it was illegal to drink or drive rather than drink and drive, once learning his mistake he starts going over all the many innocent people whose lives he has mistakenly ruined. The geeks journey in total feels like a mini 'Dude Where's My Car?', they even get kidnapped by some lame cultists at one point just like in that film.

Meanwhile the other plot lines going on have more of a horror element to it. While it takes place in the background of the main storyline there are a variety of people killed by a figure dressed in black and wearing a welding mask, these scenes are the funniest as the characters that get killed are usually dispatched in kinda hilarious ways, from the guy in the pre credits sequence who accidentally shoots himself and his girlfriend dead while attempting to get the slasher, to the victim who is rooted to the spot screaming as the killer constantly fails to shoot him using a bow and arrow. One extended scene in which two stoners talk about how self aware they are as their friend is nosily being strangled to death in the background also was cleverly done.


Often the laughs fell flat for me, there are a few too many sexual jokes thrown in that just bounced off my humour style, they threaten to overwhelm at times especially during one protracted sex scene near the films end that had a real whiff of the bad side of Austin Powers films, there was also a joke about paedophiles early on that luckily had a nice ending to it but it was a bit uncomfortable for a time. Luckily the acting throughout is pretty solid for an indie, there are a lot of characters that appear and there were none where I thought to myself that they were terrible actors. It is always a pleasure to see a low budget film with good acting and good effects at times

For the most part Fear Town, USA is just too patchy to be an amazing film, the many different plot threads seem unrelated with sub plots that didn't grab my attention. The geek storyline was the most well rounded one but others such as the mystery of which person at the party was actually the devil in disguise were not that interesting or well done. It shows some decent nods to the horrors of the 70's and 80's summed up in one all too brief  funny scene that features special 3D (of the old style red and green variety no less!) and even sees fit to feature a medley song that was bearable.


Overall there are laughs to be had here, there is some low budget horror that is actually quite fun and features a high body count, but a few too many dick jokes spoil what is often a witty script. Still I would say if you want some horror comedy in your life then this is not a waste of 90 minutes and it is free to watch online at places such as YouTube.

SCORE:

Monday, 12 January 2015

Rotter World by Scott M.Baker (2012) - Zombie Horror Book Review


I love zombie books, hardly surprising seeing as I love all things zombies but like films about the undead it is quite hard to make a bad one. Put in heaps of ghouls and plenty of action and your set, though it does of course take skill to write an engaging story.

Rotter World takes place eight months after zombie apocalypse was unleashed upon the world in a coordinated attack by vampires. Vampires in the books world were real but unknown to all but a few groups of vampire hunters. These creatures were being hunted to extinction and so believed unleashing a zombie plague would even the score, not knowing that they too would be the target of the rotting dead's insatiable thirst for flesh.  A small band of humans have survived in this ruined world, they have made an uneasy truce with a bunch of vampires in a protected base. Circumstance leads to the arrival of a Doctor who turns out is the man responsible for creating the zombie virus in the first place. He tells the group that across the country in a hidden government base lies the key to immunity, but to get there he is going to need their help...

As weird as it sounds for a book about fictional monsters I really struggled to get my head around the idea of vampires existing and it took me a good deal of the book to get over this and be comfortable with their presence. They are of the Fright Night style in that they are human in appearance but morph into a different form when fighting. They do add some spice to what otherwise is a generic tale as I can't think of another zombie book which features vampires and this also leads to a unique cause of the apocalypse as well as bring up an interesting dichotomy with parallels to race hate and bias. Some of the back story for the vampires was not so well handled though being ham fisted in places such as allusions that one of the creatures was actually Jack the Ripper which was too far fetched and wasn't needed.

The zombies in the book are referred to as 'rotters' and are made up of shamblers and swarmers. Shamblers are the typical slow moving Romero style ghouls, while swarmers the recently reanimated who can run (such is the modern vogue). I always like it when these two different styles are mixed. While starting off light on zombie action it steadily ramps with seemingly more and more of the damn things interrupting the characters actions. Plus you get to see what a zombie vampire is like (hint: something pretty awesome) and even a zombie baby pops up which is always fun. Another first was just how much of a pain the flies and even wasps that swarm around the undead can be, Again I don't recall another book where the insects around the zombies actually has an impact on events.

Rotter World is split up into three distinct parts. Part one sets up the characters and lays out their mission. I did not find this initial part to be that interesting. I felt there were far too many characters and none of them really stood out for me. Plus there is a lot of friction between the group and so I found myself disliking them for the most part. The second part of the book is a road trip. It is a solid rule when it comes to road trips in zombie books that they are never boring and here is no different. I really began to find myself getting more into the story during this mid part. Finally is the fantastic part three that without going into too much detail is like Day of the Dead in quick step. Everything is set up to go wrong and there are many fore warnings of this but still when it happens my heart was in my mouth helped in no part by the sudden emergence of short snappy paragraphs that helped bring a sense of urgency to everything.

The plot is nothing original or new (except for the vampires) and nothing happened that I did not see coming from miles away. The characters never really established themselves in my mind that well, that is none stood out, instead there was a real good vs evil element and so I was rooting for the good guys because they were the good guys, not due to really caring about any individual. For a zombie book you really don't need to break new ground to have a thrilling story as long as the writing is good and here with Rotter World the writing is good in general, a few missteps with back story (Angels the exception) and a graphic sex scene that wasn't needed in such detail but on the action side it is exciting and easy to picture what is happening in your mind with plenty of gore and violence.

When Rotter World ended I found myself interested to know what happens next, it took me a while but when I got into the book I was hooked. I really appreciate the little things that spiced up a traditional zombie tale, not bad at all.

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Saturday, 10 January 2015

Postal (1997, 2001)) - Horror Videogame Review (PC)


Postal is quite a notorious game due to levels of violence you can inflict upon unarmed civilians but that was back in the 90's where it was often time for Klax. Having played through the game tonight would I also find it utterly reprehensible?

You play as Postal Dude; a trench coat wearing man who has gone postal and is on a killing spree. It is implied that your character has been evicted from his house prompting his psychotic episode but the story is quite vague. Believing there is a plot against you, you head out to confront the authorities.


Postal is an isometric 3d shooter, and sometimes almost overhead in perspective. Each level gives you a percentage of hostiles you must kill to move on to the next level, usually ranging between 80-90%. There are police, soldiers and other enemies all armed with anything from pistols up to rocket launchers dotted around the twenty or so smallish maps. The levels are also populated by civilians who for the most part if they die it is collateral damage though Postal does seem to encourage you killing them on occasion. For example one stage starts with a marching band appearing, just too tempting to resist!

There is not much variety to the game at all and there seems some weird difficulty spikes with some levels being quick and easy while others requiring more thought. The lack of story was a bit of a shame, apart from diary extracts between levels and a suitably grim ending there is no real explanation for what you are doing. Levels range from suburbs to military bases, cities and scrapyards and have a nice hand drawn style to them. The controls are fiddly and take a while to get to grips with, while once you have reached the objective percentage of kills it is up to you to press F1 to exit the level rather than it happen automatically which was strange.


Nowadays this doesn't feel controversial, going on a killing spree has happened in lots of games and is done far better, Grand Theft Auto being a great example. While I played through the entire game in one sitting I wouldn't say I was enthralled, more it felt like doing a crossword or a jigsaw puzzle; just something to while away the hours on a cold and windy night. Tasteless at times but it can never be taken seriously as it tries to be darkly comic (the shopping mall level opens with Postal Dude saying something like "What? They don't sell Postal here?") and people you put down often crawl around begging to be put out of their misery which you can actually do via the execution button (X of course). An average game, can't imagine I will ever play it again but it did keep me occupied for a while.

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Friday, 9 January 2015

Outlast: Whistleblower (2014) - Survival Horror DLC Review (PS4)


Outlast was a solid survival horror that saw you as an investigative reporter exploring an asylum after getting a tip off that horrific experiments were taking place there. For the Whistleblower DLC for that game you play as the man who leaked the information to the reporter. Needless to say there will be giant spoilers if you have not actually played Outlast.

Waylon Park is an I.T contractor working at the Mount Massive Asylum for the shady Murkoff Corporation. The game starts with you sending leaked info out via email. Pretty soon afterwards you are caught by the corrupt DLC antagonist; Jeremy Blaire the head of the facility. He imprisons you for an unknown amount of time, performing experiments in the process. After an event happens which results in the inmates escaping you too get to make a bid for freedom. With not only the patients to watch out for but the staff as well you must try and make your bid for freedom.


Whistleblower is shorter and snappier than the main game and clocked in at around two hours. This was two joyous hours though as the action never lets up. Much like Outlast your character has no access to weapons and carries around a camcorder that can be used in night vision mode to allow you to see in the dark. Batteries are hidden around the locations as well as files that shed more light on the patients and goings on of the facility.

Plot wise the game obviously starts before the events of Outlast but by some plot contrivances it also takes place both during and after the events of it which sets up some great story beats. You explore areas that the reporter also visited but being at a different time there are slight differences. You needn't fear it would just be a rehash though as I would estimate around 80-90% of the DLC takes place in new areas. There is plenty of outside exploring while a chunk takes place in workshops and surgical rooms.


The main game had its share of boss type characters who would stalk your character and who could only be hidden from. I feel these sections (that return here) are the weakest part of the game, though also the scariest. On more than a few occasions you would need to head into a minor maze like area to find a key or flip a switch while a boss stalked you. Pretty early on a creepy cannibal armed with a buzz saw pursues you, later on you get a serial killer who wishes to make you into a 'lady' by most cruel and unusual means. There is also some cross over with a couple of the boss characters from the main game popping up. While the weakest part of the game they did have the power to make me shout out in fright!

Mostly the game gets you by jump scares, I lost count of how many times something would leap out the darkness or something sudden would happen to make me shout out. Like a ghost train attraction these work wonders but only the first few times I would imagine. As your character is dressed like an patient there seems to be far more instances where other patients ignore you or let you pass while they are in the midst of doing barbaric things (such as opening a bathroom stall to see someone drowning a guard in the toilet) and the games start in which all is calm was a nice touch. The staff seem to be afraid of you and often your way forward will be blocked by guards hastily locking you out of areas.


I can't see much replay value here but while it lasts Whistleblower is a blast and dare I say it actually better than the actual main game as there is no down time and doesn't repeat itself as much, while the boss characters are far more interesting. There is much more messed up imagery (rooms full of suspended bodies, people getting eaten and a patient...touching himself while looking at some corpses. If you own the game then pick up the DLC basically.

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Thursday, 8 January 2015

Batman: Arkham Origins (2013) - Action Videogame Review (X-Box 360)


I put off getting Batman: Arkham Origins for the longest time after hearing that it was the weakest in the series to date. I really loved the first game; Arkham Asylum but thought Arkham City lost a tonne of what made that one good. Thankfully despite all the rumours Origins may just in fact be the series best.

Origins takes place one snowy Christmas Eve in a Gotham where the Batman has only been around for two years and is considered by many people as a myth, while the Police see him as a menace who must be stopped. After stopping a break out at Blackgate Prison led by Black Mask Batman learns that the crime lord has put out a bounty on his head. Eight deadly assassins have converged on the city all looking to kill Batman and claim this bounty. In one night of terror he must not only defeat the assassins but put a stop to Black Mask, yet not everything is as it seems.


Once again this is a third person adventure game set in an open world setting. The city is a lot bigger than the walled off area of City and despite using similar locations they really did feel different then just re-skins. The world is big enough that you get fast travel points opened up to you, and for a nice change the bat cave can be visited at any point (and is where the fighting challenges now take place rather than a separate option outside of the main game). Using you grappling hook and glide abilities it is a real joy to travel around the game world that is split up into around six different districts. For a change Batman has access to the vast majority of his tools and gadgets from the get go. Your grappling hook lets you swing around the giant buildings and locations while the trusty batarang can be used to hit enemies and switches. Defeating bosses often results in you getting new power ups. A glue gun, hook shot and my favourite; electrified gloves can all be used to enhance the combat or to solve environmental puzzles.

Now the story for Origins is the strongest yet in the series. Initially it seems quite weak but after the first few missions and with some genius twists it gets pretty much amazing. Batman encounters a fair few iconic villains for the first time (such as Bane and the Joker) and he exists at a time when Gordon is merely a Captain of the corrupt GCPD and many other key characters are early in their careers. As you go around the city you pick up enemies radio chatter and it is really quite varied and changes according to what part of the story you are at. Being set on Christmas eve means there is a lot of Christmas decorations and set design everywhere, even down to Christmas songs playing in lifts; a nice touch.


There are Riddler collectibles as is always the case and are spread around the city but I found them a lot more fun and addictive to get then the terrible ones you had to plow through in City. They are multi tiered also with radio towers, henchmen, relays and data packets all needing to be found. Also hidden around the city are Anarchy symbols and plaques that give you further insight into the city itself, these were all quite interesting.

Side quests usually have you after a particular villain or locating a certain amount of items (such as Penguins weapon shipments). They are not bad, better than City's terrible side quests, a highlight being a hallucinogenic trip through Wonderland courtesy of The Mad Hatter. The dream sequences are always in the Arkham games so it didn't feel as fresh as it should but an alternate later dream sequence was very different to the norm! There are also quests in which you investigate a crime scene trying to piece together what happened, these bring a decent lull to the games pace but are quite easy to solve.


You earn experience for pretty much all actions you take whether it be defeating enemies or solving puzzles, there is a skill tree which you can use skill points to unlock stuff but for the most part it is negligible in what it provides though a lot of later puzzles can only be solved using new abilities you unlock. The soundtrack was great in places but a lot of the music it is sad to say just was not memorable. The acting on the other hand is great, Nolan North reprises his role of the Penguin, while the Joker is now voiced by Troy Baker who does a great job. Batman seems much more threatening now and when he gets angry it gets really impressive so Roger Craig Smith is effective as the voice. Batman's interactions with his allies are far more natural this time around, Alfred plays a bigger role while the forging of Batman's and James Gordon's friendship slowly forms over the whole 15-20 hour experience.

Combat as ever is close quarters with you fighting a bunch of enemies at once, use of the counter button is as always needed to win these fights. Downed enemies can be finished off to stop them getting back up whilst later on enemies carry shields and weapons to make more challenge. Occasionally larger enemy types turn up and armoured ones but it is pretty much the same combat as it has always been. Bosses on the other hand are a huge improvement and are a joy to fight them, especially the eight varied assassins. Different methods are usually needed to fight these, whether it be contending with Firefly and his flame thrower or an intense and protracted one on one fight with Deathstroke they are all fun and satisfying. They even finally throw in a decent Batman vs Joker fight that is believable for once (as in Joker doesn't morph into a monster) and had me smiling.


The main story missions usually take you to a specific location in Gotham but these seem a lot better designed than anything City had to offer and are actually fun to get through. A real highlight was a hotel that had been taken over by a certain villain, it was so fun to work your way through and ended with a story beat that was hands up the best story beat out of all three of the games and made me think it was the end of the game so big and huge was it. There are some levels where you have to get around a vertical location but again going back to City there is nothing that comes close to rivalling the mundane setting of the maze like underground city.

Where Origins succeeds for me is that it is a worthy successor to Asylum and creates a believable world. I was so let down by the limited scope and bland design of City that this just feels like everything that one promised to be. I had so much fun collecting everything and experience the events that I just left with a huge grin on my face. Games like these remind me just why I am so obsessed with videogames in the first place. And to end it all; battle damage... is there any greater thing than your characters appearance changing as the story progresses?

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