Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Lucius (PC Game, 2012)

First off, I know it's been ages since I posted. Real life issues has taken up a good deal of my time the last several months, and I'm just now getting back into the swing of things. Hopefully, I'll be able to post a lot more from now on.

Anyway! I thought I would share a few thoughts on a PC game I played this past weekend called "Lucius". This is a horror game where you play as a little boy who is the son of the devil, and your goal is to, basically, kill everyone in your household. The game borrows heavily from the movie, "The Omen", and even takes place in the 1970's, like the original movie. It's probably more of an homage than a true rip-off, but the similarities are hard to ignore.

That being said, "Lucius" is a surprisingly fun game, and I feel a little evil for saying that. I mean, really, how many games are there where you play as a murderous child? But it's oddly compelling, and figuring out how to set up the various death traps is disturbingly satisfying. That being said, most of the characters have little to no backstory, the graphics don't make them look too "real", and you know they're just there to be picked off one by one, sort of like a murder mystery party game or a slasher film. The deaths range from silly to horrifying, and there were a couple characters I truly hated to kill off (I won't spoil it by saying which ones).

One aspect of the game that I loved, was earning "gifts" for doing chores. There's unfortunately only three you can earn, but one of them is a tricycle, that is loads of fun to ride around on. I'm someone who is a sucker for ride-able objects in games (vehicles, animals, etc), so this brought an extra fun element to "Lucius" that I wasn't expecting.  The mechanics are a little sloppy, especially when going up and downstairs. It feels more like floating. The sound effects on the various floor textures are quite good, though. Riding around outside in the garden gives a different "feel" than riding around in the house because of it.

The game itself is definitely a bit rough around the edges. I encountered quite a few bugs that at times made gameplay confusing. Though I tend to be more forgiving with independently made games, and none of the bugs are completely game breaking.

The graphics are pretty good, and the layout of the mansion in which the entire game takes place looks very massive and detailed. It actually took me awhile to learn my way around, and I like that. It made the tricycle object all the more useful. The graphic design of the characters looks a tad dated, but as I mentioned above, I was glad they didn't look too realistic, since the only objective of the game is to kill everyone in sight.

I found the voice over acting to be above average, though a lot of the dialogue is repeated if you continue to click on characters to talk to them. A little more variety would've been nice, as I did enjoy hearing what everyone had to say. The mother's voice over work was especially good, in my opinion, especially as the game progresses and her character changes a bit.

Now, one of the most important questions in any horror game, was it scary? I would say it's more creepy than outright scary. Since you're essentially playing as the "monster", there's not much to be scared by. Though, there's a couple times you have to sneak around the house without being detected, and I found that a bit nerve-racking. And obviously the overall theme of the game is rather unsettling. I began to wonder at times if I was still mentally sound (or as mentally sound as I ever was ;P), when I'd get frustrated that a murder wouldn't work or I (as Lucius) would get spotted using my demonic powers and get Game Over. It's a little surreal when one minute I'm thinking "Now where did I leave my trike?" to the next minute thinking, "How do I set this person on fire?" I think the main disconnect is the fact that it's a child you're playing as, even if it's a very creepy, soulless child. For me, I just had to not take it too seriously and to laugh at some of the more outrageous moments, as I would if I was watching an over-the-top horror movie. It is just pretend, after all.

So, would I recommend this game to horror lovers? Yes! It has great atmosphere and overall fun gameplay, in spite of its flaws. I'm someone who loves horror games that take place in an isolated house/mansion/manor/castle, and this one is like that. Just instead of worrying about what lurks around every corner, you ARE what lurks around every corner. A unique, fun, mildly disturbing horror experience that I actually hope begins a trend of slasher games where you get to play as the villain, because you don't see that very often at all. (Can you imagine a "Halloween" game where you play as Michael Myers or a "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" game where you play as Leatherface? Okay, yeah, they were on the Atari 2600, but modern ones would be awesome!)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, everyone!

I'm a little embarrassed that I didn't post to my blog as much as I had planned to this month. Publishing 31 stories this month on Amazon Kindle, ended up taking up a lot more time than I expected it to (who would've thought? /facepalm). As I believe I mentioned before, this blog along with with Laura's House of Halloween, will remain up year round. I will continue to add content as time permits.

Now, if I may, I'd like to say a few words about Halloween.

When I was a kid, Halloween was always a big deal to me. It captured a sort of bittersweet melancholia that no other holiday does. I think part of it has to do with pretending to be someone else for one night a year. You could be the person you wish you were, or you could dress as something to scare your friends, or even something cute and sweet. It didn't really matter what costume you chose. In the end, you were someone else. Halloween gave us the excuse to let our hair down and be free, and everyone accepted that. It was all in the spirit of the holiday.

As you get older and you begin to outgrow trick-or-treating, Halloween takes on another life. It's a time to reminisce about the days of being young and carefree. For many adults, it's an excuse to be their old silly, lighthearted selves again. Halloween is a kid's holiday, it's tailor-made for them. Adults have their role to play as the distributors of candy and carrying on traditions. It's about keeping that magic alive generation after generation. And there is a sort of magic to Halloween. The world (the areas that celebrate Halloween anyway) transforms on Halloween. It becomes the norm to dress up in costume and to not give in to conventions.

Halloween is the outcast's holiday, the people who never quite fit in. Because the things that make them outcasts, whether it's dressing differently, having different ways of thinking, or just plain being unable to conform to what society deems normal, suddenly becomes normal on Halloween. You can be macabre on Halloween and no one bats an eye. You can be outrageous, sexy, terrifying, weird, funny, whatever you want. For someone like me, who is macabre and strange 365 days a year, Halloween is a way of expressing myself, as it is for many strange, macabre people or people who don't quite fit what is "normal" the rest of the year. They say you can't go home again, but Halloween feels like home. I feel like it welcomes me with open arms every year.

Halloween is not an evil holiday, not by a long shot. It's an outlet for our daily fears and anxieties. It's a way of laughing in the face of death and being "in" on the joke, hence why we can dress as ghosts and skeletons and zombies, without digging deeper and having to deal with what death is really like. I believe this has been true since the dawn of Halloween. It was always a way to deal with our fears as human beings, without having to look them square in the eye. In that way, celebrating Halloween is actually a healthy way of expressing ourselves.

This is just my take on Halloween. Everyone can interpret the holiday as they like. Anything goes. We create our own definition of what Halloween means to us, and in the end, isn't that what truly makes Halloween special?

So Happy Halloween, everyone! Go out, stay in, whatever you prefer. Just be safe and enjoy yourself :)

Why I Love The Monster Squad

Let me take you back to a simpler time known as the 1980's. Horror movies were rife with supernatural serial killers who kept the body counts high and the sequels a-coming. Along comes a little PG-13 movie, starring a cast of kids and classic horror monsters. The movie struggled to find an audience because it seemed to have too many adult themes and language for young children, the PG-13 to turn off the teenagers going to see the R-rated films, and adults who saw it as a kid's movie. Well, luckily I had a dad who loved those classic monsters and a mom who was lenient with PG-13 movies, so I got to see The Monster Squad at the tender age of five.

Honestly, as far as horror movies went, I always found it to be pretty tame. There was plenty of light humor, not a lot of gore to speak of, and honestly, I just found the movie really cool. It benefits from having a gentle giant character in Frankenstein, who befriends the children, which as a child myself, put my mind at ease that the kids would triumph in the end. Obviously, as an adult, you tend to know that a PG-13 movie starring a group of kids, isn't going to kill off said kids, but when you're a child yourself, all bets are off. I mean, hell, Dracula DOES blow up their treehouse in the hopes that they're inside, so it's not like it was out of the realm of possibility. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

I think the reason this movie works so well for me is because of the commitment and sincerity of the adult actors, namely Duncan Regehr and Tom Noonan as Dracula and the Frankenstein monster. You could pluck these characters out of this so-called "kid's movie" and put them in any horror movie and they'd feel just as genuine. Regehr, despite being the antagonist to a bunch of kids, is pretty damn merciless and scary. He never becomes the bumbling fool, as so many villains do in kid's movies, and he never plays Dracula in a campy "I vant to suck your blood, blah!" sort of way. When a character has been around as long as Dracula has and has become almost a caricature of himself, it's very difficult to breathe new life into him. But Regehr pulls it off perfectly. He definitely looks like Dracula in the traditional sense, but he plays him in a new and refreshing way. No stereotypical accent, no seductive scenes...hell, he's never even seen sucking anyone's blood. And yet you would still know it's Dracula at first glance, and his performance is convincing throughout the movie.

Tom Noonan plays the Frankenstein monster a bit more traditionally, but with a great amount of empathy. You can feel his struggle between being loyal to the kids (especially Phoebe, who initially befriended him) and his "master", Dracula. This is another character who has become a caricature of himself and is very tough to pull off as a real, three-dimensional character again, but Noonan does it beautifully. When I was a kid, I always wished I had my own Frankenstein monster to protect me, as Phoebe did, but it's funny, as I've gotten older I actually find myself relating to him as a character. Who hasn't felt like an outcast or struggled with making the right choices? And the latter comes to a head at the end of the movie in one of the most heart-wrenching scenes I've ever seen put to film. And it doesn't feel like a shoehorned emotional scene for the sake of "getting" the audience. You completely understand why it had to play out the way that it did, even if you didn't want it to. I'm being vague so as not to spoil it, but if you've seen the movie, I'm sure you know what I mean.

I have to give props to Jon Gries as well, who plays the Wolf Man in human form. He's never even given a name (simply billed as "The Desperate Man" in the credits), but he also plays the part of a tortured soul amazingly well. He has few lines compared to Dracula and Frankenstein, but every one of his scenes stands out to me and are very memorable. His scene in the police station where he shouts, "Lock me up!" as the full moon is rising is so intense, it gives me chills. But my absolute favorite scene of his when he calls Sean and Phoebe's dad from a phone booth to warn him about Dracula, while also in the midst of transforming into his werewolf form. His half-man, half-wolf state and him growling, "He's gonna kill your son" haunted me for years...in a good way. That scene always really stuck with me, and is still my favorite werewolf transformation put to film.

Although the movie could be called a horror comedy, what I love about it is that the monsters are never really played for laughs. The kids are the comic relief but aren't hamming it up. They behave like real kids do and crack smart-alleck remarks. I also like that they aren't anti-adult. I know that sounds weird, but so many films featuring kids have this underlying "grown-ups just don't understand" tone, and that's not the case here. They go to the Scary German Guy (a lonely old man and a Holocaust survivor) for help, who is never presented as a skeptic when it comes to monsters. And Sean and Phoebe's dad, a cop, also becomes heavily involved in the monster hunt, even though he is skeptical at first. I like that everyone is useful and adds something to the movie. And I have to give credit to Stan Shaw, who plays the partner of Del, Sean's dad. His scene in the museum when they're investigating the missing mummy is, imo, the funniest moment in the movie.

Stan Winston did the special effects for the monsters in the movie, and it shows. He was an artistic genius. He had to come up with new but recognizable designs for the monsters, since the original designs are the trademark of Universal. I'll probably get some jaw drops for this, but I think his monster designs surpass the Universal ones. They just felt so real to me, and he made them look scary again, especially The Wolf Man. As much as I love the old Wolf Man movie starring Lon Chaney Jr, the makeup just never was a favorite of mine. It still looked too human to me. The Monster Squad Wolf Man actually looked threatening (those eyes, so creepy!). The Gill Man's design was stellar as well. You gotta love the practical effects of the 80's!

Monster Squad is timeless, much like the old Universal monster movies are. I think if I had never seen it as a kid, I would still love it if I saw it for the first time today. There's just so much to like about it. The special effects, the dialogue, the pacing. It doesn't talk down to kids and it doesn't get too cheesy for adults. It has the perfect mix of horror, comedy, action, drama, and mystery. That doesn't mean it's not without its flaws (why does the term "virgin" only apply to girls, for example?), but they don't detract from all the great scenes and moments the film has to offer. There seems to be a real sincere fondness and respect for the classic monsters from the filmmakers, and that is so rare to see. With so many remakes out there made for a quick buck, this little cult classic film shows how you can take an old idea and give it new life.

And that is why I love The Monster Squad.

(By the by, why WOULDN'T a wolf man have nards, anyway? Men have nards, wolves have nards...seems like a no brainer to me! Still trying to figure out the logic behind that.)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

American Horror Story: Freak Show, Ep. 1

As soon as I heard what the theme was going to be for this season of American Horror Story, I was really looking forward to it. I'm a big fan of the old 1931 movie "Freaks", and from the promos, it looked like AHS was paying homage to it in several ways. I've always been drawn to carnivals and "freak shows". They've always fascinated me, and in today's politically correct world, even moreso. So, I went into the season premiere of American Horror Story with high expectations.

Let me start with some of the things I liked about the first episode (note, there will be spoilers ahead!). First off, I love the killer clown subplot. I actually didn't know about that ahead of time, took me by complete surprise, and it was really effectively creepy. I found myself looking forward to his scenes the most. I'm actually someone who isn't afraid of clowns in general, but this guy would give anyone nightmares. The make-up effects are really good, and his mouth put me in my mind of "The Man Who Laughs", an old silent film about a man with a permanent smile. I'm really looking forward to finding out more about the character, who apparently is called Twisty.

Jessica Lange is great as always, and I really liked seeing glimpses of her backstory. Seems like a very tragic character and so far (though it's a bit early to tell) seems to be a lot more sympathetic and humanized compared to the characters she played in previous seasons.

Finally, I'm intrigued by Frances Conroy's character and her son, who both strike me as creepy in their own way. I was getting a bit of a Norman Bates (Psycho) feeling from them. They're relationship seems a bit...odd, beyond just a spoiled man-child and his doting mother. Curious to see where this goes.

Now, the things I didn't like, and probably from above you'll see a glaring omission from the things I liked, and that would be the "freaks" themselves, which is hugely disappointing for me. Let's start with the double-headed Siamese twins, played by Sarah Paulson. Unfortunately, I find both personalities forced and obnoxious. I get that they're supposed to be opposites and could be a source of tension later on, but at the moment, I feel like they're just kind of blah. The CGI effect is pretty distracting too. I found myself caring little about their dialogue and paying more attention to the effect, which...and I'm sure I'll get lots of disagreements here...looks fake to me, especially where the heads attach to the body. Also, one scene in particular (one of the ones in the hospital), when one of the twins was talking (I believe it was Bette), the other one looked flat and dead, almost like they used a still image instead of video. I usually like Sarah Paulson's characters in AHS, but neither of these are working for me yet. Plus, the fact that they killed their mother leaves little room for sympathy.

And this is actually my major gripe so far. Most of the "freaks" are unsympathetic. There's really no one to root for. AHS is known for its morally corrupt characters, but there's usually at least one or two that are worth rooting for. One scene in particular made me dislike all of them in one fell swoop, and that was the film strip scene. I'm not going to go into extensive details, but it was too much for a premiere where you're just getting introduced to the characters. And there was really no reason for it, except to show them as depraved people as a whole. That's not really how I was expecting the "freaks" to be portrayed. I expected there to be some moral ambiguity, as that seems to be common in the series, but there was no ambiguity here. It was just flat out wrong and disgusting, and made me kind of angry. It painted "freaks" in such a bad light right from the get-go and dehumanized them, which is something society did back then, typically unjustifiably. The show is depicting them as monsters, which is really not what I was expecting. I realize it's only the first episode, but that scene is so unforgivable, I'm hoping some of the yet-to-be-seen characters will give me someone to like and root for.

I know I might be being a bit harsh, it's so difficult to hold back when I'm this disappointed. I love the series, I love that it brought true horror to television, but the season premiere just left a sour taste in my mouth. I'm not sure what it says about the show (or me) that the most enjoyable character is a murderous clown.

But it's still early, and I'm not going to give up on it that easily. Hoping for the best with next week's episode.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest - Why All The Hate?

One of the first video games I ever played was Castlevania on the NES. I loved it for its dark themes and unique gameplay. Though, it's a really hard game and when I was kid, I could never make it past the first boss. But still, I remember replaying that early stage many times just because it was so much fun.

Over the years, I've heard so much about Castlevania 2 being an awful game that I never bought it. I only ever owned Castlevania and Castlevania 3. I decided to finally play it for myself and draw my own conclusions.

It definitely has a different gameplay style from the other two games in the NES library. You start in a friendly village, where you have to purchase items and talk to people for clues. It reminded me a lot of Zelda 2: The Adventures of Link, which is actually one of my all time favorite games. So, I didn't mind the format too much. After leaving town, you go through woods and cemeteries and marshes, etc fighting enemies and looking for mansions that house parts of Dracula, which you must collect to piece Dracula back together to kill again. I'm a little foggy as to why this is the case, but the plot isn't that important IMO.

In many ways the game feels similar to the first one, where you play as Simon Belmont, you wield a whip which has multiple upgrades, and you collect hearts as you kill enemies. The hearts in this game is a form of currency you use to buy items in the villages you come across in your journey. What I really liked is once you have an item, it doesn't hearts to use it, with the exception of the diamond, which I never ended up using anyway. You have unlimited holy water once you acquire it for a mere 50 hearts, which acts as both a weapon and a way to find hidden items and false blocks.

A new element to this game is the day to night transitions. Now, I've heard a lot of people gripe about this feature, and to be honest, I kind of liked it. Yeah it would've been nice if you could skip the text, and it was especially annoying when the box would pop up when making difficult jumps, but overall it didn't bother me. For me, it gave the game a more dynamic feeling and it was really unique for its time, so the flawed design of it is kind of understandable.

Another complaint I see often is about the cryptic puzzles, which I completely agree with. If I had played this as a kid, I would've been so lost, so fast, I don't think I would've played it again. However, are they anymore frustrating than the cheap deaths found in the other Castlevania games? Eh, not really. I actually prefer trying to solve cryptic puzzles than trying to make impossible jumps while enemies are flying at you. This is of course a personal preference. The jumps in Castlevania 2, while occasionally difficult, are pretty minor. I can only think of one screen where I had to use multiple continues on a series of difficult jumps, so for my money, I was happy about that. That is unfortunately one of my major gripes with the series in general is that sometimes the deaths feel a bit unfair.

Compared to the other games, Castlevania 2 is actually really easy. Going into it, I didn't realize it had multiple endings depending on how long it takes to complete the game, so I took a really lackadaisical approach and got the worst ending. Um...oops! But once you're familiar with the game and the map, replaying for a good ending probably wouldn't be much more difficult. I have heard you have to limit your continues, which I imagine would up the challenge, mostly on the jumping parts. The enemies aren't that hard, and the bosses, including Dracula, are laughably easy. In this sense, it did feel like a bit of a letdown when I finally got to Dracula. I took my time, got all the items in the game, was looking forward to the final battle, and it left me with a very "meh" feeling. It sort of felt like the developers ran out of time to make a proper final stage and boss battle. So, that was pretty disappointing.

Maybe it's because Zelda 2 is one of my favorite games, despite the fact that a lot of people seem to hate that game too, I really enjoyed Castlevania 2 overall. I can see how diehard fans of the original would be disappointed by it, especially at the time if you were anticipating its release. It does take the series in a different direction, but that was really common in NES series. Zelda 2 was very different from Zelda 1 and Mario Bros 2 (the North America release) was wildly different from the first as well. These were three of the biggest series at the time, and I can see why the developers wanted to branch out a bit and try different things from the original.

Even nowadays, the strongest sequels tend to be the ones that take risks. Comparing, for example, Resident Evil to Resident Evil 4, it doesn't even feel like the same franchise, but both games are really fun in their own way, whereas carbon copy sequels tend to be kind of forgettable, even if they're fun at the time you're playing them.

So I don't really think Castlevania 2 deserves the hate it's gotten over the years. You don't have to love it, but I think it's worth appreciating it for what it was trying to be, and it's clear to me they were trying to make it an RPG, and maybe that wasn't the right decision for what was primarily an action/adventure series. But for what it is, it's not a bad game by any means and it has a lot of redeeming qualities.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Top 13 Halloween Party Songs

Well, it's finally time for another top 13 list! I'm pleased to bring you my choices for the Top 13 Halloween Party Songs. These are basically upbeat songs that have either a Halloween theme or some kind of horror theme to them. So, let's get started!

#13 I Put A Spell On You - Bette Midler

I admit, I prefer Screamin' Jay Hawkins version of this song, but Bette Midler's is much more upbeat and would be funner in a party atmosphere. It's a short song but has great energy and is worthy of any Halloween party playlist.

#12 Pet Sematary - The Ramones

Quite possibly the most mismatched theme music to a movie (tempo wise, not lyric wise) in history, this song is catchy as hell and has a great beat. Even if you haven't seen the movie or read the book, the song stands on its own well.

#11 Halloween - Aqua

This song is a little obscure, but is the one with the most traditional "party" sound on this list. I love that it pays homage to old slasher movies.

#10 Ghostbusters - Ray Parker Jr.

As a child of the 80s, I had to include Ghostbusters! This song just makes me smile every time I hear it.

#9 Werewolves of London - Warren Zevon

In my opinion, this is a classic Halloween song. Good, silly fun!

#8 (I Always Feel Like) Somebody's Watching Me - Rockwell

With backing vocals by Michael Jackson, who doesn't love this song? Great 80s nostalgia, creepy yet comical, catchy beat...this is one of my faves!
#7 Bad Moon Rising - Creedence Clearwater Revival
There's a bad moon rising...let's dance!
#6 This Is Halloween (from The Nightmare Before Christmas)
Whether you prefer the original or Marilyn Manson's version, this song is a must-play at any Halloween party!
#5 Time Warp (from The Rocky Horror Picture Show)
Rocky Horror has become a staple of Halloween, and Time Warp is arguably the most popular song from it...with good reason! It's a great song that's easy and fun to dance to. It's just a jump to the left...
#4  Halloween - The Misfits
Although perhaps not the most mainstream of songs (or bands), the Misfits' "Halloween" brings a different flavor to any Halloween party. If you're looking for music that is a little less "kid friendly", the Misfits has a great library of songs. I particularly like "Halloween" because it touches upon ancient rituals of the Druids and more of the "darker side" of the holiday.
#3  Don't Fear The Reaper - Blue Oyster Cult
A Halloween staple, pure and simple. Not much more I can say than that.
#2  Thriller - Michael Jackson
Even people who don't care for Michael Jackson, still seem to love Thriller. Thriller is one of the funnest songs to dance to, even if you don't know the official dance moves.
#1  Monster Mash - Bobby Pickett
You probably saw this one coming. Monster Mash might just be the most popular song associated with Halloween. It's fun, it's upbeat, and pays homage to classic horror monsters. What could be better?

So, that wraps it up! Do you agree with this list? What songs would you play at a Halloween party?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Cinemassacre's Monster Madness Starts Today!

In case you aren't familiar with James Rolfe (most famous for his Angry Video Game Nerd reviews), he has a website called Cinemassacre.com and every October he reviews a different horror movie each day of the month. He was actually the one who inspired me to do my own "31 days of Halloween" content (my Halloween Street series), so I feel it's only right that I help promote his great videos! They're really worth checking out, including all the ones from previous years as well (you can find them under Movies>Monster Madness at the top of the site). It's a great way to find horror movies you may have overlooked throughout the years.

Here's this year's promo for it:

Click Here to go directly to this year's Monster Madness page.