Friday, October 31, 2014

Three Games to Play on Halloween

Halloween is my favorite holiday. Christmas is great and all, but the horror fan living inside of me has to love the one day of the year where I can fly that weird flag high without being judged for stupid reasons. While I usually celebrate the season by watching numerous horror movies, I like to play some horror-themed board games as well.

With that in mind, I thought I'd post a list of board games you can play today to celebrate the holiday. Remember, these are based on my own tastes and opinions, so don't feel bad if your favorite game isn't on the list or if you disagree with one of my choices. Feel free to make your own list of suggestions and leave it in the comments below.

DEAD OF WINTER
Check it out HERE!
Designed by Jonathan Gilmour & Isaac Vega, Dead of Winter is a psychological horror game where each player controls a group of survivors working together to survive a world overrun by flesh-eating zombies during the dead of winter (hence the game's name). While you are mostly working together, everyone also has a secret goal they're trying to achieve that could possibly conflict with the group's overall goal. Zombie games are a dime a dozen, so you really have to do something cool or interesting to really stand out among the horde. Thankfully, Dead of Winter does exactly that due to the tension it manages to build due to the traitor-like mechanic and the stories that bloom during play.

ELDRITCH HORROR
Check it out HERE!
Eldritch Horror is a Cthulhu Mythos-themed cooperative game designed by Corey Konieczka & Nikki Valens. Like its older sibling Arkham Horror, the game has the players take on the role of globetrotting investigators working to solve mysteries, gather clues, and protect the world from an elder being intent on destroying our world. Some of you might be wondering why I didn't put Arkham Horror on this list. The answer is very simple: I enjoy Eldritch Horror more. Its not as bloated, its not as long, and I prefer the global scale over the focus on the town of Arkham. However, if you want that longer experience, consider Arkham Horror a honorable mention. 

FURY OF DRACULA
Check it out HERE!
Designed by Stephen Hand & Kevin Wislon, Fury of Dracula is a semi-cooperative deduction game where one player assumes the role of Count Dracula while the others play vampire hunters attempting to slay him. The player playing Dracula utilizes a deck of location cards to secretly move across Europe while the others try to locate him using the limited amount of information they have. Fury of Dracula is incredibly thematic, with the board looking like something from the nineteenth century its fun trying to piece together the mystery of where Dracula is and what kind of horrors has he left in his wake.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Occult Adventures Playtest: First Impressions

Yesterday, Paizo released the playtest document for Occult Adventures, the hardcover rulebook they will be releasing next Summer. This book will contain rules for more occult topics, like auras and occult rituals, give advice on how to incorporate such topics into your Pathfinder campaign, and introduces six new classes that utilize a new form of magic: psychic magic. 

Having read the playtest document and the six new classes, I thought I'd give my first impressions of each. Unlike the previous Advanced Class Guide playtest, my overall opinion is much more positive this time around. Each class feels unique, possessing interesting flavor, and really can't be replicated by an already existing class (with probably one little exception). Also, since I personally find the subject matter interesting, I was almost guaranteed to like this. Anyway, with that out of the way, let's take a look at the new classes: the kineticist, the medium, the mesmerist, the occultist, the psychic, and the spiritualist.

Kineticist
The kineticist possesses the ability to call upon her inner power to manipulate elemental forces and the world around her. The keneticist is the only non-spellcaster in the document. Instead, she receives "wild talents" that she can use and enhance by accepting points of non-lethal damage (called "burn"). While I feel so people will dislike the burn element of the class, I personally find it cool. This class is basically a bender from Avatar: The Last Airbender & Legend of Korra. If you ever wanted to play a character like that, you can do so now.

Medium
Similar to the shaman, the medium weals and deals with spirits. However, the medium performs seances that allow these spirits to inhabit his body, granting him unearthly powers for a price. This is a 4-level caster without a fast base attack bonus progression and has the possibility to be one of the most complicated classes in the game due to influence. Each medium knows a number of spirits (based on Harrow cards), which have points of influence over him. The more points that spirit has, the more power the spirit has over the medium. If their influence gets too strong, the spirit takes over the medium for a short time. The flavor for the class is great, reminding me of 3.5's binder. However, I feel like it still needs a little work because it feels a little weak at lower levels. 

Mesmerist
The mesmerist manipulates the mind of allies and enemies alike through the use of his hypnotic gaze, creating powerful illusions and enchantments with his psychic powers. This seems to be the "trickster" class for Pathfinder, reminding me of 3.5's beguiler. While you could mimic this class with some of the others, the mesmerist offers some neat abilities. For example, they can use an ability called "hypnotic gaze" as a swift action to give opponents 30 feet away a penalty to Will saves, making them more susceptible to his enchantment and illusion spells. Since I've been wanting such a class for awhile, I'm pretty happy and will probably be running one the next time I get to actually play. 

Occultist
I'll admit, it took me a few minutes to understand the occultist. The class utilizes objects of personal or historical significance, using them as implements for his psychic powers. The occultist seems to be a class built around psychometry (a psychic ability to make relevant associations from an object of unknown history by making physical contact with that object). I had trouble understanding the nature of implements, but once it clicked, I found myself loving this class. Its filled to the brim with flavor and I can already see so many interesting ideas coming from this class. It definitely has my approval. 

Psychic
The psychic is probably the most boring of the six classes. The psychic focuses on the power of the mind, allowing them to wield the mightiest of mental magics to crush her enemies and explore the deepest reaches of thought and consciousness. The class remains me of the arcanist, seeing as they possess a pool of points they can use to amplify and modify their psychic spells. However, it doesn't hit my "ban this sucker" button as hard as its slightly older cousin did. Also, the psychic's disciplines are pretty cool. One has your psychic power originating from aberrations and "malign entities that dwell in the voids between the stars." That statement just makes me happy inside. 

Spiritualist
The spiritualist is similar to the summoner. The class is forever bound to a phantom, which can reside in her mind or manifests in the physical world with a ectoplasmic form. However, unlike the summoner, you do not build your phantom from the ground up. Instead you select an emotional focus for the phantom, like anger or jealousy. Part of me wonders if this is a preview of the reworked summoner for Pathfinder Unchained. Seems interesting enough and could be pretty cool. 

Have you read the playtest? If so, what do you think of the classes? I'd love to hear your opinions and thoughts. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fun Times at the Tyler Rose City Comic-Con

Look what I found beside the pool.
I wonder if its bigger on the inside than
the outside?
This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the Tyler Rose City Comic-Con as a volunteer for my FLGS' room. This was my second time attending any kind of convention, with the first being my slightly disastrous trip to the Dallas Comic-Con last year. I think its safe to say this was definitely the better experience.

However, you'd never expect that from how the day began. Due to my inability to read directions properly, I ended up driving around in circles for nearly an hour before finally finding the Holiday Inn. Once I arrived and checked in at the ticket booth, I made my way back to the "Phoenix Room" where the fine folks from Halflings Hideaway would be selling board games, roleplaying games, Magic: The Gathering cards, and running game demos. We also happen to be sharing the room with the Pathfinder Society's local chapter, causing the already small room to be pretty cramped throughout the day.

After taking a quick walk around the show floor, checking out the other booths and admiring some of the awesome cosplayers, I made my way back to the Phoenix room to play the Shadowrun 5e I signed up for. Unfortunately, only two other people signed up so we couldn't run through the actual adventure. Thankfully, the two people running the game didn't miss a beat and ran us through a humorous little encounter they called "Food Fight", showing what happens when a group of shadowrunners try to pick up some fast food late at night. While short, the game was pretty fun and my shaman kicked some serious ass.

Shortly afterwards, I was asked if I could run a session of Cubicle 7's Doctor Who RPG, a game I've never run before and have only taken the occasional glance at. However, wanting to be helpful, I decided to give it a shot. While I fudged a lot of the mechanics and improved a good amount of the adventure notes given to me, the group of mostly new players seemed to have a fun time.

Running Doctor Who and telling someone where the bathroom is.
A master of multitasking.
After a short break to help with promoting the remaining demos, I moved onto my second game of the day: Deadlands. Originally, I was going to run Numenera, but I felt Savage Worlds would be a better fit for a convention setting. Thankfully, I was correct. All of the players were new to the setting, but dug the concept and enjoyed the game. The game ended with our huckster setting the big bad on fire with his magic by blowing up a jar of whiskey in its hand and causing so much havoc. It was easily one of the most entertaining sessions of Savage Worlds I have ever GM ran.

With my GMing duties for the day over, I decided to kick back and relax with a few of the other volunteers, talking about games and goofing off. Afterwards, we checked out the fire dancing show out by the pool and the cosplay contest. The night ended back at the Phoenix room, killing time with a friend until he could finally call it quits for the day and go to bed. Once that was done, I gathered my stuff and made my way back home. 

Although I only attended the con for a day (which I now regret since I missed the chance to play with Jim Ward, the designer of Metamorphosis Alpha and one of Gygax's original players), I had a blast. I'll definitely be attending next year and will definitely be there for both days. If you're in the area next year, I suggest checking it out as well.

Friday, October 24, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Directed by John Hough, The Legend of Hell House is a British horror film based off the Richard Matheson novel. Physicist Lionel Barrett is enlisted by an eccentric billionaire to investigate the Belasco House, a location supposedly haunted by the spirit of a sadistic man, hoping to prove the existence of life after death. Barrett is accompanied by his wife Ann, mental medium Florence Tanner, and physical medium Benjamin Fischer (who is also the solve survivor of a previous visit to the house). The team must survive a full week in isolation, and solve the mysterious of the notorious "Hell House".

While watching certain films, you can automatically tell which decade they were made. When watching The Monster Squad, you know it was made in the 80s. Pick up Scream and you'll definitely know its a 90s slasher film. The Legend of Hell House screams 70s haunted house film, embodying the best and worst of that subgenre during that decade.

The Legend of Hell House, like many 70s haunted house films, prioritizes atmosphere and interesting visuals over cheap scares. The film's setting is simply gorgeous, looking like something from a gothic horror story. It also builds a creepy tension and remains visually interesting throughout the film, utilizing spinning shots and strange camera moves very well.

The acting's pretty solid as well. While some of the characters are better written than others, the actors and actresses do a good job with the parts given to them. Roddy McDowall easily gives the best performance, really bringing the character to life and making him endearing.

However, the film does have its weaknesses. At times, it feels like the movie thinks its more clever than it actually is. The characters sometimes act in strange ways, like Dr. Barrett refusing to accept the survival of personalities after death, even when the evidence proofs him wrong or Florence Tanner refusing to leave the house after being physically harmed. The ending is also pretty lackluster.

Although I'm somewhat biased towards 70s horror and haunted house films, The Legend of Hell House is definitely a classic that deserves to be seen at least once. While its not perfect, the atmosphere it creates, the performances, and the visuals are worth the ride.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Riding the Bullet (2004)

Directed by Mick Garris, Riding the Bullet is yet another horror film based off a Stephen King short story. While hitchhiking back home to visit his sick mother, Alan Parker is picked up by a mysterious stranger. As the ride goes on, Alan uncovers a terrible secret about the driver, who then gives him a choice. A choice between life and death.

Riding the Bullet feels like a Twilight Zone episode stretched out to 98 minutes. If Rod Sterling had appeared at the beginning and end of the film to give his signature monologues, I wouldn't have been surprised. Well, I might be a little surprised since he's dead and all. However, it would definitely have been a more lackluster episode with a slightly unfocused and confusing narrative.

The plot is simple enough, with a college student receiving rides from strange individuals and having weird incidents along the highway. However, certain scenes feel like someone having a somewhat tame acid trip. Just weird enough to be confusing, but not weird enough to unique or memorable.

Riding the Bullet's acting is also somewhat hit and miss as well. Jonathan Jackson's performance is alright, but a little dull at times throughout the movie. David Arquette goes a little over the top, but he's at least having fun and it works for the film's tone. Although she's only in a handful of scenes, Barbara Hershey is definitely gives the best performance. I just wish she showed up more and most of her scenes weren't repeated clips.

However, I strangely found myself enjoying Riding the Bullet despite its faults. Maybe the weirdness worked for me, maybe I liked the story hidden underneath the strange narrative structure, maybe I just liked it visually. I really can't explain it, but I thought it was alright and would probably watch it again. Its not my favorite Stephen King adaptation, but its okay.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

5e Musings: Dealing With Incorporeal Undead

Fighting incorporeal undead just sucks. At higher levels, its not as bad due to most characters likely possessing a magical weapon by then. However, at lower levels, its frustrating to be a fighter and be fundamentally useless because that sword your carrying will simply pass through the ghost's intangible form. While 5e does lessen the frustration by only giving the ghost resistance against nonmagical weapons (meaning you'll still deal at least a little damage), I thought it'd be fun to create a different way you can handle these bastards without resorting to magic. 

The idea would require a little more work from the DM, but I feel it could be pretty interesting. Most ghost stories have the titular spirits attached to something or someone, so attached that it prevents their spirit from passing on to the next life. What if a player finds someone tied to the spirit's previous life, something they cared deeply about, and that object allowed them to have power over the creature? 

For example, let's say the ghost possessed a special necklace that once belonged to a very closed friend. The PC could find that object and present it to the ghost as an action in combat, forcing the creature to make a DC 15 Wisdom save. If they fail the save, the ghost is considered incapacitated. Every turn thereafter, the undead makes another Wisdom save for free, allowing them to act as normal if they succeed. 

While the character isn't damaging the incorporeal undead, they at least can effect it in a significant way. Also, it creates an interesting way for characters to deal with ghosts and other incorporeal undead besides combat. The players might have to delve into the spirit's past, hunt down one of these objects (maybe even a relative), and use it against the creature. 

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Monster Squad (1987)

Directed by Fred Dekker and co-written by Shane Black, The Monster Squad is a horror comedy film that acts as a humorous love letter to the Universal monster movies. Sean Crenshaw and his best friend Patrick are monster movie fanatics. Along with their portly friend Horace, junior high bad boy Rudy, Sean's little sister Phoebe, and little Eugene they come together in Sean's treehouse and talk about monsters. 

But when Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, and The Mummy come to their small town to retrieve a mystical amulet that will allow them to take over the world, Sean leads his friends into action to defeat the forces of evil.  

The Monster Squad is probably one of the silliest, cheesiest films I have ever seen. The story suffers from serious lapses in logic, its tonally confused, and has to be one of the most 80s films to come out of the 80s. 

However, none of that matters because The Monster Squad is just all kinds of awesome. 

On paper, The Monster Squad should be god awful. However, the film manages to achieve a special level of silliness that causes the film to loop back into the territory of awesomely entertaining. Its like Dekker and Black kidnapped a horror fanatic, dissected that fan's brain, found what every one of us has dreamed about, and filmed it. The Monster Squad is basically The Goonies for horror geeks.

The Monster Squad is a film that every horror fan should see at least five times. Its perfect Halloween marathon material and is filled with heart and fun. This movie, like the Wolf Man, has 'nards. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Silver Bullet (1985)

Directed by Daniel Attias, Silver Bullet is a horror film adaptation of Stephen King's novella Cycle of the Werewolf. Normally, the small town of Tarker's Mills is an incredibly peaceful place where nothing extraordinary happens. However, this changes one night when a series of bizarre murders begin. The townsfolk believe a maniacal killer is one the loose. Marty, a young handicapped boy, believes the killer is something else entirely: a werewolf. After encountering and wounding the creature, Marty and his older sister Jane hunt all over town for the man they believe is the werewolf.

At first glance, Silver Bullet appears to be just another run-of-the-mill werewolf film. The special effects are decent and its story is interesting enough, but the film doesn't seem like anything special. However, Silver Bullet possesses one thing that does make it stand out among its lycanthropic peers: the relationships that exist between the main characters and the chemistry between their actors and actresses.

Maybe it's due to the low expectations I had going into the film, but I was pleasantly surprised by Silver Bullet's performances. Corey Haim gives a solid turn as Marty Coslaw, a young paraplegic boy who has probably one of the coolest wheelchairs ever. He's very likable and manages to hold his own in the more emotional moments, especially when paired with Megan Follows as his sister and Gary Busey as his wild uncle. The three have very good chemistry on screen and you feel like they're an actual family. Heck, I'd even say the scenes with Haim spending time with his uncle or riding his motor-tricycle are the best in the movie and the werewolf stuff takes away from that.

Speaking of werewolves, Silver Bullet's special effects aren't half bad either. They're nowhere near the same level as something you'd see inside American Werewolf in London or The Howling, but they are definitely decent. The film also knows when to hide or not focus on the less effective effects, or keeping the werewolf mostly hidden until the end of the film. Also, you can't help but love the utter cheese that is the werewolf church seen. Its something that you just have to see, but you will understand why its awesome after watching it.

However, Silver Bullet does have some obvious weak spots. For example, the film has this weird narration from what is supposed to be a future version of Marty's sister, making the film appear to be a story she's telling someone else. However, there's we never see this person she's talking to and it feels completely unnecessary. Also, Silver Bullet can feel a little slow at times.

While its by no means a perfect film, Silver Bullet has some good stuff going for it. If you like werewolf films with some good performances and decent effects, check out Silver Bullet.

Monday, October 20, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Tremors (1990)

Directed by Ron Underwood, Tremors is a humorous monster movie about a pair of quirky handymen who live in the small desert community of Perfection. After stumbling upon some bizarre phenomena a couple of grisly deaths, the two discover a terrible local secrets: the desert is inhabited by worm-like creatures that travel underground, surfacing only to eat whatever they can grab with their tongue-tendrils.  Due to Perfection's isolated location, the citizens must find a way across the desert while avoiding these "graboids" who happen to be stalking them like landlocked sharks.

Tremors is a loving tribute to the monster movies of the 1950's. The film is cheesy and the acting is somewhat over the top at times, but that just makes it more entertaining. It doesn't hurt that the special effects are pretty good and the direction is equally solid.

As with most monster movies, Tremors lives and dies on its special effects. Thankfully, they are top notch. The graboids look great, like something from a more primordial era that's been lurking underground for centuries, waiting for the perfect time to surface and strike. Also, the tongue-tendrils are pretty cool too, reminding me of the Xenomorph's tongue from Alien.They also manage to make its underground travel look believable and cool.

The acting's not half bad either. While some of its definitely over the top, you can't help but like the characters. Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, and Michael Gross give great performances, creating interesting characters that you want to see survive these attacks. Especially Gross, who's Burt would end up becoming the main character of later films in the series.

While Tremors isn't particularly scary, its definitely entertaining due to its special effects and fun characters. If you're looking for a monster movie with a lot of hard, you could do a whole lot worse than Tremors.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Cujo (1983)

Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, Cujo is a horror movie directed by Lewis Teague. Cujo is a happy St. Bernard until he is bitten on the hose by a rabid bat and slowly begins to manifesting the symptoms of his fatal illness. As his condition deteriorates, Cujo begins to attack those who cross his path. This culminates with Cujo trapping a woman named Donna Trenton and her 5 year old son Tad in her Ford Pinto, trying his hardest to get inside to kill them both.

Although Stephen King's literary work tends to be highly acclaimed, the film adaptations of his stories tend to be a bit more...varied in the quality department. Some, like Misery or The Shawshank Redemption are fantastic films and considered classics. Others, like Sleepwalkers or The Mangler, are less fantastic. Cujo seems to fall somewhere in the middle of those extremes.

Cujo has a lot of good qualities. Both Dee Wallace and Daniel Hugh Kelly give great performances. Wallace plays a character struggling to find what she truly wants from her life who is suddenly thrust into a situation she's not prepared to handle very well and Kelly does a good job playing the loving father trying to figure out how he's going to handle a complicated situation.

The film's third act is pretty tense as well. Two characters are locked inside a small car with a vicious animal lurking outside, waiting to strike when the time is right. Each time he tries to get into the car, and almost succeeds, you get tense and hope Donna will be able to stop him. You also know she'll have to leave the car eventually, but you don't know when and the tension just builds and builds.

Unfortunately, Cujo shoots itself in the foot with its slow pacing. While the first half does a good job making the people and the town of Castle Rock feel real, I would be lying if I said it wasn't a little boring and you just want to fast forward to the third act.

If you can overlook its slow pacing, Cujo has some solid performances and a pretty good third act and climax. Its not bad, but there are much better King adaptations to watch.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Oculus (2013)

Oculus is a supernatural horror film directed and written by Mike Flanagan. Ten years ago, tragedy struck the Russel family, leaving the lives of teenage siblings Tim and Kaylie forever changed when Tim was convicted of the brutal murder of their parents. Now 21 years old, Tim is finally released from protective custody and wants to put the past behind him. However, Kaylie is still haunted by that fateful night. Unlike her brother, she's convinced her parents' deaths were caused by something else: a malevolent force originating from an antique mirror. With the mysterious entity back in their possession, Tim and Kaylie soon find their sanity slipping away as they experience terrible hallucinations and relive their childhood nightmare all over again.

When I first saw the trailer for Oculus, I wasn't too impressed.At first glance, it just looked like another generic horror film using a weird concept. I had no confidence in it, so I decided to skip it while it was in theaters.

However, I started hearing a lot of positive buzz surrounding the film. People were saying it was actually pretty good, that it was interesting and not bland like I feared it would be. I decided to finally bite the bullet and watch the film. Thankfully, I'm glad I did.

Oculus is a film that relies more on dread and psychological horror over unnecessary gore and cheap jump scares. Like Jacob's Ladder, Oculus plays with time and reality, making the characters question their own sanity and whether they are actually experiencing the things they're experiencing. Very few films seem to go this route nowadays and Oculus feels like a breath of fresh air because of it.

Ignore the trailers and see Oculus, especially if you enjoy horror films that are more psychological. Take the chance and pick it up. You will not be disappointed.

Friday, October 17, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Shivers (1975)

Shivers (also known as They Came From Within) is a science fiction horror film directed and written by David Cronenberg. While investigating the strange murder-suicide of a scientist and a teenager, a doctor discovers that the scientist was doing experiments on the use of genetically engineered parasites as organ transplants. However, something has gone terribly wrong. Instead of replacing failed organs, the parasite creates an uncontrollable sexual desire in the host, one that manifests violently. The scientist tried to destroy it, but the parasites are now loose in the building and the doctor and his girlfriend must escape before they become infected too.

Cronenberg is one of the principal originators of what is commonly known as the "body horror" subgenre. This subgenre typically explores people's fear of bodily transformation and infection, usually intertwining the psychological with the physical. Shivers is one of Cronenberg's first entries in the genre.

The parasites in Shivers represent venereal diseases. The creatures generally pass from one host to another through sexual contact. While its not the most subtle metaphor, it definitely works. The film presents a situation where a scientist created these parasites with the noblest of intentions, but the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. The parasite seems to unlock this primal, sexual urge within the host, one that dominates their mind and demands to be quenched (violently if need be). While the parasite facilitates this, the true horror of the situation is that our bodies would be so susceptible to this, unable to fight it and be dominated by our base impulses. Shivers delivers that message and delivers it well.

Really, Shivers' only weaknesses are based on it being one of Cronenberg's first films. You can see it as a young director experiment with ideas and theme, seeing what works and what doesn't. There are weird shots that really have no context (like a random first person perspective at one point) and weird moments of slow motion. The characters are a little bland and the film's narrative is not as tight as Cronenberg's later efforts, with the ending being rather weak and underwhelming.

However, the film's concept is really the driving force behind everything. This really isn't a film you watch for an enjoyable experience. You watch it to investigate this interesting idea and experience the horror of the situation. The characters and narrative are really second nature to the concept. With that being said, I'll freely admit that's not everyone's cup of tea and that's totally fine.

Shivers is an interesting film with a neat concept, but its story and characters are somewhat lacking. If you can overlook that and embrace the film's basic premise and the horror of the situation, you'll probably like Shivers.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: American Mary (2012)

Directed by the Soska Sisters, American Mary is a Canadian "slasher" film that tells the story of Mary Mason, a medical student who's growing increasingly broke and desperate. After a strange encounter at a strip club, Mary enters the messy world of underground surgeries and body modification which leaves more marks on her than her equally desperate clientele.

American Mary is a film that has garnered a decent amount of praise throughout the horror fandom. Fangoria even called it a modern horror masterpiece. This response just leaves me confused. While American Mary has its moments, it suffers from some sloppy pacing, uneven acting, an underdeveloped narrative, and an a climax that's ultimately unsatisfying.

I really don't understand the amount of love this rather mediocre horror film gets. Am I just missing something?

I'll admit, American Mary's first half isn't half bad. The film does an adequate job establishing its plot and characters, quickly introducing us to Mary's primary motivation and why she eventually passes the point of no return. However, after she takes revenge for something that happened earlier in the film, American Mary goes downhill fast.

The plot begins to unravel, the pacing becomes clunky and uneven, eventually leading you to the boring climax that doesn't even feel like an ending at all. This is especially sad because Katharine Isabelle actually gives a pretty decent performance. She's entertaining to watch, captures the character perfectly, and seems to embrace the subtle dark sense of humor lurking within the film's text. I feel like she's too good for this movie.

Amerian Mary is a film that had some interesting ideas, but ruined them with its shoddy execution. While its definitely not a horrible film, it doesn't deserve the praise it seems to constantly receive. Watch it only if you like Katharine Isabelle and have some time to kill.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Trick r' Treat (2009)

Directed by Michael Dougherty, Trick 'r Treat is an anthology horror film consisting of four interwoven stories that occur on Halloween: A high school principal has a secret life as a psychotic serial killer; a college girl might have just met the perfect guy for her first time; a group of teenagers pull a mean prank on a social outcast; an old curmudgeon is visited by a peculiar trick or treater.

Since its delayed "Direct-to-DVD" release in 2009, Trick 'r Treat has rapidly become something of a modern Halloween classic. The film's garnered a strong cult following and finds its way onto a lot of Halloween marathon lists. Its kind of shocking at first to think about how many people embraced this little film, but you quickly realize why after watching it.

Trick 'r Treat is easily one of the best anthology films of the past decade. It's stories work, they're woven together nicely, and utilizes its Halloween theme properly.

Most Halloween films tend to use the holiday theme in one of two ways: use it as simple setting that barely affects the overall narrative, or routinely beats their audience over the head with its theme. The best Halloween films fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Trick 'r Treat embraces the holiday,  having it influence each story in a specific way, without going overboard with it. Whenever I pop this film into the DVD player, I immediately find myself feeling the spirit of Halloween (even if its January or July).

Trick 'r Treat utilizes the same method of anthology storytelling that Pulp Fiction does. All four stories exist within the same town on the same Halloween night, influencing and affecting each other. For example, one story will introduce a plot point that will become more relevant later, or we might see characters who will show up in a different story. The only thing connecting all four stories is the mysterious trick or treater Sam, who seems to be the literal Spirit of Halloween ("Sam", which could be a shortened version of "Samhain"). While some stories are obviously better than others, causing Trick 'r Treat to suffer the same consistency problem that haunts almost every anthology film, they are all good in their own ways and they never overstay their welcome do to the interwoven nature of the narrative.

I'm happy to see Trick 'r Treat get the recognition that it deserves. Its one of the best Halloween films ever made and it will always have a place on my Halloween "Must Watch" list. If you're looking for a Halloween-themed movie or a well made horror anthology film, give Trick 'r Treat a chance.

Delta Green Beta Playtest Begins!

Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu is one of my favorite roleplaying games (even though I rarely get to play it). One of the first supplements I ever purchased for it was Arc Dream Publishing's Delta Green, which I've always described as "The X-Files Meets the Cthulhu Mythos". I love its more modern setting, I love how it utilizes conspiracy theories in interesting ways, and I have a weakness for "Secret Organization" games.

Yesterday, Arc Dream Publishing released the beta playtest documents for their upcoming Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game. While I just started a Shadorun 5e campaign, I might try running a few Delta Green one-shots before the playtest ends. If you're interested, you have until November 23rd to give them feedback.

If you're interested in the Delta Green playtest, click HERE.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Chillerama (2011)

Chillerama is a horror anthology film with each segment being written and directed by a different director and paying homage to different genre and style. The first is "Wadzilla", a monster movie spoof where a gigantic sperm terrorizes New York. The second segment is "I Was a Teenage Werebear", a musical short about a closeted teenager who turns into a vicious werebear after being bit on the ass during a wrestling match. The third is titled "The Diary of Anne Frankenstein", a short about Hitler discovering the diary of Dr. Frankenstein and using it to create his own monster. The framing story that ties the segments together is about a small drive-in theater hosting a marathon of lost films (the three segments) while the patrons slowly turn into sex-crazed zombies.

I feel somewhat conflicted by Chillerama. Anyone who knows me knows I love anthology films and I find its concept interesting. However, the film's executions keeps me from fully loving it and listing it among my favorite genre films. 

Like most anthology films, Chillerama's segments are somewhat lopsided. "Wadzilla" has its tongue planted firmly within its cheek and "The Diary of Anne Frankenstein" is enjoyably over the top. However, "I Was a Teenage Werebear" is long and bad in a less entertaining way and "Zom-B-Movie" is too chaotic for its own good at times and the awkward movie quotes with only one in every twelve making thematic sense became irritating. 

Anthology films live and die on their segments, so its problematic when half the stories are good and the other half are less so. However, I don't want to call Chillerama a bad film. Even though I dislike "I Was a Teenage Werebear" and "Zom-B-Movie", there are parts to them that I do like and I feel they do embody the different styles they were honoring. Also, like Creepshow, Chillerama possesses its own personality that helps it stand out among the crowd. 

The anthology's cast isn't half bad either. Some of the actors and actresses' performances are obviously weaker than others, but everyone seems to be having fun with their roles and even the weaker ones fit the "So Bad its Enjoyable" tone of the segments. Richard Riehle deserves particular note. Playing the drive-in theater's owner, Riehle possesses one of the few serious scenes within the film (where he is contemplating suicide due to losing the one thing he had left in this world) and he makes it shine. 

Its far from perfect and incredibly uneven, Chillerama is a fun anthology film that lovingly honors the B movies and horror schlock of yesteryear. Its definitely not for everyone, but check it out if you like cheesy movies that tend to be so bad they're enjoyable. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Friday the 13th (1980)

Directed by Sean S. Cunningham, Friday the 13th is considered by many to be one of the first "true" slasher films. After being cursed for years with nothing but murderous bad luck, an entrepreneur decides to re-open Camp Crystal Lake. Unfortunately, things don't end well for the young and nubile counselors, who all begin to die extremely bloody deaths at the hands of an unseen killer during a rainstorm which isolates the camp.

Friday the 13th was the first in a long-running series of slasher films, helping define the subgenre and influenced many subsequent films. It has received so much criticism over the years, referring to it as nothing more than horror schlock that only became popular because stupid people enjoyed it. I'm not kidding, I've actually read a review that claimed that. Although its far from being the horror movie equivalent of Citizen Kane, Friday the 13th remains effective to this day because its actually pretty good and shows you what to do if you want to make a decent slasher flick.

First, Friday the 13th realizes the characters need to be likable. If they're total douchebags with absolutely no redeeming qualities, we won't care what happens to them. On the contrary, we'll actually be begging the film to kill them as soon as possible. Thankfully, Friday the 13th offers us a cast of likable characters who do the kind of stuff you'd expect young counselors to do at a summer camp: goof off, drink a few beers, possibly fool around in the bunks. The actors and actresses do a decent job with their roles, making us sympathize with them, meaning we don't want to see them die, making their death scenes more tense and horrifying.

Friday the 13th also utilizes the "less is more" principle rather well. The film has this odd reputation as a sadistic bloodbath, but that's really not true. While some of the death scenes are "bloody", they aren't the gore show some would lead you to believe. The filmmakers simply use these scenes as great punctuation marks throughout the film, making it feel more gruesome than it actually is. The fact that we see most of the murders through a first person perspective (putting us in the killer's shoes) probably enhances the film's "gruesome" feeling.

Finally, the reveal of the killer is perfect and still works today (albeit for different reasons). While watching Friday the 13th, you'd never suspect the killer is actually a grieving mother who just wants vengeance for the death of her disabled child. It plays with our expectations in a smart way, giving us a different kind of slasher. The reason this still works today is because most people tend to associate Jason Voorhees with the name "Friday the 13th", so assume he's also the killer here as well.

Although the film is far from perfect, Friday the 13th has entered the cutural zeitgeist for a reason. It helped establish the slasher subgenre, started an incredibly popular horror franchise, and influenced many films to come. It doesn't hurt that its also rather enjoyable and decently made. Sometimes, mainstream critics can be a little too harsh on a film. I believe that's the case here. For once, ignore the "professional consensus" and check out Friday the 13th. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Dawn of the Dead is considered to by many to be one of the best zombie movies ever made and influenced many subsequent zombie films. Following the events of George A. Romero's previous Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead shows the further collapse of American society due to the ever-growing epidemic of flesh-eating zombies. The film focuses on two Philadelphia S.W.A.T. members, a traffic reporter, and a television executive who seek refuge from the hordes of the living dead in a secluded shopping mall.

Dawn of the Dead is one of the best horror films ever made. The movie perfectly blends horror and gore with Romero's signature brand of social commentary. Dawn of the Dead remains effective to this day.

On the surface, Dawn of the Dead just looks like a zombie film about people attempting to survive within a large, abandoned mall (at least, abandoned by living people). However, its much more than that. The film also acts as a comment on our materialistic culture. This can be seen in the actions of the zombies, who seem to be drawn to the mall for some mysterious reason and our protagonists, who find themselves living an ultimately meaningless experience when given everything they'd ever need. While it can be a little on the nose at times (like Ken Foree's explanation for why the zombies keep trying to enter the mall), the commentary works and still remains relevant today.

However, Dawn of the Dead doesn't survive on social commentary alone. The film, like most zombie films, also works as a character piece. Ken Foree's Peter is probably the most interesting character, a S.W.A.T. member having to deal with the lost of a close friend and slowly becoming comfortable within the mall (maybe too comfortable). The relationship between Francine and Stephen is also intriguing, seeing how a serious relationship might be tested in a situation like a zombie apocalypse.

Really, I feel like the film's only major weak spot is its make up and special effects. Don't get me wrong, Dawn of the Dead does have some good special effects, especially during its climax. I particularly love chewed off arm stuck in the blood pressure machine. However, some haven't aged very well. For example, the blood looks like red paint at times and the gray make up used on the zombies causes a few of them to look blue on film. They don't ruin the film, but they are a weakness.

Dawn of the Dead is easily one of the best zombie films ever made, remaining effect and relevant after three decades. While my personal favorite "Dead" film is Day of the Dead, I still love Dawn of the Dead and feel it has earned its place among the pantheon of horror classics.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Re-Animator (1985)

Directed by Stuart Gordon, Re-Animator is a horror film based on H.P. Lovecraft story "Herbert West - Re-Animator". Scientist Herbert West has created a strange serum that can bring dead tissue back to life. Wishing to test his discovery on human cadavers, West recruits his reluctant roommate Dan Cain to sneak him into Miskatonic University's morgue. As one would expect, things don't go as planned...

Like Night of the Creeps, Re-Animator is considered a cult classic by many horror fans. This is mostly due to Jeffrey Combs' performance and its combination of horror and comedy. There are moments of dark humor spread throughout the film. We have Cain and West chasing a zombified cat around the basement, West sticking a decapitated head onto a letter spike to keep it upright while he injects his serum into it, and many other scenes similar to this this are relatively common throughout Re-Animator

This could have been disastrous if handled poorly. The comedic scenes could have clashed with the more serious ones, causing the film to feel lop-sided and clunky. Thankfully, Gordon manages to balance this beautifully. The dark humor is spread throughout the peace, acting as spots of relief to routinely break the tension. I'd also be lying if I said those comedic scenes didn't make the film just a little more enjoyable. 

Jeffrey Combs just adds to that enjoyment level. If Re-Animator had another actor in the titular role, I feel the movie wouldn't be as good. Combs is one of those actors who just has fun with every role he plays, with Herbert West being no different. You can tell he's having a blast on screen, enjoying being a character who's incredibly conceited and willing to push any boundary to achieve his goals. 

Although Re-Animator isn't perfect (for example, its quick pacing can be problematic at times), its definitely a lot of fun. If you're looking for a horror film with a dark sense of humor, a great Jeffrey Combs performance, and some cool gory effects, check out Re-Animator

Friday, October 10, 2014

Frights & Dice: Last Night on Earth

Click HERE if you'd like to check out
Last Night on Earth
Nowadays, zombie games are a dime a dozen. Walk into almost any game store and you're likely to find at least one game that features zombies or zombie-like creatures. Some of these games are good, but a large percentage are either mediocre or awful. Luckily, Last Night on Earth belongs to the former group. 

Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game is a survival horror board game designed by Jason C. Hill and published by Flying Frog Productions. As the name implies, Last Night on Earth focuses on a group of survivors attempting to escape a small town overrun by the living dead. However, instead of being a purely cooperative game, Last Night on Earth divides the players into two teams: The Heroes and The Zombies. One side will attempt to do whatever they can to stay alive, while the other tries to eat them for dinner. 

Last Night on Earth feels like a B movie in a box. Its filled to the brim with cheesy horror cliches, the heroes are based on familiar horror archetypes, and the photographic illustrations depict this perfectly. You feel like you're living through a bad zombie flick and its incredibly entertaining. 

The game's also highly replayable. Like Betrayal at House on the Hill, Last Night on Earth is packaged with several scenarios to determine the Heroes objective in the game. For example, one game might have the players recovering explosives to blow up the zombie spawning point, but the next might have them searching for keys and gasoline so they can escape the town in a nearby truck. You'll definitely be getting your money's worth with this game. 

If you're looking for a cool zombie game that embraces the fun of cheesy zombie movie with a high level of replayability, check out Last Night on Earth. I guarantee you will not be disappointed. 

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Fly (1958)

Based on the short story of the same name by George Langelaan, The Fly is a science-fiction horror movie directed by Kurt Neumann. After her husband is crushed to death by a mechanical press, Helene Delambre tells his brother and a police inspector the unfortunate events that led to his demise. While experimenting with a teleportation device, Helene's husband Andre accidentally spliced his DNA with a fly who also happened to be in the same chamber.

When most people think about The Fly, they probably think about David Cronenberg's 1986 remake. While that movie is excellent and proof that not all remakes are inherently terrible, I feel sad that so many people have forgotten about the original or have written it off as just another cheesy monster movie from the 50's. Yes, The Fly has some downright silly moments, but they are few and far between. This film manages to tell a great story, contains some great performances, and I feel deserves the same attention as its remake.

While both films build their story around the classic trope of a scientist whose ambition leads to his downfall, Neumann's film utilizes a very different approach. Instead of focusing on the horror of the human body slowly transforming into a hideous monster, the original chooses to focus on the inherent tragedy of the situation. Andre was a scientist who just wanted to create something that would change the world, but his ambition got the better of him, causing him to push too far too fast. After the accident, Andre tries to resist these strange urges invading his mind, wanting to retain at least a small shred of his humanity. Unfortunately, fate has other plans. The Fly does an excellent job telling this story and remains effective to this day.

The performances are also stellar. David Hedison is fantastic as Andre Delambre, perfectly capturing a scientist trying to push the boundaries of what is possible while also attempting to be a good father and husband. Patricia Owens is just as good, playing a woman who is seeing the love of her life slowly disappearing and willing to do anything she can to help beautifully. Vincent Price is also fantastic, but that goes without saying.

Although The Fly is an excellent movie, it does have its faults. Probably the biggest is that it occasionally tells us whats happening instead of showing us. For example, we don't see the accident that leads to Andre's predicament. We're just told about it through Helene reading a note from him about it. Film's a visual medium, meaning its almost always better to show us the story instead of just telling us. Also, The Fly's pacing can be a little slow at times. While I had no problem with it, viewers who prefer their films to move at a faster pace might.

The Fly is still a great film and deserves the same level of recognition that its remake receives. If you enjoy classic horror cinema and like stories that prioritize tragedy and drama, you will most likely enjoy The Fly.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Thing (1982)

Based on John W. Campbell's novella Who Goes There?, The Thing is a science fiction horror film directed by John Carpenter and written by Bill Lancaster. Set in the frozen wastes of Antarctica, an American scientific expedition is suddenly interrupted by group of Norwegians chasing and shooting at a dog. After the Norwegians' helicopter explodes, the Americans take the dog into their camp.

However, this dog is more than meets the eye. Its actually an alien life-form that possesses the ability to absorb and replicate other creatures. Now the group must defeat the creature, but how do they know if their friends are still their friends and not something else?

The Thing is, without a doubt, one of the best horror films ever made. Although it might look like just another gore-fest at first glance, The Thing is filled to the brim with atmosphere, tension, and dread. Taking these three ingredients and mixing them together with great special effects and solid acting is a recipe for horrific success.

John Carpenter uses the isolated feeling of the setting to great effect. The characters are separated from the comforts of society, surrounded by a empty frozen wasteland. Because they can't receive help, the group has to rely on itself. However, this is hard to do when you can't trust the person beside you. The desperation and paranoia inherent to the situation creates the perfect atmosphere to foster true tension and dread.

The Thing is also known for its excellent use of practical effects. Almost every effect throughout the film is well done, bringing this alien monstrosity to life. Each form the Thing takes is grotesquely unique, allowing us to see remnants of the absorbed creature within the chaotic mess of flesh and blood, making it all the more horrifying. These are easily some of the best monster effects that I've ever seen.

The acting is also very solid. Kurt Russell is fantastic as the gruff R.J. MacReady. Even though we only get the occasional line about his past, Russell's performance really sells the character and makes his morose attitude believable. Keith David, Wilford Brimley, and Donald Moffat are great as well.

However, The Thing does have its faults. The biggest one is probably the fact that most of the characters (besides a small handful) are kind of forgettable and interchangeable. The actors give decent performances and the characters are likable, but they just don't leave a lasting impression. People remember MacReady and Childs, but not Palmer or Windows.

Luckily, The Thing's good qualities easily outweigh the bad ones. If you're looking for a horror film that's got great atmosphere, knows how to build tension properly, and tops it off with wonderful special effects, check out The Thing

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

New Monster: White Ooze

WHITE OOZE (CR 6)
XP 2,400
N Medium Ooze
Init +1; Senses Blindsight 60 ft., Telepathy 100 ft.; Perception -3
DEFENSE
AC 9, Touch 9, Flat-Footed 9 (-3 Dex, +2 Natural)
hp 62 (4d8+44)
Fort +11, Ref -6, Will -6
Defensive Abilities Ooze Traits; Immune Cold, Electricity
OFFENSE
Speed 10 ft.
Melee Slam +6 (1d6+4 plus grab) 
Special Attacks Dominate, Constrict (1d6+1) 
STATISTICS
Str 20, Dex 5, Con 30, Int 2, Wis 5, Cha 5
Base Atk +5; CMB +10 (+14 grapple); CMD 15 (Can't Be Tripped) 
Skills Stealth +2 
Feats Improved Initiative, Toughness
ECOLOGY
Environment Cold Marshes and Underground 
Organization Solitary 
Treasure None 
SPECIAL ABILITIES
Dominate (Su) White oozes possess the ability to take over the minds of those it touches. Whenever a white ooze grapples an opponent, said opponent must make a Will save or be dominated (as detailed in the Dominate Animal, Dominate Monster, or Dominate Person spells). The Will save's DC is 11. If the ooze is eaten, the DC is 15 instead. This ability's save is Charisma based. 

The white ooze is a peculiar creature. At first glance, it looks like any other ooze. However, it actually possesses a very rudimentary intelligence and the ability to dominate the minds of creatures that touch it. The ooze usually does this by entering the creature's body through the mouth, forcing its way inside. 

Because white oozes are incredibly rare, very few people recognize them when encountering them. Some have actually mistaken the creature for some strange goo that possesses a surprisingly sweet taste. There are actually a few unscrupulous merchants have actually gathered samples of this white ooze to sell as exotic desserts. Of course, this never ends well for the customer. 

October Horror Movie Challenge: Detention (2011)

Detention is a meta-horror film directed and written by Joseph Kahn. The film follows a group of teens who go to Grizzly Lake High School. When one of their classmates is killed by someone dressed as the popular horror movie character 'Cinderhella', they are all under suspicion. While attempting to work things out in detention, they discover things are much weirder then they seem.

The best way to describe Detention is that its a film that suffers from a really bad case of ADD. I guess I should explain what I mean by that. Detention's plot is unfocused and clunky. It continuously adds new ideas that reference older horror films, but jumps to the next idea before the last one has any time to settle down. Because of this, most of the ideas (like a football player who happens to have the DNA of a fly or a teenage girl who swaps bodies with her mother in 1992) clash with each other and weaken the already haphazardly constructed plot.

Although the film stumbles in the story department, it manages to catch itself with the visuals. At least, for the most part. While Detention's CGI tend to be either mediocre or dreadful, the film's cinematography is very well done. It possesses this frantic energy that perfectly fits the weird story being told, and gives the film its own style.

The performances aren't half bad either. Although the film focuses on a group of students, Shanley Caswell's Riley Jones is clearly the protagonist. Caswell does a good job with a role that could have been horrible in the hands of a less talented actress. She seems to really gel with the film's tone, has decent comedic timing, and is pretty likable. While the rest of the cast (even Dane Cook) give decent performances, I felt like spotlighting Caswell specifically. If it wasn't for her, I probably would have hated this movie.

Detention is not a great film. Its plot's jumbled, it tries to do too much at one time, and winks at itself a little too much. While its visually interesting and has some decent performances, you can safely skip Detention without losing any sleep over it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Stuff (1985)

The Stuff is a horror film written, produced, and directed by Larry Cohen. When a new dessert sensation simply called "the Stuff" threatens to put ice cream makers out of business, industry tycoons draft industrial saboteur Moe Rutherford to uncover the dessert's secret formula. However, the truth turns out to be far more sinister than anyone could believe: the addictive, delicious goo is actually a sentient creature that possesses the ability to take over those that consume it.

The Stuff is an odd case where the film's concept is actually more interesting than the film itself. Don't get me wrong, The Stuff is a light piece of 80's cheese that's a fun watch. However, the idea the film's built around is intriguing on its own: What if a popular product was actually a living creature? What if that creature could control us if we consume it? Would we be able to stop it if we discovered it, or would it be too ingrained in our society by that time to remove it?

While its not a new concept, its still an interesting one that offers numerous possibilities for drama and satire, especially when blended with a heavy dose of horror. The Stuff touches on this at times, especially near the end, but it could have done so much more.

With that being said, The Stuff is still a fun monster movie with a nice injection of delectable cheese. The films actually reminiscent to the different versions of The Blob, with a weird ooze-based creature that terrorizes people (albeit, very differently). The special effects, for the most part, are very well done. They use some interesting tricks to animate the titular ooze (like rotating rooms and the like), and distorted faces caused by the Stuff exiting through their mouths are very creepy.

The acting is surprisingly pretty solid. Michael Moriarty is excellent as Moe Rutherford. Moriarty brings so much charisma to the role, helping to sell the character as a lovable scoundrel. Paul Sorvino is also great as the militant right-wing Col. Spears. Sorvino breathes life into a character that could have been a boring stereotype, but ends up being one of the weirdest and funniest parts of the film.

Although it could have done a lot more with its concept (which is perfect for a dark satire), The Stuff is an enjoyable film with some cool special effects and solid performances. If you're in the mood for some 80's cheese with occasional droplets of social satire here and there, check out The Stuff.

Monday, October 6, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

Directed by Charles B. Pierce, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is an independent horror film loosely based on the actual crimes committed by an unidentified "Phantom Killer" that terrorized Texarkana in 1946. After a number of people are attacked on the outskirts of the city by a mysterious man wearing a make-shift mask, Texas Ranger J.D. Morales leads an extensive manhunt for the culprit.

On the surface, The Town That Dreaded Sundown looks like another proto-slasher (much like the earlier Texas Chainsaw Massacre). However, the film possesses an intriguing style that makes it unique (at least, for its time). The Town That Dreaded Sundown, at times, feels like an America's Most Wanted reeanctment stretched out into a feature length film. It even has a narration that acts as a bridge from one major even to the next. This could have been disastrous, but Pierce manages to take this admittedly odd style and make it work to the film's benefit.

This weird style helps build a specific kind of atmosphere for the film, making the scenes with the Phantom Killer much more believable. While there are some outlandish elements, I couldn't help but feel like I was watching something that actually happened instead of a scene loosely based on actual events. Each death felt brutal, especially when the score vanishes and we're left with the killer's heavy breathing and the sound of victim's pleading for their lives. Its extremely effective and very well-done in that regard.

The acting is also pretty solid. Ben Johnson is wonderful as J.D. Morales (who's based on the real Texas Ranger M. T. Gonzaullas). He plays the character with a calm confidence, making you believe this is a character who will do whatever he can to bring this psychopath to justice. Bud Davis also kills it as the Phantom Killer, possessing a menacing aura and expresses a lot of character through just the movement of his eyes and his breathing.

With that being said, The Town That Dreaded Sundown does have some major problems that keep it from being great. At times, the film can be a little uneven, with certain scenes going on much longer than they really  need to. Also, some of the scenes with the copes feel like something out of an early 70s police procedural. I half expected to hear the Dragnet theme at times.

Although its by no means perfect, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is an interesting relic of its time and has an intriguing style. I can see why many consider this to be a cult classic, and I believe it deserves that status. If you're interested in seeing a proto-slasher film with an interesting style, I'd say give The Town That Dreaded Sundown a chance.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Creepshow (1982)

Directed by George A. Romero, Creepshow is a film loved by most fans of the genre. Made as an homage to the horror comics of the 1950s, such as Tales from the Crypt or The House of Mystery, Creepshow is an anthology film consisting of five different stories. There's a zombie patriarch who really wants to his beloved cake, a dimwitted bumpkin who meets his demise after discovering a strange meteorite, a wealthy psychopath plans an elaborate seaside revenge for his cheating wife and her boyfriend, a college professor who releases a ferocious monster from a mysterious crate, and an agoraphobic billionaire menaced by a swarm of cockroaches within his sterile apartment.

I utterly adore Creepshow. I've seen it numerous times, enjoy it immensely, and will probably watch it again before the month is over. Assuming I might be a tad bit biased during this 'review' is probably a safe bet. However, don't let that lead you to believe Creepshow is a bad film or a 'guilty pleasure' of mine. Far from it. Creepshow is a legitimately good film and deserves the praise it receives.

Creepshow feels like someone took an old issue of Tales from the Crypt and turned it into a movie. Each segment possesses a morbid sense of humor, which was prevalent throughout most of EC's horror titles. The movie even uses a comic as a framing device, with transitions between each story being the turning of a comic page and certain scenes are lit to look like something out of an old comic. This gives the movie an interesting visual style that's both recognizable and unique.

Speaking of visual style, the makeup and special effects are top notch as well. The creatures really look like something Al Feldstein or Jack Davis might have drawn. As usual, Tom Savini really hit it out of the park and proves he deserves to be considered a master makeup artist.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the cast. The film is filled with talented people. We've got Tom Atkins, Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Leslie Nielsen, E. G. Marshall, and Stephen King (yes, THAT Stephen King). While they're all great, I feel Nielsen and Marshall both deserve a little more praise. Both are excellent in their roles, with Nielsen playing the psychopathic Richard Vickers perfectly and Marshall is clearly having a lot of fun with his part.

Creepshow does have one major flaw, which happens to be a flaw shared by almost every anthology film: the different stories possess varying levels of quality, which causes the film to feel a little uneven at times. The first two stories could have been a lot stronger, and the 4th story's pacing can be too slow at times.

However, Creepshow is still a great film and has earned the right to be called a classic. If you haven't seen Creepshow, you need to fix that ASAP.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Night of the Creeps (1986)

Night of the Creeps is a comedy horror film obviously made as a loving homage to the B movies of yesteryear. The film follows Chris Romero, a college freshman who falls in love at first sight with sorority girl Cynthia Cronenberg. Hoping to impress her, Chris and his friend JC Hooper attempt to pledge for the Beta Epsilon Fraternity. However, there's a catch: If they want in, they'll have to steal a cadaver from the university's medical department.

While the two manage to find a dead boy within a secret cryogenics lab, things immediately go from bad to worse. By removing the corpse, the boys have unleashed a swarm of alien parasites that possess the ability to re-animate the dead. With the help of Cynthia and chain-smoking police detective Ray Cameron, Chris must defeat these vicious creatures before its too late.

On paper, Night of the Creeps sounds like a train wreck waiting to happen. Like the cheesy horror & science fiction films its modelling itself after, Night of the Creeps occasionally throws logic right out the window. For example, I find it hard to believe no one else saw a giant spaceship that flying at such a low height or Cynthia doesn't recognize her ex-boyfriend's been zombified while siting right next to him. However, Night of the Creeps possesses so much heart that you can't help but overlook its flaws and embrace the cheesy fun its offering.

Even though the draw of this film is the B movie cheese, Night of the Creeps does possess some legitimately good elements. Both Tod Atkins and Steve Marshal deserve praise for their performances as Detective Cameron and JC. Both characters could have easily been horrible in the hands of different actors, but Atkins and Marshall really breath life into them, which causes us as an audience to care more about them (giving their fates within the film a much stronger impact).

The special effects are also pretty solid, especially when you consider the film only had a budget of $5,000,000 (that sounds like a lot, but it really isn't when it comes to feature films). The music is great, really fitting the film's tone, and the film's cinematography is both interesting and well executed.

Night of the Creeps is a horror film slathered in a thick layer of 60's B movie cheese. While I understand that might make the move less palatable to some people, I thoroughly enjoyed it and will probably watch it again in the near future. If you like goofy horror films that have a sense of humor about them, check out Night of the Creeps (especially if you feel like riffing something MST3K-style with some friends).  

Friday, October 3, 2014

Frights & Dice: Betrayal at House on the Hill

Click HERE to Purchase Betrayal at House on the Hill
Throughout the month of October, I'll be posting recommendations for horror-themed games you can play to get into the spirit of the season. Let's begin with a personal favorite of mine: Betrayal at House on the Hill.

Published by Avalon Hill and designed by Bruce Glassco, Betrayal at House on the Hill is a strategic, semi-cooperative horror game. Players pick one of several characters to explore the titular House on the Hill. As they explore the different rooms, receiving strange omens, encountering eerie events, and discovering useful items. However, things go from bad to worse when one of the players is revealed to be a traitor who wishes to kill the others for one reason or another. Now, the remaining players must band together if they wish to survive their night in the house.

I'll be the first to admit that Betrayal at House on the Hill is not a perfect game by any means. The first phase of the game has the tendency to be a little dull if players are being too cautious, some of the scenarios are a little wonky, and the pieces could be of a better quality.

Luckily, I feel Betrayal's pros greatly outweigh its cons. The game is incredibly replayable due to the tile-based board (meaning the house will look different almost every time you play it) and the 50 different scenarios packaged with the game. You might find yourself running away from a werewolf attempting to eat your face one night, hiding from a fire-breathing dragon the next night, and attempting to escape from an alien dimension the night after that.

Also, the game can be incredibly tense at times. When you scoop up those six dice to make a haunt roll (the thing that can possibly trigger the traitor), knowing you have received about five or six omens, you get a little scared. What if you fail? Which of my friends will be trying to kill me? What will I be fighting? Will I be able to survive? All these questions flash in your mind as you let those dice fly and hear them bounce across the table, keeping you tense until you see the final result.

While Betrayal at House on the Hill could use some fine-tuning in places and the production values could be a little better, I feel it offers a fun experience at the table. Everyone I've introduced it to has loved it and had a blast playing it. If you're looking for a haunted house game that is incredibly replayable, check out Betrayal at House on the Hill.

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Sacrament (2013)

Inspired by the Jonestown Massacre of 1978, The Sacrament is a found footage film directed by Ti West. Patrick, a photographer, receives a letter from his sister Caroline, a recovering drug addict. She's invited him to visit Eden Parish, a utopian community founded by the religious leader known by the followers as "Father". Patrick's co-workers, Sam and Jake, suggest recording their visit to the Parish and turn it into a VICE-style documentary. However, the newcomers quickly realize Eden Parish isn't the idealistic paradise it claims to be.

I'm not the biggest fan of certain trends in modern horror cinema, with found footage being one that particularly annoys me. Don't get me wrong, there are some truly great found footage films out there. Unfortunately, the majority of found footage films end up being steaming piles of crap. While The Sacrament has a lot going for it, I personally feel the found footage style prevents it from reaching its true potential.

There are moments throughout the film where we see a scene from a certain vantage point, but there's no way the characters with the cameras could have taken  it. Also, based on certain events during the climax, its highly likely that a large amount of the footage was destroyed. If that's true, how are we seeing this now? While The Sacrament isn't the worst for these moments that could possibly break our suspension of disbelief,  it certainly doesn't help. 

Ignoring the faux-documentary style for just a moment, The Sacrament does present an interesting look at a religious cult and the individuals who belong to said cult. While everything seems to be perfect at first with everyone enjoying their new lives at Eden Perish, we quickly see that's not the case, with some people wishing to leave and even disagreeing with Father (this is especially noticeable during the film's climax). This is definitely a nice change of pace from the usual depiction of cults in horror movies. 

The Sacrament is also filled with wonderful performances. AJ Brown is very likable as Sam, come off as very well-meaning and truly wanting to help people, and Amy Seimetz really sells the zealous devote well. However, Gene Jones steals the show as Father, bringing the character to life. He successfully manages to balance the charisma of friendly Southern pastor with the menace of a crazed dictator. Believe me, that's no easy feat. 

Although The Sacrament has its problems, I would be remiss to label it a bad film. I believe the story and the performances tip the scales slightly in the film's favor (at least for me). If you enjoy found footage films, like interesting cult stories with good performances, and like Ti West's previous work, you'll probably like The Sacrament. If not, I'd suggest skipping this one. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Fog (1980)

Directed by John Carpenter, The Fog is a classic example of a ghost story done right.

Set in the fictional town of Antonio Bay as it prepares to celebrate its centenary birthday. Although this should be a time for festivities, strange phenomena begins to occur throughout the town. Due to these strange incidents, the town's priest (Hal Holbrook) discovers his grandfather's diary that reveals a terrible secret about the town's origins: Antonio Bay's founders caused a ship to crash against the rocky store, plundering the wreckage for gold they used to build the future settlement.

On the night of Antonio Bay's centennial, an eerie fog slowly spreads throughout the town. Lurking inside the glowing mist is the ghostly crew of the wrecked ship, seeking vengeance from beyond the grave. With the citizens of Antonio Bay survive the night, or will they pay for their ancestors' crimes?

I feel like I should admit something before I go any further: I have a weak spot for ghost stories. Ever since I was little, I've always found the concept of a soul trapped on Earth due to some unfinished business both intriguing and terrifying. However, don't let that bias fool you. I can tell when a film tell such a story does so poorly. Thankfully, The Fog had a legendary horror director at the helm who knew what he was doing.

The Fog doesn't rely on loud noises or cheap scares, but an eerie atmosphere that fosters a sense of growing dread in the viewer. Each time the titular fog slowly enters the scene and you catch a glimpse of a shadowy figure hiding within, you know something bad is about to happen and you feel yourself growing tense. The feeling is only amplified by the film's masterfully-constructed score.

Carpenter also utilizes the horror principle that "less is more" to great effect. Throughout the film, the undead sailors are constantly shrouded by the fog and dark shadows, with their glowing red eyes being their only perfectly discernible feature. Because we only get glimpses of what they might actually look like, these ghosts are mysterious and much more terrifying.

Although it does have its flaws (some of the performances are a little lackluster and the film hasn't aged well in particular places), The Fog is definitely worth your time (especially if you're a fan of Carpenter's work and love a good ghost story).

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

New Monster: Carrion Hound

CARRION HOUND (CR 1)
XP 400
NE Medium Undead
Init +2; Senses Low-Light Vision; Perception +5
DEFENSE
AC 13, Touch 12, Flat-Footed 11 (+2 Dex,
+1 Natural)
HP 6 (1d8+2)
Fort -1, Ref +2, Will +4
Immune Undead Traits
OFFENSES
Speed 50 ft.
Melee bite +2 (1d6+3 plus disease)
STATISTICS
Str 15, Dex 14, Con -, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 8
Base Atk +0; CMB +2; CMD 14
Feats Toughness
Skills Perception +5
ECOLOGY
Environment any
Organization any
Treasure none
SPECIAL ABILITIES
Disease (Ex) Filth Fever: Bite - Injury; Save Fort DC 10; Onset 1d3 Days; Frequency 1/day; Effect 1d3 Dex Damage and 1d3 Con Damage; Cure 2 Consecutive Saves; This save DC is Charisma-based.

Carrion hounds are undead canines created to either be eerie guardians or macabre pets (depending on their creator). These creatures are extremely vicious, the necromantic rituals used in their resurrection amplifying their bestial nature.

While most believe they are mindless, carrion hounds actually retain a rudimentary intelligence that allows them to follow very simplistic orders from their creator. However, there are rumors that these creatures actually possess latent memories of their previous life, possibly remembering their old masters. Some rumors even say these old masters can issue orders to the carrion hound and they'll turn on the necromancers who resurrected them. Unfortunately,no one has actually confirmed this.