Thursday, 26 March 2015

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014) - Exo Zombies Mode First Impressions

With the release of the first DLC map pack for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare came a new game mode; Exo Zombies. For someone who adores the zombie modes of Black Ops and Black Ops II this was music to my ears.

There came the reveal that zombies would be appearing at the end of the fun Exo-Survival mode in the game. Get to round 10 on map Riot and a bio-weapon hits the stage which results in your character getting knocked out. When you get control again the prison level is over run with sprinting zombies, with your exo-suit shut down (the device that lets you boost in the air) you have to survive the endless hordes until your suit comes back online. The short sequence ends with you making it to the helipad where a cool cut scene shows you trying to make your escape.
If you complete this level whilst online you get access to zombie skins for your avatar and gradually unlock bits of zombie gear which is basically bloodied versions of normal clothes.

I finally got to play Exo-Zombies last night. You play as one of four characters who have the voice and likeness of a famous actor. These four are Kahn (Bill Paxton), Lilith (Rose McGowan), Oz (John Malkovich), and finally and by far the most exciting is Decker (Jon Bernthal who of course was the amazing Shane in The Walking Dead). There is one map you can play in so far; Outbreak which is set in an Atlas base.

The mode starts off with quite a long exciting intro sequence that shows the Atlas facility getting over run by zombies, and ends with a copter carrying the four characters crashing. Outbreak is quite a maze like level. There is an open area and then lots of stairways and corridors. Just like the zombie modes before you get points for killing the undead which are then used to open up new areas of the level and to buy better weapons. The game is split into rounds with each round featuring more zombies and making them tougher.

Exo-Zombies has its own take on the limited perks you can get off downed enemies. Mostly these are the same as before but with different names, for example the nuke that kills all active zombies is now call a 'bio-bomb'. There are also power ups that double your points gained, gives you one hit kills, and activates the levels security measures. Like in Exo-Survival every now and again you get air drops which feature items such as a personal attack drone, a sentry gun, cloaking and even a points boost.

Along with the small courtyard you start in there is the morgue full of bodies, office type areas, and the Exo-suit room where you gain access to the boost abilities that gives. Once you have your suit you can get power ups for them that are pretty much identical to what the vending machines in Black Ops provided. There are cash machines that randomly provide you with points, upgrade points for your weapons that are essential to save up for. My favourite part of the level is a garbage disposal chute that cheekily transports you back to the start of the level.

On the zombie front there are some nice additions. Zombies in general start off slow and shambling but speed up each round, I imagine eventually they would be running at you, undead have Exo-suits themselves and so can jump huge distances to get you . Some rounds feature just zombie dogs, while later on special zombies types appear. This new zombie types include electrified zombies who disable your suit abilities if they get too near, and green glowing zombies who if they touch you infect you. If your infected you have a short time to get to a decontamination point should you not get there in time your character dies for good and turns into an enemy zombie (sadly not a player controlled one). Zombie fall apart in awesome fashion (very easy to shoot off their legs), especially when in one hit kill mode there arms, legs and head all fly off with blood everywhere.

I was not sure if Exo-Zombies would be a good mode, I had avoided reading anything about it until after I played it. At the moment with just the one map it feels slightly light on content, but I am pretty certain with each of the four DLC map packs there will be at least one new zombie level. Fingers crossed one of the DLC map packs is exclusively zombie maps as it is great fun already so more maps can only make it better. I will leave it there for now, I have geeked out quite a bit. More impressions as the new maps come out!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Slit (2015) - Short Horror Film Review

Slit is a short erotic horror that is based on the Giallo genre which I believe came out of Italy in the late 70's. Personally while I have read a fair bit about the films of those times I have not really ever seen any which makes it hard to judge Slit which is a direct homage of those type of films popularised by Dario Argento.

A female couple head back home after a night of partying unaware that they are being followed. After a while the two fall asleep and the house gets invaded by a mysterious figure clad in black who seems to wish them harm...

Now as previously stated I am not sure of the tropes of Giallo films, from my hazy recollections it involves leather gloves, and maybe lace of a kind? I believe part of this genre is that you never view the killer, more that you see things from their perspective. For the first half of this eleven minute short horror it went along an erotic route, mostly consisting of the two girls kissing and I must admit my attention was running thin. Thankfully at the half time mark the horror really stepped in with some pretty tense scenes that ended with a plot device that I found very well done. The payoff and the twist that is slowly revealed is expertly done and gave me goose bumps of a sort.

There are lots of use of red and blue filters and lighting which I can only guess is part of the genre as it makes things look unnatural and strange, I am sure this is very intentional though. The special effects used are not bad, and I like that only by watching Slit can you discover where that titular description comes in.

While featuring a bit too much erotica for my liking I really enjoyed the second half. Short horror films are rarely ever anything other than interesting, it takes a certain type of skill to fit an entire story into such a short amount of time, Slit succeeds in this endeavour.


If you fancy checking out the film for yourself then included is the short piece below...

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Row Z (2014) - Short Zombie Film Review

Row Z is a short zombie film written and directed by Dusty Rhodes that combines many peoples loves; football and zombies. I don't actually like football myself but I really appreciated the vibes gone for in this piece.

Michael (Stuart Ellison) tells his father George (Trevor Cuthbertson) during breakfast the plans he has for them that day. His favourite football team Plymouth Argyle are to play an important game so Michael plans to go to the bookies to put on a bet, then head to the pub to have a pre match drink, before heading to the stadium itself. It soon becomes apparent once the duo leave the house that all is not so great with Great Britain with abandoned cars, evacuation points, and the heavy presence of zombies...

I thought Row Z was a pretty good film, at ten minutes long it packs so much into its slim time. The relationship of father and son is well established and you really come to care for Michael who to all intents and purposes seems to be living in a fantasy world, unaware, or refusing to accept the horror that has wiped out most if not all of humanity. The music that plays throughout is so sweet and gentle that rather than be annoyed at the two for being in this fantasy you instead wish them all the best. The dad seems far more aware than Michael of what is going on, and humouring his son as best he can while relying on him for protection.

It looks great with some impressive locations used such as a football stadium for the finale, and the zombies look the part, at least having a uniform look even if their make up did look a bit too dark on the faces. I just loved the juxtaposition of the main characters impressive delusions with the chaos and deadness of the new world. The panic on Michaels face whenever his dream is interrupted is so well done, it is credit that two such ideal people were chosen for the part of father and son. Special note must also go to the football commentary that plays at points throughout; quite clever in the way it is framed.

With vibes of David Moody's Autumn universe (this could have easily fitted into his Autumn: The Human Condition anthology) and an engaging story there is a lot to recommend here.


You can check out Row Z below, you definitely should do...

Monday, 23 March 2015

Zombie Apocalypse! (2010) by Stephen Jones - Zombie Horror Book Review

With such a generic title it took me a long time to finally get around to reading Zombie Apocalypse!. What I soon realised was that this was a story that was told in a way I have not really ever seen before, certainly a unique way.

Set in the near future the UK government are preparing for the New Festival of Britain to restore national pride. Their preparations includes construction work around an old church in London which inadvertently releases an old plague; The Black Death which turns its victims into ghoulish undead who exist only to eat the flesh of the living. At first this new danger sweeps the country but then spreads over all of Europe, and then to the rest of the world...

The entirety of Zombie Apocalypse! is made up of various accounts. Diary entries, official letters, police and medical reports, phone and text conversations, video accounts and interviews all meld together to give a glimpse at a world collapsing into chaos. So far so World War Z but what is different here is just how random it all is. With the exception of a young girl's diary entries there is no consistency or recurrence of characters. People turn up, you learn about them, their situation and how they see the world and then in anything from a few pages to twenty or thirty later they either end up in a sticky situation or the account ends and that is it. This is a cool way to do things but it does lead to some vast jumps in the over arching plot.

The first half of the book is centred in the UK, most specifically London. The initial infection and outbreak is summed up best by a police report of a night of madness that was truly chilling and unsettling. Later on after a certain event happens the book then leaps all the way over to Australia for another thrilling account, this time a radio broadcast from a trapped flying doctor. It is explained that all of Europe by this time is overran yet there is nothing about Europe in the various letters and transcripts. Soon after this the action then leaps over to America and Mexico where the book comes to a close. Not having a consistent overview means a lot of plot just happens 'off screen' or off the page I guess. This is no where clearer than about ten pages before Zombie Apocalypse! ends where a real curve ball is thrown at the reader with brand new information given that was never hinted at at all in the rest of the near 500 page story and just seemed there to finish things quickly.

Zombie Apocalypse! also struggles in deciding on whether to be a comedy or a horror with different parts having very different tones. On the humour side of things there are items such as the minutes of an emergency planning committee whose pre created plan for a potential zombie outbreak was done as a joke but accidentally got released as a document to be taken seriously (the plan consisted of something along the line of a drawing of a zombie with the words 'run away fast!' written next to it). The horror side of things works well as well, especially considering near all of the documents end with the main character of the piece getting killed. A highlight for me was a doctor who gets stranded in a remote Australian town over run by the undead.

This is a well written book and one that has also been set out to appear legitimate. Diary entries for example are hand written rather than just plain text while letters appear on appropriately headed paper. There is a lot of variation so I never got bored. There is quite a lot of violence but for the most part this is people running or hiding from zombies, not going out their way to fight them. The zombies are runners as well as shamblers and visibly get more intelligent as the plague and story progresses. They are said to be controlled by ticks and fleas which makes for a slight change.

Overall I did quite enjoy Zombie Apocalypse!, it just suffers at times due to the leap in locations and inconsistency and while it works I feel more of a universal plot may have helped better. To finish I have literally just discovered this is the first book in a trilogy so I would be interested to see what happens next.


Sunday, 22 March 2015

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (2015) - Horror Videogame Review (PS4)

Hotline Miami was a fantastic game that created a perfect marriage of arcade style gameplay with striking pixel visuals and an astounding soundtrack. Needless to say when I discovered the sequel was out I immediately got in the right mood and settled down to what I was sure would be another spell binding game.

I thought the plot of the first game was out there and confusing (in the best possible way) but it made a kind of sense. This time around rather than play as two different killers there is a cast of around twelve characters you get to play at one point or another. Set both during and after the events of the first game you play as a whole assortment of odd balls from a corrupt detective to copycat killers, soldiers, mafia and even a journalist who is doing research for a book. Hidden in the cut scenes and actions of the game is a further look at the group responsible for the mysterious phone calls that tell random people to kill, as well as the results of all the death of Hotline Miami.

To sum up this really is more of the same to be found here. If you expected a revolution and a change up then you are likely to be disappointed, but if you are after more violence and killing then this is for you. To copy an idea mentioned on the Super Best Friendcast! this really gameplay wise is a perfect sequel in that the difficulty of Hotline Miami is added to here, sure there are plenty of easy levels but there are some that are far more difficult and taxing than anything found before.

As before each level starts with some interactive story telling providing a reason for the killing. Before you had a variety of masks you could choose to wear, each mask gave you slightly different abilities, with the multiple characters though this device is almost dropped, a few have a small selection of masks to choose from but for the most part each character has specific unique abilities. This restricts the way you can play any given level but at the same time the new abilities feel more special. One character for example is actually two people; twins Alex and Ash. Alex is fully controllable and armed with a chainsaw, while his sister Ash automatically follows behind but has a gun which you are able to shoot. Another character; Evan Wright the journalist doesn't actually kill enemies he fights, instead knocking them out, rather than use guns he actually dismantles any he comes across. So you can see there is more variety in total.

The level design has suffered somewhat in that levels are far more sprawling and split into more sections. Hotline Miami usually had a two floor rule in that there was literally just two parts to any given level. Here sometimes levels get stretched out into anything up to six or seven sections long which ruins some of the arcade style speed run feeling. Getting completely stuck on a later screen leads to huge frustration as the game wont save unless you completely finish the chapter and so you feel compelled to power on and do the level despite rising anger. There is still the minor problems of armed enemies shooting you from off screen but this is compounded by a lot of open areas where you are getting attacked from all sides rather than the narrow corridors used before.

Again a lot of the levels are fun to fight through, especially when the music works. All the music was great before, here when it is good it is really good. One level that sees you blasting through a Police Station Terminator style had one of the best tunes I have ever heard in a videogame, other levels on the other hand have good music but less good than the majority of Hotline Miami. There are the usual gangster hideouts and office type areas but also a few levels set during wartime in Hawaii that have more of a traditional action shooter type look to them. Thankfully there is no awful stealth level this time around and instead you get to do a few dream sequence levels where some crazy things happen, a later one in particular I had to check the Lucozade  I was drinking to make sure someone hadn't sneaked into my house and laced it with LSD! From a plot point there is one level in particular that just felt stupid. As the journalist your goal is to get a subway train to someones house, for no reason whatsoever the subway is full of goons you have to fight your way through. This level seemed out of place and judging by the way nothing is made of the station fight it seems it is there just to be something to do which drew me out of the experience somewhat.

The A.I is as simple as it always was, enemies if they see you head to your position where you can kill them or be killed. This results in lots of ducking around corners to get the dumb A.I to run towards you. Visually there is far more variation in the enemies you fight, not just restricted to mainly Mafia this time around. Dogs make a return in force, as do bigger enemies who can only be killed by gunfire, and this time around smaller enemies who can only be killed by melee weapons due to them ducking under gunfire. This helps give the game that puzzle aspect it is so well known for. There is lots of blood and violence as usual, especially with some of the more brutal melee weapons that lop off limbs and heads, enemies falling to the floor with intestines hanging out. At one point you get to pull someones head off, spine and all, that was a nice touch. One thing I did notice with the A.I is that occasionally they will get stuck and just spin round on the spot, this mostly occurred when they try and walk through doorways, I don't remember a bug like that before.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is a bigger game than it's predecessor with a bunch more levels, but all in all I found the story to be less engaging and the larger level designs meant a lot of the addictive nature (that is still there in spades) has been reduced, especially when frustration sets in. A great follow up game and if you enjoyed it before then you will certainly again here as there is nothing like this to be found anywhere else, especially in terms of visuals and music, but for me Hotline Miami is the better of the two.


Friday, 20 March 2015

Let There Be Zombies (2014) - Horror Film News

Let There Be Zombies is a low budget independent zombie film written and directed by Andrew Patterson that mixes horror with comedy to apparently great effect. It has managed to get picked up by a major distribution company and has won a few awards from various film festivals.

Drew is a cowardly teacher who is unable to control her pupils, so when zombie apocalypse sweeps the world she follows her yellow streak and flees to the countryside where she thinks she will be safe. With no survival skills to speak off and surrounded by rotting dead she soon finds herself in trouble and encounters a bunch of people who both help and hinder her. The film appears to have the message that sometimes you just cannot run from your problems.

Comedy is always a hard thing to get right, even more so when it comes to mixing horror and comedy. Now I do love zombie films but confess I have not actually heard of this one. It sounds like at some points in the film up to a hundred zombies appear on screen, the trick to a low budget zombie film is to flood the thing with zombies, no matter how bad the make up for them is sheer numbers never fail to impress.

Distributed by Gravitas Ventures Let There Be Zombies is available to watch on many many On Demand (VOD) services including iTunes, X-Box, Playstation and Amazon. Check out the trailer below, I just did and was impressed by the amount of zombies, plus the acting doesn't seem the worst out there...

Monday, 16 March 2015

A Good Marriage (2014) - Horror Film Review

A Good Marriage is based on a short Stephen King story of the same name, and it was King himself who adapted that story into a film script. Now I know it is commonly understood that he is a master of writing but personally I have never read a good book of his, in particular his short stories are mostly terrible.

Darcy Anderson (Joan Allen) seems to have the perfect life. She lives in a beautiful house, has plenty of friends and a loving husband and kids. Her idyllic lifestyle all comes crashing down one fateful night when she stumbles across a hidden box in her garage that suggests her husband Bob (Anthony LaPaglia) is actually the notorious serial killer known as Beadie. Not long later Bob realising her discovery confronts Darcy and gives her an ultimatum; either she can report him to the Police which in turn will ruin the life of her and their children, or with the promise that he wont kill again they can continue living the dream life she is so accustomed to.

Despite the subject matter A Good Marriage is not a horror film, I would not even class it as a thriller, it is more of a gentle drama where the only real horror elements come in dream sequences. The grim discovery happens around twenty minutes into the movie and the confrontation rather than sinister actually turns quite darkly comic as Bob is so nonchalant about the whole thing, and the twenty five years of married life between them means there is not some tense stand off as these are people who pretty much know each other.

Nothing much really happens in the film at all, but I got the sense that was the point of it all, turning the whole process on it's head there is no thrilling chases, brutal violence or even any swearing. The serial killings are only shown from news reports, and Bob himself is almost too nice of a guy. This doesn't work so well for the character of Darcy who just appears unconcerned about the vile things her husband has done, I spent a fair bit of the film wondering just what she was thinking; allowing a sadistic killer to live just to keep up appearances. There is a sub plot involving a mysterious man who seems to be shadowing the Anderson family, this man (played by Stephen Lang) steals the film in the scenes he appears in despite having a virtual blink and you miss him role.

As previously stated the horror mostly comes in dream sequences, and there are so many of these that the Xanax munching heroine has that I started to doubt what was real and what wasn't. I'm not sure if that was intentional but it got in the way when a key scene early on left me pondering if it had actually took place at all rather than digesting the new plot beats.

It seems strange to say this about a serial killer film but if you are after something gentle then this is actually not a bad flick to chill to, it is inoffensive and the acting is not terrible and also reasserts my belief that relationships are not a good thing to have. I found myself with brain switched off just enjoying the mellow setting and what is essentially pretty much a character piece drama. If your after scares and thrills stay away, but sometimes it is nice to just dip your feet in the shallow end.


Thursday, 12 March 2015

Cobretti by Videogram (2015) - Horror Music EP News

Magnus Sellergren's Videogram project is always a joy to listen to, I loved the self titled debut album Videogram and now he has a new E.P out. With the new E.P Videogram has not strayed from the successful method of basing the music on trashy films of the late 1970's and 1980's. I realise this is not horror based at all, but for Magnus I make an exception as the sensibility is the same.

The album's title Cobretti gives away the fact that all three songs are based on the 1985 Sylvester Stallone fronted action flick Cobra that I am ashamed to say I have never seen. The first track Cobretti has a video that mixes up clips from the film to awesome effects. The editing for these videos just seems to constantly improve, what happens in the video fits so well with the musical beats. The second track The Night Slasher is not bad, but it is final track Cobretti End Titles (featuring D.A Medina) that was the most enjoyable.

As always my one complaint is that the songs are over all too quickly, being as they are around two minutes in length. I could happily listen to these tracks for hours at a time, but then that is what the repeat all button is for. The E.P can be brought from a number of places, including here for $3. Check out the video for lead track Cobretti below...

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Cannibal Fog (2014) - Horror Comedy Film Review

Cannibal Fog is a Swedish horror that the makers have described as 'a meta drama comedy with art house influences in the urban cannibal genre'. Before I start the review proper I have to state for the record that stuff was occurring in my personal life that may have made me less receptive than usual in my pursuit and acceptance of all types of horror.

Michael (Linus Karlgren) is a young man who has wasted his life in the pursuit of porn and meaningless sex. A chance encounter with contaminated food at a local cafe sets him upon a search for the addictive new taste. Meanwhile middle aged man Albin (Malte Aronsson) who resides in the same city as Michael is a secret cannibal serial killer who serves his 'special' meat dishes up as meals for food connoisseurs. Eventually the paths of Michael and Albin meet and fate plays out.

I watched this film in two sittings and at nearly two hours long I had to do it this way as I just could not get engaged with it due to the bizarre humour and the art house stylings it plays with. Much of the film follows Michael; a greasy haired looser whose family have all but given up on him. His obsession with sex mirrors Albin's obsession with food providing a grim parallel between the two. The problem with the Michael segments is that not much really happens, The one plot hook is that he keeps waking up with flesh from his leg removed; just who is cutting away his flesh as he sleeps? Albin on the other hand has far shorter screen time but his segments are actually not that bad. One scene in which the pretentiousness of food critics is played up was actually pretty funny truth be told.

The soundtrack is pretty awful with lots of shouty rock and middle of the road forgettable background Muzak that sounds like it would be at home in an elevator. The film is in it's native language with English subtitles and while occasionally the dialogue shines for the most part it is nothing special. Acting is hard to tell but it seems to be at least competent and I was delighted to see the man of many roles; Kim Sonderholm in a bit part. I have said it before and I will say it again, that man just gets everywhere!

Cannibal Fog starts strong showing as it does a scene from the end of the film to leave you wondering how things get to that stage, and in general the last quarter of the film is pretty darn good. With the introduction of a secret cannibal society and a mad finale that was exciting and fun to watch it really picked up, but by then it was too little too late. I loved the relationship between Michael and Albin but it comes so late into the film that it just seems a wasted opportunity.

There are some great ideas here, the explanation of the films title Cannibal Fog was unexpected and leads to some great moments but when so much of the film follows a disgusting unlikeable character again it is far too late to make up for what comes before. Dealing as it does with flesh eaters there is plenty of human meat being prepared which turned my stomach a bit, not really into the cannibal genre it turns out! It is easy to see the contrast between pleasures of the flesh and pleasures of eating the flesh, as well as humans obsession with food types and the preparation of it.

If your after mild art house and a strange time then Cannibal Fog might be right up your alley, for me though I just could not get into it until far too late when it had all but wrapped up.


Thursday, 5 March 2015

Lab Rats - Horror Film News (also 6 Shooter Short Horror Film)

David 'dwyz' Wyman (who worked on British zombie flick Zombiehood and short horror The Chateau) has a new short film in the works that he is going to be directing, Lab Rats; a film that is to feature "...revolting mutations, oozing, melting faces and bodies literally exploding".

Eco-warrior Kat and her friends get a tip off that bio-chemistry company Ring-Amnion are secretly conducting experiments on animals despite publicly denying this. Kat decides to break into a lab owned by the company to see if the claims they received are true. Judging by the quote in my previous paragraph I am assuming that it is true and that horrific experiments are being performed.

Producer Lauren Parker states that they hope to use mainly practical effects with VFX used to make the practical effects look even better. They are using the same SFX and VFX crew that worked on 6 Shooter; a short horror with a budget of just £70 that I had the pleasure of watching earlier about worms attacking a bunch of young adults after a drinking game goes bad. In fact check out 6 Shooter below...

Now there is a Kickstarter campaign currently going for Lab Rats, they need to raise £4,000 and currently have £1,349 with 14 days left to go. If you fancy donating to what sounds like a fun film then head over to the Kickstarter page here. And if your still not sure then check out the SFX video below where you get to see an ear dissolve in awesome fashion...