Saturday, 20 December 2014

Yog-Sothoth's Box (2014) by S. Lawrence Parrish - Audio Horror Book Review

I really loved the Lovecraftian elements in S. Lawrence Parrish's Where Evil Grows audiobook I listened to earlier this year. He recommended that I hear Yog-Sothoth's Box which is a novella heavily inspired by the fantastic works of H.P Lovecraft.

The story follows a film student who decides to make a documentary about homeless people. In particular he wants to find someone who has chosen to become homeless and chronicle their story, His search leads him to a deserted part of town where he meets an old man called Professor Maxwell. What follows is a chilling account concerning a mysterious item known as Yog-Sothoth's Box...

I really loved this story, it was snappy, well written (well, spoken) and kept me glued to my headphones unable to stop listening. It is split into 10 chapters each of which is between ten to twenty minutes in length. Around two thirds of the story is told from the Professor's perspective and the voice Parrish puts on for the old man is very well done, I was able to forget this voice was even put on so enthralled was I.

This is very heavily based on H.P Lovecraft's tales of the nameless dark ones and it actually references him a lot, It is explained that his iconic stories were actually all based on fact and that items and places Lovecraft mentions such as the Necronomicon and the Miskatonic University actually turn out to be real. While well written and nearly attaining creeping dread it never actually does. This is no fault of Parrish as no one has ever been able to write such bone chilling stories as the master of horror did. If I had one complaint it was the ending which while clever was too upbeat for my liking (I admit twisted upbeat, but upbeat nonetheless)

I wont go into the plot for fear of ruining the story but needless to say this is recommended, especially as this is free to download from a variety of places including iTunes.


Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The Cat Lady (2013) - Horror Videogame Review (PC)

The Cat Lady is  made by R.Michalski who was responsible for the bleak Downfall. I was pleased to discover this and you can certainly see improvements with this game. The Cat Lady is a 2D side scrolling adventure game. Also interestingly it is controlled purely with a keyboard, a mouse is not needed.

You play as a middle aged woman; Susan Ashworth who in the games introduction commits suicide hoping to find release from the hell she thinks her life is. She awakens in the afterlife where a being naming itself the 'Queen of Maggots' informs her there can be no release from her suffering even in death. This being informs Susan that she will be returned to life where she will encounter five 'parasites'; people who wish only pain and death on the world. She is tasked with removing these parasites from the world and told that until that happens she will be unkillable and forced to live forever. Should she get rid of these blights on the world then she may find a reason to want to live.

Just like Downfall there are some strong issues dealt with here. The theme of depression is dealt with so well here, Susan is a fleshed out character who really seems to portray just what it is to be depressed and not want to live. The horrors she faces are terrible and along her journey to redemption she comes across sick, sadistic killers. However there is some light with the appearance of Mitzie a young woman with terminal cancer who befriends Susan. The dynamic between these two is very well portrayed and despite the differences in their beliefs (Susan is not fussed about living while Mitzie is desperate to cling on to the limited time she has left) they have a tight bond that is strengthened by the events they go through.

The Cat Lady is a 2D point and click game that has a variety of puzzles but which are never that taxing that you get stuck. Split into chapters you only ever have a limited amount of locations you can visit. Objects that can be examined or used have a line of text next to them when you walk past so gone is the pixel hunting of traditional point and click games. For the most part you are searching for keys and items to open locked doors and by pass rooms, whilst there is also a lot of puzzles based around defeating the enemies you face.

The crux of the game is finding and defeating the five parasites who have come into your world. Interestingly though these are unknown people and so there is a layer of distrust built into events as you find yourself encountering characters who could secretly be one of the serial killers. They are a varied bunch and all interesting characters in their own right. My favourite by far were a husband and wife voiced by David Firth (of Salad Fingers fame). Just because Susan is unable to be killed it doesn't mean she can't suffer. For the most part her discovery of the parasites is gained by being kidnapped and or temporarily killed by them. There is a real sense of empowerment as you stalk your captors who are unaware of your being still alive. At times it even makes you feel like some sort of superhero dishing out justice to these vile characters. A misstep of Downfall was having game over screens so this plot device cleverly gets around that fault.

The game can be quite gory, as a statement of intent your arm gets ripped off quite early in to demonstrate the harsh world you inhabit. Despite the high level of bleak subjects covered (murder, rape, torture, suicide, terminal diseases to name a few) there is a healthy injection of black humour that really helps distil some of the misery. This humour was missing from Downfall and its inclusion here really helps keep the game engaging. The Cat Lady is not a difficult game and I never once got stuck but I also never once got bored for it is very addictive.

The majority of the game is in black and white to reflect Susan's state of mind, colour is used minimally and usually only for a specific reason. The whole look of the game could be straight out of a David Firth animation with characters having stilted animations and existing in a surreal place. There is also a lot of fan service for people who played Downfall. I first noticed a poster for that game in a characters bedroom and then later on you get a whole heap more, one part of the game is even dependant on your knowledge of the previous game to solve a small puzzle. I loved how it got integrated into the world of The Cat Lady; very impressive indeed.

The Cat Lady is a powerful game that really does seem that it has been created by someone who truly understands what it is like to suffer depression. Having your player character be a middle aged woman is a brave move and I can't think of any other game that does that. This was consistently well written and despite some of the afterlife sections being a bit too game like as a whole I can't really find much to fault here.


Monday, 15 December 2014

Ostrich Supernatural Game (2014) - Horror Film Review

Ostrich Supernatural Game is an indie Asian horror film directed, written, and shot by Abdul Zainidi. I was warned before hand that it was very low budget. It bears quite a few similarities of other Asian horrors such as The Ring, and The Grudge. I'm not a hundred percent sure on the actual plot so what I say might not actually be what happens! Also it has a really bad title for the record.

A Western reporter heads to Brunei to investigate a series of disappearances that have been attributed to a strange game youngsters play. He meets up with a young man who tells the reporter everything he knows of it. Fifteen years previous five boys witnessed something horrific in the jungle after playing the mysterious game, in present day they discover the game has become a fad among youngsters. The game consists of someone covering their eyes with their hands and saying "Rayau" three times in a row. Doing this seems to result in the person vanishing.

Ostrich doesn't get off to a strong start due to terrible audio that sadly lasts throughout the films one hour ten minutes running time. When characters speak it can be really difficult to hear what they are saying due to background noise, it doesn't help that a lot of the dialogue appears rambling and a lot of the film seems to be just people talking at each other. Even when the background noise isn't so loud it can still be difficult to understand what anyone is saying due to the films score playing loudly over everything. Occasionally the mix is good but it is a shame that such a key component of the film has been affected in this way.

The film is in English rather than subtitled but I can't help but feel it would have worked more effectively if it had been in the characters native language as it seems odd everyone talking in English (though it is widely spoken in Brunei). The script is ok sometimes but I confess I was really confused a lot of the time not really understanding what was being said as it felt like people were talking in riddles. It is also real strange that on five different occasions characters start comparing events that are going on in their lives to various Shakespeare plays, he seems to be an important person as he is all anyone seems to talk about! In general I don't really know what on earth was happening, but this did add to the sense of mystery going on.

It all starts to shine when the actual horror occurs, I am surprised anyone is left around in the country though as the game people play seems to have a near 100% success rate for making people vanish! Usually after closing their eyes and saying the fateful phrase a nearby door will open by itself, the character will then walk through the door way and either scream and the door will shut behind them. I understand the need to have horror happen off screen to make up for the lack of budget but it would have been nice to get some sort of payoff at some point. Leaving it to your imagination is never a bad thing. There are many scenes of people vanishing and these occur in a variety of ways. My favourite two had a little girl who disappeared into thin air at her friends house, and a boy who out in his garden walked towards a mysterious banging noise and then next you see him he is being dragged off screen by some unseen person or creature.

Ostrich looks good with crisp clear visuals and there is a variety of really interesting looking locations used. I also liked the films score as it fitted things perfectly. I have no idea what happened in the film, I was very confused and still am, but then that's pretty usual when it comes to Asian films, it adds to the bewilderment of the film. How the victim disappears also seems to be completely random, some consistency would have been good.

This has some interesting ideas and can be creepy at times but the audio problems and sometimes weak dialogue take away a lot of the effect of these ideas. Confusing and mysterious but also atmospheric, not a bad effort at all for a low budget indie horror regardless of it's faults.


Sunday, 14 December 2014

"Deeper Into You" by Ludovico Technique (2014) - Horror Music Video

Released last week was a new music video by dark electronic band Ludovico Technique for the song "Deeper Into You" taken from their album "Some Things Are Beyond Therapy". I at first wasn't going to do a blog post about this but having watched the video I feel it fits well on my site.

The video has the trio in some ruins playing their music, they all look kind of zombified I assume this is the look they go for. Mostly in black and white there is some colour used, such as the striking blue for the singers eyes. I love the drummer whose scarf over his mouth makes him look like one of the undead. Apparently the video is meant to "present a visualisation of the depths to which human emotion can deteriorate when stretched beyond its limits" which does sound a tad pretentious.

As for the actual song itself I found I actually loved it! Is like a cross between Cradle of Filth and Nine Inch Nails and very catchy. I had never heard of the band before (the name taken from classic Kubrick film "A Clockwork Orange") but if all their music is like this song then maybe I might check them out.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Pyramid (2014) - Horror Film Review

A horror film set in a desert? An ideal film for Christmas I felt. With a very limited run I only just got around to watching this before it vanished, This Egyptian based horror contains elements of the milked to death 'Found Footage' genre as a warning to people who are allergic to that. This is quite similar in feel to the recent As Above, So Below and The Descent also.

In late 2013 a unique and extremely old three sided pyramid is discovered buried beneath the sands near Cairo. A father and daughter team are in charge of the excavation but due to civil unrest in the country they are ordered to leave before they get a chance to explore inside it. Before they go they send in a robot to have a quick look around but after they loose contact with the machine they, and a few others (including a documentary making duo) decide to head in to retrieve it. By a series of unfortunate events the five strong team find themselves trapped in the gigantic pyramid and to make matters worse they are not alone...

First of all the script for The Pyramid sucks, as in really really sucks. I would honestly not be surprised to find out the actors just made up their lines as they went along, that's the level of quality being spewed out by the small cast. Around half the dialogue just seems to be people pointing out the obvious, biggest culprit being the cameraman Fitzie played by Inbetweeners James Buckley who never shuts up describing exactly what is obviously happening on screen, like your own personal monologue. The rest of the dialogue is no better, it is so generic and terribly written that it is just hard to even take it seriously, such as an earnest conversation where one character says to another "I would rather die trying to escape than just die". Is all so serious and so poor at the same time with people making the most ridiculous decisions that I could not help but roll my eyes on more than one occasion. Also grating is the most well known Egyptian facts being reeled off like obscure knowledge, I learnt that stuff in lower school!

For such a small cast you would imagine they would have some depth to them but no, not really. The Dad; Holden is a traditional archaeologist, his daughter Nora the typical head strong young independent woman, both of these appear more concerned with their discoveries than the actual predicament they are in. Next you have Fitzie who is the films comedy character and super irritating for the most part, then there is Sunni the documentary maker who is the screaming member of the group. None of these characters have any depth to them at all so it is to the actors merit that for some at least you actually come to care about their plight, (well one character).

What saves The Pyramid from being truly a stinker is that it actually has some pretty decent ideas hidden within it. For a while in my youth I was obsessed with the Ancient Egyptians (even went to see the pyramids for my 18th birthday) and so a horror film based on their beliefs and rituals was interesting to me. There is clever explanations for some stuff here (not so great for other things but more on that later). With small claustrophobic sets and frugal use of light sources you do get the impression of these people being trapped underground.

Old ideas around pyramids are abound, there are sand traps, spike pits and secret doors but all given decent effects to make them nearly work. The pit trap room in particular was an early stand out moment in the film which made me wince and was a fun little sequence. There are a multitude of bizarre vicious small cat like creatures that appear every now and again (with a stupid reason for their existence thrown in for good measure) and a frankly fantastic 'big bad' monster that looks really scary and messed up and has a fantastic roar that twirls off into ear wrenching distortion. This creature alone saved the film for me and led to some really fearful moments. Early on an endless supply of jump scares threaten to drown the films atmosphere so this later appearance of real horror was most welcome.

While there is a lot of found footage style camera work (two of the characters have recording equipment) there is also plenty of normal style footage mixed in also. More importantly there is virtually no shaky cam footage at all so this close up personal camera work actually works in the films favour in such a confined location.

All in all if not for some niggles this could have actually been a decent film. There is a lot right with this; the creature design, overall look of the thing and some brutal violence but on the other side of the scales you have bland lifeless unrealistic characters, a terrible script, over explanation of everything, and some weird plot contrivances. A real mixed bag.


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Morningstar Strain: Plague of the Dead by Z.A Recht (2006) - Zombie Horror Book Review

I picked up Plague of the Dead quite a few years back in a charity shop and then quite recently I happened upon it and seeing it had a quote from David Moody (of the Autumn and Hater series of books) felt I just had to check it out.

A new virus makes an appearance in Africa, it comes from out of the jungles and causes the infected to become extremely violent, insane and able to withstand massive amounts of trauma before being killed. Due to the incubation period of around a week many people get infected without even realising it and soon the virus spreads and spreads. Unknown at first is that dead carriers of the disease later return to a state of half life. After an attempt to keep the virus contained in Africa fails it becomes a race against time to stop it spreading to every single corner of the globe...

This is everything that World War Z should have been, I like that film but the plot for this one is similar and yet so much more exciting. From start to end there is no let up on the high action and excitement. It always seemed strange basing a globe trotting film on a book that is not globe trotting but rather a collection of short stories. Here though Plague of the Dead really does take place over a wide area. The plot follows several different characters whose paths all intertwine eventually. You have Mbutu; an air traffic controller in Africa who is one of the first people to encounter what becomes known as the Morningstar Strain, Becca an aid worker, General Sherman and the soldiers under his command who attempt to contain the deadly menace within the continent, and then over in America you have a reporter and an expert on the disease who get captured by a shadowy government agency.

For all that Plague of the Dead does right occasionally it gets all a bit too familiar borrowing ridiculous tropes from film and other media. This becomes all too apparent in one chapter when one of the good guys needlessly decides to fist fight an antagonist rather than just shoot him, even the people with him say how stupid an idea it is, especially considering legions of infected are moments away from breaking through a nearby door. Maybe Recht should have taken advice from his characters and left that part out as it threatens to show just how formulaic the plot actually is!

Now the dead themselves feature in both the runner and normal shambler variety, while for lack of a better word 'Rage' infected they sprint around relentlessly, the dead version has much reduced capacity. There are tonnes of battles mostly between soldiers and the undead including a massive 'hold the line' situation early on and many literal running battles. It appears that the infected have some type of intelligence as they seem to set ambushes every now and again which was a nice touch.

There are many characters and to be honest I did loose track at times as ones who seem like they are main cast get killed off. With some decent downtime at around the halfway mark it really gives the characters times to assess just what to do in this awful new world, whilst key events happening off the page (such as the downfall of a particular country) help hem in the global wide condition of this outbreak. Recht plays around with some conventions also. One chapter sees us follow a particular person through zombie infested streets, I fully expected him to end up dead but in a genius move it ends with him fine only for the next chapter to reveal he had been attacked between pages, a cheeky idea to use!

I loved Plague of the Dead, it is annoying that it is part one of three and so nothing got resolved and sometimes its generic plot is made obvious when it's pushed to the front but this is a zombie book for the masses and a hell of a ride.


Sunday, 7 December 2014

Saints Row : The Third (2011) - Zombie Appearance

Saints Row is a fun and often silly open world action adventure game much like Grand Theft Auto. Much of the game is not horror based at all, that is except for one mission mysteriously titled Zombie Attack. Some minor spoilers to follow.

In a previous mission you down a giant aircraft which releases its cargo over the city of Stillwater. This includes some canisters which release a strange green mist that turns anyone nearby into flesh eating ghouls. In Zombie Attack you go see the Mayor of Stillwater who turns out to be Burt Reynolds. He asks for your assistance in stopping the zombie outbreak.

The zombie have been contained in a district of the city and your goal is to find three leaking canisters and blast them into the river or sea to neutralise the undead creating toxin. After the first one you get a call to go help a friend who has become surrounded on a rooftop. After the second canister is dealt with you discover your gas mask has a hole in it and so you must rush to a car repair shop to patch it up before you become zombified. After the last one is done you have instructions to get to a lorry with more of these canisters on it. Your then given the option to either drive the lorry into water to end the threat, or to take the toxin back to your base which unlocks zombie posse members.

This is a fun little mission, the zombies run at you and tend to attack by trying to bite your neck. They are very weak and die quite easily, they don't even require head shots. That's it, was a great inclusion in a pretty fun game though.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Nosferatu vs. Father Pipecock & Sister Funk (2014) - Horror Film Review

I was a surprise fan of Tony Watts's Acid Head: The Buzzard Nuts County Slaughter and so was excited to see his latest film. Before going in to it all I knew was the title. It turns out the film is actually a remixed version of the great German classic horror Nosferatu (1922) with dialogue dubbed over the silent film.

The film is essentially Nosferatu but with characters given different motivations. Thomas Hutter is sent off to Transylvania to meet with a client who wishes to purchase a house in the German town of Breman. The client is none other than Count Orlock who is of course a vampire. While Hutter is kept captive two vampire hunters infiltrate Orlocks castle; Father Dingus Q. Pipecock (Tony Watt) and the Ghoulfinder General - Sister Funk (Vivita). Orlock escapes and leaves for Breman where he unleashes a reign of terror and sexual conquest.

As Nosferatu was a silent film the characters all compensated by over acting tremendously and it just so happens that this style of acting fits Watt's film style perfectly. So well is this done that it actually took me around fifteen minutes to realise this was all archive footage and not created originally! There is clever use of editing to repeat characters movements, speed, slow down shots and splice up the events in a way that fits a more crazy story while staying true to the films roots. True to the original there are many description cards put in to explain events. There is also plenty of use of filters and scene cuts that all echo the trippy vibe I have come to expect.

The music has been completely changed with a vast use of classical music which actually perfectly fits the scenes they are used in, I was really impressed with how well the chosen pieces fit in. As with Acid Head a large range of silly sound effects are used, many stock sound effects to create the impression of a live action cartoon. The added dialogue that is dubbed onto the film is as usual a mixture of sexist and absurd dialogue with a range of voices used, this reminded me quite a bit of Monty Python at times as a lot of the female characters have male voice actors.

For the most part this is Nosferatu but there are a few new scenes created mostly revolving around the Father Pipecock and Sister Funk battling the brides of Count Orlock who are also given a modern interpretation. Here the sleaziness of the worlds Watt's creates come to the fore with the female vampires wearing skimpy clothing and distracting Pipecocks efforts to kill them using their assets (featuring a variety of extreme close ups). While these scenes certainly don't look too similar to the locations of the 1922 film I did still find myself forgetting at points that it would be hard for these characters to actually interact with any others in the film. Another new element is this lame looking CGI bat that flies around to attack people at times and adds to the charm.

The biggest complaint I have is that it just all ends too abruptly, but this was a fault of the original film itself and by contrast the best part is the character of Count Orlock who even with a humorous voice still looks creepy as hell in every scene he is in. I wish there had been more original footage used also as the new scenes only equal around five to ten minutes of film. The humour is low level and doesn't appeal to me but the concise execution of the durability of this mad parallel dimension is as ever solid and so I find myself drawn to it.

If your a fan of Acid Head at all then Nosferatu vs. Father Pipecock & Sister Funk is well worth seeing. I found the idea of messing around with an old film (such as Mystery Science Theatre used to do) a novel thing and really fits in with the style of director Tony Watts so well that you could imagine he somehow travelled back in time and directed the 1922 film himself. This is a grimy, perverted, drug filled and twisted world and there really isn't much out there like it.


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Videogram: Videogram (2014) - Horror Music Album Review

I recently covered Videogram's Friday 13th inspired Camp Blood song and now I have heard Videogram's first full length album. The album was written for the Italian Horror Week and is influenced by the exploitation and horror films of the 1980's.

Creator Magnus Sellergren brings a collection of the most awesome soundtracks to films that never got made, most of the tracks contained here are excellent electronica that conjures up images of Italian classics. From everything from the name Videogram itself to the logo and name of the tracks this reeks of the 80's in the best possible way.

Opening and closing with indents that sound like VHS title cards the album starts proper with Walpurgisnacht that could easily fit one of the great Italian zombie films such as Zombie Flesh Eaters or Zombie Creeping Flesh. I had this on in my car whilst driving through a deserted industrial estate last Saturday and could easily imagine decaying zombies stumbling out of the warehouses and concrete fixtures. If your a fan of Goblin then this is a great track, in fact many of the tracks here bring to mind that awesome group.

Elsewhere Scavolini's Nightmare made me think of Fulci's City of the Living Dead while Subway Stalker would have fitted right in to the original Terminator score. As an aside I love these track names. Other highlights include Charles Bronson that would have been at home in the Doom videogame. These are all great tracks.

Some of the tracks, especially in the middle of the album are just too short for me, there are a few that come in in under 2 minutes in length, the problem is with catchy tunes like this I could happily listen to them for quadruple that time even if they just repeated, they just completely take me back to cheesy b-movies and I don't wish for them to end. The track titled The Eight Passenger feels at odds with the rest of the album having a more traditional horror sound rather than the joyous electronica of much of the other tracks, while they are all supreme for having on while driving around in the car that particular one was more drawn out and less memorable and so my least favourite.

As I am always saying I am not great at reviewing music but if your a fan of any type of 80's horror music then Videogram is something you must check out, I am most certainly going to be listening to it many times in the future, I straight up love this album!


Sunday, 30 November 2014

Under the Flesh #2: Ravaged Road - Zombie Horror Comic News

Back in July I first spoke of Under the Flesh which is a zombie comic that had a Kickstarter going to get issue 1 printed and the artwork done for issue 2. Now there is a new Kickstarter going to get issue 2 printed and the artwork completed for issue 3.

Under the Flesh features Ruben Lobos who is a solider who has been fitted with nano machine technology. The world is undergoing zombie Armageddon but the virus only affects the male population. Due to the experiments on him Ruben is immune to the bites and scratches of these zombies. I have had an early look at issue 2 and it is an exciting issue with Ruben fighting his way through zombie filled streets in search of a missing person dear to him. It seems that he is not the only person to have special abilities as this issues features the appearance of perhaps a shadowy antagonist figure.

Currently there are 8 days left on the Kickstarter with $1,956 of the $4,000 goal raised. Under the Flesh is initially set to have a 6 issue story arc and it would be a shame if they fail their campaign as this is not a bad comic. Basing the whole run of a comic on crowd funding does seem slightly risky. I have to say I enjoyed issue 2 a lot more than the first one. It is unapologetic in it's love of 80's style action comics and has some neat ideas contained in it.

If you feel like donating some money or just want to read more about this then head over to the Kickstarter page for Under the Flesh and check it out. You can also download issue 1 of Under the Flesh for free.