Tuesday, October 6, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Supernatural: Phantom Traveler"

My eyes! If I had goggles, they'd do nothing!!!
There's...something...on the wing. Some...thing!

Oh, wait, I already did this bit.  Let's move on.

A man at an airport heads into the bathroom and, while washing his face, nervous about his flight to come. Someone should tell him the secret to surviving air travel is to get where you're going, then take off your socks and shoes and walk around on the rug barefoot making fists with your toes. It's so simple! Unfortunately for the man, his trip is about to get far, far less simple when a bunch of black magnetic sand comes out of a nearby vent and forces its way into his body.

I'm going ahead and spoiling it - yes, this is a demon, and yes, it's completely different from what we'll see of a demon outside of a human host later. My thought is that it's still early days and they hadn't rooted down exactly what they'd wanted demons to be later. That or the demon in this episode is just slightly different than the regular black-eyed types.

And indeed this is one as the demon boards a plan. A flight attendant named Amanda notices the black eyes, but just waves this off before the plane takes off. After forty minutes in the air, the passengers who chose fish for dinner all start experiencing a myriad of symptoms, forcing special guest star Leslie Nielsen to...

...oh, sorry, those are the wrong notes.

After forty minutes in the air, the demon gets up and opens the emergency exit at the rear of the planet, causing a crash.

Meanwhile, back at Rat Trap Motel #403, the fangirls get to delight in Dean's ass (covered by order of the censor) before Sam walks in and gets him up. Dean, in turn, berates Sam for not sleeping, which Sam avoids talking about...until Dean asks him if he's still having nightmares about Jess, which he admits that he is, but it's also hunting in general that's eating away at him.

This goes a long way, even for such a short scene, to help establish further character for Sam. Up until this point, he's been avoiding talking about Jess or anything besides searching for their Dad, but since he's still adjusting to the life of hunting again after his two years away trying to live like a normal person. He asks Dean if he's ever afraid, but Dean refutes it...though he is in turn refuted by Sam pulling a bowie knife out from under Dean's pillow.
"That's not a knife...that's a knife..."
He calls it precaution. And then gets a phone call from a man named Jerry Penowski, someone Dean and John helped years ago with a poltergeist. He needs their help again, asking to speak in person. So, Dean and Sam hit the road and he explains the situation. They head into a hangar where the plane from the teaser is being worked on, and Jerry plays the black box recording for Sam and Dean...and there's a cat-like growl on the tape.

They ask to see everything related to the incident, but Jerry can't get them in to see the wreckage. So they decide to go the most logical route and decide to impersonate officials from the Department of Homeland Security.

...oh, like that wouldn't be your first choice for this!

They play back the audio, having filtered and worked out the audio distortions, and hear a voice proclaiming "No survivors!" They theorize that it could be any number of spirits that are known to crop up in lore about traveling. With that, they decide to contact the few survivors of the plane crash from the teaser. They run him through a gamut of the usual suspects for questions, but he says nothing. Dean questions why the man has locked himself in an asylum...and he starts to ramble on about seeing things. With a little coaxing from Sam, the man mentions the man from the teaser...and his black eyes...that he saw open the emergency exit.

They go for George Phelps, the man from the teaser...or, rather, his wife as she explains how much losing her husband has hurt her. Sam and Dean ask if there's anything out of the ordinary, but come up with bupkis.
"They'll never get caught. They're on a mission from God."
They decide to head and check out the wreckage, but not before going to get dressed for the part - putting on suits so the fangirls can swoon with delight. Because, after all, every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man. They pass through and see the wreckage, Dean using a Walkman-based EMF detector as they search. Eventually, they do find EMF and Sam scrapes some unidentified blackened substance off of some debris. Outside, however, the actual team from Homeland Security shows up. Though they mobilize to deal with them, Sam and Dean slip out the back way.

At another airport, one of the pilots from earlier is freaking out, though his friend comforts him...and then he gets attacked by black swirly sand!

Sam and Dean take the bits of debris back to Jerry who examines it under a microscope and determines that it's covered in sulfur. They discuss, and come to the conclusion that it's indeed demonic possession, which is the only way that an ordinary man could have opened the emergency exit on the airplane.

Elsewhere, the demon causes another crash, taking out some power lines.

Back at another motel room, Sam and Dean discuss the nature of demons across various cultures, almost all of them having some kind of lore about demonic possession and the like. Dean mentions how this isn't really their thing, since demons are usually in on their game for death and destruction for its own sake. He also laments that John isn't there, since he might be able to help, which Sam actually agrees with. Jerry calls them to tell them about the latest crash, however, getting them back on the road.

On the debris, they find more sulfur. Sam also works out that both flights went down after they were forty minutes off the ground, 40 having some biblical significance as a number of death. Hitting the internet, Sam has found other planes over the past few years that went down forty minutes in, however there weren't any survivors until the most recent attacks...and now the demon is pursuing the survivors.

They narrow it down to one, Amanda - the flight attendant from the teaser. Though they've attempted to contact her, they have to gun it and arrive with only thirty minutes to spare. They use the courtesy phone to try and contact her, Dean tries to bluff his way through, but she sees through it and he has to improvise...but is unable to keep her from boarding. With no options left, it seems they will have to board the plane to stop the demon...though Dean laments that he's scared to death of flying on planes. However, Sam ends up coaxing him onboard.
"What's your favorite scary movie?"
We get the traditional sitcom clichés of every little thing scaring Dean to death, even him humming some of "Some Kind of Monster" to try and calm himself. Sam tries to coax him to being focused, seeing as they only have just over thirty before the demon strikes. They decide to look for Amanda, to start, Sam mentions to Dean that to get a demon to reveal itself, they need only speak the Latin name of God "Christo" in its presence.

Finding Amanda in the back, Dean tries it out, but she doesn't react, so she's not the demon. Sam thinks he has an exorcism, but first they have to find it. Dean uses his EMF around the plane, but finds nothing. With only fifteen minutes to go, they think it might just not be on the plane...until the co-pilot sets it off. Dean speaks "Christo" to it, and he reveals demonic eyes. With twelve minutes to go, they have to approach Amanda for help. They explain the situation quickly, but she's reluctant...until they coax her and she mentions seeing the demon on the plane before.

Eventually, they convince her to get the co-pilot and bring him to the back of the plane. She pulls it off, bringing him to the back where Dean decks him good and Sam gives him a holy water bath and duct taping his mouth to prevent the demon's escape. Eventually, however, the gag comes off and the demon taunts Sam about Jessica's fate, though Dean decks it again for good measure and Sam begins to exorcise it.

Out of the co-pilot's body, it snakes into the vents again and the plane begins to go down. Fast. Sam manages to retrieve John's journal and completes the exorcism, saving the day. The plane arrives at its destination, or more likely another airport along the way given the stress of the flight, and the authorities come around to ask their routine questions. Amanda mouths a 'thank you' to Sam and Dean, and they take off, though not before Sam freaks out about the demon. Dean tries to comfort him as best he can, and they take off.

Back at Jerry's hangar, he thanks them for everything. Before they leave, Dean asks Jerry how he knew to contact them, since he's only had his cell phone for six months. Jerry reveals that he called John's number, and his voice message told him to contact Dean. Sam and Dean call him up, hearing a message from John, who gives Dean's number via answering machine in spite of Sam saying that they had only found the number to have been disconnected before.  With this, however, they know that their father is alive.
"Sam, I think I can hear the ocean!"
Phantom Traveler is a pretty good episode. It was rather brave for them to use the setting of the airlines for this, especially so soon after the 9/11 attacks. And for those saying it had been four years, it's been fourteeen years at the time that I'm writing this and it's still a very touchy subject in America. It's a very real fear that I think was helped in the transition a great deal by having the enemy be something supernatural instead of being a religious extremist as we know in our reality...though given the nature of demons, as we find out later, this almost becomes ironic.

There's also the addressing of the first exposure we have to demons. Personally, while I joked about it, I like the swirling metallic sand appearance of them outside of their host better than the generic black smoke that we'll be getting for them later on. It honestly makes them feel more like a malignant evil force and corrupted of humanity. There's also more than a few things that never make any real appearance again - such as a demon being stronger outside of its meat suit, the two part exorcism, or lack of emotional control making someone a more appetizing target for demonic possession - but I just chalk that up to being early days, like a lot of things we'll see in the early days that was either changed or completely forgotten about in later episodes.

Overall, not a bad start for demons and some rather grizzly examples of what they can do. Next time, we'll be keeping our feet a little more on the ground with an urban myth that has caused many generations of children to lock themselves in a darkened bathroom and chant three times in the hopes they might see...

Stay tuned!

Supernatural belongs to the CW and Warner Bros.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, October 5, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (2010)

One, two, Freddy's coming for you...

Three, four, better lock your door...

Five, six, grab your crucifix...

Seven, eight, better stay up late...

Nine, ten...never sleep again...

The iconic chant of the creepy little children that somehow always follow Freddy Krueger around. It's just one part of the iconic Nightmare on Elm Street series that has become so beloved by so many. And why? Well, it's most obviously because of the ever-charming personality of the antagonist of the series, Freddy Krueger - for eight films and a television series played by Robert Englund - the bastard son of a hundred maniacs, conceived in a madhouse and eventually growing up to be a child murderer who was burned alive by a bunch of vengeful parents, but came back as a demon to haunt the nightmares of their...teenagers.

...never go for the kill when you can go for the pain, I guess.

But yes, people came to love Freddy in spite of the fact he was a remorseless serial killer.  It's kind of like the same reason if Satan ever comes to conquer humanity, he'll win just by virtue of being pretty and witty. Nevertheless, by the time of Freddy vs. Jason, it became clear that there were really no more directions for the franchise to go.  Enter Michael Bay and Platinum Dunes, who come up with the brilliant idea of resurrecting it through the almighty Reboot.

Given the nature of the man heading up the project and the fact that Robert Englund was - for the first time ever - not going to be Freddy Krueger, it was understandable that certain people were going to be at best a little hesitant about trusting that this remake would be all sunshine and rainbows. And most of the time, they would be entirely right. But this remake did have some things going for it right off the bat, namely that Robert Englund approved of the casting of Jackie Earl Haley as his successor in the role of Freddy, and he is really the only thing that people don't complain about with this film.

But is it all that bad? Does the stench of Michael Bay just cover this film so much? Or is it because  the original is just so beloved that people are offended that Hollywood would even think of a remake. And that's part of the reason I'm here. The Reel Thoughts of Horror Month 2015 are going to cover the remakes of three specific franchises.

That's right, three.  And for the last two films, you damn well better appreciate it, because that movie and its sequel are absolutely brutal on the senses.

But for now, we look into another of the bigger slasher film franchises being done up for the big screen for the first time in seven years. And right off the bat, I can take out the main issue that people seem to have with this film - namely that they remember the sequels to the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, but not the original itself. People remember the jokes, they remember the quips, and Robert Englund did them well...even if they started to get very, very grating after the third movie.

But in the first two movies? Freddy was hardly the snarky joke machine that he became famous for being. Sure, he made an occasional joke or quip if the situation warranted, but he rarely even spoke much less spouted one-liners. He was, y'know...quiet...menacing...

Rather like he is in this movie.  How 'bout that?!

Even looking into the second movie (y'know, that one that nobody likes for reasons I will never understand), the guy was frightening as all get out and arguably even more so than the first movie seeing as he spent the entire run time of the film - driving a person insane as he possessed him!  But no, nobody likes to remember that Freddy, they like to remember the wise-cracking jackass who kills people off with the snappy one-liners and puns.

They don't want to acknowledge that their beloved Freddy Krueger is, in fact a deranged psychopath who kills - largely children, no less - without any hint of remorse. And I am giving Robert Englund his due credit here, the man is a masterstroke and deserves a lot, lot better than to be stuck for the rest of his life tied to the persona of an insane burn victim in a terrible Christmas sweater. The fact is that the character of Freddy Krueger is not relatable, not likeable, and so not be treated as either of those things. He's evil.

So yeah, you can imagine I really don't get the fanboy rage that gets built up over the "accurate" portrayal of Freddy versus how he's done in this movie, when this is the most like Freddy he's been since the original and arguably New Nightmare.  And before someone says that I'm just bashing Freddy, I put the same complaints to those who try to insist Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, or even Pinhead and others are relatable.

You're idiots. Every last one of you.

Getting to the plot, however, we pick up with Nancy Holbrook (Rooney Mara) picking up the investigation into a mysterious man with a creepy claw, fedora, and a red and green sweater after the death of her best friend Kris (Katie Cassidy) and...

...oh, you're wondering why I basically skipped over the first half hour or so of the film and spoiled one of the first major deaths? Because they did the same thing in the original and nobody should really be all that surprised. Though due credit to Katie Cassidy, she's at least somewhat likeable as a decoy protagonist and actually does manage to last longer than her counterpart in the original.

Nevertheless, Nancy and her not-Johnny Depp boyfriend Quentin (Kyle Gallner) begin to dig into things as Freddy begins to pile up the bodies. Eventually, the truth comes out - all the murder victims attended the same preschool together, where Freddy was a gardener and sexual abused the children...or, at least, that's what the parents say. There's actually some question as to whether or not the parents' allegations are true, but like the death of Freddy in the original films, they burned him to death just the same.

This time instead, however, it seems that Freddy wants revenge on the kids for lying, not the parents for burning him to death. Honestly, I thought this was a very interesting twist on the entire concept. A new angle to approach it from that, perhaps, Freddy could actually be a sympathetic character. Of course, he isn't and I knew he ultimately wasn't going to be, but the fact that the production team even thought of putting that in shows some actual thought, which is pretty damn rare for a remake all things considered. They could have just done a paint by the numbers full on Nightmare film and they chose to actually try something a little different. Kudos.

There's also people who take issue with Freddy being changed in this version from a child murderer into a child molester.  I don't. The fact is this - Freddy Krueger is a deranged, murderous, psychopath. He was that was in the originals, he's that way here, and it's amazing that people seem to think that a man who was burned to death and kills people in their dreams for the hell of it has anything remotely resembling standards. I know why, of course. It's because - as I said before - people have fallen in love with the representations of Freddy in the sequels where he's all witty an charming, rather than the original. The joker and pun-maker who kills rather than the former child killer who kills.

I'd say it's like the mindless devotion that Batman gets, but at least that can have an argument made for it: Batman's ultimately (for the most part) heroic...if he's not being written by Frank Miller. People who are screaming "Betrayal!" at the portrayal of Freddy in this movie, saying it's nothing like the original, are trying to defend the "good name" of a deranged psychopath.

Let that sink in for a minute.

It actually brings to mind A New Nightmare (probably the best entry in the series outside of the original), where Wes Craven's entire argument in the film was that Freddy had become too saturated and dummied out by the passage of time and the sequels. He'd gotten away from being scary. But then I seem to be one of the select few who saw the film, got the point, and actually appreciated it rather than just clamoring to see Freddy vs. Jason (which I think is the only film that pissed off fans of Freddy more than this one), so what the hell do I know?

Oh, and by the way, Wes Craven's original idea was to have Freddy be a child molester, but New Line said no at the time. So much for your complaint about it not being in the original depiction.

The film, from the beginning of Nancy picking up the investigation, pretty much follows the same formula as the original Nightmare. complete with the twist ending that Freddy's not really dead because of course every horror film has to have a twist ending.

Also, for the record on that last kill, daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayum Freddy!

Where I will give the film grief in the use of CGI where it isn't needed. Faithful recreations of scenes from the original - such as the Freddy stretching out the wall scene - are nice, but ultimately could have been done with practical effects and were done far, far better in the original. Same goes for some of the dream landscapes. In the original, Wes Craven deliberately set up everything besides the boiler room itself - the sanctum of Freddy's power - to make the viewer confused as to whether what they were watching was real or in a dream.

Here, almost all the shifts are so abrupt and blatantly obvious, such as when Kris is confronted with Freddy and he gets his first spoken dialogue. Yes, Fallout-chic looks frightening but unless Freddy's going to be killing people with conjured Deathclaws, it's really rather pointless for a scene that lasts less than three minutes. I don't mind it, but it's really just unnecessary.

The acting is also a little mixed. Perhaps it's just my personal view, but I did not find Rooney Mara to be a good replacement for Heather Langenkamp as Nancy. Perhaps it's because she doesn't have the intrinsic likability of her sister Kate, or perhaps it's because she plays the role as being rather detached and barely awake (Ha!). Then again, they were going with the bizarre arty goth girl angle that would have made this film a hit in 2003, so what do I know?

The rest of the cast fares no better, either being marginalized or likewise fighting off sleep while on camera. Especially Clancy Brown being in the film as one of the parents. I don't know about you, but I wanted to see the Kurgan fight Freddy Krueger, damn it! Awesome movie idea is awesome!

But really, I find that the hate for this film is unnecessary - whether it's because you hate Michael Bay (who, from what I've read, had little to do with either this or the Friday remake besides greenlighting it and throwing in some money for it) or you hate that your precious image of a deranged, psychopath maniac was ruined forever - and I'd suggest trying to come back to it with an open mind. It certainly has its flaws, but it was a good effort, if a little overdone and underdone in some aspects.

And you could do a lot worse as far as remakes go...and we'll be getting into that in a few weeks...

A Nightmare on Elm Street is now available from New Line Cinemas and Platinum Dunes.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, October 2, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Dead Space"

Alright, it's time to kick off Horror Month 2015! And we're kicking it off with an actual good game this year - Dead Space.  Yes, the original tale of Issac Clarke and the Ishimura, leading into an awesome sequel and a big, steaming pile. But for now we can focus on the original and what made it so great.

...no, not the Zero-G sequences.

...no, not the hallway tentacle rape sequences.

...no, not the lack of a jetpack.

Okay, I'm going off on a tangent here.  The plot begins in the 26th century with Issac Clarke, a systems engineer of the USG Kellion going on a totally routine mission with his crew to investigate the distress signals of the USG Poseidon...err, I mean Ishimura. Also aboard is Issac's girlfriend Nicole, who Issac hasn't seen in roughly two years and is all too happy to see again...never mind how she and the rest of the crew have come up with a nasty case of space zombie madness.

Yes, all jokes aside, the crew of the Ishimura has apparently been subjected to a Voyage of the Damned meets Dawn of the Dead scenario and it's up to Issac and the few survivors from the Kellion to get aboard, figure out what happened, and Issac using all sorts of tasty bits of weaponry - both actual and improvised - to get through and hopefully save the universe from a similarly space zombie fate. And all in all, it's a pretty fun game that has a lot of atmosphere - ironic given the name.

Instead of just going with the usual armaments of a space marine, Issac only gets the some tools of the trade of engineering. After all, everyone remembers that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Geordi used a gun that shoots razor blades to repair a transwarp conduit, am I right? Beyond that awesome weapon, Issac also gets his hands on a force gun (shotgun), line gun (mine shooter), and a flamethrower (...no, that one's exactly what it says on the tin) along with other tasty bits of heavy ordinance such as your standard pulse rifle.

Mind you, it makes sense, since Issac isn't a trained mercenary commando. He's an engineer thrown into a crazy situation and has to get out using his wits and sheer dumb luck, not unlike another protagonist in another game with man-eating space aliens.

Actually, if there's anything that Dead Space does remind me of, it's the Alien franchise, particularly the first film. An unknown, terrifying menace who seeks the complete and utter destruction of all humans simply because of a basic, primal need. Not out of some maliciousness towards its prey. The creatures are survivors... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality. The Necromorphs have no desire for anything other than to eat people and create more of their kind, called by the siren's song of the Marker.

And that's what really helps to make them more terrifying, and makes Issac's ultimate triumph in the end all the better. After so much curbstomping (Issac's melee on fallen enemies, it's probably the most memorable thing about this game), Issac finally does manage to escape from the smoking remains he's created and away as the last of the Necromorphs are burned away, and he's safe at last...

...or is he? Well, we know from Dead Space 2 that Issac's life does not become all ice cream and strippers.

As it happens, I actually prefer Issac in this game than I do in the latter two. Even though I do like his story from the second game, and I even like his voice actor when he comes in, it's far easier to project onto him in this one due to having little personality outside of the player's headcanons and decisions. Which I would mock other games for doing, but here it works due to Issac being a silent protagonist in the events.

One of the biggest problems I had with this game, and one of the problems I had with Dead Space 2 is the shops. I am running for my life from Lovecraftian beasts in space, why in the name of God am I remotely worried about paying fair prices for anything? Why don't I just use my elite engineering skills and make the machines just give me whatever I want, instead seeing to it that the machines only have a limited supply? In a game like this, why is there even a monetary system? This really should have been thought out more.

On the whole, however, I really like this game and I feel way more invested in it than I am when I play either of its sequels (not that I have or ever will play 3 any more). While I do enjoy the over the top hilarity of Dead Space 2, this one really hits the high notes in horror, at least for me. Scary enough to scratch that outer space horror itch, and in a way that doesn't give Randy Pitchford money. What more could you ask for?

Dead Space is now available from Visceral Games and Electronic Arts for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Supernatural: Dead in the Water"

If you go down to the lake today, you're in for a big surprise!!!
One of my greatest fears, ever since I was a very young child, has been water. That primal fear of the unknown, not knowing what could be in there that would try to devour me or else drag me down into the abyss, never to be seen again. I hated the beach (I hate it now for a completely different reason) or really any water I couldn't see the bottom of back then for that, and rarely went into the water and if I ever did, I never went alone.

This episode is the one that confirms there is just some crazy shit out in the water that wants to kill you.

We begin with a teaser, as we have so far. A pretty young blonde things heads out to the lake outside her home, strips down to a bikini, and - in a very Jaws-esque scene is pulled under the water never to be seen again.

Elsewhere, the brothers Winchester are partaking in one of many diners that litter the Canadian American highways, where Dean is stopped from partaking in the Boob Plate special by Sam, and so relents and tells of a potential case he might have found - the "disappearance" of the young woman in the teaser, Sophie Carlton. Her drowning is apparently the third one this year. Curiously, however, no body was recovered. Sam uses this, however, to segue into a conversation about their missing father, which Dean in turn uses to give Sam crap for suddenly being interested in John's whereabouts now after having spent two years at college.

Ah, the joys of the Winchester brand of brotherly love!

As you'd expect, of course, the two go to the hunt. Arriving at the Carltons' house, they first interrogate the brother Will, who denies it was a natural drowning - Sophie was apparently quite the swimmer. At Will's request, the pair do not interview Mr. Carlton, who merely sits on the dock outside their home looking distraught.
"And you expect me to believe in the spirit too? Why?" "Because it's real!"
So, it's time to run into law enforcement and watch them be ineffectual. The Sheriff denies that anything crazy happened, even saying they dragged the lake and did a sonar sweep, finding nothing as Will said. Also, the Sheriff mentions the dam is about to break...and pardon me for the Linkara-esque sing-song Plot Point voice. Nevertheless, with Sam and Dean having no idea about it, he's suspicious about them being with the Wildlife Service. Suspicions are stopped, however, when the Sheriff's daughter Andrea Barr (played by Amy Acker) and her son Lucas come in for a visit.

Naturally, because he's all kinds of Fred hotness, Andrea gets hit on by Dean and later chastises him for his incredibly lame pick up line of "Kids are the best, huh?" as she takes them down to the nearest motel. Sam, likewise, gives Dean grief for his nonsense, challenging him to name three kids that he even knows.

Later, Sam has put on his research hat and found that Sophie Carlton is not remotely the first death to occur in such a manner, others having happened over the last thirty-five years. Sam doesn't think it's a lake monster, since things like Nessie have hundreds of eye-witness accounts and there's all of bupkis here.  The name Christopher Barr comes up, and  they realize that it's Andrea's recently deceased husband. Lucas barely survived, and now doesn't even speak after the traumatic event. Dean notes that watching one of your parents die isn't something you just get over.

...what's that? Hidden depth within the mind of the sex crazed, gun happy maniac?

Sam and Dean end up joining Andrea and Lucas at a nearby park in a way that totally doesn't scream "Stranger Danger", Dean going over to talk with Lucas. Or rather, at Lucas, since the boy is understandably speechless after his traumatic event. Still, as I jokingly said before, we actually get a great character moment for Dean as he tries to connect with Lucas, both on the level of a child and connecting it to his own backstory in losing his mother, even drawing Lucas a picture of his family and telling him that even if he thinks no one would believe him about what he saw, he would.

It doesn't seem to work...but after Dean leaves, Lucas looks at the picture with some interest.

Dean and Sam talk with Andrea, and she talks about everything going on after her husband's death....and Lucas comes up, bringing Dean a very detailed picture of a house.
Supernatural Drinking Game: Take a drink every time the background is clearly green screened in driving scenes.
Meanwhile, we return to the Carlton family. The father is still destitute, understandably so, as Will encourages him to eat before the sewage backs up into the sink and the stench kills him...just kidding, but he is very, very dead following the malignant force in the water coming up and forcing him to drown in the sink.

Later, Sam comes in and reports the news to Dean. Back at square one, they try to figure out what it is and bat around a couple of ideas. With the lake draining, however, they know that whatever is in the lake is running out of time. They also know that it has something to do with Bill Carlton...who every recent death seems to be connected to.  They go to question him, but he's less than cooperative in the wake of his children dying.

Dean thinks he's not telling them something, and then - seeing the front of the Carlton House - pulls out Lucas's drawing and finds that it matches it almost perfectly. They return to Andrea, who is skeptical of Lucas actually giving them any information, but is eventually convinced to relent when Dean and Sam question her as to whether or not she thinks the murders have been more than simple drownings.

So we get another scene of Dean talking to Lucas, who is still rather without words. Dean gets a little more overt about his backstory, connecting Lucas's fears after losing his Dad to his after losing his Mom. He encourages Lucas to be brave, say that its what his Dad would have wanted and, for the first time, Lucas actually reacts - putting down his crayon and looking up at Dean. While he doesn't actually speak, Lucas does give Dean another drawing - a church and a two-story house.

After some talk about how traumatic experiences can help make one (sort of) psychic (because plot hole otherwise), Sam comes up with a plan to look for the churches, and he and Dean share a bro moment over the things that Dean said to Lucas before they arrive at the church...finding the house as well and entering it, meeting an elderly woman and asking about a young boy who lives there...or lived there. The woman's son, Peter Sweeney, disappeared over thirty years ago, supposedly having ridden his bike home from school...and never showing up at home ever again.

As they leave, Dean finds a photo that puts Bill Carlton with Peter as boy scouts in 1970.

At the lake, Bill has gone into suicidal depression, talking to the lake about how he finally realizes what's going on and what the lake wants.

Sam and Dean head back, theorizing that Bill did something to Peter - possibly even killing him - which would make Peter now a vengeful spirit out for...well, vengeance. They return to the Carltons just to find Bill heading out on a boat to the lake...which gets lakenado'd in spite of their protests. They return to the station, news of Bill's death having reached the Sheriff and the others. When the Sheriff suggests that Andrea and Lucas go home, Lucas has a panic attack and latches onto Dean, desperately trying to tell him something, but being unable to do so.

In his office, the Sheriff talks to them a bit more on the nature of the incident, having been briefed. He doesn't believe this, of course, and he's apparently checked on their fake IDs. He's not up for the nonsense, however, and gives them the ultimatum of either being arrested or getting the hell out of town for good.  Naturally, Sam and Dean take option two...

Back at Andrea's home, Lucas is drawing late into the night when Andrea guides him towards bed, leaving a black, inky void drawn in crayon on one of his paper pads. She gets ready for a bath afterwards because fanservice that will quickly turn into horror. Back on the road, Sam and Dean stop at a turn to head toward Milwaukee and turn back, because the episode isn't over yet. Dean rationalizes that the spirit isn't at rest because Lucas wasn't okay...and he sympathizes with that.
That moment when  you wish you'd called that plumber...
Andrea, meanwhile, learns that it is indeed not safe to go back in the water. The spirit strikes and, somehow through its control of water, locks the doors so Lucas can't get in either. But the door breaking powers of the Winchesters are much stronger and Sam manages to pull her to safety. Later, as Sam questions Andrea, Dean goes sorting through books. Andrea explains that she heard a voice telling her to "come play with me". In the basement, Dean finds a book marked "Jake - 12 years old" and finds a photo of the Sheriff's old Boy Scout troop...which includes Bill Carlton and Peter Sweeney, proving Dean's hunch that not all is said and done.

They all suddenly notice Lucas staring out at the lake and, when he heads towards it, they follow. He stops on a particular patch of ground, and Dean suggests that he and Andrea get back to the house while he and Sam get to digging, finding a rusty old bike. Sheriff Jake arrives, however, and puts both the boys at gunpoint. Dean gives the Sherlock Holmes resolutions to the mystery - Jake and Bill drown Peter in the lake and buried the bike, the sole remaining piece of evidence.

Andrea rushes out and tries to talk him down, while Sam and Dean try to get Jake to deal with the reality of the situation. Andrea is naturally hurt at the revelation that her father could murder someone. Jake admits to everything, but swears it was accidental...which does all of jack to justify his actions or assuage the ghost, who goes after Lucas when he sneaks down to the dock to retrieve one of his army men in the water...and Peter pulls him in.

Sam and Dean jump in after as Jake sees the mutilated, ghostly visage of Peter in the water and his horrified. Sam and Dean are unable to find him. Jake, in a moment of redemption, gets into the water and begs Peter to take him instead. Peter pulls him under as well and Sam and Dean go in after him. They return with Lucas, but Jake is lost, thus ending Peter's vendetta and reason for existence.

We get the wrap up, Sam reminding Dean that they're not going to save everyone, and saying their goodbyes to Andrea and Lucas - the latter of which has begun to talk again, and who Dean teaches the importance of Sabbath to.  Naturally, with their lives in shambles following the death of most of their family, Andrea and Lucas are both up for some very, very serious counseling in the future. Andrea, however, ends with a very optimistic note that she has to hold on to the fact that her father did love her and Lucas, and was even willing to sacrifice himself to save them. With that, Sam and Dean head off down the road to another adventure...

Again, we're still in the Pretty Good territory for episodes, but that's the case with a lot of Season 1 stuff, as I've said before. Though even at this point a vengeful spirit isn't new territory (as we saw in Pilot), this is a nice twist on what we already have seen and a rather unique MO for a vengeful spirit. It is actually a shame that more of these kinds of things weren't tried as time went on, just going the "OMG! Ghost!" route without a lot of uniqueness to them.

We also get some good character bits for Dean, in which he gets teased by Sam for his dislike of children...only to find one that he actually relates to based on the similarity of their situations. It is clear that there is something far deeper under all the snark, booze, and cheesy pick up lines even this early on the show. Not that Dean lets it show all that often, of course.

Next week, we're going into October and thus hitting up a few high notes or horror. To begin, we're gonna have an adventure with...there's...something...on the wing! Some...thing!

Actually, there's something on the plane as Supernatural gives us our first look at what will become a very, very recurring adversary over the next few seasons. Stay tuned!

Supernatural is the property of CW and Warner Brothers.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, September 25, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Doctor Who: Shadows of the Vashta Nerada"

"Almost every species in the universe has an irrational fear of the dark, but they're wrong. Because it's not irrational..." - The Doctor, "Silence in the Library"

One of the greatest strengths of Steven Moffat as a writer is taking something relatively mundane and making it absolutely terrifying. One of the most prolific examples would be the Weeping Angels - aliens that resemble stone statues that can only move when they're not being observed and can send people back through time with a touch, feeding on their remaining years. Another one, arguably more terrifying, is the Vashta Nerada. While they, themselves, are not shadows they can exist within any shadow. While they largely feed off of roadkill or the like, they have been know to consume a human or two every now and then.

As the Doctor himself once said, not everyone comes back out of the dark...

So, naturally, it seems like a horror-themed game built around them would be a truly terrifying thing, right? Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.

Shadows of the Vashta Nerada picks up right where TARDIS from last week ended, with the Doctor and Amy landing in London during the 23rd century after the Great Flood...and being attacked by a massive shark. In the cold open they manage to escape it, but the corridor they came down is destroyed and thus cuts them off from the TARDIS.

...which wouldn't be a problem if the Doctor kept that Stattenheim remote he had in his second incarnation, but whatever.

They wander through the corridors, the Doctor giving Amy a little (history? Future? Future history, let's go with that) future history lesson about the place before we discover the first of the puzzles that will torment us and, shock of shocks, it's actually something new! A very Simon Says-esque keypad that, after some jiggery pokery with the sonic screwdriver, forces the player to click a specific sequence of numbers in order to open a door.

Simple enough, though pretty tense when you've got the Mega Shark breaking through the glass tubing of the corridors to come and eat you.

Oh and, as you'd expect, the number of numbers needed in each sequence increase. Have fun!

But navigating through the corridors eventually rewards us with more of the story, namely running into one of the crew of the seabase telling the Doctor about "the sickness" that has taken everyone on the base, and the base's computer - Jones - won't open the doors because of a quarantine. So the Doctor plays around with its logic circuits and eventually gets it to agree to unlock the doors...but not open them.

Inside, however, they find some survivors and backstory, backstory, backstory, and its not just the illness attacking the crew, its Vashta Nerada, demonstrated in true "Silence in the Library" fashion when the lights go out and then one of the crew is literally stripped to the bone. Apparently, the Vashta Nerada, the illness and the Mega Shark all started two days ago with a giant flash in the ocean.

With the lights going out, the Doctor resolves to get the generator back on, and we partake in another mini-game through the corridors where he uses the sonic and the player must time two rotating circles of green light to match up with a third inner circle in order to temporarily turn on the lights so he and Amy aren't eaten.

But anyway, this is a review - not a walkthrough - and the rest of the game is pretty much what you'd expect from a story with the Vashta Nerada. An enclosed space, hapless humans there to be picked off like so many apples on the low-hanging fruit tree. The game does add in some new puzzles, namely the keypad and the rotation circles to open doors and turn on lights.

And while it does do some of the old - more wire puzzles and more sneaking around through corridors that are set up suspiciously similarly to those in Blood of the Cybermen - the dev team did at least admittedly take some pains to add some new things into the mix.

Nothing more to say than this: Remember, kids, don't eat the sea pumpkins.

And it's fitting that Shadows is the last game before October, since it will be our lead in to Horror Month! Stay tuned!

Doctor Who: Shadows of the Vashta Nerada is now available from BBC and BBC Wales Interactive.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Supernatural: Wendigo"

...umm, spoilers, show?! GAWD!
Something that is severely taken for granted in horror, particularly in horror films and television shows of today, is that the less you see of something (not more) the scarier it is. This is the episode that, to me, points out just how this show was just so damn good in the earlier seasons and one of the points on which it falls horribly, horribly flat later on in the show. But those are disappointments to come.  For the moment, we can enjoy the sweet, sweet wonderfulness that is "Wendigo", taking yet another bit of urban myth and lore and making something utterly spectacular out of it.

After a brief montage to recap the audience on what's been going on, we begin in Black Water Ridge, Colorado - the place where John's coordinates were to send Sam and Dean. However, we find neither father nor brothers as we apparently have stumbled onto some campers out in the woods. One of them sends out a video message to his family before they all get picked off one by one at the hand of unseen assailant.

We then cut to the next day in Palo Alto, California. Sam approaches a grave with flowers - Jessica's. He speaks at length to it, telling her how sorry he is for not protecting her. As he goes to place the flowers at her grave, however, a hand bursts from the grave and grabs at his wrist! Only a dream, alas, as he jerks up in the passenger seat of the Impala. Dean questions him about it, even offering to let Sam drive for a bit (something Sam finds shocking), but it goes nowhere before Sam wants to get on with the plot.

And on with it they get, being just outside of Grand Junction, Colorado. Dean mentions they dug around Stanford for a week with no answers as to what killed Jessica, so has made the decision that finding their Dad is the only way to figure out what they need to do, being that the thing that killed their mother reappearing and John's sudden disappearance can't be a coincidence. Sam checks the map and says there's nothing out at Black Water Ridge...just forests.

They check out the Ranger Station and while they try to pose as students working on a paper, they end up being pegged as friends of someone named Haley. Apparently, her brother Tommy - one of the men in the teaser - went out into the woods and hasn't come back yet. Being always looking for a hookup, Dean manages to get the permit off of the Rangers.  Outside, Sam takes a very "shoot first and ask questions later" approach, which surprises and even impresses Dean.

Heading to Haley's, they fake ID their way into her good graces and get some exposition about how Tommy would have never left them hanging for so long. They check the photo that Tommy sent in the teaser, and learn that Haley has hired a guide to head out and find Tommy herself - being that the authorities are completely useless in Supernatural as we will often see.
"Well, it started with picnic baskets, but then the bodies started to pile up and..."
At the bar, Sam has apparently done his research, and there have been may disappearances over the last few decades - every twenty-three years, like clockwork. He's also slowed down the video Tommy sent enough to show the shadow of something against the tent. And, Sam's learned of one of the survivors of a previous attack. An old man, who confirms to them via his story and a nasty looking set of claw marks across his chest that whatever attacked him and his parents...definitely wasn't a grizzly bear.

The brothers, in leaving, discuss what it could be. They narrow down the list, coming to the conclusion from the old man's story that it's corporeal, so they can kill it. Outside, Sam is pissed when Dean suggests that they tag along with Haley and her group to protect them. While it clearly unnerves Dean, he says nothing. The next morning, they meet up with Haley, her other brother, and their guide. There's some snark exchanged, particularly about Dean's attire (he doesn't do shorts), before they get under way.

Elsewhere, it seems Tommy and one of his friends have been hung up to die by a malevolent force that stalks through one of the old mines that were mentioned as being in the mountains. Despite his protests, Tommy is unable to do anything to save his friend as he suffers a grizzly off-screen death. Back at the plot, Dean and Roy - Haley's guide - have a dick measuring contest before Hayley finally calls Dean out on it, not believe that he and Sam are rangers as they say. He explains everything about what they're doing...leaving out the supernatural side of things...which seems to placate her.

He also mentions having brought provisions, holding a bag of M&Ms.

Remember this. It will be important later.
"Have I got something on my neck?"

They start heading off again, eventually finding Tommy's camp site from the teaser. Haley starts pulling a Tea Leoni in Jurassic Park III before Sam quiets her, reasoning that whatever did this is probably still out there. Dean pulls an Aragorn, figuring out from the tracks near the site that the creature dragged at least one person off for later. From that, he narrows down their list of potential supernatural suspects. Dean heads over to a grieving Haley, doing his best to give some hope, before they hear someone screaming for help in the distance.

They rush off, but soon the voice fades off and Sam urges everyone back to camp...where their packs have been taken. Roy tries to pawn it off as simply some nutjob out there trying to steal their gear and cut them off, Sam pulls Dean aside for a little heart to heart. Getting John's journal from Dean, Sam determines that they're up against a Wendigo. Sam resolves to get everyone the hell out of there, but they're not having it. Eventually, they decide to bunker down for the night, since a Wendigo is apparently even more Nightmare Fuel-worthy at night.

That night, Dean and Sam have put up symbols to block off the Wendigo, explaining to Haley and the others. And finally, when they have a moment alone together, Dean confronts Sam on his change in attitude since they left Stanford. Sam's upset because John's not here, and sees no reason why they should stay, saying they should get everyone back to town and then hit the road. To retort, Dean pulls out John's journal and says that he wants them to pick up where he left off.

Saving people, hunting things. The family business.
Behold Haley, awed as most heterosexual women are at the sight of Jensen Ackles...
Still, while Dean is very much up for doing just as John says, Sam refuses this, saying he has to find out about Jessica's killer. Dean promises him that they will find them, but that Sam can't let that anger keep fueling him, because it will eventually kill him.

Keep those words in mind. There are many instances where that particular statement is going to hurt later.

Sam asks how Dean handles it, and Dean mentions people like Haley and her brother. Saving people from the monsters that live in their world is how Dean justifies his rather miserable existence, and is an integral part of his character that will be show many times over the next few seasons...and lampshaded to hell and back in later seasons as well, one episode in particular. Dean also adds the other way to deal with it is killing as many evil sons of bitches as he can.

Case in point when someone starts screaming for help in the darkness, Dean telling the civvies that it's just a trick. It's a rather tense scene as the camera pans around through the darkness and foliage of their campsite, the music adding to the tension as Roy takes potshots until he hits it...and then is stupid enough to leave the protective circle. Dean and Sam run after him, but are not witness to a pair of beast-like hands pulling him up into the trees.

The next morning, Dean gives Haley a lecture on the supernatural and some more of his and Sam's backstory gets dropped. Sam, resolving to kill this evil son of a bitch, works with Dean to drop some exposition on Wendigos. Once men, now monsters who have lived for centuries eating human flesh. Because, as the old saying goes, there ain't no party like a Donner Party.  Wendigos also keep vicitms alive in case of harsh or lean times. Haley asks how to stop it, and Dean begins prepping a molotov. With that, the party heads through the woods - Sam and Dean oddly taking the two civilians to fight the crazed death creature.
If you're a Wendigo, dealing with hunters is a snap!
Soon they realize that they've been following a trail set by the Wendigo and have fallen into a trap...demonstrated by the sounds of a roar from the foliage. Roy's body falls from the trees to spook the group, and they bail, Dean and Haley actually coming face to face with the thing and are...taken...Sam and Haley's other brother find Dean's molotov igniter. They find a trail of M&Ms left by Dean.

See? See? Didn't I tell you that would be important?

The trail leads them to an abandoned mine. They head in, sneaking around as the Wendigo mucks about with its daily routine of being creepy and just off camera. The duo, however, fall through one of the mine shafts and find...Haley and Dean having been hung up by their wrists! Luckily, they both seem to be alive and relatively well all things considered. Also in the cavern is Tommy, alive and well as we were led to believe and in good enough shape for a jump scare. Also, to replace their lost molotov plan, Dean has found flare guns that are apparently in fine working condition and they still have flares to fire - how convenient!

They head out, by realize that the Wendigo is home. Dean and Sam hatch a plan, Dean heading off after giving Haley merely a wink when she asks what he's about to do...and then goes off yelling at the top of his lungs, making himself the bait. It seems to be working...until Sam and Haley and her brothers are caught, Sam trying to hold it off while they run. It jump scares at Sam, but he responds by shooting at it and once more fleeing...though it quickly becomes clear that the four of them are cornered.
Burn, baby, burn! Wendigo inferno!
The creature lumbers toward them out of the dark, still never clearly seen as it prepares to devour them...and here, my readers, we have Part One in the ongoing series "Dean Winchester is a Motherfucking Badass". With a flare gun, Dean blasts it through the stomach. In the resulting inferno that erupts, the creature's entire body is reduced to ashes. Hell, yeah!

And for the wrap up, the group has returned to the Ranger Station and Haley's younger brother is telling the story of the grizzly that attacked them. Haley and Dean talk, Dean cheapening the moment as he does when Haley mentions she doesn't know how she could ever thank him. While we don't have the first of several of Dean's onscreen ladypleasings, Haley does tell Dean also that she hopes he and Sam find their father, and gives him a peck on the cheek before climbing into the ambulance that's taking Tommy off. And if fanfiction is any indication, that's all that shippers need for this sort of thing.

Alone at last, Dean tries to reassure Sam that they will find John. Sam says that he knows...but in the meantime, he's driving, which Dean allows and the two take off.

What I said before, I'll say again. "Wendigo" is a great episode, and it's probably one of the best in the entire series for a single reason - you barely see the creature in question. Granted, Supernatural didn't have the largest budget ever when it started, but instead of using that as an excuse to do bad costuming or to just be lazy, they instead put to use the horror trope of "the less you see of something, the scarier it is". The titular wendigo is never fully seen, either being only split second appearances that you actually have to pause the show to see or always glimpsed in shadow.

Of special note are the scenes that used the camera panning around to great effect, building up tension and dread of a malignant, unknowable force that was going to pick them all off one by one and there was virtually nothing they could do to stop it. Indeed, even when they know what the creature is, they know it's going to be a tall order killing it off.

Also, the appearance of the Wendigo when we do see it is pretty menacing, a nice payoff to all the build up of it barely being glimpsed. It looks beastial, alien, a hideous, twisted mockery of both man and beast. Kudos to the production team for the design and the work put into making it happen. It's really very, very good stuff.

Sam and Dean are great, as (almost) always, and their chemistry is really good here as Dean has to play the rational one to get Sam back on track and not on the road to self-destruction. It's really nice and I honestly would have loved to see more of this come out. Sam and Dean also allow for exposition to be told to Haley and her brothers in a way that doesn't feel so clunky. Very natural and fluid as they have to explain why these people are so hilariously out of their depth.

And really, that's all there is to it. This episode is pretty much the height of good monster work on Supernatural. This is the benchmark by which all other creatures will be judged, at least by me for the purposes of these recaps.  So, the verdict is - this episode is just fantastic. The creature is good, the chemistry between the two leads works to perfection, even the characters of the day aren't too bad. It's all really great. Really, really, really, great!

So...next week, water water everywhere...as long as it's not Hoenn again...

Supernatural and all related materials are the property of the CW and Warner Brothers.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, September 18, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Doctor Who: TARDIS"

In Doctor Who, the TARDIS is a technological marvel. Standing for Time and Relative Dimension in Space, the Doctor stole it a long, long time ago from his native Gallifrey and - while it always hasn't worked perfectly - he's been traveling through time and space in it ever since. But what is probably the most fantastic part about it is that it is bigger on the inside than the outside. From the outside, an onlooker sees nothing more than a simple blue box with a little light atop it. Once inside, however, the true nature of the TARDIS is revealed.

Indeed, within the TARDIS there have been rooms seen and mentioned such as the main console room, the library, the swimming pool, bedrooms, and so much more. Indeed, the inside of the TARDIS is almost a whole world all its own. Several of the television episodes have been set within the TARDIS, some using familiar rooms to the viewers and others still introducing new rooms with new functions entirely to add on to the closest thing the Doctor has to a home. So, naturally, a game set inside the TARDIS sounds like a neat time. The player could explore the depths of the place and perhaps get little nods to previous companions and delve into Doctor Who history as the other games have done in their own subtle way.

...and by "subtle way", I mean having collectible trading cards that are scattered around Skaro, an Arctic research base, and the TARDIS for some reason.

The plot picks up with Amy giving the Doctor grief for his regular bad choice of vacation spots, with him trying to find some way to not be sucked out of the TARDIS...and he gets sucked out of the TARDIS because...time wimey technobabble.

Yes, there's an explanation, but it's Doctor Who, it's ultimately not important to the story. See also: Every Doctor Who episode ever.

So, after the universe's worst game of charades, Amy is sent into the TARDIS's Drawing Room to find things to make a tractor beam and pull the Doctor back in. However, she unfortunately releases a time-eating entity known only as the Entity and when the Doctor gets pulled back in, he and Amy get separated by one thousand years. But when you've got a time machine, the distance of one thousand years is barely the blink of an eye and the Doctor gets to work on some jiggery pokery while Amy tries not to be eaten by the time-creature.

It may just be the fact that I'm playing these back to back, but I'm not overly fond of this one. The references are nice, but the game play has no real variations. Then again, it's all supposed to be in the same series, released relatively close together, so maybe it's better to think of the games as one big game altogether.

And in that case, it's alright. But I'm taking each separately so, yes, this game is good. Not all great, I still have problems with the character models, and I would have liked to known more about the Entity (which comes across as a proto-version of House from The Doctor's Wife), and I would have liked to see more of the TARDIS, but those are relatively minor complaints. The puzzles are starting to grate on me however, largely because they aren't puzzles. There's really no challenge to them, even if you do have to use trial and error - which you shouldn't - to solve them.

What this game does give is a chance to learn just what some of the things on the famous TARDIS console do. One of the trademarks of the show has always been the Doctor running in a seemingly hapzard manner around the console to manipulate the various levers, buttons, and switches to keep the big blue box flying, so it's kind of interesting to see just what it is he's doing when he's doing all of that,

Other than that, not too much to say. Less story than last time and less locale as well, Doctor Who has done more with less and what we do get is admittedly very nice.

Doctor Who: TARDIS is now available from BBC and BBC Wales Interactive.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.