Friday, October 31, 2014

MadCap's Mad Rantings - "Horror Month 2014"

Sorry for the lack of a game review today, folks. Meant to, but I haven't finished the current one I'm working on in time, so I'll be saving it for 2015 (no, for the record, I don't normally plan so far ahead).  But even so, we've had quite a few adventures this month, haven't we? Vampires - even Count Dracula himself - creatures of science and magic.  From the purest evil of man to threats far beyond the stars, we've seen a lot.  Even a good ghost story! I would say, lack of game reviews aside (really, I do mean to do more next year), that Horror Month was a resounding success.

Or, at the very least, I enjoyed doing it, which is really what this is all about in the end.

I sit now after handing out candy to a slew of trick-or-treaters and I'm probably gonna drown myself on some Crunch Bars and Twix and pop in a horror movie - probably Aliens or Shazam, depending on how much I hate myself.  Happy Halloween, everyone! Pop in a bad movie, pop down some servings of that crazy awesome junk food, and have a good one.

Monday, October 27, 2014

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Halloween" (1978)

"I met him fifteen years ago, I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding, and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil; right or wrong. I met this six year old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes; the devil's eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply evil." - Dr. Samuel Loomis

The classic film that effectively began what we know as the Slasher film.  Sure, Black Christmas four years before this came out used a lot of the same techniques and established many of the tropes of the slasher film, but this is where the slasher film really began...ironically as more of a suspense film.  Yes, in spite of the belief of many, John Carpenter's magnum opus Halloween seemingly has very little in common with the slasher films that would follow it...including its own sequels.  Heavy on the suspense, and with a very, very low body count (five, if you could a dog), John Carpenter was more concerned with the suspense, and he certainly gave all of that and more for this holiday classic.

The film begins with an iconic point of view shot that is later revealed to be that of young Michael Audrey Myers on the night he takes hold of a kitchen knife and brutally murders his older sister, Judith.  Fast forward from that terrible Halloween night in 1963 to a few days before Halloween in 1978, fifteen years later.  We are introduced to Doctor Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) and nurse Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens) who are transporting Michael for a court hearing.  However, Michael escapes and commandeers the vehicle, leaving Loomis behind as he returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois.

In Haddonfield, we are introduced to heroine Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends Annie (Nancy Kyes) and Lynda (P.J. Soles).  Laurie could swear she's being watched and followed around town as she goes about her business, but can't really give it too much mind as she has to focus on her job that night of babysitting young Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews), the night where Laurie Strode's life will change forever...

This is a wonderful film that absolutely deserves its place as a horror classic.  John Carpenter and Debra Hill have crafted an excellent, suspenseful story that so many other films have tried and failed to follow up to.  The biggest example in my mind being the Rob Zombie remake.  Alas, as this isn't a comparison piece, I'll just stick to the original: you've got a dark, unknowable, unkillable evil, you've got suspense out the wazoo with very decent payoff, and you have very minimal blood and gore.

Though Halloween inspired the existence of many different films, including the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises, the horror comes from the suspense. When I watch it, I don't have the same mentality when I watch movies from either of the other franchises, where it's largely to lack at the cheesiness (or marvel at the creativeness of) the kills of the victims. Halloween also takes the time to establish its characters so you can actually care about them when they're in danger or are killed, something that most modern horror movies don't even bother to do.

If you're going into this expecting just a mindless gore fest, you're going to be disappointed. But if you're looking for a good, suspenseful horror film, then outside of Hitchcock himself you can't do much better.

"Halloween" is now available on DVD.

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

MadCap's Comic Reviews - "The Man-Thing #1"

A man of science turned into a monster.  Sound familiar? Well, this particular monstrosity was not born from gamma rays in the New Mexico desert, but in the swamps of the Florida Everglades. Doctor Theodore Sallis was a scientist who, like many, was trying to replicate the Super Soldier Serum that led to the creation of Captain America. Betrayed by his lover, the alluring Ellen Brandt, Sallis was forced to take the only sample of the serum he had concocted and escape with it.  Chased by Brandt and her thugs, Sallis injected himself with the serum on the gamble that it would grant him superhuman abilities...and crashed his car into the swamps...

The serum did indeed give him superhuman abilities as predicted...but even Sallis couldn't have predicted what he would become...

Injected with the serum, enveloped by the swamps, he ceased to be the brilliant Theodore Sallis, losing his intelligence and his mind and becoming the hulking monstrosity known as the Man-Thing, who's touch burns all who know fear. He is doomed forever to wander the Everglades as a creature of pure animalistic instinct. At least, that is, until several armed men kidnap a Dr. Oheimer, a man who is working on a formula for brain cell regeneration. They reveal themselves to be the original backers of the experiments that Sallis was performing...and have somehow worked out the connection between Sallis and the Man-Thing.

With Oheimer's help, they want to restore the mind of the Man-Thing so that he might be able to relay to them the Super Soldier Serum he had recreated. Oheimer agrees, more to help the man than to recover the formula, and a trap is set for the monster...and they catch him! Oheimer does indeed, it seems, begin to work on rehabilitating the Man-Thing.  Slowly at first, of course, much like a child in need of development so that Sallis's mind can be restored to its adult state.  But when the military catches wind of where Oheimer has been taken...those efforts might all have been for not.

This is a great comic. It's absolutely dripping with atmosphere in the beginning and the end, aided by the narration putting the reader into the mindset of the creature, both as an animal...and later, when it regains some semblance of its intelligence.  The Man-Thing cannot speak (or couldn't back then), has no dialogue whatsoever, and yet to feel more for the struggle of Ted Sallis than ever before by the end. Doomed to his fate as the Man-Thing while now remembering what he has lost.  Indeed, one could say that in aiding him to regain his humanity, Oheimer might have been unintentionally cruel to the poor man...lost now, perhaps forever, to the swamp...

But hey! If that's too deep and depressing for you to ponder, there's a helpful ad comic where Captain Marvel keeps the sun from being extinguished with the help of Twinkies...

...yeah...splitting up the last two pages of the otherwise emotionally touching finale to the story.  Seriously, Marvel...could you have placed that anywhere else? I mean, anywhere. It's a thirty page comic, you could have found somewhere to place that besides to break up the finale that really didn't need that kind of breaking up.

Apart from that, though, a very enjoyable comic.  The frightening tale of a man who is turned into a beast..and gains just the tiniest fraction of that back...but will never truly be anything but the monster he has become ever again...

...and now I really want some Twinkies. Damn it, Marvel!

"The Man-Thing #1" is brought to us by Marvel.

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "The Evil Dead" (1981)

A cabin in the woods...a few unsuspecting college students...a book of pure and simple evil...and no escape.  The directorial debut of Sam Raimi (know to most now as the man who destroyed all of Spider-Man's credibility before Marc Webb salvaged it), as well as the film that shot the awesome Bruce Campbell into B-List stardom. Even to this day, it is considered one of the greatest cult classics of horror.  It's even endorsed by Stephen King himself! See? It says so on the poster!

But is it as good as everyone remembers? Does this film really deserve its place as a horror cult classic?

I'll go ahead and start by saying this is not a film that wastes our time.  We're quickly introduced to our meat suits for the evening who are all to be chopped up, flayed, and flame broiled by the forces of Hell. A group of college kids, the most prolific of most is a young Ashley "Ash" Williams, played by Bruce Campbell in his breakout performance.  I think I can get away here with saying it's very strange to see Bruce Campbell playing a character other than Bruce Campbell.  Really, it's bizarre to watch him not being awesomely over the top as he is in so many productions he's in.

However, this film is before the Raimi-induced madness that developed the character had most become known for (and subverted and deconstructed in My Name is Bruce), so we can definitely give him a pass on that in this instance. Also this is skipping ahead a bit, but as far as the last bit of the film plays out with Ash doing his damnedest to survive against the demonic forces stacked against him...well...Jamie Lee Curtis, eat your heart out.

Back to hitting up the plot chronologically, Ash and his friends head out to a cabin in the woods for spring break.  In the cabin, crazy things begin to happen, leading up to the sudden opening of a trapdoor to the basement, wherein Ash and company find the Naturon Demonto, the Sumerian Book of the Dead, and the recordings of a professor who studied in, including some incantations that - despite one of the group insisting that they don't - they play and the shit quickly begins to hit the fan in a great volume.

Immediately here, giving credit where it's due, I have to give awesome credit to the make up effects for the demonically possessed.  Even with picking out the Ted Raimi cameos, all the effects look really good, massively creepy, and way better than they would have look done up in CGI.  Not that CGI was really that much of an option in 1981, even for big name productions, but the fact was that Sam Raimi knew very well where to put his somewhere between 90,000 and 400,000 dollar budget (as is estimated).

This also pours into the environment, of which there is one.  The cabin.  And before someone gets in touch to tell me how wrong I am for mocking the choice of one venue, believe me I am not.  The direction of the scenes and the effects used once the film gets going build an amazing atmosphere.  None of the real clichés that are used to imply the feeling of being unable to leave the woods, but so many factors from the set direction to the lighting build up the atmosphere to the point where it almost crushes you as you watch, and you just know there is no possible way for them to escape the evil that seeks to drag them to Hell.

Also, yes, the Tree Rape scene is actually genuinely unnerving and frightening. Nothing that hasn't already been said about it.

Heavy handed words are no substitute for the simple statement that this is a good film.  There's a reason why Sam Raimi is considered a master of horror alongside his contemporaries such as Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter.  He took a relatively small budget, put it to excellent use, had actors who were actually pretty awesome (including, again, Bruce freaking Campbell), and created an ideal atmosphere for a film about Lovecraftian madness taking hold.  For Halloween, what's not to love?

The Evil Dead is now available on DVD.

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

October's Reel Thoughts will conclude next week with...


Friday, October 17, 2014

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Alien: Isolation"

Thank the Great Bird of the Galaxy for this game!

No, I don't think I'm far off from saying that this game was sorely needed.  Especially after the pile of garbage that Randy Pitchford told us all sweet, sweet lies about.  While neither he nor Gearbox Studios will ever be forgiven for that (or ever see a cent of my money), I can forgive Sega for it and praise them further for their joint effort with Fox and Creative Assembly.  If this is what Creative Assembly comes up with when not making the Total War series, than I am totally for them continuing in this vein.

Based on Alien rather than the more popular Aliens, Alien: Isolation takes place fifteen years after the destruction of the Nostromo at the end of the first film.  Instead of Ellen Ripley, we step into the boots of her daughter, Amanda (who was mentioned in the Director's Cut of Aliens). An engineer, Amanda is contacted by representatives of the ever benevolent Weyland-Yutani corporation. Having had no word from her mother in fifteen years, she may find closure as the flight recorder has been located, brought in on a ship to the space station Sevastopol.  But if you know anything about the Alien franchise, then you know it's never as simple as that...

The Sevastopol has become the latest hunting ground for a Xenomorph, which was also brought in with the flight recorder. Amanda must use all of her wit and cunning to evade the Alien, get to the heart of the matter, and perhaps find the closure that she seeks concerning her Mother's fate.  And how convenient that she is an engineer, because the player will be doing a lot of crafting.  And I mean, a lot of crafting.  One of the main and oft used mechanics in the game is the ability to craft items for use. At the beginning she can craft several items, and gains more blueprints for others.  Medkits, molotov cocktails, and even pipe bombs are among the items that she can Heisenberg up for her purposes, using random items she finds in the station.  She also acquires several tools, such as a hacking device, a blowtorch, and combination wrench and hammer.

And she'll need them, because trying to use regular weaponry in this game is a fools' errand...most of the time, anyway.  Amanda does get her hands on some firearms in the game - including a pistol and the almighty shotgun - but you'll find no sonic, electronic ball-breakers here, at least none that are effective against the Alien beyond an improvised flamethrower, and even then, that will only scare it out of the area. No, your non-flammable weaponry will only be effective against two other targets - humans and Working Joes.

Oh, don't know what a Working Joe is? It's death.  It's death in the Auton with bright, red eyes vein of things. Later in the plot when all of these Ash-esque robots start going crazy, the player has to use a combination of tactics to take one out.  There is really nothing more terrifying than being choked to death by a pale, blank, emotionless face with dead, red eyes staring at you, with a calm voice insisting that you're becoming hysterical. Fuck that noise! I will take the acid-blooded, human flesh-hungry alien any day over that.  Really, not long after Amanda is able to make EMP bombs, they start taking to wearing insulated rubber suits.

I say again:  Fuck.  That.  Noise.

The AI is touted as being completely random for the Alien, which I believe to a degree. Several entry points exist for the Alien to attack the player from should Amanda make too much noise or go around waving her flashlight like a spastic at a rave.  Things like smacking your jack tool against a wall, firing a gun, and running like a spastic at a marathon will increase your chances of being hunted down by the Alien, and it will come for you like a hungry spastic who just heard the dinner gong.  Oh, and the loading screens provide "hints" and on the occasion of my first death by the Alien, I was given the handy piece of advice to not try to outrun the Alien.

...gee, thanks, Alien:  Isolation.  Also want to tell me to not point my gun at my own face?

I joke, but I will give them credit for building up a tense, dark atmosphere that is very much akin to the original Alien film.  While one of my main criticisms of Alien was that it took so long for the plot to get going, that seems to go better in an interactive media where we have the build up and anticipation for the first appearance of the Xenomorph, and I have to say that it certainly doesn't disappoint. And, to the game's credit, it does manage to keep a great deal of that tension going for most of the game...the plot of which goes on a wee bit longer than it really should, in my opinion.

Now, this admittedly could just be me being horrendously paranoid and dragging out the time by sneaking around everywhere (admittedly with mixed results in some cases), but the plotline feels like it overstays it's welcome just a bit. There are at least two completely logical points where the game should end...and doesn't.  And while I'm aware of the Alien franchise and Alien in particular, having a "everything that can go wrong does" moment, there's no reason for there to be two except to further pad out the game...which is unnecessary.  The first one in particular is just...odd as it temporarily abandons the Alien homaging and takes a trip into Aliens territory with a romp through an Alien nest and results in three more Aliens being brought in to replace the one you blew out of an airlock.

I refer again to my Working Joe comment:  Fuck.  That.  Noise.

However, the campaign for all of its length does have a very satisfying conclusion as Amanda ultimately does find some closure over her mother's disappearance and that's a far, far better ending than Bishop linking into a computer and cryptically saying that "We've found it". And doesn't break canon so completely that nobody even cares anymore. That and nobody from Creative Assembly got up in front of the entire internet and lied for twelve minutes about what the game would be., I'm not offended at all that Randy Pitchford still has a job.  What do you mean?

However, even when you don't compare this game to its immediate predecessor, this is still a very good game. The architecture styled on the 1970s style of the original film, the entire place dripping with atmosphere, and there's a real feeling of tension and dread as you hide under a table or behind some crates (or even in the least clichéd hiding place ever - in a locker!) while the Alien stalks about, trying to find you.  Keep low and keep moving, or it will...with terrible, terrible consequences.

On a side note, be sure to use the save points early and often.  In fact, at every opportunity, even when the game tells you that hostiles are around.  Trust me, you'll thank me later when you don't have to go back through a notoriously difficult section again because you didn't have the right weapon equipped to take out a Facehugger that you didn't see.

Also, top tip: Flamethrower. Flamethrower for those.

But, yes, I would say that the game stands perfectly well on its own as a survival horror game, mainly because the focus is on that.  Your weapons have scarce ammo because they're rarely meant to be used, you craft items for use from what you can scrounge up from salvage, and a great deal of your time is spent sneaking, distracting, or trying to find away around your enemies rather than a direct confrontation. Very much like what someone in such a situation would actually have to do.

Amanda is not an invincible, badass Marine with no personality, she's a brilliant engineer that uses her wit and cunning to get around obstacles and solve the problems that keep cropping up.  Like her mother, she's a survivor.  Determined, brilliant, and managing to escape from the Sevastopol unscathed at the conclusion of her adventure...for the most part, anyway.

In addition to the main campaign, there's also a special challenge mode where Amanda must find her way to an objective and can complete secondary objectives to increase her score.  So, basically, it's just the main campaign without the plot.  No complaints, really, though I'm not so much a Leaderboards kind of person.

In summation, yes, I do recommend this game.  A threat not from beyond the grave, but instead from beyond the's drenched in dark, chilling atmosphere and requires not brute force, but clever wits to get through.  A bit lengthy, and even frustrating at points, but I definitely enjoyed the experience overall.  If this is what Creative Assembly can do with a licensed game (i.e. actually showing respect and caring about making a good game within and without leaning on it so heavily), then I look forward to if Isolation gets picked up for a sequel or whatever else they might be doing within the license or outside of it.

Awesome work, guys and gals! Awesome work!

Alien: Isolation is now available from Sega, 20th Century Fox, and Creative Assembly on Xbox 360, Xbox One, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, and PC.

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

MadCap's Comic Reviews - "X-Men #1: X-Men vs. Dracula"

The X-Men. The ultimate Marvel team...besides the Avengers.  Defenders of a world that hates and fears them...for reasons that really don't make sense when you starting looking at them in relation to the rest of the Marvel Universe.  Heroic champions of the downtrodden mutant people...who have, between them, probably caused close to if not equal the amount of damage caused by those who they are trying to stop and thus damage the reputation of mutants even further.

...yeah, totally sets you in the mind of a Halloween story, right?

Apparently, this was exactly what Chris Claremont was set on in 1993, as he crafted this tale (which, according to cover date, came out in December - oops), that had the children of Professor Charles Xavier face the Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbou-I mean, Dracula.  That's right, Dracula is an has been a character in the Marvel comics universe for many years - even since the 1950s. In his time he has battled such heroic forces as Doctor Strange, the Silver Surfer, and - as you can see here - the X-Men.

Our story, however, does not begin at the iconic School for Gifted Youngsters, but indeed a bit further to the north at a liberal arts college.  There, Professor Rachel van Helsing laughs off notions that there is any fact behind Bram Stoker's novel concerning half of our comic's title. However, privately, she muses upon the real truth, and her belief that the Lord of the Vampires is truly dead forever.  Needless to say, she is more than a little surprised when an unexpected and unwelcome visitor has come to call upon her...

Meanwhile, at the Xavier Mansion, the young Katherine "Kitty" Pryde is most distressed at the news that her parents are getting a divorce.  The team does their best to console her, but she has none of it, rushing up to her room.  Later that night, she is bitten by Storm, who has suddenly an inexplicably taken on the abilities of a vampire, and proceeds to drain the entire team of their lives...until it is revealed to have all just been a nightmare of hers.

Apparently, in an earlier issue, Dracula attempted to make Storm one of his vampiric brides and failed. However, he seems to have failed to release his hold upon her, which gave her the dream.  Leaving to go and confront him, she fails to notice that Kitty is once more awake...and has sudden interest in getting a bite to eat with Colossus...

But what is the reason that Dracula has broken his word?  Why has Kitty undergone such a startling change in tone?

No spoilers here, but just remember that the Van Helsing family isn't the only one with a screwed up lineage...

This is not a particularly horrific tale beyond the superficial trappings of the Dracula mythos. Yes, it's Dracula, yes you have the darkened castle and the vampire bride, but it's not particularly a horror tale beyond Ororo's struggling with Dracula's hold on her. I would say that it revels in the sheer cheesy glory of "X-Men vs. Dracula", but it really doesn't.  It's trying to be serious and it does have a very dark tone, to give it full credit.  But I find the X-Men and Dracula to be a bizarre fit...and not a particularly good one at that.

And I mean, c'mon, as if even the X-Men with all their might could defeat Dracula?

The X-Men are men and women born with strange and wondrous powers. They've done amazing things, saved the Earth so many a time, and continue to struggle against the darkness that surrounds them.  In the end, however, they are just men and women...

But forever...

"X-Men #1: X-Men vs. Dracula" is brought to us from Marvel Comics.

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "House on Haunted Hill" (1959)

...oh, you thought I was gonna do the 1999 one? The one where Jean Grey, Niki Saunders, and Weyoun spent a night in an abandoned asylum with Captain Barbosa for a million dollars? Pfft, why watch that when I could watch the stylings of the one and only Vincent Price? Why settle for cheesy shlock when I can get my horror in black and white, clear as crystal? Why...okay, I don't have a third question here, sue me. Let's get on with the show. After all, it's October and the horror season continues with some older old school stuff!

We begin with our set up.  The voice of Fredrick Loren (Price) a millionaire with a taste for the macabre who has invited five individuals to the "only real haunted house in the world" for a party.  Alongside his wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart), Loren greets the five persons he has invited to this house with the promise of ten thousand dollars for each of them.  Lance Schroeder (Richard Long), Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum), Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal), Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig), and the owner of the house, Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook). The doors will be locked at the stroke of midnight, and anyone who remains after that time will collect their share of the money.

...those that don't, however...well, Mr. Loren will still be a few tens of thousands of dollars richer.

And so, we're treated to an old-fashioned ghost story, complete with several cliches that are now commonplace in most haunted house stories today.  The creepy Gotchic scenery covered in cobwebs, the creepy caretakers, secret passages that close behind you upon entering, and pulling off the head in a box routine almost forty years before Se7en pulled it off. The film definitely does an excellent job of playing up whether or not the "ghosts" are real or are just pranks and jokes played by the Loren.  Further blurring the lines between the real world and that of the next is Loren's wife, who takes pains to inform the guests that her husband is several fries short of a Happy Meal before she hangs herself...or does she?

On the non-supernatural side of things, we have the dynamic between Loren and his wife which factors heavily into the film.  In spite of the fact that, according to Loren, that the party is her idea, Annabelle seems highly opposed to the party and only attends it due to the threat of physical violence (domestic disputes, you see, being commonplace and acceptable in the 1950s), which further puts some question onto the already murky psyche that Loren seems to have.  Eccentric, indeed...but psychotic? That's a question left entirely to the viewers.

The other characters are rather flat.  We have a test pilot, a columnist, a psychiatrist, and a temp along with the house's owner, but none of these professions (except for the psychiatrist's) factor at all into the story, and we really learning nothing about them outside of Vincent Price's character, his wife, and the owner of the house, Mr. Pritchard. Pritchard, in another life, will be the security guard who believes the Devil is around because toast lands butter side down.  He is the believer, almost to the point of where I was questioning his sanity at points.  Not helping that is that the man is a heavy drinker, and Price gives everyone in the house a loaded forty-five for protection.

...yes, Vincent, because that will end well.

The other notable character is Nora, an employee of Price's (though who has never met him before) who is almost immediately the subject of several supernatural horrors, such as horrific encounters with the female caretaker (who is deformed and blind) and witness to various sights throughout the place that the others held with some great skepticism until the game is afoot, things which drive her far to the point of hysteria.  And, to give Carolyn Craig full credit, she can really hit the high notes with screaming.  I mean, good grief!

This film has the cheesy dissonance that comes from films outside the modern era, though it's definitely a welcome thing.  House on Haunted Hill is a very suspenseful, dark film that definitely lives up to all the hype even now. To say it's good is just not giving enough credit.  Like many originals, the remakes just don't do it justice.  I won't spoil the ending, because it's really just that good. Ultimately, the question of whether the "ghosts" of the house became involved at all is - like the question of Loren's sanity - an exercise left entirely up to the viewer.  At the end, Pritchard seems to think the ghosts are coming for him...and soon, they will come!

But that's obviously a bunch of nonsense. Besides, if it were...say...some kind of malevolent force that was taking on the forms of other people in the house in order to drive virtually everyone to insanity...that'd be just stupid, right? Man, I'm lucky this film doesn't have crap like that...

House on Haunted Hill is now available on DVD and through Netflix Instant Streaming.

For the latest form the MadCapMunchkin, follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

October's Reel Thoughts will continue next week with...

"The Evil Dead"

Friday, October 10, 2014

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Thief"

Belatedly I received this game as a gift, so I figured it would be best for me to actually get a review out on the record here.

...yes, I know this has been out since February.  But, really, when have my reviews ever been on time?

Thief is the tale of Garrett, a thief (obviously), living in the land of Fantavictoripunk.  Taking a job from one Basso, Garrett is teamed with a former apprentice, Erin in raiding a mansion. When they arrive, though, it appears the Cult of Cthulhu is up to some trickery and a bunch of bright, flashy lights has Garrett waking up after a year.  Now, the city is gripped by some plague known as the "Gloom" and the Baron has it under lockdown for just that reason. However, Garrett has a mystery to solve and he won't be dissuaded by the efforts of the Man.

Thus he begins to seek out what happened to Erin, what exactly the ritual had to do with anything, and goes about one of the best things a thief can do - stealing from the Man and screwing Him over, which Garrett can do in earnest many a time over the course of the story (seriously, there's a lot of collectibles out there), all the while.  And you'll pardon me if I have to point out Corvo Attano sneaking the other way as Garrett's out and about on thieving missions.

I'm not sure if it's intentional or if it's simply having it on my brain again, but the game does have a very Dishonored feel to it, even if it's more of a Middle Ages or Renaissance feel as opposed to a Steampunk Victorian era feel (though there are shades of that, as well). And this translates into the gameplay as well, (what with begin stuck in first-person the entire time save for cutscenes) though thievery and assassinations are not two things entirely divorced from one another so far as things go.  However, Garrett makes it clear in the beginning that he is not a killer, just a thief.

Not that this keeps him from using flaming arrows to immolate guards with trails of oil, or using broadheaded arrows to straight up murder folks with headshots, but shh!!!

Also, like Corvo, Garrett can take down opponents through sneak attacks.  Rather than killing them, however, he simply knocks them out with a cudgel delivering a nice blow to the head, after which they can be disposed over with a nice toss down some stairs or from a height that certainly won't, again, break their neck and kill them.

But, again, really, not an assassin.

In a sense of fairness, I'd put this in the same odd canonical vortex as Far Cry 3, with the actions of the player killing various enemies not translating to the actual events going on around.  Though Garrett seems to stick to his morals, rather than have Jason Brody's whole island power slide into Winter Soldier-esque insanity, because the disconnect between storyline and gaemplay seems to be the only thing that makes that make any sort of sense.

Nevertheless, I will praise the game being one of the most fun I've played in the stealth genre. Garrett is a master thief and it shows. Provided you don't go running out into plain sight, stick to the shadows, and use the environment to your advantage (i.e. suspiciously well played crates, nooks and cranies, cabinets to hide in, etc.), you avoid being cut up to pieces by the Baron's men. Really, unlike many stealth games, stealth is literally your only option.  Again, Garrett is not a killer (sort of), and only really has his cudgel and climbing claw to speak of, meaning that melee combat is very much a non-option.

However, in aid of his adventures, Garrett has a collapsible bow that gets a tasty variety of arrows. Fire arrows to set trails of oil and bales of hay alight as both distraction and as a weapon, water arrows to douse torches and other light sources, choke arrows that dispense gas into an area to stifle opponents, rope arrows to aid in the game's parkouring against the landscape, and blunted arrows to hit switches and levers, along with the aforementioned broadhead arrows for Garrett's contingency plans when dealing with guards.  The lockpicking system is similar to several of them I've seen in the last few years.  Twist the left stick until the controller beings to vibrate and then press "A" on the Xbox control, easy as you please.  Of course, this requires going through multiple tumblers on each device, three at a minimum and so on with increasing difficulty.  Not the best mechanic, but it gets the job done.

Though the mechanics are pretty good, Garrett swooping through the streets of Fantavictoripunk like he's Batman, where the game really falls flat for me is the story.  Honestly, I have set there and tried, but it's really just not engaging at all. Honestly, I try to keep up and I just...feel no connection to any of these characters. Not even Garrett, who occasionally makes a snarky remark or observation that I find amusing, manages to have that much of an impact upon me. I'm not sure, but it may be partially due to the voice acting. It's not Ride to Hell bad, but not that great.

Now, I've never been a fan of the original Thief games, simply because I haven't played them at the time of this writing.  But I'm aware that the main voice actor for Garrett has been changed up and, no offense to him, but I can see why some fans might be offended. He just doesn't project a character like I would imagine the snarky master thief Garrett would be. No offense to the voice actor, I'm not familiar with his other work so I have no way of comparison, but I'm just not a fan of his Garrett. Who knows? Maybe I'll get a hold of the older Thief games and decide who's better, but for here...not fond of Garrett. Though that may just be poor direction for the voices, which there's a bit of here all around, not just for him.

If I had to throw another criticism up, it'd be the mercantile mechanic.  Not so much the thing itself, where you get money based on items you steal, the problem comes from the location.  There's only one place that I've found where you can stock up on items such as arrows, health and focus upgrades, and stat boosts, and it's in a far off section of the overworld, which means a bit of maneuvering around to get to it.  Why just the one? Why not have one in each section? Not to mention the difficulties set the number of available resources anyway in the range from plentiful to rare, which does increase the difficulty a bit, but it remains the same problem with location.

Summing up, Thief isn't a bad game.  When it shines, it shines brightly, like a flawless gem waiting to be snatched from a display case.  But when it doesn't, it doesn't sting quite like the stabbing of so many angry city guards catching you out of the shadows.

Thief is now available from Eidos Montreal and Square Enix for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

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

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

MadCap's Comic Reviews - "Edge of the Spider-Verse #4"

A boy bitten by a radioactive spider...a girl next door...with great power comes...but you've heard this story before...haven't you? Why, yes, this is an old, old story that has been told many, many times.  But each telling of the tale brings something new, and no more has this been apparent than in Marvel's newest crossover involving the Amazing Spider-Man - the Spider-verse! A series of five comics has been released, each one showcasing a different Spider-Man (or woman) from across the multi-verse in a lead up to this big even, known as the Edge of the Spider-verse! And, to date, I've only read two of them.

Because I don't understand the following for Spider-Man Noir, Japanese Spider-Man only holds appeal because of the giant mecha cat, and turning Spider-Man into a Gundam is confusing to me.

However, Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman I was interested in.  While that ended up being a few bucks for what I basically could have read later on a Wikipedia page (which did have some admittedly good art), I found that the fourth issue of the five issue saga turned out to be...much more enjoyable of a read.  Spoilers follow from here, so those that haven't read it, you have been warned as of now.

We are introduced to Patton Parnel, a somewhat sadistic little scientist who delights in "testing" his ants by burning them with a magnifying glass and doing "observance stakeouts" on his next door neighbor, the beautiful redheaded Sara Jane. Introverted and of the scientific mind as he is, Patton is surprised when it is Sara Jane who speaks to him for the first time while on a class trip to the AlCorps laboratories. Breaking into the animal testing labs, Sara Jane wishes to save as many animals as she can from the corporate monsters, never knowing of the terror that will unfold.  His eyes catching the body of an irradiated arachnid, Patton is entranced by its beauty...and is bitten by it...

But we learn that Patton Parnel does not have the same wonderful family life as his counterpart in the main Marvel universe.  His Uncle Ted is an abusive caregiver, beating the recently changed Patton in the middle of the day.  After this, however, Patton's fortunes seem to change as does his body. Feeling the change, he seeks food, first gorily devouring a rat and discovering some of the abilities attributed to him by the spider's bite, and coming to the decision that he must feed more...

This is really a very chilling tale of a man who, instead of accepting that with power comes great responsibility, is consumed by that very power.  Without the influences of an Uncle Ben and an Aunt May in his life, the abused and mocked Patton Parnel would not have become the hero known as Spider-Man regardless.  What's worse, the Rob Zombie-esque situation that life has thrown him into means that he really, alas, could not have gone anything but terribly bad. With such power to fight back, Patton Parnel ceased to be the timid teenager and became a monster.

Really, when it was said in pre-release information that this guy was a sociopathic Peter who goes dark side...they really hit the nail on the head.

To say this is a scary story isn't giving it enough credit. It's truly horrific is only for just the journey of seeing a man turn into a monster.  But it's more than that, complimented by artwork that gives the perfect tone for such a story, including a cover that is very reminiscent of the covers of such older comics like Tales from the Crypt.

Even the addition of Morlun (a character related to the Spider Verse at large) at the very end doesn't really break the flow as we are put into Sara Jane's already terrified position after learning of Patton's "experiments" and of what he has become and she manages to flee in the ensuing chaos, seemingly safe...until the next day, when she learns the hard way to be careful who she sticks her neck out for...

Besides the tie-in with the ongoing Spider-Verse, this story serves very well as a self-contained horror thread worthy to be stacked up with the likes of many a B-List horror flick, as well as being a cautionary tale.  Weep for Patton Parnel, my friends...for what is more frightening than the monsters within, when they finally rend their fangs against the world that sired them? One cannot ask for a better tale to tell on the cold nights of October...

"Edge of the Spider-Verse #4" is now available from Marvel comics wherever comic books are sold.

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

Monday, October 6, 2014

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Fright Night" (1985)

October is finally here! The time of Halloween, the festival of Samhain! A time of ghosts and goblins (not that kind) and horror galore. So, I figured it would be a good time to crack out the horror movie set and do some reviews of that genre.  Horror is not a genre I'm new to, having been inducted at a relatively early age with such classics as Friday the 13th (the original) and another one that I'll be covering in this very month.  But I thought a good place to start was a cult hit film that did the exact reverse of what Twilight would do to vampires twenty years later - 1985's Fright Night.

Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale) is a high school student and horror aficionado whose only real troubles in life are trying to pass his trig classes and working out the kinks in his relationship with his girlfriend, Amy (Amanda Bearse). But his entire life threatens to come crashing down around him when a strikingly handsome Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) moves in next door and Charlie unintentionally sees that the future ruler of the land of Florin has a hell of a set of canines.  Thus, Charlie must enlist the aid of a local burn-out, the hilariously over-the-top Edward "Evil Ed" (Stephen Geoffreys), and an age-old horror movie star turned late-night horror show host (Roddy McDowall) in order to slay the vampire.

What's very neat about this film, in my mind, is that the rules for vampires are totally old school. Sarandon's Jerry Dandridge can turn into a bat, a wolf, mist, and has a hypnotic gaze that can completely control the minds of the unsuspecting, along with the super strength, agility, lack of a reflection, and of course the feeding that comes with vampirism in most iterations.  On the flip side of that coin, vampires are killed by stakes, decapitation, and sunlight, damaged by holy water, can only enter a residence when invited, and can be repelled by crosses (but only if one has faith that it works) and garlic. Akin to the old Universal and Hammer horror films, and of course the original Dracula novel.

As for Jerry Dandridge himself, Sarandon plays him very much the ultimate polite gentleman until the fangs come out at least. Really, he's the archetypal Dracula-style vampire, as from the original Stoker novel. Smooth with the ladies, even Charlie's own mother! He even, early on in some sense of mercy and fair play, offers Charlie a chance to forget what he saw and move on with his life...a choice that Charlie decides to not take, shove a pencil through his hand, and piss the guy off even further.'re so cool, Brewster!

Charlie himself is your typical teenage slacker, like Marty McFly before him.  Instead of crazy scientists with DeLoreans, however, Charlie is a fan of the Fright Night movie show hosted by one Peter Vincent (McDowall) and - like Jonathan Harker in the original Dracula novel - a little bit of doubt is cast in the beginning as to whether or not his beliefs about Jerry are true or not...which the movie then completely negates by the time of the first attack about twenty minutes in.  Regardless, Charlie remains determined to prove that he's right in spite of literally everyone around him being certain of otherwise and, once this is done, it is he that has to convince Peter Vincent to take up arms against the vampire menace, even electing to go on his own in spite of the danger beforehand.

Roddy McDowall brings his refined acting chops to the table as Peter Vincent, a hero of old time vampire films and renowned as a man whose hunted their kind of over thirty years (and he has always won).  Now, however, he's relegated to the status of a late night horror movie show host akin to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (though with far less spectacular cleavage, certainly) and even that is failing him by the point of his proper introduction into the film.  Obviously, as any sane man would, Vincent doesn't believe Charlie's claims about his next door neighbor being a vampire until he fails to see Dandridge's reflection in a hand mirror.

Before that point, he's nostalgic for his past career and severely egotistical even when he's fired from Fright Night and his career has seemingly hit rock bottom.  While he is, at first, afraid and flees upon the revelation that Dandridge is a vampire, he is later convinced by Charlie to truly wage a war against the vampire.  In this endeavor, we do see shades of a truly heroic individual ready to fight against evil, a character that he played all too many times in the films of the past and it is only through their efforts that the day is saved.

Amy is really kind of an annoying character.  She's the girlfriend of Charlie, but has essentially no character beyond that.  She exists to send him mixed signals in the beginning about their relationship, be concerned for Charlie when he seemingly goes coconut and banana sandwich crazy, be frightened, and then get kidnapped in order for the final fight to happen.  I would liken her to Mina Harker, particularly due to a scene of Charlie finding a painting belonging to Dandridge that looks just like her, though besides some vague references by Dandridge nothing ever really comes of it.

...and, also, for all the trouble that Charlie goes through to save her...she's not in the sequel.

Rounding out the main cast is "Evil Ed", who is pretty much the local burnout.  Sort of friend to Charlie and Amy, he is clearly an outsider and considered the "weird" kid. But we see that his snarky, sometimes coming off as creepy persona is more of a front.  His outsider status has seen him picked on a beaten up, something that Dandridge is able to use to his advantage to create a willing servant, much like Renfield before him. Geoffreys plays him as hilariously over-the-top and it is just great, beyond hilarious and definitely a good bit of comic relief, though we do get that one scene with Sarandon later on that's actually done rather well and gives shades of more to the character...which we sadly never really get to see.

And, of course, spawning one of the greatest catch phrases of all time which also serves as the closing line of the film and a revelation which is, sadly, not followed up on in the sequel.

Also of note, though more confusingly so, is Jonathan Stark as Billy Cole.  Cole is, seemingly, a regular human that lives with Dandridge and assists in his endeavors of vampirism.  We're never given a clear picture of their relationship, whether Cole is a thrall or some kind of other creature. Dandridge apparently has the ability to resurrect him as a zombie of some kind, that is later killed by Charlie with a stake through the heart. Again, no real understanding, but we also don't really need it.

Though Cole's zombified scene, as well as a few other scenes should take special note, as everything looks to have been done by practical effects and makeup. Of course, this was back in the era before computers took over a great deal of this, but it really speaks to the efforts of the production team that they made a film in 1985 that looks better and far more realistic than many movies do now.  Though with the pedigree of special effects artist Dale Brady (whose resume, according to IMDb, includes such films as John Carpenter's The Thing), one can hardly be surprised.  Everything from the vampire prosthetics to the decomposition of Cole to even the effects with the bats looks frighteningly (no pun intended) realistic.  Every much deftly crafting the illusion that film presents.

Unlike a lot of very underrated cult hits of the 1980s, Fright Night was one that got its due.  Second highest grossing horror film of 1985, it even spawned a sequel and eventually a remake in 2011.  While the sequel is somewhat enjoyable and, I think, even the remake is to a degree, neither of them really even come close to this film.  A combination of some good acting (if some cheesy parts, but one would expect that) and good effects make up this love letter to the monster films of yesteryear.  If you haven't seen this, you definitely should.

Fright Night is now available from Columbia Pictures. It is available on DVD, and on Netflix Instant Steaming.

For the latest from the MaCapMunchkin, follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

October's Reel Thoughts will return in one week with...

"House on Haunted Hill"