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Cryptozoology

8 Teenagers, 1 Ski Lodge – Until Dawn

*Please note now that Until Dawn is a story-driven game and I am about to spoil the hell out of it*

I have been meaning to cancel my PS+ subscription for several months now. Originally, I only signed up for it so that I could play Day of the Tentacle Remastered for free and get a deep, deep discount on TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan. Day after day in June, I kept telling myself to turn off the auto-renewal. And then July 1st came around and I got the email saying that Sony had charged my credit card for another month. Rats!

But this worked out nicely for me in the end, because one of July’s free PS+ games is Until Dawn. I had no idea what it was before seeing it in the PS+ menu, but the description sold it as a horror adventure game (which is 100% in my wheelhouse), so I decided that I might as well take advantage, as my $11 was already spent.

When I began playing the game, it immediately became clear what was going on: a bunch of sexy teens are for some reason caught in a secluded ski lodge and would be killed off one-by-one. Well, that’s maybe generalizing a little too hard. The game has plenty of surprises tucked away in its sleeve. Its gameplay, for instance. You wander around, waving your flashlight at things, occasionally stopping to look at a point of interest or pick up clues. Then spooky things happen, and you slowly unravel the greater mystery. Also you occasionally stop for brief interludes in which you are talked down to by an arrogant psychiatrist and asked to complete simple tasks that will vaguely influence things you see in the game. Sound familiar?

Continue reading 8 Teenagers, 1 Ski Lodge – Until Dawn

Forgotten Film Round-up #1

I’ve decided that my current “thing” is going to be browsing through my movie collection and watching any that I haven’t watched before. You may scoff at the idea that I might buy a product and then never use it, but I’m both very materialistic and busy. Well, “busy.” The idea here is that I’m going to write a thing after every so many movies and then fire off a couple paragraphs about each.

Anyway, I’m sure this won’t last for long. We all know that I have a habit of abandoning projects really quickly. But at least I’ll get one or two articles out of it.

This batch comes from a Midnight Horror collection, the likes of which you will find in the $5 garbage DVD bin at Wal-Mart. It contains a whopping eight films, and as you may have already guessed, they’re pretty much trash as far as cinema goes. Let’s take a closer look at a handful of them, shall we?

#1 – Decadent Evil

Firstly, let’s assume that I didn’t choose this one to start with because it’s pretty close to Resident Evil. (It’s also known as Decadent Evil Dead in the UK, which is just.. ugh.) Also, assume that I wasn’t growling “Decadent Eee-vil” and then giggling to myself constantly between the time when I chose to watch the movie and when I actually sat down to watch it.

Decadent Evil is 67 minutes long. That includes the intro and ending credits. I’d wager that the actual film portion is roughly 50 minutes. This is good for me, as my attention span dwindles by the day.

This film is about vampires. Specifically, a trio of lady vampires that live in a gaudy LA mansion and work as strippers. They also have a little pet lizard-man, Marvin, which they refer to as a homunculus and keep in a birdcage. The head vampire is nearing the milestone of having sucked the blood of 10,000 humans, which will apparently make her an invincible Vampire Queen. Sure, why not? At least she doesn’t get magical sparkle powers.

But then a vampire hunter shows up and, with the “help” of the youngest vampire and her boyfriend, locates and defeats the boss vampire. He dies during the process, but ends up turning her into a homunculus. The final scene is of Marvin porking her in the cage while she makes a noise that sounds an awful lot like “Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow  Ow.”

While not egregiously terrible, Decadent Evil is not a good movie. Even the nudity is shoddy.

#2 – Meridian

This seemed to be the most boob-filled flick of the bunch, based on the description on the back of the case, so it got second billing. In that regard, I was not disappointed. There was ample boobage on display indeed.

Please note that this film has the subtitle “Kiss of the Beast” on occasion. This was not one of those occasions.

The movie’s protagonist is Catherine, who moves into a castle in Italy because reasons. Her friend comes to visit and invites a bunch of carnies over and then the carnies drug and rape the both of ’em. Whoops. Also the one that has his way with Catherine is a were-sasquatch. Double whoops!

I don’t know how it turns out because I fell asleep shortly after that point. I do know that there was a ghost of a dead girl, the were-sasquatch was cursed and also knew about a secret passage in the castle that led to Hell apparently, and… Yeah, that’s all I got from the few moments that I drifted back into consciousness.

Meridian, at least what I saw of it, is a much better movie than Decadent Evil. I guess it must have had some people who knew anything about making movies on staff. Sherilyn Fenn is the main character, and she’s a… known actress. It’s still not one I would recommend, because the plot was super dumb, but I could see someone defending it as a decent movie.

Confession: I did go back and watch the rest… It turns out that were-sasquatch was also a ghost. With an evil twin. And the trick to breaking were-sasquatch’s sasquatch-ghost curse was to have him murder said evil twin. If it weren’t so slow and romantic, this could have really been an awesomely stupid movie. As it is, it’s just stupid.

#3 – Backwoods Bloodbath – Curse of the Black Hodag

Where the heck do I even start with this one? Let’s start with the fact that this film is amateur-hour in every way. The story follows the same plot beats as every other slasher, the actors are mediocre at best, and the camerawork is all over the place. I suppose the gore is okay.

One might assume that the director had a glut of red corn syrup, and said to his friends “Welp, I guess we’d better make a slasher movie.”

As the story so often goes, a group of teens goes into the woods for a weekend getaway. Despite a token warning from a local hillbilly, they press on and are subsequently picked off one-by-one by a forest monster. The twist is that in addition to the monster, one of the teens is also a psychopathic killer. So I guess that’s unique. It’s normally only one of the two.

The monster is a big let down. Called a Hodag, the “beast” is really just a dude dressed all in black with predator dreadlocks. It’s given a little backstory about how it has evolved over the years into the shape of its prey (which is people), but that’s still just a lame handwaving for not being able to come up with some decent creature effects. It’s especially disappointing when you find out what a Hodag is actually supposed to look like.

At least the Hodag’s story is kind of neat. The locals are used to a couple people going missing every year, as the Hodag will kill a few folks and store their bodies away for the winter (like the nagging grasshopper). But it just so happens that now, it’s killing at an alarming frequency because it’s got a baby on the way. It’s eating for two now! How sweet! Better than just killing because it’s a mindless monster, at any rate.

Just so that we can tie this one into the common thread of “how’s the nudity?”, I feel obligated to mention that during one of the sex scenes, there is a still, close-up shot of a single breast for about five seconds. The editing in this film is baffling. Also the Hodag keeps one of the girls tied up and alive in his lair, but by the time she is found, it has chopped off her breasts. That’s… not a thing I’ve ever seen before. Backwoods Bloodbath goes to some really strange places.

I can’t in good faith recommend this to anyone. It’s not even amusingly terrible. It’s just terrible. The one saving grace for me is that I was playing Chibi-Robo! Zip-Lash throughout, so it didn’t really feel like I’d wasted those 90 minutes.

#4 – Zombie Dearest

The last one on today’s lineup, as absolutely the best. By a long shot. A really, really long shot.

I have no idea why this was billed as a horror film, or why anybody suggests that it is scary in the least. Because it is not. The last three minutes of the film might be construed as somewhat frightening, but even then, that’s being pretty generous.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I’ve become so desensitized to zombies that I cannot fathom how anyone could see them as something frightening.

Anyway, this movie is totally a comedy. Like, it’s not hilarious or anything, but it made me laugh out loud a few times. And, of course, I was laughing with this movie. If I chuckled while watching the other three, I definitely would have been laughing at them.

Zombie Dearest tells the story of a couple, Gus and Deborah, who are going through some severe marital difficulties. They end up moving out to an old family home in the country, and Gus digs up a dead body while trying to replace his septic tank. By some manner of Zombie Wang Magic (yes, it’s a thing), the body comes to life and starts following Gus’s orders.

The zombie, Quinto, puts even more strain on Gus and Deborah’s relationship at first, but eventually they patch things up and grow closer than ever when they decide that they need to re-kill Quinto.

Things do take a turn for the worse near the end, but unlike every other zombie comedy ever, it doesn’t dip into bleak, depressing territory in the third act and forget that it’s supposed to be funny. No, it hangs onto its somewhat humorous tone until it absolutely must push the plot to its climax. But it quickly invokes Zombie Wang Magic a second time to undo the damage and give the characters their (presumably) happy ending.

I am fully willing to put myself out there and suggest that Zombie Dearest is actually a good movie. It’s not a life-altering film, but I was entertained and impressed but it. It may be due to the fact that I was expecting another 90 minutes of garbage, but there’s also a chance that it really is decent. Even if you’re fully burned-out on zombies, I’d heartily recommend watching it. (Fair warning: it’s got only a 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.)

Starting small

I mentioned at some point before my world got blasted to heck that I wanted to read more. Indeed, I have not been doing so. Mostly for lack of motivation, but also because my Kobo’s screen has been cracking apart more and more even though I’ve barely touched the damn thing in months. It’s very distracting.

Anyway, I bought a new Story Bundle and figured that I ought to at least start paging through a few books from previous bundles that I’ve purchased and subsequently ignored. My first choice was The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals.

kosherguide

While they are not strictly “imaginary” I’ve always been fascinated by cryptids. I own more than a couple paperback bestiaries of unseen animals, and of course I was interested in checking out another. I didn’t really expect that the title was exactly what the book is about: whether certain fantastical species would be okay for Jewish peoples to eat or not.

Yeah. See, I don’t really have “taste” in literature.

Anyway, it was a fairly good read. Very short, and not nearly comprehensive enough, but entertaining. Each beast is given a short (and often goofy) description and then there’s a little banter between the authors on why it’s kosher or not. It’s not hilarious by any stretch, but I chuckled a few times. It’s certainly not meant to be informative, either. There are a couple of monsters I’ve never heard of included in here, but the amount of background for any of them is very slim.

Of course, the point of the book is not to give you a detailed bio and history of each cryptid, but simply to let you know if you can be Jewish and eat them. Even on that note, it’s not entirely fulfilling, as more than a few verdicts are left with a question mark.

Anyhow, it’s not a bad book, and it’s not like it’ll even take you long to get through it if you’re not enjoying it. Pop over to the website and consider picking up a copy. I liked it, but I can’t guarantee that anyone who is not me would.

Oh hey, and it’s given me a blog post to file under “cryptozoology.” So that’s cool.

Don’t Watch Hemlock Grove

Throughout April, The Wife and I watched a show called The Killing on Netflix. It is an excellent crime drama with a fun twist: the entire two-season run focuses on a single case. My initial thought was that stretching one investigation over 20-something episodes would make the show too slow and repetitive, but I was so wrong. There were no filler episodes; each one offered something pertinent to either the case or character development. It wasn’t perfect but god damn if that thing did not have me absolutely hooked by the end. And the ending! Oh, that ending. Powerful, powerful stuff.

So after that, I was thirsting for something similar. I have never been big on the television crime drama, but The Killing left a very good taste in my mouth. So when Netflix started advertising for their upcoming exclusive series called Hemlock Grove, my interest was piqued. Here, take a look at the description pilfered directly from Netflix:

When the mangled corpse of a local teenager is discovered, rumor and suspicion spread like a plague through Hemlock Grove. As dark secrets bubble to the surface, everyone becomes a suspect in the hunt for a monster that may be hiding in plain sight.

Hey! That sounds exactly like what I’m looking for! Seriously, if you replace ‘Hemlock Grove’ with ‘Seatlle’ that could (very) loosely describe The Killing as well. If only I could go back to a couple weeks ago and tell my past self that no, oh sweet crepes no, it is not what you’re looking for.

 

The Netflix poster/cover thing for Hemlock Grove is a hand protruding from the mouth of a wolf. I figured that it was more symbolic than anything, especially since the O in Hemlock is stylized as a snake eating it’s own tail, as in the Ouroboros symbol. So, “okay,” I thought, “this seems fairly deep and rooted in some sort of mythology so I am so in.”

Yeah, it didn’t turn out that way. I won’t spoil too much, but Hemlock Grove is kinda like what would happen if Twilight took off the kid gloves. So it’s an awful, stupid, confusing mess, but at least it’s an awful, stupid, confusing mess that shows boobs pretty often.

Basically what goes down is that this chick gets killed -disemboweled “snatch-first”- and two teenage loners decide that they want to investigate the murder. One (Roman) is a rich pretty boy who’s got a blood fetish and can do the Jedi mind trick. The other (Peter) is a Gypsy that just moved into town and people just assume that he’s a werewolf for no real reason. Apparently there is some sort of vague enmity between their families (this is only barely touched upon in the final episode) but they bond pretty quickly. Which becomes somewhat problematic for the viewer.

The chemistry between these two is one of the more aggravating parts of the show. Roman has his way with all the ladies and Peter develops a pretty serious relationship with a girl throughout the series, but they are so impossibly gay for each other it hurts. I don’t know if maybe it was written that way on purpose or the actors just don’t understand body language, but they are constantly giving each other the look and spouting off gay innuendo but nothing ever comes of it. There is so much more unresolved crap in this show, but the sexual tension between these two is thick enough to bludgeon someone to death and if the two of them had just admitted their true feelings and gotten their queer on, I’d have been satisfied enough to not demand my thirteen hours back.

The very, very worst part is that the best, most sympathetic character, Roman’s sister Shelley, ends up just being a deus ex machina. It is infuriating and whyyyyyy do we not spend more time getting to know Shelley? All she is over the course of the series is the sheltered girl who’s pretty much Frankenstein’s monster less the neck bolts and sometimes she glows blue for no well-defined reason. I don’t really know about that last one, I fell asleep during the episode where I’m guessing that maybe they explained her backstory. But rather than have her slow growth towards independence mean anything, it just turns her into a big ol’ plot device out of nowhere. It is infuriating.

As for the other unresolved crap.. well, I guess the show answers the main questions, those being “who is eating all these vaginas?” and “why is someone eating all these vaginas?” but not a single one of the character arcs comes to a satisfying conclusion. Every member of Peter’s family has some sort of supernatural quirk about them, but not a one of them gets any real explanation. His mom sort of gets some backstory at the end, but even that isn’t enough to explain really anything at all outside of why she’s so damn frigid. It really confuses more than it enlightens. I guess the best way to explain it is that the show tries to frantically wrap up a handful of loose ends in the last episode rather than let the resolutions work themselves out naturally over the course of the series. It would make a much better payoff to have some sort of revelation during or at the end of each episode, rather than just adding a bunch more questions onto the pile. You know, like LOST. LOST was pretty great.

Side note: There is also a cubic buttload of fantasy terminology that is used but never even given context, nevermind outright explained. So if the words Upir and Vargulf and Ouroboros don’t mean anything to you (and they probably don’t unless you’re some kinda goth douche), you might want to keep your smartphone next to you while watching. You know, so you can Google some of the wacky fantasy garbage. Actually, Ouroboros is friggin everywhere in the show, but isn’t really all that meaningful in the context of the show. It sort of represents one character’s major development (at the very end), and is also the name for a big science project that we never learn a damn thing about. HEMLOCK GROOOOVE!! *fist shaking*

I suppose the “silver lining” here is that Hemlock Grove is based on a book, which is the first in a trilogy. So maybe some day its insanity will all work itself out, but really, that’s not the point. The point is that this first season of the Hemlock Grove TV show is deeply disappointing outside of some pretty gnarly gore effects. I guess two or three of the characters could have been pretty likeable too if they had gotten anything resembling real character development but oh well. Mostly every character who isn’t Roman or Peter or Shelley is a straight-up douchebag or a babbling idiot (sometimes both!), so why should I even care?

 

TLDR: Don’t waste your time on Hemlock Grove. Read a plot synopsis or something if you’ve got a burning desire to know what it’s about. Hopefully the writer will add some supplemental information, because that’s the only way any of this garbage is going to make sense.

The power of Mabel

So I’ve been watching this new Disney cartoon lately. It’s called Gravity Falls and it is the best kid show on TV. That’s a pretty bold proclamation, but I’m willing to stand behind it. And that’s competing with such wonderful things as Adventure Time and… well, pretty much just Adventure Time. Does Regular Show qualify as “for kids”?

Yes, that’s the image I’m going to use to try to sell this. Do you have a problem with it? I don’t. Pants are terrible and should be abolished.

Anyway, Gravity Falls. The show is about a pair of twins, Dipper and Mabel, who are sent off to the eponymous town of Gravity Falls to spend the summer with their great uncle Stan. I should note here that he is referred to as “Grunkle Stan” and that “grunkle” is quite possibly the best word ever. Take that, pickle. In Gravity Falls, weird stuff abounds, and most episodes so far have had a sort of creature-of-the-week vibe to them, but it’s pretty clear that there’s more going on here, and that should it make it to a second season, things aare going to get a lot deeper. Kinda like Fringe. No, exactly like Fringe. Which is good, because that’s a really awesome show too.

One of the things that I really love about Gravity Falls is the level of detail in the show. There are coded messages in the end credits, crazy single frame inserts, creepy recurring men in the backgrounds, and loads of tiny continuity things. For example: in one of the first few episodes, Dipper is chased onto the roof of Grunkle Stan’s Mystery Shack, and ends up knocking the big S over. In every subsequent episode, whenever there’s a shot of the Mystery Shack, the S remains slumped over. Also, apparently some characters have four fingers and others have five? You may think it’s an animation flub, but Dipper finds a mysterious tome in the first episode, and on the front cover is an image of a hand with six fingers. Mysterious!

Part of what drew me to the show in the first place is the silky-smooth hand-drawn animation. Check it out!

You just don’t get that level of beauty with butt-ugly Flash animations. I honestly can’t wait to buy the inevitable overpriced blu-ray set so that I can enjoy it in full HD goodness.

And since we’re sort of on the topic, my other favourite part of the show is Mabel. She is adorable, wears a different sweater every episode, and is Goddamn hilarious. Every time she opens her mouth, I invariably end up laughing out loud. I don’t know the last show that made me laugh so much, never mind a single character. The rest of the cast is great too, but Mabel makes Gravity Falls. If I ever have a daughter, I hope that she ends up with a little Mabel in her, because that girl is charming like nobody’s business. Even Abed from Community cannot hold a candle to her sheer lovableness. She does a Legend of Zelda “item get” spin at the end of the first episode, for crying out loud!

If you want to know more about Gravity Falls, go torrent you some episodes. It is so so so worth it. But don’t take my word for it, here’s a link to the Talking Time thread for it, where I done stole that movin’ picture from. Read up while you’re waiting for your torrents to finish.

One shot is all I’ve got

Like the rest of the internet, I really have to vent about how angry I am at the way Activision is handling the downloadable content for Guitar Hero 2. It’s just ridiculous. Chris Kohler complained mostly about the fact that the songs come in packs of three, and while it’s not the biggest issue for me, I do agree. Each song should be independently available, rather than packed in with two more you probably don’t want. And then Tycho really hit the money (pun intended) on how the things are way too expensive. I could see charging a dollar’s worth of Microsoft Points for one, but they average out to about $2.13, and at that point if you want them all, you’re paying way more than a game disc would cost you. Guitar Hero had 47 songs, so if they were all available in the Marketplace, it would average 7500 points, equating to around $98. RIDICULOUS. I’m not buying shit for that price. At least, not tracks from the first game. If they release some decent new content, I may briefly consider it.

On the other hand, Super Paper Mario is fantastic in every way. I figured it would mostly be a platformer, but it really is just a regular ol’ Paper Mario with some gimmickry and no separate battles. The whole 2D-to-3D business will really, really screw with your head. The first lesson you’ll learn when you start it up is that perception is not always truth. All you think you know about platformers, about Super Mario, even about video games in general, all that and more will be challenged. And if the gameplay alone wasn’t awesome enough, the game is probably funnier than the two previous Paper Mario games combined. Chapter 3-4 is hysterical, as it’s a huge jab at the internet and geek/otaku culture, best of all being that the first half of the Chapter 3 boss is a Japanese dating sim pardoy. It’s almost too much. I nearly hurt myself laughing as soon as I realized what was happening. Oh yes, and Luigi is a major-ish part of the plot, and a playable character! Super Paper Mario is without a doubt the best game currently on the Wii anything, and Nintendo has a long road ahead of them if they expect to top this. Ever. I AM ERROR!

Speaking of screwing with your head, if you plan on playing Super Paper Mario and feel like your brain needs a little warm-up for thinking outside the box, try out this little doozy. Basically what it is is a really impossible brain teaser. You’ve gotta put blocks in a grid to match shapes/patterns at different angles, but you’re only allowed to use so many. At first it seems like something that’s simple enough, but when you get down to it, it actually requires a lot of thinking. I spent like half an hour on the first puzzle and still couldn’t get it. I managed to figure out number 2, but that’s about it. Oh, I guess number 10 is really easy. I got it right away.

Lastly, I stumbled upon what might be the death fo my free time as I know it. Normally, I’m pretty addicted to Wikipedia. It’s like informational crack, and I’m known to spend entire nights just reading articles about characters, games, places, you name it. But now… I found this page. It combines my addiction to Wikipedia with my infatuation with cryptozoology to create some kind of horrible Ryan-destroying force of death and words and chupacabras. Also, after some light reading of a couple of the articles contained within the master list I linked, I’ve discovered that I need to head down to Churubusco, Indiana one of these Julys so that I can take in what must undoubtedly be the most wonderful festival ever: Turtle Days. From now on, that will be my life’s ambition.