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FEARNET.com News and Reviews

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    simon killerOn the level of a simple plot synopsis, the odd new psychological thriller Simon Killer probably sounds like a lot of movies you've seen before: an aimless young man wanders through Paris without much in the way of purpose or direction -- but slowly becomes embroiled in a low-key noir-style story about blackmail, prostitution, betrayal, and (of course) a murder or two. Fortunately (or not, depending on your perspective) Antonio Campos' laconic but icily compelling new movie is more of a suspenseful character study with aspirations of legitimate artistry than it is yet another simplistic and low-budget horror tale about a man who mistreats women.
     
    Much of the credit for how well the film works -- despite a slow and methodical pace that some might find off-putting -- lies in the performance of lead actor / co-writer Brady Corbet. Right from the opening scenes (hell, straight from the title) we know that our main character Simon is both a protagonist and the antagonist, but Campos and his three editors are in no big hurry to divulge any secrets. We know that Simon is coming out of a long-term relationship, that he is a lonely young American in Paris, and that despite his charming exterior, he definitely has some cracks tucked beneath the surface.
     
    Beyond that, it's up to a patient viewer to settle in and see if Simon's journey through Paris (he befriends a tough prostitute as well as a beautiful college student; Simon has his problems but they're not in meeting ladies) is worthy of Campos' languid and rather meandering presentation. Given that I found myself invested in Simon's ambiguous plight from the opening scenes, the film's frequent diversions into circuitous conversations and Paris night clubs were sort of fascinating.
     
    Mr. Corbet is the key to the film's success, for the most part, but both of the leading ladies (Constance Rousseau and Lisa Salet) provide excellent work as well. Each woman represents a distinctly unique path for Simon to explore, and both actresses provide a fascinating counterpoint to Simon's inscrutable main character.
     

    For all its slow-burn weirdness and (sure) art-school floridity, an attentive viewer will accept Simon Killer as a simple but strange character piece about a young man with some serious problems relating to women. The film has a foundation of natural suspense, is bolstered by several excellent performances, and (bonus!) features some rather excellent music throughout. If you don't mind your indie thrillers a bit odd, intelligent, and slyly mysterious, odds are you'll find something interesting in this one.


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    Fantasm3
     
    Filmmaker Kyle Kuchta has recently posted a trailer for Fantasm, his documentary feature on horror fans and conventions. Filmed at six different cons, the film is an in-depth exploration of fans like us, why we love horror, and the ways we gather together to share our passion.
     
    “I felt myself growing closer and closer to the genre that we all love so much," says Kuchta of the project. "It means a lot to be able to share that love with people, and that's what Fantasm is all about."
     
    Fantasm_2
     
    Several noteworthy names participated in the film: Heather Langenkamp and Amanda Wyss of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Tom Atkins (pictured above) of Escape from New York and Night of the Creeps, director Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2) and Troma's Lloyd Kaufman (The Toxic Avenger) are among the interviews featured.
     
    Fantasm is currently in post-production and will make the festival rounds this fall, with an official premiere to be announced. An abridged version of the film will also be screened for free at Syracuse University's Shemin Auditorium as part of the school's Class of 2013 Film Showcase on May 4th.
     
    Fantasm1
    You can track Fantasm updates on the film's official Facebook page and Twitter feed... and here's the new trailer!
     

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    Much like Halo on the original Xbox, Gears of War was the defining trilogy on the Xbox 360.  Hyper-violent action, cover-based mechanics, a heaping helping of testosterone, and a gruesome glaze of horror all helped make Gears one of the most compelling reasons to own an Xbox 360, and its ever-expanding multiplayer options, which grew exponentially with each entry in the series, gave the series some impressive staying power.  Gears of War 3 loosely tied up the three-part epic of manliness that pitted the humans of the planet Sera against the subterranean Locusts, with the Locusts in retreat and the remaining members of Marcus Fenix’ ragtag squad left to try and rebuild the decimated planet.  It’s not the sort of ending that really lends itself to a continuation, so Epic handed the fourth entry in the series over to People Can Fly, whose history of balls-to-the-wall action (Painkiller and Bulletstorm) made them an ideal fit for a new Gears game, which takes place before the original Gears of War.

    A prequel?  Yeah, it seems like a cheap way to expand on the mythology of a game after you’ve painted yourself into a corner narratively (ironically, the similarly titled God of War just did the same thing), but Epic’s initial decision to set the first game well after the cataclysmic event of Emergence Day (when all of the Locusts started pouring out of the ground to raze the surface of Sera) gave a lot of timeline for People Can Fly to explore.  Smarter still, they switched the focus from series mainstays Marcus and Dom to fan-favorite sidekicks Damon Baird and Augustus “Cole Train” Cole, who find themselves being court martialed for treason in the wake of Emergence Day.  This leads to a smart narrative setup, as each member of Baird’s Kilo Squad gets cross-examined by the military tribunal.  It’s an easy way to get each of the game’s characters their time in the spotlight, even if they all play in virtually the same fashion as every Gears game since its inception.

    Judgment does find a way to inject new life into the single player campaign through use of Declassified Missions, which basically double the gameplay by adding certain additional rules to the game.  Accepting a Declassified Mission, which is as simple as activating a pulsing Crimson  Omen on the wall, adds “additional details” to a character’s testimony, such as a firefight in complete darkness, or being forced to complete a mission only using a specific weapon.  These additional challenges may not add massive differences to the narrative push of the game, but they certainly change the overall flow of the mission quite a bit.  The missions that cloak the battlefield in a choking cloud of dust or a smothering darkness can be incredibly harrowing, and bring a level of nervous horror to the game.

    These Declassified Missions also help you fill up faster on Stars, the main currency in the game’s RPG-style leveling system which net you rewards (primarily different skins for weapons and armor) based on just how much of a badass you are.  Filling up these Stars can be slow going, but accepting Declassified Missions, as well as performing other actions like gibbing your enemies or performing executions, helps build you up quickly. 

    There are also a host of multiplayer options including a class-based mode called OverRun and a classic every-man-for-himself deathmatch option called Free-for-All.  As usual for Gears, these are handled seamlessly, merging together the single and multiplayer experiences in the overall game.

    While some of the dramatic “oomph” may get sucked out of the game due to its prequel timing (you know who’s gonna make it out alive of this one), Gears of War: Judgment throws enough new twists into the franchise to keep it feeling fresh and exciting.  It’s a hell of a sendoff to the series that helped define this console generation from the cradle to the grave.


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    Disconnected
     
    Today's feature is not your typical slasher flick... in fact, it's not typical of anything, except maybe the decade in which it was made (it was completed in 1983), and it proudly defies any simple or logical explanation for what it is, or even why it exists. 
     
    The first feature film from director Gorman Bechard (best known to horror fans for the crazed slasher satire Psychos in Love), Disconnected is better described for what it isn't than what it is: while it does depict a series of bloody murders, it isn't really a by-the-numbers slasher; while it has oddball pretensions of artiness, it's not an experimental/art-house film; and it's hardly ever been seen by the public, outside of a very limited VHS run. I was exposed to Disconnected just last weekend, via a very rare 16mm print at a “Secret Sixteen” screening at the Jumpcut Cafe in Los Angeles... and it's taken me a couple of days just to process what I saw.
     
    Disc_5
     
    Directed, edited, produced, shot and co-written by Bechard for $40,000 while he was still taking film classes at the New School for Social Research in New York City, Disconnected has “student film” written all over it (this explains the clumsy avant-garde angle), but in that context it's actually pretty ambitious. The plot, if you can call it that, centers on a pretty young video store clerk (Frances Raines) with serious life complications: her vampish twin (also Raines) stole her poodle-haired boyfriend (Carl Koch), and she's plagued day and night by a demonic, roaring voice on the phone. Oh yeah, did I mention her new beau (Mark Walker) is a serial killer?
     
    That's not really a spoiler; the murder plot is literally abandoned around the one-hour mark. We don't even see the cops apprehend him, despite numerous scenes of two detectives (including Psychos in Love star Carmine Capobianco) wandering around town searching for the culprit while eating sandwiches (“It's a pity those four dead girls won't be able to eat any more grinders,” one sagely comments). But the crazy phone calls continue, causing our heroine's sanity to unravel... well, I think that's what happens. The final act feels like a half-hearted spin on Roman Polanski's Repulsion, but then collapses into an incomprehensible mess... and wraps up with an out-of-left-field ending that screams of desperation to just wrap the whole thing up. Disconnected is jumbled, incoherent, and just plain bonkers... but oddly enough, it's never boring. Last weekend's screening was met with roars of laughter at nearly every scene, as the WTF moments continued to pile up. If you can track down that elusive VHS copy, be sure to watch the film with plenty of beer and a roomful of like-minded friends.
     
    Disc_2
    Bechard has since gone on to a prolific writing and directing career, particularly in the past decade. Color Me Obsessed, his critically-acclaimed documentary about iconic band The Replacements, was a festival hit in 2011 and is widely considered one of the best music features of that year; he's currently crowd-sourcing funds for A Dog Named Gucci, a documentary focused on exposing and ending animal abuse (a goal I strongly share with the director). While he's not a fan of his own filmmaking debut, he's not afraid to reflect on the project at his official site. “Disconnected is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination,” he admits, calling it “a good learning experience... and really, in the long run, isn’t that what matters most?” 
     
    For info on future "Secret Sixteen" screenings, drop by their Facebook page and be sure to check out the Jumpcut Cafe for news on other film events.

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    Shane_1Ask any desk jockey or cubicle dweller you know, and they’re likely to tell you that their workplace is, if not Hell incarnate, then a pretty good preview of it. In Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell, the new show airing on Adult Swim (Thursdays at midnight EST), the workplace is literally Hell itself. The show centers around Gary (Henry Zebrowski), a low-level demon trying to work his way up the worst corporate ladder imaginable.
     
    The show is a hybrid of comedy and horror (think The Office meets Dante’s Inferno by way of Sam Raimi), which is always a difficult proposition to pull off successfully. An integral part of the show’s efforts is set designer/makeup effects guru Shane Morton, an Atlanta-based artist who’s a big part of the Southern city’s thriving horror scene. In addition to his work with Adult Swim, Morton stays busy with projects like the Silver Scream Spookshow and the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse. He worked with Rob Zombie on Halloween II and is shopping around his own bikers-versus-Bigfoot flick, Dear God No! Despite juggling so many projects, Morton took a few moments to give FEARnet.com an idea of what it’s like working in Hell.
     
    FEARnet: Tell us a little bit about yourself and tell us how you got involved in makeup effects work.
     
    SHANE MORTON: I’ve been a monster fanatic since I first saw King Kong when I was three years old. I’ve since spent my life obsessing over monster movies and haunted houses. I’ve worked in the haunted house industry for a couple of decades now, and I created the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, which is one of the world’s largest haunted attractions. It’s the kind of theater where people actually have heart attacks in there, literally mess their pants every night going through it.
     
    That’s a great selling point for that kind of business.
     
    Yeah. It’s a real different kind of thing. We don’t even call it a haunted house in any of our advertisements because we wanted to break away from any of the stuff you’ve seen before in haunted houses. It’s been really good for us.
     
    I’ve been working in movies for decades also, as a special effects artist and set designer. I’ve actually produced my own film called Dear God No! which has done really great. It’s out overseas. It came out in America last year. It’s shot in Super 16. It’s a bikers versus Bigfoot thing that myself and some of my best friends worked on. 
     
    How did you get involved with Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell?
     
    They called me initially about doing the makeups because I’m known for being really fast. I showed them I could do a waist-up makeup in under an hour, and they loved that. I came to the meetings and realized they didn’t have a designer for Hell yet, so I said, “Give me a couple of days, I’d really like to design Hell for you guys.” I went home, locked the door and did about 50 drawings, a couple of paintings, shot some miniature footage, and came back in a couple of days with all of this stuff. They were like, “Okay, you’ve got the job.”
     
    I had to be the guy that does the first Satanic sitcom. So I really worked hard on it. I took it to heart, because the material really hits all my sweet spots.
     
    In doing a show like this where you’re trying to strike that balance between comedy and horror, so much rides on the makeup and the set design.  Was it difficult to find that balance, or did you have it right away?
     
    I knew at the first meeting what it could be, and what I would want to do if given the opportunity. I’m in the haunted house business, and in that business you have to work fast. Being in that business taught me how to make stuff big and dramatic and quickly and cheaply.
     
    Whenever you turn on this show, there’s something weird going on. There’s never going to be talking heads, or people sitting at a table having a discussion over mashed potatoes. It’s like,  you’re flipping through channels and when this show is on, you’re going to stop and say, “What’s going on with this?” because it’s just so garish. 
     
    Everything in Hell has a twist, you know? Even the cell phones are like these little Cthulhu type creatures. The urinals are evil. I’ve had a lot of fun making this. Basically, it’s been “anything goes.” We’ve had a lot of fun with that sort of freedom.
     
    You see horror mixed with a variety of genres, like comedy and Westerns and science fiction. What is it about horror that makes it such a versatile genre? 
     
    We’re all going to die, we’re all going to feel pain, we’re all going to know people who die horribly or go through terrible things like cancer. There’s horror everywhere. It’s something you have to deal with. I really think horror films, and the horror tropes in general, exist because they actually exist, you know. Only you get to experience it in a different way to take the edge off. I think horror films provide a lot of relief, and I think that’s why horror and comedy work so well, because as you know, in horror you’ve got to have a pressure valve release and let them laugh at something, or they’re going to laugh at something they’re not supposed to laugh at. There has to be a time to let the pressure off and then, okay, now we can get back into the horror.
     
    As far as horror-comedy, that was something I was really worried about with Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell, because the scripts were just brutal. The show got a lot funnier as the cast got into their improv. I think this stuff is funny because I’m depraved, but I was like “How are we going to soften this?” That’s why I started pitching these makeup ideas that had kind of a silly edge to them.
     
    We shot Satan literally shitting in people’s mouths. It looked so bad and so rotten, but Henry (Zebrowski) was making it funny with what he was saying. If you can make being shit on by Satan funny, you can make just about anything funny.
     
    If they market this show right, it could be the next Monsters. Every shot has a monster in it. It’s really intense. The episodes were edited down to 15 minutes from the original half hour we shot, because they said it was not as funny. It became sad because you’re paying more attention to the torture, so they said they had to speed it up. They cut back on some of the stuff because you want to feel sorry for the guy, but you don’t want it to ruin your good time. 
     
    Is this something that’s built to be a one-and-done thing, or is it possible to come back if it takes off?
     
    I’m putting it out there: I say let this thing be five seasons and a feature film. Everybody on the show feels that way. The New York guys are saying, “Man, I hope we get to move down here and work on this thing constantly,” because everyone was having such a good time with it. So yeah, let’s keep our fingers crossed that this thing gets picked up for more, because I love going to Hell every day.
     
    Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.

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    The chair creaks as you settle onto it. The candlelight flickers. All around you the ravenous faces of your so-called friends twist in delight as you slowly open the box laid out on the table. Welcome to Dangerous Games! Each week, we'll feature a horror/thriller/monster tabletop game you should be playing. Don't be scared… roll the dice… what's the worst that could happen?
     
    VWF_1Vampire Werewolf Fairies
     
    Do you love mischievous monsters? If so, Vampire Werewolf Fairies may be the game for you. Players each play a series of cards that will transform them into Vampires, Werewolves, Fairies, and Witches (witches, for some reason, didn't make the title). The game cards feature illustrious, evocative artwork from board game and comic mainstays like John Kovalic (Dork Tower) and Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise). Here's another easy-to-learn, fast-paced game for adults and kids alike. Come on, admit it, you've always kind of wanted to be a Werewolf-Fairy-Witch.
     
    Game Mechanics
     
    Vampire Werewolf Fairies tasks players with the goal of accumulating and keeping control of various types of point cards. The game features three different types of cards: Type cards, Action cards, and Object cards. Type cards allow the player to become a type of creature (like a Werewolf or a Fairy). The title of the game refers to a player who would collect multiple Type cards. They would be a Vampire Werewolf Fairy. 
     
    Action cards interrupt and effect gameplay as it happens, sometimes boosting your board-state or wrecking your opponents' board. Object cards represent static items that will boost or detract from your point total. As an object example, the card Bucket of Water gives you +3 points if you are a Fairy and -3 points if you are a Witch.
     
    VWF_2The game plays out with each player becoming different types of creatures, gaining objects to boost their points, and playing action cards. The deck is split into thirds at the start of the game and the "End Game" card is shuffled into the bottom third of the deck. Once the "End Game" card is drawn, the game enters a lightening round where players have one last turn to complete their hands. The player with the most points is victorious! And everyone else can curse their poor fortune.
     
    Replay Value
     
    There's often times a trade-off in board games. If the game is easy to learn (which Vampire Werewolf Fairies is), then it often loses some of it's replay value. This is unfortunately the case with this game. It's a lot of fun, and a great spontaneous party game, but if you're playing with the same playgroup over and over again it could get a bit repetitive. So save this game for your guests, it's the perfect game to play during a marathon viewing of the entire Halloween franchise (slip it in right between 2 and Season of the Witch).
     
    Overall Impressions
     
    This game tries to sell itself on too many things it doesn't have to sell itself on. They obviously hired big name artists to illustrate a single card each and had the charming artwork of Neko Pilarcik fill out the rest of the game. I say who needs the big name artists! They should have spent the money on marketing this game. Because it's a quick and fun game that hasn't gotten enough attention. Check it out! You may just end up a blood sucking, moon howling, fairy dust sprinkling, cauldron stirrer!

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    the vampire loversIt's unlikely that any of the Hammer Horror experts out there would rank 1970's The Vampire Lovers among the vaunted studio's most refined or accomplished films. Indeed many would opine that the Hammer Horror output started to show some real problems as the early 1970s turned into the mid-1970s, and it seemed that the studio was content to produce garish but amusing horror larks that replaced creepiness and creativity with broad humor and, well, fairly explicit sexuality.
     
    But taken another way: Roy Ward Baker's The Vampire Lovers is not exactly classic Hammer, but is one of the early and better examples of the studio's newfound devotion to vampiric blood combined with good ol' plain-fashioned female nakedness. That's not to say that The Vampire Lovers is pure exploitation; historians of gay cinema, for example, should take note of the way in which the film incorporates overt lesbianism into the plot of a vampire flick. What some would dismiss as "jiggle flick" silliness others will take as a formative and influential step for gay cinema. 
     
    And even if you care nothing about the socio-sexual impact of British horror films from 1970, I can tell you this much: The Vampire Lovers has some gorgeous women in it -- and many of them get nude. So there. Everyone's happy.
     
    Firmly based on the short story "Carmilla," by Sheridan La Fanu, The Vampire Lovers is about little more than a gorgeous and bossy vampiress (Ingrid Pitt) who runs rampant around the nubile young women of an 18th century village. To its inestimable credit, The Vampire Lovers finds a way to involve both the "old" Hammer style (lots of vampires being staked, fake red blood, and Peter Cushing roaming around) with the newer style of having busty women bounce around and drop their corsets at the slightest provocation.
     
    Like I said, hardly a top-tier Hammer classic but one of the better examples of the studio's later-era output. And like the finest of the Hammer Horror movies, The Vampire Lovers has an outstanding score and some truly lovely art direction / cinematography combinations. It might not be memorable for being the most literate, intelligent, or terrifying Hammer Horror flick, but it's certainly memorable enough in its own right -- if you like lesbians, vampires, and boobs, that is.
     
    Hammer-philes will be elated to learn that this enjoyably sexy horror flick has been given the deluxe treatment from the folks at Scream (aka Shout) Factory, which means that not only does the pretty ol' movie look and sound terrific on blu-ray, but you'll also get a sweet package of supplements! There's a short but sweet documentary on the film's place in Hammer history that features some cool insights from some notable British movie geeks; a few 2003 excerpts of Ingrid Pitt reading from the "Carmilla" source material; a sweet new interview with the still-beautiful actress Madeline Smith; an older audio commentary with director Roy Ward Baker, lead actress Ingrid Pitt, and screenwriter Tibor Gates; trailers, TV spots, and an overall sweet package. 
     

    Although probably best described as a "for fans only" blu-ray package, there's no denying that this late-era Hammer Horror treat has been digitally preserved in very fine fashion. For those who know and love the old Hammer fare rather well, this disc is a must-own proposition. And I don't care if you're a Hammer newbie or the world's leading expert on lesbian vampires: you simply haven't lived until you've seen the young Madeline Smith on blu-ray. Her body, her face, all of her. Wow.


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    Memory_Garden
     
    While usually stamped with the “doom metal” label, the Swedish quintet Memory Garden doesn't always adhere strictly to the conventions of the genre as much as genre-defining bands like their fellow countrymen Candlemass. Not that the title of their sixth studio album will do much to change that distinction, but rest assured the music of Doomain itself isn't a pile of somber dirge cliches; these dudes weave tons of vintage power metal and and progressive metal elements into their sonic tapestry, with more emphasis on tight instrumentation, rich melodic vocals and epic-scale production than thick, somber slabs of lo-fi riffs. Not that it would have been a bad thing to go all dark and murky (I'm a huge fan of the whole dirge/funeral vibe), but Memory Garden's sound is distinctive, melodic and heavy with vintage metal energy – we're talking more Queensrÿche or Dream Theater than Witchfinder General or Pentagram – and that's their hook.
     
    Doomain
     
    The vast stage of Doomain is set by the suitably epic opening cut "The Evangelist," which showcases top-notch production by Dan Swanö (formerly of Katatonia and Edge of Sanity). The tone is pure without losing grit, and the sweep of the mix is massive, with multi-layered and often intricate guitar work by Simon Johansson and Andreas Mäkelä, with chunky chugs aplenty – a great sampling of that rhythmic muscularity can be heard in songs like "The King of the Dead," and the pristine lead work, while pretty no-bullshit for the most part, gets fairly daring on cuts like "Barren Lands." The '80s-style melodic approach of vocalist Stefan Berglund is put to excellent use on "Latent Lunacy," and even more so in the technically impressive "Daughters Of The Sea," which benefits from some sweet multi-tracked high-range harmonies.
     
     
    Ironically, the title track is one of the less doomy entries, although it has a distinctively ominous feel and rhythm, again coming across like '80s style progressive metal with a darker, more down-tempo groove. Despite the prog elements (which include some really lengthy track runtimes), Memory Garden still consider themselves a doom metal outfit – and as if determined to prove it, they bring plenty of deep and ominous riffage in tracks like "A Diabolical Mind." 
     
    While Doomain is hardly what I'd call a doom metal album, it's still a dark and ominous work within the expansive boundaries of progressive metal, and the band's musicianship carries me back to a time when ballsy heaviness, pristine melody and well-structured songwriting weren't all mutually exclusive components. Taste their steel in the new video for “The Evangelist” below!
     

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    2007’s Bioshock was a once-in-a-lifetime title, a game that revitalized the long-stagnant FPS genre with deeper mechanics and one of the most compelling and original stories ever coded.  Ayn Rand-inspired objectivism was folded deftly into an introspective narrative that explored identity, destiny, and free will.  It elevated the shooter genre and set the bar to a level that hasn’t been matched since.  The sequel was handed off to an internal development studio at 2K (2K Marin, to be exact) and…well, didn’t quite meet expectations.  It ran with a seemingly surefire concept (you were a Big Daddy) but it never reached the provocative narrative greatness of its predecessor.

    Now, Irrational Games has returned to the Bioshock franchise with Bioshock Infinite, a title that shares many of the thematic elements of its progenitor while setting off in a different direction…literally.  The waterlogged utopia of Rapture has been replaced with the airborne city of Columbia, and the choking, perpetual night of the ocean has also been swapped out for the hope of a sun-kissed day.  However, things are not as they seem.

    You play as Booker DeWitt, a war vet turned private detective sent to Columbia to retrieve a mysterious girl named Elizabeth by some rather persistent bookies.  “Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt” quickly becomes the mantra of Booker’s life as he ascends from a lighthouse to Columbia (shades of the original Bioshock), undergoes a literal baptism, and enters the city.  The beauty of the city stands in stark relief to Rapture, with the sun-drenched streets promising hope and idealism.  Dirigible-powered parades tell the oddly Christian tale of Comstock, the founder of the secessionist nation, and serve as a strangely spiritual counterpoint to the relentless patriotic imagery that festoons the skyways.  It’s odd, but oddly pleasant.

    All of this falls apart with a single pitch of a baseball.  Winning a raffle starts to reveal the ugly truth behind Columbia, as you’re given the unpleasant prize of “first pitch” at an interracial couple, flanked on both sides by black-faced cutouts.  This sets an incredibly uncomfortable tone for the rest of the game, as Columbia is revealed to be an elitist society, rife with the racism that was, sadly, part of America in the 1900’s that Bioshock Infinite is set in.  Prepare yourself for this sort of nastiness for the rest of the game, as Comstock’s utopia is filled with it, with xenophobic images that attack literally every possible minority group.  Bathrooms are flagged as “Colored and Irish Only,” certain mechanical vending machines have anti-Semitic slurs scrawled on their clearly Jewish automatons, and the Chinese and Native Americans are portrayed in a less-than-flattering light.  It’s an uncomfortable place for gamers of all races, creeds, and colors, but Bioshock Infinite demands that you immerse yourself in it because, alternate history or not, this is what America was.  It’s a bold move, and could easily be misconstrued as exploitative, but Irrational handles it with a gravity that makes it thought-provoking and introspective rather than an excuse to plaster the walls with Little Black Sambo and spray painted slurs.

    Once you finally find Elizabeth, the game spins you even further into madness, as your target is no ordinary girl.  Elizabeth is kept in a tower like a fairy tale princess, and with good reason: her quantum-manipulating abilities make her crucial to Columbia, with her story peppered with false details of a miracle birth in order to maintain her title of “The Lamb of Columbia.”  Once you convince her to leave the tower—much to the chagrin of her guardian beast The Songbird—she becomes a crucial ally in her quest, manipulating “tears” that open holes to other realities and times.  In combat, she can materialize ammo caches, robotic allies, and even cover for you to hide behind.  Even when not opening tears, she’s constantly finding you ammo and health, which she tosses to you with a press of a button.  Game designers everywhere, take note: this is how you handle AI-controlled companions.

    The tears also open much bigger possibilities as well.  An early opening shows a French Cineplex showing “Revenge of the Jedi” (Lucas’ original title for Episode VI of the Star Wars saga), and there are times that your entire reality shifts so that you can complete missions.  It’s fascinating to watch reality unravel and reweave itself in ways both subtle and pronounced, and adds immeasurably to the game’s tone.  There’s definite hints—no spoilers, so no worries—that tears have been used in a less-than-scrupulous fashion, especially in the game’s unique soundtrack, which includes a barbershop quartet singing The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” and a ragtime rendition of “Tainted Love.”

    Of course, with all of this great texturing of the game world, it’s even more wonderful to report that the gameplay has not been forgotten.  The gameplay is still what one would expect from an FPS developed by Irrational, with a few upgradeable guns supplementing Vigors, Columbia’s version of plasmids.  Vigors give you supernatural abilities that range from lobbing fireballs to launching enemies skyward to, most gruesome of all, rending enemies’ flesh from bone with a murder of carnivorous crows.  Despite the new setting and uncomfortable tonal shift, the game is still Bioshock through and through.  The biggest addition to the game comes from the Skyhook, a Swiss Army knife of pain that acts as a melee weapon, a death-defying means of transport, and a horrifying way to finish off your enemies.  Your first use of the weapon is ramming a constable’s face into its spinning rotor, and it only gets worse from there, letting you snap necks, sever heads, and launch your enemies skyward after grinding through their solar plexus.  Even this grizzled gorehound found some of the Skyhook’s furious finishers wince-inducing.

    Bioshock Infinite may not be the sort of “typical” horror that FEARnet discusses, but it’s certainly worth any discussion that it brings up.  Once you peel pack the layers of more overt horror (The Boys of Silence…’nuff said) it raises a lot of questions that make you feel uncomfortable and frightened overall.  While Comstock may be a more extreme representation of xenophobia and racism, this is how people used to think…and some still do.  Now that’s scary.


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    American Gods will soon descend upon us through the power of HBO. Kind of fitting when you think about it; the God of Media must have smiled at this deal.
     
    American_GodsAccording to Neil Gaiman's updates, he's working on the pilot and the first two seasons will focus on the beginning few chapters of the book. It is here that we meet Shadow Moon and a number of old and new Gods who will have their parts to play in the grand scheme. Needless to say, it'll be interesting to see how the novel will translate to television, especially with the novel's author being heavily involved. There's more than enough material, especially with Gaiman also working on the book's sequel, and by all reports the work going into the series will no doubt pay off.
     
    American Gods was first published in 2001 and is still a timely story about the old vs. the new, tradition vs. technology. It explores the relationships between people and the power they have over the course of history; the power that history, belief in Gods and tradition have over people; and how those connections change over time as people change. 
     
    The novel primarily follows Shadow, an ex-con who returns home to find that the woman he loves has died violently while having an affair with his best friend. Soon after, he meets Mr. Wednesday, a “businessman” who needs Shadow to do his work in the world. We soon learn (if it wasn't already obvious) that Wednesday is the Norse God Odin in an American guise, and that what he requires from Shadow is a lot more than running a few shady errands. 
     
    Shadow is a subdued but commanding figure, and it's interesting to follow the mystical (and sometimes gruesome) events and view the Gods through his eyes. He sees them with their very human flaws, but also with their grace, and as he learns more about the characters around him, he seems to learn more about himself, what he's capable of, and what he believed he was or wasn't willing to do vs. what he actually does.
     
    All in all, it will be fascinating to see how the six seasons of American Gods will unfold. Will some of the Gods that make brief appearances be featured a little more throughout (such as Anansi, “Aunt Nancy”, the West African God of stories, wisdom and trickery – also a central character in another popular Gaiman novel, Anansi Boys)? Only time will tell.
     
     
    Nancy O. Greene started writing at the age of nine. Her short story collection, Portraits in the Dark, received a brief mention in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007. Other works have appeared or will appear in ChiZine; Lovecraft eZine; Cemetery Dance; Tales of Blood and Roses; Haunted: 11 Tales of Ghostly Horror; Shroud Publishing's The Terror at Miskatonic Falls; Dark Recesses; Flames Rising; Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore!; and others. She has a BA in Cinema (Critical Studies) and a minor in English (Creative Writing) from the University of Southern California, and is a Fellow of Film Independent's Project:Involve.

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    Jaws1   Batman1  RLD1
     
    Jay Allen Sandford's ongoing feature “Famous Movie Poster Rejects You've Never Seen” at the San Diego Reader website focuses on a collection of rare unused and/or early-stage artwork for dozens of classic (and not-so-classic) movies, including many horror titles you'll recognize from the final product... and a few amazing concepts that never made it.
     
    Friend2
     
    The collection of original paintings and proof prints were once archived by Sandford for memorabilia Duane Dimock, and he recently posted some of his favorites to the Reader site.
     
    Hal3Trick1Fright2
     
    The collection runs the spectrum from Hollywood blockbusters to lesser-known indies, and very few of these have been seen by the public. Some are compared side-by-side with the final approved versions, showing the work in progress.
     
    Fly2Fly1Friend1
     
    The gallery is brimming over with familiar genre titles, including Jaws, Batman, Deadly Friend, The Fly, Fright Night, Halloween III, Vamp, Return of the Living Dead, Blood Diner, Trick or Treat (the '80s heavy metal horror flick, not to be confused with anthology Trick R Treat), Little Shop of Horrors, Deadly Blessing, and my personal fave of the bunch, Near Dark... including an unused image that later showed up in a foreign-release poster for Friday the 13th Part 5!
     
    ND2ND1ND4
     
    Visit theSan Diego Reader site for the full gallery... it's huge!

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    GB1
     
    Thanks to the folks at Bloody Disgusting for this bittersweet find: in an interview at retro-game fansite 2600 Connection, former Atari designer Roger Hector revealed that a Ghostbusters-themed attraction at Six Flags Amusement Park came soooo close to happening in the '80s.
     
    GB5
     
    According to Hector, a massive high-concept ride called “The Hauntington Hotel” would put visitors in the role of ghostbusters, complete with proton guns and a gallery of ghost targets to capture in order to win prizes. The ghosts were a combination of physical animated props and CG images, and they reacted when hit with the guns, which were a combination laser-pointer and infrared emitter.
     
    GB2
     
    “The whole thing was created, designed, engineered, and prototyped at Sente, and the ride system was in the hands of a prominent roller coaster engineering company, Intamin,” Hector revealed. “But before it could be rolled out in the Six Flags parks (1st one was slated for Texas), Bally sold the Six Flags division in 1987, and the project fell into a corporate black hole, never to be seen again, which is too bad, as it was really pretty cool, even by today’s standards.”
     
    GB6
     
    While it's a huge tragedy that this didn't come to pass (especially since they came so damn close!), there is at least a massive gallery of concept art and technical designs at 2600 Connection, so be sure to check it out!

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    Red2
     
    Today's featured clip is not only dripping with slime, blood and various other unidentified gloopy substances, but it's also a rather heartbreaking little film, thanks to the melancholy strains of Brooklyn art-rock unit Yeasayer and a touching (and pretty brave) performance by Kristen Bell (Scream 4).
     
    Red3
     
    Directed by Andreas Nilsson, “Madder Red” is the story of a woman and her pet monster, a baby-sized mutant which is basically a fleshy mass of limbs, eyes and oozing orifices... and it's dying. Bell totally sells the scenario – the unsettling creature effects help too, of course – and you'll actually feel heartbroken for her character (well, at least I did).
     
     
    “Madder Red” comes from Yeasayer's acclaimed 2010 album Odd Blood. The band's latest, Fragrant World, was released last fall. Hear, see and learn more at their official site.
     
     

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    Aftershock2
     
    A bloody new trailer for the Eli Roth-produced action-thriller Aftershock is now online, and you can check it out below. 
     
    Directed by Nicolás López and starring Roth (who also co-wrote the script with López), Aftershock is set in Chile, where a group of American tourists and their friends are trapped in an underground club after a major earthquake. The disaster touches off a collapse into violent social anarchy, which escalates further when a group of criminally insane convicts escape into the streets. The story is loosely based on actual events that transpired during the massive earthquake that struck Chile in 2010, and actually uses some of the locations damaged by the real quake.
     
    Aftershock1
     
    Aftershock shook up audiences last year at its premiere on the Toronto Film Festival's Midnight Madness slate (check out our review here) and it's set for release on May 10th from Dimension Films.
     

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    As a fan of extreme horror - both in tone and gross-outs - I have been keeping a close eye on The Profane Exhibit. The anthology of extreme horror will include segments directed by a collection of internationally renown filmmakers like Sergio Stivaletti (Dellamorte Dellamore), Coffin Joe (At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul), Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police), and Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust) who returns to horror after over twenty years. 

    Each segment will be introduced by a different person, known collectively as the Gentlemen (regardless of gender), storytellers from important moments in horror history. Previously announced Gentlemen include Bai Ling (The Crow, Dumplings) and Tony Todd (Candyman). Joining that list are Laurence Harvey and Christina Lindberg.

    christina lindberglaurence harvey

    Laurence is best known for his role in The Human Centipede 2, and will appear in The Human Centipede 3. Christina is best known for Thriller: A Cruel Picture (aka They Call Her One-Eye) a Swedish rape-revenge film that Quentin Tarantino often sites as a favorite of his.


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    Bloody Glass CupcakesIf we do nothing else here at FEARnet, we will make sure Dexter fans eat well.

    What’s the perfect follow up to “Fried Eggs” ala Dexter? These bloody Dexter cupcakes. New York’s Magnolia Bakery (which is super delicious in case you’ve never been there) sliced and diced their classic red velvet cupcake recipe with pieces of candy broken glass and red syrup to create these cupcakes for the Season 7 Dexter premiere.

    While the original Magnolia Bakery recipe is kept under wraps, buried deep inside their walls, we found several fans that were willing to sacrifice their hands to recreate this killer treat. The step-by-step recipe below is from domesticingenue.com, read the entire post here. The broken glass is surprisingly easy to make.


    Ingredients
     

    Cupcakes:
    2   large eggs, room temperature

    1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

    1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

    1 tablespoon cocoa powder
    
1 teaspoon salt

    1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    
1 1/2 cup sugar
    
2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

    2 tablespoon red food coloring
    
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar

    1 teaspoon vanilla extract


    Cream Cheese Frosting:

    1 pound cream cheese, softened

    2 sticks butter, softened
    1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

    4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar



    Directions

    For the cupcakes:
    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a couple of cupcake tins. I usually get about 18 cupcakes from this recipe. In a bowl whisk together the sifted flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder. In a separate larger bowl, use a mixer to beat together the room temperature, liquid ingredients (oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar and vanilla). Add the dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Note: the liquid ingredients must be room temperature so that the batter doesn’t separate and become oily.

    Fill the cupcake liners about 2/3 of the way full and bake for about 20-22 minutes. When done, the cupcake should spring up when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.

    Allow to cool completely before frosting.

    Cream Cheese Frosting:
    In a large mixing bowl, beat the softened cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly add the sifted confectioners’ sugar and on low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until light and fluffy.

    For the Blood Red Simple syrup (or raspberry preserves)
    1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
red food color

    Bring to a boil and use the wooden spoon to stir occasionally until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and add food color until you get a blood red shade. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

    For the Broken Glass
    The recipe for the “glass” is essentially one for caramel. The trick is to cook it for a shorter amount of time than usual so it stays clear.

    1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
    
3/4 cup water

    Bring the sugar and water to a boil and use a clean wooden spoon (to prevent crystallization) and stir occasionally until the sugar is completely dissolved. In the meantime, heavily spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray. Reduce heat to med high until it begins to barely turn a golden brown color at the edges, a candy thermometer should read 300 degrees. Immediately take off the heat to keep the crystal clear color of your “glass”. Pour the melted sugar onto the pre-sprayed cookie sheet and tilt the pan to spread it to the edges making a thin layer. Work quickly so that it doesn’t cool too fast.  Let cool completely to set. Once fully hardened, the “glass” can be cracked/smashed to make the shards.
    Warning: Liquid sugar is very hot and will stick to skin causing severe burns. I recommend wearing rubber gloves.
     


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    supernaturalSupernatural Episode 821
    “The Great Escapist”
    Written By: Ben Edlund
    Directed By: Robert Duncan McNeill
    Original Airdate: 1 May 2013

    In This Episode...

    Crowley has enlisted in a couple of young men to pose as Fake Sam and Fake Dean, to earn Kevin’s trust and find out what is going on with the tablets. It’s not clear how these guys do the glamour (I guess Crowley did it...?) and why they can’t be harmed by holy water yet can be trapped in a demon trap, but whatever. Kevin figures this out fairly early on in the episode, but doesn’t let on until he lures the fake Winchesters into a trap towards the episode’s end.

    The real Winchesters get an email from Kevin. Essentially it is a video with a dead man’s switch. If Kevin doesn’t log in once a week it sends off this video, in which Kevin explains why the boys are getting this message: it means he is dead and Crowley got him. The reality of the video is never explained. Was Kevin really dead? Was this a trick, maybe from Crowley? Did Kevin just forget to log in? Again, whatever. This video also triggered all of Kevin’s notes about the tablet to be uploaded to the Winchesters, and they push their grief aside to try to figure out the third trial. Sam is in bad shape and won’t accept the TLC that Dean is forcing on him. Perhaps it is his fevered brain, but he recognizes a symbol that Kevin has made over and over in the margins of his notes. It is a glyph that belongs to a Native American tribe. Loosely translated it means “messenger of god.” Sam believes Metatron is in the mountains with this tribe.

    So Sam and Dean head out to Colorado and check into a hotel on the tribe’s land. The manager is  suspicious, silent, and borderline hostile - the boys later learn that they are the only guests to have checked in since 2006. Sam is so ill he is acting drunk, so Dean leaves him to rest while he checks out the local museum. There he learns that this is the home on earth to a sacred messenger who likes to hear stories. Dean recognizes the hotel manager in a photo - dated nearly 100 years ago. Another “whatever” moment, this is never revisited.

    While Dean is taking in the local history, Sam follows a high-pitched hum that only he can hear and discovers that one room has dozens of boxes of books stacked up in front of the door. Dean returns and tells Sam about the messenger who likes to hear stories, and Sam puts it together. He leads his brother to the room. All the packages are gone, and the door is ajar. They slip in and are greeted by a modest middle-aged man with a shotgun. This is Metatron, and he is no Transformer. He can see that Sam is more than halfway through the trials, and fills in the details. He is not an archangel; he was just an average “typing pool” angel until god asked him to take down “the word.” God disappeared and the archangels took over. They started to scheme, and if they couldn’t have their father back, they would take over the universe. Of course, they couldn’t do that without the word of god, and Metatron feared for his own safety. So he went into hiding and has no notion of the outside world. He is the only angel who doesn’t know who Sam and Dean are, but he reads everything. Dude needs a Kindle. Dean and Sam blame Kevin’s death on Metatron, that he had to fill in as prophet because Metatron wouldn’t step up.

    Kevin, meanwhile, is with Crowley, who is sick of Kevin being a “brat” and has begun strangling him. Blinding white light emanates from Kevin’s eyes - then suddenly he is with Sam, Dean, and Metatron. Metatron has healed/saved/resurrected Kevin. Kevin is still unconscious, and Metatron agrees to share the third trial with them, but it is unnecessary. That loud hum that Sam has been hearing has been “resonation.” He is now on the same plane or can share thoughts with Metatron. The third trial is to cure a demon - whatever that means.

    Meanwhile, Castiel has been hiding in plain sight from Naomi and her goons inside of Biggersons, a Denny’s-like coffee shop that is identical across the country, so it has been throwing off the tracking angels’s sensors. They lock him down by killing everyone in one location. He is distracted long enough for Naomi and her goons to find him. They still want that angel tablet; Castiel won’t budge. Crowley pops in and kills one of the goons; the other is an angel who flipped and works for him now. He essentially scares Naomi away and figures out that if touching the tablet was what broke Naomi’s hold over Castiel, why would he stop that? He reaches into Castiel’s gut, roots around, and pulls out the blood angel tablet.

    Dig It or Bury It?

    This was one hell of a dense episode. I think maybe too dense. There was lots of important information here... it just made my head hurt. Info overload, and there were a lot of little nitpicky things. At the end of the evening, I was too focused on the little questions to absorb the big picture. The more I think about it, this episode was a fail for me. 

    Prophecies?

    Familiar faces return when Sam and Dean find a strange unlabeled film in the Men of Letters’ belongings.


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    phantasm 2I won't abide an unkind word about Don Coscarelli's 1979 cult classic horror flick known as Phantasm. Half a bizarre but cohesive thriller and half a compendium of bizarrely effective nightmare logic, the original Phantasm is one of the only movies to give me actual nightmares -- and I still think it holds up as a testament to the power of unique, weird, independent horror cinema.
     
    I mention all of that because, well, as much as I adore Phantasm and many of Mr. Coscarelli's other films (Bubba Ho-tep, John Dies at the End, The Beastmaster, etc.) I've never really taken to the Phantasm sequels. It's a rare franchise in that all four chapters kept the same writer/director, and I'll always take unpredictable weirdness over lethargic formula, but where the first Phantasm was weird but mostly decipherable, the sequels are almost maddeningly confusing. Sure, each one has its charms, mainly because Don Coscarelli is a mad genius even in his weakest moments, but beginning with 1988's Phantasm 2, the series went from a strange but simple narrative to more or less visual horror lunacy with little in the way of character, plot, or simple context.
     
    Perhaps if Phantasm 2 had been an independent production things would have gone differently but (weirdly enough) it was Universal Pictures who wanted a horror franchise of their own and they, sort of unwisely, opted to buy Phantasm. Things didn't work out so well.
     
    Oh sure, fans of the series have managed to tie each chapter together -- even if Mr. Coscarelli and his editors were not, but for those keeping score, Part 2 tries to "retcon" the big finale from the first movie, tosses in a completely new side story about a girl who has visions not unlike the young hero from Phantasm 1, replaces the original lead with a young James Le Gros, wanders off in multiple various directions, features some reliably amusing work from franchise favorite Reggie Bannister, and (of course) relies on the ominous presence of The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), his creepy minions, and his silver spiked balls that fly around and drill people's brains out.
     
    It's not Shakespeare -- but even as a hardcore horror nut, it's tough to enjoy Phantasm 2 as little more than an '80s relic, a curious follow-up to a powerful indie horror flick, and a decent collection of gory practical affects and enjoyably grotesque moments of graphic horror. The story doesn't make a lick of sense and unfortunately Phantasm 2 is more bizarre and arcane then it is actually scary -- but it's certainly worth checking out if you love the original film as much as I do. 
     
    The Phantasm franchise might be the second-most* indecipherable genre series ever produced, but that's not to say there's not some good, garish fun to be found in Part 2. (* The single most indecipherable genre series is, of course, Highlander. Then Phantasm. Then Hellraiser.) Suffice to say that Phantasm 2 is a road movie, a horror story, a tale of psychic intervention, and a social commentary regarding the place of multi-dimensional slave dwarfs in today's funeral parlor industry. I have no idea. I assume Don Coscarelli smoked some pretty excellent weed when he wrote all four of these movies.
     
    Genre fans will be pleased to learn that Phantasm 2 has hit blu-ray by way of Scream/Shout Factory, which means that the A/V presentation is simply wonderful, and that the supplemental section will include A) a new commentary with Coscarelli, Bannister, and Scrimm; B) a 45-minute retrospective piece on the movie that answers a lot of questions about this rather bizarre relic from the late 1980s; C) another mini-doc about the lovely gore FX from Greg Nicotero's team; D) geeky randomness like trailers, TV spots, photo galleries, etc.
     

    It's hard to imagine the Phantasm fan who prefers the sequel over the original, but if this kooky little horror flick holds a place in your nostalgia vault, this blu-ray is a no-brainer acquisition.


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  • 05/02/13--10:00: Gift Guide: Zombie Snuggie
  • Normally, I cannot abide by the Snuggie. It's stupid, it's cheap, it has become a pop culture joke. I have only ever met one person who owned one (not ironically, too). So I am not down with the Snuggie. But then I saw this one, and at the very least, I think it is both clever and ridiculous. That's right folks. You too can dress like a cartoon zombie with this Zombie Snuggie.

    Seriously.

    I think this is a sign the zombie fad has jumped the undead shark.

    $23.99 at Entertainment Earth


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    Catfish
     
    This may seem like another installment of our “Cryptid Catalog” series, but this is no urban myth: according to a report at the site Mother Nature Network, an invasive species of carnivorous catfish called the Northern Snakehead – a species which can climb out of the water and squirm around on land for short periods of time – is on the loose in NYC's Central Park.
     
    The Snakehead has been a big problem for wildlife authorities, not only because it eats just about any fish or small animal it can get a hold of, but it also has no natural predators in the US and reproduces often, so it can dominate an aquatic ecosystem very quickly. It looks pretty monstrous too – which is cool, but maybe not so fun when it decides your pet Pomeranian could fit in its mouth. (In all fairness, no pet-eating incidents have been reported... yet.) According to the article, NYC wildlife agents are conducting surveys of the water in Central Park, and have requested citizens who spot it to capture it and "keep it in a secure container until it is picked up by officials."
     
    The Snakehead has also been found in Maryland, California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Hawaii, so apparently the invasion is well underway. It's not quite a Humanoids from the Deep scenario yet, but time will tell...
     

     


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