Monday, 20 October 2014

Star Wars: Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber (2009) - Zombie Horror Book Review

A zombie book set in the Star Wars universe? An interesting prospect for sure, while I am not the biggest Star Wars fan (the original trilogy of films are of course stone cold classics) I was curious as to how this book would be. Would it be zombie-lite with the undead menace being muted versions of their violent predecessors to appeal to the kid friendly Star Wars crowd or would the graphic violence associated with rotting ghouls still be there?

The Imperial prison barge 'Purge' is en route to a prison planet when it breaks down in remote space. Coincidentally or so it seems an abandoned Star Destroyer is also in the area. A small boarding crew enter the gigantic ship in hopes of finding spare parts needed to fix the Purge's engines. However when they return they unknowingly bring with them a strange virus that spreads like wildfire throughout Purge killing all but six of the one thousand officers and prisoners on the ship. Things go from bad to worse for the survivors as the dead suddenly return to life with only death and destruction on their minds...

A few thing made me wary of how good a zombie story Death Troopers would be. First off is that two of the primary characters are teenage boys; Kale and his younger brother Trig. I expected that these two being featured so heavily would mean that my fears were founded and this would be relatively peril free.
The second and far bigger worry was the sudden appearance of two characters from the original Star Wars trilogy, Is a mild spoiler but pretty early on Han Solo and Chewbacca appear, they just happen to be prisoners on the Purge. I had to stop reading with the ridiculous appearance of these two. First of all them fighting zombies is a weird thing to get my head around, but even worse is that with Death Troopers being canon in the Star Wars universe (at least up until Disney brought the brand) there is literally no way these two were going to have any zombie related harm come to them. A big part of the fun of zombie novels is that in general anyone can become a victim, all it takes is one bite so to then have 33% of your main cast automatically zombie proof puts a slight dampener on things.

The zombies of Death Troopers are certainly dead and there are good reasons for how they come to be though not really surprising what with the Imperials being basically Space Nazis and so evil as they come. These ghouls work together, attacking together for the most part and get more intelligent as time goes on. It is a good transition with them slowly start to use blasters to attack at around the half way point and more after that. There is a lot of violence here with limbs removed, heads splattered and a pleasing number of character deaths. One sequence in which a character has to climb a mountain of corpse was really quite well done.

For the most part Schreiber's story telling is functional, making this a pretty straight forward zombie story but there are some highlights and his short snappy chapters work really well making it hard to put down. Some of the motivations and back story for his main characters are pretty cheesy but zombified Storm Troopers and Wookies (!) make up for this. There are not too many zombie stories set in space either, so another plus point as at times this feels like the plot of Dead Space.

I actually enjoyed Death Troopers a lot more than I expected to, if you even have a passing interest in both Star Wars and zombies then this book is for you.


Sunday, 19 October 2014

American Horror Story: Season 1 (2011) - Horror TV Show Review

This was recommended to me well over a year ago but it has taken me this long to get around to watching it. American Horror Story has been described as an anthology series with each season having it's own self contained story in a different location. Season 1 also known as American Horror Story: Murder House takes place in a haunted house.

Psychiatrist Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott), his wife Vivian (Connie Britton), and teenage daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) move to Los Angeles to make a new start after Vivian had a miscarriage and Ben cheated on her with one of his students. Unfortunately they choose a place locally known as 'murder house' due to the high number of violent deaths that have occurred there. It seems there is some sort of curse upon the house and that anyone who dies within the property are to forever be trapped there.

At first I fully expected American Horror Story to be a scary horror show and this was backed up by the introduction to episode one in which two boys in the 1980's are brutally killed in the basement while exploring the (at the time) abandoned property. However it soon turns into something all of its own, albeit something with strong horror tendencies on the side. There are twelve episodes and while there is an over lying story set in present day many of the episodes start with a flashback to a previous occupant of the house; from a gay couple on the verge of breaking up in the 2000's to some student nurses living there in the 1970's there are many time periods covered, all ending in tragedy which comes to have some effect on the present day storyline.

The show looks fantastic and really appears to have had a strong budget with it being almost film quality with fantastic acting, a great soundtrack and expert editing that made it a joy to watch. It doesn't shy on violence either and there is plenty of blood and gore with people getting killed in a large number of ways (such as a graphic dream a women is describing of her being sliced in half by an elevator being played out).

The main angle of season one appears to be infidelity with this theme cropping up time and time again. The plot itself is really interesting and leads you to slowly being given the clues to work out what is going on. With so many visitors to the Harmon household, many just appearing out of nowhere it at times seems like pretty much every character they meet may already be dead. The side characters are interesting in their own right such as troubled teen Tate who seems obsessed with going on a school based killing spree, and horrifically disfigured Larry who seems to know that the house is a bad place.

American Horror Story is not a scary show (though the intro credits are always freaky) but this doesn't takeaway from the experience when it is so polished and interesting as this. Some of the plot twists really blew my mind and the feel as a whole borders on a David Lynch style at times with lots of surreal-ness portrayed as normal and a heady mix of sex and violence (and just who is the killer wearing the gimp suit?). A lot of the characters may be ambiguous and morally grey but even the ones I did not like were still well developed. Well worth watching.


Saturday, 18 October 2014

Horror Alcohol - Zombie and Pumpking Beer

I am over halfway into my quest to do a blog post for every month of October, today is a smaller post as it has gotten quite late at night and I have yet to provide for the day. Today I will be talking about horror themed alcohol.

First up is the cocktail named Zombie. I first had Zombie many years ago at a student bar. The barman did not seem sure what constituted a Zombie and so just made up a drink that was green in colour. He also did not seem to know what price it should be or how much in quantity it should be. Sometimes I would be given a pint glass of Zombie for £5 on other occasions I was charged around £9 for the same drink but in a half pint glass. 
Anyway the official Zombie cocktail is actually orange/yellow in colour. My friend Lucinda ordered one yesterday and always on the look out for easy blog posts I took a picture. The menu describes it as having rum, apricot, grenadine, pineapple and lime. A bit too sweet a taste and I like to imagine it rots your stomach.

Next up is Pumpking described as an 'evil pumpkin beer' that is brewed with pumpkin and mace. It wasn't bad, only 3.8% but tastes quite deep and was super cheap. I watched the last episode of season 1 of American Horror Story, it went well with that palate.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Horror Energy Drinks

I love energy drinks but unfortunately I am quite sensitive to caffeine and so drinking them leads me to crash, more likely to fall asleep then feel full of beans. A few years back I got some horror themed ones as gifts.

The first one titled 'Zombie Blood' as you can see above is green and of course zombie themed while the second one 'Blood' looks like blood and seems more vampire themed. What I like about them both is that they claim to have similar nutrients to real blood, while the red one has instructions on the back for how to heat it up to the same temperature as real blood.

One day I hope to get some tubing so I can hang them from something like plasma bags you get in hospitals, until that day they reside on my book shelf in my bedroom to drink for when zombie apocalypse happens and I need a quick four hour boost to go on a scavenging mission.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Zombie Skape (2012) - Zombie Videogame Review (DSiWare)

Zombie Skape is a downloadable game from the Nintendo store and it is terrible. It seems to borrow a lot of its assets from Little Red Riding Hood's Zombie BBQ.Where that game was a run and gun this is instead a skateboard based one.

The bare bones story has a teenage boy named Ethan skate boarding in his local skate park when zombie Armageddon unexpectedly happens. With just his skateboard for transportation he sets off to escape the horror.

There are a lot of things wrong with this game so let's go through them all. First off the graphics are pretty terrible, as I said the assets seem to have been ripped right out of a different game, the zombies and levels are all cohesive but Ethan himself is cel shaded and stands out like a sore thumb. The zombies are quite bad looking but even worse is if you accidentally skate into them they vanish in a burst of red that looks terrible. You get lone zombies, packs of them and hands rising up out of the ground that must all be avoided, while identical looking girls sit on the ground asking for help so you must skate over them.

The controls are abysmal and making either a turn to the left or right feels like a herculean task as your skateboard has the turning circle of the biggest ocean liner, it takes an eternity to turn so it is unavoidable to hit things. You can brake and you can jump and that is it for controls. The controls mean the game is near impossible to play, I could not get off the first level, it is just too hard to avoid ploughing into zombies or fires. Not fun at all.

The one thing going for Zombie Skape is its music which is the only passable thing out of the whole miserable experiance. A cheap game knocked out to ride (skate?) on the trails of the zombie genre. Ugly with broken controls and must be avoided at all costs!


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Camp Blood (2014) - Horror themed music

Camp Blood is a horror themed track by Videogram that is a homage to the Friday 13th films. Videogram describes it as a mix of the disco theme of Friday 13th Part III and Michael Jackson's Thriller.

The video can be seen below and features clips from the Friday 13th knock off Srigala. The editing of the video is really well done with it seeming in time with the music beats and pretty much shows the best clips from the film with all the various twists and turns making it obvious that it is a carbon copy of the original Friday 13th. Anyway check it out, is a catchy little three minutes. Camp Blood is available to download from a number of sources including iTunes.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

UK Festival of Zombie Culture 2014 - Zombie News

This year will mark the eighth UK Festival of Zombie Culture based in the Phoenix Centre in Leicester, it will be the third time me and my dear friend Lucinda have gone (though the fourth year I have brought tickets for it!). Each year there are 12 hours of zombie films shown on a cinema screen as well as countless other distractions. All of this is run by the UK legend Zombie Ed whose slow descent into drunkeness is as sure a thing as the passing of time. His introductions to each of the films is a real highlight to see! Now there has been more details made available it is time to do a news post.

Of the six films being shown three have been announced so far. 'Bombshell Bloodbath' is the first film and one I once did a news post about. It is an Italian style zombie flick by Brett Mullen that looks like it has some pretty decent zombie effects, interested to see this one and the showing at the festival will mark it's UK premiere. Next up is 'Go Goa Gone' which is a Hindi zombie film about Russian mobsters stuck on a zombie infested island near Goa due to a new party drug that has the bad side effect of turning the takers into zombies. Lets hope it is better than the average Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave which shares a similar plot. The last announced film so far is 'I Survived A Zombie Holocaust' from New Zealand sounds quite fun. While making a zombie film the set gets invaded by real zombies.

As well as these and other films there will be the usual other attractions. There will be a 3 minute zombie survival contest where you try and kill as many zombies as you can on a game. Last year it was Dead Rising 2, so who knows if it will be this game again? Also there will be a host of stalls to buy zombie merchandise from, zombie authors selling their wares (Adam Millard announced so far), raffle tickets, and a bunch of zombie videogames (last year had Typing of the Dead, House of the Dead 2 and a few others you could play if you so wished). There will be make up artists to turn you into a zombie if you so wish also.

Tickets for the UK Festival of Zombie Culture that takes place on 15th November 2014 can be purchased here and cost £25 for a day pass that will get you in to see all six films. If it is anything like the last few years it is going to be a fantastic day and well worth the ticket price so if you are in the UK and love zombie films this is an essential event! My round up of the 2012 festival can be found here, while 2013 can be found here.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Annabelle (2014) - Horror Film Review

Annabelle is kind of a prequel to The Conjuring, is set in the same film world anyway. The best part of that film was an unsettling tale told by Ed and Lorraine Warren about a creepy possessed doll that haunted some students. Now this is not that story but actually the story of the owners of the doll previous to those students. Apart from a brief clip from The Conjuring of the students being interviewed by the Warrens this is completely unrelated.

Set in the 1960's Doctor to be John Gordon (Ward Horton) and his heavily pregnant wife Mia (Annabelle Wallis) get their home invaded by two crazy cultists. The police arrive in the nick of time and gun down one of the invaders but the other one; a young woman barricades herself in the couples nursery and by the time the police break down the door she has committed suicide, her blood dripping onto a creepy as hell doll John had recently gotten his wife (who collects the hideous things). Soon after mysterious goings on start to happen. Appliances turn themselves on, objects move of their own accord and then a fire breaks out. John and Mia along with their new born child  move to an apartment thinking that will be the end of their troubles but things start to get a lot worse; maybe something to do with the spooky doll that they just cannot seem to get rid of...

I wanted a scary film about a creepy possessed doll. From the trailer and from the poster for Annabelle I thought this was what I was getting, maybe something kind of like Chucky from the Child's Play series, but alas no. I am sick to the actual back teeth of these damn demonic haunting films, from the amount of them out there you would think that every other household in America is possessed by one kind of demon or another. Let's see what's on the checklist - people being dragged around by invisible forces, objects moving on their own, lights turning on and off, strange noises, and a husband who conveniently seems to be absent whenever these things occur making the woman seem like a nutter.

The key focus of the film should have been on that doll, it is after all an extremely disturbing thing even before it gets possessed. While it does get plenty of screen time it doesn't actually do anything, you never see it move, so many times the camera focuses on the doll and I fully expected it to blink or move or anything, it even has an identical end to The Conjuring where you expect something only to be disappointed. Instead the antagonist is something that must have been on holiday from the Insidious world and while I was quite afraid at some points for the most part I was bored.

The plot is nothing new at all and Annabelle has far too much lead up to anything exciting with barely nothing happening for the first third and too many long conversations about tedious nothing. The finale was so predictable and so cheesy that when a 'heart wrenching' twist happened me and a random guy I was sat next to both laughed out loud at the stupidity of it all.

Annabelle was a total miss fire, I'm sorry to go on about it but I feel misled and don't want to you to feel the same if you decide to watch it. I just was hoping for a film about a creepy doll and I did not feel that was what I got.


Sunday, 12 October 2014

Daylight (2014) - Horror Videogame Review (PS4)

I brought Daylight so that I could play it to review it for my blog. Having read a couple of extremely negative reviews I really wasn't expecting much yet I discovered one of the scariest games I have ever played.

You play as a young woman named Sarah who awakens to find herself deep inside an abandoned insane asylum in the dead of night. The only item she has on her is a smart phone that plots a map of her surroundings as she explores and from which a mysterious man is able to communicate with her. She is tasked with collecting 'remnants' which are notes and letters detailing the twisted history of the asylum. Once enough of these are collected a magical room conjures up an important item which then must be taken to a magically locked door to proceed. Unfortunately Sarah is not alone, Evil ghostly woman frequently attack her and who can only be repelled using flares or ran away from. Will she ever escape?

Daylight is really scary, I cannot remember the last time I was so afraid of a game (probably not since the original Fatal Frame/Project Zero). The locations you find yourself in are dark and oppressive and the threat of the ghosts ever played on my mind. I was at first concerned that there was only going to be the one location but there is in fact a natural progression that sees you explore a wide range of different locations, even some levels based outdoors. The creeping fear is one thing but the sudden appearance of a ghost is the money shot on the scales of fear. I lost count of the times I would turn around to find myself face to face with a twisted woman, her eyes glowing yellow, screaming at me. Every time this happened I involuntary shouted out loud (usually some form of swear word), it helped I restricted myself to only playing Daylight at night time in the dark.

There are two essential items you need to get through the game. The first are glow sticks which show up which items in the levels are interactable for often remnants are hidden in drawers and cupboards, the second as I mentioned earlier are the flares which banish the ghost women, both are in short supply and you really do not want to find yourself with these both gone.

While very scary Daylight is not a perfect game. The load times are insane, luckily they only appear when you first load your game. The graphics are not amazing at all, they do the job and I did not mind them but occasionally things look a little bland. More could have been done to improve the plot, the notes and letters you find are occasionally interesting but a lot of them are quite mundane and the voice acting is not the best I have heard, though your characters laboured breathing when you get chased by a ghost or witness a spooky going on (such as a child crying or a chair suddenly flipping over in front of you) is a nice touch.

It is very game like in that there are clear levels, each time you enter a new area and find the remnant list has reset you know exactly what to do. Explore the randomly generated levels looking for the tell tale orange light indicating a remnant, find the magic room and magical exit and rinse and repeat. Occasionally you get pre created levels in between these random ones which help split up what could become a stale process.

For the fear factor alone I have to score this game high, a truly terrifying game such as this is hard to find nowadays, sure it is far from perfect, but man is it scary!


Saturday, 11 October 2014

Zombies Ate My Neighbors (1994) - Zombie Videogame Review (Virtual Console)

I had a copy of this on the Megadrive soon after it was released, even back in the early 90's I loved my horror. The frankly shocking and horrifically scary title was reduced to merely 'Zombies' in Europe which I am glad of as I am sure it would have led to a crime wave of violent proportions had the far better name stayed.

You play as either Zeke or Julie; two teenage kids whose neighbourhood has been over run by monsters created by the evil Dr. Tongue. Your goal in each of the 55 levels is to rescue your neighbours before they are killed by the many creatures. Each level has it's own B-Movie style title card to it and takes place in a whole range of locations.

Played at an elevated perspective each level is set out like a maze in which up to ten neighbours are hidden, rescuing them is merely a case of walking into them, but should an enemy do the same they will die with a cartoon angel floating up to heaven. Once all the neighbours are rescued an exit door appears to take you on your way. Starting off in neighbourhoods levels soon take you to many varied locations. You get super markets, hedge mazes, castles, pyramids and much more each one populated with specific enemy types.

Zombies are the most frequent enemy type but there are a large variety of other monsters taken from the best B-movies have to offer. There are Jason Vorhees inspired hockey mask wearing brutes armed with axes (chainsaws in America, but censored for Europe), Chucky inspired evil knife wielding dolls, martians, blobs, giant ants, werewolves, vampires, building sized babies and countless others. The one thing you cannot complain about is lack of variety. To battle these creatures you have access to a lot of power ups and weapons. Rather than guns you have household items. Water pistols, tomatoes, cutlery, plates, soda cans. These all work best against specific enemy types so constantly changing up your weapon is needed to succeed. power ups include a potion that turns you into a hulking monster or a ghost, inflatable clowns that act as decoys and first aid kits to restore lost health.

Special mention has to go to the music, since I first heard it in the early 90's the level 1 music has permanently been scarred into my brain, all the music is pretty damn good but with 50 levels and only a handful of tunes they can get a bit samey after a while.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors is a damn tough game! You have 3 lives and your energy bar does not replenish between levels. Starting off with 10 people to rescue if one dies they stay dead which on the plus side makes the level that little bit shorter but on the flip side there is more chance of losing the game as it is game over should all 10 be killed. I admit I did not complete this, I never have been able to but after the first 20 levels I am always a bit bored. I wouldn't usually complain about the length of a game but this is just too long due to the repetitive nature of what you are doing. The weapons don't feel like they have much impact and are fiddly to switch between, and many enemies are too tough meaning you get swarmed by creatures you simply don't have the fire power to beat without taking massive damage.

While I do like this game and the sheer amount of variety you get given it is just too hard for it's own good. A password system every five levels helps with this but I just wish you were given more of a fighting chance when it comes to fighting the monsters. Also occasionally you have no chance to save neighbours before they are killed which is always frustrating. So a rough diamond but the graphics and music still hold up today and I imagine it is less boring in two player mode.