Saturday, 31 October 2009

Happy Hallowe’en, everybody!

We’ve teamed up with some of our nearest and dearest, to bring you some horror giveaways! So make this Hallowe’en one to remember, by blagging yourself some trick or treating goodness!
When you, like, live forever, what’s there to live for?

About three things was I absolutely certain. First, Edwart was most likely my soul mate, maybe. Second, there was a vampire part of him...that wanted me dead. And third, I unconditionally, irrevocably, impenetrably, heterogeneously, gynecologically and disreputably in wished he had kissed me.

And thus, in this hilarious send-up of Twilight, Belle Goose falls for mysterious and sparkly Edwart Mullen.

Pale and klutzy Belle’s new to Switchblade, Oregon; looking for adventure or, at least, an undead classmate. She finds Edwart, a super-hot computer nerd with zero interest in girls. After some stranger-that-strange events – Edwart save her from a flying snowball! – Belle has a dramatic revelation: Edwart is a vampire. But how can she get him to bite her and so become his eternal bride?

Romance, danger, flaky parenting, creepy stalking and a vampire prom – all this and the uproarious tale of a vampire-obsessed girl, looking for love in all the wrong places.

Thanks to our friends at Constable Robinson, we've got a bucket of copies of The Harvard Lampoon’s Nightlight to give away to you! For your chance of winning one, send us an e-mail to nightlightgiveaway@rocketmail.com with your name and postal address before midday on Saturday 7th November (UK time). The first twenty names drawn out of the electronic hat will win a free copy of this hilarious parody!
Is fear simply a product of imagination, a phantom of our psyche, or is it a force beyond any kind of remedy?

In an abandoned hospital still haunted by the screams and fevered prayers of its patiens, Julia and her medical school classmates dare to enter into a terrifying experiment investigating the phenomenon of fear itself.

To their horror, they discover that they’re being mercilessly and bloodily dispatched, one by one. And it seems the killer knows everything about them. Creating a specific nightmare for each person, this diabolical murderer is conducting his own exercise in terror. But when Julia takes up the fight against this mania, she discovers his shocking dark secret.

Beyond Remedy is psycho terror at its best: The moment when the cold metal of the scalpel makes contact with your skin. Prepaer to be scared out of your wits.

Thanks to our friends at Metrodome, we've got three copies of Beyond Remedy to give away to you! For your chance of winning one, send us an e-mail to beyondremedy@rocketmail.com with your name and postal address before midday on Saturday 7th November (UK time). The first three names drawn out of the electronic hat will win a free copy of this frightening DVD!
Alice, a writer recovering from a psychological breakdown retreats to a remote Victorian house to convalesce and focus on finishing her screenplay in time for a fast approaching deadline. Shortly after her arrival, mysterious noises and strange happenings cause her imagination to run wild, sending her on a twisting and terrifying pursuit to find out what is behind the endless mind games. Frightened but intrigued, Alice gathers the courage to go up into the cold, dingy attic where she finds a shoe box filled with video tapes. The terrifying secret that lies within the tapes will unravel Alice’s dark past.

Thanks to our friends at Metrodome, we've got three copies of Deadline to give away to you! For your chance of winning one, send us an e-mail to deadlinegiveaway@rocketmail.com with your name and postal address before midday on Saturday 7th November (UK time). The first three names drawn out of the electronic hat will win a free copy of this terrifying DVD!

Friday, 30 October 2009

Dickass DM - Hallowe'en Special - Part Two

Last week, we began our Hallowe'en Special of Dickass DM by playing the notorious Fighting Fantasy gamebook House of Hell. Rob had a run in with a coffee unloading butler, a killer zombie and a frigid ghost...but what awaits him next in this week's terrifying conclusion?

Missed the first part? You can catch up here!

Brad: You gingerly pat the curtains, to make sure nothing scary is behind them.
Rob: Why pat curtains?
Brad: I went to school with him.
Rob: Ah.
Brad: A rumble of thunder makes you jump; there's nothing scary there - although the bars across the window are a little disconcerting. Written in condensation in one corner are the words "Mordana In Abaddon". You return to the top of the stairs. You can try the un-marked door, go back round the landing, or go down the stairs
Rob: Try unmarked door.
Brad: ...
Rob: I'm trying old text-based adventure game language.
Brad: Two can play at that game: "I do not understand DOOR".
Rob: Bite me.
Brad: You step into a small storeroom. There are shelves to the left and right, and facing you is another door, about two foot from your face.
Rob: I search the shelves.
Brad: Amongst the crockery, you find a large meat knife, which could be used as a weapon. There are also several cloves of garlic, which you can take if you want. There's also an unlabelled white liquid in a bottle.
Rob: I'll take the garlic.

Rob has acquired +1 Bulb of Garlicness

Rob: "Open new door". I get the feeling the white liquid isn't milk...
Brad: This door leads to a hallway. To the left is a door labelled "Shaitan", and to the right is a door labelled "Mammon".
Rob: Okay. I go through the Shaitan one. Sorry, wait: "Enter Shaitan door"
Brad: Any particular reason?
Rob: No?...
Brad: Just making conversation.
Rob: For most people, having a conversation with the Supreme Being is bizarre. For RPG characters, it seems not.
Brad: Behind the door is a luxurious bedroom, with a four poster bed in the corner. A three-piece suite surround the fireplace. The fire is smouldering, but the room is unoccupied. There are two doors in the opposite room. Do you want to go in, or turn back?
Rob: I go in.
Brad: Hmm...the GM said all but said "are you sure?", but whatever...The door locks shut with a click as it closes behind you.
Rob: Oh, bugger.
Brad: A voice greets you, but you can see no-one.
Rob: See what I mean? This must be the Lord.

Voice: So! Our visitor is inquisitive, eh? Or are you trying to leave the house? Perhaps our hospitality is not to your liking. Maybe you would like to see some more - shall we say - amusements?
Rob: I got lost, which way is the bathroom?

Brad: The voice makes you nervous, and you rack up another FEAR point (now 6/9). You could stay and chat, or leave quicky?
Rob: I guess I talk to the voice.
Brad: A figure raises from the armchair in front of you, and turns to face you. He is tall and pale, with black hair and wearing a long black cape, fastened with a gold clasp.

Suave Dude: Yes, so far you have fared well against the occupants of the house. But I believe you will find that your run of luck has come to an end. Step forward so that I can see you.

Rob: I get my knife out. Stealthily..
Brad: Do you want to use your knife...or is there something else you can think of to use?
Rob: Rub the knife in Garlic!
Brad: Well, I was going to say "curl up and cry", but whatever...As you draw the garlic out of your pocket, the vampire draws away, repulsed. He backs off towards the bed. He is heading to the door on the right.
Rob: I run for the door on right.
Brad: "Into the vampire's nest! That's the safest place to be!"
Rob: He's weak from Garlic, maybe he'll have something nearby I can kill him with!
Brad: You throw the garlic at the vampire and bolt for the door. He falls shrieking to the floor in fear. The door opens into a cupboard...of sorts.
Rob: Hahaha, pussy!
Brad: The back wall slides aside, revealing a hidden passageway. The vampire is recovering, and clambering to his feet, so you decide to chance it and bolt inside. You slam the door behind you.
Rob: SLAM!
Brad: There is an evanescent glow in the passageway, and you make your way slowly forward. After a few minutes, you come to a stairway leading downwards. A dozen or so steps later, you reach another passageway.
Rob: Jesus, this is like Lovecraft.
Brad: Awesome, you mean?
Rob: "Down and down I went, ever closer until OH JESUSWHATTHEFUCKI'MMENTALNOW!"
Brad: You're not a Lovecraft fan, are you?
Rob: He's all right...
Brad: *scribbles in DM's notes*...Uh-huh...
Rob: What are you doing?
Brad: Nothing. There is a door in the wall, and then the steps continue downwards.
Rob: "Go through door".
Brad: Thorin sits down and sings about gold. The door leads into a small room. Another door leads directly off, but there is something else in the room holding your attention.
Rob: Ouch! My attention!
Brad: A haze is hanging on the wall, almost like a sparkly Cullen-like curtain of water. Reaching out to it, your finger passes straight through.
Rob: What colour is this haze?...
Brad: Mauve. Like the rain. And the one eyed, one horned flying people eater.
Rob: Ahhhhh.
Brad: Plucking up some courage, you push your head through, and realise that you're head has passed straight through a large mirror into a reception room. On the wall opposite is a mural of a medieval scene. There is a dining table and six chairs in the middle of the room. You hear voices outside the door, and draw your head back hurriedly.
Rob: Okay, I try the other door in the room.
Brad: The door is locked.
Rob: Fine...I try the mirror again, dickass.
Brad: Back through, the coast is now clear, and you head out of the door. You enter a hallway. You can take the door to your left, or follow the hallway to the right.
Rob: I go through the door to the left
Brad: The door is locked. You go down the hallway to the right. PSYCHE!
Rob: Ooooh, you bitch!
Brad: The hallway widens, and you continue in the direction you were walking until you reach two doors opposite each other.
Rob: Right. I've been doing a lot of lefts. I will inevitably come back on myself
Brad: The door leads into a kitchen. Pots and pans hang along the wall. A double sink is beneath the window, next to a fridge and a cooker. A square table is in the centre of the room. There are two other doors. One looks like it leads out, and one looks like the entrance to a pantry. A bunch of keys is on top of the cooker.
Rob: I pike those keys!
Brad: You pick up the keys, and scream in pain! They are red hot. Were you using your dominant hand to pick them up?
Rob: Probably? I guess I'll "Test my luck" again. Maybe I picked them up with my ring finger.
Brad: Good move. You were using your off hand. The scream and the sound of the keys dropping have made quite a noise, however. Your fears are confirmed, when four men enter. They are all dressed in white gowns, and goats head masks. Armed with knives and lengths of wood, they grab your wrists, and drag you down into the cellar. They throw you into a prison cell. And that's where you spend the rest of your life. Game over.
Rob: ...
Brad: ...
Rob: You're kidding.
Brad: Not in the slightest. Let's go over the post game analysis. Were you happy with the way it was going until the end?
Rob: Yeah, seemed to be all right until the whole "Death in prison" thing.
Brad: What I thought was great was the way you were asked whether or not you wanted to risk the damage from using your off-hand on the keys. It made no difference at all, as the next paragraph killed you.
Rob: That's a good point, I didn't think of that.
Brad: As I mentioned to you behind the scenes, this is one of those "one true path" games, where only one sequence of choices will lead to a win.
Rob: All right, so what was the true path?
Brad: I took the liberty of looking up a walkthrough online. At what point do you think you went wrong?
Rob: When I went through the mirror, I think.
Brad: Earlier than that. Second guess.
Rob: The vampire?
Brad: Earlier. Last guess?
Rob: Erm....having the duck at dinner?
Brad: You hit the old man with the car, right?
Rob: Yeah...
Brad: You saw the light in the house, and went up the path.
Rob: Wait...
Brad: You rang the doorbell.
Rob: Yeah.
Brad: You should have used the knocker.
Rob: ...
Brad: Everything after that was an exercise in futility.
Rob: ...
Brad: ...
Rob: ...
Brad: ...
Rob: ...
Brad: ...
Rob: ...
Brad: ...
Rob: What?!
Brad: I couldn't believe it myself when I looked it up. Speechless?
Rob: Beyond words.
Brad: That's usually the way that works, yeah...
Rob: What difference does using the knocker make?
Brad: I presume it just diverges down a similar path. Here's the
walkthrough.
Rob: So far all I can see is that I don't get drugged if I use the knocker!
Brad: Appears that way.
Rob: Who's that precious about their fucking bell? I've seen "No door to door sales" Stickers, I've not seen "Ring and it's Rohypnol for you!"
Brad: The trouble with Fighting Fantasy gamebooks is very simple - popular doesn't mean best. They're like the WWE. You got into gamebooks because of Fighting Fantasy, but you see the flaws a few years later. And you discover Joe Dever, and all is well again.
Rob: ...
Brad: I kid. They're all shit.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

DVD Reviews

The Uninvited
Charles and Thomas Guard
DreamWorks Live Action

Available Now - £17.99 (DVD) and £27.99 (Blu-Ray)
Review by Brad Harmer

The Uninvited centres around two teenage sisters, Anna and Alex Rydell, who return home from a mental hospital only to find their recovery unravelling because of a cruel stepmother, an ignorant father and a lingering, scary ghost. With their mental states deteriorating can they stay alive in a haunted house where the only thing they have is each other?

Yes, okay, this is another remake of an Asian horror film. Normally I’m against that – I generally don’t watch them on principle – but the thing is, this is actually really good. Whilst it is obviously based on A Tale of Two Sisters, it succeeds in taking things off in its own direction and is a really good horror movie in its own right.

The scares may be few and far between, but when they arrive, they are genuinely terrifying. They never turn into orchestra hit heavy chase scenes or ludicrous CG monsters...they’ve taken their cue very nicely from the J-Horror classics on the late 90s/early 00s, and very effectively presented they are too...

All the characters are introduced smoothly, and while the pacing is slow burning at times, it never seems to drag and all is wrapped up in a suitable time frame, with neither rushing nor dawdling required. If only all horror films were this good.

Those looking for a “jump a minute” horror movie would do well to look elsewhere, and some of the sentiment unfortunately still strays into Hollywood conventions of a horror movie; but its plus points way outnumber any arguments against it. As I mentioned earlier, I usually dislike re-makes, but this one is worth a gander.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Several scuffles, and some weapon based combat. Some explosions. A healthy dose of blood and gore.
Sex/Nudity: Some sex noises.
Swearing: Some instances, but few and far between.
Summary: The best mainstream horror movie for a good many years. Genuinely creepy at times, with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. 8/10

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li
Andrzej Bartkowiak
Optimum/Elevation
Available Now - £15.99 (DVD) and £19.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Rob Wade

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li chronicles the story of the young Asian lady's beginnings, from learning concert piano to learning martial arts from her father. When Bison one day arrives, Chun-Li's father is kidnapped and presumed dead. Chun-Li decides to continue her life as a pianist, until one day she receives a mysterious scroll which sends her to Bangkok, where Bison just happens to have recently put into motion some sinister plans. Chun-Li then has to deal with his agents, as well as local police and Interpol, while all the while trying to figure out what Bison's big secret is.

When this movie was announced, fans of the Street Fighter franchise cringed in anticipation of what could promise to be a simply terrible movie. Traditionally, video game tie-in movies are a genre destined for disaster (with Silent Hill so far the only one that I remember being any good). Particularly sore is the subject of Street Fighter, last tackled in 1994 as one of the worst adaptations of a video game in history, as well as one of the worst movies of all time in general. However, it is important to treat this as a franchise reboot, rather than having any sort of relation with the previous god-awful movie.

It's refreshing, therefore, that the movie does not acknowledge the existence of any previous canon, instead focusing on developing the characters and establishing the franchise anew. Bison, rather than being a military terrorist, is a high-powered businessman operating through the seedier channels of extortion and violence. Balrog is his personal bodyguard, rather than a boxer. Vega is Bison's assassin, rather than a cage fighter (although his development is quite minimal, leading me to believe that there will be more to come from him in later instalments). This modernisation is a completely sensible move on the filmmakers' part, and is to be applauded.

The acting, also, is not too shabby, although a little cheesy and over the top in places. Kristen Kreuk, famous for her performance in Smallville takes the role of Chun-Li, and does a very capable job of playing the heroine of the movie. Neal McDonaugh, similarly, plays Bison to a satisfactory standard, even if his accent is a little muddled (but then Bison being an Irish immigrant brought up in Bangkok can probably excuse somewhat for being a little unsure of his roots). Michael Clarke Duncan's Balrog character is probably one of the weaker roles in the film, but this is purely a script issue as Duncan's performance is absolutely fine (and he does a very convincing job of looking absolutely imposing). Vega, played by Taboo, doesn't really have enough screen time to develop properly, but isn't terrible in what he does. Even Chris Klein, of American Pie fame, isn't completely out of place as Nash, the Interpol agent, even if his dialogue gets a little corny sometimes.

Speaking of corny, cheesy and over the top, let's talk about the fighting. This movie has gone with the over the top philosophy when it comes to depicting fights and violence, and as a result you'll see plenty of impossible kicks and jumps from various characters over the course of the film. However, cheesier and more fantastical still is the martial arts training Chun-Li receives. Without meaning to spoil anything, it's clear that even though fireballs are unlikely to be summoned from people's hands, they obviously thought the idea was cool enough to include something vaguely similar.

Ultimately, the main problem this film has is that is simply "alright". All the time I was watching I found myself saying to myself "this isn't too bad" but it never got further than that. It's pretty much what you can expect from the movie by looking at it. As a video game adaptation it's mixed in its fidelity to the source material, but on the plus side the references are sufficiently minimal to allow for fans to get the gags. The ending, however, is questionable. Again, without meaning to give too much away, they seem to have closed a few too many doors for the film to allow development over subsequent instalments.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating :
Violence : Plenty of martial arts, of the over-the-top variety associated with Eastern martial arts cinema. A few gunfights, mostly between the agents of Interpol and the armed militia of Bison.
Sex/Nudity : None whatsoever.
Swearing : A couple of uses of "shit" and "ass".
Summary: One of the better video game tie-in movies, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li succeeds in setting up a future instalment of this introductory series for the characters. However, despite not being a bad film, it just doesn't have anything that pushes it that little bit further into true great territory. A shame, really, as the film shows plenty of promise. 5/10

Flick
David Howard
Monster Films
Available Now - £12.99 (DVD)
Review by Rob Wade

Flick tells the story of Johnny Taylor, a teddy boy from the 1960s who is involved in a scuffle at a dance party killing several people, only to come a cropper while driving away from the party with the object of his desires, Sally, in the car. After they go over a bridge, Johnny sinks in the car while Sally escapes, and the car is left to its watery grave. Fourty years later, the car is recovered with Johnny's corpse inside, dead. However, when swing music plays on the radio at the morgue, Johnny comes back to life as a zombie hell-bent on revenge, and driven by the possibility of the dance he so badly coveted from Sally.

See, here's the problem with this movie. I want SO badly to like this film a tremendous amount. The idea was novel enough to keep my attention when I read the press release, and the cast is actually not too bad (bear in mind, though, that the lead roles are played by Faye Dunaway and the guy from the Nationwide building society adverts, so star power is not really something this film should become known for). Having said that, it's got Michelle Ryan from Bionic Woman in it as well, so maybe the cast isn't as bad as all that. Faye Dunaway, on the plus side, does get to play a wise-cracking cop with a fake arm. Awesome, right?

However, this film is let down purely on technical levels. The dialogue is bloody awful, despite the characters' best efforts to make it work. The visual style is horrendously bad at times, and merely passable at others. It seems like a film student made this, and not a particularly good one at that. The style seems designed to provoke contrast between the blood and the rest of the action, but at other times just looks like a poor quality camcorder. There's FAR too much use of shaky cam in this film as well, to the point that I thought the camera person may have been attached to a paint mixer while trying to hold still.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating :
Violence : A quite substantial amount of blood and violence.
Sex/Nudity : None.
Swearing : The odd word here and there.
Summary: Flick is ultimately let down by the lack of technical prowess demonstrated on all levels by the people responsible for making the film, and despite the best efforts of the cast, the film is just about watchable as a result. 4/10

Blood Rain
Dae-Seung Kim
Palisades Tartan

Available Now - £15.99 (DVD)
Review by Brad Harmer

Blood Rain marks the second feature of South Korean director Kim Dae-seung, and is a detective thriller set in 1808 during the Joseon Dynasty. Mysterious and deadly events are filling the residents of the remote island of Donghwa with a sense of foreboding. A local shaman collapses during an annual ritual, and seems momentarily possessed by the spirit of Kang, a local lord who was executed. Lee Won-kyu arrives from the mainland to investigate and is immediately met with a murder case. As the body count rises, Lee discovers a connection between the victims, and chillingly, to Kang himself.

If the notion of a “Samurai Style Sherlock Holmes” appeals to you, read on. If not, there’s nothing for you here – move along. If you’re after a crime/thriller/detective movie with a difference, however, this may be worth checking out.

The mystery on hand here is well pulled together, and its intricacies and the parties involved are some of the cleverest parts of the movie. What’s more, those looking for traditional Asian extreme violence will be pleased, too. The murders grow more and more violent and more and more Dr Phibes as it goes along.

The only real flaw lies with the movies pacing, and unfortunately it is a major one. There’s altogether far too much discussion and dicking about and not enough actual detective work taking place. At 114 minutes long, it’s not exactly epic – but it could have been half an hour or so shorter, without losing anything.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Some creative, gory and sadistic murders. Some scuffles and swordplay.
Sex/Nudity: None
Swearing: None
Summary: A well put together, but ultimately slow and unengaging thriller. All the right pieces are there, but it never really seems to gel together. 6/10

Secrets of the Clown
Ryan Badalamenti
Brain Damage

Available Now - £2.99 (DVD)
Review by Blake Harmer

When I watched this film it made me reminisce of when I was a child (which I will admit very few movies do) and I was playing Resident Evil on my Playstation for the very first time. Now I suppose you think I’m going to say that this movie was so immersive and scary that it reminded me of when the dogs leapt through the windows and turned my trousers brown. However, the reason it made me reminisce was because the acting was terrible that it reminded me of the opening cinematic, which has now become gaming legend for its awfulness.



The horrors of this movie don’t end there (and not in a good Halloween horror movie sort of way). How about a psychic who looks like he poos himself when he has a premonition? Or a demonic clown that looks more like a tit who is covered in papier mache holding a knife? Or the excruciating fact that it feels like the film ends about 20 minutes before the actual end and then carries on some stupid unnecessary plot twist? The list goes on, all I can say is that this is a waste of £2.99, which could be used on getting a second hand version of a good horror movie. Avoid.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
A fair amount of stabbing with lots of gore, although it is obvious that the effects have been done on the cheap.
Sex/Nudity: Some boob shots, which actually occur within the first five seconds of the film, which has awarded itself a bonus point just for that.
Swearing: Some swear words, but your focus will be more on “Why am I watching this?” than thinking the swearing, gore and tits actually make this film bearable.
Summary: This is a film that is so bad that at the end of it my fiancée gave me a dead arm for making her sit through it with me. You might be able to have a laugh with it by watching it with some friends and mocking it but even then there are better films that you can do that with. This is more shit than It. 1/10

Fringe: Season One
Warner Home Video
Available Now - £49.99 (DVD) and £59.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Charlotte Barnes

Fringe is a sci-fi television series about a team which investigates cases of strange phenomena that exist on the fringes of science. FBI agent Olivia Dunham suspects a sinister presence behind the bizarre and unexplained goings on which have been occurring and enlists the help of a scientist who has been in a mental institution for the last 17 years, Walter Bishop, along with his son Peter. Together the team investigates various cases which go beyond the realms of normal police work and soon begins to uncover a trail leading to a global corporation called Massive Dynamic.

Fringe seems to be a new and updated version of the The X Files, but rather than exploring the paranormal the two leads Olivia Dunham and Peter Bishop along with the insane German scientist Walter Bishop investigate incidents where extreme scientific experiments have gone wrong.

The quality of the acting is top notch, the actors seem to have really captured their characters, especially Walter Bishop whose aloofness is endearing and engaging. Unfortunately, the chemistry between Olivia and Peter seems a bit lacking, hopefully this will be improved upon in the second series.

One of the series' major flaws is the believability of the show; the science just can’t seem to keep up with the storylines. Not enough time passes in the development of each episode to believe that an antidote or cure to some horrid disease can be made in such a short time by a man that hasn’t practiced science in seventeen years. It can all seem a bit tenuous that having gone insane, Walter is able to deduce what wicked experiment was used on some poor human being but is also able to solve the mystery in a matter of hours/days. Surgeries are performed in his old laboratory that looks like it hasn’t been cleaned or used in decades; surely the FBI would object to this.

The main problem is that the series is meant to be taken seriously and is meant to be believable like CSI or Bones, but the plot just is not strong enough for you to be able to accept it on those merits. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy watching the series, I just believe it needs to connect with the more science fiction elements more so that as an audience we can lose ourselves in it without a niggling voice in our heads screaming “this is not plausible!”.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Lots of gun shots and blood.
Sex/Nudity: None
Swearing: None
Summary: Fantastic acting, a great all round cast. The special effects were great especially for TV, the script writing was the only thing that seemed to dampen the series. 6/10

Disgaea: Volume Three
MVM Entertainment
Available Now - £15.99 (DVD)
Review by Brad Harmer

The King of the Netherworld has died and various demons are now building their own empires in an effort to take control. However, the late King's son has arrived and is out to reclaim his rightful place as ruler of the Netherworld. Along to help him is his vassal, Etna, with her Prinny squad, and Flonne, angel-in-training originally sent to assassinate the king only to find that he has already died. Join our three intrepid and somewhat eccentric heroes as they initiate their plan to conquer the Netherworld, Heaven and Earth!

Do you remember back in the day, when anime was mostly about giant fighting robots, sword-wielding samurais and Neo Tokyo about to explode? You do? Well, then you’re probably about the same age as me, give or take five years, and you can’t figure out exactly why all the kids these days seem to be under the impression that this wussy, big-animal-eared, emo-listening, winged, fluffcrud that seems to be filling the Sci-Fi channel and at least two drop downs of the nearest Waterstones is "cool".

And now there is this abomination.

Do you like “funny” moments in anime, where a character pulls a dazed expression for a second before falling off their chair? Do you like lots of MIDI brass music in the background (apparently composed on a NES, to boot)? Are you a fifteen year-old, female My Chemical Fall Out To Mars fan? Congratulations! Not only are you going to love Disgaea, but when you’re older, you’re going to hang around in joss-stick shops and own lots of cats.

For what it’s worth, whilst I didn’t much care for the original drawnings, the animation here is actually pretty nifty, blending cel animation and CG in a way that’s pretty innovati....okay, no it isn’t – they’ve been doing it for years. It still looks pretty cool here, though.

There is very little to recommend this series, seriously. Don’t support this kind-of garbage. Bring on the giant robots.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Some conflict of the Saturday Morning Cartoon variety.
Sex/Nudity: None
Swearing: None
Summary: A vapid and unlikable series full of obnoxious cliched characters, with almost nothing to recommend it. 2/10

Time Bandits
Terry Gilliam
Optimum/Elevation
Available now - from £9.99 (DVD) and £13.99 (Blu-Ray)
Review by Rob Wade

For those who have seen the film Time Bandits before, be forewarned; the above DVD contains very little that you won't have already seen. There is a new interview with Terry Gilliam for this year, otherwise it's all stuff that has appeared on previous DVD editions, so probably not worth the money at the moment.

For those who haven't seen it (which bizarrely until now included myself), brace yourself; this movie is an absolute headfuck, but one of the most instantly accessible films I've watched in quite some time.

Kevin is a young man whose mind always wanders into history, despite the efforts of his despairing parents. He can always be found with his nose in a history book, much to his father's chagrin. One night, however, he begins to see strange apparitions from his wardrobe and begins to question what is going on around him. One night, a group of midgets come through his wardrobe and whisk him off on an adventure, unaware of the malevolent presence that is watching over them all the time they are travelling through history. Along the way, they meet Robin Hood, Napoleon and even King Agamemnon!

I will happily admit as this movie started that I wasn't sure of the appeal. So many times, I've been a huge fan of a film as a child, only to find that after watching it back as a cynical adult, it just doesn't stack up to my memories. I was of the opinion that Time Bandits could potentially be one of those films, just like Super Mario Bros was all those years ago (don't judge me).

Thankfully, this movie was much more entertaining that I was originally giving it credit for. The acting, while typically 1980s, is enjoyable. The story is absolutely superb, a work of fantastical genius the likes of which nobody seems brave enough to try anymore. Thankfully Terry Gilliam has never been one to go for the safe route, as his back catalogue demonstrates expertly. There isn't a bad performance to speak of in this movie, everyone does their part sufficiently well. John Cleese, in particular, is enjoyable as a pretty ditzy Robin Hood, as well as David Warner playing the Evil role in the movie.

Another plus point I found about this film is that it's got one of the darkest overtones throughout the whole film, and deals with the idea of Supreme beings and religious discussion in subtle and intelligent ways. Also, this film has possibly one of the most awesome endings ever, which I was really not expecting at all.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: Some midgets beating on a young boy. Otherwise a few people get vapourised.
Swearing: None that I noticed.
Sex/Nudity: Again, none that I noticed.
Summary: Ultimately a really enjoyable film, with one of the most original plots I've ever seen. This particular DVD edition is probably not for everyone, but at the same time if you don't own it already, it's a good excuse to pick it up.8/10

Ghost Ship
Steve Beck
Warner Home Video

Available Now - £17.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Blake Harmer

Everyone likes a good ghost story, and Ghost Ship delivers, keeping the traditional lost and doomed souls feel and putting it on a boat rather than the usual haunted mansion.

The plot is also fairly traditional as far as horror movies go: After discovering a ship missing since 1962 floating adrift in international waters, a team of salvagers claim the vessel as their own. Once they begin towing the ghost ship towards harbour, a series of bizarre occurrences happen and the group becomes trapped inside the ship, which they soon learn is inhabited by lots of ghosts, including a very powerful and evil entity.

I found that this film had quite a few flaws. Firstly, I felt the pacing could have been better, as it felt that it took a long time for anything to happen which then resulted in the ending feeling rushed. Also, I felt that some of the special effects felt quite cheap for a high budget Hollywood horror movie and this makes the experience feel like a B-movie at times. Also the film had some predictable scares in it and didn’t really make me jump throughout.

However, There are enjoyable bits to this film, I especially enjoyed the opening scene showing how a large amount of the crew dies using some high tension wire. I thought that this death was very inventive, and I found myself rather disappointed when the other deaths in the film didn’t follow suit. The film did also have an enjoyable story, although badly paced. The extras on the disc are also good and it is interesting to see how they did some of the special effects.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Some fairly good gory effects which sadly now look dated when shown in full High Definition splendour.
Sex/Nudity: One of the ghosts lures someone to his death using her norks in one scene but apart from that you don’t see anything else.
Swearing: Realistic swearing, nothing out of the ordinary for a horror film.
Summary: An enjoyable horror romp, although not bursting with originality or super scares. You will be entertained, but there are better horror films out there than this. This is definitely worth a rental though and good for a Halloween party. 6/10

Gremlins: 25th Anniversarry Edition
Joe Dante
Warner Home Video

Available Now - £17.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Blake Harmer

At last, a truly awesome horror film to review! For those of you who have never seen the film are in for a treat, flashing monsters, hilarious over the top deaths, and possibly one of the cutest animatronic creatures ever made…Gizmo.

The plot to those who haven’t seen this classic monster movie is as follows: When Billy is given a small creature called a Mogwai by his father, who is an inventor, and calls him Gizmo. However, Billy is unaware of the carnage he is about to encounter. There is a huge responsibility in looking after Gizmo as there are certain rules that must be followed. The Mogwai must be kept away from bright light, never made wet and never, ever be fed after midnight. When an accident occurs involving Gizmo and water, the next evolution stage of the Mogwai appears, and it isn't nice at all.

The film is awesome, as it has some great animatronics, funny one-liners and some good jumpy scenes that are the makings of a great monster movie. The transition to HD has also been good for it, except for some mild dating of some of the effects, but then again this film is twenty-five years old. There are some great featurettes on the special features, which are also worth having a look at.

The only thing that lets this package down is that a lot of the special features on the disc are also on the DVD version, so unless you are a huge fan of the film and want it in HD, I probably couldn’t recommend shelling out for the film if you already owned it. However, this is still a superb film and has withstood the test of time brilliantly.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Lots of violence and explosions that only a film made in the 80’s could supply, although most of the violence is comical. However, Gremlins does deserve special mention for having the best death scene in film history (the stairlift scene – need I say more).
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: A few light swear words but this is more of a family horror film than a truly grotesque splatter fest with hard swearing and tits.
Summary: An amazing horror film for young and old people are like. You will find it incredibly hard to hate such an enchanting film. And you don’t like it, then it seems you are not ready for Mogwai. 9/10

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Basic Pumpkin Carving

Pumpkin carving is a massive tradition in the USA, but despite its growth as a Hallowe’en activity in recent years, I was amazed at the number of people who have told me that they’ve never carved one before! Apparently, mutilating vaguely spherical marrows strikes a lot of people in this country as rather odd! Well, let me tell you, you don’t need to be concerned as it’s actually surprisingly easy to do!

Step One: Choose Your Pumpkin

Size is merely a matter of preference. I prefer to work with a larger pumpkin, where possible, as I prefer to have a larger space to play with. I have seen some fantastic work though, on very small baby pumpkins – and to tell the truth, I’ve even seen some impressive work on an orange pepper.

Once you’ve chosen what size you want, the most important thing to do is to make sure that it is a pumpkin. A pumpkin should be vaguely spherical, hard, and orange. If it comes from the large box in the supermarket marked “Pumpkins”, then you should be okay. But do be aware of dodgy market vendors trying to pass off butternut squashes, onions and terrapins as “pumpkins”.

Step Two: Choose Your Design

Most people like to go for the “traditional” Jack O Lantern design for their first time out, but if you’re feeling brave, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be a little more creative. With a pencil (or “Biro”, if you’re feeling flash!) draw your design lightly on the pumpkin. Mutter under your breath a little as the writing implement glances off of the shiny skin of the pumpkin

You should now have a scrawly, messy looking face on your pumpkin.

Try to ensure that the majority of the face is in the middle. Too high, and the light will look washed out; too low and it will keel forward as you carve into the base, retard.

Step Three: Prepare the Pumpkin

Carving the face is the fun part. First, we have to get the sticky and gross part out of the way.

The first thing to do is to cut a lid in the pumpkin, so that you can a) get the guts out, and b) put a candle inside. The single most important thing to do is to ensure that you cut inwards at an angle (40° - 60° is best), so that the lid will rest back in the pumpkin comfortably.

If you cut the lid straight downwards, then when you go to replace it, it will just drop straight through into the pumpkin like Del Boy and Rodney cleaning a chandelier.

Once you’ve made the cut, pull the lid upwards by the stalk. There’ll be a tearing sensation as you tear at the seed strands inside. You seed murdering bastard.

Now, with a ladle or other large scooping device, begin to scrape at and remove all of the seeds and vile stringy bits. Continue until your arm starts to hurt. At this point, put the ladle down, and start to pull out the seeds and vile stringy bits with your bare hands. Feel the corners of the your mouth pull sideways like Wallace from Wallace and Gromit as the cold slimy interior cakes between your fingers.

Make a grossed out groaning sound.

Now that you’ve successfully gutted the pumpkin, wash your hands. Doesn’t help at all does it, sticky buddy?

Step Four: Carving the Pumpkin

Take a sharp knife, and push the sharp end into the pumpkin – NOT your hand. Tut under your breath as it slides in too far and scars up the lovely drawing you did earlier, making the eye three times bigger than it needs to be.

Make one nostril bigger than the other by mistake, and accidentally knock one of the pumpkin's teeth out. Swear under your breath.

Step Five: Finishing Up

If you've done everything right so far, you'll notice that it's very hard to get candle into the pumpkin. You can drop it in unlit, but then can't light it without burning yourself; or you can light the candle first, and then burn yourself dropping it, muttering "cunt" under your breath as it goes out on impact.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Video Game Reviews

WWE Smackdown VS Raw 2010
Xbox 360, Wii, PS3 (Version Tested), PSP, DS
THQ

Available Now - £49.99 (PS3, Xbox 360), £39.99 (Wii) & £29.99 (PSP, DS)
Review by Blake Harmer

One of the great things about wrestling is its theatrics and soap opera style storylines with a steel chair to the face. It appears that developer Yukes have realised this by making the main focus of this year’s edition of SVR all about making you the booker. Especially as it seems that user created content is the big thing in gaming at the moment what with the success of Little Big Planet and Guitar Hero’s Studio option.

The story designer, which allows you to create your own story narratives lasting from one episode of Smackdown or Raw up to a massive two years in game time, and is plotted through a game calendar showing when episodes and pay-per-views are on. With each show you are then able to set up matches for the show, and create scenarios using the cut scene creator to link matches together and create storylines using a large number of animations, locations, characters and inputting your dialogue into text boxes. It’s truly amazing stuff, and you can even share your storylines online with an already huge gaming community and sample other people’s stories. For each match you can also choose the match type who the players play as, and who is AI controlled and also all the stipulations for the match such as time limits, no disqualifications, falls count anywhere etc.

Other improvements to the series are also based on customisation, from an improved create a finisher mode which allows you to create ludicrous high flying finishers, to the improved create a wrestler mode which allows even more in depth creation of your own characters or of wrestlers that weren’t included in this years roster. In regards to matches, the Royal Rumble has been improved making it harder to eliminate people although it is sad that you can’t do any quick eliminations in it anymore and the new Championship Scramble is fast and furious as everyone fights to be the titleholder at the end of the time limit by scoring pin falls and stopping other people from doing the same.

However, the downsides come in the form of focus not been lavished on the main part of the game which is the wrestling, the controls haven’t changed since the last few versions of the game and bar a slight change to the HUD nothing has been improved upon in terms of gameplay. Which is a shame as it is a franchise that could do with a proper overhaul and tightening to improve this.

In the end SVR 2010 is a good game and worthy of purchase to all great wrestling fans, especially those who want to try out being a booker and coming up with your own crazy plot lines. However, if you’re not interesting in all the customisation elements and just want a good wrestling game, I can’t recommend this purely for the fact that SVR 2009 offers the same great experience and is a lot cheaper to boot. 8/10

Brutal Legend
PS3 (Version Tested) Xbox 360
EA

Available Now - £49.99
Review by Blake Harmer

As game designers go, Tim Schaefer is probably one of the most E14 game designers out there, especially as he created such great games as The Secret of Monkey Island, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango. So I was really looking forward to playing Brutal Legend, his latest creation. Why was I looking forward to this I hear you ask? Well, not only has Tim Schaefer created a game with brilliant characters, creatures and ideas whilst retaining his trademark humour. But he also he deserves a special mention for actually creating the most metal game ever created, in your face Guitar Hero: Metallica.

The game is great as it is filled with ideas. The main game is set on an open world in the vain of GTA, etc., and has side missions to be completed, stuff to be found etc. However, where the game differs is how it evolves into the game. I can safely say that the beginning of the game truly blew me away, firstly it started as a simple hack and slasher like Devil May Cry and God of War by hacking demons to pieces with a giant axe and using Eddie’s guitar for magical attacks but then, the game changes by showing you the Deuce, a car which packs an excellent soundtrack featuring the likes of Mastodon, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, 3 Inches of Blood and Manowar (need I say more?) on its radio and adding an easy way of exploring the game world. Then the game turns into an RTS with you in the centre of the battle, a nice idea and one that hasn’t been seen since Herzog Zwei on the Mega Drive with you commanding units on the fly whilst cutting people into bread. Chuck in the excellent humour of Schaefer with Jack Black’s timing and ability to swear in a humorous way, as well as great cameos such as Lemmy, Ozzy and Rob Halford and you have the makings of a great game.

However, the game lets itself down on two levels. Firstly, after the initial few hours of gaming brilliance, the game sadly descends into being quite monotonous, with only the great setting and humour holding your interest. Secondly, despite all of it’s brilliant ideas, the game spreads itself out too thinly and each of the ways the game plays never outshines that of other games that you may have played previously, for example, the RTS element is nowhere near comparable to the likes of Age of Empires, and the combat is laughably simplistic when compared to Devil My Cry, and the open world doesn’t beat the brilliance of GTA.

All in all, it depends on what you are looking for in a game. If you are a metaller who likes comedy and great storytelling and would put up with "okay" gameplay for it then this is an essential purchase and it is in this respect it is probably one of the most E14 games ever made. However, if you are a hardcore gamer who only wants to enjoy the gaming experience then you will find this an enjoyable affair but only worth a rental. This is an average game made good by Schaefer’s touch. 8/10

NHL 10
EA
PS3 (version tested), X-Box 360

Available now - £49.99
Review by Blake Harmer

Ice hockey is a sport that I am surprised hasn’t really taken off on as huge a scale as other sports like football, boxing or rugby. If anything it has all three, the quick and technical grace that can be found in football, only quicker and to me way more entertaining. It has the rough and tumble element of rugby, only it looks rougher as they are falling face first into solid ice rather than grass, and when the fights start in ice hockey it can sometimes put your average boxing match to shame. It is with this in mind that I can also confirm that EA has crafted one of the finest ice hockey games ever created, and also one of the greatest sports videogames ever created, and this is why.

Like EA’s other sport franchises, EA has taken a lot of pride in creating the perfect atmosphere and feel of the sport whilst making it incredibly fun to play at the same time. It could be the sublime commentary, the animations of the players and crowd as you make a rush for the puck and body checking your opponent, draws you in and makes you fully immersed in just a few moments of playing. The AI of computer-controlled teams is very good as well, and it’s immensely satisfying when you are able to out think them strategically and slot the puck between the goalkeeper’s legs. The improvements to this year’s addition further immerse you the greatness of the sport. From an improved career mode with cut scenes charting your team’s rise to glory, to the new fighting system which goes for more first person view so you feel you are actually scrabbling with the opponent to desperately plant a sucker punch on his chin before the ref sends you off for fighting.

NHL 10 truly captures the feel of ice hockey better than most other sports games attempt to capture their sports. However, the only problem I have with the game is that, as the game has a new instalment every year, I feel that there has been too little new that has been added to it since NHL 09. Whilst the adjustments to the game have been welcome, they don’t hugely change the overall feel of the game, which is that it has always been amazing. Therefore, for those people who already own NHL 09 I find it very hard to recommend shelling out another £40 or so for NHL 10 with the few extras it has, which is why I have to mark it down. If you want the full awesomeness, buy it, but bear in mind you can get last years game, which is almost as great, for about half the price. 9/10

Monday, 26 October 2009

Obese people can jog on


A quick question before we begin: What is with the whole diet and health obsession culture that has become of humanity? It feels like it started as soon as places like McDonald's started doing salads as part of their meal options. I really think anyone who buys a salad from McDonald's is really missing the point of the restaurant. The whole reason junk food tastes good is partly down to the fact that you KNOW you shouldn't be eating it, because it is terrible for you. The problem is that you don't care unless you're the kind of person who lacks sufficient self-awareness to purchase a salad from McDonald's to appease what passes for your conscience.

Nowadays, we're inundated with different fitness gurus from different walks of life (actors, TV soap 'stars' etc) peddling their fitness DVDs in time for New Year, when of course everyone is shedding their Christmas dinner weight. We have adverts for 'Diet Chef', a service that supposedly delivers healthy meals to your door so that you don't have to burn any unnecessary calories going to the shops or cooking. Still, for £50 a week, you'd expect something substantially fucking nutritious. Hell, for £45, I'd expect the food to eat and digest itself, while still allowing me to feel the health benefits and nourishment associated with the foodstuff in question. Speaking of fitness gurus, whatever happened to Mr. Motivator? The TV world needs him back. Bad.



The trouble is that we as a society have made an example of these people when what we should have done is ignore them completely, for example if you saw one in a crowd (I know that doesn't really work in practise, as most obese people are technically a crowd in themselves, and thus more difficult to ignore by definition). Think of all the reality television you've watched in the last few months. If it's any more than "none" then you're an arsehole, but more on that another time. Of those reality shows you've watched, I would hazard an educated guess that a significant percentage were about obese women, obese families or obese children. I watched one called "Britain's Biggest Babies" the other day, and found it to be mostly tragic but occasionally hilarious. One woman was twenty-three stone (THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-TWO POUNDS) and failed to realise she was pregnant. Hardly surprising, considering she weighed the same as several professional wrestlers including The Undertaker. To put it in perspective, he's nearly seven feet tall and unlike this woman isn't three feet wide to go along with it.

Having said that, the show did get comedy points for using the phrase "Diabetes RUNS in their family" with no sense of irony whatsoever.

If it's not the television programmes, it's the stupid magazines like "Take a Break" or "Pick Me Up" (Which I can only assume is named ironically when the headline reads "Fourteen Stone at age 4" or whatever the hell it says). I hate these parents of obese children, because these are the same parents who probably complain about the violent video games in society, when any parent worth their salt will at least KNOW what Wii Fit is, even if they've seen through the bullshit and recognised it for what it is; a trick to make you think exercise should be enjoyable.

When you think about it though, we haven't helped as a society. Sure, Wii Fit is a bit of a gag to anyone who understands the joke, but then it's not the first thing to try and convince you that you're exercising more than you are, is it? I mean, since when is a PEDOMETER a useful tool in the fight against obesity? First of all, have you seen one? It's just an LCD gauge, that is literally all it is. An LCD gauge in a plastic case.


Secondly, it doesn't actually fucking work. I borrowed one once, and all it did was register when I made any sort of vague movement whatsoever. Thank God I don't suffer from any sort of physical tic, otherwise I'd have ended up overloading the fucking thing on the first day!

Obese people are not obese because they don't eat the salads at McDonald's. Obese people who visit McDonald's are obese because they order two fucking meals a visit (or one meal with another one as a "Side order") and then have the nerve to order a DIET COKE with their meal. Come on, who are you kidding? Do you honestly believe you'll be able to stave off that next dress size up just because you lose those ever-so-filling Coca-Cola calories? Maybe you need the energy from those three portions of onion rings to fight off the obesity. In any case, more power to you and best of luck. You'll need it, chunky.

Never forget, society has helped to make obese people the way they are, by molly-coddling them and trying to make them feel better about themselves. Obesity is not a condition that should be sugar-coated. That's a recipe for disaster.




Saturday, 24 October 2009

Book Reviews

Burial
Neil Cross
Simon & Schuster

Available Now - £6.99
Review by Brad Harmer

Nathan has never been able to forget the worst night of his life: the party that led to the sudden, shocking death of a young woman.

Only he and Bob, an untrustworthy old acquaintance, know what really happened and they have resolved to keep it that way. But one rainy night, years later, Bob appears at Nathan’s door with terrifying news, they’re going to build over the site of their crime...and they need to move the body.

Burial is a crime novel with a twist – rather than following the detective, and their attempts to solve the crime, we’re following the perpetrators, and their attempt to keep the deed hidden. But Burial is also so much more than that. It’s tracking of Nathan’s descent into darkness makes this a character study in guilt that is tense from start to finish.

There are a couple of flaws. Frequently the dialogue splits into a non stop sequence, almost script like, and it gets difficult to keep track of who is speaking at times. Also, it’s a very short story, and even though it only clocks in at 304 pages, it feel more like a novella stretched to novel length – and there are lots of internal thought pages, with nothing really happening.

With that said, the things Burial does well, it does very well indeed. Fans of both high literature and crime fiction would do well to check it out.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Several scuffles.
Sex/Nudity: At least one lengthy and detailed sex-scene.
Swearing: A realistic amount.
Summary: An excellent character study novel, with a great storyline. Some flaws in the writing style do mar what could otherwise have been a great book. 8/10

Gears of War: Jacinto's Remnant
Karen Traviss
Orbit

Available now - £7.99
Review by Blake Harmer

Whilst not being the biggest reader of books out there, I do consider myself to be a fairly hardcore gamer, hence why I chose to play through Star Wars: The Force Unleashed rather than bothering to read the novel. Hence why I have been given a novel that acts as a follow on story to the highly successful video game franchise Gears of War.

Jacinto’s Remnant follows on from the end of Gears of War with the flooding of Jacinto, the last surviving city and also filled with the remainder of the human race, in order to wipe out the Locust Horde, a species of monsters that have come out of the ground with the intent of war on humanity. The book looks at the main cast trying to get over their ordeals from the war and now cope with the survival of the refugees and getting them to a safe haven especially as they have few resources and winter is setting in soon.

As seen in her contributions to the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Karen Traviss nails the gritty side of war and dealing with the consequences with it brilliantly. She also captures the essence of the characters from the game perfectly, such as Marcus’s quiet but forceful way he makes himself present and the way they always get the job done quickly and efficiently, whilst being able to pull the odd wisecrack at the same time.

However, my problem with this book is the inaccessibility of it. The book is clearly targeted at fans of the computer game, but doesn’t invite newcomers who haven’t experienced the game to try it out and enjoy it as well. This book is good, but only if you know enough about the universe already that you are comfortable getting immersed in it.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Lots of death via shooting and cutting things with chainsaw guns. But then again that’s what you should expect from Gears of War.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Lots, Traviss seems to catch the feel of the game and army life perfectly by having them swear pretty much every other word.
Summary: An enjoyable read and I certainly recommend it to the big fans of the series, however, if you’ve never played Gears of War then you will find little or no enjoyment from this. Especially as it relies on you already having a knowledge of the characters and the events that occurred previously in the game. This is definitely one for the fans. 7/10

In the Dark of the Night
John Saul
Pan Books

Available Now - £6.99
Review by Brad Harmer

The rambling lakeside house called Pinecrest has lain empty since its last owner went missing seven years ago. But for the Brewster family it will be this year’s holiday retreat, and for the kids Eric and Marci it’s the perfect place to spend a lazy summer exploring.

Which is how Eric and his teenage friends discover a curious collection of discarded objects stowed in a hidden room in the carriage house. The bladeless hacksaws, shade-less lamps, tables with missing legs, a headless axe handle – these unremarkable items add up to a pile of junk. Yet someone once took the trouble to list each worthless relic in a cryptic ledger, thus provoking a great mystery that is now whispering, coaxing, demanding to be solved. The more the boys devote themselves to piecing together the puzzle, the more their fascination deepens into obsession. Soon their days are consumed with this weird collection, while their nights become plagued by ever more ghastly nightmares.

In the Dark of the Night is far from groundbreaking in any way, but what it does, it does well. The scares are good, the characters are all believable and the story interesting. It does stray into the realm of clichĂ© a little too often to be highly recommended, but if you’re looking for a horror book for a read this Hallowe’en, you could certainly do a lot worse that this one.

The novel’s greatest weakness is where it crosses over into fact – with particular regard to real-life serial killers being mentioned. If you’re going to do that, at least do your research properly. Getting type of knife that Jack the Ripper used completely wrong, was more than a little irritating for me, as a cursory glance at any source would disprove it. Of course, such things may not bother you.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Several grisly murders and animal mutilations.
Sex/Nudity: Some teenage “make-out” sequences.
Swearing: A mild amount.
Summary: An interesting idea that never really seems to shine beneath its Hollywood Horror veneer. A fun read, but forgettable. 6/10

The Company
K.J. Parker
Little, Brown Book Group

Available Now - £7.99
Review by Brad Harmer

Hoping for a better life, five war veterans colonize an abandoned island. They take with them everything they could possibly need - food, clothes, tools, weapons, even wives. The colonists feel sure that their friendship will keep them together, but an unanticipated discovery shatters their dream and replaces it with a very different one. Only then do they begin to realize that they've brought with them rather more than they bargained for.

For one of them, it seems, has been hiding a terrible secret from the rest of the company. And when the truth begins to emerge, it soon becomes clear that the war is far from over...

The Company is a book that I tried very hard to like, but unfortunately, I could never really sink my teeth into it. The characters are hurtled into the narrative, with long, unpronounceable fantasy names, and with very little to separate their personality until about a third of the way in. This makes for a very slow start, as I constantly found myself flicking back to the first chapter so that I could keep track of who was who.

Once the story gets going though, it really is well written. The description is suitably epic, and the dialogue fluid and easy to read. Unfortunately, the novel as a whole is lacking any real hook. From start to finish I felt as though I was observing, rather that involved in the narrative – it felt like the difference between watching a movie and watching a documentary.

It’s not a bad book, but I don’t think it’s a great book, either. If you’re into fantasy, it would be worth picking up at a discount price, or a borrow from the library – but there’s just not enough substance to justify forking full price over for it.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Several scenes of murder, and flashbacks to full-scale battles, with vivid descriptions.
Sex/Nudity: Some implied scenes of the “curtains blowing in the wind” variety
Swearing: Several instances of fucks and shits.
Summary: A well-written Viking style fantasy piece that never really grabs the reader. Worth a read if someone lends it to you, but otherwise, there are much better books out there. 6/10

Friday, 23 October 2009

Dickass DM - Hallowe'en Special

Previously on Dickass DM, Rob has been playing as Captain Braggart through the Fighting Fantasy gamebook Starship Traveller...with many hilarious misadventures!

Now, get ready for our special extra-length two-part one-off Hallowe'en special, as Rob Wade prepares to tackle one of the hardest game books of all time - Steve Jackson's House of Hell!

Brad: The rain is spattering down your windscreen as you drive through the night. It's such a deluge that the wipers and headlights aren't doing anything to improve the visibility.
Rob: What song is my radio playing?
Brad: "Tom Sawyer", of course. The old man's directions must have been wrong. He must have meant a second left turn or maybe even a right...The old man wouldn't have misled you on purpose, would he?
Rob: Stupid local bumpkins. Should have charged up my SatNav. They charge, right?
Brad: Yeah. About £15 a month, I think. Suddenly a figure comes into view in the headlights! You spin the wheel to the left to avoid him, and the car bumps and rocks to the sounds of Rush as you slam into a ditch. You leap out of the car to rush to the aid of the person you must surely have struck. The rain soaks straight through your clothes as you run to where you could have sworn he was. But there is nothing there.
Rob: Maybe he was light and I knocked him flying?
Brad: Was there ever anyone there? There must have been! You remember the old man throwing his arms up in fear...the pain on his face....
Rob: The sound like a golf ball as he got thrown up into the air...
Brad: Was it the old man who gave you the directions? It could have been. Or could it? You hurry back to the car and twist the key in the ignition, but it won't start. You could walk back to the garage...but that must have been a good twenty miles by now. And you're cold. And wet. And lazy.
Rob: It's still raining as well, I would be carrying extra rain weight. Who can be fucked with that?

*Rob has acquired "Rain Weight"*

Brad: Suddenly, a light comes on in the near distance. Someone has switched on a bedroom lamp!
Rob: In the middle of the road?! That's a good trick, where'd they plug it in?
Brad: It must be a house...you must not have noticed it until now. There's a light. Over at the Frankenstein Place.
Rob: Sounds delightful.
Brad: Right, I'm putting the Rocky Horror soundtrack on Spotify. The house is probabaly five minutes walk away. You'll be soaked when you get there, but what choice do you have? You'll be able to dry off inside whilst you wait for the garage.
Rob: What could possibly go wrong, eh? What's this book called again?
Brad: You climb the steps to the front door.
Rob: How many steps? I'm lazy.
Brad: Three.
Rob: Fuck that. I'll set up camp at "Two".
Brad: On the porch you'll be out of the rain. It may be worth making the effort.
Rob: Fine.
Brad: The rain is pelting down, but there's an eerie silence. No lights are on downstairs. The whole place looks deserted...but then again it is five to midnight.
Rob: That'll do it. Maybe there's a panto on in town...
Brad: Suddenly, a light comes on on the ground floor, to the left.
Rob: Ooh, somebody didn't go to the panto! I ring the bell pull.
Brad: You pull the cord, and hear a tinkling noise within. The downstairs light goes off.
Rob: Weird place to put a light switch.
Brad: The door opens. Standing there is a tall man in a old-fashioned black suit.

Lurch: Yes?
Rob: Uh...Hi. My car broke down, and I may have killed an old man.

Rob: What's the definition of a modern black suit anyway? I've only ever known old-fashioned.
Brad: This has tails and so-forth. Distinctly Victorian. Possibly Edwardian.

Lurch: Come in. The Master is expecting you. Follow me.
Rob: That's a good trick...I just got here.

Brad: Lurch leads you into a reception hall.
Rob: Best place to receive guests, I'm led to understand.

Lurch: Please wait here. I will inform the Master of your arrival.
Rob: I thought you said he was expecting me?

Brad: Lurch leaves.
Rob: Without answering my question I notice...Fucking rude, frankly.
Brad: You sit in a comfy chair and investigate your surroundings. The room is very elegantly decorated, and filled with oak panels, tapestries and portraits.
Rob: I study the paintings. Well, I'd prefer to study the tapestries, do I have that option?
Brad: No.
Rob: Bastard.
Brad: The portraits however, are particularly interesting. Three in particular catch your attention: a fit bird in a tiara, a middle-aged fat dude in glasses, and an elderly, stern looking woman. Which would you like to examine closer?
Rob: Are we assuming the character is me, or are they a particular age or anything?
Brad: Your call.
Rob: Right, assuming it's me, the one with the tiara.
Brad: Of course. The plaque beneath the painting reads "Lady Margaret of Danvers 1802 - 1834"...You blink. Did you just see her lips move?
Rob: I don't know. What did they say?
Brad: You think you can hear a whisper. Leaning closer, you can just make out its message.

Painting: Stranger, beware of this place, for it is cursed! Many have succumed to its power, myself included. The Evil Lord Kelnor will already be plotting your death!
Rob: Ok...thanks...
Painting: Do not drink his white wine. Or, if you can, begone! Escape while you may!

Brad: A cold prickle tingles the hairs on your neck. You gain a Fear point. Eight more and you've gone mental.
Rob: Okay. I'm going to wait and see what happens next. Haven't I lost that rain weight by now?
Brad: Guess so.

Rob has discarded Rain Weight

Brad: Lurch opens the door, admitting a tall man in a purple smoking jacket.
Rob: Is he on fire? Or has he recently been set on fire? If so, I go near him to get rid of the rain weight.

Lurch: May I present Lord Kelnor, the Earl of Drumer.
Rob: You may.

Brad: The Earl holds out his hand for you to shake.
Rob: I shake it.

Kelnor: Please, I can see that you have been caught in this storm. Let us sit by the fire and we will see whether we can help. Franklins, tell the cook to prepare some food for out visitor.
Rob: Oh! Let him know I'm allergic to white wine!

Brad: The room and company seemse comforting and friendly. Lurch leaves, and then returns swiftly with two glasses of Brandy.
Rob: I wait to see what the Earl has to say.
Brad: Kelnor seems a little annoyed by your nervousness.

Kelnor: Come, come, there's no need to be afraid. Has your little accident caused you to lose your nerve? Drink your brandy, you'll soon forget your fears.

Brad: You wonder at his expression. Is he genuinely concerned, or is there an ulterior motive there? Add 1 FEAR point. Seven left to go until Happy-Happy-Doo-Dah Land. Lurch returns.

Lurch: Your meal is served, sire.

Brad: Kelnor accompanies you to the dining room, which is magnificent. A long table is laid with fine silver cutlery, and the red wallpaper lines the walls sumptuously. A candle chanderlier hangs from the ceiling. Lurch offers you wine.

Lurch: Red or white, sir?
Rob: Red, please. I'm allergic to white.

Brad: The wine is an impeccable vintage. Soup is the starter. For your main course, will you have lamb or duck?
Rob: Duck.
Brad: The Earl has the same, and you chat as you eat. The duck is good. He asks what you were doing lost in the road in the middle of the night, and you explain about the old man and his directions. You ask about his family.
Rob: Does the duck come with pancakes?
Brad: For the sake or argument: yes.
Brad: The Earl is the last surviving member of his family. The land he owns stretches for acres around the house. It was once prosperous farmland, but then things went wrong. His sister died age 32 under mysterious circumstances. She was found dead in a clearing with strange marks on her neck. The peasants began to talk of witchcraft and Black Magic. They believed the house was cursed and began to move away. You finish your meal, and Lurch offers you desert. The choices are A) Fruit, coffee and brandy, B) Cheese, coffee and brandy or C) Cheese and coffee. Fruit and brandy not an option, obviously.
Rob: Apparently he's got coffee going out of date or something. Cheese and coffee, please.

Lurch: Coffee and coffee...very good sir.

Brad: Lurch brings cheese and pours you a strong coffee.
Rob: Yeah, definitely using up the last of it.
Rob: After you have finished, The Earl rises.

Kelnor: Our conversation has been most enjoyable, but now you must be very tired. Franklins will show you to your room. Let us retire.
Rob: I'm only 25.

Brad: Old ones are the best. Especially Cthulhu. When you stand, you realise how tired you are. You stumble and have to grab the chair to steady yourself. Did you maybe drink too much?
Rob: Apparently so.
Brad: You collapse to the ground unconcious. When you awaken, you have your hands and feet tied. The room you are in is empty, but you think you have a plan. You can hop over to the window, break the glass, and cut yourself free! This can't possibly go wrong, right?
Rob: Yeah, that sounds better than my original plan of "crying-until-he-let-me-go".
Brad: Do you want to smash the glass with your hands - or do you want to "test your luck" (game term for trusting in the Force, I guess).
Rob: Hmmm...I'll test my luck. This can't possibly go wrong.
Brad: You manage to break the glass without hurting yourself.
Rob: Cool.
Brad: You cut your bonds, and massage your wrists to get the circulation going again. You decide to try the door, and are pleased to discover it is not locked. You push the door open gently. The room is on a first floor-landing. Facing the door is a balustrade, and looking down, you can see the entrance hall below.to your left are two doors in the corner of the landing, which then runs along to the right. Looking right, the landing continues to another door, and then turns left. Do you want to go left or right?
Rob: Right.
Brad: Is that a decision, or are you pondering aloud?
Rob: I was toying with the latter, but it is a decision.
Brad: The door has the word "Azazel" on the name-plate.
Rob: Well that bodes well. I open the door.
Brad: You open the door and peer in. There's no one in there, but the room is full of clutter. It looks like a rudimentary laboratory.

Rob: Ah, scientists, those notoriously messy beasts...

Brad: A telescope points through the window. Charts and mathematical formulae are pinned to the walls. A demonstration human skeleton hangs from a hook, and vials and test tubes are arranged across the desk. They look old. At least a hundred years old.
Rob: I'm going to investigate those test tubes, motherfucker.
Brad: Well, that was just uncalled for...You enter the room and close the door behind you. A squeaking noise comes from the far corner. It's just some rats in cage. Despite all their rage.
Rob: I examine the drawers.
Brad: You find some ornate letter openers. They could easily be used as a dagger.
Rob: Yeah, take one.

*Rob has acquired "+3 Letter Opener"*

Brad: You hear footsteps, coming closer. You creep into the shadows and wait.
Rob: Worst case scenario, I find myself prepared in the event of sellotaped envelope openings.
Brad: The footsteps stop outside the door, and you can hear two voices talking.

Voice 1: Hadn't we better ask the Master's permission?
Voice 2: Hmm. Maybe you're right. And we'd better get a light for the lamps.

Brad: The footsteps head off in the direction you approached the room from. It's probably best you make a move. You head back onto the landing. You decide to head away from the odd couple.
Rob: Probably best, they're busy anyway. Following the landing, you reach another door on the right hand side. The name plate reads "Erasmus". At the end of the corridor, facing you, is another door. Which do you want to try?
Rob: The Erasmus door.
Brad: Because you've been watching? You've been waiting? In the shadows?
Rob: Maybe it'll take me away for a year, to another country. Year Abroad gag FTW.
Brad: The door is locked, and probably too sturdy to break down.
Rob: Let's try the end door, then.
Brad: Just as your hand reaches the handle, you hear a rustling noise behind you.
Rob: Someone's got crisps!
Brad: You turn around, and see the wind is rustling the wall-hangings.
Rob: Oh. I'd got my hopes up for Wotsits.
Brad: Turning back, you're surprised to see a ghostly white figure in front of you. It' appears to be a woman in her early twenties, wearing a tattered and dirty wedding dress.

Rob: Great Thor's Hammer!
Woman: Oh, thank God I have found you in time! I must talk to you immediately! Come, let us go into this room!

Rob: I follow her. Nothing ventured, no ghost woman nailed.
Brad: You gain one Fear point for the encounter (Now at 3/9). She passes straight through the door, and you use the more traditional method. The name plate reads "Apollyon". It is an elegant bedroom, with fine curtains, dressing table, mirror, and a huge bed. The ghostly woman hovers in the centre of the room and gestures you to sit down on the bed.
Rob: Giggedy.

Woman: Your coming here has been no accident, and I must warn you of the terrible dangers you will face here. The house is ruled by the Master, a powerful Black Priest of the Night, named Kelnor, Earl of Drumer. I would guess that you are to be offered to the Demons of Hellfire, if you survive that long. Yesterday they trapped a girl, a pretty young district nurse who happened to call. She is to be offered tonight. I cannot let this devilry continue!
Rob: Thoughtful of you.
Woman: There must be some way it can be stopped! If you can find the Kris knife, you might defeat Kelnor, for this weapon is his only weakness. Please help me! You will probably find it in...
Rob: The stationery drawer? Is this it?
Woman: No! Quick! We are discovered! I can hear the Hounds! Go! Leave this room!

Brad: You stand up...you can hear barking. The woman points to the door, and you look outside, but can see nothing. Spinning back, you can see the woman fighting two Ghostly Great Danes. You step forwards to help, but you just pass through the dogs.
Rob: Makes sense.
Brad: The Ghostly Woman and the dogs fade. So what will you do, Brave Adventurer? Will you help as she has asked, or just try and escape the house?
Rob: Help her. She was ethereally hot.
Brad: You walk back down the passageway, and pass two doors, labelled Azazel, and Mephisto. You can try one of these, or continue down the corridor.
Rob: Mephisto. I think I already went in Azazel. I could always check for some sort of enchanted staple remover.
Brad: The door opens a little way, but catches on something - stuck. Do you want to try and force it, or give up and move on down the corridor?
Rob: I force it. Using the force. Or physical force. Whichever I can actually do.
Brad: You heave the door, and it opens enough to allow you entrance. It is cold and damp. A window pane is smashed, and ther eis nothing unusual besides from frayed knotted rope. A shard of glass was blocking the door from opening properly. Sound familiar?
Rob: Oh, yeah...Okay, so I was in Mephisto.
Brad: There's a Marvel gag there somewhere...You leave, turning left this time. You reach the two doors in the corner. The one on the left is labelled Balthus, and the other bears no plate. Do you want to try one of these, or continue along the corridor?
Rob: I try Balthus.
Brad: This is a dungeon crawl, isn't it? Albeit a well-appointed, one. This room is relatively bare. The walls are covered in pin-stripe wallpaper. There is a firepace in one wall, with a small box on the window sill. Curtains are pulled along one wall...but they seem to be bulging in...odd....places.
Rob: Odd like human-shaped, or odd like at random intervals every six inches?
Brad: Human-ish, but not-quite right...possibly posed oddly.
Rob: I investigate the curtains. With knife ready.
Brad: You grab the left hand curtain and fling it open! There is nothing there but a barred window.

Rob: Taste blade, bitch! Aaaggh! A window!

Brad: You reach out to the other curtain, but suddenly the bulges come to life!
A heavy blow hits you on the chest, and you are knocked to the floor (+2 Fear, now 5/9)! As you push yourself up, the curtain pulls aside revealing a rotten green zombie! Ragged clothes hanging from its frame, it advances towards you!
Rob: Why do zombies always dress in ragged clothes? It's never a dinner suit is it?
Brad: The zombie rakes at you with its claws, shredding your shirt.

Rob: Bastard, bringing me down to your level, this was Armani!

Brad: You strike out with the letter opener, slicing across its legs giving you a chance to get to your feet. You stab the opener deep into its guts. It moans and thrashes at you. You slice the opener across its jugular, and it collapses to the floor.
Rob: Hmm...I investigate the box.
Brad: The box rattles when you touch it.
Rob: SNAKE!
Brad: Inside is a small key.
Rob: Oh.
Brad: The book here details that this key unlocks the door and lets you out. However, due to a loophole, we never found it was locked. Nice one, Jackson. Back out side, you can try the unmarked door. Alternatively, the corridor ends at the main staircase, leading downwards.
Rob: I try the unmarked door.
Brad: The door opens unto a passage ending at a window. Half-way along, on the left-hand side, is a door labelled "Diabolus".
Rob: I investigate the window.
Brad: You reach out towards the curtains...

Check back next Friday for the exciting conclusion of the Dickass DM Hallowe'en special!