Category Archives: survival horror

Less confused about Crossed – a review of Crossed #2


There is something very, very unnerving about the Garth Ennis / Jacen Burrows ultra-horror title ‘Crossed’. Reading issue no.2, it was the equivalent of watching a horror film through your fingers, your hands up against your face, waiting for the inevitable and very bloody pay-off.

After the gruesome, blacker-than-black humour of issue no.2, where I sounded my reservations, I actually think I am beginning to understand it now. Ennis and Burrows are showing that in the terrible world they are creating, anyhting is possible, and the depravity unleashed is beyond some peoples comprehension. However, just because they can show it laid bare in its primal, evil squalor does not mean that they are going to show it.

Economy is the key with issue no.2, and it works magnificently. You go through the issue fearing the worst, and in that sense, you are almost in the experience with the survivors who aren’t ‘crossed’.

The characters who make it through to the end of the pages feel like survivors, and are actually starting to feel more rounded and less like devices with which Ennis and Burrows can work out their sex and gore mojo. Maybe that’s the plan and next issue Ennis will throw it back in our faces, giving them all unimaginable deaths……

We reach the ‘end of the first year’ according to one of the characters, at the end of issue 2. It will be intriguing to see what Ennis and Burrows produce next time. What was looking tired, formulaic, survival horror, with an emphasis on the outre horror that mainstream comics probably haven’t dared publish before is now looking like it has more substance and a more immersive quality than I gave it credit for. There are still some ridiculously gross moments, but they don’t seem as bad as before. I am looking forward to issue 3 – and I never thought I would be thinking like that a month ago.

Touch the Dead – pocket horror (Nintendo DS) (2008)

Review – Touch the Dead aka Dead and Furious (Nintendo DS)

Considering that the Nintendo DS is a family / wide age console (from 3 to 93 or something like that) it is pretty spoiled for Zombie action. As well as the excellent port of the Playstation original ‘Resident Evil’ (complete with some of the worst voice acting and crap dialogue ever) there is a game that utilizes the touch pad technology of the DS with some nice graphics and solid action. That game is ‘Dead and Furious’ aka ‘Touch the Dead.’

Set in a prison where, for whatever reason (does it matter??), everyone apart from one man has been rendered revenant, and you are that one man, and you need to get out of the prison. Or else. This is an on rails shooter, so there is no need for you to make constant decisions on movement – there is no pretence this is free roaming. Your job is to use the touchpad and stylus to launch weapon hell at the undead and make sure you keep your weapon locked and loaded (another touch pad operation). As you go through stages of the game, from prison cells to sewers and hospital wards, you are met with a steady stream of zombies that just keep coming at you, and as you may expect, as the game progresses there are more of them and they are harder to keep down. It is the sheer weight of numbers that makes this enjoyable – there are more than enough zombies to incapacitate permanently. As is standard in these games you progress through some levels, looking for weapon upgrades, ammo and health and then you get to a boss. The boss levels are not particularly challenging, but it is the relentlessness of the action that again is the key to the game and makes it compelling. The hero of ‘Dead and Furious’ is a generic anti-hero complete with dialogue peppered with bad jokes that is supposed to pull the narrative along. But the key to this game is not about an involving plot – its all about ACTION and this game delivers. The menu screen and boss stages even have a soundtrack of thrashing heavy metal to add to the ambience, and the whole thing has a grungy, desperate feel – despite playing it on a screen not much bigger than some mobile phone displays, there are some real sweaty palm and gritted teeth moments, which is a testament to clever game design and some thought on how a zombie shooter should operate on a handheld. There is enough health and ammo out there so it never gets too tactical – just keep blasting and blasting and blasting……………

If you are a DS owner with any interest in Zombies you can have your more cerebral zombie blaster with a halfway decent plot (Resident Evil Deadly Silence) or you can have a full-on Zombie bloodbath that is mindless and lots and lots of fun while it lasts. It also has a certain amount of return value, in that you can pick it up again and again even if you have completed the game.

Best ever Game Intros No.3 – Resident Evil: Code Veronica (2000)

The Return of Resi

Released in 2000 as an exclusive for the Sega Dreamcast, Resident Evil: Code Veronica was the fourth entry in Capcoms Resident Evil series. The game is set three months after the events that occured during Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 – Nemesis. The plot takes the player from the besieged Raccoon City and into a whole new environment – Rockfort Island, an Island owned by the Umbrella Corporation. As the game progresses the latter sections of the game take place in a transport terminal in Antarctica owned by Umbrella.

The game begins with heroine Claire Redfield raiding an Umbrella Corporation facility in Paris after having left Leon and Sherry in search of her lost brother. This is the scenario of the intro film, which makes for one hell of an action scene;

Best ever Game intros – No.1 – Silent Hill (1999)

After Capcoms monumental success with ‘Resident Evil’, several companies followed up with their own take on the ‘survival horror’
genre. Konami produced a game that turned into a franchise, also incorporating a Hollywood film (released in 2006)and an arcade game (2007). Silent Hill tells the story of Harry, who following a car crash, ends up in the seemingly deserted town of the title, looking for his daughter, missing since the accident. The town soon becomes a waking, living nightmare, with grotesques trying to stop Harry from finding his daughter.

The game employs similair mechanics to Resident Evil, with an ‘over the shoulder’ controlling view of your character. While the focus on puzzle solving and fighting is similair to the Capcom classic, there is more of a focus on building an air of tension in this game. Surrounded by fog, you walk through deserted streets with the static hiss of Harrys radio breaking the silence. If enemies are approaching, although you cannot see them, you can hear them as the radio static gets louder. It is very effective at maintaining an atmosphere of dread and uncertainty. It eschews the frantic action of Resident Evil for something a little more slow-burning, and as a result, something that leaves you feeling far more unsettled than any other game I have played (though Fatal Frame for the Xbox has a similairly disturbing undercurrent.

Although the intro is just a collection of the ingame ‘movies’ that are employed to move the plot/game along, the way they are edited into the intro, propelled by the magnificent Silent Hill Theme by Akira Yamaoka, makes this a cut above the usual game intros of the PS1 era. If it was a trailer for a film, it would make me go to the cinema to watch that film. There are one or two other intros that also stand out (I loved Resident Evil: Code Veronica, Final Fantasy VII and Tekken 3) but this remains my favourite.

Click here for more information on this stunning game.

Review of the game from Gamespot here

IGN rated the game as one of its top 15 PS games of all time in 2000 (by which time the PS was reaching the end of its term as the dominant Console).

For more information on the superb soundtrack to Silent Hill (the game), then click here. While we are on the subject of the soundtrack, I think this is also one of the best ever album covers;

and why do I think this is one of the great album covers? Mainly because it encapsulates all that is superb about the game – the cover is a snapshot of happiness, but once you begin to enter the world of Silent Hill (in this case, the music), you know that there is something not right, in fact, something terrible, evil, is occuring.

You can listen to the soundtrack here.

Cannibal Holocaust, Riz Ortolini, Exploitation & Video Nasties

One of the (if not the) most notorious exploitation films of all time, Cannibal Holcaust (directed by Ruggero Deodata) was banned in several countries upon its theatrical and subsequent video releases. The splendidly named Deodata was arrested in his homeland of Italy and charged with obscenity of making a ‘snuff’ film, a situation he brought upon himself by allowing viewers to believe that the film was actually a documentary on a tragic Jungle expedition.

Wiki has a rather good article on the film, and here is some of it;

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is a controversial exploitation film directed by Ruggero Deodato and is based on a screenplay written by Gianfranco Clerici and Giorgio Stegani. Filmed in the Amazon Rainforest, it focuses on a team of four documentarians who head deep into the jungle to make a documentary on the primitive native tribes that live there. After two months and no word from the team, a famous anthropologist is sent on a rescue mission in hopes of finding the team alive. The film stars Robert Kerman as the anthropologist Harold Monroe, Carl Gabriel Yorke as director Alan Yates, Francesca Ciardi as Alan’s girlfriend Faye, Perry Pirkanen as the cameraman Jack Anders, and Luca Barbareschi as fellow cameraman Mark Tomaso.

Cannibal Holocaust is one of the best known exploitation films due to the controversy it caused upon its release. After premiering in Italy, the film was seized by the local Magistrate and Deodato was arrested for obscenity. He was later accused of making a snuff film based on circulating rumors that the film’s actors were slain for the camera. Though Deodato would be cleared of these charges, the film was banned in Italy, the UK, Australia, and several other countries for graphic gore, sexual violence, and for the genuine slayings of six animals featured in the film. While many nations have revoked the ban, it is still banned to this day in other countries around the world. Despite this notoriety, Cannibal Holocaust is seen by some critics as a social commentary on civilized society.“

When VHS top-loading videos were the thing to have in the early 80s, we were lucky enough to get one (rented, from Granda Rentals, because they cost about £500 to buy in 1982). The scene was set, one Friday evening in October, for my mother to go to the local Video Rental shop ‘Replay’ in Fazeley, and rent out a couple of videos (after paying the £25 joining fee, which entitled you to the first 2 rentals for free, as I recall – after that, rentals were £2.50 each). Their was palapable excitement as we waited for my mum to reveal what she had rented. She produced 2 brick sized VHS cases, with blank blue covers. On the spines were typed

Clash of the Titans (A)
Cannibal Holocaust (X)

This was in the days of the old ‘U’, ‘A’, ‘AA’ and ‘X’ film ceritifications – see the link;
Film certification 1970-1982

so we (me, brother, sister) knew we were going to watch Clash of the Titans, and that was it. As a 12 year old at the time, I wasnt going to get to watch an X rated film. I dont really know what made Cannibal Holocaust appeal to my mother (she seems such an innocent soul);

Anyway, that cover used to haunt me as I went around the aisles and viewed the display cabinets at ‘Replay’ and the several other Video rental shops (and one video rental van) in and around Tamworth, Staffs in the early to mid eighties. My mum said that she couldnt watch the film because it wasn’t ‘what she had expected’ (???). That just added to the intrigue. When, in 1984, the Video Recordings Act took Cannibal Holocaust (and many other ‘Video Nasties’) from the rental shops, it only made its murky glamour ever more appealing.

I finally got to watch the film in 1998, when, at a car boot sale in Buckinghamshire, I chanced upon a man selling reasonable bootlegs of all the Video Nasties, with the original cover art (in washed out photocopy colour). I purchased Cannibal Holocaust and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and got a typed-up list of all the goodies he sold, a list over several pages long. He did mail order, £5 per film. I got a couple more videos via the post, including a grainy copy of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, but then he never got back to me when I requested Clockwork Orange and The Beyond. Never found out what happened to him. It is amazing to think that only 10 years ago this was how you had to go about obtaining a relatively gory horror film. It seems like it could be than 50 years ago when you look at how the internet has revolutionised how you obtain films, either through the likes of play.com and amazon, through to torrent sites and youtube and other video hosting sites.

Anyway, I watched the film. Some parts were pretty repulsive (the animal death and cruelty scenes are horrendous, and Deodata has since admitted in an interview (that was bundled as an extra on a DVD release of the film) that he regrets including these scenes. Apart from that, the film is brutal, exciting and very gory. There is an atmosphere of dread and desperation within the film, and inevitability as the cast meet their fates.

Critical response to the film is mixed;

Critics remain split on their stances of Cannibal Holocaust. Supporters of the film cite it as serious and well-made social commentary on the modern world. Mike Bracken called it one of the greatest horror movies ever filmed, and also stated, “Viewers looking for a film that’s powerful, visceral, and disturbing have a new title to add to their must-see list.” Sean Axmaker praised the structure and set up of the film, saying, “It’s a weird movie with an awkward narrative, which Deodato makes all the more effective with his grimy sheen of documentary realism, while Riz Ortolani’s unsettlingly lovely, elegiac score provides a weird undercurrent.”Jason Buchanan of All Movie Guide said, “…while it’s hard to defend the director for some of the truly repugnant images with which he has chosen to convey his message, there is indeed an underlying point to the film, if one is able to look beyond the sometimes unwatchable images that assault the viewer.”

Detractors, however, counter with the genuine animal slayings, questionable acting, and hypocrisy that the film presents. Nick Schager criticized the brutality of the film, saying, “As clearly elucidated by its shocking gruesomeness — as well as its unabashedly racist portrait of indigenous folks it purports to sympathize with — the actual savages involved with Cannibal Holocaust are the ones behind the camera.” Schager’s racism argument is supported by the fact that the real indigenous peoples in Brazil whose names were used in the movie — the Yanomamo and Shamatari — are not fierce enemies as portrayed in the movie, nor is either tribe truly cannibalistic (although the Yanomamo do partake in a form of post-mortem ritual cannibalism).

Robert Firsching of All Movie Guide made similar criticisms of the film’s content and claimed that the “…pie-faced attempts at socially conscious moralizing make it rather distasteful morally as well. The fact that the film’s sole spokesperson for the anti-exploitation perspective is played by porno star Richard Bolla should give an indication of where its sympathies lie.” Slant Magazine’s Eric Henderson said it is “…artful enough to demand serious critical consideration, yet foul enough to christen you a pervert for even bothering.”

Cannibal Holocaust currently has a 57% rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 4.7.[20] The film came 8th on IGN’s Top 10 Grindhouse films.“

(taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannibal_Holocaust#Critical_response)

The mention of Riz Ortalinis “unsettlingly lovely, elegiac score” brings me onto that very thing – the theme tune for the film. Ortalini is an Italian film composer, whose work includes the soundtrack for Mondo Cane (a documentary film that consists of a series of travelogue-vignettes that provide (the intended) Western audience with a shocking glimpse into cultural practices around the world). In some respects, it could be said that Mondo Cane was an influence on Deodata and his making of Cannibal Holocaust. His work has also been used by Tarantino, in the excellent Soundtracks for Kill Bill.

Here it is, in all its unsettling loveliness;

Cannibal Holocaust Main Theme – Riz Ortalini

and here is the trailer for the film;

Links

Full Wiki entry on the film

Riz Ortolani info

Mondo Cane info

A few years ago David Kerekes (of Headpress) and David Slater produced a book that explores the history of death on film, and there is a section on Cannibal Holocaust in there. It’s fascinating and well worth tracking down – amazon have it;

By the way – do snuff films actually exist?

Finally, if you are at all interested in the curious witch hunt that got Britain in a state about some (mainly bland or bad) horror films, you should check out John Martins’ book, “The Seduction of the Gullible: Curious History of the British “Video Nasties””. Its been reprinted twice, but is currently out of print, but you can find copies out on ebay or amazon. He also released a sequel, but the book I have mentioned remains definitive.

There are also some good resources on the internet for this curious slice of British History;

Wiki entry for Video Nasties

Critical Film analysis

The Video Nasties furore detailed

The brilliant Melon Farmers site gives an account of the Video Nasties saga

and absolutley it seems as if even now, in 2008, when we are hardened to the graphic ‘torture porn’ of the likes of ‘Saw’, ‘Hostel’, ‘Vacancy’ and ‘Paradise Lost’, someone has not forgotten about the good old days….

The video nasty debate rears its ugly head again

Last Blood

I am going through a phase in my life (another one) where I get slightly obsessed with all things Zombie. The last time the obsession took hold was when I played Resident Evil in the Nineties, and the time before that was when I got to see Dawn Of The Dead for the first time on VHS video in the Eighties. The reason I am ‘slightly obsessed’ now is down to 2 fantastic pieces of writing, the first one is Max Brooks’
‘World War Z’ which acts as an ‘oral history of the Zombie war’ and tells of how humans from all over the world fought back against legions of the undead. The second reason is Robert Kirkmans’ ‘The Walking Dead’ comic series, published by Image. It’s highly addictive, more like a drug, and Kirkman (the writer) really knows how to build up tension and leave each issue on a cliffhanger moment. I want to write more about ‘The Walking Dead’ at a later date, as at the minute there is a major story arc underway, and I want to get through that before I begin to enthuse about its genius.

I got back into comic books in a big way a few months back, mainly off the back of the Marvel Comics ‘Civil War’ story, and ‘The Walking Dead’. The thing is, how do you know what (comic book titles) are worth picking up and which are to be avoided when you haven’t really been reading them for several years? Well, you go on forums, you can check out the ‘what other people are buying who bought this’ approach of Amazon or Play, or you can look at previews of titles on Comic Companies websites, like the impressive Image Comics website, where most new titles covers and first five pages are there for you to peruse.

Some publishers are going the whole hog and putting a title online as well as in the traditional physical format. As I mentioned earlier, I am slightly obsessed with Zombies at the minute, and especially Zombies in comic books. I have been snapping up the whole ‘Marvel Zombies’ related titles (mainly written by Robert Kirkman), getting into Image Comics ‘Crawlspace – XXXombies’ (70’s porn stars and zombies face-off, with a bit of the powerful George C Scott film ‘Hardcore’ thrown in for good measure), and even checked out the Marvel Max title, Zombie. Online, you have got another title – Last Blood, created by Bobby & Chris Cosby, and published by Blatant Comics, but available to view here;

http://www.lastblood.net/

The concept is a twist on the traditional Zombie titles, with Vampires protecting Humans from Zombies, so their food supply is not affected. The site reprints all the issues so far (1 -3) and each page is readable online (it is not my preferred method of reading a comic). Each page has underneath it a few lines of comment from the creators, and underneath that some comments from users on the site. It’s a good package, and worth your time in having a look at it if you are into Zombies in comics. The writing is nicely paced, and although I wasn’t impressed with the first few pages of art, it certainly starts improving and you get used to the style quickly. It’s not great art, but it does its job well enough. Overall, I would give the 12 pages I have read an overall 7 out of 10.

Links;

Image are my favourite Comics publisher by far – check them out here –

http://www.imagecomics.com/

Official site for World War Z, by Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks, honest!)

http://www.randomhouse.com/crown/worldwarz/