I was one of many who played the original PS3 version of Dragon’s Dogma while it was on its demo tour at a few comic book conventions and knew right away that Capcom was onto something special. In the final build, Exploring the open world of Gransys made for many hours of near constant amazement at every new encounter, how well connected the dungeons were to the overworld, the day/night cycle which put characters in constant danger if they traveled at night, and much more. The key here is not “better”, but “different” than the games it’s been compared to as the experience does have flaws, but does so much so well on a regular basis.
A bit of much more below:
The later Dark Arisen expansion added a supremely treacherous second map, Bitterblack Island, that was clearly created for expert players and clearly not for the faint of heart. Nearly every major enemy was set on “puree”, including some huge, almost unstoppable bosses that could, if you were under the suggested levels, take a few game days to dispatch. The lure of all those lovely gear drops here was worth a few trips into the dread, because players who managed to survive the first few rooms could return to the main game with some pretty awesome new gear. But enough of that for now- here’s the tenth anniversary video that ends with an announcement of current plans:
To Hideaki Itsuno and his team, One word comes to mind: RESPECT. I can only hope they give us the best of the original game and polish up a few of the quirks, like the somewhat suicidal Pawn AI, which would sometimes fling itself into harm’s way when it wasn’t pulling off some stellar support work. I may even start posting gameplay videos again, as I was making some lengthy ones back when the PS4 version dropped. Keep it offline, save for the Pawn loaning between users, or see if some sort of co-op mode can be implemented. I’ll shut up now, as I only play games and don’t make them. Anyway, between using the glorious RE Engine and what’s bound to be some spectacular design elements, I’ll be dreaming of even more mythical and mystical creatures for a while yet. Or just playing the original again (from the beginning, of course).
As I pressed the Purchase button to get my copy of Nun Massacre ($5.99), I said aloud to no one in particular “I don’t know why I do this to myself”, something I tend to do whenever I buy a horror-themed game. Yes, games like this have me talking to myself frequently (and somewhat nervously). Indie developer Puppet Combo has been making short PS1-style horror games for PC gamers since 2013 and they’ve finally gotten two of them on home consoles (Murder House is the other one). Basically, this is a short, frequently scary and always tense blend of exploration, stealth and puzzle action where you’re trapped in a rundown school with a knife-wielding nun trying (and at many times, succeeding) to violently do you in. There’s a story here told through notes you’ll find all over the place. But you’ll probably be too freaked out to read through all of them, what with that nun popping up at the most inopportune moments. Just keep telling yourself “It’s only a game, It’s only a game…”
The game got a recent update a few days ago and is now a “definitive” version which adds some new game modes, rooms and new killers to avoid. But you’ll have to survive one play though to unlock some of those options, which will be a pretty harrowing experience. There are video settings to adjust (VCR, PSX, Black and White), the game has a “Nun Tracking” mode that adds VCR like tracking “noise” to the game when the Nun is in the area (a must on your first play) and the game even comically warns you to play only once a day and play as your life depends on it, which is worthy of a chuckle. I mean how scary can this game be, right?
Yeah, WRONG. In other words, you’ll be inventing new swear words every few seconds as the tension steadily ratchets up. This is totally old school with NO mid-game or auto save system to fall back on and few choices except running and attempting to hide from that nun, which means if when you die you start over from the beginning each time. While intensely frustrating, you end up recalling where items are located and can survive a few minutes longer before your certain doom. The Nun’s location can indeed be randomized if you want to put yourself into cardiac arrest even faster, so try not to do that on the first run. Oh, there are deadly traps here as well, such as the razor wire you’ll blunder into at one point, which is straight out of Suspiraand yes, that Nun pops up while you’re stuck and gets quite stabby.
Amusingly enough, there’s a way to play this as “None” Massacre (my title) where you can explore the game’s room without a nun attack. But I was so wound up by the main game that I didn’t trust this mode to not freak me out somehow, even with jump scares shut off. Turns out I was right (you’ll see). The overall length of this may turn off some players, at it’ll take maybe 30-45 minutes to get through one time, if you move quickly, don’t panic (too much) and use the items you find in the right spots. That said, the game is meant to scare the living hell out of you and I can see some players being turned off by this plus some of the intentional flaws here. By the way, that sound effect when you encounter the nun is like every scream in every horror flick ever made heard all at once, but played by a factory full of alarm clocks. Yikes and turn it down on the options screen before you fire this up or you’ll wake a few dogs in the neighborhood.
It took about two and a half hours to finish on my first time through, and that was with some dumb luck more than skill on my part. Yes, another few plays is required here to unlock more secrets, but not for a while in my case. I’m starting to see nuns when I sleep and they’re not waving around wooden rulers either. Highly recommended, but not at all for the faint of heart. I’m working up the nerve to play again, but I just may attempt to survive Murder House first (maybe).
All Ichiro Aoye (Toshirō Mifune) wanted was to get his latest painting done while up in the mountains. But a chance encounter with famous singer Miyako Saijo (Shirley Yamaguchi) leads to an innocent motorbike ride past a bus with a pair of nosy magazine photographers looking for an exclusive interview with her. They don’t get it, but manage to snap the two seemingly sharing a room (they’re not). Once the photo arrives back at Amour Magazine, a salacious story gets written and both Ichiro and Miyako deal with the resulting fallout, even though they both temporarily benefit from career boosts due to the resulting gossip.
Thus begins Akira Kurosawa’s Scandal, which manages to poke a finger in the eye of celebrity worship and the often lousy and slanderous “journalism” that comes with it. The film is also has bits of comedy, does double jury duty as a decent courtroom drama and you’ll also find the old heart string tugboat towing the SS Kleenex for good measure. There’s a big slice of mundane, but honest sentimentality here that still resonates more with age and for me, it’s Kurosawa’s most “American” film, despite the Japanese setting.
Ayoe goes to the magazine’s office, slugs the article’s writer and tells them he plans to sue. Later, he’s approached at his home by a somewhat disheveled lawyer, Hiruta (Takashi Shimura) who gives him his business card and asks to represent him at the upcoming trial. Ayoe says he’ll give it some thought, but his friend Sumie (Noiriko Sengoku) comments on Hirata’s smelly feet and warns Ichiro about his choice. The next day, Ichiro visits Hirata’s rundown home to accept but meets his bedridden young daughter, Masako (Yōko Katsuragi), who’s had tuberculosis for five years, but still greets him with a joyful smile and shows Ichiro what’s currently keeping her happy: an intricate wedding outfit her mother has made that’s to be delivered the next day to a future bride. That old tugboat is puffing out gently scented tissue smoke right about now.
Inoue also stops by Hinata’s cluttered “office”, a tiny shack on the roof of a building that looks as it it was built by the lawyer himself where he finds some bike racing forms and a photo of Hinata’s daughter tacked up near the door where she’s standing up and still bearing that warm smile. Ichiro leaves a chalkboard note saying he wants to retain the lawyer and leaves. The film gets busy touching on that period between Christmas and New Year’s Day where there are some laughs to be found and you realize that drunken revelers are the same almost everywhere. Hinata’s plans to one-up the magazine by secretly revealing his trial plans to its shady publisher backfires badly and he eventually takes money to gamble on the races, where he seems to keep losing.
Everything culminates in quite the ending that’s guaranteed to get that tugboat huffing out more tissue smoke of course, but with Kurosawa, it’s in for a penny, in for a few pounds. there are a few ways to watch this from poorly subtitled versions posted online to the far superior Criterion Collection box set you can get here that gets you five of the director’s post World War II films. Whichever way you choose, you’re in for quite a holiday.
In short, where to start other than listing a few flicks that were to me, enjoyable to the point that they’re not any longer (warning: opinions ahead!)
The Hypnotic Eye (1960) -Slick but eventually overcooked semi-horror about a suave, heavily accented hypnotist (Jacques Bergerac) and his curvy assistant (Alyson Hayes from Attack of the 50-Foot Woman) who seem to be responsible for 11 women mutilating (or killing in one case) themselves with no memory of the incidents afterward. The film kicks off with an amazing and horrific opening, but has to feature possibly the dumbest detective on the planet who allows his girlfriend to act as Hypno-bait for too long to the point of disbelief.
The film starts out strong, but the denseness of the detective and his way too clueless nature hurts the proceedings as it plays out. That said, there are a few high points, such as the interviews with some of the disfigured victims that show off some disturbing makeup, the always pneumatic Miss Hayes and this particular scene, which some of you movie lovers might find yourself identifying with somewhat:
Things fall apart with a nutty mass hypnosis scene that’s amusing, yet takes a bit too long before motives are revealed with an ending that includes a pretty cheesy makeup job (is that an oatmeal mask left on too long?) and a corny PSA about hypnosis. This one falls into the “Oh well” pile by the time it’s over, but at 79 minutes, at least it doesn’t overstay its welcome. If you’re very sensitive to flashing lights, you might find yourself under it’s spell a bit- just don’t attempt to wash your hair or drink coffee afterward.
The Muthers (1975) – Thanks to a relative who took me to the movies as a kid, I have the distinct memory of seeing the trailer to this film and it stuck for decades until I finally caved and bought this DVD from Vinegar Syndrome last year, and found it to be somewhat lacking after the fact. Sure, it’s a Z-grade exploitation film and yes, it’s got that going for it from the start. But I actually fell asleep the first time I watched and had to sit through a second time just so I can write that it was actually watched this to the end. And NO, it certainly did not get better the second time around.
Directed in the Philippines by Cirio S. Santiago, this is kind of enjoyably junky if you just turn off your brain and wallow in the film without judgement. On the other hand, there are far better films in this sub-genre that are worth watching than this clumsy, cheaply made affair with its crummy excuse for martial arts and loads of gunplay and explosions. Amusingly enough, I recently found out it’s one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite films, which makes me think that perhaps he should have just made a Fox Force Five flick during his Grindhouse period. Or hell, got a limited TV series out of a those few lines of dialog from Pulp Fiction. I had to dig out a Jack Hill film from the collection just to wash my brain rid of this mess, so I got to see The Swinging Cheerleaders rock this film’s world.
The Dungeon of Harrow (1962) – Let’s just say that while the late Pat Boyette was a great comic artist of the era and beyond, his sole directorial effort, the dreary gothic leper flick presented here ends up being as bargain basement as it gets for a “horror” film. The only good thing about this Vinegar Syndrome release is it comes as a double feature with Death ByInvitation, which has its flaws but it’s a great deal more watchable than what’s here. Granted. this falls squarely into “cult classic” territory, but the dreadful pacing here makes this a total chore to sit through. When I lent the disc to a friend recently, he returned it while waiting downstairs in his car while he flew the disc upstairs using a drone he purchased. There was a note inside the DVD case stating that the both films were shown to a group of seven and people could barely make it though the main feature.
Let’s see now: two survivors of a shipwreck have to deal with everything from wild dogs to the creepy Dracula impostor and his dressed for the wrong movie bodyguard. There are two women also trapped on the island, but the whole film looks as if someone went through a random pile of clothing as a Salvation Army, chose the cheapest outfits and made up a plot as they shot. Amusingly, trying to describe the plot is somewhat futile, so this capsule review may actually do the job of selling a handful of copies if anyone is THAT curious. Hey, it’s your money and time, folks. These aren’t exactly bucket list films, but I’ll take one for the team every now and then, Hey, I think I hear some film noir calling me – back in a bit with some other stuff.
Oh, WordPress is ticking me off because it sometimes won’t allow me to add tags until AFTER a post is made, so I’ll be re-editing this later!
Okay, I’ll admit my choice in multiple titles is directly inspired by watching way too many Rocky & Bullwinklereruns as a kid. But in this case, every chance at humor is a spoonful of sugar in his particularly grim musical case. I first discovered The Velvet Underground’s now classic 1968 albumWhite Light/White Heat on cassette sometime in the early 80’s, but I only barely managed to make it through the first side before tapping out. Between what I thought bask then were some intensely downbeat lyrics and very heavy use of feedback throughout the album, at that time, I wasn’t quite ready for that aural assault (and I hadn’t even heard of Metal Machine Music at that point!).
Flash forward to 1995 and I’m in a record store that was running a closing/closeout sale where I spy the Velvet Underground box set Peel Slowly and See for under $10. I ended up grabbing that, the James Brown box set Star Time and the Little Richard set The Specialty Story all for $20 new, with the cashier rounding the total down because she ran out of change. In any event, the second time was the charm thanks to a few years of broadened horizons and it was when I re-listened to The Gift that I developed a better viewpoint of the band’s output. All I’ll say is that it’s based on a college writing exercise by lead singer Lou Reed, was recorded using a stereo mix that separated the music and vocal tracks (which works quite well when using headphones) and it’s got a killer ending, courtesy of a creative suggestion by Frank Zappa during the recording process.
Not counting the many live concert versions, The song exists in stereo, mono, vocal only, instrumental only, and live instrumental recordings. Take a listen to two of those (or just one, if you prefer your music sans very fuzzy intentional feedback):
And here’s the vocal only version, although I’ll admit without the fuzz, it sounds like a somewhat more frightening campfire story, especially with that well-timed sound effect at the ending.
Yes, it’s a bit on the macabre side (and how!), but it’s also darkly amusing what with John Cale’s absolutely deadpan reading of Reed’s story. On a side note, YouTube actually has a Lego version of the song that’s definitely not for kids (like the song), uses a live concert version of the tune and yes, here’s a link if you want more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5I43qhtd1M . Er, don’t say you weren’t warned. Although, my overall opinion that a minor issue with the song is the whole Show Biz Bugs nature of it, where if you listen to it once, the shock value diminishes significantly on a repeat. That said, this may be a one-trick pony, but you’ll want to at least ride it through that flaming hoop one time just for that splash in the pool at the end of the jump.