Tag Archives: horror

The End of the World: Zombie Apocalypse

Change of pace!

I think I want to run a game, but I haven’t figured out what yet, since nobody wants to play 1st Edition AD&D. A while back, I got the first in the End of the World series on a whim, knowing it would be a series, and that their hook (aside from multiple scenarios per book, each such book centered around a different theme) is a game system that allows you to play yourself, just as the world is beginning to end. In this case, due to one flavor or another of zombie apocalypse.

So, the system? Is a little overly complex, for my taste. And okay, a careful reading of the previous paragraph makes me sound like I’m high, but the fact is, familiarity and nostalgia forgive a lot of complexity. But much more importantly than that is whether your simple, elegant system is successful at being simple and elegant. This one might be, if I’m comparing it to a game from 35 years ago where every rule is an edge case, but I’m comparing it to a homebrew system I stole from Ken Kofman like 20 years ago, and by those standards, this one is pretty hacky. So, y’know. (Also, I’m a lot pickier about rulesets these days, when nostalgia isn’t a factor.)

The far more important part of the book, therefore, was the 75% that followed the rules, in which five apocalyptic scenarios were explored. Each section has the player POV description, a description of what’s really going on, multiple plothook ideas, NPC/monster stats, a timeline of the apocalypse from minute one to year three or four, and then a post apocalypse section for roleplaying into the world that exists beyond the end of our world.

These? Were mostly good. I think there was only one scenario whose genesis and result I liked both of, but that doesn’t mean it would be impossible, or even especially hard, to mix and match. For reasons of potential game spoilers, I won’t go into what their scenarios actually are, but there were definitely some pretty good ideas scattered throughout the thing. Enough to make me want to buy more books in the series, if I can ever find them used. I doubt I’d run another zombie game? My only really successful GM experience was from one, so it’s probably better to try something different.

But I do love me a good apocalypse, so.

It (2017)

I feel like maybe It should have had a name that will make its sequel in a year or so make more sense. Because, as is, it seems like it will appear to be a sequel, while in actuality it will be the second half of a coherent whole. I mean really, now, It 2? I hope not!

This is what you came here for, right?

But seriously, I think it may be broadly known among the readership here that It, by Stephen King, is my favorite book. I even, unjustifiably, like the ABC miniseries from lo these many years past. Sure, it’s under television guidelines, but it tried very hard to be a faithful adaptation. All the same, the idea of a multi-part cinematic version struck me as a pleasing idea, something I could maybe point to as “yeah, that’s why I like this book so much” without expecting someone to put in the time investment of a doorstop horror epic.

Mostly: this is that movie. It could have used another 45 minutes or so to breathe and allow the kids to be small town kids on their own for the summer, give an idea of what the oppressive horrific atmosphere was taking away from them. (And to allow some of the references to be built into the plot instead of just there to make sure ItFan117 was satisfied that their pet reference got made.) But all in all, it definitely did what I wanted, and I’m excited to see the second half. Hell, I may even watch this one again, but since I still haven’t seen The Dark Tower yet, that feels hard to justify.

That said, I do have some real complaints, and they are not the result of my pet fanboy moment being missed or misrepresented. Unfortunately, they are kind of all huge spoilers. So, I’ll put them in the comments.

Last thing: the acting / direction of those kids was seriously good.

EDIT: Having now posted my spoiler complaints in the comments section below: seriously, do not click through or read those unless you want third act plot destroying spoilers. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Last Shift

Mary was out of town for a couple days last week, so at one point I pulled a random movie off my Netflix watch list, which as will surprise nobody is like 90% horror. Last Watch was good as a mood piece, but very hard to make sense of if you find yourself paying the slightest bit of attention to the plot.

See, there’s a rookie cop, and it’s her first day (well, night) on the job, and she shows up at the precinct, only to find it empty of everything except office furniture and fluorescent light. Which, that was maybe cool when I was playing Resident Evil 2, but not for a movie? But it’s okay, soon someone else shows up to tell her she has to man the station overnight, until a hazmat team shows up to take away unsafe materials from the evidence room, after which the whole place will be shuttered and she’ll take up normal duties at the new station down the street built to replace this one.

So, fine, she starts her solo last shift at the station, and then… well, y’know, there’s a movie in there somewhere. And it’s appropriately creepy and jumpy and chock full of variously predictable and unexpected events. Y’know, a horror movie. The problem is, by the time I got to the end of the movie, I found that the premise retroactively made no amount of sense whatsoever. So if that would bother you, then don’t do it. If you could mostly get by on the mood part? They did a good job, other than the writing!

Hack/Slash: Son of Samhain

After Tim Seeley wrapped up his Hack/Slash series, some other folks decided to pick up the torch, I guess? I’m a bit disappointed that they were not more successful at it. Partly because it means this probably really is the last book, and partly because it’s nice to see Cassie Hack treated as a fully realized character, instead of as a fully realized character who is obliged to dress like a goth pin-up for no internal reason.

But mostly because Son of Samhain could have been a legitimate next chapter. The supernatural serial killers, the Black Lamp society, all of that really is over. But the literal monsters that we never knew until know were lurking behind the scenes? They’re tired of playing second fiddle, and the new war lurking over the horizon’s horizon promises to be bigger than anything Cassie has faced before. Basically, if Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural had a crossover in a world where nobody had ever heard of either of those things, this is what it would look like. And that’s not a bad space to be in!

Plus, the literal meaning behind the slightly metaphorical title promised to unlock even more never explored chapters of Cassie’s future life. Not to mention that the child himself was reasonably cool, too. Alas.

 

Alien: Covenant

Got around to seeing me an Alien movie, and my short answer is this: it fell short of what it should have done in exactly the same way that Prometheus did before it, but without the benefit of my belief that if only Prometheus were the first half of a longer story, everything would come to rights again.

Here’s the thing. Alien: Covenant is exactly the movie I was looking for, a sequel in which we find out What Happens Next. …at least, it should have been. It so easily could have been. Instead, that plotline is jettisoned in favor of something that is no longer sfnal at all and back to pure horror. Which, okay, that is where this series started, and there’s nothing wrong with it, and I kind of appreciate the specific details of this horror movie, none of which I will be telling you.

But then, after failing to deliver on the possibilities of the first movie, it simultaneously fails to deliver on a bridge to the original 1979 Alien, which is the only other job it had. In point of fact, timelines being what they are, I would say it is impossible to get from this story to that one. (And if I were to ignore timelines, which is at least semi-possible, it would mean that to get from here to there, I would need Ridley Scott to make exactly the movie I wanted him to make this time, which he is clearly unwilling to do.)

Long story short once again, my advice is stick with Alien/Aliens and assume Ripley got her happy ending, as that is the best way to deal with this series.

The Walking Dead: The Whisperer War

Here are the problems with The Whisperer War:

1) It is way way way too busy. Zip cuts between scene after scene, with sometimes 12 and 16 panels on a page. Which is not automatically a bad thing, except that
2) I recognize maybe half of the characters in the book, max. This is less an art problem and more a too many characters problem. Even with the TV show as an aid, I don’t know who everyone is. (I mean, to be fair, I rarely know who everyone is on the show either, but I at least come a lot closer.) Which means all those zip cuts between maybe some characters I recognize, some I know well, and some where I’m just shrugging helplessly? It’s bad.
3) I shouldn’t discount the art problem, though I’m restating the same thing in a different way. If you’re going to insist on having so many characters running around, it is important to not have an art style that serves to obscure features. (In this case, no coloring. The series has always been black and white.)

Here are the things about the Whisperer War that are pretty good:

1) A genuine sense of danger persists. That’s good because a book like this needs tension, but also because I can bring myself to believe that maybe something really terrible is on the horizon, and that the overstuffed cast will maybe soon deflate a bit, to the benefit of everyone except the ones who are (newly) dead.
2) Two characters had some solid development! That sounds like not enough, when you are thinking about a book. But when you are thinking about six issues of a long-running comic, which is perhaps the more accurate way to think about this, it’s actually pretty impressive.
3) Plenty of seeds of future foreshadowing, which is a nice change from the series ambling from one calamity to the next. It is also helpful in that I’m coming around to caring about more than one or two characters again.

That said, some of the foreshadowing is either random noise mixed into the signal and therefore not foreshadowing at all, or it dampens / kills the genuine sense of current danger. This was ever the problem with fiction, though, especially long form fiction. What can you do, really? Anyway, long story short, I have pre-ordered volume 28, and I kind of wish it was already here to read.

Z 2136

As you have no reason whatsoever to remember, I read the previous two books in this trilogy sometime in the last year or two I guess? And they were perfectly cromulent serial schlock. Hunger Games plus zombies, only a little light on the good half of that equation; and if I’m being honest with myself, probably they could have done a better job copycatting the game aspect of the equation. But still, if I don’t pause and think about the hundreds of better books on my to-read shelf, there was nothing wrong there.

As of Z 2136, consider that trend broken. And I mean, broken just really badly. This is the worst book that I’ve ever managed to finish. The writing didn’t change, and the already established characters were still, y’know, fine I guess. But the new viewpoint characters and the change in plot direction were just abysmally bad. Here’s my point, which I will need to entirely spoil the surprise ending of the second book plus I guess all of this one to make, but that’s okay because, seriously, do not read these books:

There were three main characters in the series, a father and two children. The father was part of the government apparatus but also had sympathies with the rebels who didn’t like living in six dystopian cities even though the walls kept the zombies out. Later, he killed his wife via mind control and was put into the zombie hunger games. Later still after learning the truth, his daughter was too. None of that really matters except that it’s an establishing shot for the shock ending of Z 2135, in which the father is executed, Ned Stark style. And then in the afterword, the authors were all, we weren’t really planning on this, but we decided we needed a big cliffhanger, so here you go!

Which leads into the third book, where one annoying guy is transformed into a raving lunatic, while another bad guy is transformed into a new father figure to replace the one they killed and then apparently realized they still needed. Result: half the book is spent on the motivations and travails of new characters about whom I already didn’t care, only now everything was so weird and forced that I actively hated them instead of just not caring much. Then, later, the book just kind of grinds to a halt instead of having an actual ending. Everything I’ve seen indicates this is a trilogy, which is a relief since Amazon would probably have already sold me book four at 99c before I knew how horribly things turned out; but I lost control of that sentence, and how I meant to end it was “but if I didn’t have these outside sources, I would be quite certain they were planning on writing more.” Because while it was not a cliffhanger demanding more story, it also was not the end of a story.

If everyone had died, that would have been more emotionally satisfying. First, because everyone never dies, and I’m pretty sure any real zombie apocalypse is much more likely to turn out that way than the way they always do turn out. But mostly because, fuck these people. They basically all deserved to die, and the ones who didn’t are at this point acceptable casualties in my vendetta.

A Cure for Wellness

A thing I’ve learned from movie-watching is to not go on vacation in Europe. I mean, remember Hostel? Or the second Hostel?

A Cure for Wellness, to be fair, is not about idiot backpacking teens with Eurorail passes. In fact, what it reminded me of for the first half hour or so was Dracula. (The book, I mean.) There’s this guy, probably not named Jonathan Harker, who is sent by his investment firm into the Swiss Alps to retrieve the company CEO from a health spa thingy, except it’s in a castle at the top of a mountain overlooking a subtly wrong village, and, okay, once he gets there the comparison mostly falls apart; after all, instead of an empty husk of a castle with a gothic warlord in a red dinner gown and the most elaborate updo of, I’m prepared to say, all time, it really is a health spa thingy. Or maybe a sanitarium? Or maybe a hospital? It’s fair to say that basically everyone there is getting treatments, no matter whether the issue is a nervous breakdown or a broken femur or just a couple weeks of downtime in a spa.

Also included: history lessons, vitamins, catacombs, a nubile ingenue, and eels. There is a plot, and it’s not a bad plot. It is not, I would posit, two and a half hours worth of plot? But that’s okay! The movie is not here for plot. It’s here for atmosphere, and it’s been a good long time since I’ve seen a horror movie with this much atmosphere. So, yeah. Check it out.

 

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

I’ve reviewed, let’s see, four of these movies before. All of them except the first one, which predates my presence here by a couple years. And I’ve mostly liked all of them! (At least, as far as I can remember. I didn’t actually check any of the reviews, but that time when I rewatched the whole series in advance of the most recent movie but this one is pretty fresh in my mind too. So, I liked them is what we’re saying. If you have time to prove me wrong, feel free!)

The nominally final chapter, though? Like, the bits and pieces of new world building were cool, and I don’t want to give them up. But the plot was so damn linear. Alice gets in a fight, she gets a mission. She gets in another fight, she moves toward her mission. She gets in another fight, she gets a little closer to her mission. And so on. None of them felt this bland before!

I’m sure I’ll give it another chance when it’s time to marathon the whole series, but until then, I’m pretty disappointed in a mediocre capper on such an otherwise reliable sequence. Cool graphic design on the poster though, right?

Day by Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile

A very long time ago, I read an already out of print self-published book about a military guy’s shortly pre- and mostly post-zombie apocalypse diary. It was, you know, fine? I said then and have been vindicated now that it needed a little more copyediting than it got, but otherwise.

Beyond Exile begins immediately where the previous book left off. Our intrepid military hero and a handful of other survivors have found safety in one of those old nuclear silos you might want to buy as a home, only in this case it’s abandoned because of current events instead of just being decommissioned like usual. Much like last time, the book starts with lots of logistics. Let’s use radios to find other people. Let’s fly this plane we have to nearby (to southeast Texas) airfields and look for supplies and other survivors. Perfectly fine diary fodder, but as a book, not much is going on.

Not that there aren’t pieces of worldbuilding along the way, and not that the, er, day by day trials and tribulations are not in themselves interesting. The real flaw here is that the narrator’s affect is so flat and journalistic that it’s difficult at any point to get truly invested in his life, much less the lives of anyone else around him. Once he ends up in a situation that qualifies as beyond exile, the narrative picks up a little; but even then, this is the kind of book where, instead of being engrossed by his situation, I was constantly pulling up Google Maps to follow his progress and see how close to realism he was getting.

I do not have the third book (there’s more than a third book in this series now!), and despite it being once again fine, I had no particular interest in reading more. Until the last five pages had a plot hook so tempting that I really want to see where the worldbuilding goes now. It would be a mistake, I know this in my heart. But still.