Posts Tagged ‘Campy’

Ripper (1995) – A Quick Look at the FMV Game

July 11, 2022

I absolutely love Full Motion Video games. They started in the eighties which stemmed from  Laserdisc technology becoming more available to consumers. The ability to preprogram stop and start times on video allowed for more interesting possibilities. A lot of that ended up in the arcades with games like Dragon’s Lair. Those possibilities started to hit overdrive in the early to mid-nineties when the most popular FMV games came out. Personally, my first was 7th Guest. I feel like the medium lent itself to horror but other options were available. There was a glut of games in the nineties and then the fad was over. FMV games are not completely dead but they are not nearly as prevalent as they once were.

An FMV game is basically what it says on the tin. The developer gets a bunch of actors, some costumes, some sets (and/or a green screen), and some cameras. The actors follow a script much like a normal movie except that they have to cover all the possibilities including player failure. Imagine the branching tree of a Choose Your Own Adventure book (or Black Mirror: Bandersnatch). The acting is often over-the-top and melodramatic to make sure everything is clearly conveyed to the player. That means that even the worst FMV game has goofy and fun acting that is hard to not find entertaining. The gameplay is usually point and click adventure game which means that you are hunting for clues, collecting inventory, and solving puzzles.

Ripper is set in New York City in 2040, a science-fiction future that actually still feels like it is feasible which is rare. It is built in the grand tradition of cyberpunk, reminding me somewhat of what bit of Shadowrun that I have experienced. The story hits the ground running as we are introduced to Jake Quinlan (played by Scott Cohen), a rumpled journalist for the city paper and a callback to characters like Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe. He does not seem to be that great at his job but he is assigned to the crime beat. In a nod to the Zodiac, he has been receiving messages sent to him by a new serial killer calling himself The Ripper. Quinlan never asked for this responsibility but now finds himself thrust into the middle of a mad scramble to find the mysterious killer.

Unfortunately, he is unwittingly in the middle of being scooped by his co-worker, Catherine Powell (played by Tahnee Welch). This will annoy Quinlan when he finds out because A) it’s his story. B) he and Catherine are sleeping together, and C) she’s better at her job than he is.   Catherine notifies Quinlan that she has a lead on the identity of The Ripper. Quinlan gets another message from The Ripper who tells him that the next target is Catherine who has gotten too close. Quinlan rushes to meet up with and protect his lover only for her to fall into a coma right before his eyes. A coma deeper than previously thought possible.

Catherine is taken to the Meta-Cognition Center at the hospital to be treated by Cybersurgeons, equipped to scan and possibly infiltrate her mind to repair it. This is obviously where the cyberpunk stuff starts to really come into the story. I will not be running down the entire plot but the basic point of the rest of the game is thus: To repair Catherine’s mind, Quinlan must follow Catherine’s clues and leads in order to slowly discover the identity of The Ripper. Transmitting facts of the case will allow Catherine to piece together the identity of The Ripper in her mind and wake from her coma. Doing this will also obviously allow authorities to capture The Ripper.

The action of the game happens in the real world and in cyberspace. Quinlan solves intricate puzzles in the real world in all of the spaces that Catherine was investigating. Quinlan also re-questions Catherine’s informants and all of the new people suddenly involved in the case. Puzzles are usually solved by either collecting items and using them in the right places or fiddling with devices based on environmental clues. The other part of the game involves regular trips into cyberspace, an activity that is called “decking” in the world of the game. Deckers navigate areas of cyberspace which is basically treated like a mix of Tron and the virtual reality from The Lawnmower Man franchise. It is really unsettling and I am glad we have not gone in that direction in our world.

The major strength of the game is the impressive cast of characters built from surprisingly high-profile actors all of whom chew the scenery like crazy. 

Christopher Walken as Detective Vince Magnotta – Walken steals every scene that he is in and is so memeable and quotable. Magnotta is an openly corrupt cop who is seen tampering with evidence, beating suspects during interrogation, and taking part in all sorts of stuff that cops do in real life. This is also a world where cops are paid bounties for solving cases. Magnotta hates Quinlan for sticking his nose in the case and threatening his bounty.

Karen Walker as Doctor Clare Burton – Walker plays a straightforward cybersurgeon who takes the case to treat Catherine Powell. She is cold and distant and confuses everybody by stalling Catherine’s treatment and trying to push Quinlan away. She is a top-notch scientist specializing in the human brain and using cyberspace technology to interact with neuroscience. 

David Patrick Kelly as Joey Falconetti. Sidenote: I kept hearing his name as “Falcon Eddie” and I can’t unhear it. Falconetti is a hardcore gamer and decker. He often spends days in cyberspace with the help of nootropic drugs. He is a brilliant mind but his criminal past has precluded any legitimate career. He also has a predilection for horrific and violent imagery. On top of that, he comes off as aggressive and snarky which rubs everybody the wrong way.

Paul Giamatti as Doctor Bud Cable. He picks up the slack and works on Catherine behind Doctor Burton’s back when treatment gets stalled. He coaches Quinlan on how to help with Catherine’s recovery while giving him updates on her condition

John Rys-Davies as Vigo Haman. Vigo is a gangster who surprisingly has had dealings with Doctor Burton in the past, leading to revelations about her shadowy past. 

Burgess Meredith as Hamilton and Covington Wofford. These two brothers are older than most of the rest of the cast and are involved in cyber architecture. Hamilton created a game environment for The Ripper before being murdered. Covington has become a fearful recluse without his brother and has lost his grip on his sanity. You eventually meet an AI version of Hamilton.

Ossie Davis as Ben Dodds. Dodds is Quinlan and Catherine’s boss and he is gruff but fair. He uses his contacts to help Quinlan get some background information on Catherine’s leads. He pushes Quinlan to get the story but also cautions him when things start to get too dangerous.

Jimmie Walker as Soap Beatty. Soap is a computer hacker who was Catherine’s informant but also runs a store. He schools Quinlan on the ins and outs of decker technology and gives him leads and fills in information based on that community.

Richard Bright as Doctor Karl Stasiak. Stasiak is a forensic photographer who has developed a friendship with Quinlan as they met at crime scenes often. Early on, Stasiak is a source for Quinlan within the police department but gets spooked by The Ripper and flees the city.

The long and the short of it is that The Ripper seems to be targeting the Decker community in particular. Slowly, it becomes clear that all of the victims were somehow involved in an old game themed in Victorian London as part of a gaming club. The club would play a game based on the murders of Jack the Ripper. Hmm. Quinlan has to dig up the dark shadows of the past and present of the club to solve the mystery. A mystery that the game changes each time you play, by the way. Quinlan finds out that The Ripper is not doing his ripping in person but is instead infecting people over cyberspace with code that makes their body’s internal pressure rise until their abdomens explode outward. Quinlan figures out who is The Ripper and is able to trap them in cyberspace and destroy their mind (in self-defense, of course).

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

October 26, 2015

Older horror films are interesting animals in the zoo where horror movies are kept in this analogy. They come from a land where the movie’s full credits could be played over the film’s opening without disturbing the audience or taking too long. Since effects were limited, they couldn’t rely on all of the trickery used in today’s horror films. Their effects seem hokey and lame now that we can do such amazing things with decades of practical effect experience and cutting edge computer effects. It was a simpler time to be sure but it also caused horror movies to be more psychological. Sure, they had their gimmicks back then too but more often than not they relied more on what you couldn’t see then what you could.

Today’s film was made 44 years ago and it was operating with a much smaller toolbox than filmmakers have available today. It’s not a straight horror film as it has a lot of comedy elements to it as well without being a straight parody. Of course, it has two things that just aren’t used as much in today’s horror that serve it very well. The first is that it is very bizarre. It spends a lot of time (especially in the early parts) being strange without explaining itself. I like that. I want to be confused sometimes. It teaches me to sit back and not try so hard and let a movie just take me to the destination it means to take me to. The other thing that this movie has that can’t ever be used today is Vincent Price. Vincent Price was a horror legend, seemingly born with the voice and mannerisms to be creepy but strangely loveable.

The movie follows a bunch of detectives trying to solve the murders of several doctors. The murders were all done in inventive and outlandish ways by the title character for reasons that are not explained at first. The title character is weirdly amazing because Phibes is an amazing killer who is easily twenty steps ahead of the police. He’s also way smarter than his bumbling victims who fall easily to his strangely elaborate traps. There’s no explanation on why the deaths are elaborate but they are based on the ten plagues that Moses brought upon Egypt. I personally love horror stories with themed deaths though usually they’re deaths based on the victim and not on a set mythology. Strangely, despite having a rabbi character in the movie, it changes two of the plagues and their order.

The movie gets a lot of use out of art deco design which, I’m pretty sure, you don’t see in a lot of horror films. The colors all seem a little more vivid than they should be and a lot of scenes feel more like a stage play than a movie. It gives the movie an otherworldly feel that is a little unnerving but also strangely pleasing. The villain is mostly silent and lets the police following him deliver the exposition. The camera work is excellent as they used every trick in the book to tell a very interesting story. In fact, the scene of the second kill wouldn’t have worked nearly as well without the amazing camera tricks they used. Every shot is framed expertly and not a second is wasted in the editing. Beyond that, the sound really does a lot of the heavy lifting as the music and sound effects sometimes give way to perfect, uncomfortable silence. They did a lot of brilliant painting with sound that worked incredibly well.

Sometimes I’m a sucker for these old, simple movies from a long gone era. This one is a mystery that the audience knows the answer to within fifteen minutes while it takes the police the rest of the movie to figure out. It’s a somewhat campy but interesting take on horror movies that’s hard not to like. Parts of it might seem a little dated but I maintain that most of it is as timeless as Hitchcock.  It’s actually a little bit poetic and strangely sweet in its own way. It should also make people who are not fans of gore happy as it is mostly bloodless and relies instead on creepier deaths that are a bit more psychological. I suggest this (and the sequel) to any horror fan who hasn’t seen it yet. You have to respect your horror ancestors.


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