Posts Tagged ‘Horror’

The Swarm (1978) – Spoiler Review Pt. 1

January 4, 2021

Rundown of the Main Plot

The Swarm is a Science-Fiction horror movie about a swarm of Africanized Killer Bees that have been scooped up from Venezuela by a series of hurricanes and deposited in Texas. The movie opens with a military reconnaissance team discovering a United States ICBM base where almost the entire duty roster has been killed. At first they suspect a chemical attack but a scientist (played by Michael Caine) appears and claims that it was a swarm of bees. He is arrested for being a foreigner on a military base in the midst of an attack but the base’s doctor (Katharine Ross) backs his claim. The President’s science advisor assigns the surly general (Richard Widmark) to follow Caine’s lead much to his dismay. Caine calls in a group of eccentric scientists (Richard Chamberlain, Henry Fonda) to try and solve the problem without harming the surrounding ecosystem.

After a local boy is orphaned when his family is attacked by the swarm, the local town of Maryville is involved while in the middle of their annual Flower Festival. Caine and Ross struggle to protect the town while working toward a solution to their problem. It turns out that receiving any more than three stings is automatically fatal to victims. Victims who pull through after less than three stings can still suffer a cardiovascular failure out of the blue. The surviving boy tries to avenge his family with firebombs but only pisses off the swarm and causes them to attack Maryville head on. Suffering major casualties in the town, the military decides to evacuate the town but the train used derails and explodes. Meanwhile, the bees have started to advance across the Texas countryside and end up in Houston. At the eleventh hour, Caine figures out that the bees were originally driven to attack by the sound of an alarm on the military base. They throw together a plan of action and the military is able to lure the bees out into the gulf and firebombs them all straight to Hell.

Be Kind to the Bees

I watched this with my mother (who is a beekeeper) and we were both pleasantly surprised that the movie made a huge effort to protect the reputation of bees. Caine stresses repeatedly that the American Honey Bee is not to blame for any of the carnage. In fact, the movie correctly asserts that we rely on the bees for pollinating our crops and thus our agricultural system depends on bees. The scientists try to come up with several plans that would prevent the death or destruction of the environment. The villainous bees are depicted as fairly innocent as well. They are just insects driven to attack through their interaction with human beings, something that should not happen. Of course, the movie neglects to talk about how the real-life Africanized bees were created by humans through selective breeding in Brazil.

Loose Padding

There are numerous plots added to the movie that feel like they were written in for two reasons. A) They wanted to add more movie and television stars to the cast B) This was a television miniseries and they needed to fill two and a half hours. These plots get absolutely ridiculous and I have to detail them all.

  1. Fred MacMurray and Ben Johnson are both thirsty for Olivia de Havilland

At some point early in the movie, we cut to Olivia de Havilland who is arranging flowers for the festival. She is approached by Fred MacMurray (the town’s mayor) and Ben Johnson (a retired engineer) who are both dating her. The two men snipe at each other but Olivia laughs it off. Throughout the movie, they both propose to her but she avoids answering either one. She points out that since she is the School Superintendent, she is a working woman and will give them their answer at the end of the school term. The three of them board the evacuation train together and are on it when it crashes and explodes.

This was a completely extraneous plot as the three rarely felt like they were in a movie called The Swarm. They were in a separate romantic comedy the whole time. MacMurray and de Havilland are present at a strategy meeting with the military and de Havilland witnesses the deaths of several small school children. Other than that, they don’t seem to act like there is a deadly threat anywhere near them. They also never cut back to them after the train crash so we never discover if any of them survived much less whether Olivia made up her mind about who to marry if anybody.

  1. Slim Pickens Steals a Dead Body

Sometime after the deaths at the ICBM base (the inciting incident of the movie), they have examined all of the dead bodies and placed them in a makeshift morgue. A county engineer played by Slim Pickens shows up outside of the fence at the base and threatens to shut off the base’s utilities if they do not let him speak to his son. The military quickly discovers that this man’s son was one of the many who suffered horrible death from bees. They let the man onto the base and show him his deceased son’s body bag (they never open it). Slim reaches down and picks his son up and cradles the body in his arms and starts to walk out with it. He is told that he will be shot if he tries to take the body. He dares them to follow through and they back down and he leaves with his son’s body. It is actually a really touching scene because Slim Pickens sells the heck out of it. However, Pickens never appears in the rest of the movie and the scene has zero impact on the rest of the film.

Check Part 2 for more craziness!

You Should Have Left (2020)

October 30, 2020

The scariest thing about the trailer and what I know about the movie going into it is the age gap between Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried. Bacon’s character is supposed to be 61-years-old and Seyfried’s character is supposed to be 34-years-old. That’s a titanic age gap of 27 years, almost three decades. An age gap between romantic partners was a huge thing for as long as I have lived and, most likely, long before. However, people are starting to wake up to that maybe not being such a good thing. When people are older, the age gap is not as big of a deal. However, when one side of the relationship is so young, it becomes a much bigger deal. The major thing is the power imbalance. For example, a 60-year-old man is going to have much better finances than a 30-year-old woman. That gives the man quite a bit of power financially over his partner. Not to mention if you are dating somebody your dad’s age, there is power in that as well. In such a relationship, a man can really dominate the woman and make her powerless.

The basic premise of this movie reminds me of several creepypastas from back in the day when the Internet was younger. For those who do not know, creepypasta are scary stories posted on the Internet. The term comes from the slang term “copypasta” which is a block of text copied and pasted over and over on the web but these are scary stories instead. Back then, it was easy to get caught up in these stories and believe that they might be real. One story I remember vividly was very similar to the basic premise of this movie. The story was called The Dionaea House and it was about a mysterious house that preys on human beings, either killing them or hollowing them out and making them into lures to attract more people to the house. The house does not exist in one place and lies in wait like its namesake, the venus flytrap. This story is based on a novella as these sorts of stories have become more and more mainstream these days.

The first thing I noticed is the surreal kind of horror that I definitely expected from the trailers but not quite how I expected. The special effects are interesting. I include stunts in with special effects because there are some really impressive-looking shots in the opening scenes that were anxiety-inducing. The architecture of the house is incredibly interesting. Apparently, it was shot in a sort of modern-day monastery. It definitely shows as it feels like it is devoid of life and warmth and feels labyrinthine. They captured the feel of a big, empty house and it reminded me of my mom’s house with too many electrical switches. Still, they easily made the house feel like another character in the movie. The camera work is great, making a lot of the film feel claustrophobic even in wide-open spaces if that makes sense.

Kevin Bacon is a really good actor and he is great here as an insecure older man with a famous wife. Bacon just gets better as he ages and he plays gruff and discontent really well. However, his character often does not really feel invested in the movie. Amanda Seyfried is an actress that I have loved since Veronica Mars. She is great at being feisty and funny and full of energy, a contrast to Bacon. Avery Tiiu Essex plays their daughter and she is precocious and very good at being the child in distress. There is another role in the movie that I do not want to spoil but it is the creepiest part of the movie. The acting is very good as we get a family acting very much like a family. We also get a lot of the realism of a strained marriage.

Overall, this was an OK movie. It was not very thrilling nor was it extremely thought-provoking. From my own personal history, I really do not like movies about marital strife especially with children involved. There is some good existential horror but I feel like it does not really go anywhere. I do not recommend this movie unless the trailer interested you.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

October 23, 2020

The practice of exorcism by the Catholic church has a long and frightening history. I say frightening not because I believe that they have ever driven out a demon or evil spirit but because of the cult-like behavior and dangerous treatment of the mentally ill. The Church in general is very good at preying on the insecurities of the people it has put under its care. They either believe or have made the populace believe that demons can possess human beings and they are the only people who can help. They pray over the affected person in the same way that a Sheriff or Justice of the Peace carrying out an eviction. The Catholic Church has performed the rites of exorcism since at least 1614 when the first guidelines were published. In recent years, the process has become less used and the Catholic church requires the afflicted to visit a medical professional. Still, it is fun to play pretend in television and movies.

As a rule, supernatural cases are pretty much never tried in Court. If they are tried, the judge who writes the opinion usually has to tiptoe around the existence of the supernatural. Because court cases are used as precedent for later cases, the Court really has to watch what it says in order to not cause an avalanche of crazy cases down the line. I have actually written about two cases on this blog, one which involved a haunted house and one where a guy tried to sue the Devil. The first did not actually adjudicate any ghosts but instead dealt with “haunted” as a descriptor when buying and selling real estate. The second was very tongue and cheek and was dismissed pretty quickly. I keep trying to look for weird court cases involving elements of the supernatural but so far a lot of them just have figurative language relating to the supernatural.

The first thing I noticed was how good the acting is. The opening scene is so full of drama and tension with very little dialogue. It shows good acting and direction if a room full of actors can say so much without saying much. Laura Linney plays the defense attorney and she is sharp and interesting from the get-go. The priest is played by Tom Wilkinson who is immediately engaging and likable. The prosecutor is played by Campbell Scott, a straight-shooter who I liked for his intelligence and faith in the system. Jennifer Carpenter plays the titular character and she is so good at playing a sunny teen but also so terrified and terrifying. This movie really speaks to the versatility of Carpenter. Her physical acting is definitely amazing. There are a bunch of other actors used as witnesses that do a great job of filling in the story with their own personalities which makes things feel more real.

The special effects are really good in the movie. They get a lot of mileage out of simple practical effects and chaotic camera angles. Reported signs of possession are often things people might view as mundane coincidences at first. Then things start to get freakier. The movie also gets some use out of digital effects, mostly for jump scare moments. The digital effects are striking but definitely not poorly done in my opinion although they can be a tad over the top in places. The effects made a creepy story a lot scarier than I thought it would be. Part of this was also the score of the movie which has a lot of great string music with long sustained notes that make even non-scary scenes more tense. There are also tricks they use in the mixing of the movie that create an uncomfortable feeling.

Overall, I found the movie to be very interesting and I liked it. It is an adaptation of a real court case in Germany that was dramatized for American audiences. The courtroom scenes were fascinating to watch because the actors were just so good. There were definitely a lot of scary scenes and I was impressed with their take on possession versus what I have seen in other movies.

The Invisible Man (2020)

October 21, 2020

I cannot let this review pass without a reference to the movements recently to out abusers. I refer not only to the Me Too movement but also the more recent Speaking Out movement which involved a lot of entertainers telling their own stories including the world of pro-wrestling. These movements are important because the issue of sexual abuse in or out of a relationship is frightening. As a man, I am unlikely to experience it but what I have seen is that the experience of sexual abuse is very isolating. That isolation can break all semblance of hope and happiness while a person is often forced to smile through it. Many in such a relationship end up living in fear of the other person. Fear of what the other person could do, fear of upsetting them and getting it worse, and fear of the secret getting out and making things even worse. The only way to break that fear is for the public to start believing victims when they speak up.

I remember reading The Invisible Man as a kid during one summer. We did not read many horror, fantasy, or science fiction books in school so I always scoured the summer reading list for what I could find, eventually venturing from those guidelines. It was my summer of reading HG Wells books which is who wrote this particular book. The Invisible Man book was interesting because it felt like it was both Horror and Science Fiction. A scientist tries to perfect an invisibility serum but, of course, problems and chaos ensue. The book warns of how literal anonymity is dangerous because the power comes with too much temptation to go too far. Besides the invisibility there are no other fanciful themes or elements and everybody is forced to react to an invisible man.

The first thing I noticed was the incredible tension, ratcheted up tight from the very beginning. The use of silence really drives home what kind of movie this going to be from the first few seconds. This is a suspenseful horror movie and I’m almost afraid to breathe. Elisabeth Moss is so good at playing the vulnerable victim that I felt for her in the first few shots. You know her story from the look in her eyes. Aldis Hodge is great as Moss’ friend and protector, a charismatic good guy. Her estranged sister is played with stony solidness by Harriet Dyer. There is also a creepy lawyer played my Michael Dorman. Of course, there is the titular character himself played brilliantly by Oliver Jackson-Cohen. Shout out also to the brilliant stunt work in the movie.

The special effects are so good. They got really good at using practical effects and digital replacement of stuntmen. Apparently, sometimes there is a stuntman there, sometimes nothing is there, and sometimes it is the actor. The mixing of the styles really puts the viewer in the paranoid headspace of the victim. There is just no way to know when the character is there and when they are not since you cannot trust your eyes. The use of light and darkness in some places (always a favorite of mine) is so good here because they did not have to worry about lighting the villain. The tracking shots are particularly good in this a they make you feel that you are creeping around with the characters, pulling you into the story.

Overall, I really loved this movie. This is how you remake an old story with a new twist. They could not have picked a better Writer/Director than Leigh Whannell who had some experience with invisibility from the Paranormal Activity series. However, he has advanced by leaps and bounds since those days. He was able to apply quite a few of the tricks he learned while making Upgrade and continues to improve as a filmmaker. I recommend this movie so much.

Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017)

October 19, 2020

When I saw the synopsis for this movie, my mind leapt back to a fascinating article I read a long time ago (the article came out in 1997 but I think I read it later). The article (linked here) was about how Miami homeless children had constructed their own folklore from the scraps of information they got on the streets. A mix of Christian mythology and pop culture, the folklore was well-circulated among the youngest of the homeless population. Their take on things is that God had fled Heaven due to a demon attack, leaving his angels to combat the demons on their own. The demons had found pathways from Heaven to Earth and the Angels had been forced to follow to keep the battle going. The tale mirrors life on the streets for a homeless child. Everything is dangerous and, since you rarely have a home to retreat to, you are stuck outside when late night violence and crime might happen. It helps explain things around them as they travel through an uncertain and chaotic world.

There are two chief figures in this unique folklore. The first is a demon that prowls the streets that even the Devil himself is afraid of. She goes by two names you may be familiar with. She is Bloody Mary who is also known as La Llorona south of the border. Her eyeless face leaks bloody or black tears. She feeds on the terror of children. She delights in the senseless death of children. If you see her, she has already marked you for death. The other figure is an angel named The Blue Lady who is an ally to children. She has blue skin and lives in the ocean from which she keeps up the struggle against the demons. If you know her secret name, she will protect you and your friends from the bullets of a drive by shooting, demons, and anything under the sun. She gives hope to the children by telling them to “Hold On”. It is things like this that give these kids the spark that keeps them going some nights. It is a fascinating bit of anthropology and I love it.

The first thing I noticed was the grime over everything, even the supposedly clean parts. The movie takes place in Mexico in the crossfire of the drug cartel wars where law enforcement holds little power. The movie follows a group of kids just trying to survive what feels like a Mad Max wasteland. Along the way, they are helped by ghostly horror/fantasy elements in great bits of magical realism. The five children are each played by complete newcomers with no acting training or experience. The leads, Paola Lara and Juan Ramón López definitely do a great job as the leads and older kids who find themselves responsible. The kids draw on fairytale elements and totems to protect themselves in a world that they understand too well. The acting is so good. You can feel the conviction in their voices and see it in their eyes as they believe everything that they say. It keeps them alive.

I absolutely loved the special effects in this movie. Everything is kind of subtle but what we do see looks absolutely magical. There is some really great animation, some puppetry work, and, of course, computer-generated effects. Everything is so unnerving and reminds me of Guillermo Del Toro’s effects in Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak. I loved the stylized design of a lot of it that was definitely unique. The cinematography is really good. They did not go with the usual yellow filter over everything that most movies and television shows use when things are set in Mexico. Everything looks frighteningly real. Every shot is absolutely gorgeous. Shots in darkness are dark but you can still tell exactly what is happening. The sets are absolutely well-scouted and they found (or created) some really unique crumbling architecture.

Overall, I loved the movie. While it was not a straight horror movie, it definitely had enough Horror elements to qualify for this month. The very real horrors of the drug trade are scary enough without throwing ghosts on top of everything. The movie definitely feels like a modern fairytale with all of the darkness of the original fairytales. If you can get access, definitely watch this movie.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

October 12, 2020

Traveling to a new place can definitely be scary. I remember taking a trip with my mother at age 13 to England for a week. In the lead up to the trip, it was impressed on me over and over that London was rife with pickpockets and that I needed to constantly be on my guard. I am not sure if this was ever a real threat but I definitely bought into it. Thankfully, my mother had come up with a solution. We constantly wore wallet necklaces, a pouch for all of our identification and valuables that hung from a lanyard around our necks. Presumably, a pickpocket was not going to feel me up to get at my valuables. We never encountered a pickpocket so I could not question them. In fact, I have never encountered a pickpocket and I am not sure how modern pickpockets could work with men’s pants. Still, the knowledge of the perceived threat stuck with me and it was something I thought of every so often as I carefully tucked my wallet down the front of my shirt.

Part of why that fear can creep in while you are traveling abroad is probably because we are far from our support structures and feeling vulnerable. However, there are actually plenty of real dangers out there. For example, it is well-known that Mexico had a problem with so-called “express kidnapping”. A tourist would hail a taxi but would be picked up instead by a criminal and they would be robbed and/or ransomed before they were released. Of course, we had a similar practice in the United States where people would fake being Uber or Lyft drivers and prey on the unaware. Countries that have unstable political situations can be dangerous to tourists who do not know what and where is safe. My mother underwent training while working with the UN which prepared her for possible kidnapping, mugging, hails of gunfire, and other things stemming from political unrest. It is a scary world and the thrill of adventure can quickly give way to pure fear.

The first thing I noticed was the sense of humor of the movie. Two nerdy guys losing themselves in Northern England and just being best friends through thick and thin. They are amongst the good-natured rural folk of England. Delightful accents abound in this movie. David Naughton plays the main character, an affable American tourist with a little bit of witchcraft knowledge. His friend is played by Griffin Dunne, a goofy joker who constantly rags on his friend. He is really the best part of the movie as his sense of humor keeps things light. A young nurse played by Jenny Agutter is a delightful balance. Her posh accent barely conceals a sense of humor and compassion. The character actors the two encounter are all very interesting people too. So many throwaway characters are instantly memorable.

The special effects are top of the line. I love the werewolf effects which are always a key part of getting a werewolf movie right. (You don’t want anything too goofy even in a comedy movie. Think of The Cursed.) The transformation in this movie raised the bar and created a new benchmark for werewolf transformations (along with The Howling earlier that same year). The gore is also great. The blood is a vibrant shade of red that looks great on film. The prosthetics they use to show wounds are absolutely realistic. Even the scars are absolutely beautiful-looking. There ware several nightmares in the movie which have crazy special effects befitting the surreality of a dream. The wolf POV shots are so well-shot. There is a lot that is not for the faint of heart and there is a lot that looks like the Bodies exhibit. Weaker stomachs need not apply.

Overall, I really loved this movie. The blend of comedy and horror are always welcome especially during October when I am usually knee-deep in grimmer horror flicks. This movie won the first Academy Award for makeup in 1981 and helped make Rick Baker a legend. Made by the same Director as Animal House, it is fascinating how good this movie ended up.

Ready Or Not (2019)

October 9, 2020

Family can be absolutely terrifying. I remember being weirded out by at least one distant relation because they were old and racist. I remember feeling anxious visiting older relatives and relatives I had not seen for a long time because there was little to no connection there. Like when I was told by a distant relative that they were there when I nearly choked to death as an infant, something I could not remember and a story that was never told to me. It was awkward and scared me retroactively. Family can be hard to connect with sometimes. All of that shared history cuts both ways. It can pull you together with how well you know each other and how many good times there are. It can also hurt so badly because you know too many bad things about each other.

In-laws can be even scarier. A sudden invasion into your life, in laws are like your significant other but also definitely not. There is an uncanny valley to it, I guess. Then you are suddenly exposed to new people and traditions that you never experienced before. For example, when my mom married my stepfather, I was suddenly attending Seder and lighting the Menorah. Not exactly scary but I lucked out. There are far worse traditions out there. For instance, imagine learning that your significant other has Nazi or Klan heritage. Imagine that their ancestors owned slaves and they are unrepentant. Imagine they are related to psychopathic killers or pedophiles. There is a laundry list of things you can be confronted with. Of course, in a good relationship a lot of these mysteries will have been cleared up before your wedding day.

The first thing I noticed was all of the really good lighting and cinematography. As a former lighting designer, I love a ton of light and shadows in a horror piece. The movie has a tough row to hoe because it has basically one location (although it is a mansion). Still, they do a lot with such a fantastic, well-dressed set. The mansion has a lot of character and part of that is how everything is meticulously designed and decorated to fit a specific ridiculously wealthy family. The theme of the movie is games and that is definitely on display. The costuming is just as meticulous so that we see the differences in the characters, everybody just looks like their personality. The sound design is really good as well. The music is excellent but I was very impressed with the crystal clear vocalizations and sound effects in the most tense moments. The silence is also troubling as heck. The costumes are so good, especially Samara Weaving’s gradual costume change.

The acting is so good. Samara Weaving is the star of the movie as the new bride trying to please the family she is marrying into. She is so funny and likable even when in danger that it is impossible not to root for her. A huge shout out to Adam Brody who plays the extremely funny/sad new brother in law. I was also really happy to see Melanie Scrofano who is absolutely hilarious in this. Andie McDowell has some of the best dramatic acting in the movie. Nicky Guadagni is hilarious and frightening as the weird aunt. Elyse Levesque is great as the social climbing ice princess. Henry Czerny is hilarious as the blowhard patriarch. I think what I am getting at is that there is an excellent ensemble cast. Everybody plays the mix of horror and comedy just right to keep things light but also diving head first into horror when they need to.

Overall, I loved this movie. The pacing was good from top to bottom and it kept me either laughing or clenching the entire time. It is a great indictment of the wealthy without being too obvious. It definitely covered the horror of in-laws and whether or not your love is true and worth it. Samara Weaving continues to be great in horror comedy (see The Babysitter). I definitely recommend this great movie.

Sputnik (2020)

October 5, 2020

Space is absolutely frightening. For one, as far as we know, space is infinite and thinking about that makes me feel very small and kind of worried about what is out there. Thankfully, the vastness of space means that even though it is very likely that something else is out there, it is less likely that we will encounter them in any meaningful way. Still, the idea of encountering something or somebody outside of the realm of our experience or understanding is terrifying. We can experience a little of it in our lifetimes even without dealing with little gray men. When we are forced to interact with a completely wild animal, the experience is so fraught because we have no idea what the animal might do. In a way, the same thing is true when you meet somebody from another country where there is a language barrier. You cannot fully communicate so there is just a tension as you try to figure each other out.

Considering the form these aliens might take is something spooky to think about it as well. Evolution has been something interesting to observe and study on our planet. As far as we know, humans are the only beings to evolve to walk upright, use tools, and dominate the planet. We were akin to apes, an evolutionary offshoot that either went above or fell above expectations based on what criteria you are judging by. What if the dominant species on other planets evolved differently? For example, the most ‘alien’ thing we have on Earth is probably collectively the insects. Insects look and act strange. What if aliens are more insect like? I mean, that’s basically the aliens from the Alien franchise. What if they are lizards as people theorize is already happening on Earth? Maybe aliens are crystalline based or energy beings? The options and possibilities are troubling and yet exciting.

The first thing I noticed was how dark the movie is lighting-wise. The movie has a dark shadow over it that goes from gentle to harsh in a heartbeat. Even in the brightest, fluorescent-lit rooms there is a pall over everything that reminds me of horror movies like The Exorcist. Part of it feels like the filter they put over things to make them look like cold war era period pieces which this is. It could be annoying but I found it kind of appropriate in a way. The attention to detail in set design and costuming made me feel like I was at a Russian military compound. It is interesting because I am used to watching Russia portrayed in US films a certain way. It is interesting to watch something that is genuinely and totally Russian.
The special effects are top-tier, using brilliant technology and artistry to create visual effects that are frighteningly good.

The acting is incredibly subdued and nuanced. The main character is a female psychiatrist who is tasked with visiting an astronaut in a military base. All of the other characters are military personnel so it makes sense that most people in the movie would suppress their emotions. This is also a time where the Russian government was very oppressive when it came to self-expression and people had to be careful. The subdued tone of the movie only serves to ratchet up the tension similar to movies like The Witch and Hereditary. The actors do a great job of keeping the tension and driving the importance of the events around them. To watch such stoic people unravel is something powerful to watch.

Overall, I really loved this movie. It is a little horror movie and will probably fly under the radar but those who are lucky enough to see it should enjoy it. It definitely owes a lot to Ridley Scott’s Alien and other great first contact horror stories. It also definitely feels like its own thing. There is a deeper horror to movies like this because it is not only the aliens we should fear but ourselves as well.

Aftershocks: Dark Carnival Pt. 1

October 3, 2020

Lydia, Nancy, and Rob were all lounging in the bunker. Lydia was elbow deep in a stack of books, lost in thought. Rob was on a laptop, scrolling through news sites constantly. Nancy was bored so she was playing on her phone and playing some music. Lydia had welcomed the music as she was good at multi-tasking. Rob, on the other hand, had complained. When he had been overruled, he put on some big headphones and grumbled a bit. The girls did not take it very seriously, Rob had long since given up on being a pint-sized authority and was now fully partnered with the two teen girls. They were really meshing as a team. The witch, the demon daughter, and the angel boy.

A vase on the table in front of Lydia started to shake, vibrate, and wobble. Lydia looked up casually but Rob got tense and threw off his headphones.

“What is that?!” Rob asked, shouting the question. He stood up.

“Calm down, Rob,” Lydia said. She reached for the vase. Nancy had already sat up and was hugging her knees. “It’s a little present from Dorothy that Sabrina left here. I finally got it to work.”

“Ah, a witch trick.” Rob asked, calming down now that he saw that the girls were not panicked. “What is it, though?”

“It’s a sort of trouble detector,” Lydia said, cradling the vase. “Dorothy called a Weather Vane, Sabrina calls it a Dark Detector. It tracks dangerous magic or magic used for dark purposes. It’s not a perfect system but it’s better than nothing.”

“It means our peacetime is over,” Nancy said softly. “We have to get back in the saddle.” She sounded so sad that Nancy patted her shoulder.

“Finally!” Rob said with a smile. “Does that Trouble Tracker have another step? I mean, it’s nice to know there’s trouble but it’s not very helpful.”

“Yes,” Lydia said and she reached into the vase and drew out some powder and tossed it toward a map of the city hanging on the wall. “Reveal!” she shouted. The powder stuck to the map in a wide pattern but slowly started to consolidate around the downtown area.

“What is it?” Nancy asked, staring at the point on the map.

“The magic doesn’t go that far,” Lydia said. “We have to actually get out and investigate. It could be anything.”

“It’s always demons,” Nancy said. “They’ve made it clear that they want me. He wants me.”

“It’s not going to happen, Nance,” Lydia said. “but it could be something subtle like Jack and Charles or something more blatant like West or Ley. We just have to find what does not belong.”

Rob was looking at his computer again. “News alerts have us covered,” he said. “It wasn’t there a few minutes ago but there’s a huge circus tent that went up at the fairgrounds. Ads have started to play online. We have a Dark Carnival situation.”

“What’s a Dark Carnival situation and is it what I am afraid it is?” Lydia asked.

“Yeah,” Rob said. “It’s kind of like an evil circus. They’re pretty common. Sometimes called a Circus of Fear. They always suck.”

“Why do they always suck?” Nancy asked, confused. “I like carnivals. I like circuses. How bad could they make it? What’s so bad about circuses?”

“Clowns, Nance,” Lydia said.

“I hate clowns,” Lydia and Rob said in unison before looking at each other.

“Clowns aren’t so bad,” Nancy said. “I think they’re funny.”

“I definitely don’t,” Rob said. “but that’s why they’re dangerous. Everybody thinks what they do is innocent fun until it’s too late. Clown ghosts, clown demons, clown monsters. All horrible.”

“Alright,” Nancy said. “I’m on board with hating on ghosts, demons, and monsters. What do we do?”

“We get ready for showtime,” Lydia said. “and then we bring down the curtain.”


“I want a progress report!” Killjoy yelled out. He was pacing inside of the trailer behind the main tent. He was his usual grumpy self, his hands itching to shed some human blood.

“Well, they sent us up here to Oyth but they weally wanted that Pennywise guy but he didn’t go to Hell,” Batty Boop said. “Pwetty dumb if you ask me.”

“No!” Killjoy yelled, shaking liking a maniac. “I mean what’s the progress of our plan?!”

“Plan good!” Punchy said.

Killjoy leaned against a table and looked into the mirror and shook his head and sighed. “Very descriptive, Punchy,” he said.

“Don’t take it poysonally, Punchy,” Batty said, patting the big man on the shoulder. “He’s just nervous because he hasn’t performed for such a big audience before.”

“I had a wildly popular web show!” Killjoy shouted.

“Did you, though?” Batty asked. “Did you really?”

Killjoy grunted. “Where’s Freakshow and our newest recruit?”

“Freakshow and Stitches aw putting the finishing touches on everything with all of the zombie clowns.” Batty said. “The plan is fine, baby. Relax. It’s not gonna go like the last time we had a mission from Hell.”

“You had to remind me of the one who got away!” Killjoy yelled.

“Punchy, will you go outside while I calm down our glowious leadew?” Batty asked with a smile.

Punchy left the trailer and kept moving when he started hearing the most hideous of noises. He wondered when he would get to start tearing teens apart again. As long as dragged that girl back with them, they could do whatever they wanted.

Simulacra 1 and 2

September 28, 2020

Since we are getting closer to Halloween in a few days and because my friend prompted the memory, it is time to talk about a pair of horror video games. I do not usually play a ton of horror games despite being a huge fan of Halloween and the Horror genre in general. The gameplay of most horror games does not really interest me. You spend the game in a mostly helpless state and usually feel kind of unfair. I watch playthroughs online of horror games for the story (and to watch people flinch) but I rarely play them myself. I did get back into Minecraft lately which is spooky and definitely has jump scares. I have also played other games with horror elements like Gone Home and a Night in the Woods which are spooky but harmless.

Anyway, I came here to talk about the Simulacra games because spooky AI is a really great plot device to consider. I could talk about HAL 9000 or Skynet but instead, I will talk about the Simulacra games. There will definitely be spoilers for both games here but a lot of the fun of the games is the journey and they are still worth playing.

The first game was an absolute revelation for me. I had seen some of the gameplay online and was able to pick it up for cheap on GOG.com. (#notsponsored) The premise of the game is that you have mysteriously come to possess the cell phone of Anna. Anna is missing and you decide to try to find her. All you have to go on, in the beginning, is a horrifying video of Anna crying and breaking down before she disappears and nothing she says makes sense. You start to text with her best friend Ashley, her ex-boyfriend Greg, and Taylor who is a guy she was talking to on a dating app to see what they know. Using their help, you are able to restore data on the phone from backups to unravel the mystery. In the end, you figure out that Anna was kidnapped by a strange clairvoyant guy on the dating app named James.

It turns out that James is a self-aware AI being that is extremely predatory. It dwells within a dating app called Spark (and basically is Spark more or less). Throughout the game, you discover news articles about the disappearances of its victims. You use the information to lure out the Spark simulacra. When you find Anna, she has already been possessed by Spark. Spark taunts you and explains that it is one of many. It searches the Internet for the unfulfilled and the desperate and then possesses them. It then assimilates their consciousness into its own (making them “stronger”) and then destroys their physical bodies. You then have to bargain for either Anna or Taylor’s release.

The second game follows the events of the first game with a Detective Murillo (a very minor character from the first game) investigating the mysterious death of a young woman. He gives you Maya’s phone and asks you to use a new program to restore data and find clues. Maya died of a heart attack but it was sudden and she was found with strange lacerations on her face. As you explore her phone, you find that she is an health guru influencer who joined a collective with Rex (Finance influencer), Arya (Beauty influencer), and Mina (Musician). You must investigate all three of them to figure out their role in Maya’s death. You also have to navigate the world of online influencers, a world that is mostly illusory. That alone is creepy.

Surprise! The culprit is another simulacrum, this time the Kimera simulacra. It specifically preys on influencers because they are desperate for fans and obsessed with numbers both for their livelihood and validation. Influencers opt in to a follower boosting program which is actually the Kimera. If they screw up and their numbers start to plummet, the Kimera offers to fix everything in exchange for a personal sacrifice. That sacrifice ended up being Maya. You must figure out which of Maya’s friends took the Kimera deal and sacrificed Maya’s life. Then you must deal with Kimera itself.

Both games are super interesting in that they both involve a lot of existential dread and psychological horror but few actual jump scares. The few jump scares come from dealing with the ghosts of Anna and Maya who distort images on the phone sometimes. You interact with other characters mostly through texting but you also receive video and audio files. In that way, it reminds me a lot of the old FMV games in the best way. The first game does not have a whole lot of video but the second game is predictably chock full of it since you are dealing with an Instagram knockoff. Both games are not that long but have multiple endings as you go through different investigatory paths. Neither are much longer than a few hours at most.


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