Reality Is The Playground Of The Unimaginative

Home Of Superheroes, Swords, Sorcery, Sonic Screwdrivers, Supernatural Scares, Star Stuff, Sci-fi, Smeg, and Silliness

Friday, 31 October 2008

DVD Of The Week: The Unnamable (1988)/The Unnamble Returns (1993)

There is a simple reason why there have been very few good film adaptations of HP Lovecraft's work: when the monsters are indescribable - or in this case "unnamable" - as soon as you commit them to celluloid they have an identifiable form that is, invariably, comical.

With its cheesy model shots, generally creaky dialogue and cast of unknown, not-very-good actors, The Unnamable immediately plants itself in the B-movie horror genre.

Its simple story sees a student (from Miskatonic University) disappear in an old abandoned house, then two jocks lure two freshmen there in an attempt to scare their way into the girls' pants and finally, our heroes - Randolph Carter (Mark Kiney Stephenson) and Howard Damon (Charles Klausmeyer) - enter the house looking for the first student.

Each party of explorers encounters the creature that lives in the house which, had it stayed in the shadows, might have been quite scary but in full-view is obviously a woman in a furry body-suit.

The film makes a half-decent stab at creating atmosphere and has some interesting moments, but is as much a victim of its time as the hairstyles of the Miskatonic students.

There's gore and gratuitous nudity (which we're all in favour of, although not really appropriate in a Lovecraft yarn), but the stand-out performance in the first movie comes from Mark Kiney Stephenson, who may well have been channeling HPL himself in the role of Randolph Carter, the slightly snobbish and superior bookworm who - while the others go off wandering the haunted house - stays in the library, leafing through the various dusty tomes of unknown lore (most of which are clearly full of blank pages!).

It is, of course, Randolph's brains that finally bring the creature down - leading to an almost surreal climax where the woman in the furry body suit is being driven back by a horde of unseen/off-camera stage hands waving tree branches.

The sequel, The Unnamable Returns, although filmed five years later, picks up the story from a point just before the end of The Unnamable, rewriting the original's "happy" ending of the two heroes - and one surviving girl - walking off into the woods.

While in the story mere hours have passed, for the students of Miskatonic University it's a whole different decade and where The Unnamable was a fashion victim of the 80s, The Unnamable Returns is set squarely in the 90s.

Carter joins forces with Professor Warren (John Rhys-Davies) to explore the tunnels under the Winthrop house and finds the "unnamble" creature - who does have a name, Alyda, and a backstory we explore some more in this film. Carter and Warren manage to separate Alyda (Maria Ford) from the creature possessing her... leaving Alyda as a long-haired, hot naked chick.

Carter is gloriously oblivious to Alyda's charms, but not to the fact that the monster is still out there and determined to reunite itself with Alyda.

I'm not sure what HP Lovecraft would have made of these films; although I'm sure he wouldn't have been happy with the enormous liberties taken with his finely honed prose.

But for the rest of us, these are wonderfully camp, crass B-movie shlock horrors that are perfect for a Halloween evening.

Miss October: Kate Beckinsale

Kate Beckinsale (from Underworld)

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Top Of The Pile: The Stand #2

Roberto Aguirre-Sacas's adaptation of Stephen King's epic The Stand continues with the same pace and style as it began.

The Stand, King's tale of two factions of survivors in a post-apocalyptic America, is more readily accessible to the general comic book reading crowd than the other current vision of his work coming out of the House Of Ideas: The Dark Tower, which has a whole new mythology for the reader to embrace.

The flu-like disease - Captain Trips - has been released and spreads exponentially across the United States, as we jump in and out of the lives of several key players in the events to come.

This is classic Stephen King horror and, as I said last month, well worth picking up if you're a fan of King's work or just horror comics.

Captain Trips is just the five-issue prologue to the greater story which deals with the aftermath of the plague and the creation of new civilizations in the ruins of the old.

It's a well-known story to King fans, but this is a chance to see a beautiful reimagining of it thanks to the excellent artwork of Mike Perkins, who brought such life to Ed Brubaker's run on Captain America, when he stepped in for Steve Epting.

Special mention this week also to issue two of Legion of Three Worlds.

George Perez's fine art continues to make this multi-dimensional team-up between the 31st Century Legions from three universes a blockbuster, thrill-a-minute that pretty much defines great superhero comic books for me.

I may not know exactly who everyone is in every panel - being more a Marvel zombie than a DC boy at heart - but the all encompassing, epic scale of this story just sweeps me up in its warm embrace.

In a way it's almost a shame that this is only a five-issue mini-series, but a large part of me would love writer Geoff Johns and Perez to take over the main Legion of Super-heroes title if they could keep up this calibre of work.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Supernatural: Playthings

Sam and Dean have been looking for Ava for a month, after she disappeared at the end of the last episode, when they get tipped off to a couple of freak, fatal accidents at an old hotel.

Investigating they find they have wandered into a classic, Gothic, haunted house - complete with a wheelchair-bound, stroke victim granny in the attic and a room full of creepy dolls.

There's even a scene where Dean goes to the bar that is lifted straight from The Shining, but the brother's initial belief that a hoodoo curse is causing the deadly problems for anyone involved in the sale of the hotel turns around when they discover the Tales of Two Sisters/Fight Club/Hollyoaks (Eli and Newt) twist in the tale.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Playthings - directed by Charles Beeson and written by Matt Witten - has some of the creepiest moments yet seen in Supernatural, because it isn't dealing with demons and tentacled beasties but an innocent child's imagination.

Witten's script also has some great moments of humour, to offset the tension, particularly revolving around the brothers - again - being mistaken for a gay couple when they check in to the hotel (much to Dean's discomfort).

As with Croatoan, the Winchester's are almost reduced to the role of observers because, while they may save the hotel's owner and her daughter, they don't actually defeat the malevolent spirit in any real sense.

A fine end to the first half of the season, providing a change of pace (and a return to a more "bread and butter" case for the brothers), but without forgetting the main story arc of the season.

Supernatural: Hunted

Having discovered that his dad warned Dean that if he couldn't save Sam he'd have to kill him, Sam parts company with Dean to try and find more "gifted children" like himself.

With the assistance of Ash at Ellen's Roadhouse (we also learn that Jo has now taken to hunting full-time), Sam heads off to Illinois to investigate the recent murder of a young man with the same profile as himself.

Sam, in turn, is approached by a very cute woman, Ava (Katharine Isabelle), who has had dreams predicting Sam's death.

The couple are ambushed in a motel by none other than overzealous hunter Gordon (from Bloodlust) who has learned of the extraordinary abilities of Sam and people like him - and was responsible for the earlier murder that attracted Sam to this place originally.

Luckily Dean has tracked Sam - with Ellen's help - and tussles with Gordon, but is overpowered, captured and used as bait to lure Sam into the trap that Ava dreamed about.

Although lacking any paranormal monsters, Hunted is pure Supernatural for its continued examination of the attitudes of hunters, revelations about the Yellow-Eyed Demon's plans to use this band of psychics as foot soldiers in a coming war, and Dean's growing disillusionment with the life they are leading (almost certainly sparked by the knowledge that he might have to kill his own brother if Sam goes "dark side").

As the second season of Supernatural races towards the half-way mark, we can see all the pieces being moved into position - but still no idea how the game will unfold... and that's what makes this programme so involving and exciting.

Supernatural: Croatoan

When the first English colony, Roanoke, in the New World disappeared mysteriously in the 15th Century the only clue to the settlers' fate was the word "Croatoan" carved on a tree.

When one of Sam's visions leads the Winchester brothers to the small town of Rivergrove, Oregon, he spots the same word carved into a telegraph pole and the boys quickly discover they have walked into the middle of a demonic plague.

The town's folk are rapidly turning violent because of an infection in their blood, which leaves sulphurous traces, that drives them to commit vicious attacks that will allow them to spread the virus through blood contact. This isn't the violent, berserk rage of 28 Days Later, but a more sinister, subtle psychosis.

From a "coming next..." trailer, it had looked as though this episode would be full of gunplay, and while there is probably more shots fired than an average episode of Supernatural, this still isn't the A-Team.

Eventually the Winchesters find themselves holed up in the town's surgery with a handful of other survivors in a set-up reminiscent of Assault On Precinct 13.

Things look hopeless until the brothers get a seemingly lucky break, although only the audience find out what's really going on and the demonic connection that sparked Sam's initial vision. The brothers are left thinking of it as an "unsolved case", but I'm sure this won't be the last we hear of this demonic virus - given the show's writers penchant for keeping major plot threads alive and kicking for as long as possible.

There is a distinct aroma of The X-Files around Croatoan and while the big reveal keeps it firmly within Supernatural territory, there's something oddly scientific about the demons approach that you can't help wondering might have resolved in a more traditionally paranormal way.

The episode ends with another killer cliffhanger as Dean is about to reveal what their father told him in hospital about Sam's abilities...

Monkey Bee...

Monkey Bee: A short film by comic book artist Jamie Hewlett for the first single from The Journey To The West soundtrack.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of geeky news you might have missed...

(1) Just What The Doctor Ordered: Marvel is considering a Doctor Strange movie for 2012/2013, after The Avengers film is out the way.

(2) New Watchmen Trailer: Need I say more? Expect goosebumps...

(3) Clerks In Space? Kevin Smith's next project will be a futuristic, outer space comedy revolving around the relationship between a father and son.

(4) Lost Legion Found: Two new figures have been released for the Galactic Adventures in the Fourth Dimension of the Forbidden Zone range from Killer B Games.

(5) More Fury In Iron Man 2: Sam Jackson's Nick Fury is apparently going to play a larger role in the Iron Man sequel - even though Terrence Howard has been dropped as James Rhodes.

(6) New Feathered Dinosaur Found: The fossilised remains of a feathered, but flightless, dinosaur have been discovered in China, dating back to a time before birds evolved.

(7) More Audio Who: The BBC has extended Big Finish's licence to produce Doctor Who plays and readings through to the end of 2010.

Monday, 27 October 2008

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Secrets Of The Stars

Astrology (the idea that our destinies are somehow foretold - or controlled - by the positions of man-made patterns in the stars) is, of course, utter bunkum.

A common theme of Doctor Who has always been the triumph over science over superstition and so it was only right that eventually that would spill over into The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Secrets of The Stars sees a barnstorming performance from Russ Abbot as Martin Trueman, a small-time con-artist, preying on gullible souls by drawing up bogus 'star charts', who is transformed into a charismatic - and 'superpowered' - celebrity psychic with the power to see people's destinies and control their minds.

Using a technique similar to the Sycorax's "blood magic" (from The Christmas Invasion), he then starts to take over the world - one horoscope sign at a time - to prepare the planet for the arrival of the "Ancient Lights", a force unshackled from our laws of physics, from a universe that existed before The Big Bang.

Unfortunately for the "Ancient Lights", the stars are only right for their return once in an eternity and Trueman has to succeed now or the chance will be gone forever.

On a more personal level, with everyone talking about birth signs, horoscopes and astrology, Luke feels left out and more isolated because he wasn't born, but "activated" in The Invasion Of The Bane, which writer Gareth Roberts turns by an interesting piece of backstory into a central plot device in the second half of the story.

One of the shortcomings of The Sarah Jane Adventures, however - and I don't understand why this is allowed to happen given that there must be someone overseeing all the scripts - is the tendency to repeat major themes or images.

In the first season, there were several "moon crashing into the Earth" stories and so far this year we've had two stories, in succession, involving mass hypnosis.

While it has worked on both occasions - the Pied Piper and the children in the last story and the crowds being controlled by their star signs in this one - the similarities are rather glaring and rather detract from the inventiveness of the series.

It's What Wii've Been Waiting For...

Coming November 14 to the UK (November 11 to the US) - the game that Wii Nunchuks were invented for... Star Wars - Clone Wars: Lightsaber Duels.

"The power of the lightsaber is in your hands!"

Halloween Warm-up: Three Quick Bites...

Three quick reviews of films I've watched on DVD, so you don't have to...

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Infamous horror films seldom measure up the hype that surrounds them and I have yet to come across a worse offender than Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes.

Having held back from watching this for years, I was really pleased when I got it for Christmas and waited for an evening when my wife was out to settle down and watch it - knowing her extreme dislike for anything genuinely horrifying.

I needn't have bothered.

After a promising - if familiar - start, that firmly sets the film in the 'Desolution USA' world of survival horror, things rapidly go to pieces when the protagonists and antagonists meet in the deserted wasteland.

Looking like it was shot on a budget of $5, with the cannibal clan's costumes hired from a dodgy fancy dress shop that specialises in faux caveman and Red Indian attire, the story follows an annoying bunch of unsympathetic WASPs who take a detour on a road trip to California, to look for a silver mine in a nuclear testing zone (!).

When they break down they are set upon by the local family of flesh-eaters and have to fight to survive.

While hoping for another Deliverance, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wrong Turn or Devil's Rejects, I actually realised I'd stumbled across something that should have remained dusty and unwatched in a backstreet video store's bargain bin.

With gallons of tomato ketchup for blood and a couple of gruesome wound close-ups, I can kind of see how an 18 Certificate (in the UK) is justified, but with those close-ups trimmed this wouldn't have looked out of place as a Saturday afternoon thriller on ITV.

The whole silver mine/nuclear test site subplot is just a McGuffin to justify pitching the 'civilised' family against the primitives, but given how easily the savages get their asses whupped it stretches credibility to think that they had survived for a generation preying on passers-by.

And then there's the ending ... or lack thereof. The Hills Have Eyes seems to be missing either a third act or, at the very least, a satisfying denouement. Instead, I was just left wondering: "Yeah, and ... ?"

Wolf Creek (2005)
Wolf Creek is yet another attempt to re-imagine the Texas Chainsaw Massacre story of obnoxious, stranded youths being tortured and killed by an even more horrible character in some isolated, out-of-the-way place.

In this case it's the Australian outback.

And to be honest it does exactly what it says on the tin - this is not a film with hidden depths.

John Jarratt is convincingly disturbed as the evil and sadistic Mick Taylor, but the three youthful protagonists are as forgettable as their clones in any number of cheap and trashy American equivalents.

Disappointly average after The Guardian supposedly named it "the scariest film of the year".

The Beyond (1981)
Imagine a selection of scenes thrown together in a random order, spiced up with bad acting, bad dialogue and bad effects and crippled by bad dubbing (maybe my DVD version is partially to blame for this) and you can only just begin to appreciate the awfulness of The Beyond.

My initial interest in this was the supposed Lovecraft connection - through The Book of Eibon which gets a mention - but I can only imagine the great author spinning in his grave that his name is associated with this mess.

Peripheral characters are killed off and forgotten about, nothing is explained and logic is abandoned for the sake of yet another eye-gouging.

I wanted to like it, I wanted it to challenge me, but instead I came away feeling cheated.

Next Time On Merlin...

The Gates Of Avalon...

(Film Clip Not Available Outside The UK)

This looks like it has the potential to be the most exciting - and magical - episode to date. As with Smallville and the established Superman mythology, Merlin pays only lip service to established Arthurian legends, but is that the Lady Of The Lake?And who are those blue-faced, evil, pixie creatures?

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Six Of The Best With GUNNAR 'Leatherface' HANSEN

This is a special Six Of The Best because I've gone back into the HeroPress archives to celebrate Halloween.

This is the interview I conducted - via email - with Gunnar Hansen, star of Texas Chain Saw Massacre (TCM) and Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (HCH), back in 1997 for my university dissertation: Is That A Chainsaw In Your Pocket Or Are You Just Pleased To See Me? (Exploring the strong female role models in the chainsaw films of Gunnar Hansen).
To this day, it amazes me that a major star like Gunnar would take time from his schedule to humour some geek from across The Pond, writing a thesis on horror films.

This was in a time before DVDs and commentary tracks, so the only way to get a 'unique' perspective on a piece of work - other than quoting from other text books - was to go to the source and I still consider it something of a coup for my dissertation that I managed to secure an interview with the star of the two main films I was writing about.

(1) What aspects of these characters drew you to the roles?

Well, in both cases, the characters had nothing to do with drawing me to the roles. With TCM, I saw an opportunity to be in a movie, something I had never done. With HCH, Fred Ray told me what the movie was about, and I thought it would be fun to do, since it was really a comedy, something new for me.

(2) What were your characters' attitudes towards the womens in the films; do you feel this was put across successfully to the audience?

In TCM, I don't think Leatherface had any particular attitude toward women -- it was the same as toward men. They were to be killed if they got too close to the house. That was the mistake, I think, in TCM2, that Leatherface was agonizing over whether to kill the woman or screw her. Given how we defined the character in the first movie, he would never have had that hesitation. He would have just killed her.

In HCH, the "Stranger", as he was called in the script, really thought of women as his slaves. His role was to tell them what to do, and their job was to do it. Beyond that, I don't think think there was any characterization - that was as far as the script developed his attitude to women.

(3) Who do you feel these films are aimed at and what genre would you place them in (for example, do you consider the Texas Chainsaw Massacre a black comedy)?

TCM was aimed at the horror audience - which we tend to think of as teenage boys, though in TCM's case has been a much broader audience. It seems to appeal to men and women, teenagers up to people in their 50s. No, I would categorize TCM as a horror movie, an out-and-out horror. There are elements of black comedy in it, but they come out in later viewings. To make the comedy (black or not) in TCM more overt would have undermined the horror intent of the movie.

The HCH audience was a bit more mature - adult fans of horror who would appreciate the joke, the parody of old '60s horror. So I would categorize it as a comedy.

(4) Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers is the more obviously comedic of the two films. Do you feel humour, especially in this Grand Guignol style, is an effective tool in films of this ilk to avoid the explotation of their, primarily, female cast?
It would be hard to categorize the cast of TCM as primarily female. It would also be hard to say the females in TCM were exploited (there are three male victims and two female, one of whom escapes), unless you want to say that any female in a film is exploited. And that, aside from being untrue, is also pointless.

As for HCH, I couldn't say.

(5) A question you must have been asked a thousand times before: why chainsaws... and not any other power tool? What do you see as the psychological fascination with these weapons?
They're big, they're loud, they're unsubtle. There's nothing polite about being attacked with one.

[Before the interview Gunnar mentioned Carol J Clover's book Men, Women And Chainsaws, but he felt she missed the point with TCM and failed to notice that Leatherface wears two female masks in addition to the first-seen "killer mask" - the "old lady" face, complete with apron and spoon, when the cook brings Sally home; and the "pretty woman" face, with heavy make-up, during the dinner scene.]

(6) You mentioned the "female masks" that Leatherface wore - please could you expand on the meaning of this feminine sid eto the enigmatic killer.

I'm not sure that Leatherface has any more feminine sides than anyone else. He is, as Tobe [Hooper] and Kim [Henkel]defined him, dependant on his masks to express his personality. He is getting ready for dinner and so puts on his "old lady" face, which seems to be appropriate for being in the kitchen getting dinners ready for 'the boys'.

Likewise, he puts on a "pretty woman" face because he wants to dress up. But I'm not sure how far one wants to carry this - the faces are, in a way, evidence of his asexuality - one gender is as good as another for the face; what matters is what he is doing - and thus the sexual element in his personality in TCM2 is untrue to the character as originally defined.

Sunday Funny: Go On, I Dare You...

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Merlin: A Remedy To Cure All Ills

After moaning about the lack of Morgana action in Lancelot, this episode revolves around the attractive lass; she is struck down with a mystery sickness that Gaius is at a loss to cure.

Then up steps a new, strange, disfigured physician, Edwin Muirden (Green Wing's Julian Rhind-Tutt), who claims to have "a remedy to cure all ills".

Morgana, however, having been the catalyst for the action fades into the background and barely gets two lines in the whole script, but thankfully Gwen is equally sidelined and it's left to the menfolk to carry the day.

This is really Gaius' episode to shine and we get hints of his role in Uther's "Great Purge" of the land's sorcerers. Searching through old records, he realises that Edwin is the son of two powerful dark magic users who were put to the torch by Uther, but when he confronts Edwin the smooth-talking villain threatens to reveal Merlin's secret!

Gaius is forced into retirement by Uther, who seeks to replace him with the younger Edwin, only to have the table's turned on him when Edwin exacts his revenge for the death of his parents.

Although Merlin still seems intent on settling into a "monster-of-the-week" format, at least this episode saw a decent amount fo magic being woven and gave us some backstory for a couple of central characters.

Sadly the silver-tongued Edwin will not be returning unless his "remedy to cure all ills" can remove a great big axe from his forehead (an attack that, not surprisingly, happened off camera!)

Supernatural: Crossroad Blues

Crossroad Blues finds the Winchester brothers on the hunt for that Fortean favourite: a black dog. However, it's not long into their investigation when they begin to realise it's actually a hellhound they are chasing and it's connected to a small group of people who made a deal with a demon a decade earlier at a tavern located at a country crossroads.

Some sought fame and glory, another wanted talent and one wanted his wife to survive the terminal cancer she was struck down by - and all got their wishes in exchange for 10 more years of life before the demon returned to claim thier soul.

And the 10 years is up!

Dean has problems with this hunt, once this is revealed, because he feels the people brought this down on themselves.

Both brothers realise that their dad probably made a similar deal back in In My Time Of Dying, exchanging his soul for Dean's life - but it's not until Dean summons the Crossroad Demon (Jeannette Sousa) that the deal is confirmed. She teases Dean with the possibility of bringing his father back, but Dean sticks to his guns.

While Dean is haggling with the demon, and trying to resist her sultry charms, Sam is trying to protect Evan (Vincent Gale) - who made the deal to save his wife - from the invisible hellhound.

This story really adds to the mythology of the Supernatural universe, with its insights into the workings of demons and hints of the vast wealth of lore - through the artist who first summoned the demon - that the brothers don't even know yet.

Supernatural: The Usual Suspects

Dean's "murder charge" finally catches up with him, along with the brothers long-list of credit card scams, when police discover him over the corpse of a freshly murdered woman.

Another episode starting in media res, the backstory for The Usual Suspects is set out in flashbacks as Sam tells detective Ballard (Linda 'Exorcist' Blair) what the brothers were "really" doing in Baltimore - while the audience sees what really went down.

The brothers had come to town to investigate the 'locked room' murder of a lawyer and found clues to suggest the involvement of a vengeful spirit. While Sam had been trying to access the lawyer's computer for clues to the identity of the ghost, Dean had gone to check up on his wife... only to find her already dead.

Sam slips out of police custody, but when the ghost pays a particularly frightening visit to detective Ballard, Dean helps her track his brother down so Ballard and Sam can team up and find the ghost, to lay her to rest.

Of course, this is Supernatural so it's not that straight-forward!

A wonderfully tight episode, drawing on the established continuity of the series to strengthen the verisimilitude of the show and prove that nothing is forgotten when it comes to the antics of the Winchester brothers.

Jensen Ackles is at the peak of his game during the police interrogation scenes, when the cops are convinced they have an airtight case against him, but he knows he's innocent and so stays cocky where others might have folded.

Of course, it's always great to see Linda Blair in a decent horror yarn and Dean manages to slip in a couple of meta-references in the episode's denouement to her "other" memorable performance.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Behind The Curtain: Pulling The Wool Over My Players' Eyes...

The Tuesday Knights, my regular group of players in my Tekralh role-playing game campaign of Castles & Crusades, have been exploring tunnels under the ruins of an old wizard's tower, built by a century ago by a sorceror known as Zenopus, then abandoned after 50 years after it was rumoured he tried to summon a demon... and it all went wrong!

The tower was subsequently demolished by locals who feared it was haunted, revealing an inviting staircase down into the "underworld".

Naturally, our adventurers were drawn to the site like bees to honey and one of their first encounters was with a young, human wizard (with a bodyguard) who claimed to be the legendary "Zenopus" (pictured right)... and the players bought this hook, line and sinker.

I guess they had no reason not to take him at face value - although he certainly didn't appear over a 100 years old and never, actually, demonstrated any magical prowess in their presence!

In a world where powerful magics are possible, what should the players believe and what should they doubt?

I loved the fact that, without me even saying much beyond a basic description of this man calling himself "Zenopus", the players feared him!

In fact they were so shaken by the "potential threat" that they offered their sword arms to his service before he could say much more.

What could I do, but run with this juicy ball the players had just handed me!

Eventually, after the wizard had had a chance to consider this most generous offer, he sent his bodyguard after the party with a job offer - they were to retrieve "his" treasure from some pirates who had invaded the tunnels from an adjoining cave complex.

It was only once our heroes returned, laden down with chests of treasure - but with the pirates in pursuit - that they began to smell a rat.

Well, one of them did: Steve (playing Red the Ranger) began to quiz the "mighty wizard" on why he was so nervous about facing the pirates? Surely if he had the power to build this dungeon a few pirates shouldn't be much bother?

The wizard fled in his cart and although Red gave chase, the wizard - as a major non-player character - was able to play a "hero point" (a house rule) to give Red the slip (it helped that Steve subsequently rolled a fumble on his pursuit check).

Red, and the party, now have a nemesis and I have a major NPC to use as a recurring villain.

Red, investigating further after the characters returned to the nearby town, now believes this magic-user is called Magoo The Magnificent and is, in fact, an amoral rogue and a charlatan. Sure, he has a good, but limited, portfolio of spells (Red got zinged by a couple of magic missiles) but beyond that the players know very little about him... or when he will next appear.

As an NPC, Magoo was inspired by the gnomish thief/illusionist Jonid Coincrawler from Knights of The Dinner Table.

While Jonid has a decent suite of illusionist spells to continually thwart the Untouchable Trio (Plus One), Magoo will probably end up relying more on his wits and charm - but the idea of setting the party up against a character who is intent on relieving them of their "hard-earned" loot was too good to pass up.

I had ear-marked several places through the dungeon where the group could have picked up clues to Magoo's deceit, but they kept missing them - not through any poor roleplaying or even bad die rolls - and so it took almost three sessions for them to twig that something was rotten in the state of Denmark.

I never lied to them - although Magoo did - just presented the evidence that was before them and let them make up their own minds. Now, I believe, some games would have me revealing this con to the players from the off and then encourage them to "role-play" it out - which I think is daft.

We're not hard core role-players, anyway. This is a monthly game played for old school, hack and slash fun, not an exercise in improv or psychological studies.

And there was a feeling of great satisfaction for the players to have unmasked "Zenopus" for the fraud he was, which certainly wouldn't have been there if they'd all been in on the gag in the first place.

Underworld 3: Rise Of The Lycans...

Rhona Mitra fills Kate Beckinsale's skin tight leathers in this third entry in the Underworld franchise, taking the vampires versus werewolves tale back to the Dark Ages to show us how it all began.

Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans opens in January.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Supernatural: No Exit

The introduction of Ellen's Roadhouse into the Supernatural mythology has become the perfect launch pad for adventures without the need for Sam and Dean to continually be stumbling over hunts.

As a gathering point for hunters, this has quickly becomes the televisual equivalent of the old Dungeons & Dragons stereotype that every adventure starts with a stranger approaching the party of adventurers in a bar.

However, in Supernatural the set-up has a certain verisimiltude that has so far kept it out of cliche country.

In No Exit the Winchester brothers are given a case file worked up by Jo (Ellen's daughter) that she had intended to follow up herself - against her mother's wishes.

The hunt leads to a warehouse conversion in Philadelphia, where a young girl has just gone missing. Unfortunately for the Winchester boys young Jo (who looks barely into her teens) has followed them and barges her way into their schemes.

The brothers do their usual research legwork and discover that the flat-conversion was built on the site where H.H. Holmes - America's first serial killer - was hung. And the torturer is back in business, using the insides of the walls to recreate his gruesome "murder castle".

Once it gets to the meat of the story, No Exit is as tense as any Hostel-style torture-porn movie - but without the gore - mixed in with some genuinely spooky moments as the ghost of Holmes captures Jo and locks her inside her little piece of Hell.

This episode mainly concentrates on Jo and Dean, as Sam always seems to be "elsewhere" and I can only assume that Jared Padalecki, still sporting the broken wrist the zombie gave him back in Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, was either resting or off filming something else.

Supernatural: Simon Said

Sam's prophetic visions are back and they lead him to another 'gifted child' - this time it's a dope-smoking slacker Andrew Gallagher (Gabriel Tigerman) who has the rather useful psychic ability to get people to do whatever whatever he says.

Sam and Dean believe he is responsible for the death of an innocent doctor who walked out in front of a bus, but very quickly realise - when the next victim is discovered - that he is innocent, even though the victims are all directly tied to him.

Simon Said not only heightens Sam and Dean's connections with the Roadhouse, from Everybody Love's A Clown, bringing back Ellen, Jo and Ash, but also lets the Winchester brothers in on a bit more of the Yellow-Eyed Demon's plans for all the "special children".

While psychic powers may seem more the province of The X-Files or Fringe, they work well in this story because of their demonic origins and the powers pull Sam and Dean in on a very personal level - Sam being immune to the mind control, while Dean is as susceptible as anyone else.

The revelation of the episode's real villain is slightly cheesy, but the script acknowledges that and moves on and, in context, it holds water so we'll let it ride without dwelling on it.

Supernatural: Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things

Normally in serial dramas when a main character dies they might merit a mention in the following episode but generally after that the grieving period is over and the other characters have moved on.

Not so in Supernatural. In Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, the Winchester brothers are still trying to come to terms with the loss of their father and Sam suggests a visit to the headstone that was erected in memory of their mother.

Dean reluctantly goes on, but when there spots a nearby, recent grave surrounded by a perfect circle of dead plant life. Sensing a hunt, he begins to investigate and discovers the grave belongs to a college student killed a week earlier in a car crash.

Sam, at first, thinks Dean is sensing a hunt where there isn't one and gets particularly worried when Dean harasses the dead girl's father.

But the clues begin to point to the girl having been raised from the dead as a zombie, when her cheating ex-boyfriend apparently "slits his own throat".

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things presents us with a uniquely Supernatural twist on the classic zombie myth in a thrilling race-against-time as the creature takes her revenge on everyone who has let her down.

And only Supernatural could make a zombie so damn sexy (Gossip Girl's Tamara Feldman)...

Dean's statement that "what's dead should stay dead" is clearly a metaphor for his own grief over his role in their father's death and the tearful conclusion of the episode is certainly not the last we shall hear of this thorny issue.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

What Dungeons & Dragons Character Am I?

Apparently, I'm a 5th Level, True Neutral Human Sorcerer with a strength of 8 and a constitution of 10!

I found this quirky survey thanks to Geek Orthodox.

Be warned it's a mighty long (100+ questions) personality test, but to give it its due I think it's ultimate assessment of my statistics (post-aneurysm/stroke) are probably quite accurate.

This isn't my "aspirational character" (that would probably be a rogue or even a barbarian or ranger) but an honest appraisal of my limited options. Of course, you do have to be brutally honest with your answers to get what might be construed as an honest result, but I guess that's why it takes so many questions.

My answers are clearly saying I'm not cut out for a life as an adventurer...

Here are the rest of my results -

Ability Scores:

Strength 8

Dexterity 10

Constitution 10

Intelligence 12

Wisdom 13

Charisma 11

True Neutral A true neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn't feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos.

Most true neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality.

Such a character thinks of good as better than evil after all, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he's not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way.

Some true neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run.

True neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion.

However, true neutral can be a dangerous alignment because it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Sorcerers are arcane spellcasters who manipulate magic energy with imagination and talent rather than studious discipline. They have no books, no mentors, no theories just raw power that they direct at will.

Sorcerers know fewer spells than wizards do and acquire them more slowly, but they can cast individual spells more often and have no need to prepare their incantations ahead of time. Also unlike wizards, sorcerers cannot specialize in a school of magic.

Since sorcerers gain their powers without undergoing the years of rigorous study that wizards go through, they have more time to learn fighting skills and are proficient with simple weapons.

Charisma is very important for sorcerers; the higher their value in this ability, the higher the spell level they can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Lounge Watch: Day 28...

Job done!

Rachel's dad finished the shelving today (and most of the wiring) and I realised just how big the shelves were and how little we actually had to put on them. Not that that's a bad thing, of course. It means "room for expansion".

Our next project will be the dining room, but Rachel and I have agreed that given the credit crunch - and the amount we've spent on the lounge and kitchen in recent months - that will probably wait until next year.

Of course, come next year - and better weather - our thoughts will probably also turn to the garden, where I'm still keen to get myself a shed (for model making, paint spraying, wargame scenery manufacturing etc).

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Halloween Special From Midnight's Lair...

With only 10 days to go to the end of the month, the excellent roleplaying podcast Midnight's Lair has released a special edition - dedicated to gaming in the spirit of Halloween.

Hosted by long-time HeroPress supporter PMikey with WalkerP, from the Midnight's Lair Forums, a large portion of the 40-minute show is devoted to the idea of instilling fear in superhero games.

When your characters can regularly face down antagonists with the power of an atom bomb how can you make their spines' tingle - without resorting to the obvious trick of just stripping them of their powers?

PMikey, who specialises in running superhero games, has some ingenious ideas on this subject.

Other topics covered in the podcast include using 'masquerades' as a starting point for an adventure, introducing game mechanics based on who rings your doorbell asking "trick or treat?" and the dangers of handing out dice with the Halloween sweets.

The podcast can be downloaded from here.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Another Tale To Chill The Blood...

The talented team at the HP Lovecraft Historical Society have created another audio masterpiece in their third faux 1930's radio drama: The Shadow Out Of Time.

Unlike The Dunwich Horror, the terror in this story comes not so much from the incredible sights the protagonist sees in his dreams but the truths they ultimately suggest about our place in the universe.

The Shadow Out Of Time is thus one of HP Lovecraft's more cerebral, rather than visceral, cosmic horrors and the HPLS adaptation plays up to this strength well.

Lovecraft's story revolves around a Miskatonic University lecturer suddenly struck down with amnesia who then five years later tries to piece together what he was doing during those "lost" years.

Fragments of dreams about strange alien lifeforms mingle with the discovery that he had been visiting libraries and occultists around the world and pursuing investigations that would never have previously been of interest to him.

The CD of the play comes packaged with the HPLS' usual selection of finely crafted props from the adventure; in this case a page from a mysterious occult tome, a newspaper clipping, an entry from a medical journal and a sealed ship-to-shore Marconigram which I am loathe to open.

These would all, of course, make fantastic props in a game of Call Of Cthulhu (an area the HPLS has a made a name for itself in) or just as novelty Lovecraftiana to display around your own library of occult tomes and hand-written studies of "things man was not supposed to know".

Next up from the HPLS is their adaptation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

Halloween Warm-up: Underworld - Evolution (2006)

Delicious Kate Beckinsale is back in her skin tight leathers as Selene the vampire, dealing death to her fellow neck suckers and other creatures of the night, in the spectacular sequel to 2003's Underworld.

Picking up the story almost from the moment the first film finishes, Underworld: Evolution is basically a plot-lite monster chase movie interspersed with effects-heavy fight sequences that eventually degenerate into a kind of supernatural James Bond with OTT set pieces and wacky gadgets.

Of particular note, along with the climactic punch-up (complete with helicopter crashing through the ceiling), is the opening scene, set in the 13th Century, of vampire knights tracking down the first werewolf (William) and fighting off a village of his recent converts.

Throughout the movie great atmospheric use is made of the story's Eastern Euopean setting (as in the original and Blade 2), resisting the easy option of relocating it to the United States.

Several of the characters from the first film make cameos of varying lengths, and the action is certainly ramped up a gear - not so much walking in slow motion and Goth vampires with attitude.

While Kate holds her own in the acting stakes and Steven Mackintosh enjoys his role as a lustful vampire exile, Derek Jacobi phones in his performance as the enigmatic Corvinus (presumably he was doing this as a favour or just wanted some pocket money).

Scott Speedman mopes his way through his part as the vampire/werewolf hybrid Michael, but it's slinky Selene and the action set-pieces that will stick in the memory.

Looking back I can't believe how much I disliked the original when I saw it at the cinema - sure it's more World of Darkness than Buffy The Vampire Slayer - but it's just a load of harmless nonsense and, having re-evaluated it in light of a cheap DVD purchase, I've decided it's actually very entertaining for what it is.

Underworld: Evolution doesn't need any such re-evaluation.

Sure it's trash, but superb trash.

Although the main characters seem to get more powerful at the end of each film, I still believe the Underworld saga deserves a few more chapters ... and how about a Blade/Underworld crossover? Now that would kick ass!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

DVD Of The Week: Jack Brooks - Monster Slayer (2007)

Playing more like an 85-minute pilot for a gory, retro TV show than a major motion picture, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer introduces us to the epoymous hero with flashbacks to his 'origin story' and an account of his first adventure.

Jack (Trevor Matthews) is a young plumber with anger management issues, relating back to the slaughter of his family before his eyes during a childhood camping trip.

His time is split between visiting his shrink, work and attending night classes with his annoying girlfriend, Eve (Rachel Skarsten).

One day his professor (Robert 'Freddy Krueger' Englund) calls on Jack to help him with some plumbing issues up at his old house. Unfortunately the work releases the spirit of an ancient demon which possesses Professor Crowley and gradually transforms him into a giant tentacled beastie.

It's up to Jack to channel his anger and save his classmates from the demon and its zombie-spawn!

This is a CGI-free, glorious return to the days of 'men-in-rubber-suit' monsters and puppetry effects delivered with a broad, knowing grin and a fantastic joie de vivre, mixing elements of Scooby Doo and Buffy The Vampire Slayer with the Grand Guignol of The Evil Dead.

A sequel is already being planned, with a bigger budget, and for all Jack's personality faults the charismatic Matthews make him a likable lead, so this could be the start of a quality, cult franchise - perhaps one day actually rivalling the Sunnydale Slayer!

Sunday Funny: Who Needs Armour?

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Merlin: Lancelot

"Buckbeak, the word is on the street that the fire in your heart is out," Oasis might have sung about Harry Potter's hippogriff friend as he seems to be popping up everywhere.

Masquerading as a run-of-the-mill griffon, he turned up as the random encounter monster-of-the-week in Merlin to menace Camelot and surrounding villages.

But the poorly CGI-ed beastie wasn't the main focus of an episode called Lancelot - that would be the wannabe knight Lancelot, played by Santiago Cabrera, of Heroes fame.

Merlin encourages Lancelot in his dreams of becoming a knight (after the dashing hero saves the young wizard from the monster), however his ambitions are thwarted by the fact that Uther has ruled that only members of the nobility may become knights.

Merlin forges Lancelot some 'nobility credentials', but after Lancelot is sworn in as a knight, Uther checks up on him and discovers the deceit and has the aspiring defender of the realm thrown out.

Meanwhile the griffon is making its random attacks across the country - pointedly not taking any cattle, only humans - and heading towards Camelot where Arthur and his knights prove next to useless against it.

Gaius points out that because it is a creature of magic, only magic can harm it, but Uther is having none of this and refuses to relax his ban on sorcery.

Arthur frees Lancelot from gaol and tells him to leave and never return, but - of course - he hangs around, determined to protect Arthur from the untouchable griffon.

Arthur and his knights again get totally embarrassed by the creature and it's left to Lancelot, with a bit of magical assistance from Merlin, to defeat the monster.

Wonky special effects and cop-out ending (meaning the show's budget doesn't have to stretch to having another big star name in the credits every week) aside, this is probably the best episode of Merlin to date.

The latest issue of SFX may have had a virtual fangasm over the first episode, and we may be a month into this show and still know very little about the backgrounds and motivations of the central characters, but Lancelot was filled with cracking swordfights and some half-decent man-on-monster action.

Sadly, we didn't get to see much of Morgana this week and Gwen just swanned around being a bit annoying and drippy, but generally the ensemble cast all pulled their weight - with Anthony Head's Uther remaining the strongest and most interesting personality on the screen.

Next time:

(Film clip only avilable in the UK)

Supernatural: Bloodlust

One of the things I've always admired about Supernatural is it's black and white take on "hunting monsters". Monsters are evil, therefore they deserve to die.

Unfortunately, Bloodlust muddies the water somewhat. The Winchester brothers, cruising in the newly restored Impala, are investigating a couple of murders in an area of cattle mutilations.

There is a wonderfully scripted monologue from a local sheriff as to why there is nothing mysterious about cattle mutilations, then the boys go to check out the decapitated bodies in the hospital morgue and discover that they have fangs!

Now hunting for a nest of vampires, the Winchesters meet up with fellow hunter Gordon Walker (Sterling K. Brown) who has been tracking these "fangs" for a year. Dean gets on well with Walker's enthusiastic take on hunting, but Sam is slightly more wary.

Sam is then kidnapped by the vampires, and their leader Lenore (Amber 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer' Benson) explains they have sworn off human blood and are the ones draining the cattle. This helps them stay hidden from hunters as there are no "disappearing locals".

Sam explains this to Dean, but he's not convinced until they are pursue Gordon to the nest and find him torturing Lenore.

As I'd expect from Supernatural, this episode is beautifully shot and very well-written by Sera Gamble, but as with Everybody Loves A Clown something about it doesn't quite gel and it seems as though the show might be about to deviate off message.

It's always nice to see an old Buffy alumni popping up on another paranormal show - especially in an episode relating to vampires - but I would hate to see this awesome show turn into a vanilla carbon copy of that show.

We don't need another Buffy The Vampire Slayer - that was perfect in its time - we want Supernatural to retain its own gritty identity.

Supernatural: Everybody Loves A Clown

Clowns are evil. Everyone knows that. You just need to watch this episode of Supernatural (Everybody Loves A Clown) or The Day Of The Clown from The Sarah Jane Adventures if you don't believe me!

This is is an episode of two parts, two streams as it were. There's the main story arc moving forward with Sam and Dean trying to cope with the loss of their father in their own way and discovering a roadhouse for demon hunters, run by an old friend of their father's, Ellen Harvelle (Samantha Ferris).

Ellen has a perky daughter Jo (Alona Tal) and a resident genius/barfly Ash (Chad Lindberg) who all pad out the Winchester's stable of supporting characters brilliantly and help to move the hunt for the elusive Yellow Eyed Demon in the right direction.

However, along the way, Sam picks up the scent of a hunt for a "killer clown" who seems to be plaguing a touring carnival in the area.

The hunt sub-plot is very rushed and not as convincing as usual, with John Shiban's script - so strong on the character material in the other plotline - reducing the antagonist to a cookie cutter demon with no real raison d'etre.

It is labelled a rakshasa, but only pays lip service to established Hindu mythology on these creatures.

I realise that part of the charm of Supernatural's take on mythological beasts is that "everything we know is wrong", but surely that isn't to the extent of just plastering the name of a known creature onto any bland demon and expecting us to believe they are truly one and the same?

Just look at the clever spin, Supernatural has put on vampires and compare it to this cavalier treatment of the rakshasa.

While the story revolving around the roadhouse is an excellent one, the secondary/hunt plotline seems like a wasted opportunity and hopefully isn't an indication of a drop in standards for a show that blew me away with its first season.

Supernatural: In My Time Of Dying

Supernatural Season Two picks up right from the end of Season One (Devil's Trap) with Sam (Jared Padalecki), Dean (Jensen Ackles) and their father, John (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) trapped in their wrecked Impala after it was T-boned by a lorry whose driver was demonically possessed.

The emergency services arrive and they are taken to hospital.

John and Sam are fine, just a few cuts and bruises, but Dean lies in a coma with multiple internal injuries and not long to live.

However, Dean's spirit is walking the halls of the hospital, where he discovers a Reaper cleaning up the souls of the dead... and he is her next target.

While Sam is furiously trying to find some way to save his brother, their dad still seems obsessed with confronting the "Yellow-Eyed Demon" (the root of their family problems), much to Sam's disgust.

Characters clinging to life undergoing 'out of body' experiences is quite a cliched trope in fantasy fiction and television, but this being Supernatural it has an ultimate shocking twist when we finally discover why John is still so driven to confront the demon and how Dean is pulled back from the brink of death.

A downbeat start to the new season, but it fits the overall story arc and mood of the show perfectly, even if dying Dean confronting a Reaper has been done before. At least this time it was in the form of a cute babe (Lindsey McKeon), thus keeping up the show's hotness quota.

Lounge Watch: Day 24...

After Rachel put together the unit under the television last weekend, and I got the TV and the DVD player running (revealing my priorities!), Rachel's parents came round today so her dad could start building the rest of the Ikea units and shelves.

He's so far managed the two vertical shelf units, but will have to come back next week to finish the horizontal 'bridge' that creates a span above the television.

After that, he's going to tackle the 'Spaghetti Junction' that will be the mass of wires connecting all our gadgets behind the television - which also should, ultimately, lead to us being able to watch Sky TV in both the bedroom and my gamesroom.

But that's a little way off yet!

Friday, 17 October 2008

Book Of The Month: Mothstorm

Regular readers of HeroPress will probably have guessed that Philip Reeve is my favourite author and the impending release of a new tome in either his Mortal Engines series or his Larklight series is a cause of much excitement at HeroPress Towers.

Mothstorm: The Horror from Beyond Uranus Georgium Sidus, out this month in hardback, is the third in his Larklight series, which began with Larklight and continued in Starcross.

These are the on-going adventures of young narrator Art Mumby (occasionally assisted by his very prim and proper sister Myrtle) in the steampunk Victorian universe of 1851 where sailing ships ply the skies between the planets, alien races co-exist with man and strange creatures exist in the aether.

All three books are light-hearted, rollicking good Boy's Own yarns full of pluck and courage, fights with exotic baddies and near-death experiences.

Earlier in the series, the Mumby children discovered their Mother was, in fact, an immortal, God-like being known as a Shaper, who had helped create the Universe but now taken human form.

In Mothstorm, they come up against a second Shaper - from a different Universe - who is the dark reflection of their Mother.

This second Shaper leads a slave army of giant moth-riding, lizard-like aliens whose home planet was drained of resources and so is seeking a new world to conquer - namely, ours!

As with the two previous tales, Mothstorm is presented as Art's journal - with chapters taken from Myrtle's diary to cover the episodes where they are apart - and is beautifully illustrated with David Wyatt's sketches.

And once again, pretty much everything I said about Larklight and Starcross holds true about this book. It's a more straight-forward plot than Starcross and while aimed primarily at younger readers, there's enough excitement, wit and bewilderingly detailed worldbuilding to keep adults entertained as well.

I have yet to discover if another in this series is due out any time soon, but you know that as soon I get wind of it, it'll be added to my Amazon shopping basket.

DVD Of The Week: Feast (2005)

Shlock horror critic Joe Bob Briggs coined the phrase "spam in a cabin" for films where the protagonists are trapped in a small environment by their attackers (supernatural or otherwise) and anyone can die at any time.

Such a description fits Feast perfectly.

Set almost entirely inside an isolated Texan road house, the simple story finds a mix of locals and strangers trapped in the tavern at night by the sudden appearance, from the desert, of a family of ravenous, humanoid monsters on an eating frenzy.

The attacks come fast and furious (often so fast the audience can't really tell what's going on) and we never get to fully see the monsters (always a good idea) because of their speed and size, and the darkness of the setting.

First time director John Gulager's rapid editing of the violence and underlighting of the tavern interiors serve to emphasise the general confusion and panic that the stranded characters are enduring.

Feast is bloody, revolting and unrelenting, and slightly tongue-in-cheek, but never tries to punch above its weight. There are no aspirations here to be anything other than a by-the-numbers, entertaining gorefest.

We are introduced to the characters with a series of Trainspotting-style freezeframes and captions, then left to our devices to decide whether we empathise with any of them. Don't expect any character development or much in the way of backstory; we are just plonked down at the start of the action and it unfolds around us in all its blood-splattered glory.

As well as a cameo from Kevin Smith regular Jason Mewes (as himself) and central performances from familiar faces such as Balthazar Getty and Henry Rollins, the ensemble cast all acquit themselves admirably.

A sequel, Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds, has been filmed back-to-back with Feast 3. expect both on DVD soon, I'm sure. These monsters are insatiable!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Donna's Back... And In Fine Voice!

For those of us suffering from Donna Noble withdrawal since the tragic turn of events in Journey's End - despair no longer!

The Doctor and his fiery assistant are back in an exclusive audio adventure from BBC Audio called: The Forever Trap, written by the great Dan Abnett, the genius behind many of Marvel's current crop of high-quality 'cosmic' comic books, such as Nova and Guardians Of The Galaxy.

Now, we all know Donna Noble has a very particular voice and who better to capture her rhythms and intonation than the lady herself - Catherine Tate?

Tate does a smashing job giving all the characters in the piece distinctive voices and, of course, nails Donna perfectly... and Donna gets to shine in Abnett's script, delivering her usual barrage of one-liners and put-downs.

Although this is a typically brutal and serious Doctor Who story, The Forever Trap is also a hilariously, laugh-out-loud funny adventure in places and possibly ranks as one of the greatest Doctor Who stories I have yet encountered.

The Doctor and Donna are 'kidnapped' by a 'viral meme' (a form of psionic spam) and deposited in a room in The Edifice, an apartment block of dimension-warping proportions, floating in space in an unknown part of the Universe.

They are not the only residents, they quickly realise, as random creatures from across the wide reaches of outer space have been similarly forced into the same situation... and not all are coping particularly well with this!

The Forever Trap is a broad satire on bureaucracy, red tape, spam emails, time-share salesmen etc and hits the mark every time.

Complemented by great BBC special effects, and the occasional use of voice filters, Tate's telling of The Forever Trap is a joy to listen to.

With shades of Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy and even 2000AD's Judge Dredd tales of "block wars", The Doctor and Donna make their difficult descent down through The Edifice to try and find out what's going on - avoiding sundry monsters and "resident's associations" along the way.

The only slight disappointment came, for me, when our heroes finally found out who was "behind the curtain", but then again that was probably just personal taste because I have seen way too many science-fiction movies and television programmes. Nevertheless, the ending is still suitably thrilling and quite Lovecraftian in its descriptions of "things man is not to supposed to see".

As with Peter Anghelides' Pest Control earlier this year, I hope Steven Moffat takes this incredible story as an application to write for the TV show. At the moment I can't think of anyone more qualified to write Doctor Who (who isn't already) than Dan Abnett.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Exposing The Conjuring Con-Artist...

It was a glorious moment in tonight's game when The Tuesday Knights - and in particular, Steve - began to realise that the wizard they were working for was not the person he claimed to be.

The man nervously loading his cart and visibly terrified at the prospect of being overrun by the horde of pirates who had just chased the party through the dungeon just couldn't be the all powerful sorcerer that he claimed to be, could he?

In fact, come to think of it, they'd never actually seen him do anything magical at all, either before or after they agreed to retrieve his treasure from the pirates...

Admittedly the magic missiles he later fired into Red's chest (Steve's character) as he fled suggested that he had some magical skill.

Then there was the question of what had become of his bodyguard, whose belt and sword Nick's gnome recovered from the back of a cart?

Another short and wonderful delve into the world of Tekralh by The Tuesday Knights this evening. A brief summary of their exploits can be found over at The Chronicles of Tekralh, along with some background colour and clues to events going on the wider world.

This was our third session of Castles & Crusades in my homebrew world and the party just managed to get out of the dungeon with everything in tact. Their only loss was a donkey (but she turned up safe and well back in the town later - quite miraculously!), although Feng Ying (Nick's character) came to within a hit point of passing in to the great beyond at the 'hands' of a very angry giant ape.

Particular highlights of this evening's game included Feng Ying wrestling with the ape - and nearly getting torn apart in the process (the ape landed a critical claw strike to the gnome, practically tearing his face off) - until Clodius (Clare's character) came in to deliver the killing blow, as he always seems to do.

Red's dogged pursuit of the phony fakir was mighty impressive, but the dice were against him and in the end he stumbled and the "wizard" - whoever he may be - fled into the surrounding woodlands. Red swore he would track him down though... and I'm sure the party haven't seen the last of that particular character.

The party have now returned to the nearby town to recuperate, but have decided to return to the dungeon when they are well enough, with their new recruit, the glamorous fighter Lemunda, in tow.

Although the group explored very little that was new to them this week, the adventure still crackled along at a frenetic pace - mainly because they were always either being chased or chasing someone for the duration of the game!

The next meeting of The Tuesday Knights is scheduled for November 18.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

National Glory For a Tuesday Knight!

Clare, a long-time supporter of HeroPress (from back in the day when I was trying to get an online 'adventure' going among my old gaming buddies) and founding member of The Tuesday Knight's, has had her internationally-renowned blog (Three Beautiful Things) referenced in The Times as an example of how to cope with the current sense of doom and gloom embracing the world.

Columnist John Naish says people should visit her blog "to see an expert gratitude-spotter at work".

So what are you waiting for?

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of geeky stories you might have missed...

(1) At The Mountains Of Madness - For Real: Scientists are following in the wake of Lovecraft's best story and actually hunting for the legendary 'Mountains Of Madness' in the Antarctic.

(2) Games, Games, Games: Game 08 Convention is just under two weeks away. It is being held in Manchester, UK, and features over 22,000 sq ft of gaming space and over 40 exhibitors - including a chance to preview the eagerly anticipated Doctor Who RPG.

(3) Sarah Jane And Sixth Doctor In Chicago: Colin Baker and Elisabeth Sladen headline at Chicago Tardis 2008 in late November, where they are joined by members of the Big Finish team and representatives of Mad Norwegian Press publishers.

(4) Hamster-Eating Lizards Return: 80's sci-fi gem V is to be reborn thanks to one of the co-creators of the much-missed 4400.

(5) Hulk To Face Off Against Avengers: The latest buzz on 2011's highly-anticipated Avengers movie have Earth's Mightiest pitted against The Incredible Hulk!

(6) BSG To The End: Battlestar Galactica returns for the conclusion of its fourth and final season in the US on January 16 - with a season finale around March 20. Clear your calendar now!

7) Noir Is The New Black: With Marvel doing its line of 'noir' superhero titles, it comes as (almost) no surprise to discover that The Jim Henson Company is preparing an "adult" Muppet movie - supposedly a film noir murder mystery.

(8) I'll Be Back: Season two of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles begins this Thursday at 9pm on Virgin 1 in the UK.

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of geeky stuff you may have missed...

(1) It's A Brave New World: Blade Runner and Alien director Ridley Scott is to tackle Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

(2) Acknowledging The Overlooked: The first British Game Awards will be presented in December and are currently soliciting nominations in the RPG field.

(3) Goodman Goes Gothic: Best known for their Dungeon Crawl Classics line for Dungeons & Dragons, Goodman Games has been announced as the latest licensee to publish official Call Of Cthulhu modules. The first adventure will be Death In Luxor.

(4) Marvel Movie Plans For Next Three Years: Marvel has unveiled its plans for superhero movies through to 2011, in partnership with California-based Raleigh Studios.

(5) Captain America, Reporting For Duty: It looks like the planned Captain America movie is going to be his origin story, set during the Second World War, and possibly end with him being frozen in ice for The Avengers to thaw him out in their movie... if they are following established comic book canon.

(6) Indiana Jones And The (Insert Own Age-Related Gag Here): George Lucas is thinking about a fifth installment for the popular Indiana Jones series, according to Harrison Ford, with the 66-year-old star remaining in the lead role.

(7) My Ship's Better Than Yours: Entertainment Weekly is running a Millennium Falcon vs Serenity poll, as part of its Geek Thunderdome, pitting various sci-fi staples against each other in a series of popularity contests. Cast your votes now!

(8) Arduin Lives: One of the first and most influential (certainly for me) roleplaying systems and worlds, Dave Hargrave's Arduin, will live again from May next year with the publication of Arduin Eternal by Emperors Choice Games.

(9) Don't Have A Cow! The next Concrete Cow games convention in Milton Keynes is on March 14, 2009.

(10) Tuesday Knights Ride Again: The third installment of our monthly Castles & Crusades campaign is scheduled for this evening.

Monday, 13 October 2008

The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Day Of The Clown

Things have taken a decidedly dark and creepy turn in the world of Sarah Jane Smith with the arrival of a child-snatching clown.

Luke is still pining for Maria (now in Washington), but Clyde is distracted by an attractive new arrival at Park Vale School - Rani (Anjili Mohindra) - who also happens to have just moved into Maria's old house in Bannerman Road with her parents.

Kids have been disappearing and Clyde and Rani have seen a clown haunting the school corridors and grounds.

Clues lead Sarah Jane to Spellman's Museum of The Circus and an encounter with the sinister Spellman (an amazingly evil performance from Coronation Street's Bradley Walsh), who turns out to be a shape-changing alien entity that feeds on the fear caused by the abduction of children.

Spellman has been haunting the planet since he first came into existence as the Pied Piper of Hamelin 700 years ago, popping up in the States in the 1930s as the child-napping clown Odd Bob.

Rani is quickly inducted into Sarah Jane's gang with a vow of secrecy and Sarah Jane must overcome her own fear of clowns before the young heroes can triumph over the powerful alien entity, which draws on horror imagery from 1988's Killer Klowns From Outer Space and Stephen King's It to create the first truly unnerving Sarah Jane Adventures' story.

Children's TV legend Floella Benjamin pops up in a cameo as one of Sarah Jane's contacts, a scientist from the Pharos Project who has access to the meteorite which brought the fear creature to Earth.

Newcomer Rani, the aspiring journalist, is a fine replacement for Maria, bringing a new dynamic to the team, while her stable homelife makes a pleasant change from the usual broken homes that appear in Russell T Davies-influenced shows.

Although it is Sarah Jane who ultimately traps the alien creature, it was Rani who worked out how to defeat him - with Clyde's help.


Combine Big Brother (one of the most brain-dead programmes on global television) with zombies and you've got Dead Set - the new five-part thriller coming soon on E4, from controversial comedy writer Charlie Brooker. Look out for a zombified Davina McCall!

Halloween Warm-up: The Amityville Horror (2005)

A classic haunted house yarn with solid performances from the cast, young and old, Amityville Horror is not a subtle, psychological horror but a balls-out, in-yer-face monster picture with the vengeful ghosts and demons appearing on screen from the moment the Lutz family arrive at their new home.

Although it claims to be based on a true story no real attempt is made to keep the mayhem within the bounds of reality and George's rapid descent into insanity isn't so much an homage to Nicholson in The Shining as a parody.

Ryan Reynolds is superb as the troubled head of his step-family and while best known for his light-hearted roles shows here he can turn charm to menace at the flick of a switch.

Amityville is the least well-respected of the clutch of iconic horrors from the 1970s and has spawned some truly awful sequels, but this remake does the story proud, reinventing it for a multiplex audience used to glamorous leads and stories told through OTT gore and special effects.

There's nothing really original here and the 2005 film ticks all the boxes for haunted house clichés e.g. spooky faces at windows, erratic plumbing, moving furniture, clocks stopping etc but does it with a brazen panache and lack of pretension that makes the film enjoyable for what it is.

Thor: Love & Thunder (2022) + Dr Who (2022)


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