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Thursday, 31 October 2019

October Horror Movie Challenge: Midsommar (2019)


It's all been building to this: my Halloween treat, a premier (for me) screening of Ari Aster's eagerly-awaited follow-up to HereditaryMidsommar.

The superficial hot take on this is it's The Wicker Man for the backpack generation.

I suspect I'll be referencing that film quite often in my following write-up, as Midsommar feels - very strongly - a more appropriate sequel to the 1973 classic than Robin Hardy's own The Wicker Tree.

After the murder-suicide of her sister and parents, traumatised psychology student Dani (Florence Pugh, a possible clone of Hayden Panettiere) convinces her douchey boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor, who makes a passable Chris Pratt stand-in) to invite her on a lads' holiday to Sweden.

Christian and three of his mates from the anthropology department are travelling to a remote commune, the birthplace of one of their number, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to observe the community's nine-day long midsummer festivities.

Once they get there, things turn from theatrical to downright weird and ultimately gruesome, but the American visitors are now trapped and forced to participate in the pagan rituals.

Inescapably, Midsommar is a reworking of The Wicker Man, just relocated to Sweden, giving the rituals and their symbology a Nordic feel.

I watched the 171 minute director's cut and I have to say this film is so well crafted that I would have gladly sat through a longer version.

It's slow to get going, building the tension between the American characters (accented by an obnoxious performance by the brilliant Will Poulter as Mark, the group's main troublemaker), then heading to the commune.

The pacing flows like a river though, carrying you along in its gentle embrace, until you suddenly realise it's heading over a waterfall.

Once in the Harga community, it doesn't take long before things get ramped up to 11, and events even take a bit of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre turn at one point.

Disturbing on both a psychological and physical level, Midsommar manages to pull off the majority of its truly shocking scenes in broad daylight, which is a rarity for the genre.

Putting aside the moments of Grand Guignol gore, the film is beautiful to look at, with its blends of colours, occasionally trippy sequences (the hallucinations are works of art), stylish costumes, sweeping scenery etc

Pretty much everything that unfolds in Midsommar is foreshadowed - either subtly or not so - and I'm sure when I come to watch this again, and I would without hesitation, I'll pick up on more clues, and maybe even crack the meaning of the various runes that pop up throughout.

Aster describes it as a "break-up movie", and I can definitely see that in the character arcs of Dani and Christian, but first and foremost, Midsommar is a hardcore horror flick racing towards its inevitable conclusion.

Anyone who has read my waffle over the years should have picked up on my penchant for folk horror, and Midsommar sits comfortably alongside The Wicker Man, Blood On Satan's Claw, The IsleWake Wood, The WitchThe Witchfinder General et al, even though the festivities occur in Sweden.

As with The Ritual and the baffling Hagazussa, the immersive foreign setting (where English isn't their first language) helps make everything in Midsommar feel even more alien and disorientating, reflecting its twisted fairy tale nature and the effects of the vast quantities of mind-altering drugs the visitors consume, either willingly or by trickery.

The pagan practices of isolated inbred communities - that chip away at the sanity of unsuspecting outsiders who happen to be allowed in - also touches on Lovecraftian territory, which is always a big plus in my eyes.

While it may not be wholly original in concept, Midsommar wears its influences on its sleeve, has borrowed from the best, and done it with great style and panache.

I'm happy to report that my expectations were met and this was a worthy film (released on Blu-Ray yesterday in the UK) to wrap up the month-long Horror Movie Challenge with.


FILMS WATCHED: 40
NEW TO ME: 28

I Know Where I'll Be On December 20 Then...



You can't outrun destiny just because you're terrified of it. Henry Cavill is Geralt of Rivia. The Witcher arrives December 20.

#RPG Why Not Try Our New Witch Flavour?

Samhain Blessings!

Autumn.

A time of change, a liminal time between times. A time for warm sweaters, pumpkin spice and witchcraft!

Introducing the Pumpkin Spice Tradition, witches dedicated to this time.
This Halloween, the OSR's undisputed witch guru, Timothy S Brannan, has published a new 64-page book on The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition.

What started as a seasonal pumpkin spice-themed joke has become its own, fully usable, gaming supplement in the hands of the master.

Available from DriveThruRPG, the $2.24 PDF details:
  • The Pumpkin spice Witch tradition and the Sisterhood coven
  • 122 Spells and Rituals for witch characters
  • New magic items including magic cauldrons, masks and teas, plus the magic item black market!
  • Three non-player characters (Becky, Karen, and Carol) to challenge or aid the mightiest characters
  • All your favourite Halloween monsters
The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition supplement is fully compatible with Labyrinth Lord and other Basic era games, and is also fully compatible with other witch books from Tim's publishing enterprise, The Other Side Publishing.

Currently only in PDF, a print-on-demand version of The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition will be available in a couple of weeks.

It's Not Halloween If You're Dead By Dawn...



Dead By Dawn is a brutal and graphic new Evil Dead fan film (and most definitely NSFW), released this week by Courtlan Gordon aka Oddest Of The Odd.

Written and shot in one night on a $200 budget, the entire project, set included, was created in 72 hours.

As some bonus nightmare fuel, here's Courtlan's short Annabelle fan film from a year ago:

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Which Witch Are You?

That's me, that is!

Channel your inner witch this Halloween with this snazzy horoscope-themed breakdown of what kind of witch you are likely to be, based on your date of birth.
These Horoscope Witches are the amazing work of the UK-artist Nona, whose work can be found here on Tumblr.

Credit also to Cal over at The Cave Of Cool for drawing these to my attention in the first place.

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Thing from Another World (1951)


"Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!"
- Ned "Scotty" Scott

US Airforce Captain Patrick "Pat" Hendry (Kenneth Tobey), his crew, and annoying newsman Ned "Scotty" Scott (Douglas Spencer) fly from Anchorage, Alaska, to a scientific research station near the North Pole, to investigate reports of a crashed aircraft.

However, they soon discover that it's actually a UFO.

Unfortunately, their attempts to remove the alien space craft from the ice results in its destruction, but they do recover the frozen body of one of its crew (James Arness), which they transport back to base.

Finding themselves cut off from civilisation due to the weather and interference, Pat decrees that no investigation of the alien creature can begin without the say-so of headquarters.

This frustrates gung-ho head scientist Dr. Arthur Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), whose assistant, Nikki Nicholson (Margaret Sheridan), happens to be involved in an on-again, off-again, tempestuous relationship with Pat (which does involve bondage!).

The creature is accidentally awakened and goes on a rampage, letting the scientists at the isolated arctic base discover that it is a vegetable-based species, immune to most forms of damage.

Once the alien starts killing, secretly Carrington - and some of the scientists - also realise that the monster is after blood to feed its seedlings with, to (presumably) grow a race of killer vegetable creatures to take over the planet.

Howard Hawks's The Thing from Another World is pure action-horror pulp, pitting square-jawed heroes against an unstoppable alien menace that wants to crush their way of life and reduce mankind to the status of plant food.

Obviously, this movie was the inspiration - along with John W. Campbell Junior's story Who Goes There? - for John Carpenter's seminal The Thing, in 1982.

However, it also clearly had an influence on both Alien and Aliens, with the Air Force top brass taking a stance very similar to Weyland-Yutani when it comes to dealing with dangerous alien life forms, and the men at the base using Geiger counters in a way that presages the motion detectors famously used to track xenomorphs.

Obviously, the creature here is a very simple cinematic alien species, compared to the Lovecraftian horrors unleashed in The Thing and Alien, but nevertheless The Thing From Another World still conjures images of an alien society where humans (or their ilk) are farmed by these monstrous creatures.

Lumbering around like Frankenstein's Monster, "The Thing" is clearly a metaphor for the perceived Cold War era  'Red Menace' of Russia, lashing out at the one person that tries to reason with it - while our plucky heroes know it's a "wrong 'un" from the get-go.

Sure, it's tame compared to the movies it inspired, but The Thing From Another World remains an action-packed, sci-fi, monster flick.

GAME MATERIAL



THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD

An alien creature that has arrived on your primitive world, presumably as some kind of advanced scout, with the aim of establishing a bridgehead for a full-on alien invasion.

The eight foot tall, bald, domed-headed creature has greenish skin and spikes on the back of its hands, which sport sharp talons in lieu of fingernails.

The creature is a vegetable-based lifeform, making it immune to most forms of normal damage.

A cunning creature, able to plan its strategies and use tools when necessary, it craves the warm blood of humans and animals, which it uses as fertiliser to grow its seeds into new alien life forms.

The ultimate goal of The Thing From Another World, is to conquer your world and turn it into a farm, where humanoids are cultivated as plant food to feed its species.

#ENC: 1d3
HD: 8
AC: 6 [13]
Atk: 2 x Claw (1d8+4)
SV: 8
MV: 9
SPECIAL:

  • ALIEN IMMUNITIES: Being a creature not of this planet, it is immune to mental magic, such as telepathy, command etc It is also 100 per cent resistant to all forms of cold damage (magical or normal).
  • DAMAGE RESISTANCE: The Thing takes only one point of damage from any stabbing/missile attacks, and half-damage from any crushing attacks. It takes full damage from cutting attacks and magical attacks. It takes double damage from fire and lightning attacks (both natural and magical).
  • REGENERATION: As a plant, it can regrow lost limbs. The creature can regenerate six points of damage per round - except that which is caused by fire or lightning.

CL/XP: 11/1,700


FILMS WATCHED: 39
NEW TO ME: 27

Weird Wednesday...

A Date For Your Calendar... And A Calendar For Your Dates!


For those who like to budget their gaming spend years in advance, the UK's Crooked Dice has revealed that 7TV: Fantasy, its fourth themed starter box set, will launch at the UK Games Expo in 2021.

7TV: Fantasy will be a narrative-driven miniatures wargame using the established 7TV ruleset, bringing "the worlds of fantasy film and television to the tabletop for miniature battles, campaign play and small-scale mayhem".

This will be the company's second collaboration with students of Edge Hill University, who previously worked as interns to develop, playtest and launch this year's 7TV: Pulp, a tabletop skirmish game based on the cinema serials and pulp fiction of the 1930s and 1940s.

Skeletons crafted by James Sherriff for 7TV: Fantasy

If you need to keep track of your upcoming gaming projects etc and you're old school enough to still enjoy a good, artistic, calendar, Crooked Dice has also just released its limited edition Tenth Anniversary Calendar, featuring some of the company's best miniatures photography from the last decade by Kevin Dallimore.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Little Joe Is A Happy Plant!


Little Joe follows Alice (Emily Beecham), a single mother and dedicated senior plant breeder at a corporation engaged in developing new species.

She has engineered a special crimson flower, remarkable not only for its beauty but also for its therapeutic value: if kept at the ideal temperature, fed properly and spoken to regularly, this plant makes its owner happy.

Against company policy, Alice takes one home as a gift for her teenage son, Joe.

They christen it ‘Little Joe.’ But as their plant grows, so too does Alice’s suspicion that her new creation may not be as harmless as its nickname suggests.

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Wicker Man (1973)



To balance up the sins of that awful Nic Cage rehash, I thought this was as good a time as any to revisit the peerless 1973 original of The Wicker Man.

Dour, puritanical, West Highland Police sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) receives an anonymous letter, telling him about the case of a missing girl - Rowan Morrison.

She was supposed to have disappeared on the secluded Summerisle, a remote Hebridean island famed for its popular and unusually abundant fruit produce.

However, when he arrives there, the islanders claim never to have heard of the girl. Even the woman Howie believes is her mother, post mistress May Morrison (Irene Sunter), denies that she's her daughter.

Realising that this investigation isn't going to be an open-and-shut case, Howie takes a room at the island's Green Man Inn, where he meets the landlord's lovely daughter, Willow (Britt Ekland, dubbed by Annie Ross).

Struggling to come to terms with the girl's disappearance evolving into a question of semantics, humourless Howie of the 'fun police' grows increasingly frustrated with the islanders' pagan ways of public nudity, dogging, fertility rituals, singing (there's so many songs in The Wicker Man it could be classed as a musical), dancing etc.

Finding a grave for the missing girl, Howie gains permission from the island's head honcho, the charismatic Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), to exhume her body... only to find that Rowan's coffin doesn't contain her body.

As May Day draws near, Howie begins to suspect that Rowan isn't really dead, but being held hostage to be used in a pagan sacrifice to ensure that the island's crops don't fail as they did the year before.

Of course, we all know that the machinations of the islanders are far more sinister than that, leading to the classic - and well-known - climax (that doesn't involve bees).

It was my late father who introduced me to The Wicker Man and therefore it has always held a special significance for me.

For the October Horror Movie Challenge, I watched the director's cut, which was screened recently on Film 4, so it had all the bits that had been cut out of the original release (just in lower quality, which is a shame because it makes those scenes draw attention to themselves for the wrong reasons).

Surely, there must be technology now that could restore these low-quality scenes to the standard of the rest of the film? That would be worth sacrificing a few virgins for, right?

It's been too long since I've seen The Wicker Man, despite it being one of my favourite movies (not just in this genre, but of all-time), and I was reminded just how many moments were lifted from it for the more recent remake... and yet that still managed to get so much wrong.

Not a scary horror per se, The Wicker Man is disorientating and unnerving, and its very lack of overt supernatural elements gives it a terrifying verisimilitude that makes you wonder if perhaps such events could still occur in modern times.

And it's always worth being reminded of this:



GAME MATERIAL



HAND OF GLORY

The vile-looking Hand Of Glory is created from the severed left hand of a hanged man, that has been dried and pickled, and treated with fat from the corpse of the same dead man to turn it into a candle.

Its magical powers are triggered once the candle wicks (made from the dead man's hair) at the end of the fingers are all lit.

One round after the Hand is lit, it casts a magical sleep spell over all within 30ft (except for the person who lit the wicks).

All sentient beings (ie. not undead, animals etc), within range and who can see the Hand, must make a saving throw versus magic for collapse into enchanted slumber for 1d6+2 hours.

Once lit the wicks will burn for an hour, unless pinched out by the person who lit them or doused in milk (water does nothing to them).

Each hand can only be used once.

New Spell:

Create Hand Of Glory

Level: 3rd Level, Black Magic
Range: Self
Duration: Special

To create a Hand Of Glory, the wizard must first obtain the fresh corpse of a hanged man, then harvest its left hand, hair, and body fat. This process takes 1d3 hours, then he uses a magical ritual that takes a further 30 minutes to create the minor magical item.

A wizard may only possess one Hand Of Glory at a time. If he tries to create another before his last one has been used, the spell will fail and he suffers an automatic loss of one point of Sanity.


FILMS WATCHED: 38
NEW TO ME: 27

Excuse Me, Young Man, You've Got Some "Thing" In Your Hair...


The Mandalorian: A Long Time Ago, On A Streaming Service Far, Far Away...


The only new show to rival The Witcher in my geeky anticipation is The Mandalorian, made that extra bit frustrating by the fact that we still don't know yet when Disney+ (the streaming service this has been made for) will launch in the UK.

But, in the meantime, while The Mandalorian debuts in the States on November 12, the rest of us have got this stunning trailer and these character posters to look at...

Monday, 28 October 2019

Musical Monday: I'll Swallow Your Soul (Barra Xul)


October Horror Movie Challenge: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

"To a new world of gods and monsters!"
- Doctor Pretorius
We open on Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester), the rue creator of Frankenstein's, revealing to Percy Shelley (Douglas Walton) and Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) that Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and the Monster (Boris Karloff, credited simply as Karloff) did not die at the end of the original, 1931, movie.

While the Monster roams the forests, Frankenstein is convalescing back at his family estate, when his old professor, the wonderfully batty Dr. Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) shows up, seeking a collaboration with his former pupil.

Pretorius has been doing his own experiments, growing tiny homunculi, but now he wants to create his own full-sized, fully functioning person - a mate for Frankenstein's creation.

Doctor Septimus Pretorius and his tiny creations

Frankenstein isn't sure that's the way to go, and really wants to get out of the monster business and settle down with his new wife.

The creature is captured, but quickly escapes back into the woods, where it befriends a blind musician (O.P. Heggie), who takes the Monster in, feeds it, and teaches it the rudiments of speech.

However, this brief idyll is soon interrupted by hunters, who recognise the monster and start up a hue-and-cry.

Running away, the creature comes upon Pretorius and his grave-robbing goons, as they are sourcing parts for their planned project.

Pretorius persuades the Monster to kidnap Frankenstein's bride (Valerie Hobson), to strong-arm the reluctant scientist into returning to his castle and continuing his experiment to create life.

Things don't work out quite as planned.

It's easy to forget that the titular Bride Of Frankenstein only actually appears in the final five minutes of this glorious Universal horror film.

I love pretty much everything about this near-perfect monster movie, from the eccentricities of Pretorius to the final shocking twist of fate when the Bride sets her eyes on her intended.

To modern sensibilities, it's hard to understand the totally ridiculous amount of censorship this delightful piece attracted in the 1930s, but nowadays it's rightfully regarded as a masterpiece full of messages for those who want to read them.

To me, it's just a splendid-looking, sharply-written, well-acted, monster movie told in a mere 74 minutes; an object lesson to those who feel the need to unnecessarily pad films out to two-and-a-half or even three hours.


FILMS WATCHED: 37
NEW TO ME: 27

Musical Monday: Careless Sister (George Michael Myers)


TREASURE TROVE: Kandarian Dagger

Get your own (prop) Kandarian Dagger here
Kandarian Dagger, as represented in the Necronomicon

Only a handful of these rare arcane daggers - Kandarian Daggers (also known as Hellblades) - are believed to exist, as the forces of the undead (particularly that breed of demon known as a 'deadite') will seek to obtain them whenever possible.

Their method of their creation, and their use in blasphemous sacrificial rituals, is recorded in that most evil of tomes, The Necronomicon.

Two foot long, with pommels sculpted from human bones, at least one of these daggers is said to be able to change its form, so that it appears as a normal knife until it picked up by someone it deems worthy, or of a particular bloodline.

POWERS:

Accuracy: +2 to hit / +4 vs Undead / +6 vs Demons / +8 vs Deadites
Damage: 1d6+2 / +1d6+4 vs Undead / 1d6+6 vs Demons / 1d6+8 vs Deadites
  • DEMON BANE: Demons and Deadites wounded by a Kandarian dagger must make a save against a target number of 20 on a 1d20 + HD/Level or die instantly. If they make the save they are still in so much pain that they automatically lose initiative for the next round (and act last).
  • EVIL DAMNATION: Any living person (who hasn't been possessed by a Deadite) killed by a Kandarian dagger has their soul immediately condemned to Hell, with no chance (under normal circumstances) of resurrection, reincarnation etc

Kandarian Dagger, as represented in the Necronomicon
Get your own (prop) Kandarian Dagger here

Musical Monday: Every Life I Take... (Jason Voorhees)


Sunday, 27 October 2019

Agnes Steps Out Of The Dark And Into Her Own Marvel Mini-Series...

Forced into an arranged marriage, Agnes de Chastillon took matters into her own violent hands to free herself from the yoke of a life she never wanted. Now, the woman known as Dark Agnes, along with her mercenary partner Etienne Villiers, make their way through 16th Century France as sellswords on their way to join the wars in Italy, where the real money is!

But when Etienne is captured by the Duke Of Alencon's forces and set for execution, it’s up to Dark Agnes to save the day! But what evil designs are being enacted on Agnes, and will she doom herself by saving Etienne?

An all-new story following up Robert E. Howard’s tales, the swashbuckling saga of Dark Agnes in Marvel Comics starts here!
While Marvel's future plans for Conan's adventures in the Hyborian Age seem a bit up in the air at the moment (instead concentrating on his role in the main Marvel comics time period - and the 2099 future), the House Of Ideas has plucked another Robert E Howard character from the archives, the lesser-known Dark Agnes, and are giving her her own swashbuckling series.

Off the back of the trans-dimensional mini-series Conan: Serpent War, the first issue of Dark Agnes's five-issue mini-series is due to arrive in February, written by Becky Cloonan, with art by Luca Pizzari, .

Sink Your Teeth Into First Taste Of The BBC's New Three-Part Reimagining Of Dracula...


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

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