Dark Days RPG

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Probably around oh…five years ago, I started working on a roleplaying game. As most misguided projects go, it ended up changing a lot from then until now. Initially it was pretty much a heartbreaker, a kitchen-sink collection of things I liked from games, cobbled together into a Frankenstein. The core was always the same though: It’s about a group of characters investigating the supernatural.

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Hotel Babylon, HQ

I foolishly commissioned some artwork when I was first starting out. You can see some of it below. It was called Van Dread at the time and was mostly a pulp clone of Hunter: The Reckoning, by way of Call of Cthulhu and Unknown Armies. The most damning evidence of my failures in game design were the many permutations of this game, from concept, to mechanics, to system. I’ve used the Storyteller system, Fate 2.0,  and Apocalypse World, with various success. There’s been skills lists, skills and stats, just stats and so on.

At this point, I just want to dump all the work I’ve done so far in this blog post, as a way of clearing the slate. I do intend to finish Dark Days at some point, hopefully soon. I’m still not sure what system I should use for it. The mechanics can be bolted on to most systems.

Here’s bits and pieces of the game. If you’re lost, keep in mind that it’s based on Apocalypse World and the Aspects from Fate.

All artwork is copyrighted to the respective artists and has been licensed for use with the Dark Days roleplaying game.

Premise
I think the best way to explain the game is to explain what the original idea was.
If you’ve played Call of Cthulhu, or any horror investigation game, you’ve probably experienced the mayhem associated with mortals experiencing the supernatural. People go crazy, get injured, scarred, lose limbs, lose families.

Too bad those guys can’t keep doing that forever though. They already know it’s best to burn the haunted house down and shoot the neighbors in the face after the first few investigations. Everyone is out to get them.
But what if they could?

…and that’s Dark Days in a nutshell.

The characters are ex-members of an organization dedicated to destroying the supernatural threat. They got maimed, fired, disgraced or quit. But they get called back to serve the organization the left behind, as part of a special operations team.

There’s a catch though. To be part of the program, you have to let them shoot some really weird shit into your bloodstream. To make you tougher, faster, smarter, weirder. Just like the monsters you’re going to kill.

What do you do in this game?
It’s a horror investigation game, with a focus on action. The investigation part isn’t about looking for clues, it’s mostly about trying to figure out what the hell is going on and what’s the best way to end it. A shortcut to the usual investigative games, if you will.

In a run of the mill scenario, you’d be sent to a town or a city to investigate something weird that’s happening. After a few days of interviewing witnesses and snooping around, the shit will inevitably hit the fan and at that point you’re gonna want to neutralize the threat and get out alive.

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Jazz Club HQ

Setting

The setting makes a few assumptions.
Monsters are real. The general public is unaware. There’s no grand conspiracy, just a bunch of smaller ones. When the mailman eats a lady’s face and then jumps 30 feet up into a tree in a small town, what cop is gonna say that to the news crew?

Monsters all come from the same place. The Dark. The Abyss. Hell. Whatever you want to call it, it’s another place, a different dimension. Things slip through, or are called here. When that happens, weird shit goes down and people die.

The Dark is a corrupting force. Most monsters used to be human before they were corrupted into something else.

The characters have a piece of the Dark inside of them. That’s what the project is. They have weird powers, just like their monster counterparts, but the human part is still in control. They’re the perfect weapon against monsters.

The organization is set up like the military. There are multiple player-chosen branches. Some deal with intel, some are R&D (Research and Development), some carry flamethrowers around.

Themes
● Humans can be monsters and monsters can be human.
I know this goes against the general theme of the game (kill monsters), but it fits into the character’s monstrous nature. The characters will encounter plenty of seemingly monstrous beings that end up being harmless or smart enough to use diplomacy to stay alive. That’s why there’s a Covenant move that allows you to strike deals.
● The Abyss is an alien thing, and true creatures of the Abyss are too. There is no way to understand it or pacify it. Kill it or be killed.
● The world is a fragile thing. Any one of the things that escape the Abyss can mean the downfall of our way of life.
● You kill monsters to protect the innocents, but what about you? You’re a ticking time bomb and you’re already half a monster. What the fuck are you gonna do with yourself when you find yourself becoming less human day by day?

Inspirations
Hellboy’s B.P.R.D
For the way the BPRD is set up, for the interplay between human and supernatural agents, for the way they deal with the supernatural (figure out if it’s dangerous, kill it with impunity if it is). For the dozens of nameless agents that get killed in the first hours of every mission. For the way the world is threatened in the later issues.

Supernatural TV Series
For the casual nature of hunting monsters, for the occult tomes and symbols, for it’s concepts of hell.

Event Horizon
For it’s depiction of the other place, Hell, the Abyss.


Agenda


Agenda

Make the world dark and real.
Make the characters’ lives interesting.
Play to find out how you die.


The Principles


Blanket the world in Darkness.

Figuratively and literally. Dark Days takes place in perpetual darkness, artificial or not. The weather is shitty, rain and cloudy days. Characters live in the dark and often investigate dark places.
The Dark also represents the corruption of the Abyss. Not everything touched by the Dark turns into a monster; your neighbor might harbor some pretty horrible secrets and thus be somewhat changed. Besides, with the murder rate of most metropolitan cities being what it is, the chances of you living in or near a murder house are pretty high.doberman

Make the human monstrous; make the monstrous sympathetic.

Evil isn’t always an effect of the Dark. Sometimes it’s plain old human evil.
On the other hand, a monster might be capable of more compassion than you.
The characters stand on the threshold. Which side are they gonna end up on?

Introduce the weird, the magical, the horrific, the unfair at every opportunity.

Nothing is sacred. Kill NPCs, destroy structures, burn everything.
Address yourself to the characters, not the players.
Make your move, but misdirect.
Make your move, but never speak its name.
Ask provocative questions and build on the answers.
Be a fan of the players’ characters.
Name everyone. Make them important.

The Stats

The Stats are:

Cold
…means you are cool, calm, numb, graceful under pressure. You add this to your dice roll when you Act under pressure.

War
…means you are violent, skilled in combat, aggressive, mean. You add this to your dice roll when you Shed Blood.

Majesty
…means you are sexy, seductive, convincing, attractive. You add this to your dice roll when you Influence/Seduce, when you Threaten Violence.

Edge
…means you are sharp, witty, quick, skilled, perceptive. You add this to your dice roll when you Read a person.

Esoterica
…means you are creepy, scary, dark, strange. You add this to your dice roll when you Invoke Darkness.

Stats go from -1 to +3. Higher is better. A stat can be set to 0.


Moves

Every character gets the following Moves:

The mob makes a sloshing sound.

Basic Moves
Act under pressure
Invoke the Darkness
Assess Situation
Shed Blood
Threaten Violence
Read person
Help/Interfere
Influence
Investigate
Covenant

Peripheral Moves

Suffer Trauma
When Darkness reaches 0
Intake darkness

Act under pressure
When you act under pressure, roll +cold.
On a 10 you do what you want.
On a 7-9, you hesitate, you get scared, you stall. The MC will offer you a difficult choice or a hard bargain.
On a miss, you fuck up.

Invoke Darkness
When you invoke the Darkness, roll +Esoterica and state your subject.
On a hit, the MC will tell you something you didn’t know about.
On a 10, you may ask one clarifying question.
On a 7-9, the MC will state something.
On a miss, the Darkness reveals something dark about you.

Assess Situation
When you asses the situation, roll +Edge.
On a hit, you can ask questions. If you act upon them, get +1 going forward.
On a 10, pick 3.
On a 7-9, pick1.
which enemy is the most dangerous?
which enemy is the weakest?
who’s in control here?
how do I get out of this?
what’s my best escape route /way in / way past?

Threaten Violence
When you threaten violence, roll +War.
On a 10+, they comply and you Shed Blood.
On a 7-9 they can choose to:
trade harm for harm
comply with your desires
evacuate

Shed blood
When you shed blood, roll +War.
On a 10+, choose one extra effect:
take +1 forward.
You inflict terrible harm
You suffer less harm.
On a 7-9, trade harm for harm.

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Early Dark Days (then Van Dread) cover draft.

Read Person
When you read a person, roll +edge.
On a 10+, hold 3.
On a 7–9, hold 1. While you’re interacting with
them, spend your hold to ask their player questions, 1 for 1:
is your character telling the truth?
what does your character intend to do?
how could I get your character to _?

Help/Interfere
When you help or interfere with someone, roll +Edge.
On a 10+, they get +2 forward
On a 7-9, they get +1 forward but you expose yourself to danger.

Influence/Manipulate Someone
When you manipulate someone, roll +Majesty.
For NPCs:
On a 10+, they do it.
On a 7-9, they ask for reassurances/they ask you to promise them something before they do what you ask.
For PCs:
On a 10+, both.
On a 7-9, choose 1:
If they do it, they mark improvement
if they refuse, they mark improvement.

Investigate Scene
When you investigate the scene, roll +Edge.
On a 10+, hold 2.
On a 7-9, hold 1.

Spend hold 1 to 1 to ask the MC questions:
What happened here?
How many of them were there?
Where did they go?
What has been concealed here?
On a miss,

Covenant
When you enter a covenant, roll +Esoterica
On a 10+ pick 2.
On a 7-9 pick 1.
You include a clause or loophole for yourself.
There are no loopholes the other party can abuse.
The deal is fair.

Intake Darkness
When you intake Darkness, roll Esoterica.
On a 10, get equal to the dose +1 Darkness
On a 7-9, you do it.

When Darkness hits 0

Treat Wounds
When you treat wounds, roll +War.
On a 10, heal 2.
On 7-9, heal 1.

Suffer Trauma
On a 10+, your flesh withstands.
On a 7-9, suffer Trauma.

 

MC Moves

Separate them.
Capture someone.
Trade harm for harm.
Announce off screen badness
Announce future badness.
Inflict harm
Take away their stuff.
Activate their stuff’s downside
Offer an opportunity, with or without a cost.
Make a threat move.
Make them investigate.

 

 

Avengers WP

One of the Playbooks.

 

Review: Burning Dark

BurningDark_FcvrBurning Dark by Adam Christopher

Back in the day, Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland had led the Fleet into battle against an implacable machine intelligence capable of devouring entire worlds. But after saving a planet, and getting a bum robot knee in the process, he finds himself relegated to one of the most remote backwaters in Fleetspace to oversee the decommissioning of a semi-deserted space station well past its use-by date.
But all is not well aboard the U-Star Coast City. The station’s reclusive Commandant is nowhere to be seen, leaving Cleveland to deal with a hostile crew on his own. Persistent malfunctions plague the station’s systems while interference from a toxic purple star makes even ordinary communications problematic. Alien shadows and whispers seem to haunt the lonely corridors and airlocks, fraying the nerves of everyone aboard.

Isolated and friendless, Cleveland reaches out to the universe via an old-fashioned space radio, only to tune in to a strange, enigmatic signal: a woman’s voice that seems to echo across a thousand light-years of space. But is the transmission just a random bit of static from the past—or a warning of an undying menace beyond mortal comprehension?

This is the book that hates the reader. It hates you. For some reason, it starts in media res with some random woman freaking out about…something. You don’t know what. You don’t know why. The next chapter is about the protagonist in the midst of a space battle. That’s fine, though it doesn’t neglect to use some terminology you’re probably not familiar with. The chapter after that is a scene with five or six people all of whom are upset, none of whom you have ever been introduced to. They’re not described or differentiated in any way and they have nothing to do with the previous chapter. The dialogue has no tags. The dialogue has no tags.

And this is why I put this book down at least five times before bothering to slog through these first few pages. I hope the editor was fired for this crime. Only after reading the rest of the book did I realize what had been done to it. I can picture it now, some editor or suit guy reading the manuscript and going ”No! This is too slow! This is boring! It needs explosions!” and some other dude going ”Well, there’s a space battle like, at the end of the book but…” and the suit guy gets a glint in his eye: ”Perfect, cut that chapter out and put it in the very beginning.”

As it says in the blurb, the protagonist is the hero captain of a space battle. However, reaching the end of his career in early retirement, no one believes him. The beginning scene is his description of the famous battle. He tells the story to a bunch of assholes who doubt him. Only problem is that this scene takes place at the last third of the book, when we have actually met the aforementioned assholes and are familiar with them. When you reach the chapter, you literally have to go back to the beginning to re-read it, since it’s highly unlikely that you understood anything then, let alone remember.

Anyway, enough about my pet peeves and what makes me homicidal. On to the book.

I have a soft spot for sci-fi horror. One of my favorites movies is Pandorum, which, let’s face it, is not a very good movie. So I went in with a harkening for some scary sci-fi shenanigans. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t say this is a very scary book or that it even belongs in this sub genre. Except for some ghostly happenings that make up a very small part of the book, there’s not much here to warrant the horror label. To give you my own take on the plot, Cleveland is a fairly passive guy that straight up gets bullied by some tough guy space marines, while waiting out his retirement on a decommissioned station. Soon, strange things start to happen, beginning with a weird radio signal he receives that is essentially a leftover from early human space age. People start disappearing, spooky things happen and ghostly ghosts make a lot of people faint like they’re in a H. P. Lovecraft story.

There’s nothing particularly bad about the book, it’s just a bit of a kitchen-sink novel with a lot of different ideas mashed together. I’m not opposed to the approach, but the ideas are so radically different that it becomes jarring. Ancient Japanese myths mixed with alien wars and ghosts and a dead Russian cosmonaut. What connects all these things? Well, not very much, to be honest, outside of a vague conceptual link that’s revealed at the very end of the book.

I enjoyed some parts, including the Russian cosmonaut (based on a real world event, most likely a hoax by a couple of Italian radio operators) and the world building that Christopher did (of which we only see a small part). The protagonist is a bit of a wet towel, somewhat spineless and a bit of an idiot. It’s not that I like Mary Sue protagonists, but there’s something to be said for characters that drive the plot instead of responding to events. The space marine characters were far more interesting, although we don’t see a lot of them.

All in all, the book was a bit of a letdown. It feels rushed and sloppy, probably because of the different ideas it’s trying to shove together to make the plot work. Perhaps it would have worked better spread out over a couple more books, if the author filled in the gaps nicely. I’d read another Christopher book, but not this one. Never this one.

2 out of 5 Space Ghosts

Review: California

Lepucki_California_cover

California by Edan Lepucki

The world Cal and Frida have always known is gone, and they’ve left the crumbling city of Los Angeles far behind them. They now live in a shack in the wilderness, working side-by-side to make their days tolerable despite the isolation and hardships they face. Consumed by fear of the future and mourning for a past they can’t reclaim, they seek comfort and solace in one other. But the tentative existence they’ve built for themselves is thrown into doubt when Frida finds out she’s pregnant.

Terrified of the unknown but unsure of their ability to raise a child alone, Cal and Frida set out for the nearest settlement, a guarded and paranoid community with dark secrets. These people can offer them security, but Cal and Frida soon realize this community poses its own dangers. In this unfamiliar world, where everything and everyone can be perceived as a threat, the couple must quickly decide whom to trust.

A gripping and provocative debut novel by a stunning new talent, California imagines a frighteningly realistic near future, in which clashes between mankind’s dark nature and irrepressible resilience force us to question how far we will go to protect the ones we love.

In hindsight, the blurb makes me groan and touches upon most of my issues with this novel.

It’s hard to talk about this without making some kind of judgement on the author, so I’m not going to beat around the bush. The author of this book has either grown up in the whitest of white suburbia or is writing about a society she thinks exists in that suburbia. The amount of complaining and the horror in which these characters treat problems that are commonplace for a lot of people today is dumbfounding. This is not post apocalypse, this is ”I’m going camping” level problems. Oh no the water we shower with is cold! Oh no we don’t have electricity! Oh no we sleep in a queen sized bed! It’s utterly bizarre that the image of post apocalyptic society she managed to paint was ”Sometimes the water is cold.” I’m not suggesting that vast swathes of the American population live without hot water or electricity, but for anyone who’s been even a bit poor, these things should be familiar.

I’d wager that in a post apocalyptic society there’d be problems like not having water to drink (let alone shower) or food. Cold would probably kill you, depending on location. While horrible things happen (suicide, death, murder) in the book and things are definitely grim, the overall vibe I got from the protagonists is that they are hugely spoiled middle class kids. That might actually be on purpose, but since no one else shows up that’s any different, I don’t think so. You’d expect some kind of contrast between a survivalist who maybe knows how to hunt and skin animals and build a cabin and the couple who struggles to garden and lives in an abandoned shed.

The second biggest flaw in my opinion, was the plot. While there’s a lot of meat on it to distract (and some of it is fairly enjoyable), for anyone who has ever consumed any kind of post apocalyptic media, this might be the most generic plot there is. People go looking, find strange community of survivors who appear to be doing really well and welcome them in, but are also secretive. What is their big secret? Read to find out. I mean, up to the point where they decide to go looking, they seem to have a pretty good life, without any major problems. Food, shelter, safety. The reason they leave all that is basically because Frida is bored and wants some cool shit to happen, or something.

What elevates this novel from the bottom of the barrel is the writing. While a bit pretentious at points, once you get used to it, it serves its purpose very well and distracts from the bare bones plot by adding a myriad of subplots and characters. Switching the POV between the couple is a smart move, allowing us a better understanding of their choices and motivations. I personally found Frida to be really unlikable and was forever waiting for Cal or someone else to call her out, but alas, it never happens. I suppose it’s fairly realistic, but at the same time not really that enjoyable, which always seems to be the problem with realism.

I admit to being a bit perplex both by the plot and the universe in which it takes place in. It’s a sort of ”soft apocalypse” where society has slowly crumbled, but it sort of doesn’t make a lot of sense. On one hand you have private schooling and a very middle class existence and on the other, you have suicide bombers and packs of marauding bandits. I’m not sure how those fit together. I can’t talk about the plot without some major spoilers, but there are a few things there that make no sense either. If civilization is mostly gone, who the hell would care about politics? It’s such a strange thing to get hanged up on when society has completely collapsed.

The major plot twists keep me from delving too much into the plot, so I’ll cut this rambling mess short. I enjoyed part of this novel, but was very irritated by Frida and a couple of other characters. A lot of things stress suspension of disbelief for me so overall I must say I was left disappointed.

2 out of 5 Spoiled White Kids

 

Writing Brainstorming Tool: Fiasco RPG – Part 1

Fiasco is a tabletop RPG from 2009. The blurb for it says that ”Fiasco is a game about ordinary people with powerful ambition and poor impulse control. There will be big dreams and flawed execution. It won’t go well for them, to put it mildly, and in the end it will probably all go south in a glorious heap of jealousy, murder, and recrimination. It’s designed to be played in a single session, usually around two and a half hours, with no prep.”

For some reason my brain always wants to compare it to the Coen brothers movie Fargo: Intersected story lines that end up in some pretty grim/hilarious violence (that’s a poor description of Fargo, but it’ll do for our purposes today).

Why am I telling you this? Because you can use the set-up part of the game to brainstorm short stories and novel outlines. It’s mostly useful if you want to jump start and idea or perhaps come up with some subplots for you novel, but I can see it being used for a lot of different stuff.

I should mention that this is not my idea. The Fiasco Companion book discusses its use as a writing tool and there’s a series of blog posts on the Unleaded – Fuel for Writers blog. I’m just writing this up largely for my own reference and because some people showed interest in my write up.

How it Works

I’m paraphrasing from the Wikipedia article here.
Although there is no one standard setting, each game of Fiasco uses a playset that indicates the setting of that specific game.

Each playset consists of a basic description of the setting and:

  • six groups of six relationships between two characters in the setting
  • six groups of six needs to be shared by two of the characters
  • six groups of six notable objects
  • six groups of six notable locations

Each group and each element within that group is numbered from one to six.

To put it simply, each playset has a theme and is essentially a list of Relationships (father-son, sheriff-criminal), Locations (behind the barn, the library), Needs (to get out of town, to get rich quick) and Objects (a revolver, a picture of a woman).

Creating your own Playset

This website contains most of the available Fiasco Playsets out there. They are free to download. If you happen to be writing something that fits exactly the theme of one of them (say, the Salem one, because you’re writing a period piece about Salem witches), you’re probably all set. If not, you’ll have to do some extra work.

The novel I’m writing, which I’ve already outlined to some degree, is about two buddies who are trying to save their small town from a Lovecraftian entity that is manifesting. I hunted around for playsets that dealt with small towns, horror and monsters.

I picked up Cults of New England, Dark Shadows, Last Frontier, Back to the Old House, Sucker Creek and a couple of others. You can find all of them here.

I started with relationships. I just went and picked out whatever looked good or seemed to fit with my plot, themes and established characters. Since I’m only experimenting, I didn’t include any of my own ideas (I could have put in ”Childhood Friends” or ”Diner regular and waitress” since I know these two relationships will feature in the novel).

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My cobbled together playset. All props to the original designers.

Set Up

You’ll need some dice. You can use an online dice roller.

The ”players” in this imaginary session of Fiasco are the following novel characters:

  • Michael, one of the protagonists. He lives in cabin in the woods he’s trying to fix up.
  • John, the other protagonist.
  • Sarah, the town sheriff.
  • Jack, the teenage cult leader the Lovecraftian entity is manipulating.
  • Mary, unknown.

Process

  1. I wrote them on a piece of paper, in a general circular shape, as if they’re sitting around a table.
  2. I rolled 4 dice for each player, so 20 in total. It’s great if you can use 2 colors of dice, 10 each. If you don’t have dice, just use 2 instances of the online dice roller, each for 10 dice.
  3. If you’re using the dice roller, it might be prudent to write the results down so you can cross them out as you use them.
  4. Once you roll the dice, it’s time to choose the relationships between the characters.

There are a couple of ways to do this: The most boring one would be to look at the list and choose whatever looks good, removing dice as you go. This is likely to create boring relationships, but as the available dice get less, it might force you into some creative positions when it’s time to choose Locations and Objects. I don’t recommend it though.

Another way is to force yourself to pick different color dice each time, going from white to black and then white again.

My method is much simpler: I just look away for a second and grab whatever dice my eye falls on first. It should work for online dice rolls too. You don’t know what each number corresponds to anyway, so you’re not likely to ”guide” the results.The first dice number you pick gives you the category (Town, Romance). Once you pick one, write it down between the first two characters. This is what connects them. Then move on to the next, without further defining their relationship.

fiasc2Got a nice spread, it should work out nicely. We don’t know anything yet, just broad strokes.

You should now have 5 less dice than before, since you’ve used them up. Now you start over, this time choosing specific relationships between characters, belonging to the category that has already been established between them.

 

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There’s a part in the story where Michael and John are in the woods hunting and they find something weird. So this was a bit of a happy accident. I wasn’t planning on them finding something to take back, but it’s not a bad idea.

  • Michael doing the friends and benefits thing with the sheriff sounds like it could get complicated, so that’s cool with me too.
  • Sarah and Jack (the human antagonist) having the same repeating dream. I can see it working and it implies they’re both under the influence of the Lovecraftian entity, at least in the beginning.
  • Jack and Mary being stoner pals tells me that Mary is likely Jack’s schoolfriend. In this case Fiasco helped me create a whole new walk on role.
  • Mary and John being ”drug people” likely means that either John sells pot to Mary or Mary sells pot to John. It doesn’t say a lot, but it’s a link that might come in handy as the plot moves forward.

To be completely honest, I ran the experiment twice and picked the most interesting results of the two to create a super-relationship map. You can do that too.

Conclusion

Seems to work pretty well, and will likely be even better when we do Needs and Locations. Might have to do it one more time using unknown characters, just so that I can create some subplots for the novel. Next time we’ll tackle the rest of the connections between characters, so stay tuned.

Review: Bring Me Flesh, I’ll Bring Hell by Martin Rose

20344598 Vitus Adamson is falling apart. As a pre-deceased private investigator, he takes the prescription Atroxipine hourly to keep his undead body upright and functioning. Whenever he is injured, he seeks Niko, a bombshell mortician with bedroom eyes and a way with corpses, to piece him back together. Decomposition, however, is the least of his worries when two clients posing his most dangerous job yet appear at his door looking for their lost son.

Vitus is horrified to discover the photo of the couple’s missing son is a picture-perfect reproduction of his long dead son. This leads him to question the events of his tormented past; he must face the possibility that the wife and child he believed he murdered ten years ago in a zombie-fugue have somehow survived . . . or is it just wishful thinking designed to pull him into an elaborate trap?

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. I don’t actually care about the ethics of blogging or whatever, so this is the first and last time I’ll mention it.

Bring Me Flesh, I’ll Bring Hell is a genre-aware horror noir novel. There seem to be a few of those lately, which is something I’m pleased about. Now zombies aren’t really my thing, but I don’t think it’s quite fair to call Vitus a zombie. More of an undead private eye or a Hellboy kind of thing. Minus the brawls.

Vitus has spent a decade being dead and slowly falling apart, when a couple of clients shows up at his doorstep with a photo of their son, who has gone missing. Only the picture is actually a photo of Vitus’s son all grown up, even though he’s supposed to have died ten years ago in Vitus’s hands. At the time, Vitus was more of a traditional zombie and had fed on his wife and kid, before the people responsible for his condition came up with a drug that keeps him human (as much human as a decomposing corpse can be anyway). Now he takes a dose every few hours, lest he loses control again.

”We miss our son and would give anything to have him back, Mr. Adamson. Can You help us?”
”Anything at all, Mrs. Rogers?”
”Name your price, we’ll be happy to pay it.”
”Can you get blood out of everyday household items?”

Anyway, he takes the case if only because he needs to figure out what the hell is going on and if his son is actually alive. As per noir guidelines, this throws him down a rabbit hole of increasingly bizarre and complicated situations: A hooded figure following him around everywhere, trying to kill his clients; a femme fatale (almost literally, she’s a mortician) that heals his wounds and weird clients that keep ”rising” from the dead.

I’ll try not to spoil anything, as I believe discovery is half the pleasure in a novel like this. I found the book to be very well written, if a little ”purple” in places. However, any purple prose is satisfyingly gory, grim or funny. Nothing about sunsets and beautiful vistas, all about sinew, rotting flesh and fatalism. The plot is meaty and complicated, but not overly so. It really is a noir tale, which in my experience is rare to find, even when it says so right on the cover. Many an evening has been wasted reading The Maltese Falcon retreads.

The premise might seem ridiculous from the outside, but is handled deftly and doesn’t stress your suspension of disbelief too much, even when the really bizarre stuff happens. The last third of the book moves along on a brisk pace, with revelations just around every corner and it’s a pretty good ride if I may say so.

Check it out if you like: horror noir, grim humor or the Sandman Slim books.

 

 

Review: Young Ones

young-ones-posterSet in a near future when water has become the most precious and dwindling resource on the planet, one that dictates everything from the macro of political policy to the detailed micro of interpersonal family and romantic relationships. The land has withered into something wretched. The dust has settled on a lonely, barren planet. The hardened survivors of the loss of Earth’s precious resources scrape and struggle. Ernest Holm (Michael Shannon) lives on this harsh frontier with his children, Jerome (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Mary (Elle Fanning). He defends his farm from bandits, works the supply routes, and hopes to rejuvenate the soil. But Mary’s boyfriend, Flem Lever (Nicholas Hoult), has grander designs. He wants Ernest’s land for himself, and will go to any length to get it.

From writer/director Jake Paltrow comes a futuristic western, told in three chapters, which inventively layers Greek tragedy over an ethereal narrative that’s steeped deeply in the values of the American West.

I enjoyed this a lot. I admit to being a little disappointed that the PR material for it gave me a completely different idea of what the movie would be (I guess I was expecting a new A Boy and his Dog or Mad Max, while this is more or less a sci-fi drama. Still, it’s a well made film and the director/screenwriter made some interesting choices that I appreciated it.

Ernest is a poor old farmer that owns land but not water. He has a job delivering supplies to the men working to bring water to the fields, but not his fields; the water is going to industrial farms further away. His attempts at convincing or bribing the boss to throw some water his way are unsuccessful. In the meantime, his daughter is dating this really douchy kid who needs to get smacked a lot. Ernest doesn’t trust me and refuses to help him with whatever scheme he’s trying to run.

All this comes to a head when Ernest’s donkey, which is instrumental for his work breaks a leg and has to be put down. He invests on a robotic donkey. When Ernest refuses to loan it to douchy guy, it gets stolen and used to smuggle contraband across the border. This is where shit goes bad and where I stop lest I spoil ya’ll.

There’s not a hint of melodrama as I would probably have expected in a movie about a down on his luck farmer trying to provide for his family (crippled wife and all). Things are mentioned (perhaps sometimes bluntly, like when Flem accuses Ernest of crippling his wife in some kind of accident he likely caused because of his drinking) and then never expanded on, but left to shimmer in the background. There’s no need for them to be brought up again later on when Ernest’s daughter is freaking out and screaming at him. I appreciate the economy.

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I rarely review good movies, because reviewing the bad ones is much more amusing and let’s face it, lazy as hell. It fits my personality, so to speak. After watching this one and checking out some reviews online, I just felt that I had to give my 2 cents as well. In fact, let’s look at this review so that I can make fun of it.

Young Ones makes use of brilliant cinematography that is instantly wasted in the hands of a director who is without a shred of talent, an editor who must have been a butcher, mediocre sound editing, and a cast that is almost as misguided and inept as the screenplays author. A story that had true potential was crippled by a lack of character development, and the nonexistence of focus. The directors lack of skill is clearly seen in his failed attempt to (I may be paraphrasing) give the character of the machine, a robotic donkey, a sense of having a soul (not even a glimmer of this is seen in the film), and his somewhat unsuccessful try at implying that there is prosperity outside the boundary of where the characters live. The film is without any sort of outstanding performance by the cast, and lacks even a single character that the audience can empathize with. Personally I believe that this feature was a waste of a perfectly good cinematographer, and I wish I had spent my time at another premier.

— Cossette-mark

This is the only review they have posted on IMDB, and they joined roughly 2 months before they posted it. A bit suspicious, but whatever, I can’t imagine why someone would want to do such a hatchet job on it. Pretty much the whole thing is bullshit, but I’ll try and play along.

Young Ones makes use of brilliant cinematography that is instantly wasted in the hands of a director who is without a shred of talent, an editor who must have been a butcher, mediocre sound editing, and a cast that is almost as misguided and inept as the screenplays author.

That’s pretty bizarre. I think the director did a pretty good job, managing to avoid any unnecessary melodrama of the kind the reviewer seems to be after. The editing was adequate, it didn’t really stick out. The cast includes Eddie Fanning (she was pretty great in this) and Kodi Smit-McPhee who plays the son is an atypical actor and was also great for the role. Then we have Michael fucking Shannon, who is good in everything.

A story that had true potential was crippled by a lack of character development, and the nonexistence of focus.

I’m gonna go ahead and say that Young Ones is very obviously a bit of a fable, a kind of old time western, just updated and moved into the far future. I mean the story is classic: A farm that’s dying or dead, the pioneer father trying to take care of his family and the asshole who wants to fuck them all over and steal their land. Hell, it has a lot of overlap with The River (starring a young Mel Gibson), if you just switch out the flood for the drought and the rich banker guy who wants to sleep with Gibson’s wife with the kid in Young Ones who is sleeping with Shannon’s daughter.

The directors lack of skill is clearly seen in his failed attempt to (I may be paraphrasing) give the character of the machine, a robotic donkey, a sense of having a soul (not even a glimmer of this is seen in the film), and his somewhat unsuccessful try at implying that there is prosperity outside the boundary of where the characters live.

Why the fuck would a robot have a soul? It’s not even an A.I, it’s literally a donkey robot that walks around. Do you expect cars in films to have a ”sense of soul?” This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard and shows how far removed the reviewer is from the actual movie and what it set out to achieve.

The film is without any sort of outstanding performance by the cast, and lacks even a single character that the audience can empathize with.

Even the bit roles were interesting and had a little bit of depth, even if they were on screen for a few seconds.

Anyway, fuck you.

4 out of 5 robot donkeys

Bad Movies Double Feature: Buck Wild and In Fear

Look at this shit.

Look at this shit.

Buck Wild

What happens when you make a horror comedy with actors that possess no comedic talent. Extremely awkward, rarely funny and too long by half.

”When their originally planned outing is cancelled, four friends go on a hunting trip in Texas. They include Craig, a straitlaced man; Jerry, a mysterious relative of Craig’s from New York; Tom, a nerd; and Lance, a hedonist. When they arrive, they discover that a chupacabra has bitten their guide Clyde, and, unknown to all, he has begun to slowly turn into a zombie.”

 

The synopsis doesn’t inform you how ~*wacky*~ the movie is. There’s a flaming gay redneck mafia dude that shows up at the beginning. At some point there’s conflict between the protagonists and him and one of them get paddled by the mafia boss’s cronies. This is the height of comedy this movie is trying to attain.

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Between painful jokes about Craig’s unfaithful girlfriend, shitty sex scenes with the ”dumb slut” stereotype neighbor and the meandering plot, there’s very little of value here. You might enjoy it more if you’re into gore and zombie stuff, but I was just waiting for the whole thing to end.

1 out of 5 redneck zombies.

 

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infearjpeg-e9500dIn Fear

This is a movie so boring, so bland, so incredibly shitty, that I feel as if I’ve already reviewed it in the past and I’m stuck in a kind of purgatory where I have to talk about this piece of shit forever. Harsh words, you might think, but I’m 100% serious, this is an offensively stupid movie, made even more agonizing by the fact that the director think he’s some kind of auteur making cinema. It seems to have worked as the movie has a 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is idiotic at best. Fuck you.

 

”Tom and Lucy have decided to go on their first trip as a couple, to a music festival and a secluded hotel. However they soon find themselves unable to actually locate the hotel and spend much of their time getting lost in a labyrinthine series of forest roads. As they continue to drive, their tensions rise as they realize that something or someone is deliberately toying with them and enjoying their torment. They pick up Max, a strange hitchhiker that may be connected to everything that is going on.”

Get used to this image, you're gonna see a lot of it in the movie.

Get used to this image, you’re gonna see a lot of it in the movie.

Probably the couple with the least chemistry in the world, you’ll spend the first half hour trying to figure out if these two idiots have just hooked up for a weekend getaway or if they have actually met before. After a series of increasingly improbably events and choices, they get lost in some sort of maze made out of hedges. Why at no point does anyone say ”fuck it, I’m off-roading this bitch” is a question that will torment you as the minutes tick on by.

Realizing at some point there’s only so long you can go without having anything remotely interesting happen and also that your actors are just not good enough to prop the whole thing up, a weird guy they find on the road is added and that’s really where the terribleness of the movie ramps up into nonsense.

This is devoid of value.

0 out of 5 idiots in a car

Mr. Jones Review

Mr-JonesMr. Jones

Hey look, it’s a horror movie I didn’t hate. I mean I didn’t like it especially much, but that’s rare enough on it’s own when your movie watching is the equivalent of a garbage disposal system.

The IMDB synopsis is pretty unhelpful, so I’ll get you up to speed myself. Probably massive spoilers follow because I have no filter.

A couple decides to move to the middle of nowhere because they have artistic aspirations. This eventually becomes an issue when they start arguing about how they left perfectly good jobs so the guy can make a stupid documentary or whatever. At the same time they find weird sculptures around their property and adjacent areas, eventually realizing they are the work for an artist that’s a bit of a underground sensation. Unfortunately he’s well known for the fact that everyone who buys his sculptures has terrible shit happen to them.

The movie is basically about solving the mystery of this artist and his creations, via the medium of found footage.

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Mostly but the numbers for the first half, it turns into some serious what-the-fuck territory in the latter half. Don’t watch this while high or tired, it’s pretty nightmarish. The movie as adequate at most things, managing some creepy moments here and there by actually utilizing the whole handheld camera aesthetic. The couple is kinda irritating, but what horror movie couple isn’t. I wasn’t gnashing my teeth while watching it so it must not have been too bad.

The ending…well… I don’t know what to say about the ending. It wasn’t disappointing exactly, but it was so convoluted and messy that I’m not sure what the hell supposedly happened. It kinda tries to throw a twist at you but it’s all very confusing and open to interpretation. Feels like they tacked on some wtf-ness to make it more interesting, but I don’t think they landed it.

2 out of 5 creepy-ass branch sculptures (I’d say 2 and a half, but I don’t like decimals)

7 Awesome Made-for-TV Horror Movies

I unironically love trash TV movies. We got a lot of those growing up where I’m from and sometimes it was all you can get outside of video rentals that were few and far between. Some of these I only saw as an adult and thus I didn’t enjoy as much. Sometimes the medium is the message, and staying up late on a school night and watching a scary movie on TV is probably the best medium there is for less-than-stellar acting and cinematography.

Salem’s Lot
”Vampires are invading a small New England town. It’s up to a novelist and a young horror fan to save it.”

Based on the fantastic Stephen King novel of the same name, it’s probably my favorite made for TV horror flick. Of course it takes the #1 spot. The scene with the kid floating outside his friend’s window is iconic for a reason (and still terrifying today).

Dark Night of the Scarecrow
”In a small town, a wrongfully killed man exacts revenge on those who murdered him beyond the grave.”

It’s been a while since I’ve seen this, but it’s a pretty solid revenge/horror flick.

Dont be Afraid of the Dark
”A young couple inherits an old mansion inhabited by small demon-like creatures who are determined to make the wife one of their own.”

Has aged remarkably well, in all honesty. The remake was terrible, so I’d rather watch this instead.

It
”In 1960, seven outcast kids known as “The Loser Club” fight an evil demon who poses as a child-killing clown. 30 years later, they are called back to fight the same clown again.”

Hey, another King adaptation. Arguably the TV movie that has scared more kids than any other. I like the book a lot and while I don’t love the movie, Tim Curry is pretty cool and it features some creepy ass scenes.

Duel
”A business commuter is pursued and terrorized by a malevolent driver of a massive tractor-trailer.”

Langoliers
”Most of the passengers on an airplane disappear, and the remainder land the plane in a mysteriously barren airport.”
I’m gonna get flack for this one, but I enjoyed it as a kid, back when I worshiped King. It’s goofy as hell, but hey, this was Lost before Lost.

Body Bags
”Three short stories in the horror genre. The first about a serial killer. The second about a hair transplant gone wrong. The third about a baseball player.”