Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Remembering the Lost Souls of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories



With all of the advancements in video game technology over the years, I'm still surprised over the lack of diversity in the area of horror gaming. Sure, I enjoy intense survival horror games, but the offerings of quality horror games outside of this particular format are pretty thin. In other words, compelling horror games that do NOT involve shooting hordes of monsters and instead focus on eerie settings, a creepy plot, and a mood of steadily building dread are far and few in between.

One of the shining examples of non-weapons-based horror gaming for the current generation of consoles is Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Even though this game was released for the Wii in December 2009, I finally got around to finishing it. Even though I'm late in the game (no pun intended) when it comes to writing about this title, Shattered Memories impressed me in ways that few games do that I couldn't let this go by without posting a few observations about it (particularly from my background as a horror movie buff) and my recommendation for adding it to your game collection if you haven't already. Read on ...

Monday, March 28, 2011

ASIMO, the Action Figure


By now, I'm used to seeing hyper-detailed, hyper-poseable (and often hyper-expensive) robot action figures--take the selection of anime robot figures offered by Revoltech, for example. However, this is the first time that I've seen a detailed and poseable figure based on a real robot.


The Japan Trend Shop has a 1/8 action figure based on Honda's ASIMO robot. The figure features two sets of palms and over fifteen points of articulation, so it can be posed in ways that match the real ASIMO. It's a very impressive replica of the real thing, and a worthy addition for anyone who's a fan of robots--both the real and the imagined varieties.

You can order your ASIMO figure from Japan Trend Shop here. If you order now, 5 percent of your payment will be donated to Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières to support their services for the survivors of Japan's recent earthquake and flooding. Even if you aren't interested in the ASIMO figure, the Japan Trend Shop has plenty of other uniquely Japanese stuff (including some nifty, hard-to-find Godzilla and Star Wars merchandise) so feel free to look around so you can get your geek on and help Japan at the same time. Everyone wins!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Campy, Kooky Commercials Worth Watching: Man-Eating Focus Groups


I don't normally like to advertise more mainstream, non-geek-centric products on my blog, so consider this an advertisement of an advertisement: the Snickers Peanut Butter Squared Focus Group ad. Watch it here at YouTube.


Not only is this ad so delightfully morbid, but it's also a spot-on satire of focus groups and public relations. Never before has a seemingly innocuous phrase such as "Eat both squares please" taken on such hilariously sinister connotations. Kind of makes you wonder what the same focus group would say about Jaws and its sequels, doesn't it?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Five Fantastic Low-Budget Creature Features from the Modern CGI Era



Skyline is being released on DVD this week, at the same time as Battle: Los Angeles occupies space at your local multiplexes. The detail that connects these films is that both depict alien invaders kicking the crap out of Los Angeles; at one point, Sony even considered filing a lawsuit against the makers of Skyline for possible creative infringement. What sets the films apart, though, is their price: Battle: Los Angeles cost $100 million to make while Skyline only cost $11 million, equaling a cost difference of $89 million. Skyline isn't the best alien invasion movie ever made; I found it to be an average movie at best and it sort of reminded me of Target Earth, an alien invasion cheapie from 1954. Yet in spite of its middling script, Skyline's creature effects are as amazing as they are cost-effective. Besides, what's not to love about a race of alien invaders who insatiably crave human brains? Mmmm, brains....

In the modern era of CGI special effects and mega-budget creature-heavy films such as Avatar and the Clash of the Titans remake, it's easy to forget that monster movies wouldn't be where they are today without innovative filmmakers who had to make the most out of very small production budgets. Here's a list of five impressive creature feature films from the last few years that were made for under $10 million with little or no CGI effects. Sure, these movies may be somewhat derivative and cheesy and probably didn't get much distribution outside of DVDs and a Saturday night showing on the SyFy Channel, but they nevertheless deliver exciting stories with inspired scripts, limited sets, lesser known actors, and practical effects. Read on ...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Blood-Stained Porcelains and Flesh-Covered Furniture of Jessica Harrison


When I think of mediums that are often used to depict gore, I think either in terms of materials used for movie special effects or for monster action figures and model kits. Of those materials, porcelain dolls and miniature furniture never crossed my mind ... until now.


Meet artist/sculptor Jessica Harrison. To say that Harrison's work is focused on the relationship between living bodies and inanimate objects, between the organic and inorganic, is putting it mildly. On the one hand, there are Harrison's porcelain figures, as they are described by Anne B. Kelly in a recent piece for the Huffington Post:

In the hands of Edinburgh-based artist and sculptor Jessica Harrison, maidens turn themselves inside-out, entrails spilling on porcelain petticoats. ... Her fancy figurine ladies-in-peril are reconstituted from found mass-produced porcelains, at once allowing the viewer both a sense familiarity of the precious and a tinge of hardcore gore. ... Her choice of the delicate female body contradicts the traditional use of the male figure historically used in sculpture, and with internal organs on display, proves that on the inside, we all look the same.

Then there are the pieces of miniature furniture that look like they were grown, not built. Again, from Kelly's post:

For her miniature furniture pieces, (Harrison) embraces the feel of the flesh even more literally. When asked what media and methods are used to create them she replies, "The furniture pieces are cast from the palms of my hands so the fingerprints you see covering them are mine. It is not real skin, but it is real hair. I experimented for a long time with different materials to get something that looked as close to skin as possible so I can't give away my secret recipe... [They] are particularly unsettling as they can fit so snugly in the hand or in other crevices of the body. This makes them seem more monstrous perhaps than if they were full-scale furniture pieces--the fact that they camouflage so well into your own body. You have to get really close to miniatures so you can get a good look at them and by then it is too late, they are already right next to you before you realize you are looking at skin, hair and teeth."
Click below to see more pictures of Harrison's figures and furniture miniatures. Note: These figures are not action figures based on Seth Grahame-Smith's Jane Austen-themed parody novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. (Then again, it would be super-awesome if they were.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Helping Japan, Anime Geek Style


Even though I don't consider myself to be the most ardent fan of Japanese pop culture, I clearly understand and am very grateful for the influence Japan has had on my appreciation of horror, sci-fi and fantasy entertainment. Thus, it would be remiss of me to not use my blog to help Japan in some way to recover from its recent disasters. Here are a few things you can do to help:

  • While I'm a bit late in promoting this, We Heart Japan is holding a charity art event at Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles, CA tonight from 8 to 11 p.m. Various anime artists and voice actors will be in attendance, and 100% of the proceeds will benefit Japanese earthquake victims through the Japan NGO Earthquake Relief and Recovery Fund. Click here for more details.
  • If you miss tonight's event, don't worry. The One Piece Podcast will be holding a 24 hour marathon podcast this weekend to raise money for victims of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan. Click here for more details about the marathon podcast, and for additional ideas for donations you can make to help Japan.
  • Finally, click here to go to Robotech.com, the site where I got the information you are reading here. There are some additional donation suggestions there as well.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Super Rabies Outbreak Continues in Quarantine 2: Terminal


I heard a few days ago that the teaser trailer for Quarantine 2: Terminal has hit the Internet. You can watch a high definition version of it here.


As the subtitle suggests, Terminal takes place in an airport terminal where an outbreak occurs of the mysterious virus from the first film. Unlike Quarantine, the sequel appears to have ditched the shaky, "found footage" style of storytelling in exchange for more traditional cinematography. Whether this will work to the sequel's advantage remains to be seen.

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, the first Quarantine is the 2008 remake of 2007's [REC], a hit horror film from Spain. While Quarantine is very faithful to [REC] in terms of plot and execution, there is a very significant difference in their endings--in fact, the places where Quarantine deviates from the original [REC] story can be traced to its different ending. I don't want to give too much away about either film, I will say this: While both [REC] and Quarantine have been referred to by critics and fans as zombie movies, the ending of [REC] puts that film in league with other horror films such as The Exorcist, The Sentinel, Prince of Darkness and the Demons movies. In contrast, the ending of Quarantine puts it in the same company as Rabid, The Crazies, and 28 Days Later. The sequels for both [REC] and Quaratine differ considerably based on their endings ([REC] 2 was released in 2009), and rightfully so.

Personally, I prefer Quarantine to [REC] largely because of its ending, which I think works better with the plot, characters and setting. (Given the ending of [REC], I think that it would've worked much better if it were told from the point of view of a seminary student who is videotaping his visit to an isolated, rural monastery.) I'm glad to see Terminal continuing the story from Quarantine and I would like to see it answer a few questions that were introduced in the first film, such as who is responsible for the spread of the virus. At the very least, I'm hoping that this sequel is better than another similarly themed sequel, the ambitious yet disappointing 28 Weeks Later.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Spider-Man vs. The Unstoppable Broadway Disaster



As a long-time Spider-Man fan, I've been doing everything possible to avoid gawking at the press coverage of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the never-ending train wreck that's supposed to be a musical about Spidey. Ryan Dixon, co-author of Hell House: The Awakening and regular contributor to the Fierce and Nerdy blog, recently posted a detailed analysis of why this production keeps going in spite of the fact that this production is doomed no matter what. It's a good read, and it makes many insightful points about live musical theater and why colossal Broadway flops are successes in their own bizarro-esque way.

Curiously, Turn Off the Dark isn't the first Spider-Man musical. There was another one back in 1999, Spider-Man On Stage, which was performed in the U.K. (This show is mentioned in the book Marvel: The Characters and Their Universe with a handful of glossy, full-color pictures of the production.) Sure, it wasn't a blockbuster hit and it didn't produce any songs that will turn up in a "Best of Broadway" music collection, but at least it didn't have performers falling to their near deaths and winding up in the hospital. Then again, maybe the producers of Turn Off the Dark should invest in a few dozen of these items and just let them do the show instead. The outcome couldn't possibly be any worse and it would save a bundle on medical bills.

I can't help but to think that if this were a comic book, the Turn Off the Dark musical would turn out to be a plot concocted by Spider-Man's theatrically minded villain Mysterio, in cahoots with J. Jonah Jameson, to discredit Spider-Man. If anything, this plot would have a much more campy appeal than any of the Spider-Slayer story arcs. Sam Raimi, are you listening?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ghostfaces Gone Wild: A Second Look at the Scream Trilogy



In honor of the upcoming release of Scream 4, I decided to revisit the original Scream trilogy to get ready for what Wes Craven and company have in store for us next month. I've always thought that the Scream films were smarter than most horror films (and most other films in general). Still, it had been a while since I saw all three films, so I dusted off my Scream DVD box set to re-examine this trilogy as one continuous story (as opposed to three separate film releases separated by months and years). While I was watching these movies, I saw details that I hadn't noticed before, details that will probably ensure this franchise's appeal in the years and decades to come. Read on to see what I found that makes Scream a durable franchise and what we can expect in Scream 4.

Warning: This post is written with the understanding that the reader is familiar with the Scream franchise and it goes into spoiler-heavy details about each film. Thus, if you want to read this post but haven't seen any of the Scream films, go watch the Scream trilogy first and then come back here afterwords.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dr. Herbert West's Sing-Along Stage Show


In the grand scheme of the arts, I've always suspected that there was an unspoken affinity between the absurdly excessive blood splatter in gory horror films and the absurdly excessive spontaneity of song and dance in musicals. Judging from what noted horror film director Stuart Gordon has been doing these days, I'm obviously not alone.


Gordon is currently helming Re-Animator: The Musical, a musical stage show based on his own classic 1985 zombie film, which was in turn based on a short story by horror master H.P. Lovecraft. It's currently playing at the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood, CA, and the production will run until March 27. If the reviews at sites such as Shock Till You Drop, CHUD and Daily Trojan are any indication, this show is a must-see if you're in the area and love tuneful, off-kilter theatrics. It's got a "splatter zone" where the audience is most likely to get hit by fake blood and other wet, squishy debris, and it's also got George Wendt as Dean Halsey, one of the unfortunate characters who is re-animated during the course of the show. (I'm wondering if Wendt exchanged any zombie acting tips with fellow Cheers alum Ted Danson, who also played a walking, rotting corpse in George Romero and Stephen King's Creepshow.) Click here to get your tickets today!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

NECA's Big, Bad Predator Jamboree at Toy Fair 2011



You'd think that a blog with the word "Toys" in the title would at least have some coverage of Toy Fair 2011, which was held last month in New York, wouldn't you? Sadly, I have not been able to cover this geek-friendly event largely because 1.) I couldn't make it to the event itself and 2.) even if I did, my brain would've probably melted like butter while in the presence of such an overwhelming selection of truly awesome stuff.

Nevertheless, as I was wading through the mountains of Toy Fair 2011 coverage for something specific at which to gawk, I found myself looking at the upcoming releases from one of my personal favorites, NECA, and their line of Predator figures. Not only is NECA adding a multi-jointed figure of the Predator hound to their 7 inch line of figures from Predators, but they are also releasing jumbo "1/4 scale" figures of the creatures from Predator and Predator 2. Of course, NECA is providing 1/4 scale figures for other licenses, such as Nightmare on Elm Street and Terminator, but NECA's previous sculpts of Stan Winston's magnificent movie monster and its numerous variations in the Predator franchise have always impressed me and these new figures look to be no exception to that trend.

Click below to see a few pictures of NECA's new Predator figures, which I have reposted here with the permission from the Idle Hands blog. Be sure to read Idle Hands' in-depth coverage of Toy Fair 2011, and check out its comprehensive Toy Fair 2011 photo gallery at Flickr.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Jaws: Memories From Martha's Vineyard is Now Available for Pre-Order


Attention Jaws fans, for this is your lucky weekend--Jaws: Memories From Martha's Vineyard is now available for pre-order.


Jaws: Memories From Martha's Vineyard is a 296 page book by Matt Taylor, with over one-thousand never-before-seen photographs compiled by Taylor and Jim Beller. This book takes a very ambitious approach to examining the production of Jaws, from the perspectives of both the Hollywood professionals who initiated and oversaw the production and the local cast and crew members from New England who had their own unique behind-the-scenes experiences in helping to bring this classic film to life. With such an ambitious range of sources at its disposal, Memories From Martha's Vineyard will do for Jaws what J.W. Rinzler's recent retrospective books have been doing for the original Star Wars trilogy.

You can pre-order your copy here at the book's official site, which also features some preview pages taken directly from the book. Jaws: Memories From Martha's Vineyard is available in two versions: the softcover edition, and the limited hardcover special edition that includes a DVD that features authentic behind-the-scenes footage from the original Jaws set and a 1″x 1″ piece of the hull of the Orca II (a.k.a. the sinking Orca) that was used in the movie that includes a note of authenticity from owners Lynn and Susan Murphy. Click below to see a few pictures from the book, posted here with the permission of Jim Beller. Pre-order your copy today!

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Preview Trailer for Tron Uprising has Arrived!


I'm not sure where it came from, but it just showed up on the Internet this week: a preview trailer for the upcoming Tron Uprising TV series. Click here to watch the trailer on YouTube.


I haven't heard much else about the Uprising, except that it will begin with a 10 episode "micro-series" this fall, followed by a regular TV series in the summer of 2012. Judging from the trailer, the animation style will be part hand-drawn and part CGI (as opposed to Star Wars: Clone Wars, which is completely CGI) and, if it maintains the level of quality shown in the trailer, it should keep Tron fans amazed for quite some time. The voice cast also looks to be impressive, which includes Elijah Wood, Lance Henriksen, Mandy Moore, Paul Reubens and Bruce Boxleitner, who is reprising his role again as Tron.

From what I've heard, Uprising will take place between Clu 2.0's overthrow of Kevin Flynn and Sam Flynn's arrival in the grid world in Tron Legacy. The main character in Uprising will be Beck (voiced by Wood), who will be trained by Tron to fight against Clu 2.0 and his regime. On the basis of this summary, I'm assuming that Uprising will at some point explain how Tron was transformed into Rinzler and why Beck wasn't seen in Legacy. Whether Uprising will include characters from Legacy (such as Quorra or Zuse) or characters from the Tron Evolution video games (such as Gibson or Blaze)--or whether the writers will use the series to introduce characters and plot threads that will play into the next Tron movie--remains to be seen.

Even though it looks like Uprising will take place within the grid world, I'm hoping that it will have a few episodes that take place in the real world to explore what happened within Encom after Kevin Flynn's disappearance. It would also be nice to have a flashback episode or two that detail Tron's life on the Encom mainframe, perhaps even before the events of the first Tron movie, to better understand the internal workings of the computer world before Flynn decided to build his own grid world. Finally, this show really needs to find some way to incorporate David Warner's vocal talents, either reprising his role as Ed Dillinger in an Encom episode, or reprising his roles as Sark and the Master Control Program in a flashback episode.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Five Favorite 80s Arcade Classics That Arrived in Rural U.S.A.



In the time that I've been watching the video game industry, I'd be hard pressed to find a better time for the industry than right now. People can play video games either at home on their PCs or their game consoles, or they can play them on the go on hand held game systems, laptops, cell phones, or other portable media devices that are arriving on the market regularly. Then again, there's also the Internet, which hosts a wide variety of video games of its own and allows for vast multi-player experiences that were previously impossible.

Yet there was a time when the only places where people could see what video games could really do were the video game arcades, which were filled with vending machine-sized video game cabinets. Sure, the home consoles and PCs of that era did what they could to emulate the arcade experience, but it was at the arcades where video game companies could amaze the general public with the latest advancements in graphics and game play, all for 25 cents at a time.

For as big and bulky as they were, the quarter-eating game cabinets weren't limited to the arcades. Cabinets in smaller numbers could be found at a lot of different areas, including bars, movie theaters, restaurants and department stores (some of these business still have the arcade cabinets, but not in nearly the same numbers as before, and they largely have been relegated to places such as Chucky Cheese and Dave and Buster’s). Even though the rural town in which I grew up was pretty far away from the nearest shopping mall, we nevertheless had a local convenience store and a diner-hotel business that set aside small rooms for four to six arcade cabinets for a brief period in the mid-80s. Click below to see five of the best cabinet games that made it to my own little corner of nowhere (including links to game play footage on YouTube), the games that we would walk across town to play when we got bored with our Atari 2600s and had a few extra quarters to spend.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Local Movie Maker Merits Award at Film and Video Competition


It's always nice to see a local budding movie maker win an award in his area of fan devotion. Barry Worthington recently received an award of merit for artistic and technical expertise from Accolade, a film, television, new media and videography competition based in San Diego. Worthington is a native of Gaithersburg, MD, which is right in my figurative backyard; the award he won was for River Haven, a 15 minute science fiction/horror short.

Worthington's other short films include Funkalicious and Advanced. (Covingway Enterprises, the fictitious company which appears in River Haven, also plays a role in Advanced; I suppose Covingway is the Weyland-Yutani Corporation of the Advanced/River Haven universe.) Worthington and his company Limitless Films are currently working on Kin, a crime drama.

Click here to watch River Haven, Advanced, and some of his other films on YouTube. Click here to read more about Worthington and his work in an article by the Gaithersburg Gazette, and click here to see his profile on IMDb. Congratulations Barry!