October 31st is my favorite holiday, and very likely yours if you’re here. Most of the public may prefer Christmas for its crass commercialism and stable of timeless classic films and television specials or Thanksgiving for its epic mealtime, but Halloween is a holiday custom made for nerds. A whole day dedicated to cosplay, candy, horror, and evil music? Yes, please! It’s a time to celebrate all of the things we love with a sinister edge. Whereas the sights and sounds of Christmas very often reek of populist sentimentality and cynical modern cash-ins in the form of soulless Christmas albums and other forms of entertainment with a sheen of general cloying saccharinity, quality horror and everything that goes with it is something that never needs to be forced. Fear is with us everywhere we go all year ‘round and having one day to really celebrate it is a wonderful thing. But how to make the most of Halloween in 2014? I thought I’d share my experiences from this past month’s lead-up to October 31st and maybe give some of you some ideas about how best to pay homage to the spirits of the dead via geek-flavored entertainment new and old available this year. Continue reading
Once again, welcome to my column. Come freely, go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring. I’ve spent October exploring some of the more unexplored facets of the immortal undead in popular culture, from some unsung triumphs of cult films to my favorite vampires from comics, video games, and anime. It’s almost Halloween and I’ve already covered advanced undead nerdery so I can’t think of a better way to bring the season of horror to a close than with a tribute to the stories that inspired almost all of the selections I’ve shared with you this month.
There are thousands of vampire stories spanning every medium of entertainment worldwide, but today I’m strapping on my old school for the ink and paper delights that took bloodsucking corpses out of rural folklore and made them immortal pop culture icons in the first place. These are the top five influential novels and novellas that gave birth to everything from supernatural romance to the entire zombie genre along with the myriad variations of vampiric horror itself, and I’m counting them down for newbies and discussing them for the veterans.
I’m tossing away my hipster leanings just for today and instead of drawing attention to the things you haven’t seen yet I’m exploring the best of the best. The ones we all know and love. The ones you can’t get around referencing whenever vampire fiction is discussed. The undisputed classics. And if you haven’t read these works of literary genius, consider this is your mandatory reading assignment. This is ground zero for tales of the undead. Continue reading
So my big vampire-related surprise this year came from an unusual place. A co-worker of mine off-handedly asked if I’d seen this anime, Shiki, about vampires. As usual, my response was along the lines of “Vampires?! Did you say vampires?! I LOVE vampires!” And so began my quest. It wasn’t on Netflix, Amazon had the first season split into two exorbitantly-priced box sets that were too rich for my tasty mortal blood, and I just don’t really like watching TV and films on my laptop. Malaysian import? Malaysian import.
One thing I love about said imports is the superior packaging they often have. From behind the clear plastic sleeve, I was greeted by glossy artwork featuring a vamp with shiny metallic red eyes staring out at me. I can already tell this is going to be sweet. Since I’d stopped reviewing regularly, I’ve really fallen off of the cutting edge. I used to buy more imports than domestic DVD’s, but now it’s become a rarity for me. This felt just like old times except I was behind the curve instead of ahead of it. But since I had no intention of reviewing the show and was just watching it for my own enjoyment, I didn’t care about that. 22 episodes of a promising-looking new vampire series. Let’s effing do this.
Anime has a long history of creative and generally excellent vampire television shows and films. In fact, I’d say Japanese animation leads the world in that department. From the 80’s classic Vampire Hunter D to the more modern Hellsing, the goofy romantic comedy of Karin and Rosario + Vampire, the killer animation of Blood: The Last Vampire, the noir-esque Nightwalker, and the controversy of Dance in the Vampire Bund -to name a few- there is almost always something for every taste to sink your fangs into. Continue reading
Last week, I filled your coffers/coffins with vampiric obscurities from the domain of live-action film to kick off my month-long celebration of all things nosferatu. This week, I’m giving hardcore nerd culture its due and featuring my favorite bloodsuckers from the alternative media domains of comics, anime, and video games.
And what, praytell makes these particular vampires so awesome that they deserve their own list? Well, that varies. Maybe it’s their twisted personality, or sympathetic backstory. Maybe they kick the most ass, maybe they are just plain entertaining to watch, or maybe they just look freakin’ cool. It could be all of the above; but one way or another, these lords and ladies of the night stand out from the crowd.
Great stories live and die with their characters, so instead of merely repping the series’ that spawned them, I’m going to go specifically into the characters and what makes them so goddamn cool in comparison to the thousands of fictional bloodsuckers cluttering our DVD and book shelves. Do come along. Continue reading
It’s that most wonderful time of year again. Shocktober, Horrorween, All Hallows, Samhain, Vampire Awareness Month; and that means it’s time to monster mash. So from here until Halloween, I’m going to use my column space to give the biggest of ups to my favorite of all things that go bump in the night, the vampire.
What I have for you right off the bat (see what I did there?) is a diverse list of classic cult films that are as refreshing today as they were when they were made along with some interesting newcomers to counter the lazy argument that vampire cinema it tired, played out, or just not worth our time. If that’s ever been true in your mind, you simply were not looking hard enough. This is a list of cinema to satisfy any discerning film fan with a lust for bloodsuckers. And when I say “lust” I don’t mean any weaksauce tween romance. Twilight is over; time to get back to what vampires are really about: death and darkness. Embrace midnight with these underappreciated gems. Continue reading
A recent trend in filmmaking and television is attempting to capture the essence of nerd culture by telling stories of role-playing. It can be either pen-and-paper or live action. Community did it, as did Supernatural, Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott starred in Hollywood’s Role Models, and a slew of independent films like Knights of Badassdom, Gamerz, and The Gamers: Dorkness Rising have come around in the last decade to finally bring the nerdiest of nerdy activities out of the darkness of parents’ basements and into the light.
The best of these that I’ve seen is Zero Charisma. Out of all of the RPG portrayals, I think this one really cuts to the heart of geek culture by contrasting the classic neckbeard stereotype and inaccessible passion that fuels our love of the fantastic with modern sensibilities and social acceptance. It also has a wickedly clever title.
How does somebody who has been shunned their entire life deal with the modern concept of a cool nerd? The word “geek” originates from carnival sideshows where a performer would do things like biting the heads off of live chickens. This implies that the very act of being a geek should be revolting and bizarre to normal people, and for most of my life it was so. There were no Felicia Days, Peter Dinklages, or Summer Glaus for us back in the day; just asthma, endless allegations regarding our sexual preferences, and unhealthy fixations on Slave Leah. Continue reading
Since I’m going to be discussion true literary classics this week, I feel like I should get us in the mood with a suitably pretentious and overused quote from a dead famous person. Pablo Picasso defined art as “the lie that enables us to realize the truth”, and conceptual science fiction in particular takes this timeless observation to heart. It’s a genre that almost by definition strives to take modern day stupidity and fast forward it to its logical future conclusions.
As somebody who has spent his entire life captivated by the most imaginative aspects of fiction and storytelling, it makes sense that a lot of the values I’ve grown into would be reflected in some of those works. Sometimes I read a novel and it opens up my mind to endless possibilities or it puts into words feelings that I’ve always had but had never effectively crystalized. The joy of writing is not only in sharing thoughts and feelings with other people, but in the process of defining those thoughts for yourself so they can be shared in verbal form.
The best stories are the ones that hold personal relevance to your life and the world you live it in. Here are five bonafide science fiction classics I’ve read throughout my life that stuck in my brain, helped me define my values, and in doing so contributed in part to making me the person I am today. Sure, that person is a cynical, antisocial geek who derives pleasure from anarchy, but he still finds childlike joy in exploring this world through allegory, metaphor, and stories where people die horribly so here we are. Nick Verboon: this is your life. Continue reading
This month I reached another depressing comic book milestone. I received my last issue from Marvel Comics for the foreseeable future. It was issue 27 of the latest solo book from my favorite comic book character, the Merc with a Mouth, Deadpool. Reading it was a bittersweet experience (which I’ll get to later), but the title was on the bubble for over a year and issues would occasionally collect unread on my shelf for months before I could be bothered with them, which is a sure sign that I’m not really feeling a series anymore.
It wasn’t always like this. Marvel comics used to be good, and Deadpool was the goodest. I discovered Wade Wilson around the time I started getting really into comics as an adult beyond the occasional graphic novel, about ten years ago. Fans will note this was around the time Cable and Deadpool was a thing, but I started checking out his solo run first, eventually deciding to include Cable and Deadpool in my inaugural list of online comic subscriptions.
Deadpool comics were unlike anything else on the market. You’ve got an immortal (Weapon X injected him with Wolverine’s healing factor in an attempt to cure his cancer) protagonist antihero who works almost exclusively for profit as an assassin, is possibly schizophrenic and certainly twisted and psychotic, compulsively talks trash in an almost constant stream, and has a complete disregard for…pretty much everything and everyone. It was a combination of black humor, badass comic book violence, and absurdist satire that regularly broke the fourth wall in ways that most comics would never attempt to do, much less get away with. This character was the inside of my brain in comic book form.
In his heyday, Wade Wilson wielded Mjolnir (sort of) and used it to parody Grey Poupon commercials and deliver a suitable rendition of KISS’ God of Thunder among other fun things. He waxed nostalgic about old-school GI Joe action figures while slaughtering hapless baddies, he found out he wasn’t who he thought he was (maybe) and criticized his own writers for their handling of it, dragon-punched Kitty Pryde (complete with “shoryuken” cry), made out with the incarnation of Death, lusted after Golden Girls, was cursed with the face of Tom Cruise, traveled back in time to a classic Spider-Man issue to offer some harsh commentary, and generally made the Marvel Universe his bitch. Continue reading
The way I see it, there are two primary mindsets at play when we sit down to play a video game. Your classic logical right brain type will immediately begin assessing the best possible way to go about making the game of choice their bitch. The more creative left-brained individual will instead be taken with the imaginative experience and will likely spend their time on flights of fancy or set out to find what the virtual world can offer them creatively. I will call them Type A and Type B, respectively. I totally just made those terms up myself just now.
Now that we’re all occupying the same digital space thanks to our internet connections the clash between these two approaches is happening more and more often as opposing mindsets are paired with and against one another in online play and discussions. Sure there were arguments about how best to play games on the couch way back in the day, but modern gaming is so much more of a widespread social affair than it used to be and has grown from a mere pastime to a full-blown cultural force. And with that comes the controversy: what’s the correct way to play video games?
So let’s hash this out. Who are the real gamers: the ones who take it seriously as a competition and challenge, or the ones who just want to relax and have a good time? Obviously, the only answer that matters is the one that corresponds to your personality type (which can be determined by the Bartle Test, here), so let’s take a look at each set of values and see what virtues (if any) they yield.
There’s something to be said about Type A’s philosophy of utilizing every aspect of a game to give yourself every advantage in order to obtain optimum results. These gamers are often divided into camps known as “killers” and “achievers”, with killers focusing on multiplayer dominance and achievers on single player proficiency. Achievers are the people who plan their RPG builds with great care and don’t waste a single experience point. They do the math to determine which choices will give them maximum advantage and they carefully choose only the best equipment, which they farm for constantly, and they chase down every in-game laurel they can find. Their goal is to be so unstoppable that they make a joke out of the game itself and accomplish every goal set before them with the greatest of ease.
Killers are often considered the least pleasant breed of gamers due to their hyper-competitiveness. The desire to win at all costs may lead to some play tactics that aren’t exactly kosher with other players. Spawn killing, glitching, and camping in first person shooters comes to mind. They’ll spend hours exploring each level to find exploits to use to their advantage; maybe a glitched spot on a sheer rock wall that allows them to climb to the top of the level and snipe with impunity or a hiding place where they are practically invisible so they can lie in wait for other players to cross their path for easy kills. They’re the corner trappers in Street Fighter and the ones who choose Sentinel in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Should you encounter these individuals, they may, on occasion, ask you if you even lift and/or question your sexuality.
To other players, this kind of stuff kills the experience. It’s not FAIR! This sucks! It’s booooooring! THIS ISN’T FUN. The inevitable response: winning is fun. That is to say that Type A measures their success entirely on their ability to come out on top. “Fun” is a buzzword for losers. If you’re going to play, why not play to win? Life is competition where you can be an alpha or a beta. Who chooses beta?
Type B does. Sure, you could bust a blood vessel trying to beat the Youtube speed-run record on Grand Theft Auto V. Or you could, you know, have some fun. Go make it rain in the strip club and then start a fight with the bouncers before busting out and leading the cops on a crazed high speed sidewalk chase all the way into the ocean. Grab a parachute, hike to the top of the highest mountain, and enjoy the view all the way down. Put on a monkey mask and go try to punch a shark to death or binge watch Kung Fu Rainbow Lazer Force. With so much fun stuff to do, who gives a crap about accomplishing anything?
Type B subtypes include “socializers” and “explorers”. The latter revel in the freedom to experiment, create, and experience new things. It’s an existence beyond their existence where they can do what they want and be what they want without real world judgments infringing. This whimsical attitude towards both virtual and real life assures they’ll probably never be CEO’s, Senators, or marine drill sergeants, but they enjoy the worlds of fantasy fiction on a whole other level compared to their counterparts.
Socializers are usually pleasant individuals who see multiplayer gaming as a way to meet new people and hang out with friends. The game acts as a virtual medium where they can meet and greet other people like themselves and share a good time. They are consummate teammates, but may not be the most skilled players. The game itself is secondary to the social experience. They may hound you incessantly with invites after friending you.
Type A views a video game as a piece of software to be bent to their will. Type B sees it as a world to be inhabited, explored, and enjoyed to its full potential. Who is right? This is like asking someone the meaning of life. Is achievement more important than enjoyment? Is being the best at something worth it if you’re unhappy or is it better to be a loser who can scrape satisfaction out of the smallest things? It all depends on your perspective.
On one hand, there are people who believe that if they are going to do something, it should be taken seriously and done to the utmost of their ability. On the other are those who seek personal pleasure and fulfillment. Which are the real gamers? Well both, I suppose. Video games are certainly pieces of software often meant to challenge us, and they also often represent imaginative worlds to explore. They are there to be whatever we make of them. There’s arguably no wrong way to go about playing games, only different attitudes and alignments. For example:
Sure, left-brained folk are the ones who really inhabit and appreciate these worlds and some of them have been doing so since they were getting picked on and ridiculed for loving video games in leaner times -often by the same people who now inhabit Call of Duty servers. But gaming is changing. The concept of an e-sport is a pretty new one, and in some ways it signifies the legitimacy of gaming as a pastime. But what it also does is open up competitive gaming to people who only see it as a way to beat other people at things and maybe get paid for it.
The fact of the matter is that more people are playing more games now than ever. Gaming is a business and an industry, it’s a hobby and it’s an obsession, it’s entertainment and art, it’s a lifestyle and a sport and a culture. Whichever aspects are the ones you relate to; gaming is something all types have in common. How you approach it is entirely up to you. All you need to do to be a real gamer is game.
In 1996 Capcom created a beloved classic gaming franchise that pushed an entire genre into the mainstream and has since crossed over into film to become a true pop culture landmark. The original Resident Evil set a bar for the survival horror genre that I’m not convinced has been cleared yet. It was a game people bought the PlayStation just to play along with established brands like Final Fantasy. This was one of the games that helped cement Sony’s presence as the new king of the console scene.
The original game has since been released as a director’s cut, remade, and ported to nearly every console in existence. From a gameplay standpoint, most gamers can agree that Resident Evil hasn’t really aged well, but for those of us who were there when it revolutionized horror storytelling in gaming and gave us a whole new experience in fear, we’ll always have the memories. Here are the moments that creeped me out so much that I still remember the feeling nearly twenty years later.
Eight arms to hug you with.
Most creatures on God’s green Earth don’t really scare me much. Lions and tigers and bears are just big kitties and furry critters and I think snakes are cool. But spiders, man. That shit freaks me out. I can’t even be in the same room with one without shaking and twitching uncontrollably. And this from a kid who used to keep pet tarantulas. Yeah, I don’t get it either.
Anyways, I remember the abject horror of playing those early PlayStation games and experiencing (for the time) lifelike threats on my screen for the first time. I went from classic Nintendo to these hairy 8-legged monstrosities who would rear up like a real spider in a threat pose. It chilled me to the bone and induced complete panic the first time I saw it. And the fact that they were clinging to the ceiling and would drop down right next to you made it even more horrifying.
If nothing else, experiencing the giant spiders in Resident Evil prepared me for the HD arachnids infesting Skyrim, which may have caused me a heart-attack if I hadn’t been prepared for it by plying through this PS classics so at least some good came out of almost wetting myself.
Off with her head!
Resident Evil’s save system was part of what made it so nerve-wracking. You explored the mansion and its grounds scrounging every little thing you could find to survive the onslaught of monsters. You could only save in certain rooms, but on top of that, you needed ink ribbons to activate the typewriter to record your progress. So no save-spamming allowed. You had to use them sparingly.
At some point you get comfortable with the slow-moving zombies and other enemies you learn to kill or skirt around without taking too much damage. Then these goddamn Hunters enter the scene. These bipedal bastards are fast and smart and the want nothing more than to take a flying leap and knock your head off with one swipe.
Potentially hours of in-game progress gone in an instant. With every single bullet a rare prize, and the beasties often coming at you faster than you can even aim shooting them is not always an option so a lot of the time, you run. It really adds a lot to the tension of a horror game when you feel that fighting back isn’t a course of action worth the risk and you aren’t able to save every step. You’ve got something to lose and you are being pursued by a tireless and formidable threat capable of ending you with one well-placed attack. Encountering Hunters was terrifying.
Dark wings, dark words.
Now this is the meaning of the word suspense. You walk down a hallway lined with paintings and switches. Perched above you is a flock of crows lining the walls, cawing, and watching you expectantly. You need to use the paintings to figure out which order to trigger the switches.
While observing the paintings, one may forget the Hitchcockian predicament your character is in. Well, should you initially fail in your appointed task, the game will very quickly remind you where you are with a flurry of fluttering as your avian audience suddenly swoops in and attacks you, sending you running down the hallway in total panic mode looking for the exit. Well-played, Capcom.
This works not only as an awesome classic horror homage, but it plays with classic game mechanics as well. Generally, one doesn’t expect the background decorations to attack you. The scene creeps you out then gives you something else to occupy your mind, lets you get comfortable, and then springs the trap at the perfect moment if you fail. It’s a beautiful setup.
Spiders aren’t actually the only things that terrify me. I’ve also got a thing about water, specifically sharks. Being in water is a situation where us land-based mammals really exposed, and the idea of large marine predator effortlessly biting us in half while we’re powerless to do anything about it is probably a large part of that.
Naturally, Resident Evil knows this and has the player wade into chest-deep water in an underground section of the mansion to progress. As you make your way down the hallway feeling uneasy about this whole thing, the camera actually switches to show the point of view of some thing swimming beneath the water line. As it rounds the corner your character’s legs come into view. The experience was like a perfect storm of AAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!!
The camera returns for you as not just any shark but a zombie shark comes rushing towards you, looking absolutely terrifying. If you’re lucky and aren’t frozen like a deer in toothy headlights, you can escape through a nearby door, but those moments are the sort of things we need to see more of in horror games.
Scritch, scritch, scritch…
All right, so you’re exploring a mansion full of mutant cannibal zombies, giant carnivorous plants, freaky spiders, sharks, dogs that smash through windows at unexpected times and other unspeakable horrors. Shit happens. But then you enter a room and you hear this scratching sound.
For a long moment, you are desperately trying to locate the source of that sound. There is no possible fucking way that scratching is a good thing. Not in this game. Then you see the mirror in the background and DEAR GOD THERE IS A PARAPLEGIC ZOMBIE CRAWLING TOWARDS YOU.
Now if this were real life, the offending undead monstrosity would be clearly within your field of vision, but this is Resident Evil, baby. Bad third-person camera angles are part of the experience. The room is small, the zombie is faster than you’d think, the controls are not set up as helpfully as you’d like for this situation, and you are now in full headless chicken mode.
One could argue that what made this scene really scary is bad game design, but seeing that the game was designed to freak you out, it’s kind of genius. Those moments between when you hear the mysterious scratching sound, see the reflection in the mirror, and then locate the freakishly crawling zombie are nightmarish.
So yeah, what a scary game, right? Somebody should make a movie out of it! It’d be really scary and awesome and there’d be a thousand zombies and laser beams and Slipknot could be on the soundtrack! Or, you know, it could be terrible and lame and there could be too many zombies, laser beams, Slipknot could be on the soundtrack, and Milla Jovavich’s legs could be the only thing really worth seeing in it. Could happen.
It’s not just recently that gaming is outdoing Hollywood when it comes to putting together immersive stories that draw the player into the world of the game. Resident Evil was doing it way back when in spite of laughable voice acting and pixelated graphics. You’d think anyone adapting it to film would have understood what made scenes like these work and tried to replicate those feelings that made the game such a memorable experience. You’d think.
Resident Evil is the very definition of a classic gaming experience and everyone has their favorite moments. I’ve given you mine. What are yours?