Friday, October 27, 2017

Video Game Review: The Evil Within 2

This is going to hurt, in pretty much every way you can imagine. So, let's get started.


This is the sequel to 2014's The Evil Within. Which followed Detective Sebastian Castellanos as he answers a call for help at Beacon Mental Institution only to be sucked into a diabolical experiment called STEM. He survives, and breaks the system, but the main villain escapes.

The Evil Within 2 returns to Detective Castellanos with a brand new STEM system. And that's really the only connection to the first game. There are a few other returning characters, and flashbacks to the first game, but the story otherwise has nothing to do with the first game.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. The Evil Within 2 stands well on it's own merits, with lots of tension, jump scares, and run-and-gun action. To say the game doesn't stand out would be remiss as well, there's lots of mind-fuckery as well as several things we haven't really seen in mainstream horror games.

What stands out the most is the open-world levels, fairly unique for a horror game. You have your mission, your objective markers, but the levels are fairly big, with side missions and other things scattered around for you to find on your own, if you're so inclined. You can still race through and claim the objectives and ignore everything else, but you can take hours to scour every unlocked house, rescue a few stragglers, discover extra weapons caches, and things like that.

Unfortunately, the praise kind of stops there. Not that there's a lot that's wrong with the game, but it's just kind of...standard? Nothing else really stands out. Not the enemies, not the weapons, not the levels themselves despite being open, explorable, areas.

I'm going to reiterate this, it's not a bad game. It's actually a fun, scary, well-made horror game. It's just very, very heavy with missed opportunities, and you feel it at just about every corner. Especially compared to the first game.

So let's start there. What's missing from the first game? The ability to burn bodies on the ground for a start. It's noticeable because you find a LOT of enemies laying prone on the ground, waiting for some kind of signal to get up and attack. It was one of the great tricks of the first game. Not all the bodies on the ground were enemies waiting to jump you, and you had a limited number of matches to use. It was one of the things that set The Evil Within apart from games like Resident Evil. Also, the first game used hordes of enemies to great effect, putting extreme pressure on you even in large areas with your limited amount of ammo.

Lastly, the traps. The traps were strewn throughout the first game. They were one of it's hallmarks. You could disarm them for weapon parts for the game's crafting system, or lure enemies into them. Or you could walk into them and die, too. Yes, The Evil Within 2 is in a different setting, but all the different kinds of traps, right from the very beginning is what really set the game apart, and to not have them in the next game just feels, wrong.



And that pretty much sums up the game for me. It's fun, it's scary, it's a great game in and of itself, but as a sequel, it's just wrong. All the directions they could have gone in, they picked ones that almost completely separate the sequel from the game it's following up on.

Still, we can probably expect some downloadable content in the future, so maybe they can fix a few things with that.



Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Anime Review: 'Another'

Horror can be found in lots of places, books, TV shows, Movies, Video Games. Lots of people tend to skip over such things as cartoons and anime though. They can't see past the idea of animation as being for kids. 

This story is definitely not for kids. 


When a new student transfers into class 3, he finds a strange place, where one student is completely ignored, to the point that they might as well not exist at all. He finds himself wondering if the one might be a ghost, or something only he can see. 

Then it begins, a calamity that has plagued the students of class 3 for twenty-five years. A curse where one person connected to the class dies every month in horrific, twisted accidents. 

The curse began when a popular student passed away unexpectedly at the start of the school year. The students, and even the teachers decided to deal with the loss by simply pretending the student was still there, sitting at their desk. Their actions brought the spirit back, and ever since then, Class 3 has had an extra student, one that was supposed to be dead. 

The dead class member doesn't know they're dead, or that they're the catalyst for the horrible accidents which plague the living members. At the end of the school year, they simply cease to be.

The new class deals with the problem by completely ostracizing one member, treating them as if they don't exist, and making the number of students in the class equal to what it's supposed to be. 

The new student breaks the rules, talking to the ostracized member, letting the curse loose among the class. Then the rest of the class bands together to try to find ways to stop it before they all end up on the wrong side of life and death. 

There's two main parts to this horror-mystery. The first half being the truth about why the class is cursed and whether the ostracized student is real or not. 

The second part is the search for a way to stop the curse, and who/how many of them are going to die before they discover which of their classmates is the extra. 

The tension builds up throughout the short run (only 12 episodes), culminating in a 'Final Destination' series of events and a mass madness which overtakes the students. 

It's definitely worth watching as a horror fan, even if the first half is a bit slow at times. I'm a little late to the party on this one. The anime came out in 2012 and was based on a comic. A live-action movie was also made in 2014, but it's only available in the original Japanese, and I don't know that a dubbed or subtitled version of that exists. 

Still, an excellent little horror series. Worth the time if you can catch it on Hulu or Netflix.


~ Shaun


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Short Story: The Exploration of Chateau Du Dragon

Welcome! This week marks my 200th blog post! To celebrate that with all of you, I'm pulling one of the short stories I've been submitting around this past year and sharing it with you all. I've been on somewhat of a Lovecraft kick the past several months, so some of you may find some thinks blinking back at you. Don't worry, they're supposed to be there. Anyway, on with the show!

Enjoy,

The Exploration of Chateau Du Dragon!


----------------------------------------------------------------------------------


“So, what ‘historical treasure’ have you found this time?” Vanessa followed her boyfriend around the small grove of magnolia trees and down the barely visible trail.

“Who says I found anything? I was just talking to some people at the bar, mentioned I was into urban exploration, and a guy popped up, mentioned he knew a place, and that I should check it out. That’s all.” He smirked.

“Carl, I know you better than that. You don’t just wander off to any ol’ place some stranger mentions. You’re not usually that stupid.”

“Usually?”

“There was that one time in New Hampshire…”

“Never going to let me forget that one, are you?”

“You got us arrested.”

“Okay, okay. I did look the place up, did some research, and I think it’s clear. It should also really grab your interest when I tell you what it is and what it means.”

Vanessa rolled her eyes, but followed him. The ground was soggy underfoot, never quite deciding whether it wanted to be mud or underwater. Dead Spanish moss hung like streamers from Oak and Willow trees as they walked; typical Louisiana fare.

“So when are you going to tell me about it?”

Carl held up one hand as he pushed a bush out of the way. Then he motioned for her to move up and join him. “There it is!”

The house was ancient. Kudzu covered half of it, stretching down from the roof, but the front porch and the main entrance stood out. The weather-beaten wood contrasted with the green, giving an impression of a mummy’s skull, partially unwrapped from its lavish bandages. The glass from the windows was long gone, smashed through vandalism or by nature’s will. The curves of the architecture and the towering pillars still stood out to Vanessa, making a smile break out on her slender face.

“An early 1800’s plantation house. Not bad, Mr. I don’t know what we’ll find.”

“Actually, I read that it’s a late 1700’s, but you would know, I suppose.”

Vanessa elbowed him playfully in the side as she pushed past him, out from under the trees. “Anything else you read about this particular ol’ home?”

Carl smiled and took a deep breath. “Well, from what I could gather, they called it the dragon chateau. This was actually one of the early starts of the Underground Railroad that ferried escaped slaves to freedom. The story goes that out the back of the house, about two miles away is the Gulf of Mexico, with a large private dock, and that the owners of the plantation, who’s name nobody seems to remember, actually ran a tunnel from the house all the way down to the dock, where Spaniards would pick up the slaves.”

“Oh, so you’re saying there’s secret passages in here?”

Carl grinned and nodded.

“That’s why you insisted on flashlights, food and water, and some extra clothes?”

Another grin.

“You take me to the nicest places.”

The front porch became imposing up close. A gaping hole was all that remained of a large picture window, and the front door clung stubbornly to a single hinge. Flashlights surged to life, their beams bouncing off the walls. Anything of value was stripped ages ago. All that remained were bare walls and the remnants of rusty furniture frames.

“So, Mr. Bookworm, what happened to the slaves that went with the Spanish?”

“Honestly, if I had to guess, I would say the just ended up slaves somewhere else, like the Spanish colonies off in the Caribbean. This place was before the Underground Railroad really took off, though, and from the stories I found, not many slaves made it through here to be picked up.
“Oh? Was it a fake get-away?”

“Seems that way. Apparently the other local land owners came together, raided the place. Some claims of voodoo rituals, blood and virgin sacrifices, sex with demons and devils. You know, just all the usual fare. Some of them escaped, but the owners, all the slaves, and a group of Spaniards were all caught and executed, probably hung from one of the trees we walked under on the way here. ”

Vanessa held the flashlight under her chin, “You and your spooky stories.”

The tale stuck in her head as they continued through the house. She kept her eyes open for anything that might look like, or give clues to any kind of secret passage. Vanessa wracked her brain, trying to decide if the story sounded familiar. It was certainly true the Underground Railroad had routes that led south, as well as north. Could it really be possible that this house was such a stop?

“Hey! Vanessa!”

Carl was standing near the far wall of what might once have been the den.

“Let me guess, Mr. Scooby-Doo, a fake wall in the back of the fireplace?”

He smirked. “Nothing so obvious. Check this out, though.”

He ran his finger along the lines between the bricks in the wall, starting from the floor, up, then over, and back down.

“There’s no mortar between this section and the rest of the wall. Also, check this out.” Carl ran his finger over the front of the brick just above the divide. “I don’t know if you can see it, but it says ‘dragon’.”

Vanessa stepped closer and looked. The face of the brick looked off, but she couldn’t read anything on it. Her fingers slid over the surface, feeling the bumps that were barely there. “Are you sure? I think it’s missing the ‘R’”.

“Probably just worn off.”

He grabbed a brick near the top and pulled. It came easily, a handful of others tumbling to the floor as well. Pulling out more stones revealed a dark space, and a set of stairs leading down into the earth.
He swept his flashlight back and forth. “There, that wasn’t so hard to find.”

Vanessa bit her lip. A thick, cloying smell rolled up from the passage; a scent of mold and moisture, of rotting fish and wet earth. The passage had been too easy to find. Carl was already crawling inside, exploring with his flashlight. He was practically shaking with anticipation. He turned back to her, and saw her lip folded between her teeth.

“Is it okay, you think? We do still have the rest of the house to check out, see what condition the second floor is in. Maybe see if there’s anything to raid in the kitchen?”

She forced a smile and shook her head. “It’ll all still be here when we get back. It’s sat this long, hasn’t it?”

Only the first steps were wood. After that they were cut into the earth itself, but as they moved deeper, the stairs turned to stone steps that were slick underfoot. The walls did the same, starting with wooden supports, giving way first to dirt, and then stone. Water dripped down, only to vanish between cracks. The stairs went on, further, and deeper.

“Carl, how can we still be going down? Shouldn’t we be under water by now?”

“Yeah…I’m not sure, maybe there’s some kind of drain system behind these stones.” He tapped on the wall with his flashlight. The moisture on the surface was clearly visible, and they watched as a drop beaded up between two stones, rolled down, and vanished back into the wall.

“I don’t think we should go much further. It’s…strange…down here.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right, as old as this place is, we don’t want to wander too far, trigger a cave in, or risk getting caught if the place floods with the tide or something like that.”

Glurhrrrgle…

The sound started almost as a low rumble, bouncing back and forth up the stairs and between the stones. Vanessa suddenly felt sick to her stomach. The sound could almost have been speech, though what word or language, she had no clue.

“What the hell was that?” Carl was leaning down on the steps, trying to reach deeper with his flashlight. “Hey, I think I see the bottom of the stairs! It’s not that much farther.”

Before she could stop him, Carl had started down again. After just a few steps he was starting to disappear into the darkness, so she carefully followed after him.

There was another dozen steps, and then it opened into a massive, round room. The floors and walls were placed stone, the ceiling, a good ten feet high, was obviously part of a natural cavern; someone had discovered this cave and built into it.

They stepped into the cavern, their flashlights scanning the area as they stood in awe. Several hallways and chambers led off from the main room. Stone tables were the only furnishings in the main chamber itself. The smell, which had wafted through the opening at the house, was almost overwhelming. It waxed and waned, as if the source was moving. The strength of the stench made Vanessa cough, gagging at its worst.

Dragllehhth…R’lyeh…Shalal…Turthogahh…C’turrr…

The strange words rolled out of the side chambers, hallways, and reverberated through the stones of the floor, as if there were further chambers deep below. It was obviously a language, but the words were thick, barely recognizable as any kind of speech. There remained a pattern to them, a sense of powerful meaning behind each group of sounds. To Vanessa, it sounded like the last gasps of someone drowning, trying to talk through a throat full of water, past a tongue and lips numb from hypothermia.

There was a wet slop from one of the hallways and Carl spun to meet it. All his flashlight could find was two large, circular reflections from deep in the darkness. Then they were gone.

Vanessa crept over to her boyfriend, grabbing his arm as she pressed her back to his. Her flashlight ran from one hallway, to a chamber, to another hallway. More unrecognizable words. More wet slop sounds. More round reflections.

Eyes. They were eyes.

Large, glass-like, bulbous eyes.

Another slop. Then another, closer. Vanessa turned her flashlight towards it.

A man stood in the entrance of one of the chambers. His skin was grey and looked waterlogged. He was mostly bald, with small clumps of long, stringy hair reaching down to his shoulders. The sides of his neck were covered in folds. The nose was mashed, and almost seemed like it was melting into his face, and his lips were thin, almost nonexistent. He wore clothes that were impossibly old, torn, and stained.

Worst of all were his eyes; large and bulbous, like they didn’t fit in their sockets. They had no color, just huge pupils that made almost the entire eye look black.

She felt Carl’s gasp through her back, pressed against his. “What the fuck…”

More of them were slowly stepping out of the chambers and hallways, all of them similarly deformed. Some looked more human, some looked almost like fish.

Strange words again, the flashlight sought out the source, finding a more human creature with its half-lips moving.

“Cthorrtaghnn…Dpthue…Fur’thoroee…R’lyeh…”

It lifted an arm and pointed at her, the fingers all had thick webbing between them and no fingernails. “Breeder…”

Carl started to push Vanessa back the way they had come, towards the stairs. His bag swung down from his back, hanging from his forearm as he unzipped it and pulled out his gun.

Whether the creatures recognized the weapon and the threat it offered, they made no sign. Vanessa turned and shone the light back towards the stairs, only to find two of the fish-men had slipped in front of it, their bulbous eyes looking back at her as they whispered in their strange, thick throated language.

“Carl, we can’t go back…”

The gunshots echoed in the chamber. Then the space was filled with a cacophony of slops, chittering, Carl yelling, and unrecognizable words from the creatures. The power of the stench increased almost tenfold making Vanessa choke. One of the creatures lay on the stone floor, bleeding out, one large eye deflated from the bullet.

Cold, wet, hands grabbed at her. Carl was pulled away from her back and there was more yelling, more gunshots.

“Vanessa! Straight ahead! Fresh air! The bay! GO!”

She turned and saw him on the ground, four or five of the creatures grabbing him, holding him, pummeling him with their deformed hands. The gun went off again and one of their heads erupted in the thin light.

“Go! GO!”

Another creature reached for her, and she swung her backpack around, swatting away the hand. The air swirled around her and for a moment, she got a whiff of fresh air. More of the creatures were coming at her. Carl was lost under a pile of them. A quick spin caught sight of the stairs, and she dashed away in the opposite direction.

The stench cleared as she ran down the hallway. Fresh air whipped around her, although the stench of the man-fish clung to her skin and in her nose. Behind her, Vanessa could hear the sounds of their feet on the stone. Slop-slop-slop. Further behind them came another gunshot, then a sharp snapping sound, borrowing the unnatural acoustics of the tunnels to reach her. It was all she could do to not imagine what that sound was.

The tunnel sloped upward, the stone floor becoming slick as she ran. Her lungs started to burn, but the feet behind her kept her pushing as fast as she could.

The water was ankle deep and rising, but a light further ahead gave her hope. The sounds behind her started to fade and then were lost as she burst out into the setting sun.

She collapsed onto her hands and knees into the salty water of the bay. Almost unconsciously, she started splashing handfuls of water onto her arms, trying to scrub away the memory of those cold, slick hands grabbing at her skin.

Then the sobbing started as the relief of being outside again reached her. With a deep breath, she lifted her face to the warmth of the sun. She willed it to wash away the experience, the memories. Then she looked out across the water, and saw the unmistakable shape of several human-like figures swimming around, breaching the surface.

Sounds started to come up from the tunnel again; footsteps in the water. The fish-men were still chasing her.

Vanessa crawled further out and started waving and screaming to the swimmers, hoping one of them would come to help her, someone that might even have a car parked nearby.


All the swimmers stopped and turned in the water as one. The fading sunlight glinted off their large, round eyes as they started to swim toward her.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Movie Review: IT (2017)


IT has achieved the highest grossing opening for a horror movie of all time.

That's not for nothing. The movie is scary, engrossing, emotional and everything a good movie needs to be.

Based on the book, written by Stephen King in 1986, IT follows a group of kids as they discover an ancient evil has arisen in their town of Derry, Maine. The kids, collectively a group they name the Loser's Club, based on their different aspects which make them all outsiders and targets of the town bully, each experience their own terrifying visions as they are individually stalked by a terrifying clown named Pennywise.

The movie, which is now accepted as being "Chapter One", focuses solely on the experiences of the kids, while the book also includes a second encounter with the entity known as Pennywise when the group are all adults some thirty years later.

So we have a Part 2 to look forward to for those of you who can't get enough of this horrible clown monster.


So how good is it?

It's very, VERY good. 

Now, if you're looking to be terrified along the lines of a movie like Paranormal Activity, Alien, or something that will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish, this isn't it. Make no mistake, there's tension, and quite a few genuine scares, but this isn't your usual scream-a-thon. 

It's a mix of jumpscares, horrifying images and much more subtle, unnerving scenes. Beverly's father lightly stroking her hair is every bit as unnerving and terrifying a scene as watching Pennywise's conversation with little Georgie. 

Even horror movies can't be judged just on how many times they make you jump, though. Every aspect of this movie is well done. The score matches every scene perfectly. All the actors have a moment to shine, with none of them coming across as fake or flat. The story is a well-written adaptation, taking many of the memorable scenes from the book and bringing them to life, without too many questions caused by scenes which were cut. 



This movie is very comparable to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. IT is a powerful, well-made piece as much an example of the art of film-making as it is a horror movie and I will be very disappointed if it doesn't earn any major awards. 

If you haven't seen this yet, go. Whether you're a fan of horror or of movies in general. It's worth the cost of admission. 


~ Shaun

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Duwall Manor - The Wine Cellar

It should come as no surprise to anyone that when Duwall Manor was built, a large wine cellar was built as a basement. The space is large, with several smaller storage rooms around the periphery, while the main room in the center housed a large oak table and several cabinets. The cellar was used for atmospheric gatherings of Abraham and his friends, and as such, had only oil lamps strategically placed along the walls for light. 

Of course, a dark, underground room such as that is prime for stories of equally dark happenings. Before their deaths, it was rumored by locals that the Duwalls sometimes took slaves or local girls down into the wine cellar, got them drunk and then had their way with them. It was said that even the Duwall women took part, abusing the slaves with broom handles or whatever else their tool of choice was. These stories are largely unsubstantiated though. 


After the Duwall family passed away, the wine cellar was ransacked, and every bottle absconded with by thieves or locals with a grievance. It sat empty for years afterward, most of the owners who's hands the property passed through only truly having time to use the space for storage before they passed the home on again. 

In 1894, the size of the home and property found itself well suited to be used by its owner as an orphanage, and at one point in 1899 housed as many as 60 children. 

In 1901, a girl of thirteen by the name of Carrie found herself living at Duwall. She was mentally incompetent, but became close friends with one of the girls caretakers, Dana. They bonded well, which was good for Carrie because she failed to get along with the other girls her own age. 

As it happened, Dana became engaged, and planned to leave the orphanage. Carrie was happy for her, but during one of Dana's fiance's lunchtime visits, Carrie became badly enamored with him. After a few instances of kindness, Carrie became convinced that Dana's fiance was actually interested in her, and not the older woman. 

Carrie's delusion grew, until she was absolutely convinced her and Dana's fiance could be together if Dana wasn't in the way. 

One day, when Dana went upstairs to bring Carrie her dinner, the younger girl lay in wait with a heavy bookend. When the woman's back was turned, Carrie smashed it into the back of her head, killing her instantly. 

Dana's fiance came looking for her a few days later after having no contact. Nobody knew where she had gone or what had happened to her. It was only when he pressed Carrie for answers that the truth came out. 

Unable to carry the body out without people noticing, Carrie had pushed the body under her bed. But she had also known that it couldn't stay there. Not knowing what else to do, the young girl had taken to eating the body in order to get rid of it. By the time the act was discovered, one arm and leg had each been chewed down to the bone, while the hand and foot were gone entirely.

Disgusted, and horrified at the idea of the story getting out into the community, the woman running the orphanage decided not to inform the authorities. Carrie was taken into the old wine cellar and locked away, without food, water, or light. A heavy padlock was placed on the door, which wouldn't be removed until 1914. 

In the darkness of the wine cellar, they found the remains of the girl propped up in a corner. The investigator determined she had likely starved to death in the darkness, her body feeding rats running around, given the tiny teeth marks on her bones. 

A paranormal investigator, wandering through Duwall Manor in 2016 claimed to have seen the spirit of a little girl in the wine cellar. He also said from the moment he entered the basement until the moment he left, he was beset by a fierce hunger for something very specific, although he couldn't quite identify exactly what that desire was for.