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Feeding the Beast: Addiction in Horror Films

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In Clive Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels, Harry D’Amour knows exactly what he is holding when he picks up the Lament Configuration, but he can’t help himself. He touches it compulsively, his fingers tracing the puzzle box’s golden patterns and receiving a jolt of pure marrow-deep pleasure for every correct motion. He doesn’t want to open the thing; he’s just curious. But he can’t put it down.

LamentConfiguration

His fingers work the box without his conscious consent. He’ll put the thing down, he tells himself, in a moment. But surely it’s still safe to work it a bit longer, to excavate a few more pangs of pure bliss. By the time he finally lets go, it’s too late. The Lament Configuration has taken over and is solving itself. The gate opens, and Harry finds himself at the threshold of Hell.

I can’t think of a more apt metaphor for the very real horror of addiction.

Horror is treated as the bastard child of fiction, probably because it’s the most honest. Horror finds those deep, primal fears that fester inside us and brings them to the surface, where we can face them, examine them, and ultimately release them. Horror is necessary.

One of the truths horror excels at outing is addiction. It’s a part of the human condition so common that it touches nearly all of us, either through personal struggles or those of our family or friends. What’s more frightening than knowing we’re built with a mental short-circuit that, when left unchecked, can make us lose interest in every other aspect of life, including base survival, in favor of the object of our fixation? Addictions come in many guises, both chemical and psychological, and you never know which ones you’re prone to until the hooks are dug in bone-deep. That’s some scary shit right there.

It’s no wonder that so many horror films deal with addiction of one form or another. Here are some of the flicks that do it best:

Habit (1995 – dir. Larry Fessenden)

Habit

Vampirism as a metaphor for addiction is a well-worn trope. Hell, there’s even another low-budget 1995 vampire movie called The Addiction.  But director and star Larry Fessenden does something very clever with Habit. For Anna, the vampire in question, drinking blood is just sustenance. What she’s addicted to is starting new relationships. This makes sense because she eventually drains the life out of all her lovers. The addiction theme is compounded by the protagonist (played by Fessenden himself), who is a raging drunk. He’s the guy who shows up to a party five beers ahead of everyone and whose friends are surprised when he manages to leave the party on his feet. He’s also fresh off a break-up when he meets Anna, a mysterious stranger who won’t reveal any personal information. Anna seeks out emotionally damaged people and feeds off their life force before moving on. In fact, the film is an extended metaphor for emotional vampirism, which, while not a substance problem, is another form of addiction.

Evil Dead (2013 – dir. Fede Alvarez)

EvilDead

Drug addiction is more of a plot device than an overarching theme of Fede Alvarez’s reimagining of Sam Raimi’s seminal classic, but it is a well used one. After all, what better condition to disguise demonic possession than heroin addiction? When Mia (Jane Levy) starts acting strangely, screaming, berating her friends, and inflicting self-harm, it’s completely expected because that’s what junkies quitting cold turkey do. She’s done it before, which is why this time they’ve driven her to an isolated cabin in the middle of nowhere. By the time anyone begins to suspect something more insidious than withdrawal symptoms are occurring, they’re already balls-deep in a mass deadite body-hijack.

Perhaps the addiction theme runs a little deeper than first glance suggests. Possession, after all, is the perfect metaphor for addiction. It changes behavior, makes people do appalling things they’d never otherwise consider, and generally makes one a prisoner in his/her own body. Possession, though, is a versatile metaphor, one that can be customized to represent a range of fears: going insane, losing one’s will to a dominating personality, or simply the fear of someone close to you changing until they’re barely recognizable. In Evil Dead, though, it’s definitely adoration… uh, absolution… abstention? Anyway, it’s definitely an A-word.

A Horrible Way to Die (2010 – dir. Adam Wingard)

AHorribleWayToDie

In A Horrible Way to Die, Adam Wingard draws a parallel between alcoholism and serial killing. Sarah is a recovering alcoholic and the emotionally traumatized ex-girlfriend of serial killer Garrick Turrell. While she was the one who discovered her boyfriend’s homicidal secret and turned him in, she feels partially responsible for letting him get away with murder for so long. On most nights she would get blackout drunk, allowing him to sneak out without suspicion to do the devil’s work. When Garrick escapes from prison, he leaves a trail of bloody bodies all the way back to their hometown. He doesn’t seem to get any pleasure from the murders. He does it compulsively and with clear remorse. At one point he reveals that he liked prison because of the order and structure. The unspoken implication is that he liked not being able to kill anyone.

The film is basically a macabre relationship drama, with both partners sharing a basic understanding that each of them is ruled by urges they cannot control. It’s a twisted version of the star-crossed lovers tale. A very real love exists between the two characters, making it all the more tragic that their addictions have come between what would have been an otherwise perfect couple. But who knows? Without their addictions, would they even have been together? Would Garrick have been so kind and understanding toward Sarah if he weren’t exploiting her weakness?

Toad Road (2012 – dir. Jason Banker)

ToadRoad

Toad Road deals with addiction more directly than any other film on this list, using a local urban legend about a road with 7 gates that lead to Hell as a metaphor for drug addiction. Sarah is the new girl in town. She’s a straight-A student who falls in with a group of heavy drug users and begins her own personal journey down the rabbit hole of hallucinogens. She intellectualizes her drug use, convinced that she’s only a few trips away from some breakthrough of consciousness that will reveal to her the secrets of existence. She decides that the next step on her consciousness-expanding journey must be to pass through all seven gates of Toad Road to reach that higher state of mind she seeks. Her boyfriend, James, acts as the voice of experience and tries to talk her out of it. “There’s no bigger picture to drugs,” he tells her, which is the overarching message of the film.

The thing that makes Toad Road such a unique experience is that much of it is unscripted and shot cinema-verite style, documenting an actual group of friends tripping balls every chance they get. Jason Banker comes from a documentary background and captures this drug-fueled subculture in all its anti-glamorous ugliness. Doing drugs never looked less fun than it does here. The film itself almost isn’t horror. Aside from one great scare, it’s mostly a drama, interspersed with supernatural elements. Better yet, the film is a tragedy, not simply for the way it ends, but for the pre-credits dedication. The lead actress died of an accidental overdose shortly before the film premiered. Not to make light of her tragedy, but this fact ups the creepiness factor tenfold and amplifies its message to no end.

So tell me, Dreadheads, what movies would you add to the list?

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Such Sights to Show You – 02/21/18

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What’s in a name? In this latest edition of Such Sights to Show you’re about to find out a great deal, that’s what! Read on for the usual cartoon shenanigans.

Kevin D. Clark is a cartoonist from Scotland who grew up watching classic monster movies, cartoons and wrestling, as well as reading comics. He started drawing at an early age and hasn’t stopped since. His sense of humor is a veritable cornucopia of the wacky and weird inspired by the likes of Monty Python, Mel Brooks, “MST3K,” Rab C. Nesbitt, as well as his older brother.

Kevin was diagnosed with Aspergers and because of that, he tries to push himself to work as hard as possible. Kevin also has a self-published comic book and helps run a film club for autistic people. He has recently earned a degree in cartooning from the London Art College and he’s pretty sure that he could take an octopus in a fight.

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Last Meeple Standing

Machine of Death: The Game of Creative Assassination – Last Meeple Standing Game Overview and Review

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I’m going to kill you. Well, actually, me and few friends are going to snuff you. We are going to use… ummmmm… a bunch of old socks, a bucket of lighter fluid, and a piece of quartz to do it. Believe it. This is all because a machine that took a drop of your blood told you your cause of death would be “Blaze,” whatever that means. As assassins, it is our job to see you shuffle off your mortal coil in that manner (somehow, no matter how vague) using only a random assortment of items to force that death upon you. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it. And we LIKE our job. It makes us laugh, you see.

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hahn

In the world of Machine of Death: The Game of Creative Assassination (MoD for short), a device has been invented that uses as single drop of your blood it takes when you stick your hand in it to predict, in VERY vague terms, how you are going to die. The catch lies in that vagueness. When the machine spits out the card with your cause of death, it is going to be one or two words that may or may not make any sense to you. For example, the card that pops out of the machine might say “Elephant.” How the hell is an elephant going to kill you if you live in Modesto? Just avoid circuses and trips to Jakarta, right? Wrong. What about that billboard for Elephant brand tires that falls off a four-story building and squishes you into strawberry jam?

MoD puts players in the role of killers whose job it is to make sure the Machine of Death pays off in…well…death. The problem, and the fun, of the challenge is that you HAVE to use a randomly drawn assortment of items to send your victim on to the next life. If MoD didn’t have such a dark theme, I’d call it a party game. Wait…fuck it. It IS a party game. Who am I kidding? It is hysterically funny to try, within a limited amount of time, to bring about the timely end of your target.

 

 

COMPONENTS:

Shall I start drooling all over this game right away? Yes! Commence drooling. The hefty, glossy game box comes packed with goodies: a huge pack of Death Cards, the cards that pop out of the MoD; a big box of Black Market Gift Cards, the items used to kill the victims with; a pack of Specialist Cards, bonus cards you can be awarded with to aid in our murderous adventures; a book of Target Intel Sheets, slips where you list various important traits for your victim; a wooden Fate Coin, which is flipped at various points in the game to help with decisions; a Mission booklet; and a nifty, red, custom die with a skull symbol for the “1.” All of this schwag is top-notch, high-quality stuff. The art on the cards is whimsical and very functional. The Death Cards look like those cards that used to pop out of the Fortune-Telling Gypsy booths on the boardwalk when you put a quarter in. The Black Market Gift Cards are designed to look like credit cards on one side with cute iconography identifying the item in question. The Specialist Cards have really fun artwork depicting the helpers you are awarded with if you kill particularly well. Lastly, anyone who frequents this column knows I’m totally nutty for custom dice, and this game scores with theirs. An embossed skull? Yes, please!

 

 

SETUP:

Separate out and shuffle the Death, Black Market Gift, and Specialist Card decks, and place each deck nearby face down. Draw one Death Card face down to the table. Count out 20 of the Black Market Gift Cards face down as your “shopping budget” for the game and put the rest away. Create your victim on an Intel slip using the tables in the rule book or select one from the Mission booklet. This will give the players some important and helpful insight into the target, allowing them to manipulate both their tools and the target for the kill. Turn over the Death Card and draw three Black Market Gift Cards face up in a row. Put the sand timer nearby, and you are ready to annihilate the victim.

 

 

GAMEPLAY:

It is important to remember that the game is more about fun storytelling than beating the dice. The more the players work together to come up with good stories, the better the gameplay is going to be. If you lose, so what? The game sets up in moments and is ready to go again, with fresh people just lining up to visit with Death.

Each game lasts for four rounds (four assassination targets). Each round you will do the following in order:

  1. Generate a target.
  2. Make an assassination plan.
  3. Attempt the kill.

If you fail at any kill, you lose. Too bad, so sad. If the kill is successful, you stand a chance to earn bonus Specialist Cards before moving on to the next assassination.

To generate a target, you use a series of simple tables and basically answer questions Mad Libs style to come up with Name, two pieces of intel (such as likes, dislikes, fears, beliefs, etc.), and a location for them. This meta-game is sorta fun all by itself. Making up goofy characters to slaughter shortly thereafter is a good time, right?

Next, the players look at the gift cards that have been turned up and try to come up with a way to use them to bring about the demise of the target. Keep in mind that these gifts are not going to be simple, single words, like: chainsaw, acid, or rifle. More than likely, they will be something like “something red.” In this case you could say, for example, it is a pile of bricks, a red dump truck, or a red baseball bat. String together a story of sorts from all of the items you have to form the death plan. If you had the cards music, something red, and batteries, you could come up with: “We’re going to block him into an alley with a red dump truck, confuse him with loud Skinny Puppy music so he doesn’t try to escape, and then pour battery acid on him from above.” All is good and well, but now you have to, as a team, try to assign a difficulty, from 2 (easy) to 6 (hella hard), for each of the three parts. How hard is it to accomplish each part? You might say that backing the truck block the alley is easy, so a 2, but getting enough battery acid together to kill the person might be hard, so maybe a 5.

 

 

To attempt the kill, you turn over the sand timer and get started as quickly as possible, because once the timer runs out, it’s game over, man! Starting with the first item in your plan, select a player to roll the die, in an attempt to roll the decided-upon difficulty level or greater. If you succeed, move on to the next item! If you fail, discard that item card, draw another, and revise you plan using the remaining items. The remaining items can operate the same way they did before, or you can create new uses and new difficulty levels for them. Then start over, attempting to succeed with all three items in your plan. If you roll greater than the difficulty level you set for all three items, your assassination is carried off for that victim. If you still have time on the clock, roll the die and consult the Aftermath table, which will let you attempt to flee the scene, establish an alibi, cater the target’s wake (really), etc. by drawing one item card and attempting a plan against that item. Win and you get to roll again, draw again, and try again if there is still time on the timer. For each successful roll, you get to draw a Specialist card and set it aside for the moment. These cards allow you to switch them out for item cards on subsequent assassination attempts, basically giving you more options of a unique and interesting kind (e.g., “water into wine,” “killer solo,” or “flying saucer ride”).

WINNING:

You win by successfully killing all four targets. Good job. You’re a serial killer. You lose if at any time you run out of both Gift Cards and Specialists before all four targets are dead. You also lose if you fail to kill a target before the timer runs out. What? You think you get a lifetime to snuff anyone you want? Guess again, killer!

 

 

FINAL THOUGHTS:

By now, my enthusiasm for this game should be self-evident. I fricking LOVE MoD! The components are great, but the gameplay is even better! You’ve got a winner already, but I’ve been holding some info back from you, readers. This game is based on two awesome books of short stories delving into the possibilities of the wicked machine: Machine of Death and This Is How You Die. Both of them are chock full of hysterical…and creepy…stories of the fates of folks who fall victim to the machine. Not only that, but the website dedicated to this game, machineofdeath.net, is packed with bonus goodies for players: an Intel randomizer, timer music albums you can use in place of the sand timer (fun!), more missions, and target Intel blank sheets. Wow! The website also has pins, patches, posters, death certificates, t-shirts, etc. for fans to pick up if they love the game, which I suspect they will. Mind you, I’m not trying to sell you anything here, but WOW! What a bunch of cool-ass stuff! But wait, there’s MORE, and this may be the best part: there is a gigantor expansion for MoD. The Side Effects expansion includes more than 600 additional cards to plan deaths with: Death Cards, a Genre Deck, Intel, and what they call “Web Pals + Chums,” cards designed by famous Web personalities and illustrators (these cards are particularly awesome, according to ME).

There you have it…one of my favorite games in my collection. I’m happy to admit I have pretty much everything available for this game. Yes, I love assassination THAT much! This game is perfect for nights when you need a break from heavier games but are still in the mood for some mayhem and murder. I’ve rarely played MoD in public without some random stranger begging to please sit in on the next game. I strongly urge all of my readers to take the time and effort to find a copy and pick this up as soon as possible…or my friends and I will kill you.

PRODUCT DETAILS:

Designer: David Fooden, David Malki, and Kris Straub
Artists: Kris Straub
Publisher: TopatoCo
Published: 2013
Players/Playtime: 2-4 players/30 min
Suggested Player Age: 15+

RATING:
5/5

Last Meeple Standing is brought to you by Villainous Lair Comics & Games, the ultimate destination for board game fanatics in Southern California. For more information visit the official Villainous Lair Comics & Games website, “Like” the Villainous Lair Facebook page and be sure to follow Villainous Lair on Twitter and Instagram.

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Exclusive: Killer Klowns Live On in This Hell’s Kitty Clip!

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At this point, I think we’re all in agreement that the 1988 sci-fi horror/comedy Killer Klowns From Outer Space is a beloved cult classic, adored by horror fans the world over. Fans have been clamoring for a sequel for years and it always seems like one is right over the horizon but never quite within grasp.

While I can’t give you the sequel news you’ve been waiting decades for, I can give you a fresh taste of Killer Klowns with this exclusive clip from the upcoming horror/comedy Hell’s Kitty in which Charlie Chiodo himself dons the coulrophobia-inducing suit!

Synopsis:
Hell’s Kitty tells of a covetous feline that acts possessed and possessive of his owner around women.

Hell’s Kitty is written and directed by Nicholas Tana, based on his own comic, and is produced by Denise Acosta. It stars Doug Jones (The Shape of Water), Dale Midkiff (Pet Sematary), Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), Courtney Gains (The Children of The Corn), Lynn Lowry (Cat People), Kelli Maroni (Night of The Comet), Ashley C. Williams (The Human Centipede), Barbara Nedeljakova (Hostel), Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog), and John Franklin (The Addams Family).

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