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A Retrospective of Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath

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As Halloween draws near I decided to take a look back at one of my favorite horror movies of the 1960s. Black Sabbath, directed by Mario Bava, is a three-part horror anthology hosted by (and starring) horror icon Boris Karloff. The film and Bava himself are often referred to as influences for famous Hollywood directors, most notably Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola, and Tim Burton. Black Sabbath not only played as a major influence in the modern film industry, but also solidified Bava as a master of the horror genre.

What makes Bava so unique is his versatility. It’s incredible that Bava went on to be known for his film’s vibrant colors when his black and white cinematography was already masterful. Black Sunday, his debut feature, is a fascinating display of gothic horror, drawing inspiration from horror films of the 30s and 40s. He also delved into violent thrillers like his Hitchcock-esque Evil Eye. Conversely, A Bay of Blood is an example of modern horror, so progressive that it gave way to the creation of the entire slasher sub-genre.

Because it’s an anthology, Black Sabbath allows Bava to display the versatility that makes him such an interesting filmmaker. The film begins with Boris Karloff giving us a rundown of what we’re about to see. Horror fans love when a movie pays respect to the genre’s past and this is no different. It’s an utter joy to see Karloff having the time of his life as the host of the show. Karloff has often times stated that the making of Black Sabbath was the most fun he’s ever had on a film set and it absolutely shows.

Karloff’s lead-in takes us to our first story, The Telephone. The Telephone is Bava showing off his modern-horror-muscles. The premise is simple and has been recreated perhaps more than any other premise in horror. A woman, at home by herself, gets a mysterious phone call from an unknown caller. The caller threatens her life as the woman struggles to find out what is happening. This scene will feel all too familiar for most horror fans. It’s been duplicated so many times for the simple fact that it works. Horror classics like Black Christmas, When a Stranger Calls, and Scream have all been influenced by The Telephone. Now a commonplace horror trope, this premise was undoubtedly unique for its time. Even though it is now familiar territory, Bava’s pacing and some interesting twists make this story a worthy addition to the horror anthology.

Our second story, The Wurdalak, is Bava going back to his gothic horror roots. The Wurdalak is about a father, played by Boris Karloff, who returns to his family after setting off to kill a wurdalak; a type of vampire who feeds off of those they once loved the most. The father warns his family that if his return takes longer than five days he himself will be transformed into a wurdalak. Of course, the father returns exactly five days later and we watch his family mentally torn apart, unable to tell (or perhaps accept) that their beloved father is now a blood-thirsty monster. This story possesses incredibly detailed gothic cinematography. Its haunting atmosphere along with our emotional attachment to the family makes it extremely effective.

While The Telephone was a showcase in modern horror style and The Wurdalak a showcase in the gothic style of horror, The Drop of Water is a perfect blending of the two. Taking place in London in the 1910s, a nurse is called to prepare the corpse of a recently deceased medium for her burial. The medium’s corpse is truly terrifying and sticks with you long after you’ve watched the film. Bava’s crash-zooms of her decrepit face are far more startling than any jump scare. The medium lives in a home that would fit nicely in Bava’s gothic film landscape, however the story can be inserted into any era of horror. While prepping the medium for her burial, the nurse notices a sapphire ring on the finger of the deceased. Infatuated by its beauty, she takes the ring for herself. The following day she is met by the constant sound of dripping water, a pesky firefly, and finally the corpse of the medium herself. The Drop of Water, the strongest story of the three, plays as a perfect metaphor for guilt, similar to Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart. At first, we’re not sure if the nurse is really experiencing this horror, or if the guilt is overtaking her mind and driving her to madness. The Drop of Water ends with a great twist, showing that the curse of the medium will continue on because of mankind’s selfish nature.

We’re brought back to our host to close out the film. In one of the most delightful fourth wall breaks in movie history, the camera zooms out and we are shown Karloff riding in place on an electronic horse. Dozens of extras are circling him holding up tree branches, giving the illusion that Karloff is riding his horse through the night sky. A perfectly bizarre way to end the fun-filled horror event.

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12 Spooky Video Game Farms To Celebrate Your Thanksgiving

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Happy pre-Christmas, everybody! It’s once again that magical time of the year, where all the department stores get out their light up Santas and tinsel to celebrate the birth of capitalism. The Spooky Month is gone, all praise be to the glorious Coca-Cola Company. Oh, and there’s also something about turkeys and stuffing your face with enough pie to temporarily shut down your brain’s ability to recognize your in-laws as the enemy.

Now if you’re like me and your family is an impossible five whole hours away from you, you might be spending Thanksgiving alone. No shame in that, just a single adult man alone in his room on a day meant for loved ones. But that doesn’t mean that we very-much-not-lonely-and-totally-content-with-our-life-choices individuals can’t have some fun! So this year, I’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving by remembering the American heartland that made this all possible. The noble farmer, tilling the soil from dusk till dawn until automation made his job mostly just pushing buttons. So join me if you will, with my list of 12 Spooky Video Game Farms to Celebrate Your Thanksgiving!

12) All is Dust

O HAI!

All is Dust is pretty much the reason that this is a list of “Spooky Video Game Farms,” and not “Top Spooky Video Game Farms.” This is a game that I once used to kick off a series of negative reviews I called “Bottom of the Bargain Bin,” you can go ahead and read my rambling review if you are so inclined. For the rest of you, I’ll recap by saying that All is Dust is bad. None of that wishy-washy some redeeming nuggets that you can see through the rest of the turd. It’s just plain bad. But what it does have going for it is that, A) it is 100% free, B) it 100% takes place on a farm, and C) it’s so bad that it sticks in my brain as being entertaining. Play if you’re very bored or truly deranged.

11) Farm for your Life

Although not really living up to the “Spooky” part of the “Spooky Video Game Farms” list, I’d be remiss to leave it out. Taking place after the zombie apocalypse, you must do your best to raise livestock and run your restaurant by day, and defend it from waves of zombies by night. It’s part tower defence, part Harvest Moon, part Cooking Mama, part Diner Dash, and part Minecraft. For only $10, it’s definitely worth checking out just for the unique premise and adorable zombies.

10) Monster Rancher

Whereas Pokémon was about a small child going forth into nature to enslave its creatures and force them to fight in the ultimate bloodsport, Monster Rancher was about setting up the ideal monster sex palace. Okay, you still make them fight. This is a monster raising (or, if you will, monster ranching) simulator after all, it would be pretty bleak of the ultimate goal was to just chop them up and sell off the best bits. It never did as well as Pokémon, but I always found something charming about Monster Rancher’s take on raising your monsters. Rather than just fighting to get bigger and stronger, you could raise their individual stats by making them do chores like tidying up or running laps. I got much more of a sense of attachment to my individual monsters when I felt like I was their dad, making them mow the lawn for their own good. Then, later as their pimp, I forced them to mate and produce supermonsters.

9) Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler’s Green

Somewhere out there some, search optimization program must be whirring its little algorithms in confusion as this is the first time anyone has mentioned Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler’s Green in a decade. A tie-in to the equally unloved Land of the Dead, it actually serves as a direct prequel. You play as Jack, a farmer who on the night of the zombie outbreak finds his farm besieged by… well you know the drill. Road to Fiddler’s Green gets bonus points for not only partially taking place on a farm, but for starring an authentic American heartland stereotype farmer. Now let me be clear, this game is pretty bad. But it’s even more so that endearingly simple kind of bad, where the zombies are so easily avoided it’s like the scene from Dawn of the Dead where the bikers are basically just having an orgy around them. I have no idea where you’d get your hands on it, but give it a play if you want some good ol’ fashioned bad game.

8) Dead Secret

Dead Secret

This monkey could not possibly get any eviler.

This is the part where if this were a “Top” list, it would begin in earnest. Like a Jigsaw victim tasked with beating Five Nights at Freddy’s, this is a game that surprised me. I’m not really keen on the whole fixed point VR thing, as it tends to only lend itself to jump scares, but Dead Secret won me over with some thrilling chases and overall creepy atmosphere. The bizarre plot contains oni-masked demon spirit guides, magic slugs, dream machines, and the phases of the moon. It’s definitely something worth checking out, and is available on all major VR headsets. Even without one, I found the game enjoyable.

7) Minecraft

Hisssssssss…..

First of all, if you don’t find Minecraft scary, fuck you. You’ve obviously never played it. I do not care how blocky the graphics or adorable the sheep are. You try to listening to the zombies moaning softly in the distance as you huddle in your makeshift hovel and pray the night to be over. How about you place the last block on your new swimming pool, only to hear the telltale hiss of a creeper just behind you. Then you can come back and tell me that Minecraft isn’t horror. And don’t tell me it’s not a farm, either. All you do in Minecraft IS farm. It’s a game about building things to eventually grow more things so you no longer have to go out of your way to collect things. That is the literal transition from hunter/gatherer to farming.

6) Slender: The Arrival

Now that it’s been 4 years since its official release and the hype/controversy has died down, I’m free to say nice things about Slender: The Arrival without sounding like a pandering YouTube twat. In retrospect, the part of Slender that I really didn’t like (other than the community) was the first randomly generated section. The whole 11 or so interchangeable environments with 8 pages scattered between them just felt unnatural, a cheap way to lengthen gameplay at the cost of a cohesive world. However, I found the game to be pretty good when it got to the more linear scripted areas. One such level was titled “Homestead,” and takes place on a spooky farm complete with grain silo and quaint little hilltop church. It’s a pretty solid little piece of horror, and definitely worth watching someone overreact to on YouTube.

5) Resident Evil 4

Resident Evil 4

The game very quickly demands that you stop sucking.

Resident Evil 4 is not a game wanting for memorable locations. It’s got a spooky castle, a spooky military base, a spooky mine, a spooky… ancient ruins? I mean hell, this is a game with an underground lava fortress and a minecart ride! That being said, I don’t know a single person who doesn’t immediately associate Resident Evil 4 with the first pitched siege battle in the farming village. Many of the game’s most memorable moments come from these first few chapters in the decaying rural town, including the enduring introduction of Mr. Chainsaw-McSackface. That alone deserves a spot on this list.

4) Dying Light: The Following

When I gave Dying Light: The Following a five-star tongue bath awhile back, much of that was due to my own personal disappointment with DLC releases. You really have to give props to a DLC pack that is at the same time affordable, lengthy, and adds something genuinely new to the title. For The Following’s case, that came in the form of lengthy rural sections you had to get across in your sick customizable buggy. It was unique compared to the previously cramped and vertical spaces of the main campaign, adding even more freedom to a game about freerunning.

3) The Walking Dead

To be clear, I’m talking about this farm

Back in the day, Telltale Games was that cute little indie company putting out new Sam and Max games and the CSI tie-ins. That all changed in 2012 when The Walking Dead put them on the map. Before then, no one expected that a game you could play on your iPhone would make you cry. Of all the heartbreaking and shocking moments, perhaps the most is the dinner at the St. Johns’ farm. Clementine will remember that…and so will I.

2) Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Welcome to the family.

The last two additions on this list basically write themselves. I’m choosing to give Resident Evil 7: Biohazard the second slot because it’s just way less recognizable as once having been a plantation. As someone who doesn’t find country bumpkins scary, the crazed hillbilly trope of films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or House of 1000 Corpses never really got to me. The Baker family? These people scare me.

1) Outlast 2

Outlast 2

Of course the top spot on this list goes to Outlast 2. If you Google “horror games on farms,” it’s the first result. And there’s good reason for that. Outlast 2 takes everything unsettling about rural Americana and cranks it up to 11. You’ve got slaughterhouses filled with people, rotting cattle, a syphilitic cult leader, pits filled with dead babies… the list goes on and on. It’s genuinely terrifying. I’m not even someone who likes the weaponless approach to horror, but with Outlast 2 it’s as much about the setting as it is the jump scares. Definitely check it out.

Well, there you have it horror fans. A nice sampling of 12 Spooky Video Game Farms to Celebrate Your Thanksgiving. I tried to include a little bit of everything for everyone here, but let me know if I missed your favorite heartland horror! Happy pre-Christmas to all, and to all a good… fright?

…I’ll see myself out.

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Thanksgiving Flesh Feast: A Cannibal Holocaust Retrospective

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“Why ban films? If you don’t want to go watch something, don’t go. Don’t spend your money to watch it. To me it’s against your civil liberties. Censorship is against your human rights. It just takes a critic to exaggerate and say the film is over the top, it’s gruesome and full of terrible violence.” Words from legendary cinematographer Roberto Forges Davanzati on the special edition Blu-Ray of Cannibal Holocaust.

As you celebrate this holiday of stuffing your face full of delicious gooey goodies and cooked meats, let us look back at a feast for the ages that was buried in lawsuits, censorship, exploitation and even jail time for its creator. Cannibal Holocaust, one of the most infamous video nasties of all time, is not only one of the most gruesome and horrifying collection of images put to celluloid but also, in its own way, one of the most beautiful. Often times it’s notoriety as a horrid exploitation film overshadows the artistry that crafted it and the true message behind it.

First off, let’s look at the fact that this is truly the first found footage film. Its narrative is about four young documentarians who set out into the Amazon into an area dubbed “The Green Inferno” to find and document several primitive tribes of cannibals. While this narrative is the backbone of the movie opening up the film, this footage is not shown until the latter half. Professor Harold Munroe is assigned by the television studio that employed the documentarians to go into the Green Inferno himself to see if he can unravel the mystery of the youth’s disappearance or obtain the footage they filmed. Today we have found footage movies left and right but it’s rare we get a movie within a movie in this style.

Davanzati has talked about his different shooting styles for the time on the Blu-Ray for the film. Munroe’s section of the film was shot on 35MM film while the “found footage” shot by the documentarians is shot on 16MM film, giving a much grainier and dirty look to their footage. Not only that, but since the four youths within the film at all times had two 16MM cameras operating, Davanzati would often film the two camera men within the film and then switch around showing the point of view of each camera man within the found footage, which he states helped edit the movie as they shot it. The artistic decision to have two narratives wrap around each other like this are perfect antithesis to each other as Munroe’s footage shows a completely opposite depiction of the cannibals compared to the documentarian’s footage. This style informed a generation and still does, but has never been stylistically approached the same way.

Some may argue that regardless of the artistic vision and groundbreaking filmmaking style of both Davanzati and director Ruggero Deodato that it doesn’t matter, because what good is beautiful footage of despicable trash? How dare they film something so atrocious? Actor Robert Kerman can maybe answer that in a quote from an interview on the Cannibal Holocaust Blu-Ray. “What’s the difference between Cannibal Holocaust and Schindler’s List? Or the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan?” The world is full of horrible atrocious things and sometimes we don’t like to acknowledge them. To simply not acknowledge them would seem an injustice to the victims. In this case, what may offend might be the same reason audiences were offended about the Universal Monsters: the fact that perhaps we are the villains. Perhaps those victimized within Cannibal Holocaust are the titular cannibals.

Deodato opens the film with a reporter speaking about how far the world has come and how advanced we are as a civilization, that it is strange that indigenous tribes still exist in the jungles of the Green Inferno. All the while, during this news report on the savagery of those tribes, Deodato cleverly shows us the jungles of the modern world as the imagery put to this news cast foreshadows the film’s true intentions. It would be easy to assume the “Holocaust” in Cannibal Holocaust refers to the humans devoured by cannibals, when in reality, the holocaust is the devastation inflicted upon the cannibal tribes by the so-called “normal” humans. Deodato cleverly misleads the viewer showing off all-American kids as the documentarians. He quickly follows the opening with a scene of the Yacumo tribe devouring a human body as the Colombian soldiers gun them down and capture one of their tribe. It’s a brutal scene that depicts the Yacumo as monsters.

As Professor Munroe ventures into the Green Inferno with his Yacumo captive and guide, Chaco, it is discovered that the Yacumo tribe itself has had some hardship and pain. They are the more peaceful of the tribes who simply thrive and survive. Their Yacumo captive who was found devouring a human was doing so as part of a ceremonial practice to ward off evil spirits. Befriending the tribe, they venture deeper to find the two warring tribes that scare even the Yacumo: the Yanomamo (Tree People) and the Shamatari (Swamp People). While the Shamatari are depicted throughout as vile and dangerous, the Yamamomo befriend the professor and Chaco due to the pair aiding them against the former tribe.

Munroe and the Yanomamo friendship gives way to a very beautiful scene in the movie. Munroe disrobes himself completely and swims in the river naked with a group of Yanomamo women. There is nothing sexual about the scene, only curiosity and playful ignorant bliss. This sense of peace is elated by the score of Riz Ortolani, which permeates the entire film with melancholy melodies and themes of religious experiences. This scene in particular is boosted amazingly by his score.

Munroe’s journey is the audience’s point of view where we watch in horror and wonder at what these “cannibals” are capable of but, upon venturing further for ourselves with respect towards the tribes, we find perhaps there is more to these people than monstrosities. There are definitely horrible things the Yacumo and the Yamamomo commit, but our eyes are slightly opened as to why.

Enter the found footage aspect of the film, which is the core of Deodato’s message. The young documentarians headed by Alan are the true villains of the piece. While the indigenous peoples within idolize their gods and ways, this crew of documentarians only idolize the gods of entertainment and visceral mind rape. What’s worse is the discovery of the studio behind them condoning their efforts in order to get people to watch. The found footage approach descends into madness as Alan and his crew are responsible for the Yacumo’s problems that Munroe discovered when he arrived. We see them burning down the village and even having sex on the ashes of their homes in a horrifying shot that pans out to show the Yacumo watching in sorrow as they are huddled by the river for warmth. As the television executives watch this footage unfold it is stated, “The more you rape their senses, the happier they are.” It’s disgusting.

The footage goes on and gets progressively worse as Alan and his crew commit horrible acts of rape and violence that parallels the natives actions. But while the natives at least have a misguided sense of purpose, there is none for the documentarians. They set up a girl on a spike after they rape her just to have something visceral to film. “Watch it Alan, I’m shooting.” Alan has a smile on his face from the atrocity he’s committed, their excitement paralleled by Ortolani’s score. This scene plays on the typical thought of things we don’t understand being weird. As the filmmakers have no concept of what makes the Yanomamo tick or of their religious rites, they just create something ghastly. Because their audience will not understand it, they lump it in with their actual spiritual and cultural beliefs, making it all seem bereft of rhyme or reason, confusing audiences just to entertain.

“Keep rolling, we’re gonna get an Oscar for this!” The final act of found footage is more intense and more satisfying than any you can see. As one of the cameramen dies, they keep filming, that prize in their eyes with the camera lens as a separation from what’s before them. Their friend is no longer a person but a spectacle to be shot as he’s torn limb from limb and prepared to be eaten by the cannibals for their transgression. Who is worse, those that created the situation or those simply reacting to it? The Yanomamo stand triumphant over the interloper and, as stated in the beginning of the film, they eat him ceremonially in order to keep out the evil spirits of the white man. Each is taken down and each filmed. Debts paid in blood to the cannibals and
the white man’s gods of entertainment. The found footage has all been viewed as Munroe and the rest of the executives walk off, “I wonder who the real cannibals are?” 

True, there are very vile things depicted in this film. Rape, animal cruelty, extreme violence. It is definitely not for the squeamish. I, myself, cannot stand the animal violence as it shouldn’t be in the film and is lingered on for far too long. However, each scene of extremism beyond those shots serves a purpose in the film, juxtaposing the actions of the protagonists and antagonists, often times blurring the lines of those roles.

Watch this film with an open mind and a filmmaker’s thought process. You’ll see the amazing direction accompanied by brilliant and, at the time, never-before-seen cinematography. The score elevates the film with its beauty against the ugliness of the visuals. While the actions of many of the characters are disgusting, you have to admit the level of excellence each actor gives in their portrayal of these characters, especially the tribes.

We must not forget in these dark times not to judge the cultures of others before we truly understand them as people.

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First There Was Thanksgiving Night, Now There Is Dawn of Consumerism: Dawn of the Dead and Black Friday

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A feast gorged on dead, rotting flesh from animals massacred. Yet, there is still a hunger. A mass exodus of the walking dead flocks to a smorgasbord of prizes, each cheaper than the next.

Black Friday is here; and the masses hunger, flocking to their local malls and stores for comforts and trinkets. It’s what they crave every year, and nothing will get in their way. At least, that’s what George A. Romero taught us.

Black Friday is the biggest sales day of the year, and while we have a perfectly-depicted view of it in the opening of Michael Dougherty’s Krampus, it’s Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead that tells us of our wanton desire to bow to the altar of consumerism.

Ten years after changing the landscape of horror with his masterpiece Night of the Living Dead, George decided to make a sequel. In his own words, he wanted to make a more adventurous, comic book-style, colorful zombie film that would continue on into more films in his series. At the base of every film George made are themes on humanity.

At the time, giant indoor malls had just become the new big thing. Imagine, all of a sudden, there was a fortress-like building in every city and within its walls were tons of different stores, each one a new world to visit to obtain different items that could fulfill your needs. George saw this monolith as the base of his new film, an impenetrable citadel to hold up against the zombie hordes that would have everything you could ever want or need to survive. What George also saw were zombies in the types of people who would spend every day at the mall in search of what they believed to be their purpose finding some sort of happiness there. These two ideas combined to become the themes of Dawn of the Dead.

Once our main characters find the mall and hole up, they have to go through and purge it of the undead before they can claim it. In the immortal words of Peter, “They’re after the place. They don’t know why; they just remember. Remember that they want to be in here.” To these zombies, items within the mall, places to go waste their time, this is what it means to be alive to them. To recapture their humanity.

Once the mall is secured, our heroes go through taking anything and everything they’ve ever wanted in life. Now that they can just take the items they want and need, Peter and Stephen still go and rob the bank within the mall, taking all the money. In these scenes, Romero asks, are we so different? We all flock to things of our past we no longer need yet still want.

What makes us better than the undead if both zombie and human have a basic drive to want something we don’t need?

Romero loves to show how far humanity can sink in the eye of the apocalypse. The final act of Dawn of the Dead is pure chaos, and is honestly the perfect representation of Black Friday. Our heroes have been living in the mall for so long with everything they could ever desire or need that they are completely bored. They dine on exquisite foods and alcohol, play with diamonds and fine clothes, and even gamble with the riches of the mall, but what do you do when you have everything?

When you have it all, of course, people want to take it. A biker gang, led by none other than Tom Savini himself, assaults the mall, breaking through all the barriers our heroes have created, unleashing the zombies back into the mall. Savini has the look in his eye of a man ready to slay for anything in that mall, a look you can often see in real life on Black Friday.

Just as Savini brandishes his machete, so too do shoppers brandish their canes, purses, and other blunt objects ready to fight. The gang knocks over everything in their path, taking anything they want while killing the zombies in their way. Bikes mowing down zombies, engines revved. Just as shoppers rev the handles of their shopping carts ready to mow down others in their path. Our heroes must defend what’s theirs and fight the onslaught of the bikers. It’s pure chaos that cannot be stopped! If you’ve been in line for a sale on Black Friday, you know it’s every man for himself as people push to get the prize you came for. You will steamroll over another human to save those few dollars.

On this holiest of sales days, once you’ve fought the onslaught of zombie and human alike, perhaps you can take a seat and remember the themes and satire Romero gave us in his life with a viewing of Dawn of the Dead. More than anything you can learn from the mistakes of the living and undead within the film as people everywhere race to their local malls to purchase items that mean just as much to them in death as they did in life.

When there’s no more room in your gut for Thanksgiving…the consumers will walk Black Friday…

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