Time to Get Your Spooky On! Dread Central Previews Universal Studios Halloween Horror Night's La Llorona: Villa de Almas - Dread Central
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Time to Get Your Spooky On! Dread Central Previews Universal Studios Halloween Horror Night’s La Llorona: Villa de Almas

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Time to get Your Spooky on! Dread Central Previews the Universal Studios Halloween Horror Night's La Llorona: Villa de AlmasWhen it comes to haunted houses, I’m like a crack fiend who can’t get enough so it should come as no surprise that I’m a huge fan of Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights. I’ve been coming out to Horror Nights for the past four years, even before I made the move to California, because when it comes to the “fright business,” no one can beat the efforts of HHN Creative Director John Murdy and his entire team that collaborates year-round in order to put on the best haunts that money can buy every Halloween season.

Being a haunted house junkie, I’m really looking forward to this year’s mazes at Universal Studios Hollywood. I love that they’re bringing back the Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses in 3D maze for a second year and can’t wait to see what they do with the rest of their other mazes this year including Hostel: Hunting Season (someone better get their Achilles tendon slashed!), The Thing: Assimilation, The Wolfman: The Curse of Talbot Hall (which is taking over in the House of Horrors for Chucky this year), Alice Cooper: Welcome to My Nightmare and La Llorona: Villa de Almas Perdidas.

Even though La Llorna was a scare zone at HHN last year, I really knew nothing about this year’s haunted house version. Luckily enough, Universal Studios and Murdy invited Dread Central on an intimate tour of the attraction along with a select few other journalists to give us the rundown on what to expect from the only Horror Nights maze this year that’s based on 500-year-old Mexican folklore:

According to the legend, a beautiful Mexican woman fell in love and married the most handsome man in the village. She bore two beautiful children, but her husband soon fell in love with another woman. Blinded by jealousy, the woman ran with her children to a river, where her faithless husband was courting his new love. Enraged, she threw her children into the river, where the current carried them away. When she realized what she had done, she threw herself into the river as well. But the woman did not leave this Earth. Late at night, in the deep woods, or by a small creek, children can hear her weeping, searching in vain for her lost children. “La Llorona” (“the crying woman”) they call her, for she frequently wails, “My children, where are my children?” Her frail, drenched body is a chilling sight; any child wandering alone is sure to be snatched as her newest victim…

At the start of our tour we are greeted by both Murdy and his right-hand man Chris Williams, who met us outside the exterior of the La Llorna maze, which eerily resembles a rather sad-looking face. According to Williams that was intentional on their part as he wants maze entrants to be consumed metaphorically by La Llorona as they enter inside.

Williams said, “While doing my research on the folklore, I came upon this image of a beautiful, but haunting-looking, mission- much like what you see here. As I was looking at it, it just sort of struck me how much the facade resembled a face, which then really creeped me out the more I kept looking at it. So I knew that ‘face’ would be great imagery to see when you’re waiting in line, approaching the entrance of the maze. It has become a really great metaphor for what’s in store for you when you enter La Llorona’s world and is a nice little spin on the idea that her ghost eats small children who are naughty.”

Murdy discussed the reasoning behind expanding La Llorna to a full-blown maze attraction for 2011. “Last year we offered La Llorona as a scare zone in the park and as part of the Terror Tram experience, but what we kept noticing from last year’s customer feedback was an overwhelming demand for us to make La Llorona a maze this year. It turns out that about 60 percent of our guests are familiar with this folklore so we knew if we did this right, we’d have something incredible here. The challenge for us was to come up with all of these concepts from scratch because unlike our other mazes where we get to collaborate with the filmmakers or musicians and expand on their source material, La Llorona is a completely original maze concept so we had to make sure we did our homework on this one to make the fans happy.”

“La Llorona herself will have several different looks throughout the maze, too. We did that because there are different versions of this story in different areas so each has their own unique twist so we wanted to pay homage to all of them. Having so many options for looks actually allowed for us to come up with so many different creepy and amazing tricks up our sleeves in this maze so we know we’re going to get the big scares we want out of fans,” added Murdy.

Upon entering the church’s foyer, we are greeted with a tribute erected in honor of La Llorna‘s three small children whom she drowned in a fit of rage, which sets the ominous mood from the start. As you head farther inside, you enter the funeral ceremony for the trio of tiny victims where you can’t help but notice that sitting throughout the pews are numerous unnatural-looking mourners swaddled in black. Murdy let us know that when you come through the room during HHN, you can expect a few live scare-actors planted alongside the fake mourners, basically hitting you with a huge scare right out of the gate.

After we finish in the church, Murdy and Williams take us through a hallway that will be filled with numerous foreboding statues (as well as a few live performers of course) leading down a corridor toward the cemetery portion of the maze. This is really where the money shots are, and while I don’t want to give some truly big stuff away for those of you who are planning on going to HHN this year, all I will say is that the statue work that was conceptualized and designed by Murdy and Williams is nothing short of shocking, especially the statue tribute to Santa Muerte, another iconic figure in Mexican folklore whose name translates to “Holy Death.”

The dynamic duo of Murdy and Williams are also incorporating the use of stilted performers in this maze (a first), which should have scare enthusiasts jumping out of their boots at the oversized scare-actors towering above them.

We then head through a crypt area (which features a few more “gotcha” moments as well that I don’t want to spoil), which pays homage to the iconic imagery of a weeping angel slumped over a tomb that may turn out to be far more sinister than she seems at first glance. As we continue on, we head farther and farther “underground” into the catacombs of the maze whose walls are filled with coffins and corpses busting out at every turn.

It’s here that Murdy reminds us that he’s once again planning on incorporating smells throughout all the mazes so fans get those clothespins and nostrils ready- in La Llorona alone you’ll experience the aromas of dirt and rotting pig meat, just to give you a tease of what to expect.

Around the corner you’re greeted with total darkness (“We just want to completely mess with your senses at this point,” exclaims Murdy) that eventually leads you to an “outside” area featuring a wooden bridge flanked by a fabricated pond, which will soon be home to three lifeless child dummy bodies floating face down around you. The bridge takes you toward the Carniceria, which will definitely be another heightened madness area of the maze. Inside you’ll be introduced to a cluster of fake swine hanging from the rafters, dangling about and hitting you in the ol’ kisser as you try and make your way through the maze and avoiding the wrath of La Llorona, who’s bound to be lurking about.

And nothing says “Happy Halloween” like getting slapped in the face with a gutted pig!

After you stumble your way out of the Carniceria, you then make your way through a small village (which was built to resemble the one featured in the folklore) and head down a long and winding hallway toward La Llorona‘s house, the final phase of the haunted attraction.

It’s here where Murdy broke down for us his and Williams’ approach toward conceptualizing and creating the numerous movie-quality haunted houses for Universal Studios so successfully, year after year. “The way our whole process works is that Chris and I basically sit down with a bunch of Post-It notes, and we start writing down concepts and ideas. Then we basically divide those into three different categories: environments, because environments are everything to us; characters, because that’s where the scares come into play with our audiences; and effects, because that’s how we really nail down the essence of the maze through our effects.”

“Then we’ll sit in my office for a couple of days straight, just going through notes and picking out concepts- there’s a lot of back and forth between us, but the way Chris and I work together is we give each other veto power so nothing goes in the maze unless we 100 percent agree with each other. That’s because both of us have different disciplines that we both excel in like where Chris is art direction and production design, I’m more focused when I’m on the writer, video and audio side of the things. Once we get everything squared away, that’s when I write a treatment, Chris starts his research, and we’re off from there. But Horror Nights is a year-round thing for us- there’s always work to do,” added Murdy.

At the end of the hall you make your way through the entry room of “Maria’s” house (Maria being another name La Llorona has been called in various incarnations of the tale) toward the family room, which hosts a mournful but foreboding funeral scene for the little girl featured in all the marketing campaigns associated with the La Llorona maze. What happened to her? How did she end up in a coffin? The answer to those questions, my friends, lies in the final room which awaits you now.

Of course, I wouldn’t dream of ruining what is in store for everyone at the end of the La Llorona maze so I’ll just put it this way: The jaw-dropping jump scare Murdy has cooked up here is the very thing your worst nightmares are made of. And that’s just the kind of fear the HHN Creative Director wants to prey upon.

“We wanted this scene to be a child’s worst nightmare come to life since it seems like La Llorona was crafted as a cautionary tale you’d tell children to get them to behave. So we’re taking that terror and multiplying it times ten to really end the maze with a bang,” declared Murdy. “Between what’s happening with the performers and the audio we have planned in this room, it’s going to seem like a cacophony of hell circling around you.”

As we exited the maze, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the time and energy put into La Llorona by Murdy, Williams and the countless members of their production team. If everything goes off without a hitch, this maze in particular is shaping up to be one helluva terrifying experience for those heading to Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights this fall.

To keep up to date on all aspects of the event, dig on the Halloween Horror Nights website, check out the Halloween Horror Nights Facebook page, and follow along on the official Halloween Horror Nights Twitter feed.

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Luke Genton’s The Bone Box Trailer Proves Not All Graves Are Quiet

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Sometimes a fright flick comes along that sells me on the logline itself. And writer-director Luke Genton’s upcoming supernatural horror movie The Bone Box has just such a premise.

The film follows the story of a grave robber who comes to believe he’s being haunted by those he stole from. And if that premise doesn’t sell you on at least checking out the film’s trailer, I don’t know what to do for you.

Speaking of the trailer, you can check it out below. Then let us know what you think below!

The film stars Gareth Koorzen (The Black That Follows), Michelle Krusiec (The Invitation), and Maria Olsen (Starry Eyes), Jamie Bernadette (I Spit On Your Grave: Deja Vu), David Chokachi (Baywatch), Aaron Schwartz (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), and Tess Bellomo (Liked).

Look for updates on Facebook HERE and the Director’s Instagram: @lukegenton.

The Bone Box is currently in post-production. It is scheduled to be completed by November 2017 and is seeking distribution.

Synopsis:

Depressed and reeling from the recent death of his wife, Tom (Koorzen) has built up quite a gambling debt. He goes to stay with his wealthy Aunt Florence (Olsen) in hopes that she will write him into her will. When a nasty creditor makes it clear that Tom is out of time, he devises a plan with Elodie (Krusiec), the undertaker’s daughter, to rob the graves of the rich townspeople buried in the cemetery across the road. After plundering the graves, Tom begins hearing and seeing strange things that seem to coincide with the deaths of the people he robbed. Even more disconcerting… he appears to be the only one sensing the occurrences. One question lingers: Is Tom’s conscience playing a trick on him… or is he really being haunted by those he stole from?

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Last Meeple Standing

H.P. Lovecraft’s Kingsport Festival: The Card Game, Overview and Review – Last Meeple Standing

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Yeah, I know. I’ve said it before, and I will scream it to the heavens again: There is an abysmal glut of Lovecraft Mythos games out there (and still streaming into the market). For a while there, it was vampire games (wanna take a sparkly guess why?). Then, it was zombie games (only Robert Kirkman knows why). Now it is Lovecraft games, and it is a LOT of them. Shambling, fish-headed masses of them, weighing down the game shop shelves like heavily laden buckets of freshly shorn tentacles (calm down, hentai fans). It’s true, and a lot of them seem to be sad doppelgangers of other games, just skinned with a rotting coat of Elder God goo.

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hahn

For that reason, it is nice to run across a Lovecraft-themed game that is GOOD. H.P. Lovecraft’s Kingsport Festival: The Card Game is one of those… it’s good, but it’s not great (for ONE painful reason). But, for our nefarious purposes today, that’s good enough. The stars are PARTIALLY in alignment. There is one little detail to get out of the way before we wade into the spawn-infested miasma of this game: it is the hellish offspring of an earlier, more complex game called (you guessed it) H.P. Lovecraft’s Kingsport Festival the board game. Much has been said about the relationship between these two games and many comparisons have been made, but since I neither own the board game nor have I played it, let’s leave it to fester in cold, barren space all by its lonesome for now. I’m sure its time will come…when the stars are right (rolling his eyes).

COMPONENTS:
It is RARE (like fresh Deep One filets) that the components of a game are as nice as the gameplay, but there are two elements of Kingsport Festival: TCG that really make it shine. The first is the titular cards that make up the bulk of the game. The artwork on the tarot-sized cards depicting the various gods, lesser gods, demons, and evil corgis (I kid) from the Mythos is dark and shows off the creatures to good/evil effect. I have to admit that these are some of my favorite depictions of the creatures from Lovecraft’s mind I’ve seen. They really look threatening here. The portraits on the cards presenting the investigators/evil cultists look dignified, a little creepy, and mysterious, as is only right for nogoodniks taking on Cthulhu’s worst. The graphic design is really classy with easily interpreted iconography and border artwork. Equal care has been taken with the backs of the cards, which have appropriately aged and Victorian elements. The only parts to this game are the cards and the dice. Wait, this is a card game, right?

Well, yes and no.

Although cards make up the lion’s share of the game, there is a heavy dice aspect as well, and these are some NICE dice. I’m a SUCKER for custom dice, and Kingsport Festival: TCG comes loaded with them. There are three types of dice: a white d10 with a clock icon on one face, brain-pink (a nice touch) d12 dice representing the player’s sanity with a Sanity icon on one face, and grey Domain d6 dice with three types of domain faces: purple Evil, black Death, and red Destruction. All of the dice are high-quality and engraved, not printed, with easily recognizable faces for ease of play and match up nicely with the icons on the game’s cards. Squee! Wonderfully evil custom dice!

SETUP:
Set up is pretty basic. All of the cards depicting the horrid gods are displayed in order of their power in six rows within reach of all of the players. The total number of copies of each type of god card is dictated by how many people are playing, so the number varies. Each player gets one of the brain-ilicious d12s with which to track their sanity and sets it to 10. All players white timer die, with the high roller taking the role of the starting player. Then each player sets their Sanity die to 10 (yes, the value can be increased up to 12 through game effects. That player takes the white d10 and sets it to the clock face. Players can pick an investigator card, but I suggest dealing them out at random to each player to liven things up (before they get driven insane, of course).

GAMEPLAY:
Gameplay is equally simple, yet strangely engaging. The first player takes the white timer d10, passes it to the next player to their left, who turns it to the number 1, effectively creating a timer that will count up from 1 to 10, ending the game. That player becomes the starting player. Once the white die is passed, the passing player increases their Sanity by one, as will be the mechanic throughout the rest of the game.

At the start of a game, the players will have no cards in their hands. They acquire them throughout the game, but we’ll talk about a general turn. The starting player rolls one of the domain dice and notes the resultant face. If they have cards to play, now is when they would play them. The card effects are varied. They might instruct the player to roll more dice, add specified domains to their pool of domains, change rolled die faces, etc. There are many possibilities. After the player has played all the cards they wish to and resolved the card effects, the player may spend the resources/domains gained through the dice they’ve rolled and the cards they have played to buy ONE god from the displayed cards and add it to their hand. It should be noted that players are limited to one and only one copy of each available god.

Once the player has completed their turn, they check to see if the round indicator on the white d10 matches one of the Raid rounds shown on the investigator card at the very bottom. If the numbers match, the player must compare the Gun icons on his cards to the strength of the raid indicated on his character card. If the Cultist’s strength is greater, he gains the difference in Sanity points. If the Cultist’s strength matches the Raid strength, they neither gain nor lose Sanity. If the Cultist’s strength is less than the Raid strength, they lose the difference in Sanity points. After this, the next player to the left will take their turn.

WINNING:
The game ends at the end of the ninth round, unless a Cultist is able to invoke the Elder God Azathoth, which results in dogs and cats sleeping together (no, not really). The cultists look at all of their god cards and add up the Elder God symbols at the bottom of each card. The Cultist with the most Elder God symbols/points at the end of the game WINS!

FINAL THOUGHTS:
So, there you have it: an epic battle between creepy Cultists and ghoulish Gods in one rather small box. I’ll get to the point. I really like H.P. Lovecraft’s Kingsport Festival: The Card Game. I happen to be fond of little filler games like this. The box lists the playtime for this game as 30 min, but once the players know the rules, you can cut playtime down to 20 min, easy. It lists the age limit at 13+, which I think is absurd. There is nothing in the theme or artwork that would preclude players 10 and up from playing, other than rule complexity. Between the awesome art, the devilish dice, and the rad rules (ugh…), there is not much to dislike about this game… other than the hellish rules. You may be asking what I mean. The rules seem easy. They ARE. It’s the rulebook that is a pain in the neck. For some reason, the graphic designer (I’m looking at you, Savini -no, not Tom-) decided to print all of the rule examples in the book in a nearly unreadable “old-timey” font that is TINY. I think they thought they were adding flavor. If so, that flavor is YUCKY. When learning a new game, you want crystal-clear rules, not something you have to squint and struggle over, like this sad, arcane tome. The same hellish font appears on the cards in places, as well, making me one unhappy game collector. You may look past it, but I had a hard time doing so. Other than that, though, the game is great fun, a nice way to fill in time between bigger games, and beautiful to look at. You make your own judgement.

PRODUCT DETAILS:
Designer: Gianluca Santopietro
Artist: Maichol Quinto and Demis Savini
Publisher: Passport Games/ Giochi Uniti
Published: 2016
Players/Playtime/Age Rating: 3 -5 players/30 min/13+ (seriously?)

RATING:
3/5


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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Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama

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Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein

Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker

Reviewed out of Utopia 2017


One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.

The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.

Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.

The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.

While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.

All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.

  • Madam Yankelova's Fine Literature Club
3.5

Summary

Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.

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