Developed by Creative Assembly
Published by SEGA
Available on PC through Steam
Rated T for Teen (M for Mature with Blood for the Blood God DLC)
In my very first review for Total War: Warhammer, I made a comment that certain NPC factions were clearly primed to be playable with DLC. In retrospect, it’s amazing how wrong I was. I predicted that the Savage Orcs, Border Princes, Norsca, and Bretonnia would be released eventually at some dollar cost to expand the paltry four team (five with the pre-order Warriors of Chaos) base roster. While they have added Savage Orcs, Bretonnia, and now Norsca, only one of them did we wind up having to pay for. More than that, I never dreamed that the Beastmen, Wood Elves, Crooked Moon, Von Carsteins, and Clan Angrund would be the DLC we ended up seeing. Total War: Warhammer is a game that has surprised and delighted me at every turn. And even though I predicted that Norsca would make the final roster, I did not foresee just how awesome they would be.
A persistent threat since the first iteration of Total War: Warhammer, it would have been easy to add a few units, unlock the existing Norsca factions, and call it a day. That is not what we are getting with the Norsca DLC. Like the Wood Elves and Beastmen before them, the Norsca are an entirely unique faction with a fresh new playstyle, objective, roster, and feel. It doesn’t come with a new mini-campaign like Call of the Beastmen or Rise of the Wood Elves, but at just $9 Norsca easily matches the $19 DLCs.
Similar to the Wood Elves, you start out your Norsca campaign picking between the Norsca and Wintertooth factions. The Norsca are led by the legendary Wulfrik the Wanderer, champion of Chaos and mammoth riding badass. As a unit, he has some truly devastating abilities that destroy the defenses of enemy lords and heroes. An unparalleled duelist, he can deal decisive blows to your foes by cutting the snake off at the head. As a general, he grants bonuses to your Marauder infantry units. Hardy men of the north, they gain constant buffs by sticking in combat and increasing their levels of rage/berserk. Ramp them up to level three pissed off, and they can punch far above their weight.
The savage Wintertooth clan is led by the Troll King Throgg, who mostly cares for people as a side dishes to his mammoth steaks. He prefers the monstrous units like Trolls and Firmir to the squishy man-meats. Spewing hot vomit at foes and forgoing any kind of mount, he kicks such savage ass that I almost felt bad for the world of man. They both have access to the same roster and win conditions, but the alteration in preferred unit type really makes the teams feel different. There isn’t a clear winner between the two Legendary Lords, but I can’t deny the charming vulgarity of Throgg.
The goal for the two Norscan teams is to align themselves with one of the four Chaos Gods, then wipe the world of the Empire and Bretonnia. As far as objectives go, it’s relatively fast to achieve. You have to rack up 100 loyalty points, which can either be acquired through the new quest-like monster hunts or razing a settlement. Every time you ally yourself with one god you decrease your favor with the other gods, meaning that it’s actually impossible to gain favor with all four. If you just rush one, you can easily get to the max favor by turn 100.
Each of the four gods give distinct buffs, meaning Norsca has far more playtime that just adding a new legendary lord. Align with the Wolf, and you’ll get an attack bonus and a badass Hellcannon Regiment of Renown. Align with the Serpent, and you’ll increase your replenishment rates and unleash a plague across all the other nations. Be careful though, because once reaching maximum alignment you’ll have to vanquish challengers from each of the three gods you shunned. How very Chaos.
Align with a Dark God, beat your rivals, and it’s over? Nope. After that you’re given the choice to either follow Archaon and his Warriors of Chaos, or say fuck and declare yourself the true scion of the Dark Gods. It’s a massive challenge to stand up to Archaon. But I mean, come on. You didn’t raze all those cities and slaughter all those lords to bend a knee, did you?
Now if the campaign overview sounds fun, wait until you hear about how they actually play. Similar to the Greenskins, the Norsca are primarily a raiding faction. But like, way way more so. If you thought the Greenskin and Vampire Counts had shit for economy, the Norsca will give you a new level of appreciation for the need to steal other people’s stuff. Not only do their commerce buildings hardly give any income, but they actually increase the amount you sack and raid from enemies.
As the Norsca are not horde factions like the Warriors of Chaos or Beastmen, their empire building is unique in that it supports their raiding lifestyle. It reminds me of the Danes in Total War: Attila (if that game is actually even relevant anymore). Outside of their northern wasteland, they are only able to capture port cities and major settlements like Altdorf, Kislev, Castle Drakenhof, etc. The coastal settlements mostly just give you a place to hold up and replenish your troops. The captured major cities give economic bonuses and—far more importantly—endgame technology. Capture the Tilean capitol, and you could see your troop upkeep reduced by 20%. Altdorf will give you a magic bonus and a siege time reduction of three turns. These bonuses are absolutely massive, and well worth the investment.
Aside from the raiding and pillaging, there are a number of monster hunts to keep you killing for the Dark God’s pleasure. Long quest chains similar to the lord specific ones we’ve seen before, these will take you far and wide to slay the most savage beasts in the Old World. The fights themselves aren’t terrible challenging for a maxed out army, but they are unique. Not one of them were forgettable, and the massive rewards are well worth the effort. If that wasn’t enough, you get to sacrifice the beast to your favorite God, giving you at least two settlements worth of favor.
There was some criticism with the Beastmen that the roster overlapped with the Warriors of Chaos, which surprisingly is not the case here. Even though the Marauders and Marauder Horsemen used to line up with those of the Warriors of Chaos, the units have been changed to be fundamentally distinct from their previous counterparts. Norsca lacks ranged power similar to Warriors of Chaos and Beastmen, but their skirmishers are genuinely strong. Outriders are Norsca’s biggest problem, but can be countered in the late-game with unstoppable mammoths and clever Marauder Horsemaster flanks.
As we come to a close on Total War: Warhammer and move into the sequel, I feel that Norsca is the perfect endcap. A horde of marauding seafarers plundering the Old World to make way for something new? Cracking. That’s not even mentioning that the DLC is free if you pre-order Total War: Warhammer 2. If you are a fan of the original and wondering if this is worth $9… why? You already know you are buying the sequel. Just pre-order it and get this for free. In a vacuum, this is certainly worth $9. Ending this review, I’m venturing again into the lands of the north and spending another 300 turns exalting my favorite Dark God.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Yafit Shalev as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
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.
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.
Beyond the Seventh Door DVD Review – No-Budget S.O.V. Canuxploitation At Its Finest!
Starring Lazar Rockwood, Bonnie Beck, Gary Freedman
Directed by B.D. Benedikt
Distributed by Severin Films/Intervision
Two people trapped within a labyrinthine complex. Booby traps. Rigged doors. Death lurking around every corner. And a mysterious voice communicating clues every step of the way via recorded tapes. No, this isn’t the latest Saw film but a Canuxploitation entry from the shot-on-video market, 1987’s Beyond the Seventh Door. Oozing ambition and bolstered by a truly bravado performance from newcomer Lazar Rockwood – a man who looks like the love child of Tommy Wiseau and Billy Drago – this no-budget Canadian shocker delivers just as many twists and turns as Lionsgate’s dead-horse franchise. The main difference being that instead of having to mutilate yours or someone else’s body, the protagonists here are forced to solve obtuse riddles in order to move on to the next room; failure means death. Intervision has been crushing it throughout 2017 – and this release may be the best yet.
Boris (Lazar Rockwood) is a career thief and recent ex-con who is trying to turn his life around when Wendy (Bonnie Beck), a former flame, comes back into his life. She now works for a rich paraplegic, Lord Breston (Gary Freedman), who lives in an actual castle just outside of town. Desperate for “one more job” and a big payday, Boris begs for a gig and Wendy delivers; the plan is for the two of them to break into the basement of Breston’s castle and steal whatever treasures he has socked away, all while her boss is busy entertaining guests at his costume party. The next night, the plan is enacted and the duo clandestinely slip into the castle’s lower level, when suddenly the door locks behind them and a tape recorder begins to play. Breston’s voice is heard, welcoming the thieves into his home and offering up a challenge: use scant clues (or sometimes, none at all) and uncover a way out of each of the six rooms linked together down here. Succeed and a briefcase of money awaits; fail and you die. Truly motivating.
Going into this film blind is my best recommendation, and so for that reason no other plot points will be revealed here. Besides, the real motivation for watching this movie is to witness the raw acting prowess of Lazar Rockwood. Glad in a denim jacket and rocking the ubiquitous ‘80s bandana headband, Rockwood has the delivery of a porno actor stammering lines between sex scenes. His accent is impenetrably thick and the range of his acting could fit within a matchbox, but dammit the man is weirdly magnetic on screen. He’s clearly throwing everything in his arsenal onto the screen with tremendous bravado. Modesty must be a scarce commodity when you have a name that would go perfectly alongside Dirk Diggler on an adult theater marquee in the ‘70s. My favorite line in the entire film is when Wendy is trying to solve the first clue, which has something to do with rings. When she’s rifling through possibilities and says, “Lord of the Rings?” Boris replies with, “Lord of the ring… who the hell is that guy?” said with equal parts confusion and annoyance. The kicker is viewers will believe that query could have come from either Boris or Lazar.
The rooms aren’t likely to impress viewers with their intricacy or set design, but each has a clever solution that is often a stretch to imagine our leads managing to solve within the allotted time. The clues provided by Lord Breston are esoteric and Boris isn’t exactly the erudite type, but working together with Wendy they are able to move ahead, often with mere seconds to spare. Evidence of past would-be thieves’ unlucky attempts are glimpsed, including one room where a body remains. NON-SPOILER: I completely expected the body to in actuality be Lord Breston, “checking up” on his unwanted guests much like John Kramer in Saw (2004), especially since you can clearly see the actor breathing, but this is not the case. Instead, the he’s-clearly-not-dead guy is played by a local eccentric, whose life is briefly chronicled in the bonus features.
Viewers will already be hooked on Beyond the Seventh Door by the time the climax arrives, but the final twists are what drive this S.O.V. thriller over the edge and into the cult territory it so richly deserves. It’s crazy to think this film went virtually unseen for years, being impossible to acquire on VHS and never receiving the proper home video release until now. Director B.D. Benedikt offers up further proof that strong ideas can be realized on any budget, and fans of films like Saw or Cube (1997) will enjoy this “store brand” version of those bigger budgeted hits.
The video quality review for every Intervision title could probably be a copy/paste job since each one is shot on video, always with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The quality here is comparable to a remastered VHS tape. There is a slight jerkiness to the opening but that passes quickly. Colors appear accurate and contrast is about as strong as can be. The picture is often soft which, again, is just something inherent to shooting on video. Film grain is minimized as much as possible; don’t expect a noisy mess just because this isn’t shot on film.
The English Dolby Digital 2.0 track plays with no obvious issues. Dialogue is clean and free from hissing and pops. The score is another awesomely cheesy ‘80s keyboard love-fest, with the three (!) composers – Michael Clive, Brock Fricker, and Philip Strong – getting plenty of mileage out of the main theme, which sounds like it would be the in-store demo default keyboard setting. No subtitles are included.
There is an audio commentary with writer/director B.D. Benedikt & actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com.
“Beyond Beyond the 7th Door features new interviews with Benedikt, Rockwood, and Corupe.
“The King of Cayenne” – Focusing on “legendary Toronto eccentric Ben Kerr”, a street performer who played the role of “dead guy in that one room”.
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director BD Benedikt and Actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe (Canuxploitation.com)
- Beyond Beyond the 7th Door: Interviews with Writer/Director BD Benedikt, Actor Lazar Rockwood, and Canuxploitation.com’s Paul Corupe
- The King of Cayenne: An Appreciation of Legendary Toronto Eccentric Ben Kerr
Virtually lost for nearly three decades, Beyond the Seventh Door deserves a wider audience and Intervision’s DVD should bring it. The then-novel plot and sheer ambition should be enough to get most viewers hooked, but if not the Yugoslavian wonder Lazar Rockwood will handily have them glued to the screen.
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