Developed by Tango Gameworks
Published by Bethesda Softworks
Available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One
Rated M for Mature
It’s becoming clear that the horror genre is looking for the next big thing. A genre more than any other defined by its smash hits, titles like Slender, Resident Evil 4, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and Five Nights at Freddy’s still serve as the fence posts for which all similar games are judged. Sure you have your odd outlying adventure game like Untold Stories or dark RPGs like LISA, but what’s the first thing you think of when you see a new action/horror/3rd person shooter hit the market? It’s the eternal burning question, “How does this game stack up to Resident Evil 4?” It’s of course silly, since in the 12 years since RE4 dropped plenty of games have improved upon the formula, but there’s no denying just how apt the comparison is.
One such game vying for that coveted top action/horror spot was 2014’s The Evil Within. Taking the RE4 action/horror concept and ramping the nightmare creatures and body horror up to 11, it did a great job of being terrifying, tense, and fun to play. The narrative was a bit rocky—with the third act ramping into a literal flying machine gun fight with a giant tentacle monster—but it easily made up for it with the creative nightmare world and unforgettable enemies. Adding on the fantastic DLC that did its best to make the story make sense, and the overall package was well worth a spot in the Horror Gaming Hall of Fame.
That all being said, I’ve only gone back to play it maybe once. While I respect it, the limited and unremarkable arsenal does make the game lack the replay value of something like Dead Space 2. There are also just too many underdeveloped mechanics, like a half-baked stealth system and plenty of “running down hallway” sequences.
Enter today’s new title under my microscope, The Evil Within 2. Continuing the story of Sebastian “This is Not What Detective Work Means” Castellanos, we find out that his dead daughter Lily is not as dead as previously implied. There were hints at this in the first game, and it turns out her nebulous fate was to become the core for an entirely new STEM. For those of you unfamiliar with the first game, STEM is an artificial reality created by the collective minds of the people plugged into it. The core is the baseline, a person whose psyche holds it all together. Because of the intense amount of ego required to keep the core stable with all of the competing personalities, the only people capable of being cores are psychopaths and… apparently children?
Mobius, the Umbrella Corps of The Evil Within universe, contacts Sebastian with this information after Lily goes missing within STEM. So once again, Sebastian is plopped into the STEM to find his daughter. Surprise surprise, this time around the STEM is actually an idyllic landscape free of monsters, and his daughter was just extra busy with cake and presents. Just kidding. It’s another nightmare hellscape.
Actually, I’d define it less as a hellscape and more of a fractured world. While The Evil Within’s Beacon Mental Hospital felt like a hodgepodge of fever dreams sewn together by the whims of a madman, The Evil Within 2’s Union City was once a normal functioning town that someone just took a hammer to. Streets are cut off at odd angles, and sections of the city are floating in the sky. We get much more logic to it this time around, with a substructure called “The Marrow” serving as your stable passage in between the disjointed pieces. When The Marrow itself begins to fracture and break, you know that shit has gotten real bad.
Gameplay wise, The Evil Within 2 brings a lot to the table to improve on The Evil Within. First off, the game is now pseudo-open world. It’s not like the GTA go anywhere at any time model, but for the most part you have far more freedom in how you approach situations. The major set pieces plop you into the middle of a large section of town and let you go about things at your own pace. There’s plenty to discover in these parts, with one of the most terrifying segments of the game requiring you to just stumble across it. Even the linear levels have more variety in how you can approach them, with almost every challenge being stealth-able.
This more open style is complemented by the new crafting and sneaking systems. You now have a Skyrim style eye that tells you how visible you are, and you can execute enemies buy sneaking up on them and pushing the “dead” button. It’s bare bones, but functional. Sebastian’s crouching speed is an absolute nightmare if you don’t invest in the sneak upgrade, but I had all the stealth upgrades by the end of the first major area and was doing fine.
The crafting system is a big part of the game, and feels like something that was majorly missing from the first. Instead of finding bullets, a majority of the time you find components that let you cobble together the arsenal that fits you. The cost is high, so don’t expect to just be sitting on a ton of ammo even if you stealth-up a majority of enemies. You have the ability to craft at any time, but the cost is doubled if you aren’t at a workbench, so you’ll want to plan effectively. Overall, while I felt like the game was sometimes becoming a collect-a-thon, I enjoyed having to choose between crafting three more dependable pistol bullets or a single powerful sniper rifle round.
There’s more weapon variety this time around, but unfortunately nothing really stands out. There are four pistols, three shotguns, the multi-purpose crossbow, a sniper rifle, a flamethrower, an assault rifle, and a magnum you get for beating the game. There might be other unlockables, but I haven’t yet tried to beat the game on challenge mode. The guns are all functional, but the crossbow is the only one that lets you get creative.
The Evil Within 2 is functionally an improvement on The Evil Within, and you can definitely see how they are trying to push the genre in a new direction. If The Evil Within was just an attempt to take Resident Evil 4’s top spot, then The Evil Within 2 is an attempt to make an entirely new podium. I do think that a more open survival horror game could work. I just don’t think that The Evil Within 2 is the game that sets the bar.
For starters, the world of Union City just isn’t nearly as frightening as Beacon Mental Hospital was. While Beacon was a non-euclidian mess of tormented minds crashing into eachother, Union is just a normal town that’s now all topsey turvey. There are a few times in the game you flash back to Beacon, and each time I was reminded of just how insane those levels were. It’s telling that the few times you’re brought back to the original game are the most frightening moments in The Evil Within 2.
They try mixing it up by introducing a number of psychopaths that for their time serve the role of Ruvik. Molding their own little bit of Union into a personal nightmare, these segments are the most interesting parts of the game. The first and most memorable foe is Stefano Valentini, a wannabe artist and photographer who is easily the best part of the game. His ghastly creations of flesh and blood are legitimately frightening, yet disturbingly beautiful. He oozes pure madness. The freedom afforded by the STEM is his key to guiltless macabre self-expression. You only ever get hints into his past, brief insights into what drove him to madness.
And then you kill him a third of the way into the game. Okay, time to introduce bad guy number 2! Far less interesting is Father Theodore, a charismatic cult leader whose interior decorator is a cenobite. His motto is that everything should be on fire. This is all getting into spoiler territory, but I will say his actual bossfight was the best. Didn’t care for the character, but a good death can make a story.
I’m creeping into spoiler territory, but I will say that this is where the story really starts to get good. For how little I cared during the first half, the second half does a lot to get you to the emotional level that Sebastian is at. I’d say that from the moment the theater full of heads exploded, I was hooked.
Compared to the first, the emotional core is much more compelling. By the time the credits rolled, I felt like I had really accomplished something. This isn’t the cliffhanger “Ruvik is still out there” cliffhanger of the first (there is a little at the end, but it’s very minor). If they ended the series on this title, I would be satisfied. At the same time, the lack of a strong central villain like Ruvik really hurts the game. There were plenty of intermediate bosses, but from hour one you knew that Ruvik was the bad guy and he was doing some really bad stuff. Horror needs a strong antagonist, and The Evil Within 2 just doesn’t have one.
I’ll wrap up by saying that The Evil Within 2 is a better game than The Evil Within, but it isn’t a better horror game. The first is doubtlessly more memorable and consistently frightening. The more focused and creepy sections of The Evil Within 2 were just segways between the open world scavenger hunt, reminders of the terrifying roots of the genre. I’d have to be pretty crazy not to recommend it, as I think that most gamers are going to like it. But if you’re looking for something that’s going to keep you up at night, I slept like a baby after The Evil Within 2’s credits rolled.
Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review
Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne
Directed by Charles Martin Smith
I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.
Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.
Now let’s get to it.
First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.
Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.
I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.
Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.
It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!
And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.
Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.
This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.
And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.
Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!
In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?
That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.
Rockstar lighting for days.
Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.
Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.
More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.
Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcorn, and if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.
Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.
All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!
Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!
Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.
AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters
Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill
Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk
** NO SPOILERS **
It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.
To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.
That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.
Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.
Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.
Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.
Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.
But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.
But let’s backtrack a bit here.
Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).
And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.
Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.
With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.
Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.
I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.
Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!
Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.
Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?
On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.
That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.
In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.
While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.
Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.
Bring on season 12.
The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.
The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror
Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro
Directed by Nicholas Woods
The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).
The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.
The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.
The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.
The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.
The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.
- Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
- Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
- If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
- “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
- The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
- As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
- “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
- The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
- Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.
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