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Dead Rising (Video Game)

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Dead Rising Xbox 360 (click for larger image)Available on Xbox 360

Voice work provided by T. J. Rotolo and Alex Fernandez

Developed and distributed by Capcom


Dawn [dawn]
-noun
1. the first appearance of daylight in the morning.
2. the beginning or rise of anything; advent.

Dead Rising pretty much means the same thing as Dawn of the Dead. Which in many ways tells you all you need to know about the game. It is to video games what Dawn of the Dead was to movies, so much so that the game has a disclaimer on the box and during initial loading stating that the game has no connections to anyone who made the film. It doesn’t claim not to be based on the film; if it did, everyone in the world would know that Capcom were dirty liars. That disclaimer gives me mixed feelings since when I told George A. Romero about the game last October, he’d never heard of it before.

Dead Rising has, since the very first moment it was unveiled, looked like a video game version of Dawn of the Dead … but beyond that it looked like a simulation of Dawn of the Dead.

The difference is subtle but specific. A video game adaptation of a film usually lets you take on the role of that film’s hero and play through the events that transpired onscreen. Dead Rising is not like this. What Dead Rising offers is much more enticing. It asks a question.

If you were stuck in a mall full of zombies, what would you do?

It’s a dream concept for a horror fan. Who of us hasn’t thought about that situation in detail … and now here comes Capcom with a game promising to let us explore those fantasies. Keiji Inafune, the director of the game, doesn’t ever need to try and convince anyone that he’s a horror fan because his game is all the proof needed.

Dead Rising‘s faults are strengths to other people. Take for example the limited save system that allows only one save and only allows you to save in specific locations. Either it’s annoying and frustrating, or it makes dying and decision-making more important.

The game throws a lot at you at once right across the board. You’ll be overwhelmed with weapons, stores to explore, zombies, survivors to rescue, photo opportunities, missions to embark on, psychopaths to kill, and secrets to uncover all at the same time. Deciding what to focus on that first time through the game isn’t the sort of thing that comes naturally. Games almost universally let us see everything in one play through. Even a game with hundreds of things to do like Grand Theft Auto 3 allows us to explore them all at our own pace; whereas Dead Rising has you eternally glancing at the ticking hands of your watch.

Dead Rising Xbox 360 (click for larger image) Dead Rising Xbox 360 (click for larger image)

Because Frank starts off weak and progressively levels up as you gain prestige points (through completing missions, saving people, performing certain tasks in game) at the beginning of the game, it’s just not possible to do everything. Without knowing where any of the good weapons are, where food is in good supply, where the most useful books to improve your abilities are, focusing on any one thing will be at the expense of something else.

Your initial urge will be to follow the case files as in many ways these follow the sort of linear level progression that you’re used to. They’re also quite evidently the storyline of the game, and it’s difficult to overcome that initial urge.

Why should you overcome that urge? Simply because it makes the game more fun in the long run. The case files all begin and end at set times (like all of the missions), but unlike the side missions, if you fail a case file, all the other case files close and you’re faced with reloading and trying again or saving your stats and starting over. While it’s certainly possible to beat the case files the first time around, it’s an exercise in frustration.

The bosses will be frustratingly hard. Many of the time limits will be frustratingly tight … and heaven forbid you save the game not realizing that you don’t have enough time to complete the case file you’re in the middle of. Then the only option is to start over or give up on solving the mystery of the mall as you can only keep that one save at a time. Beyond solving the mystery of the mall, there are other reasons to follow the case files as they make the mall a bit easier to navigate, opening up certain gates to areas that in most cases you couldn’t get to otherwise, albeit by a longer route.

Ignoring the case files lets you take everything in at your own pace. It gives you plenty of time to explore the mall to your heart’s content and still provides you with enough side missions should you want to try and up Frank’s level (as doing so makes him stronger and faster, gives him more item slots, and puts more melee moves at his disposal). Most of the side missions involve rescuing someone (which occasionally takes a little friendly or unfriendly persuasion), killing a psychopath, or both. Killing a psycho is pretty straightforward (though depending on your weapon and level, widely varying in difficulty); however, escorting people back to the safety of the security office can be frustrating.

There are three kinds of survivors. Those that can carry weapons, slightly injured people that you’ll need to lead by hand, and very injured people that you’ll either have to support or carry. For the first type you’ll find that they’re pretty good at following you, even through areas that are pretty densely filled with zombies. Not every survivor is as adept as every other survivor, and again it depends on what weapons you give them, but so long as you keep an eye on their health, they’ll be fine.

For the other two types, if you don’t take direct care of them, they’re liable to end up dead as they’ll often stop and rest at the worst possible times. Also, you can’t carry a weapon and guide them at the same time. The kind you take on your shoulders or support are actually the easiest to deal with as while doing this, a zombie can’t grab you, and you actually move slightly faster.

Dead Rising Xbox 360 (click for larger image) Dead Rising Xbox 360 (click for larger image)

If anything is absolutely broken in the game, it’s the hand holding mechanic. When it works, it’s okay, but it’s far too easy to break the hold, and when the hold is broken, it doesn’t automatically reequip the weapon you were just holding. While this may all sound annoying, and indeed it can be, it would be unfair to really hold this against the game because there are so few escort missions that you are required to do, and in those cases you’re either carrying someone or tagging along with someone who is already armed. In fact, if a person gets too annoying, you can just decide to lead them to their death, or if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, bludgeon them yourself. It might fail the case files, but damn if it doesn’t feel good sometimes.

Naturally if you’re the sort of person who feels that they have to do every last mission to fully enjoy a game, they’re going to be a factor, but once you unlock a few short cuts and work out the best way to work around the AI’s quirks, even these missions can be fun. When a person on your team is killed, either you’ll be treated to either a cut scene of them very gorily being torn to shreds and eaten or you’ll see them turn into a zombie. Heck, I had one guy commit suicide on me last time I was playing it.

Either way, a common complaint has been the way the radio works. Most missions come via your two-way radio, which will beep fairly regularly. If you don’t answer it, you can still do the mission, but you won’t know where it is or how long you have to do it. If you do answer it, you’ll be defenseless for a few seconds since you can’t use the radio and attack (or jump) at the same time. If you get hit midway through the briefing, you’ll have to wait for your radio to beep again, and then you get told off for hanging up.

But enough talk of the missions and case files. The rest of the time you’re going to be exploring the detailed environments, finding vehicles and weapons … oh, and killing zombies.

Dead Rising really only needed to get one thing right, and that is the combat with zombies. With hundreds of zombies onscreen at a time and over a hundred weapons to use, if Dead Rising had fumbled this, the game would be worthless.

Fortunately it’s where the game really shines.

While not everything you see can be used as a weapon and while some weapons don’t work quite like you’d expect (such as the hockey stick, which you can’t hit zombies with, only shoot pucks at them), the number of weapons in the game and the variety of effects they have on the zombies are still things that impress me. Almost every weapon does something different, and every impact looks and sounds just as it should. Through a combination of physics and animation, Dead Rising captures the feeling of driving a sledgehammer into a skull better than any other game I could think of.

Plowing through hundreds of zombies with a lawnmower, sending limbs and blood flying, doesn’t even get the game to blink. It’s an impressive feat for a game that looks pretty good even before you start taking into account how much is going on at any one time. As the day cycles through to night, the atmosphere of the mall changes, not just because the zombies get angrier in the dark. The lighting effects are subtle and effective, and the ambient music just feels right for a game based on Dawn of the Dead. Like in the movie, everything switches off at a certain time, and when the background music and escalators come back on in the morning, you’ll usually breathe a sigh of relief.

Dead Rising Xbox 360 (click for larger image) Dead Rising Xbox 360 (click for larger image)

Once you’re done with your first play-through, you’ll probably have a good handle on where stuff is and have leveled Frank up to the point where the case files won’t be overly difficult, and following the case files is the only way to finish the game properly by unlocking overtime mode and then beating that.

You’ll find that as you replay knowing when stuff happens and where it happens, you’ll actually be able to see and do everything in one play-through (which takes about six and a half hours).

Even when you’ve beaten the game a few times and gotten the full ending, the achievements may well encourage you to play through again, and some of the best achievements will generally encourage you to play the game in a different style. There are even unlockable costumes and weapons for gaining the achievements, though you generally have to ensure you make it through to get picked up by the helicopter for them to unlock.

Dead Rising is overwhelming if you let it be. I can’t overstate how much fun it is just to ignore all the missions and explore the mall killing zombies at your own leisure. The game starts off pretty scary in fact, until you have a nice and tough Frank to deal out the punishment, and then you can really start working on retribution.

With slow zombies that are only really a threat if you get surrounded, it really does feel like the first game to get zombies right; and despite only taking 6 hours to “survive,” it’s going to take you so much longer to get all the achievements and to solve the mystery of the mall. Dead Rising makes some difficult decisions and sticks to its guns. So long as you go in knowing how it’s set up, I really don’t see how a horror fan could come away disappointed.

With all its oddities and handful of flaws, you may raise your eyebrow at the score I’m about to give it, but heed these words: Nothing comes close to getting in the way of the sheer unadulterated fun of throwing on some snappy threads, grabbing an assortment of improvised weapons, diving into the middle of a pack of zombies, and letting the body parts fly. A perfect score may seem excessive given the game’s faults, but none of them stop the game being incredibly fun and satisfying. The setting and storyline add to the enjoyment for any horror fan that loves Dawn of the Dead.

I suppose I could say, “If you don’t like Dawn of the Dead, you can subtract a knife from the review,” but in all honesty, if you don’t like Dawn of the Dead … what’s wrong with you?

5 out of 5

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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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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 Popcornand 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!

  • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
3.5

Summary

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.

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User Rating 3.25 (12 votes)
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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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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.

Spoiler free.

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.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

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.

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User Rating 4.1 (21 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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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.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • 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.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

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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User Rating 4 (17 votes)
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