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Trapped Ashes (2007)

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Click here for all the Fantasia news & reviews!Trapped Ashes (click to see it bigger)Reviewed by Evil Andy

Starring Henry Gibson, Dick Miller, Richard Ian Cox, John Saxon, Lara Harris

Directed by Sean S. Cunningham, John Gaeta, Monte Hellman, Ken Russell, Joe Dante


Take the guys who collectively made The Howling, Altered States, Friday the 13th, and The Terror and the guy who invented bullet time, let them each direct a segment in an anthology horror flick written by a living library of film who spent thirteen years programming at the American Cinematheque, and you’re bound to end up with something worth watching. Trapped Ashes is the result, and while it doesn’t reinvent the genre, it is an admirable entry in the pantheon of anthology horror, worthy of sitting beside the likes of Creepshow, Two Evil Eyes, Trilogy of Terror and Twilight Zone: The Movie.

Joe Dante directs the wraparound segment tying together each of the other four stories. In it, a diverse group of tourists visiting an aging Hollywood studio get stuck in a haunted house set and have to tell horror stories in order to escape. The premise is classic Dante goofiness and gives him a chance to showcase legendary character actors like Henry Gibson, Dick Miller and the still ass-kicking John Saxon. Unfortunately Dante isn’t given a lot to work with since the EC Comics punch lines to his segment (which the title gives away already) are the weakest part of the film.

In Ken Russell’s segment we’re introduced to a ditzy blond who thinks she’s missing out on stardom due to her less than hefty bosom. She decides to give her career a lift by getting implants, and ends up with tits that have a mind, and more distressingly, mandibles, of their own. I strongly suggest that if you are a straight male, a lesbian female, or a breast feeding infant that you avert your eyes during this chapter, lest visuals from this episode sour future breast encounters. Trust me, you don’t want these suckers to “pop-in” the next time you’re searching for material.

Next up is Sean S. Cunningham, a guy that hasn’t directed squat since Friday the 13th. His section tells the story of a couple who travels to Japan to stabilize their shaky relationship. Before you can yell “Bonzai!”, the ghost of a local monk has seduced the wife and her husband has to travel to the depths of Buddhist hell to rescue her. The finale is a cool mix of anime and makeup effects. Assuming Cunningham didn’t just fob the directing of these segments off to the animation and effects houses, he’s to be commended. His story is the most straightforward horror of the bunch, but in terms of visuals and setting, it’s the most unique.

Monte Hellman, another guy who hasn’t directed much in the last decade or two was tapped to direct the John Saxon episode. Yes, you heard right, the John Saxon episode. I said it earlier, but it bears repeating; John Saxon is 72 years old, but I’d wager he could still kick your ass. Unfortunately, much of the episode deals with a young Saxon in love (played by “Battlestar Galactica”’s Tahmoh Penikett), so more hearts than faces get broken. It’s a quaint little tale, but ultimately the snoozer of the bunch.

The last and arguably the best segment is helmed by John Gaeta, the visual effects supervisor on the Matrix trilogy. This is Gaeta’s first time in the directors chair and if he had something to prove, I’d say he’s done it. His episode is the strangest, but eerily enough, actually has a basis in reality. Screenwriter, Dennis Bartok apparently knew a girl whose mother had a tapeworm when she got pregnant. Since the treatment at the time was known to cause spontaneous abortions, the only choice was to let the baby and the tapeworm grow together. Under Gaeta’s direction we get to see the effects of having a parasitic twin via some psychedelic in-vitro shots that show the fetus in a Herculean grapple with its serpentine sibling. Needless to say, the offspring of such a pregnancy doesn’t have a normal childhood.

All in all Trapped Ashes will appeal to anyone that likes anthology horror and understands its pitfalls. Does it feel like watching a TV show sometimes? Sure does. Do the segments end rather abruptly? Yep. Do we lack any connection to the characters, and are they all just “types”? Definitely. Then again, you get five stories for the price of one, and popcorn/bathroom breaks are built in. Trapped Ashes is easily as good as Creepshow II, and given its repeatable premise and fun host, is worthy of a TV adaptation ala ‘Tales from the Crypt”.

3 out of 5

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KAET MUST DIE Review – A Game Worthy Of Its Title

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Kaet Must DieDeveloped and Produced by Strength in Numbers Studios, Inc.

Available on PC through Steam

Rated T for Teen


If you are looking for a new survival horror game that is both challenging and irritating, then Kaet Must Die could be your new obsession/torture. The indie game is set in an underground sewer where you are Kaet, a psionicist cyber punk trapped by a “blood witch” named Annalinnia. The objective is to figure out how to escape the ‘dank’ sewer before time runs out and Annalinnia takes your life. Along the way you’ll have to tiptoe over comatosed zombies and frighten off Jawa like creatures with light you absorb from glowing mushrooms. And that’s about it. The game was created and developed by Strength in Numbers Studios Inc., a fairly new gaming company in the world of survival horror.

Now, I normally don’t play these types of survival games. As a novice in the indie survival genre, the experience of trying to complete the first level of Kaet Must Die was quite tedious. Now this is to be expected, as their advertising makes it quite clear that the good folks at Strength In Numbers studios are shooting for the “difficult games are fun” crowd. They give the player plenty of warning that they will need more than luck to survive. Yet here I am to tell you that the first level is possible to get through regardless of what difficulty you select. It just might take a few hunderd tries.

Kaet Must Die

The game starts you off in the underground sewer with Kaet’s sanity at ten (read “sanity” as “health bar). Kaet’s sanity will drop when not in lit areas, another reason why you need to collect the glowing mushrooms. Having six minutes to follow the clues and find the skulls before time runs out gets tricky, especially when Anna comes for you by randomly generating around the map until luck is no longer your friend. Levels will become progressively more difficult, and your time limit changes depending on the size of the map. It’s not terribly complicated, but also not terribly exciting.

Kaet Must Die

There are a few upsides to Kaet Must Die. Like every good survival game, Kaet Must Die has decently immersive visuals and sound. The look and feel of the game is much more appealing than some, from the detailing of the zombies to the sewers you land yourself in. Not that sewers are a pretty place to be in, but they have a solid fantasy/horror vibe. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of cohesion to the various sub-par lights and average shapes. It can be downright impossible to tell where things are around you. You’ll want to keep your ears open, as frustration will become all too familiar when you are too late to hear the gentle snoring of a zombie or the disturbing giggle of the Jawa-like creatures.

Kaet Must Die

I would say that it’s nice that they at least let me change the controls, but for some reason they don’t save when you quit the game. The only settings that stay exactly where you set them are the basics for resolution, sensitivity, and graphics. Now, what is not so frustrating is that after you get killed three or four hundred times, the skulls that you need to escape Anna won’t randomly be somewhere else when you restart the level. Another upside is that as you slowly start to regain Kaet’s powers, you will finally be able to slow down the creatures and make your way to exactly where you need to go. One of Kaet’s powers is the classic stun. Using this power to stun any monster in place for at least five seconds was a relief, and gave me time to focus at the task at hand. Like the mushrooms, Kaet’s stun powers need to be recharged by absorbing puddles of glowing red blood. Simple, right? Well, sort of. Clues left behind hint that the blood makes you more powerful, but also slowly kills you.

For anyone who is not typically good at horror survival games, this isn’t for you unless you have the patience of a saint. The difficulty comes in three flavors: Challenging (Easy), Difficulty (Normal), and Nightmare (Hard). If you’re one of those people that absolutely must have a zombie apocalypse survival plan for any possible situation, you’ll probably find some enjoyment from Kaet Must Die. For everyone else, I would wait for a Steam sale. There are 10 levels to get through to beat this game, but have fun and good luck getting past level 1.

  • Kaet Must Die
2.0

Summary

This indie survival game is too irritating to play. Kaet Must Die is near impossible to finish and it’s not a lot of fun no matter how many times you die..

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BAD SAMARITAN Review – The Good, The Bad, And The Incredibly Sexy UK Men

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Starring David Tennant, Robert Sheehan, Kerry Condon, Jacqueline Byers, Carlito Olivero

Written by Brandon Boyce

Directed by Dean Devlin


Let’s face it, you should be a bit reluctant to leave your car with a valet. Nevermind them taking your CDs and discarded fast food wrappers. What if you check your previous destinations and find that they didn’t just go straight to the parking lot? Well, assume that valets do exactly that, but they end up doing it to a psychopath. Bad Samaritan is exactly the kind of horror story crooked valet drivers should fear.

Sean Falco (Sheehan), is a struggling artist working as a part time valet driver. Sean and his best friend Derek (Olivero) come up with the clever scheme to use their valet access to burglarize the homes of wealthy customers. All is sunshine and grand theft until they decided to rob the wrong man. One night, the arrogant wealthy businessman Cale Erendreich (Tennant) pulls up in a Maserati. Sean jumps at the chance to make the score of his life. The burglary goes smoothly until Sean discovers a woman (Condon) chained up against her will. Unwilling to help her in fear of going to jail, Sean leaves her behind. Naturally conflicted by this decision, a guilty conscious isn’t the only thing that Sean has to deal with. Not super pleased that his house has been broken into and secret found out, Cale does everything in his power to tear Sean’s life apart piece by piece. To redeem himself, Sean embarks on a quest to get the girl back and in the process learns what kind of man he really is.

The highlight of the film is David Tennant’s portrayal of the Bad Samaritan himself, Cale Erendreich. Much more than just a cutthroat corporate businessman with a bondage fetish, this private man has quite a few secrets of his own. Returning home from a normal night out and finding his inner sanctum has been compromised, he quickly covers his tracks before Sean even involves the police with his ‘correction’ process. Tennant excels in his performance, ditching his natural charm for a devious intellect that just makes you squirm. Of course this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Tennant play the baddie, but Erendeich is an entirely different beast from Killgrave. Between Bad Samaritan and the verbal manipulator he played in the Marvel Netflix series Jessica Jones, Erendreich is both more grounded and diabolical than Killgrave. Erendreich is much closer to reality, a chilling man that you could all too easily read about on your morning news feed. He can blend in with the crowd without the use of mind control and has the kind of monstrous intellect that is only revealed to those who cross him.

A villain is nothing without its hero, and Robert Sheehan’s performance as Sean Falco was an excellent match for his creepy counterpart. Prior to Bad Samaritan Sheehan’s most memorable breakout role was on the BBC television show, Misfits, and his ongoing film/television career in upcoming projects such as Mortal Engines and an upcoming Netflix series, The Umbrella Academy. Sean doesn’t initially seem to be the hero type. Hell, he leaves a girl chained up in a psychopath’s house. That’s some swipe-left shit. But hey, no one’s perfect. He’s just a regular guy in a bad situation, and as the film goes on he slowly starts filling the shoes he’s found himself in. No matter who or what Sean loses in the process, his goal throughout the entire film is to save the girl he left behind. He’s not just proving to the audience that he’s the good guy, he’s proving it to himself.

Now if you’re looking for buckets of blood in your crazed killer films, then Bad Samaritan will leave you disappointed. The gore is mild, with little more than a few dead bodies here and there. Not to say that the film is without some solid murder. There’s solid action when Erendreich goes after Sean’s loved ones, and the film is thoroughly intense throughout. Still, if you’re looking for a slasher movie to throw on at a party, Bad Samaritan won’t fit the bill. That being said, it’s a great gateway horror film for those just sticking their toes in the bloody waters.

Bad Samaritan had everything that you could ask for in a horror/thriller, having a well balanced story, the right amount of jump scares to give you that surge of adrenaline, and strong characters portrayed by a talented ensemble. This was a solid directorial debut for Dean Devlin and I look forward to seeing what else he does with the horror/thriller genre. Maybe next time starring Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi. *Swoon*

  • Bad Samaritan
3.5

Summary

An enjoyable experience with a talented cast, Bad Samaritan is worth checking out just for the performances. It’s a thrilling battle of wits and wills, but it ultimately doesn’t break the mold.

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ALIEN: THE COLD FORGE Book Review – The Best Addition To The Series Since ALIEN: ISOLATION

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Written by Alex White

Published by Titan Books


Whether you love or hate Ridley Scott’s Alien prequels, there’s no denying they’ve inspired lively debate. Scott’s new movies have opened up the Alien universe in intriguing new ways and expanded the mythology – whilst also sidelining the title monster. This is an unforgiving sin in the eyes of some, as is Scott’s suggestion Michael Fassbender’s evil android David will become the new “Alien” of the series. While a third prequel may or may not happen – the current wager leans towards “not” – the Xenomorph itself will always find plenty of work elsewhere to keep himself busy.

The Alien franchise has a robust fanbase across all forms of media, from video games to comics and novels, and some great stories have emerged from these spinoffs. There have been plenty of duds too – hey there, Aliens: Colonial Marines! – but there’re some real gems to be found. Thankfully, Alien: The Cold Forge by Alex White falls into the latter category, being an intense ride through a story that may sound familiar but manages to constantly subvert – and surpass – expectations.

Alien: The Cold Forge follows Dorian Sudler, a Weyland–Yutani representative sent to a remote deep space research station dubbed The Cold Forge to find out why it’s research is falling behind. Needless to say, the station is secretly breeding Xenomorphs, and [SPOILER ALERT] it’s not long before they break out of containment and make life very difficult for the survivors.

Again, on the surface, The Cold Forge sounds like familiar ground, but it’s the execution that makes a big difference. What makes White’s novel sing is the characters, led by Sudler himself. The character is an utter shitbag of the highest order; he’s an odious, petty and vain creep who takes great joy in outsmarting and crushing opponents. From the opening chapter it’s crystal clear he’s not a good guy, and he gets progressively worse as the station descends into hell. That said, he’s an utterly compelling character too, and his twisted psychology and mind games make up a big part of the book.

One aspect of The Cold Forge that’s a lot of fun is that there are no heroes to be found, and pretty much everyone is deeply flawed. The closest the book has to a heroine is Blue Marsalis, a bedridden doctor who’s dying of a degenerative disease. The good doctor can use an interface to move around in the body of an android, and she hopes to find a cure for her condition by experimenting with the Xenomorph’s genetic structure. She may sound sympathetic, but like Sudler, she’s more than willing to use underhand tactics to achieve her goals, and the two characters lock horns from the start.

The character interplay is what makes the story feel fresh, and not just another boilerplate tale about aliens stalking victims and Weyland-Yutani once again conducting messy experiments. White is able to craft some tense and gory setpieces too, including a nail-biting passage where a barely mobile Marsalis has to outsmart a stalking monster. The book has some fun callbacks to past adventures and adds a couple of interesting wrinkles to the franchise mythos, including a look at what a Facehugger actually injects into its victims.

The Cold Forge is not a flawless ride; it can be tough to care about the fates of some of these characters since they’re all such assholes and while it can be tense at times, it’s never truly scary. That said, the novel is such a well-crafted experience it’s easy to overlook any niggling issues.

  • Alien: The Cold Forge
4.0

Summary

Alien: The Cold Forge is arguably the best Alien experience since the simulated bowel evacuator that was Alien: Isolation – which is not praise I throw around lightly.

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