MOVIE REVIEW – LET ME IN

October 25, 2010

Let Me In
Directed by Matt Reeves
Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Let me just start off by saying I am very particular about movie vampires. I very much agree with Jack Crow’s views:

“…they’re not romantic. It’s not like they’re a bunch of #$%@in’ hoppin’ around in rented formal wear and seducing everybody in sight with cheesy Euro-trash accents, all right? Forget whatever you’ve seen in the movies…”

I never got into the Anne Rice Euro-fop scene. I didn’t watch Buffy or Angel. Embrace of the Vampire is a just awful (NOTE: I must admit that I do in fact have the DVD of that flick. But for one reason – Super hottie Alyssa Milano!) The Blade series was m’eh. The current sparkly, walk around in the daylight, teen angst vampires are right out.

See, I’ve never been able to see a vampire as a hero of the story. In my book, a being that hunts and kills humans is inherently evil, and the bad guy. And this concept that something that is undead (Note: that’s not living or dead. It’s undead, whatever that means) would still be driven by human needs and wants (love, sex, power) is foolish. It’s safe to say, I have a few issues about Drac and his pointy-toothed ilk. As my associate Joseph Martin Griffin, Esquire would say “I don’t have issues, I have the whole subscription.” And he’s not wrong.

Now, I’ve told you all that so I can tell you about this movie. First off, I really liked this film. It’s well made, well acted, and most of all, the vampire stays true to its nature. It kills for one reason: it kills for food. Let Me In is a remake of a Swedish film from 2008 called Let the Right One In. It’s about a 12-year old boy named Owen who is bullied and picked on at school. His life changes forever when Abby, a fellow 12-year old, moves in next door. Abby is different than the other kids. For one thing, she doesn’t go to school. She also walks around barefoot in the snow, and her ‘father’ (A great supporting performance by Richard Jenkins) goes out at night to find and kill some poor unsuspecting sap and drain his blood into a plastic jug to bring home for supper. Abby, you see, is a vampire. The two kids strike up an unusual friendship as the body count rises. Kodi Smit-McPhee does a great job portraying Owen as a kid who hasn’t hit his stride yet and doesn’t really fit in the world he’s in. Chloe Moretz, who most of you will recognize as Hit-Girl from Kick Ass, is superb as Abby. She gives off just the right amount of “that girl ain’t right” mixed with the awkward pre-teen girl vibe. The rest of the cast perform deftly. Besides the aforementioned Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas is quite good as the bewildered policeman, trying to make sense of all the death and violence erupting around him. And his “Hey, I’m in a horror movie!” moment comes at the exact right time. The film is well paced and edited and the ending is downright chilling – especially when you think of the future implications the last scene has for the characters.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

This film had several great sequences in it. These moments really stood out and allowed the film makers to shine. I’ll mention two.

Abby has just gone out looking for food. Her ‘father’ botched his attempt to bring home “Dinner” so she goes herself (NOTE: While it is bad manners to cry over spilt milk, spilt blood is apparently acceptable). She lures a passing jogger – who happens to live in the same apartment complex (this will be have consequences later on) — into a tunnel and kills him. We watch as the she lures her prey into the tunnel with some beautiful sound design as the audience hears her cries of “Help me” echoing along the stone tunnel. Once she is resting her head on his shoulder as he has picked her up to carry her home, she’s in perfect position to literally ‘go for the jugular.’ It’s a simple scene, but powerful. All at once we see that Abby is both a cold, calculating hunter and a throat-ripping blood covered monster.

The other sequence that I’ll mention occurs at the end of the film. Owen has a final showdown with the group of bullies at the public pool. One of them pushes him in and then holds his head under the water. The rest of the scene is from Owens’s perspective. Through the ‘lens’ of the water we see something is happening up top. We then begin to hear through the ‘filter’ of the water the screams of the bullies. The water begins to turn red and something falls into the water right next to Owen. It’s the main bully’s severed head! Then in quick succession we see the other kids (NOTE: Or maybe just parts of the other kids! I’m not entirely sure) being dragged through the water. We still hear the muffled screams, and sounds of action. Now, we all know that Abby is ‘saving’ Owen, but not once do we see who or what is causing this carnage. Owen finally breaks the surface of the water and discovers he is alone with the various limbs and parts of his four ex-tormentors. The entire sequence lasts maybe 15 seconds, but the top-notch visual construction matched by the sound design make it a show-stopper of the highest degree.

These sequences reminded me a lot about the best RPG’s I’ve been in. I’ve always believed that a carefully crafted encounter with the beastie is what makes the difference between a good game and a great one. Random monster tables have always seemed boring and stilted to me. It’s much better to make those moments really stand out. Players being players, they will always provide more than enough randomness for your games by doing something unexpected and unplanned-for. When I’m devising my story for the players, I always start with two or three beastie encounters. One or two of these scenes are for the early or mid-game portion, and one for the final showdown. These scenes are gonna happen during the story at some point. The players will only help determine when. Then I approach each one as a scene from a horror flick. I make sure I have all the details for each one worked out. What is the weather like? Is it indoors or out? Does this location have lots of clutter? Or is it big and empty with no where to hide? What do the players hear? The whine of nearby machinery or maybe just the simple sound of crickets chirping? Do these sounds eerily stop just before the beastie arrives? Also what is playing on the soundtrack? Once these “Scenes” have been crafted to my satisfaction, then I build the story around them. If you do it right, you will have a classic on your hands and the players will remember it forever. To this day I still hear from some of my old players about “that battle in the abandoned farm’s root cellar” from a game from about 15 years ago. The rest of the details of that game are a little fuzzy, but boy do they remember that ‘scene.’

‘Course, what do I know?

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My Soul to Take (In 3D)
Directed by Wes Craven
Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Wes Craven has made a career out of the dead killer returns to exact revenge on precocious teens horror sub-genre. It’s his thing, and he has done it pretty well over the years. When movie goers think of a ghostly killer striking from beyond, Freddy Krueger jumps to mind almost immediately. Freddy was scary in that he lived in dreams, and you can’t stop a dream. In My Soul to Take Craven unleashes upon us a character known as “the Riverton Ripper.” Someone who is killing people because…well, I guess because he’s just plain nuts, since no other motivation is ever given. But in the opening scene the police gun him down and then promptly lose him after the ambulance he is in does an old school ‘A-team’ flippy thing and he disappears into the river. And since out of sight is out of mind for all horror movie police, they pronounce him dead – case closed. Flash forward 16 years to the present day and we are introduced to seven high school kids who are known as the Riverton Seven because they were all born on the same night that the Ripper was “killed.” I use the quotes because remember, he disappeared into the river and was assumed dead by the local law enforcement. (Note – shoddy police work in horror movies NEVER brings about good things – see Halloween II)

Anyway, back to these seven kids. They all fall neatly into the standard horror movie molds. Bug (Max Thieriot) and Alex (John Magaro) are the picked-on nerds, Penelope (Zena Grey) is the churchy chick that prays all the time for everybody. Brittany (Paulina Olszynski) is the snobbish hot girl, Brandon (Nick Lashaway) is the dumb jock. Jay (Jeremy Chu) is the “I got a way to stop ghosts” guy who should have been called Victim Number One to save time. The final kid is Jerome (Denzel Whitaker) who is the lone African American in the group (Note – for the record, he does NOT say “That is whack!” once throughout the entire film.)

It seems that the killer had seven different souls inside him. Six of them were good and the seventh was the evil killer. When the Ripper died or almost died, those seven souls escaped into…That’s right! The seven kids. So the rest of the movie sees the Ripper dispatching the seven kids one by one in standard horror movie ways. By the third reel there are only a couple of kids left, and they’re all trying to figure out if the Ripper is back or if it is just his evil soul inside one of them. I have to admit, I didn’t go into this film expecting very much. But I was hoping for good storytelling at least. Wes Craven has done better. If you’re in the mood for a good Wes Craven film, go get the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, heck even Deadly Blessing would be a more enjoyable view.

I got to see this film in 3D and overall it was OK. The 3D treatment didn’t distract me from the film, but other than one cool headshot blood splatter, it didn’t really help the film either. There were no Cthulhu research moments in the film – but that was not unexpected given this sub genre.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

The only cool role playing idea or situation I came away with from this film is “the monster is one of us” concept. There is a cool sequence early on where the original Ripper is standing in front of a mirror talking to his reflection. One of the souls is begging the other NOT to kill any more. That got me thinking: make the beastie be one of your players. That can be fun! Pick out one character and make them the possessed/werewolf bitten/cursed character. Pull them aside and explain the situation and give them enough info to run with it. Is the character evil and just pretending to be good, or do they blackout and have the evil take over and run their body from time to time. If the player you pick is a good role player, they can have a lot of fun with it. Also consider picking the player in the group that the other players would least expect. You know, one of the more quiet players who usually just sits back and follows the rest. That can be fun too! Now, it does require a bit of extra work, since as a GM, you want to keep the true identity of the beastie a secret as long as possible. But that can be done by pulling ALL the players aside separately for a moment or two and give each of them some bit of info. Really, is there anything better than pitting the players against one another?

‘Course, what do I know?

Case 39 Movie Review

October 8, 2010

I thought it might be cool to review new horror/action movies and also try and relate them to gaming. Keep in mind that the only experience or training I have at all is that I’ve seen a bunch of movies…

Case 39
Directed by Christian Alvart
109 Minutes


Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with 0 being the lowest and five being the highest.

THE REVIEW
As far as horror flicks go, Case 39 is a by-the-numbers example of the “Demon Child” sub-genre. Renee Zellweger (hereafter referred to as Squinty) stars as Emily, an overworked social worker who takes on the case of Lilith (Jodelle Ferland), a tiny, yet unsettling 10-year old girl in trouble. Emily already has a full plate of 38 cases when her boss assigns Lilith’s case to her (see, that makes Lilith “Case 39” – now the title makes sense!) After meeting Lilith’s creepy parents, Squinty is convinced that something is amiss and she and her cop friend Mike (Ian McShane – who obviously had a boat payment due) have the parents arrested and Squinty is assigned custody of Lilith.

Soon Lilith starts acting all possessed-kid-like and people around Squinty start saying lines like “I think something is wrong with this kid, I’ll make a few calls in the morning” and then BAM! They die before the morning and the aforementioned phone calls ever come.

The final reel, with the exception of one clever bit about a pet fish, is standard horror film stuff about Squinty and her dwindling number of friends attempting to stop the evil, possessed, Lilith.

The biggest thing I came away with from Case 39 is: if a creepy 10-year old girl asks you what you’re afraid of, DON’T ANSWER HER!

I counted two ‘cat’ scares, a bunch of bad CGI bees, and only one sequence that I would consider ‘creepy.’ Surprisingly, there were also very few Cthulhu research moments in the film. The film makers were very vague on what sort of demon was involved. They give the audience one cryptic line about something bad replacing Lilith’s soul at birth.

My biggest complaint about the film was the character arc of Squinty. She jumps into “Lilith is a demon and must be destroyed” mode way too easy and with very little direct evidence. This killed the film for me. You see, my friend and business partner Joseph M. Griffin, esquire, has postulated that every horror movie character has a moment in their film where they realize they’re in a horror movie. The timing of this moment is key. If the characters make this jump too soon, then the film will lose the audience. Remember, at the beginning of the film, these characters don’t know they’re in a horror movie, so when they hear the weird noise, their first assumption should not be “Supernatural Entity/Masked killer.” They have to be presented with enough irrefutable evidence that the only conclusion they can logically come to is “Supernatural.” In the good horror movies, this moment usually happens just as they’re dying or going insane, but it’s believable. Horror audiences, probably more than any other genre, demand that. Please note that I am in no way condoning characters walking around by themselves and yelling “Hello.” In any type of film, that’s just dumb…Maybe not porn.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE
Horror gaming is the same way. Just because the players know it’s a horror game, the characters don’t. They have to make that journey just like a character in a film. I was GMing a Cthulhu game once where the characters were all reporters. Right at the beginning of the game, when they were all leaving the newspaper office to start the investigation, one of the players asked if his character could have a tommy gun. Really – a tommy gun? But you’re a reporter. The character had no reason to take one, nothing supernatural or even potentially dangerous had even been suggested to the players, yet he wanted one. Why? Because the player knew it was a horror game, and there was an evil beastie lurking at the end of the story. That kills the mood right there.

Now, players can do it that way, but isn’t it better if you don’t? Try playing it where the characters believe what most of us do; that ghosts and goblins don’t exist in the really real world, and then go through the story and see how that belief is challenged and ultimately changed. There’s a chance to have some fun! How does your character react when your whole foundation of what is real and what is make believe starts crumbling around you? If your character dies in the process, so what? It’s just a game, and sometimes dying can be hoot!

‘Course, what do I know?