As the 2020’s continue trudging along, people continue to gripe about the degradation of media. They see MARVEL films they once clamored for now lacking in appeal. They see pop music becoming more rote and streamlined, the years of the innovative and fresh ideas of Michael Jackson long since faded. Video games becoming less fun with each new iteration of brand new console, the release of which was once a sparkling moment of lurid fascination, of what new amazing experiences awaited, now being nothing more than a seat-change of the now-current hardware. There seems to be a never-ending list of gripes about current media, not wholly unearned, and one in which we are seeing the effects of it in real time. Theaters are suffering the biggest droughts in box office we have ever seen, album sales are sinking, and video games, which had previously seen nothing but growth over the last 3 decades, have seen stagnation and even decline in certain areas.
People are going out less and buying less because of the economy as a whole, whether it be new or old, but they are still willing to fork over money when something catches their fancy, that aims to do what media used to do; entertain. From ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ to ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’, people are tired of the subversions, tired of the ‘message’, tired of all the things modern media has become; a bludgeon. A weapon to force you into submission and to accept what they tell you. But what if I told you that there was an alternative way out of this?
People are unhappy with the direction much media has taken, but with that unhappiness we have also seen oddities within the popular culture. For brief moments, society has had moments of lucidity during the pandemic, seeing the resurgence of old shows getting clipped and replayed on TikTok and Youtube. Shows like ‘Star Trek – The Next Generation’, ‘Matlock’, and ‘Murder She Wrote’. With the halt in production on streaming services, they were forced to resort to picking up older programs, exposing a new generation to old media they had never seen before, and they took it in stride. For video games, we have seen people turning more towards indie titles, reminiscent in style and visuals of games from the 80’s and 90’s. The desire is still there, but the content is not…At least, not from this decade.
I always hear a ton of excuses when this suggestion is given, whether online or in person; “That old stuff is so dated”, “The graphics are just so bad”, “It sounds so cheesy”, and yet these people will also be the exact same individuals who go out to buy the ‘Nintendo Classic Mini’, remasters of old vinyl records, or the ‘Criterion Collection’ versions of old films. They convince themselves that it is somehow different from other old media, fooling themselves into buying something they may already own, or which may even be free through public domain, or something they may have even been indifferent towards previously, but now look at it through the starry eyed hype of a modern re-release.
Looking back on the catalogue of content that fills the archives of internet websites, corporate basements, and ebay collections, we see libraries full of films, books, albums, comics, and video games. All of these are just as worthy of your time as whatever else comes out these days. Many are superior in their craftsmanship.
My advice is to get over the superficialities that have been brainwashed into you by marketing campaigns from corporations, who have spent billions finding precise ways to convince you to ditch the old and go with the new. There is a treasure trove of media, quality, classic, media, for you to explore to your hearts depths. What old media that has been created is still available, with or without repackaging, and you are missing out. Ditch the craze over modern media, experience the fascinating oddities, revered classics, or perhaps even just the casual thrills from decades past. Even if you started watching/playing/reading them all right now, you would never finish even 1% of them by the time you grow old and die. There is no reason to wait with baited breath on a new film to satiate your hunger for something interesting, especially when it could be sitting in plain sight from long ago, simply waiting for rediscovery by a new pair of eyes.
It would be an understatement to say that the BUILD Engine was incredibly influential for shooters back in the day. Raging onto the scene with Duke Nukem 3D, then continuing that legacy with the likes of BLOOD, Shadow Warrior, Powerslave, and Redneck Rampage, all of which are either memorable successes or cult classics, this era is still fresh in the minds of those who lived through it, the explosions, gore, and one-liner laden shooters seemed all but conquerable. What CULTIC does is tap into that legacy with bewilderingly amazing competence.
It shares a lot with those classic shooters, but has new features to compliment that age-old formula, including knee slides, upgrade-able weapons, darkness management with flashlights and lighters, and modern voxel technology which makes up a plethora of props. Combine it all into a spiritual sequel to BLOOD and you have both a high bar to live up to, and quite a lot of nostalgia appeal. But is it all just for show?
I will admit, I died quite a bit playing this, which is refreshing. Too often I find myself breezing through shooters, barely even thinking and using my reflexes to pull off skill-shots to survive by the skin of my teeth, but here it seems to encourage fast-paced frenetic gunplay and then slowing it down at times with claustrophobic interiors, or even moody wide-open areas. But not here. Here enemies will dial-in on your location, fast, using dynamite, flanking you, closing the distance, and sniping at you with their guns, or throwing their axes to force you to keep moving. It keeps the pressure on whenever there is combat due to their accuracy and persistence. Sometimes you get a reprieve where it slows down and you have to figure out the path forward by finding a key or lever or some item, but for the most part it is an adrenaline rush.
While the game does not have “bosses” in the traditional sense for the vast majority of its length, it does have mini-bosses. The first mini-boss I came across was a chainsaw wielding psycho who had quite a lot of build up. Dark caverns, bodies strung up, booby traps littering the path; it all seemed to just build up to a naturally terrifying encounter with an enemy that at first appeared as an intimidating obstacle, turning into a minor annoyance later as he gets thrown into the mix with other enemies. Such is the case with a number of other enemies, which the game introduces and then adds to its repertoire with gusto.
The level design is sharply designed to mirror the campy/moody setting it is going for, with cultists and the undead intelligently placed to add a sense of believability to its absurd setting, something which I appreciate in a game. I tend to prefer video games that give a sense of place and context to the player, areas and levels which have a purpose or quality of living which makes it feel like a world I am inhabiting, but this becomes especially important for a horror game, where the primary motivating force behind the player is a sense of belonging to the environment, and the environments here are beautifully realized through the dark, gritty, and grimey art style. Rusted iron and rickety wood never looked so appealing.
The armaments are varied enough that the gunplay keeps itself from becoming stale, with shotguns, rifles, pistols, but also some oddities, such as a flamethrower, dynamite that you can either light and time to throw, or throw and shoot it to set it off yourself, as well as a pump-action grenade launcher. What better way to complement an armament than with a detailed array of way to kill your foes? Enemies appropriately react with gory explosions, blood-fountain headshots, and screaming incinerations.
There is just something so refreshing about a shooter in the retro style revamped for modern audiences with its own unapologetically violent and gratuitous spin on the classics. That is not to say it does not do its own thing, it absolutely does. It provides more environmental storytelling, more interactivity, picking up objects and placing them to platform into secrets, or just to use cover when being fired at by a group of enemies, or even just for your own fun, along with some minor stealth aspects.
There are a few hickups I have with it, for starters being that the final boss is not that challenging, especially if you saved up the right weapons for him. There is also someone of a trip-up when it comes to introducing new weapons, as I got introduced to around 3 brand new weapons in the last quarter of the game, weapons that should have been sparsely populating the world earlier, or the game lengthened to space out their acquirement to feel less bombarded with new toys. I also feel there could have been more effort to be a bit more creative with some of the locations. We get a lot of outdoors locations, some of which start to feel as if they are blending together by the end, though we also get mines, mansions, and crypts too, the game feels to resort back to the woodsy ‘Evil Dead’ style design too often as a sort of safe-space for itself. Also of note is that, while I mentioned the quiet narrative it had earlier with its level design and pacing, it feels like more of a “Best Hits” than one solid continuous piece from beginning to end. Most of, if not all the narrative, is based around finding notes and journal entries and reading them at your leisure, so what little environmental storytelling is there is enough to string you along, but you easily jump from river-boat rampages to mine-cart conundrums in a flash. The gaps aren’t QUITE as fleshed out as they could be.
Going for 9.99 on STEAM, it just barely makes the cut at around 3 to 4 hours in length, with plenty of replay value to offer with a level select, alternate weapon upgrade paths, achievements, and secrets to discover. A great effort from someone who knows what they are doing, but is also clearly capable of delivering more than they let on.
Get in a time machine and take a trip back to the mid-to-early 80’s, and the early-to-mid 90’s, and you’ll find a lot of things that are different from today. From kids wearing jorts thinking they were actually cool, to skateboarding being the new flagship sport of the era, to surprise hit movies like ‘The Mask’ and ‘Scream’. But for the video game medium, the one genre which reigned supreme as the “standard” for high quality animation, writing, and graphics, were adventure games.
In 1990 you had the release of ‘King’s Quest V’, called by ‘Computer Gaming World’ as a “tour de force” of high quality VGA graphics unparalleled at the time, insane sound card audio quality, and a state-of-the-art GUI instead of a text parser as was the standard for most adventure games before it, ‘King’s Quest V’ was decidedly a benchmark of the era, not just of its own genre but gaming as a whole. During that same year you also had ‘The Secret of Monkey Island’, which was described as having brilliantly clever writing, memorable characters, and one of the most well-written humorous stories available on computer. Now those two games are both remembered as classics of the genre.
Fast-forward 30 years and mention “adventure games” and people think of the likes of ‘Uncharted’ or ‘The Last of Us’, games that are decidedly adventure in theme, but not even remotely-so in regards to gameplay. Their gameplay is decidedly linear, filled with more cover-based shooting and stealth than puzzle solving or exploration. The closest we get to “adventure games” are the ‘Telltale Games’ releases, such as ‘Tales From The Borderlands’, or ‘The Wolf Among Us’, or ‘The Batman: Enemy Within’. Games which, while having their own appeal, are closer to being a “choose your own adventure” book where your social interactions change the type of ending you get. Puzzle solving is far more limited, if existent at all, exploration is far more limited, relegated to exploring your immediate surroundings instead of the world at large, and instead of getting complete games we get episodic releases. One has to dig through the pile of indie trash to find actual adventure game gems these days, games the likes of ‘Dropsy’, or ‘Quest for Infamy’, or ‘VirtuaVerse’. Titles which hold far closer to the roots of adventure games than anything you will see coming from any major studio. So what caused this “decline”?
Many will point to blog posts from wildly popular late 90’s and early 2000’s websites like ‘Old Man Murray’, blogs which admittedly exist solely for offering contrarian viewpoints which itself is already invalidating of much of their content, invalidating for the lack of genuineness and instead finding a need to offer a contrary opinion no matter how petty. Conversely, I started this blog not as a way of offering a contrary narrative to the mainstream, but more of an unfiltered opinion not based in marketing schemes, paid reviewership, or appealing to the majority sensibilities. So what did these old “blogs” have to say? Well, the first thing people will mention is that adventure games “committed suicide” by way of ridiculous puzzles, absurdly hard trial-and-error gameplay, and a reliance on archaic interfaces. Those are all completely idiotic statements.
Lets get to the first qualm, the “ridiculous puzzles”. I will admit adventure games do have their fair share of ridiculous puzzles, although these are by no means the standard of which their gameplay primarily consists of. The infamous “cat mustache” of ‘Gabriel Knight 3’ became so omnipresent in the popular thought of what adventure games are that it would eventually get its own Wikipedia page. “Oh the inhumanity”, the people who have never played a single adventure game in their lives screamed, “This is the reason for the death of adventure games!” they continue to shout, never having even heard of other titles in the genre other than the titular game the puzzle they read about was based on. This perceived fake outrage ignores the fact that, quite frankly, ‘Gabriel Knight 3’ sold like shit. By 1999, the adventure game genre was already feeling the death throes of its 2000’s era collapse (before it would be reborn in the 2010’s). You cannot be responsible for the death of a genre if your game was not widely received enough to be disliked by the masses that proclaimed to have founded its success. The fact of the matter is that by 1999, a new genre was taking its place, the First-Person Shooter. We saw a drop in the sales of multiple genres, such as RPG’s, Racing games, Platformers, and Fighting Games. We instead saw the likes of ‘Halo’, ‘Half-Life’, ‘Call of Duty’, and ‘Far-Cry’ come to the forefront. Games were moving away from the varied genre approach and coalescing into more concentrated forms, which the Third-Person Action games would come to adopt with the likes of ‘Max Payne’, ‘Gears of War’, and even games that used to be survival horror such as ‘Resident Evil’ opting to jump in line with the rest of the pack and adopting a more linear, action-heavy, shooter-centric approach to its gameplay, abandoning the multi-layered puzzles and focus on avoiding confrontation. In all honesty, if one goes back to look at the reviews of said adventure games with “ridiculous puzzles” like ‘King’s Quest’ or ‘Space Quest’, one finds reviews mentioning how they were actually “dumbed down” in later entries in the series. The puzzles that are admonished today were lauded decades ago during their heyday.
Did sensibilities change? Perhaps, as we can see in other mediums people’s tastes adapt over time. You will rarely find someone listening to a ‘Beatles’ album these days, even if they do have it saved somewhere on their playlist amongst the hundreds of other bands they purport to be fans of. But I do not think they did. I think the advent of the new successful genre of First-Person Shooters accumulated enough hype surrounding the fast-paced frenetic gameplay that adventure games, along with a host of other genres, simply got put on the back-burner by companies who wanted to focus on being the next big ‘Doom’ clone. Which brings me to the next supposed qualm.
Are adventure games “archaic”? Well, no. If you look at ‘Wolfenstein 3D’, and you look at the more recent First-Person Shooter games, the core premise of them has not changed much at all in the last 30 years since their advent. Sure, you can jump, look up and down, interact with the environment more, and have a greater sense of story to motivate you, but overall, you are still navigating levels, killing hordes of enemies, inevitably getting to the end of a level or chapter or section, and then fighting a “boss”, complete with needing to find keys to open doors. The biggest change may be the fact that you can drive vehicles now, but overall, the core premise from their advent to where they are now has remained roughly intact enough to still be recognizable to what they once were. “But that’s not true! FPS games have evolved past finding keycards and fighting hordes of enemies!” Oh, really? Is that the case? Is that why in ‘Doom’ (2016) you had the primary gameplay apparatus being finding keycards and fighting hordes of enemies? Is that why ‘Quake Champions’ still uses identical gameplay to that of ‘Quake 3’ just with an updated graphics engine? Adventure games already made their leaps from archaic design principles to more modern interaction, they abandoned the text-parser in favor of the GUI, just like early FPS games made the jump from being mazes to being multi-tiered environments full of interaction. The gameplay remained the same, but the mode of play expanded, and I can prove that these so-called “archaic designs” are anything but, all we need to do is look at ‘Broken Age’, which was one of the earliest, single largest examples of success from the crowd-funding projects of yesterday, and what popularized the concept of crowd-funding all the back in 2012. It gained near unprecedented support at the time, garnering over $3 million in funding against a goal of only $400,000. That is also what arguably spurred the creation of what is now a thriving classic adventure game genre among the indie community.
The “trial-and-error” gameplay of yesterday which people use as an excuse is also now getting revamped and re-integrated. From games such as ‘Snail Trek’ to bigger and more advanced titles such as ‘STASIS’, the indie community seems to have no problem re-implementing these supposed “genre destructive” design features of classic adventure titles that, much like the purported “ridiculous designs” and “archaic interfaces”, are being enjoyed just as much now with reckless abandon, by people who never got to originally experience that type of gameplay, as when the classic adventure titles first released. Indeed, it appears many of the supposed excuses for the “downfall” of adventure games were just that, excuses, thrown up by know-it-all snobs who did not have the faintest clue of where the industry was heading and why, and then regurgitated by the mindless masses who were all too eager to let these out-of-touch morons who did not understand the very industry they were criticizing, do their thinking for them.
I could spend countless hours pouring over the dozens of would-be excuses by people who have little to no experience with the genre, who also did not live through said era, explaining to me the reason for its downfall. There could be someone older, even a developer of adventure games from the era who argues against my statements, but the facts speak for themselves; there is a fervent desire for classic adventure titles, regardless of what your ideologues have to say about it.
Back when the “Mortal Kombat” movie came out in 1995, fans were excited to finally see the ultra-violence from the arcades transported onto the world stage on the big screen for all to witness…Many were disappointed. That is not unlike how I feel watching the 2021 film, albeit, for an entirely separate set of reasons. While both films drastically escaped from the lore of the original series, this one does so incredibly flagrantly. It could be forgiven, but only if the setup and payoff was actually worth it.
The film starts with Hanzo (Scorpion) in the woods at his Japanese abode, with his family. The movie tries to give us some family life shots right before they are killed just as quickly as we are introduced, setting up Scorpion’s inevitable demise at the hands of Sub-Zero and the revenge sub-plot. Fast forward to modern day after Raiden rescue’s the sole surviving infant from Hanzo’s home and we are introduced to Cole, who we assume from this point on is going to be a world-level martial artist, only he can barely win fights in some shitty amateur New Jersey-esque octagon ring. The setup here is very typical for these kinds of martial arts films; the future hero being a down-on-his-luck fist for hire, or an inadequate fighter at best, who becomes better. Only in this film they added the twist that all the ‘champions’ have something called ‘arcana’. What is this arcana? It is a secret sauce all the ones with a dragon tattoo on their body have to unlock…Why do they have to unlock it if they are born with it? Where does this dragon tattoo originate from? Why is it a dragon tattoo at all? Oh, and when someone kills them, that person gets their dragon tattoo instead, meaning that them having the tattoo was meaningless in the first place since any old person can just snag one by killing them? It is only 30 minutes in and you can already see the questions that this movie is unnecessarily raising.
Except, none of that was what “Mortal Kombat” was originally about, and it unnecessarily complicates what is an other-wise straight forward and very simple component; anyone can fight, and anyone can become a champion of Earthrealm. They are not “born” with a tattoo that allows them to unlock power ranger abilities. Which reminds me of something that this film robs from the original series, which is its inherent sense of mysticism of a world unseen. No longer are the forces of the Shaolin mystical, no longer is Raiden restrained with his mighty Elder God powers, no, instead now Liu Kang can shoot fireballs because of his arcana, while Raiden is throwing lightning bolts every which way. This film has less temperance in its flashy effects than a Marvel film. It is all too eager to show off as much as possible as soon as possible, and makes it feel rushed and inconsequential. We spend the entire film watching Cole unlock his arcana just for him to get a bunch of armor and weapons. Not special powers, just regular old armor and weapons. Albeit, they are a higher tier of armor and weapons, but armor and weapons none-the-less. We spend the entire film to see Kano get his laser eyes, only for him simply to get killed, when he could have had his laser eyes from black market technology. We spend the entire film to see Jax unlock super powerful mechanical arms, his arcana somehow working on implanted robotics instead of his flesh, when we could have simply seen him get top secret military technology. We spend the entire film watching Sonya fight and argue with Kano only for her to kill him and then gain her power rings which she uses once in the whole movie to kill another character in a single shot, which again, could have simply been top secret military technology.
I think you are starting to recognize a pattern here. The dragon tattoos are just an intrinsically dumb idea. They use it to cut corners on building character attributes that match the character’s backgrounds. Jax and Sonya were in the special forces, and what do they have to show for it throughout the film? Nothing. Liu Kang and Kung Lao are highly trained Shaolin monks, and what do they have to show for it? A temple they visit. Kano is a highly sought after crime syndicate leader, and what does he have to show for it? He calls in a favor to rent a plane. They turned all the character’s iconic abilities and backgrounds into fucking tattoos that they activate like they are part of a Saturday morning cartoon. It is not just disrespectful to the lore, it is absolutely lazy storytelling which could have been so much more interesting if they had these aspects of the characters ingrained within them instead of just being deus ex machina devices. Not to mention, this only complicates things further when we realize “hey, there are other people with superpowers too, like Kabal, Sub-Zero, and Mileena, where are their tattoos?” They do not have any, or at least none that we are shown. So out-the-fucking-window that entire concept goes.
The CGI and effects looked good well enough, although the blood looked absurdly cartoonish at times. A lot of the fire and ice looks stylish, with nice crispy audio to back it, with gunfire and punches sounding meaty and brutal. The entirely CG Goro, as much as I loved the practical Goro in the 1995 movie, worked better for the kind of action we see in “Mortal Kombat”, jumping into the air, using all four arms to deliver deadly combos, and just demolishing the environment. The entirely CG reptile looks a HELL of a lot better than the 1995 version, no contest, unfortunately the fight scene is not nearly as exhilarating. The costumes in general though are quite impeccable. There is a sleek sharpness and simplicity to characters such as Liu Kang, lacking the typical over-design of a lot of characters in modern fantasy action movies like this. Shang Tsung looks more like an emperor than a sorcerer, but overall his design is unique enough to set him apart from the others. The weakest links by far are Kano and Mileena, though in terms of costume design, them being the weakest links is in the film’s favor, as they are at the very least decent. Raiden also looks particularly regal, which is opposite how he was originally intended to look, although given his advancement throughout the series from ‘innocuous peasant figure’ to ‘Wu Shu warrior’, I guess I can ignore it.
While the CGI effects are decent, the story makes little fucking sense, and the movie completely abandons most of the lore of the games, its fights are at least kind of entertaining. They lack the personal closeness of the 1995 film, abstaining from lots of close ups, instead opting to do lots of camera spins and dolly zooms, getting the action from far away, trying to mimic the video game. Only this is not the video game. This is a film. Treat it and shoot it like a film. It tries to make the action as frenetic and fast paced as possible at times, although feels somewhat stunted, providing in the camera flair, sound design, and aesthetic look, but lacking in style with its framing, and not providing enough close ups of combatants taking blows from each other. It all just kind of whizzes by you like a whirlwind, and before you know it, the fight is over. There are very few moments, save for the beginning fight and ending fight, both of which are Sub-Zero vs Scorpion, that have lengthy fight scenes where you feel like the heroes and the enemies switch tides in who has the edge over who. And as for the beginning and ending fight, anyone who even remotely knows this series knows how both those fights are going to end, so they lack the punch that the movie tries to give them, also butchering the “Mortal Kombat” theme at the last minute, completing negating the electronic pumping rhythm of the original.
Of the acting, there is not much for me to say here. The two most likable characters, both of which are villains (Kano and Kabal), are killed off. Kabal especially has some pretty slick one-liners, and as a masked, ventilated character, he has more charisma than the majority of the cast. His actor definitely knew how to emphasize his movements, giving him an unimpressed bravado throughout. Kano is a little on the annoying side, supplanting his backstabbing cunning more with lots of swearing and taunting. Sonya tries, but comes off as just uninteresting. Jax is just barely above mediocre here. Liu Kang and Kung Lao may as well be cardboard cutouts. And Cole, he is as flat as a brown note. I would say this is because of the actors, because with the short screen time Kabal gets he is by far the most enthralling, but if you give these actors more to work with, I am sure you could have made them more compelling at the very least. This is the core problem with the film; we have a total of 7 protagonists we are supposed to keep track of and be introduced to, and none of them are fleshed out much beyond their names and the most simplistic summation of their backgrounds, except for Cole who gets the “primary character” treatment, who is also the least interesting, and a complete newcomer to “Mortal Kombat” as well. Liu Kang and Kung Lao may as well have not even been in this. Hell, Sonya and Jax may as well not have even bothered showing up. This is where the original film got it right. It focused on 3 characters; Liu Kang, Sonya Blade, and Johnny Cage. You cannot have many more main characters than that, especially not if you are limiting your film to being under 2 hours.
I get that they were trying to separate themselves from the original by trying to do something different, but that does not mean you have to make obviously bad choices. Fortunately, with all the main cast introduced in this one, they have more time to ruminate on their characters and flesh them out on a deeper level in the sequel they tease at the end. Being that this was Simon McQuid’s first foray into feature films, I hope this was a learning experience for him, because while it never reached the lows of “Mortal Kombat Annihilation”, it also never reached the highs of “Mortal Kombat (1995)”.
Combine one of the most talented studios of the early 90’s with a pirate-themed parody adventure, mixed with a healthy dose of 4th wall breaks, all while during a time when pirate themed media was virtually dead, and you have an instant classic. ‘The Secret of Monkey Island’ was developed by LucasArts right at the onset of the 90’s, using brand new talent in the name of Tim Schafer under the directorial leadership of Ron Gilbert, who would both be instrumental in the game’s success; they along with the rest of the crew, manage to create an unforgettable masterpiece of not only the point and click genre, but video gaming as a whole.
Immediately from the intro screen featuring the Caribbean-styled steel drum-inspired theme combining pirate whimsy and Jamaican voodoo styles, it creates an atmosphere that inspires a sense of homeliness, yet at the same time, exotic and tropical locales ripe for adventuring. Indeed, as we are introduced to lush and eye-catching art, we are also introduced to the ever-welcoming soundtrack. A double-header, as far as I can tell in terms of the greatness that awaits. There is not a single misused or poorly made song in the game, which each manages to perfectly encapsulate the section of the game you are in, and the characters you are introduced to. I would say the sound design is among LucasArts’ best here. There is nothing more iconic than ‘Monkey Island’s’ theme than perhaps maybe ‘Halo’s’ iconic hymns or ‘Super Mario Bros.’ start screen theme. Michael Land deserves a special mention as the game’s composer, having done a stellar job in crafting actual music, unlike most games of the time which consisted primarily of short, looping, chip-tune-esque bits of rhythms and patterns that can be easily inserted and recycled. Here we have actual composition that includes multi-layered instrumental backing with refrains, verses, and bridges; what one would call ‘real music’.
And would you know it, they even created a game for the soundtrack too! We start off this adventure as Guybrush Threepwood, whose only aspiration in life is to become a pirate. Needless to say, he ends up finding out just what that entails, mostly being ripped off and betrayed. While we play as Guybrush, the sarcastic and none-too-enthralled wannabe pirate, the real story centers around the ghostly LeChuck and his infamy on the seas. The game switches from introductory trials, to recruiting a team, to going on a rescue mission, to finally confronting and defeating the big bad LeChuck and saving the day. Its story is simple and easy to follow, while also delivering plenty of characterization that makes each character standout as memorable, even the smaller characters like Stan, the used boat salesman. The writing is off-the-wall bonkers, pushing the limits of what is acceptable for immersions sake at just the right times, while still managing to build onto the lore of the game world. This is no easy feat, as many writers will attest. If you make the jokes too silly or out-of-place, the setting becomes secondary to the jokes and the audience loses interest and the setting itself becomes the joke. Luckily, they manage to make it through without losing anything in the process. While there are jokes about the company itself, the concept of commercial markets, meta jokes about the player, and commentary over the events of the game, none of it overrides the setting and storytelling of the game, feeling more like asides than derailments.
The game world is also very fleshed out, featuring very naturalistic travel. In point and click games, the game world can tend to feel a bit jumbled, as you are constantly changing screens, backtracking trying to find the correct path, it can all feel very confusing. Not here. Everything flows exceptionally well here, and becomes less of a maze and feels more like a genuine world to explore. Part of that is due to the genius design of the world, but a major part of it is also the exceptional background artwork that is detailed, filled with atmosphere, and contains exceptionally realized environments.
The bits of the game where it shows an overview of the surrounding area helps, but the way the world is structured feels very naturalistic.
Boasting top-notch character design, visually mesmerizing artwork, stellar sound design, and writing that is approachable but filled with enough depth to bring a ship in to port on, it of course has puzzles to match it. Even for the impatient types, the puzzles on display here are quick enough to solve that you almost never feel bogged-down trying to solve. There are a few pun-based puzzles that stumped me, but a lot of them were not too difficult. Besides, what fun would it be if all the puzzles were solved immediately?
As for the items you are required to gather, they are all quite obvious to the watchful eye. Not an item fades into the background or can be too easily missed, though even if you do, you cannot advance much further, as ‘Monkey Island’ features painstakingly developed fail-proof measures to keep players from being stuck in unsolvable scenarios or dying too easily. There is only one such situation in which you can die, and it gives you ample time to escape. Some say this lack of death or being stuck takes away from the challenge since there is little at stake, but I would say all other aspects of the game are so well designed, and polished to such a degree, that the lack of stakes is nearly unnoticeable. It makes the game feel like a joyride instead of a thrill ride.
Aside from the puzzles, the game also features a few more interesting mechanics, such as the insult sword fights. Parrying and riposting based off how good your insults and comebacks are is an ingenious way of inserting combat into a comedic pirate fantasy, turning it into a true swashbuckling adventure. There is also a dialogue tree which, as far as I can tell, is among the first point and click adventure games to do so. Normally this kind of interaction was relegated to text adventure games, but implemented here it adds what was once a new degree of player interaction in a visual medium. Innovative for its time, quaint now.
A classic for a reason, not merely the product of the era, ‘The Secret of Monkey Island’ is both a treat to those looking for something new in the gaming sphere, and a perfect introduction for those who are new to point and click games. The game’s witty irreverence is just as poignant as the tip of a pirate’s saber.
It was one of those long fruitless nights where you do not know what to do because you are not tired enough to sleep but you feel too lazy to do anything active, like write, or even play a video game…So, you go on YouTube and find a free movie to watch. Unfortunately that movie turned out to be ‘Arizona’.
From the packaging on the thumbnail it looks as if it is trying to emulate a neo-noir Western, but it is nothing of the sort. Instead, it is entirely focused on telling the bizarre story of the housing crisis in Arizona through the situation of a dark comedic thriller. We start off with a realtor trying to sell homes during the onset of the crisis in 2009, only to then jump to someone in the finance industry trying to kill themselves in a home nearby, only to then, I assume, leap forward in time? It is hard to tell, because it cuts to a bunch of establishing shots with a song from what I can only assume sounds like the 60’s, then with that same realtor relaxing in a pool in the middle of the day. Is it days in the future, weeks, months? It tries to go for the darkly comedic “switcheroo” of morbid scene with serious ambient music followed by catchy upbeat song intro title, only it is trying way too hard. The crappy acting on the guy who was literally just hanging and then smashed in the face by a ceiling fan angrily lurches upward to shout “KILL ME!” before the title transition, as if it was not obvious enough.
The majority of the film features a cat-and-mouse game, with McBride chasing down a woman who was a witness to his crime. First, Sonny (McBride’s character) accidentally kills the lead woman’s boss, who was witness to the manslaughter incident, gets kidnapped by an untrusting Sonny, which the lead woman then makes a series of very stupid statements which leads Sonny further and further into a rabbit hole of paranoia. He goes from manslaughter, to kidnapping, to straight-up murdering his ex-wife all within the first 18 minutes we are introduced to him. If you are wondering why I cannot remember the lead woman’s character’s name, it is because it is beyond forgettable. Her acting is turgid and reactionary more than natural or built-into the role. In fact, the only two enjoyable actors on screen were McBride, and David Alan Grier, who has a short role as the sheriff. McBride is full of charisma and takes pleasure in chewing the absolute shit out of the scenery, for the betterment of the film (the only reason this is not a 1 star review) and he does not necessarily sell the emotions he portrays, so much as makes them comedic, probably being able to tell how bad the writing is himself. He shows a modicum of range, more-so than any other film I have seen him in, which is another point in his favor. The ridiculous frosted tips he dons throughout the film though is a point against him. I will never understand the appeal of that hairstyle. It makes your head look like a used paint brush.
Anyway, the film tries desperately to sell it being both a comedy and a thriller, and while McBride can sort of sell the role of “discontented, manic, middle aged hipster”, he cannot sell anything else in the film. It is just chalk full of false-starts, meaningless plot points, and endless assumptions by our supposedly incompetent, yet strangely psychic villain, Sonny. Some moments he is lazy, senseless, and sloppy, and at other times he has bits of genius beyond what you would expect. Which also mirrors the comedy and thriller aspects. Some parts of it are lazy, senseless, and sloppy, and other times, it has some genuinely interesting moments of suspense where you have no idea what will happen. Those moments are few and far between though.
The film tries to project bits of contemplativeness onto the viewer, showing the desolate, abandoned landscape of the development planning that fell through, characters constantly mentioning or showing how cheap, poorly produced, lazy, or monotonous the designs, construction, and architecture is, how screwed over they are, yadda yadda yadda. At a certain point it crosses the threshold from trying to make a point about how screwed over the people were by the development planners, and it starts to eek over into “Arizona sucks” territory, turning it from a comedy, into a sort of mean-spirited dig at the state.
They try to stylize the film with synth-heavy music, and legitimize the serious aspects with a surprising amount of practical effects, not everything simply being a cheap CGI rendering, which lends more to the intensity of the scenes. Although this is all immediately suffocated by the lackluster acting of the protagonists and the flat and very boring framing and camera work on display. There are times when it tries to do something imaginative, but it just comes off as out of place, like when Sonny goes for a walk in slow-mo with his dog which gives the filmmakers an opportunity to showcase the abandoned landscape. It feels awkward from a tonal perspective, and it makes the viewer ask “…why?” There are plenty of other opportunities that could have been used for that, but instead they use it for Sonny walking his dog. Bizarre. And there are dozens more little moments like that scattered throughout the film. Are they trying to make it feel edgy? Are they supposed to feel comedic? Are we supposed to feel alienated by the emptiness of it all? It is a mish-mashed hodge-podge of ideas lacking in direction, realization, and proper tonal style, making this the film equivalent of a ketchup covered Oreo.
For the last few centuries there have been urges, movements if you will, to push for the collection and saving of “high art”. From the collections of the “Western Canon”, to the “National Film Registry” that the United States Federal Government has created in the hopes of creating a cultural-heritage archive of film; people desperately want to filter out all of that “bad, naughty, low-tier” art that they refer to through a plethora of names. From schlock, to b-movies, to trash, to low art, to whatever pejorative as sharp or dull in its language as you wish, there is an over-arching trend to mitigate their impacts, crush their reach, and excise them from society. But I am here to tell you, it is all bullshit.
Feminists, African Nationalists, Marxists, Conservatives, Liberals, and every other imaginable ideological group, keeps fighting and bickering about what is part of the canon, what is high art, what needs to be preserved, but what I say is, “All of it.” Many responses probably rush through your mind, such as “why”, or “how”, or even “what media?” My response is “all of it.”
You see, the reason I picked ‘Basic Instinct’ as the poster of this article is not because it is a measurable quality of high art despite its lurid fascinations, it is because it combines aspects of what has been deemed “low art” and “high art” and achieved a symbiosis that relies on the other in order to create the image it has in society. It is a modern amalgam of what breaks the concept of “high art” and “low art”, it does not appeal to one or the other. You have gratuitous, borderline obscene nudity and sexuality, combined with such expert film making that it almost feels like it is tricking “serious film critics” into lauding a sleazy fantasy as a groundbreaking film. It achieved critical success and became a spring blockbuster that helped turn the “erotic thriller” into a seriously considered genre both in terms of its profitability and its reviews. Without the eye-catching cinematography, moody lighting, and compelling acting, it would be looked at as another brick in the wall of erotic films, and without the nudity and sex, it would just be looked at as a very plain, very boring noir-thriller.
So if ‘Basic Instinct’ is a jumping off point, where do you go from there? What is the “jumping off point” exactly anyway? Into the realm of that which everyone considers to be the realm of “low art”, the softcore porn realm of course. The long-running series ‘Emmanuelle’ began originally as a book series, but has since been adapted into over 50 different films. Needless to say, the books do not fit into the “high art” category, nor do the films, and yet, they persist without the need for attention from “serious critics” or “scholarly debate”. In some ways, they are above it. They exist to the enjoyment of fans and casual viewers, who some might say, are the true audience for art in the first place, since if it is not going to be appreciated then what was the point in creating it in the first place? Not all art is made to sit in a museum. Not all art is even made to appeal to “critical sensibilities”. In fact, art should not appeal to critical sensibilities, it should appeal to the audiences it was made for, and that is that, whoever they may be.
Some may have intricate and complex, nuanced ideas about what “art” truly is, but I have a much simpler idea of what it is. “Art” are the dreams, goals, desires, fascinations, and contemplations of the author, made manifest for the viewer to observe. The reason I say “author” instead of “artist” is because the author is not always the artist. Artists get commissioned, a lot. From the statue of David to the Sistine Chapel painting, they were commissioned by-and-large for specific purposes, by specific people/groups. The artist’s vision and talent in creating the piece is ultimately their own, but what makes the piece significant was the original purpose behind it, and the purposes of both pieces were from the Catholic Church.
This idea of art being “commissioned” may be blasphemy in the eyes of a lot, but it is a fact of reality that many simply ignore for their delusions of idealism, the concept of art being some sort of transcendental world-shaping experience. Nope. It is a satyr on a vase, fucking nymphs. It is a naked man, standing poignantly for all to see. It is Emmanuelle, traveling the world, fucking anyone she wants. Art is also those cheap paintings you see in hotel lobbies, of snowy cabins or of hunting dogs in the forest. And yet, art is also the Sistine Chapel. Because art encompasses all aspects of society, even those aspects that the elites wish to try and ignore, as per their dogmatic, arrogant world-view in which they deem themselves the arbiters of taste…Arbiters of taste which they so eagerly adopt from the masses they despise (Lobster, red wine, erotic thrillers, and even now horror films, which for ages were considered “low art” or “distasteful” went from being looked down upon to being appraised and highly valued).
Whether through the Western Canon or the National Film Registry, these “low kinds of art” are being collected and preserved with or without their help, from remastering groups such as Shout Factory restoring old 70’s and 80’s horror movies that were forgotten, through individuals on porn websites uploading upscaled versions of decades-past hardcore and softcore films from the 20’s all the way up to the 80’s and 90’s, to the people collecting comic books, to people who collect whiskey bottles. And in time, soon those tastes will change yet again and the preservation of such media will be deemed “culturally or historically important”. Just as we now view the Venus of Willendorf, a mere personal masturbatory statuette to some early human, to be a priceless artifact of human existence. In time will we soon see ‘Nightdreams’ and ‘House on Hooter Hill’ change from being trash to be forgotten, to art that needs to be saved. And why? Because ultimately, it is all art, it is all part of the human experience, and it all exists whether we like it or not.
While I use the pornographic to illustrate my point, that is only because it is the most extreme example, and the sentiment towards them extends in its most basic form to virtually all of the critically ignored media. It is all “pornography” to “them”. From dime novels, to flash games, to pop music. And yet, in time, it will be viewed as being just as valid as Shakespeare. Because “they” do not matter. What matters is whether or not you make art. Is some art better than other art? Sure…For instance, I much prefer Isaac Asimov and Jules Verne over Shakespeare. Does that make their art “better” though? Well, I prefer it, and though people may disagree, I will not change my mind simply to appease their sensibilities. The primary difference between “good” art and “bad” art though is not which grouping, genre, or author it belongs to, it is how well it visualizes the purpose behind its creation, the rigor of its creation, and the tenacity with which the audience finds it charming. And that is the attitude that has gifted us with the plethora of art we see today; instead of the stodgy, limited, abstract art that you see littering museums today, and why museums are in such peril of economic collapse, we see everything from action, to horror, to farce, to romance. The critics who loud the pieces on display in the Louvre get next to no attention, while a film by WICKED Pictures sells tens, even hundreds of thousands of copies. The idea that there exists this line between what “high art” is and what “low art” is, only exists to the elitists that desperately, hopelessly, fruitlessly attempt to control the narrative by ignoring that which they despise. Only, as history has shown, they never controlled the narrative. All of it gets unearthed. Only art exists and this blog does not discriminate between any of it, as it is all worth saving in my book.
When ‘Bladerunner 2049’ originally came out, there was quite a stir about its visuals. They were large, sweeping, and immersive, on a scale not seen in many sci-fi films in a while. While it created a huge discussion on modern sci-fi, it failed at the box office, suggesting that its impact was beyond more than just attaining a high viewership. Then the interpretations started. After the dazzling effects wore off, then they began with the labels. They labelled it as sexist at first, then they labelled it as misogynist, then they started labeling it as “pretty smart and feminist”, then they labelled it as “championing the underclasses”. Even the director stated how “it was really about how modern society treats women today”…But is it?
Throughout the film we only see women as being the main actors in society, save for the corporate boss played by Leto. His second-hand man is a woman, and is the one who accomplishes everything in the film for him as well. Getting the archive files, monitoring K, kidnapping Deckard; all of it is accomplished by his female android secretary. Of course we also see K do plenty, but who is his superior? Robin Wright, who berates him mercilessly. Who is the leader of the underground resistance of replicants? Again, a woman. And, ultimately, who is this film about at the very end, when we were lead the whole time to think K was secretly destined to have a purpose in this film? Stelline, Deckard’s daughter. The answers in the film are portrayed directly to our faces, but the creators insist on altering what we see in favor of what we are supposed to feel, because the glossy images of digital wives and urban prostitution are meant to make us feel bad or something.
Much like the film ‘Starship Troopers’ the purpose of the film gets lost within its own portrayal. While I do believe in the supremacy of the creator’s vision, I also believe that it must be portrayed adequately in order to contain that message, other-wise you are just inserting themes into a film with no substance to back it. You are essentially gaslighting.
This is much of the reason why the depressed, demoralized, and angry male youth of today relates so much with K. From memes repeated ad nausea across the internet of his “freakout” scene where he kicks his chair, to the collections of images of him staring blankly and numbly at the world around him, including at the only person in his life that matters to him at all; Joi, his holographic wife. This film relates with them, not because it shows “misogyny towards women”, but because it shows with absolute precision the isolating and cold feeling of being a male in today’s society, about misandry and the “disposable male”, and that is very much a part of the design. We are not following a woman throughout the story, we are following a man, and we are meant to feel sympathetic towards him, and that inevitably gets in the way of trying to tell a story about misogyny. Any writer knows that when you tell a story, you make the theme and subject of the story part of the protagonist.
Throughout the film we are shown K, played by Ryan Gosling, as an unfeeling, uncaring, borderline automaton, who does the bidding of his superiors. He goes to work, kills for a living, returns to his headquarters where he must remain completely neutral in emotions or else that compromises his work ethic, to which his female superior then gives him a nod of approval for a job well done, only for him to then go home to his empty and gray apartment. But what is this? Only in the privacy of his apartment does he begin to show the facade of a well-trained machine begin to break down. We see him comforted by the only thing in his life which he shows any semblance of attachment to, something which is not even actually there, only a figment of his imagination made real by projected images within his apartment; Joi, his holographic wife.
Men in this world, as we are shown, are meant to be used and thrown away. From the hordes of faceless trashers that get blown up, to the goons who get shot up by K during the Deckard kidnapping, to K himself being used by his organization to eradicate another man in the beginning; the only two female deaths we are explicitly shown in the entire film are not even human females, but androids, representations of women. The theme is quite clear, but gets multiplied in intensity when we involve the actual plot of the film.
Most of the film we are lead to believe that K has a greater purpose. We are lead to believe he is not just another replicant, living a monotonous life of violence and repression of feeling, but a life that he now discovers, after finding out his memories are real, that he may be the half-replicant half-human son he is looking for. Someone who was born, not simply designed. It is not hard to see how people, specifically men, relate to this. We live in a world where men are told to sit down, sit back, be quiet, feel nothing, while also simultaneously being shown endless images and excerpts meant to elicit feelings of sadness and sympathy, being told to “join the war, bigot!” Society tries to design men to be whatever suits its particular interests at the moment. Soldiers, philosophers, workers, protestors; endlessly being told to sacrifice while being told to shut up. But with K, we are lead to believe he has a destiny. A purpose beyond the designs of a society that wishes to use and abuse him for its dirty work.
And, as life always tends to do, this idea of purpose and grandiosity gets pulled out from underneath him when he finds out that the half-human half-replicant was a daughter, not a son. We then see him wallow in misery, gradually figuring out what to do next, before he decides to take action himself, ridding himself of the “chain” of command. He strikes out hard and fast to rescue Deckard, ignoring the whims of the resistance, ignoring the potential threats from his organization, sacrificing his life to benefit another. This is a perfect redemption arc in a sense. K sat around his whole life waiting for something to make sense, for his purpose to manifest, when all he needed to do to manifest purpose was to take his life into his own hands, that the family and connection he wanted so desperately from the manufactured Joi, was right in front of him with Deckard and Stelline. He could be a part of their lives, a meaningful part of it, all he had to do was act.
Throughout much of the film we see the only connection K has is to a hologram, called Joi. She is a product, bought and sold like any other, but for some reason K finds her to be more than just a product, some object to be used and then thrown away. He finds her to be the one part of his life that he is able to open up to, the only one he thinks is able to see the purpose in him, his special someone. Using a prostitute to sync up with her so he could truly be intimate, dancing with her in the rain using an emanator to take her with him anywhere, just sitting back and staring at her and how she smiles longingly at him. He takes all of it in because he wants something genuine so bad that he looks for it in someone that is not even really there. A ghost that haunts him, almost taunting him. One of the few times he smiles throughout the film, maybe one of the only times, is when he finally brings her to the roof while it is raining, seeing her out in the world, beyond the borders of his apartment. Just the “joy” of seeing her outside of his apartment is enough to make his expressionless demeanor change into a smile of happiness. Seeing her walk in the world with him changes him from merely having his loneliness at home avoided, to now having her with him anywhere; now she is more than just a hologram but a companion.
Now there are a lot of ways this could potentially be interpreted; the tradwife concept being marketed and exploited for consumerist gain, a manifestation of “misogyny” in men only valuing women for their home-making, or, the more direct and far more believable approach; a desire for connecting with someone else, and to be loved unquestioningly, embraced entirely, despite all of our flaws; a desire so intense that K fooled himself into believing a product designed to show affection could be doing so through its own choice. That is what Joi represents, it is in her name. Which makes it all the more ironic that she is killed by the Android, Luv. The “Joy” of the fictitious being crushed by the reality of the physical “Love”, or lack-there-of.
Joi in particular also highlights the exact feeling of many men today. While I cringe at the “men’s rights crowd”, I can perfectly understand their frustration. Men commit suicide at a much higher rate, men make up the vast majority of workplace deaths, men make up the vast majority of occupations with high mortality rates, until recently it was in law that mothers are preferred in getting full custody of children, women get far lighter sentences for crimes compared to male counterparts with similar circumstances, women make up the majority of college attendees, and gender quotas assure the female is hired no matter what. Women have become the more desired in society. But have they not always been? Despite all of this, men are told that it is all their fault by the women they fought and died to protect in generations past, women that they died working in mines and factories to support, because they believed it to be their duty as men to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of family, which is exactly what K does at the end in order to find his own purpose in life, instead of having it handed to him by some “dream designer” or bought from a store. He sacrifices himself for the greater good of family, and not even his own family, but a family he desired so strongly throughout the film to be a part of and, ultimately, it is that sacrifice that resonates so strongly with men, which is why the vast majority of the theater-going audiences were men.
Because K does not represent the patriarchy, he does not represent toxic masculinity, he does not even represent general masculinity; he represents ordinary men, the “average Joe”. Dismissed by society while longing for a purpose. Ordinary men that want nothing more than to connect with the other half of society that they routinely sacrifice so much for just to protect. Somebody to make them feel purpose within the cold, unfeeling, unsympathetic world of violence and deceit that surrounds them. Someone that they can be honest and affectionate with, someone that they feel gives them hope and meaning.
The slasher genre is not a particularly well-respected genre. From the endless parodies inserted into nearly every horror comedy by insincere modern writers and directors, to the self-aware horror films that try and get one over on the bastard step-child of film; slashers are often overlooked, degraded, and demeaned. ‘My Bloody Valentine’ had the misfortune of being released, according to the director, right after the murder of John Lennon, and right when the slasher craze began to tilt into high gear, causing a large back-lash against the film’s violence. It was censored; torn to ribbons in the editing bay, then torn to ribbons by the notoriously traditional film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, among a few others. It seemed that this film was doomed to wallow in mediocrity and obscurity…Until now.
Having watched the beautifully 4K transferred ‘Shout Factory’ steel-case edition, I must say I was blown away by the picture quality. While 99% of the film is pristine in its lurid colors with Valentine’s day decorations and cold, dank, mine interiors, 1% of it contains the previously never-before-seen footage which you can immediately tell was added. It contains a stark difference in the color grading compared to the rest of the footage, being less neutral and more warm in its palette, making you question if they were taken from the same stock of film negatives as the rest of the movie. Apart from that though, the rest of the film is perfectly captured. Not a frame out-of-place or a shot that looks quick-scanned. It is all here.
As for the film itself, it takes place in a small, isolated, mining town somewhere out in the rural country-side. Most of the outdoors shots are wide open and filled with a sense of dread, as if the mining town is clinging on to whatever small pieces are left, especially after the incident that happened 20 years ago; a mine collapse. They only managed to save one, who was driven to cannibalism, and then further goes insane when he realizes that the reason the town could not get to them sooner was because they were indulging in a Valentine’s day celebration. As a result of the tragedy, the tradition of the town that had persisted for generations has now been banned. But 20 years later his visage returns as the celebrations return, wreaking havoc on the town during their Valentine’s day dance once more.
While the plot seems pretty bog-standard for the genre, what really sells it are the actors; a lot of them do not even feel like actors, in a positive sense. Generally, they look and feel like the rough-and-tumble young adults of some small mining town, forced into this kind of labor because of a lack of opportunity. A lot of the girls are also attractive, but not too attractive that it becomes distracting. In essence, they cast the perfect people to play their roles. The actors also adequately fill their roles, with the two main actors portraying ‘Axel’ and ‘T.J.’, doing an exceptional job at portraying the slowly growing rift between them as you can sense a previous history. There are a few moments where characters act in a questionable manner, sometimes seeming artificial, and other times where it tries to force comedic relief, which are extremely hit or miss. This is partially because the actor does not measure up to the others, but also because the film does not need much, if any, comic relief. Ironically, the only comedy I found in it to be effective was the inadvertent comedy, which is not a negative mind you. It comes from the realistic portrayal of people who you feel like they know each other, simply interacting. One actor in particular who executed this well was Keith Knight who plays ‘Hollis’. I found myself rooting for ‘Hollis’ in the end, hoping he would survive. He was just too enjoyable to watch on screen, along with his stand-out mustache. Besides the people there is also a good deal of “car acting” as well with people burning out gravel and drifting off frame, primarily in muscle cars. It should offer an inkling of interest to car enthusiasts.
The primary drama between the characters is driven by a love triangle where friends have to take sides, emotions flair, and in the end, it becomes less about who will get the girl and more about who could potentially be the killer. This focus on a love triangle fits with the theme of the film and its Valentine’s day setting, utilizing its holiday-exploitation to tell what could potentially be looked at as a satire of the holiday itself, although I will not dare venture deep down that pretentious rabbit-hole. In all honestly, the holiday horror film, and the holiday film in general, should simply use the aesthetics of that holiday to reinforce the narrative they are trying to craft. I do not fall for a lot of the “subversive, deconstructive, critical analysis” bullshit a lot of others seem more than happy to latch on to, making unnecessary connections and applying completely irrelevant modes of philosophy. Quite frankly, the film poking fun at a holiday all about love is as deep as that aspect needs to be, with the killer using hearts concealed in chocolate boxes as his calling card. In truth, if one were to truly “pry the lid off of” this film, you would find at its heart (no pun intended) a film more about trauma, and a small town attempting to heal from a very realistically potential disaster that the elders attempt to hide and bury in the past.
In terms of its effects, they are portrayed exceptionally well. We see impalements through the chest and head, boiling of skin, among a litany of other interesting deaths, one of which shows a decapitation-via noose from an already-dead character whose body we then see fall down a long shaft for a final thud at the bottom, lingering on the impact just long enough to get the visceral feel from it, and shot in such a way that it does not overtly expose the obvious dummy. There are also a number of smaller effects, such as when they play the knife-hand game at the bar, the fighting sequences in the mine, and a lot of environmental details which may or may not just be circumstantial due to the fact that they are real, such as sparks from the pickax and the shattering of lights. The production quality is executed and shot well enough that the few hitches in quality that there are, are well-hidden, and the prominent effects it shows front and center are always made with care and precision.
Outside of the story and characters the cinematography is also gorgeous, again, thanks in-part to the wonderful 4K transfer. The rustic countryside is just downright comfy to look at with its wide open ranges and with its quaint-looking town and, of course, the dark and foreboding mine, which it surprisingly manages to make varied and interesting throughout. There is a mine-cart fight sequence, a murder at the entrance where people hang their mining suits which is used to great effect, a pretty neat sequence where they try to escape via ladder, and of course the claustrophobic tunnels of the mine itself. It makes it feel like an actual mine shaft instead of just some sound stage or abandoned crappy mine they paid for some permits to shoot in. There is simply excellent craftsmanship behind the camera:
But what good horror film is without a memorable theme? This has to have a stellar theme, does it not? While there is no particular “theme” here, it instead goes for a more dramatic, eerie soundscape of violins and what sounds like cellos, mixed in with some moody, low-key synth sounds reverberating in the background. Listening to ‘Pickaxe Impalement Suite’ gives you a great variety of intense, thrilling, haunting, dream-like, and discordant music, with a shrieking crescendo of ear-murdering violin noises. And of course, what good is a rustic love-themed film without a ballad? Oh yes, the film ends with a ballad for the legendary killer in the film. An interesting choice, but one that makes it all the more memorable and unique. It does not tease you with lurid fascinations of some supernatural killer, or end on some striking and catchy pop song, but instead chooses a melancholy ode to the figure responsible for the slaughtering you just witnessed, immediately following the ending scene where he slinks off into the darkness of the mine, mortally wounded, cackling maniacally.
While the film did not get its dues back when it came out, I am more than willing to give it its due now. It does what every film should strive to do and to be; nothing more and nothing less than what it tells you it is about, while using the best abilities of its filmmakers to realize that vision for you, the viewer.
‘Virus’ is a movie about how you do not make a movie. While the premise of it is interesting, with an other-worldly alien life form infecting modern computers and causing electronics to become sentient, the execution leaves more than just a lot to be desired. The entire film is centered on nothing more than the, at-times impressive, at other times not-so-impressive, special effects.
We start off with decent production value that slowly degrades as the film goes along. From the miniatures in a bathtub in the beginning with the tug boat, to the less convincing micro-machine robots we see skedaddling along throughout the film, to the end where they fire themselves out of the boat by rocket, which looks and feels quite rushed. There are some neat and interesting effects, such as the first cyborg man they encounter, who they dispatch by cutting his power cord, only for him to resuscitate partially, his head exploding from his body with razor-tipped mandibles, to the skull-headed giant robots. Even the CGI monster at the end was rendered somewhat realistically. That is about it though in terms of positives.
The acting is spotty at best. Donald Sutherland hams it up beyond belief, sometimes acting like a crazed madman, other times acting like a loon, and other times just throwing in the towel and mumbling his way through the script. The only one actually giving it his all, god bless his heart, is William Baldwin. Even Jamie Lee Curtis feels like she does not want to be here, either feeling like she is too good for this role, or that she knows how bad it is and simply needs the money. The rest of the acting is either forgettable or eye-rollingly plain.
We rarely see characters interact outside of plot-related materials. It seems no one is more interested in seeing this film end than the protagonists in-character as they cruise from scene to scene, somehow making a 99 minute long film feel like it is only 70 minutes, spouting off throw-away dialogue that ends up not mattering, and plot points changing from trying to get off the ship, trying to blow up the ship, trying to find other crew mates, to trying to find the central computer. I guess that is one more positive to add to the film, it feels a lot shorter than it actually is. Usually bad films feel longer than they are, but I guess the entertaining gun-fighting and robot effects help speed things along. You do see a lot of flayed skin, dismemberment, and set-destruction throughout.
Going back to the story, the pacing is completely off. We are introduced to how the alien life-form meets humanity, colliding with a space station/satellite, then beaming down to a Russian research vessel, conveniently equipped with automated machining and robotics labs for some reason, until we cut to the people we are going to follow through the rest of the film on a tug boat, pulling cargo. The captain, as we learn, is an idiot who takes his cargo completely uninsured through unofficial boating channels during a massive storm and then gets mad at his crew when they try to save their own lives by attempting to cut the cargo. We then see him contemplate all of what has happened after they make it out of the storm by putting a revolver in his mouth. Are we supposed to pity him, be angry with him, relate with him and his failure? Who the fuck knows.
As previously stated, Baldwin is the real star of the show here, unlike Donald or Jamie Lee, both of which seem to phone it in at times and then chew the scenery during others (although sometimes overacting and scenery chewing can be endearing and entertaining, neither is followed through with in this picture). I will give William Baldwin credit where it is deserved; he is a damn fine actor in that he always gives every role he has 100%, despite his 100% not being up to the same level of other actors, namely his brother Alec. He definitely works for his roles, unlike the other big names on screen here who seem to sleepwalk through theirs. Throughout the film, Baldwin gives some semblance of a character with motivation and desire, even if both of those boil down to “trying to survive”, at least it is something beyond “pissy” or “drunk”. I cannot say much for the other actors, as they seem to only exist as foils to Baldwin, Sutherland, and Jamie Lee. That is to say, they have no character, they are mere extensions of the main characters. Sherman, who plays Richie, is somewhat entertaining to watch, but he plays the character in such a bipolar, manic way, it is hard to take him or his character seriously. He, too, exists solely to create an exit for both main characters to survive.
I cannot overstate how shallow the characterization is in this movie. Take for instance Squeaky, who is friends with Baldwin’s character. For some reason alien to us the viewer, we are supposed to care about what happens to him and care about the relationship between the two of them, despite their screen time before this incident adding up to a whopping minute of footage, maybe a minute and a half. I do not know if what I am about to say is smart, or incredibly stupid, but perhaps this film would have benefited from being longer. Like, a lot longer. Like 20 minutes longer. Sure, the acting from Sutherland and Jamie are downright awful, but the other acting is serviceable to a point where they at least are not the focal point of laughter throughout the film. If we had maybe 5 more minutes of them before getting on the Russian vessel, 5 more minutes of them looking around and interacting on-board the vessel and figuring out for themselves what happened before the Russian girl explodes her mouth all over them with an info-dump, and if we had 5 to 10 more minutes of them being hunted by said robots/cyborgs, we would have a lot more competent of a film on our hands.
Character interaction goes a long way, especially if what you are aiming for is a special-effects-based movie. This is a horror movie after all, and what matters in horror movies is not the special effects, it is the characters that the special effects happen to. Think about ‘The Exorcist’. Would it have been as effective of a movie if we cut out half the out-of-plot characterization of the priest caring for his mother, talking with his friend, and instead had that accumulate to around 2 minutes of footage? Of course not. Action movies are far better at getting away with low characterization and high effects than horror movies are. Horror movies require characters to reflect the dread, intensity, and suspicion of the scenarios and circumstances they find themselves in. We enjoy seeing moments of realization, moments of terror, and moments of shock. Actors love those moments too, as they can over-act their hearts out and have it actually work within the context of the film. ‘The Thing’ took its time with characters and context, setting up all the motivations and desires and it turned out the better. Here, the most we see of characters interacting is completely procedural, lacking in a feeling of immersion or growth as the story progresses.
As for the other aspects of the film, cinematography is very bland and dark. There are a few shots that pull out a foreboding and an unnerving sense of anticipation, but overall it feels flaccid. The score is entirely forgettable. I have no idea what the movie sounded like other than the typical rote music you associate with horror films. As for the thematics, you get the typical “humans are hostile and must be eradicated” akin to ‘The Terminator’, with no further elaboration or exploration of that idea. The most we get is the alien life form talking with the protagonists via computer, telling them humans must be eradicated because they are “noxious, destructive, and invasive”. Real original. They probably should not have even bothered giving the alien motivations, since all it does is flatten the mystery surrounding the creature and makes its simplistic motivations all the less frightening.
In the end what we get is a poorly acted (for the most part) display of special effects atop a behemoth of a mess of non-characters, going-nowhere plot, and stale atmosphere. The non-ending of blowing up the ship with both characters escaping also leaves a sour taste in your mouth. It almost makes you longing of the jump scare/cliffhanger horror movie ending trope. You want something to make the film feel at all interesting, but it just fails to deliver.