2015 In a long tradition of avoiding end of the year blogs, I thought I would try to break my silence and write for the first time in a long time. This year I turned 33, a big number far beyond what I expected to reach growing up. It's funny because I rarely think of myself as an adult. It's only when I look in the mirror and see how my features have aged and realize this is how the world sees me that reality comes crashing down. I'm not old by any means, but I am fairly certain I am well on my way to a new period/chapter of life. I used to write all the time about longing for the past. Memories of child hood, successes, and failures- they all tend to flow together in a pool of nostalgia so deep with revisionist history it's a wonder how I haven't drown in my own soap opera-ish b.s. The truth is I was miserable as a kid. Even more so as a teenager. I was lonely, self conscious (1), and quick to anger to name off just a few of my many flaws. Looking back now at 33, I wouldn't trade where I'm at now for any of that. For all the broken hearts, disappointments, and (especially) the lack of freedom, there's nothing I find myself interested in revisiting anymore. I like being an adult adulting around with adultish wisdom. It's like discovering a new character class unlocked in the game of life at level 33 you never realized you had already been specializing. That's my geekly reference for this post.
In a world of The Kardashians, Jersey Shore, and every other shocking symbol of idolized depravity, perhaps it's fitting that the opening minutes of Scream The TV Series shows two girls going at it while being filmed by someone nearby. After all, what better way to get attention, as taught by Scream 4, then by having 'fucked up shit happen to you'? Yet we also live in the day and age of reboots, remakes, and endless sequels, which is of course why this TV show even exists. Story wise you won't see much carry over from the movies to the show because unlike most reboots, this series seems to want to set out on its own. For me this concept is fine, but it leaves me wondering why then call it 'Scream' if you're going to just create a separate entity? Marketing, of course. Money. Name value. This is why 'Scream' is sharing its name with this new iteration. As someone whose taken many an opportunity to blast remakes and reboots (and still I say very deservedly so), I'm going to admit (full disclosure) that it's going to be hard not comparing this show to the movies it was based around. Complain in the comments if you must, but the way I see is that if they want to cash in on the name value to help give this show some legs then it must also be willing to submit itself to the judgmental comparisons that go along with it. Take the bad with the good, folks. That's just life.
On June 25, 2015 we will be heading out for our second live paranormal ghost hunt at the Brinton Lodge in Douglasville, Pennsylvania. Brinton Lodge is a nonprofit historic site whose history begins in the 1700's. Once nothing more than a tiny farm house built by the Millard family, it has since been renovated over the years into a 28 room mansion with three floors and a large basement. During that time the building had several owners who used it either as a private residence or as several different businesses. Until recently, the Lodge operated as Covatta's Brinton Lodge Restaurant. One of the most known stories was written in the book, 'Ghost stories of Berks County Book One' by Charles J. Adams III. He recounts the story of Caleb Brinton, a rather snooty fellow who bought the building in 1927 and opened a very exclusive, very secret gentlemen's club for the county's elite. Those who attended are scarcely known, and the extent of secrecy Caleb was willing to go to even included hiding the guests' automobiles in a nearby barn built on the premises. In 1972 there was a flood that destroyed much of the downstairs of the building. Allegedly Caleb was so distraught of the damage that he never re-opened the lodge. Caleb died 3 years later in 1975.
The term 'horror snob' is an often quoted phrase used to describe my take on the genre. Frequent listeners know this by now. I am hard on horror movies. I am hard on horror games. I am hard on horror books. Love and passion are not an acceptable excuses for shoddy story telling, lack of detail, and despite what the 'hardcore' horror fan base believes, gore is not an acceptable substitute for legitimate suspense and fear. I've railed against this sort of treatment by hollywood and indie film makers who expect us to fear character knock offs of Leatherface because of a few buckets of blood without ever really understanding what made the originals unique and terrifying. Because of all this I am labeled, and self labeled 'a horror snob.' My only defense is I'm tired of the genre being disrespected. Movies, books, and games that follow these processes do little in my estimation to bring back the respectability of the genre. It was this same mind set that led to a rant on a recent episode of Ghost in the Podcast about a video game that released a couple months ago. At the time my rant was based on the early portions of the game, which a few listeners took exception to in the emails they sent after the show. They went on to say I needed to spend more time progressing further into the game before making a final judgment. They also said perhaps my usually hilarious rants may have gotten this one....wrong. It was this feedback that prompted me to boot up the game and go further into the story to see if my original snobbery was too quick to lambast something I should've taken more time to get to know. And you know what..... ....those sons of bitches were right.
I think one of the most frequent questions posed to me in my time doing Dead Air/Ghost in the Podcast has always been what scares me most. On the show there are always the jokes of my fears of the eight legged spawns of Satan who are not-so-secretly attempting to devour my very soul (All hail Arachnos!), but the thing is in reality I can handle myself somewhat gracefully when dealing with my arch-nemeses. Even as they (deliberately) build their webs at perfect eye level. The reality, however, is that I've never discussed what really scares me on the show. The truth of my deepest fear isn't something as entertaining as spider orbs, their real life brethren, or those tense moments walking down a long hallway in Amnesia as I run dangerously low on kerosene for my lamp. As much as those things scare me, as discussed on the show, there is a difference between 'safe' fear and 'real' fear. What I want to tell you about here is my 'real' fear. Several years ago I had a dream about my niece and I spending time together at a local mall. She was around six at the time and for most of her childhood she and I were very close. Taking her to the mall or out for ice cream or just out to the park was not an uncommon activity for us in the waking world so of course I thought nothing of what was about to happen in the next several minutes. At one point in the dream I bent down to pick my fork up off the floor and when I came back up she was gone. I searched the food court, ran through the halls screaming her name, searched every store I came across knocking displays over as my panic built to a crescendo my sleeping mind couldn't take. I awoke in a cold sweat with my face buried in my hands sobbing uncontrollably. I spent the rest of the night lying awake on my niece's floor as she slept blissfully ignorant of my presence. The next morning I was gone before she awoke, and any time I was put into a position to take her somewhere I would have mini panic attacks before leaving the house. To this day I have never experienced a fear as brutal and honest as I did that night while I dreamed. It makes the nights worrying about Freddy, Jason, or the monsters under my bed waiting to pounce look pathetically weak by comparison. I'd take on all he imaginary monsters lurking in the dark if it meant never having to face that fear again.
When I first started Dead Air I spent a long time debating on how I wanted to format the show. During my time on EC I was relegated more to a side act of funny voices and sarcastic commentary, more out of necessity for being totally lost in most of the subject matter (especially when doing the shout casts where I hadn't played any of the games). People enjoyed it and it was great, but I often found myself afraid to sit in on consecutive shows over worries of getting overplayed and burning out my welcome with the listeners. Thankfully that didn't happen (Hell I even heard a rumor I had a 'cult' back in the day), but I found the worries replaying themselves after it was suggested I take on a full time show of my own. What exactly could I do that could carry a show? What are my interests? What could I do that would be more than just a few funny voices? The answer was my fascination with horror. Granted I knew going in the show would cater to a small sampling of the overall Rival Cast crowd since Dead Air is a genre specific show. However I still felt there was enough there to go ahead and take on the project. As such we've had some pretty significant success, specifically episode 18. To this day that episode is still the most (by far) downloaded episode of Dead Air. I mention this because episode 18 also became a turning point for my vision of the show. The topics we discussed went out of the realm of the fantastic and brought our attention to 3 women in the Cleveland area who'd been rescued from a man who kept them captive for ten years. Thus the topic was born: real life horror stories.
As is tradition in the waning months leading up to the Christmas season, the video game industry has exploded with new toys and gadgets for the masses, promising new interactive ways to spend your time avoiding the drudgery of responsibilities like school, work, and families. This year is perhaps one of the bigger ones for releases, however, since the next generation of gaming is kicking off in a two week battle for our nerdly affections and dollars. First up is the Playstation 4, brought to you by a Sony corporation that finally learned the benefits of focusing on the mass exodus of holiday shopping to bring their new system to North America first. The build up to the PS4 started back in February of 2013 when official notification of the system and dates for pre-ordering went public, followed shortly by Microsoft's often and deservedly mocked cluster fuck of an announcement to the new X-Box One. Since then debate has raged on through many a blog and parent basement as to the merits of which is better, more exciting, more promising, and ultimately the most fulfilling. As a professed fan of the Playstation 3 over the 360 along with my own opinions on the aforementioned debate, I picked up a PS4 at the midnight launch (my first as a customer instead of an employee) and spent several hours trying to get a glimpse of whether or not my nerd urges would be fulfilled. All I can so far is despite a few hitches I haven't been disappointed. The system is surprising small and light weight, a welcome change from the previous console generation. The design of the overall system is a little odd, prompting me at first to wonder where the hell the disk drive was along with the eject and power buttons. As a man and therefore allergic to such helpful tools as the instructions, I took a couple minutes fumbling around with the system discovering where each item is. To describe the system best I'd say it reminds me of two large solid black lego bricks stuck together. In between the bricks is a small slot for the disks with two small buttons (one above it, one below it) for the power and eject. The slots for the USB, ethernet, etc are easy to find in front and in back and assembly of the parts took less than 2 minutes. Mine is a little noisy when running a disk but not so much that it became an annoyance like with the 360 or PS3 consoles. Overall the system takes up less shelf space and seems to handle long hours of use without becoming overly hot (at least mine doesn't seem too so far).
In the author's note section of Stephen King's latest bestseller 'Dr. Sleep', King mentions having returned to the characters of the Shining 'with trepidation.' Reading King's notes at the end of his books often proves as interesting as (and in rare cases more interesting than) the stories themselves. It's a small gaze into the creator's mind to discover what sort of journey this particular story took to becoming real. Recently (The Dark Tower's 7th volume for instance) these little notes come across more as a defense for the stories, story elements, characters, or political and personal ideology that shaped the narrative like forceps during a painful birth. Dr. Sleep does a little of both- gives you the birth of the story and the defense for its existence. Whether or not King made a decent sell of why the story of Danny Torrance, last seen escaping a hedge maze while an ax wielding, psychotic father freezes to death (if you are a fan of the Kubrick version) or escaping with his mother and shining partner as his father allowed the Overlook Hotel to explode (the book ending), there's no point arguing about the why's of existence. Much like the debate over God, the point is we're here so we might as well make the best of it. All we can do is decide whether or not the story is done well, lives up to King's lofty standards that have allowed at least 50 bestsellers, and whether or not Shining fans should take the time to give the latest yarn a try. The story starts out simply enough: A grown up Danny Torrance has become the image of his alcoholic father, escaping his demons in the bottom of a bottle as he slowly loses the last vestige of control over his life. He moves around quite a bit, working different jobs in hospitals and hospices where he spends time mopping floors and using his weakening shining powers to help the dying pass comfortably (i.e.: painlessly) into death. We do get a little explanation on what happened to the characters that survived the Overlook hotel. Most importantly, however, we learn early on that the ghosts of the Overlook weren't entirely deterred by the hotel's explosion, and a few of them come and pay Danny a visit as he tries to move on with his life. Friend and savior Dick Halloran teaches him a way to lock away these evil spirits though, and for years things seem to improve for Danny.
What strikes me most in the opening minutes of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is the soundtrack. It recalls for me a time when I first watched the original Friday the 13th where the screen opens black with a serenade of crickets in the brush. Soon enters the teens making out, laughing, moving ever closer to the sexual conquest when we, the viewer, suddenly realize we are watching this whole thing unwind from the killer's perspective. Slowly, the scene moves along, invoking each of our senses until the brutal conclusion overwhelms us with the fulfillment of well drawn out dread and suspense. Flash now to the opening of Amnesia. The door to the cell slowly opens, followed by footsteps fading into the distance and the closing of a door. We pass out in a haze and wake up on the bedroom floor disoriented. The room is well lit yet dark, and seconds later a bit that can only be best described as being ripped right out of a Varyar (show host and RCM owner) nightmare, the sound of children calling to us to come follow them. "Daddy...." the chilling voice of a young girl calls to you. "Come find us daddy..." We see shadows moving down the halls ahead of us. The mansion as we explore horribly shakes from unknown tremors making each crevice of the grand hall bleed its many years of forgotten dust. Doors are locked off, drawers stand empty, and each room vast in size. Somewhere down the hall a piano starts to play but no one is there. Doors convulse as you near them, as if some sort of creature were on the other side trying to smash its way through. A grandfather clock chimes quietly over your muffled breathing letting you know the hour is late. You enter an office...and the phone starts ringing.
As most of you who listen to the show already know, I am a huge fan of the survival horror game Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Not only have I been shilling for this game since the outset of our first episode (shilling, (v)- getting on ones knees to thank the video game production Gods through worship, continuous pimping of the game to everyone a person knows, and potential human sacrifice. And no I can't promise that's why Highlander hasn't been on the show the past 3 weeks......) and eagerly reviewed the latest trailer for its follow up game, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs set to release Sept 10. Amnesia was the first horror game that truly invoked any semblance of fear or suspense since I was 12 years old and played The 7th Guest for the first time. Most games, like bad B level horror movies, tended to instead focus on the occasional jump scare and endless amounts of gratuitous, pixelated blood. Amnesia dared to do one better which is why it constantly remains one of if not THE most terrifying game every created. Needless to say the expectation for the follow up couldn't be any higher and rest assured I will be reviewing that mother the moment it graces my poor run down pc. But in the mean time I thought we could take a step back in time the next few weeks leading up to the release and take a peak at the earlier horror titles created by Amnesia master minds Frictional Games. The first of these titles is called, 'Penumbra Episode 1.' Plot