Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Five MORE Awesomely Awful (and FREE!) Horror Movies on Youtube

The absolute best of the worst the Tube has to offer this Halloween…

At some indeterminable point in the past, the suits at YouTube decided it was worth the time and effort to set up movie-centric channels on the site, perhaps as a way to deter all of those scalawags and cretins that like to illegally upload copyrighted material to the site. I really can’t complain about the idea, especially when they give you tons and tons of totally free - and largely, obscure as all hell - movies to sample like a buffet tray or something. Of course, there’s that little problem of streaming ads that pop up every five minutes, but as long as you know the right people to turn to - nudge, nudge - that little problem can be remedied in no time at all.

So, last year, I did a quick round-up of some of the best of the worst you could screen for free at YouTube’s horror movie section tab. Since then, I’ve stumbled upon a whole lot more crap, and decided that it just wouldn’t be Christian of me to let you folks go one All Hallows Eve without knowing what sorts of low-budget, low-quality and low-value monster movies are out there on the Web.

Have some free time this Halloween? Well, here are five MORE awesomely awful horror flicks on YouTube, you can screen RIGHT FREAKING NOW, free of charge…

The Ape Man (1943)
Director: William Beaudine

I’m not exactly certain what horrible things Bela Lugosi did in his youth, but the cosmic forces of the universe made sure he suffered for them during the latter half of his acting career. I think, per capita, there hasn’t been a single human being that’s been in such consistently crappy movies - half of the Ed Wood filmogaphy, a movie in which he co-starred alongside a dude in a gorilla costume and two Lewis & Martin rip-offs…hell, he even had to play second fiddle to Boris Karloff a few times, and by now, we ALL know how Lugosi feels about that. As bad as those movies may have been, I don’t think it’s physically possible for a human being to star in a film less entertaining than “The Ape Man,” a movie that clocks in at just over an hour…which, in my opinion, is about 59 minutes longer than any human should ever be subjected to it.

You may think I’m joking, but by the ten minute mark of the movie, you will be bored to tears. It’s one thing to make a crappy movie, but to make a BORING movie is something completely different. The “plot” of the picture involves Bela trying to kidnap this reporter chick so he can suck out her bone marrow and reversify his gorilla-itis. You see, this movie was made back in the day when polio was still a thing, and the big plot mechanism here is that Bela thought injecting himself with monkey bone juice would remedy his medical malady, but instead, it just made him look like a werewolf and stuff. The movie, in my regards, is really the ultimate motivational tool: after watching five minutes of this turd and a half, you’ll be jumping at the bit to do ANYTHING other than continue watching it.

Goth (2003)
Director: Brad Sykes

When I explain the plot of “Goth” to you, you may erroneously think it’s something worth watching. Rest assured, however, that the execution here is nowhere near is excellent as it could’ve/should’ve been, and the end result is nothing more than a mildly titillating (but mostly, just laborious) soft-core thriller with some mild (I mean, mild) horror overtones.

So, there’s this goth couple that likes to hang out at the local goth club. One night, they meet up with this one goth chick that’s so goth that her name is literally “Gothe.” Anyway, Gothe is walking around carrying super-cocaine in her pocket, and after feeding it to the young couple, they wake up in a van where the titular character makes them perform all sorts of promiscuous activity. Yeah, we get some girl-on-girl content here, but seeing as how the actresses both have Roman noses, their smooching scenes more closely resemble a game of facial joust than tongue lacrosse. After that, we get this ridiculous back story about how Gothe probably killed the sister of the other chick in the movie, and there’s this party scene where a whole bunch of people get stabbed, and the final act tries to get all M. Night on our asses, and…well, let’s just say, this isn’t a very good movie. In any, any respect. For black lipstick aficionados only, I’m afraid.

Monsturd (2003)
Directors: Rick Popko, Dan West

Back in the eighth grade, I wrote a ten page screenplay for a short film about an animated piece of fecal matter that went on a killing spree. Even though I was just 13, I realized quite early just how stupid my idea was, and quickly abandoned it. Unbeknownst to me, apparently some no-talent indie filmmakers got a hold of that spiral-bound, and decided to film my unrealized project anyway.

Really, what could you possibly expect from a movie called “Monsturd?” It’s a movie that is comprised SOLELY of bad doo-doo puns and off-hand references to “South Park.” It’s less a motion picture than it is an hour and half of listening to the kids at the special-ed table eat lunch. The “plot” is basically a re-do of the “Jack Frost” storyline, with an evil criminal dude getting mutated into a super-plastic, super-pliable monster - and in this case, that monster just so happens to be an eight foot tall, living, breathing and gurgling mountain of man-shit. You’re probably wondering just how long such a one-note joke can last. I would say it gets “stale” (har-har!) after about two minutes, and this movie drags in for 88 minutes longer. In hindsight, I think I probably would’ve preferred a bout of Montezuma’s revenge for an hour and a half instead.

Violent Shit 4.0 (2010)
Directors: Timo Rose, Andreas Schnaas 

Thankfully, this one ISN’T a follow-up to “Monsturd,” but a mildly less crappy German exploitation movie that’s one part shock-horror and one part post-apocalyptic hooey. The actual title is “Karl the Butcher vs. Axe,” but come on, folks: this alternate title is way, way more informative and truthful, and if nothing else, the filmmakers should be applauded, for once, giving us truth in advertising.

Admittedly, the plotline here is pretty hard to follow. There are about four or five tribes of warriors running around - including a tribe of Amazonians that like to yank the genitalia off captured soldiers and drink a frothy beverage, subtlety referred to as “sperm-wine” - all trying to…you know, I’m not sure, to be honest. What I do know, however, is that there is a lot of stupid video game humor to be found (at one point, a character performs a literal “fatality” on his adversary) alongside about a million bajillion Monty Python references (I can’t remember which one is Axe and which one is Karl, but one of them is a dead ringer for the Black Knight from “The Holy Grail.”) Overall, it’s a pretty trying and pointless movie, but at least some of the gore effects are decent. And thankfully, the fecal matter quotient on this one - compared to our earlier forays, anyway - remains relatively minimal.
The Werewolf of Washington (1973)
Director: Milton Moses Ginsberg

There really aren’t a whole lot of political-themed horror movies out there, and since we have both Halloween and a Presidential election coming up shortly, I figured this movie - starring Dean Stockwell as an ex-journalist-turned presidential aide-turned lycan - would be a moderately entertaining way to fulfill both quotas. As it turns out - I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

The first problem with the movie is that it’s dark. As in, excruciatingly dark to the point that you can’t tell which character is which. The special effects are pretty stupid, and the social satire elements are way too heavy-handed. Basically, what we’re dealing with here is a horror comedy that doesn’t know it’s supposed to have elements of humor. There are some pretty decent scenes here and there - the part where a Richard Nixon-type turns into a were-beast during a weekly radio address is probably the highlight of the picture - but overall? This thing is just a waste of a good idea, and a forgotten ‘70s relic that deserves to remain dusty and unexamined.

So there you have it, kids: five astoundingly bad horror movies, that you can check out for a grand total of free dollars and fifty-free cents. And believe you me, if you catch ANY of these movies…well, let’s just say you’re DEFINITELY getting what you paid for here.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The 2012 Little Five Points Halloween Parade & Festival

A Photographic Essay About Atlanta's Largest Halloween Hootenanny 

For the last couple of years in Atlanta, there's been this thing called the "Little Five Points Halloween Parade & Festival." For those of you unfamiliar with Atlanta's geography, Little Five Points is the self-professed "Bohemian Mecca" (read: where all the white people hang out) of the city, and since quasi-urbanite Caucasians just love them some All Hallows Eve, I guess it's not really a surprise that the metro area's largest annual Halloween parade just so happens to run right down the L5P district.

Prior to this year, I've never been to the shindig, but I have to say that I've been interested in seeing what the hubbub was all about with my own two peepers for quite awhile now. All in all, I'd say my experiences were pretty enjoyable...although, in hindsight, I REALLY wish someone would've given me a survival guide for this kind of thing (and wouldn't you know it, I've actually outlined one at the tail end of the article, so after you've scrolled through all of these pictures, you'll know how to navigate the soiree come 2013.)

First off, you're going to encounter a LOT of freakishly tall puppet things when you arrive. If that's the kind of thing you have an aversion to, you might want to make alternate plans for your weekend. 

As far as the demographics go, you'll encounter a pretty eclectic cast of characters, including, but not limited to: tuba-playing zombies, tuba-playing gladiators and Batman, apparently having just eaten Robin. 

Oh, and jolly old Saint Nick made an appearance as well. And pity a plenty for the poor bastard having to wear all of that regalia when it was damn near 80 degrees Fahrenheit outside, too. 

It's vital that you learn the local language prior to your visit. From what I observed, the native tongue consists solely of permutations of "WOOO!", which, depending on the speaker's pitch, modulation and tone, fluctuates in meaning and intent. 

It wouldn't be Halloween without werewolves or overweight white folks making fools out of themselves. Thankfully, this fella' here was able to kill two proverbial birds with one metaphorical stone. 

For some reason, there was a lot of 1950s nostalgia present, which is peculiar, since I don't even think the Soviet Union was still around at the time half of the attendees were born. 

Esoteric costumes are all the rage in 2013. See the pasty chrome-dome in the center of the picture? Despite the grim reaper white face paint, he was actually a facsimile of Gandhi. 

Good to see that "undead librarian" fetish isn't going unsupported this year, no?

"Reps" from the High Museum were on display, rocking green Katy Perry wigs and batting around inflatable beach balls. Andy Warhol would most likely approve. Or kill himself on the spot. I have a hard time determining, really. 

Hey, it's Frankenstein! Or is it Mr. Hyde? Or just some Georgia State professor dressed up like a clod?

I was AGHAST (really, more like AGOG) at the number of 20-something males walking around the place dressed up like bananas. Seriously, there were entire gangs of roaming fruit, like it was the Saturday morning cartoon version of "The Warriors" or something. 


There's only one thing in this world more perplexing to me than a 19-year-old revealing in the idealized fantasy of 1970s youth culture...

...and that's Jason V. hitching a ride in the back of a pick-up with what appears to be a Spice Girls cover-band. 

As we all know: there ain't no party like a Kroger-sponsored party, because everybody knows Kroger-sponsored parties "don't stop."

The most abstruse tag-team of the day? In white, Boss Hogg from "The Dukes of Hazzard," and in dark green, Ho Chi Minh. I think they'll be challenging Horshach from "Welcome Back, Kotter" and Adolf Eichmann for the WWE title later on in the evening. 


Oh, and there we're scores of folks playing copyright-protected music on the back of flatbeds throughout the evening. And also, words of wisdom for aspiring photographers: try to aim your camera AWAY from that giant silver thing in the sky. 

Just how boss was this year's festival? So boss, that even soon-to-be ex-President Barack Obama made a guest appearance! 

As you can see, it was a pretty goofy affair, and one that would be markedly improved for you, dear reader, if you were to follow these key suggestions: 

RULE NUMBER ONE: Atlanta weather in October has been diagnosed as clinically bipolar, and as such, fluctuates from sweltering to bone-chilling at the drop of the hat. It's probably not a bad idea to bring a jacket with you, or else you may find yourself having to huddle next to really fat people to generate communal heat. 

RULE NUMBER TWO: I know I'm the first person in history to ever bring this up, but parking in Atlanta is downright HORRIBLE. If you plan on visiting the festival, be prepared to walk a LONG ways from L5P to the nearest parking garage. As in, almost two miles. Through the burned out husks of MARTA stations and funeral homes and everything. 

RULE NUMBER THREE: Really, the best thing you can do is show up to the thing ridiculously, insanely early. As in, about seven in the morning, where there is still scant local parking options to be found. 

RULE NUMBER FOUR: There are going to be a LOT of people around you, and most of them reek of American Spirit cigarettes or unwashed armpits. If either odors offend you, I'd suggest building up a tolerance for them starting in November.

Sights and sounds from the 2012 L5P Parade, in MOVING PICTURES! 


There are quite a few reasons to make the pilgrimage to L5P at least once in your lifetime, and as far as I am concerned, there isn't a better excuse in the world than Little Five Points Pizza

Atlanta may not be known as a "pizza town," but there's no denying that there are some outstanding pizza places in the perimeter. Little Five Points Pizza is probably one of the absolute best in the metro area, and is home to what may very well be the absolute best white pizza I've ever had - a proprietary pie loaded with a ricotta sauce that is so yummy, that it totally justifies having to suck in all of the second hand carcinogens being spewed your way thanks to the super-thoughtful tattooed people sitting at the adjacent table.  

And if you're wondering what this colorful goulash of graffiti is, it's actually what the restaurant's men's bathroom looks like. Next to the CDC, I think it may very well be the largest repository of germs, viruses and diseases in the ATL. But, uh, the clerks wash their hands regularly...I think.

And lastly, I don't think the guys were all that prepared for the massive influx of customers, which I guess partially explains how I ended up walking away with not just one, but TWO Sacagawea dollars at the change table. But as we all know...good luck finding a local retailer that accepts them as legit currency, though. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Halloween 6 - The Producer's Cut

A Look at the Legendary "Lost" Michael Myers Movie

The “Halloween” series - as long as we’re not counting ANYTHING made after “H20” - is really one of the better slasher franchises out there. The first is an all-time classic and the 1981 follow-up is arguably one of the most underappreciated horror flicks of the decade. Despite being derided mercilessly upon its original release, “Halloween III” (AKA, “The One That Doesn't Have Jack Shit To Do With The First Two Movies“) has garnered something of a cult classic status as of late, while parts IV and V are generally considered to be well above-average compared to its “dead teenager” contemporaries. 

Really, the odd duck out in the “Halloween” franchise is part six, which had the unfortunate honor of being released right before “Scream” came out. In many ways, “The Curse of Michael Myers” is the great “forgotten” Michael Myers movie, which is pretty appropriate, since the original cut of the film itself was shelved and REMAINS (legally) shelved to this day. 

The history here is a little convoluted, so we may have to take some time to get this thing down pat. The original script for “Halloween 6” was penned shortly after 1989’s “Halloween 5,” but since slasher movies were deader than Elvis by 1992, the script just kind of sat there for half a decade. In 1995, the sixth “Halloween” film finally went into production, but the test audiences HATED the first cut of the film so much that the guys at Dimension decided to go back and edit the hell out of the flick to make it more digestible for the masses. So, the film got a theatrical release to little fanfare, while the original cut of the film - ultimately referred to as “The Producer’s Cut” of the film - was left lying around the vaults. That is, until some dude leaked the film and started passing it around the VHS circuits at horror conventions in the late ‘90s. 

Well, don’t ask me how, but I was able to screen a copy of “The Producer’s Cut” of Halloween 6, and I figured it was worth a review. Clearly, the visual and audio quality of the cut is pretty horrendous, but I reckon we ought to be appreciative of what we have, anyway. Hell, like we would complain if somebody gave us a copy of “Songs from the Black Hole” on cassette tape, right? 

If you’re wondering what the key differences are between the original theatrical release and the Producer’s Cut, the title sequence is a good place to begin, because here, they’re totally different from what we ended up seeing on the big screen. After the opening credits scroll (introducing us to Paul Rudd as a construct, apparently), we encounter a presumably pregnant woman being wheeled through what appears to be a dimly-light warehouse. We get lots of scenes of slow-motion screaming, which concludes with a “nurse” of sorts delivering a baby in a room filled with candles while dudes in monk robes stand around holding torches and looking all ominous and stuff. We hear some voiceover from Donald Pleasance, see a flashback to the conclusion of “Halloween 5” and then, that classical John Carpenter riff kicks in. 

I tell 'ya - the foreclosure rates around here are just MURDER!

So, the woman that just gave birth is trying to escape from…something…alongside the “nurse” and her newborn. Now, you may be wondering how a woman that just squeezed out a nine pound dumbbell sans ANY painkillers would be physically able to run for her life just five seconds after the umbilical cord was cut. To respond to that inquiry, the producers…well, they never tell us, actually. The trio runs around a bunch of corridors a billion times (clearly, the set design here was greatly inspired by “Aliens”) before the nurse gets impaled by a certain lumbering psychopath. So, the new mother and her cub escape from the compound, and wouldn’t you know, they run smackdab into a torrential downpour. She decides to steal a truck, which results in Michael Myers snapping off the head of the vehicle’s rightful owner. Quick cut to the old Myers’ home, which is now occupied by the parts of the Strode family that HAVEN’T been dissected yet. A little kid named Danny has nightmares about something he calls “the voice man,” which looks an awful lot like the dude clad in black attire that sprung Michael out of jail towards the end of the last flick. Well, I’m sure that’s an inconsequential plot point and stuff. 

So, there’s this radio show hosted by a Howard Stern-type called Barry Simms. Through his program, we learn that Haddonfield, Ill. has banned Halloween for a couple of years, and this is the first Oct. 31 in about half a decade where kids will be allowed to roam the city streets. A woman calls the program and says she wants to get boned by “The Shape,” while the woman running around with her baby leaves a dire message on the show, which is automatically ridiculed by the host. Meanwhile, some dude named Tommy (played by Paul Rudd, if you can believe it) is recording the phone call, while updating his Michael Myers’ themed website. And if the name “Tommy Doyle” sounds just vaguely familiar…well, it should, since that’s the name of the kid Laurie Strode babysat in the first movie. 

We transition to a scene where Dr. Loomis is just hanging out in the woods, retired as all shit and stuff. He gets a knock at the door, and it turns out to be Dr. Wynn, AKA, the head of the psychiatric hospital that formerly housed Michael Myers. The two shoot the shit for awhile, and we return to the chick running with her baby, who is now hiding out at a bus terminal. The Shape shows up, and we have ourselves a good old fashioned pick-up truck versus nondescript bus chase, with predictable results. So, the mother ends up getting offed by Myers at a farm, but what the? There’s no baby to be found, anywhere!

Cut to the old Myers’ place, which is populated by your usual cast of angsty, mid-’90s stereotypes. As it turns out, the mother that got killed by Myers was actually a grown-up Jamie Lloyd - you know, Michael Myers’ niece from parts 4 and 5. This is buffered by a scene with Dr. Loomis and Dr. Wynn at Smith’s Grove Mental Institution, which concludes with Donald Pleasance cutting one of those kick-ass monologues the way only he can. Back to the Strodes, which is pretty much the most dysfunctional family this side of the Mansons. Kara - the primary protagonist of the film - is a college girl and Danny’s mom. She gets backhanded by her dad (your typical, one-dimensional drunk dad archetype), and her son responds by pulling a kitchen knife on him. I think that’s called “foreshadowing,” but I could be wrong. 

That's a nice picture you drew of your entire family being brutally murdered, Johnny. I'm sure we don't need  to look into that or anything.

Kara ends up meeting Tommy, and they kick it back at his place for awhile. He listens to Jamie’s phone call from the bus terminal and decides to visit it for clues. He arrives, and apparently, everyone was able to just IGNORE the massive blood trails leading into the women’s bathroom. He ends up finding the baby there, and says stuff to it in grunge-speak. Back at college, Kara shows off some of her kids’ artwork to her brother and his painfully ‘90s gal pal. Tommy runs into Dr. Loomis at the emergency room, and the two totally recognize each other from way back when. The two have this ridiculously long (as well as ridiculously ridiculous) discussion about how Michael Myers soaks up power through ancient rune stones and how his entire bloodline is “cursed” by some evil Irish spirit or something. Back at the Strode house, mom does some laundry and gets spooked by Loomis, who decides that it’s totally cool to just walk into people’s homes and start ranting and raving and shit. 

After talking to Loomis, Mrs. Strode comes to realize that her new place is the scene of a couple of homicides…a fact that is just a little hard to overlook, seeing as how the town is primarily KNOWN for being the stomping grounds of a dude named “Myers” that has a tendency to kill the shit out of people. I don’t know, maybe she thought it was the house of some other family called the “Myers” or something. Your usual “false scare” shtick unfurls, concluding with Mama Strode getting the sharp end of a hatchet dug into her face while hanging up laundry. Cut to a scene where Tommy and Tim, Kara’s brother, talk about stuff. We get some flashback of Jamie being abducted by the Druid cult, and then, we hear some more gobbledygook about runes and “the mark of thorn” and some other hogwash that explains that Michael ONLY goes on killing sprees under a certain celestial arrangement. And after all of that, we get another Dr. Loomis hissy-fit scene, because let’s face it, those segments NEVER get old. 

For the evening, Tommy’s mom is babysitting Danny, while we’re entertained by a montage of Halloween shenanigans transpiring across town. We’re given the shocking revelation that Tommy’s mom was actually the babysitter the night Michael killed his sister way back when, which, canonically, is just about freaking impossible, when you think about it. So, Mr. Strode comes in from work, all liquored up and stuff, and acting like an asshole. He finds his washing machine loaded with bloody apparel (even though the power in the home is off) before Michael decides to electrocute/impale him. 

Finally...a slasher movie in which a character gets killed by Christmas tree lights!

In the next scene, that one dude from the radio shows up and says he’s going to hold a live broadcast from the old Myers’ place, but he ends up being too stabbed to ever make it there. Then Kara’s brother and his girlfriend decide to head upstairs for some SEHKS, while Kara watches across the street (but it’s for TOTALLY non-pervy reasons, of course.) And in case this is the first slasher movie you’ve ever watched, things generally don’t end well for people that do humping, or any permutation thereof. And then, Danny decides to walk on over to the Myers’ place, which prompts Kara to pick up a fire poker and KICK SOME ASS. 

The climax of the movie is pretty much a watered down remake of the conclusion from the first flick, with Kara doing her best Jamie Lee Curtis impersonation while getting chased around by “the Shape.” Following the old “I have to discover every single corpse piled up over the course of the movie” routine, it’s revealed that Dr. Wynn - you know, the dude in charge of the mental hospital where Myers was housed for a couple of years - was actually the mysterious “man in black” from the end of “Halloween 5.” So, some druids show up at Tommy’s place, and decide to abduct Kara from some convoluted ritual sacrifice at Smith’s Grove. Of course, Tommy and Loomis intervene, which concludes with Myers being “frozen” by a set of runes they just left there in the hallway. After Tommy and Kara escape, Dr. Loomis returns to the building, where it’s revealed that…gasp…Dr. Wynn was actually pretending to be Michael Myers while the real killer escaped in the “man in black” garb! And if that’s not enough, a dying Dr. Wynn apparently “passed” on his evil to Dr. Loomis, who ends up getting the “mark of thorn” branded on his arm, somehow. And after a memorial to Donald Pleasance (who died shortly after the film was wrapped up), the final credits roll. 

Michael Myers' reaction upon finding out that, in seven years' time, he would be co-starring alongside Tyra and Busta Rhymes.

It’s been a couple of years since I last watched the theatrical version of “Halloween 6,” and while the “Producer’s Cut” has a few positive alterations, I have to say that I enjoyed the original version a lot more than this one. For one thing, the gore quotient in the original was way higher and the whole elemental-rune bullstuff was a lot less prominent. There were several key kills in the original (including the death of Dr. Loomis) that were excised from this version, which opted to leave the door open for a more supernaturally-tinged follow-up. Rumors have persisted for years that the Producer’s Cut would receive a full DVD release, but seeing as how demand for the title is so low (not to mention that the rights are owned by Disney, who’s list of priorities probably doesn’t entail ‘releasing niche-market horror movies that all but 100 or so people really give a shit about seeing, anyway), the odds of us ever being able to purchase the alternate version seems pretty unlikely. 

All in all, The Producer’s Cut of “Halloween 6” is a pretty decent, if not mediocre, slasher film, that feels pretty light on the exploitation and way too heavy on the mystical and supernatural. I’d say that it’s a pretty average horror flick for the timeframe, and if given the choice, definitely vouch for the theatrical version instead. Or better yet, just re-watch the first five movies as a substitution; what better way to celebrate Oct. 31 could there be other than 10 hours of nonstop Mikey Myers and synthesizer music, anyway? 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Five Horrible Horror Games on the NES...

...That You Need To Play This Halloween

You know, some of the best NES games out there seem to share a commonality: to a certain degree, they’re all horror-themed. Even games like Zelda and Mario, to some extent, had horror-elements, like the ghost houses in the third Super Mario game and those creepy, skeleton filled dungeons in the first Zelda. And of course, there are also the 8-bit classics that are a little bit more horror-centric, through and through.

“Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins,” “Monster Party,” “Maniac Mansion,” and of course, the “Castlevania” trilogy are not only among the best titles to be found on the Nintendo Entertainment System, but some of the best damn horror-themed games you will ever encounter. Granted, the games may not pack the same punch they did back in the late 1980s, but for those seeking sheer creep-out, button-pounding excitement in 8-bit doses, the titles STILL hold up remarkably well almost three decades down the turnpike.

As we all know by now, there were some horror-themed games on the NES that, well, weren’t all that remarkable - generally, the deluge of “licensed” titles based on franchises like “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Beetlejuice.” And then, there are some horror-themed NES games that, despite not being classics in ANY regard, remain mildly enjoyable today, despite all of their technical and structural shortcomings. The same way we gorge ourselves on enjoyably bad movies like “Troll 2” and “Ernest Scared Stupid” every year, I feel that every gamer worth his or her salt ought to likewise trot these five games out come the Samhain season. They may not be the best the console has to offer, but if you’re looking for some Halloween hokum, I really don’t know ANYONE could pass up this hidden “gems” of bad game design.

Ghoul School (1992)

What Makes It Horrific? It’s a side-scrolling action game in which you play a generic high-school punk that has to navigate a huge schoolhouse filled with monsters of all sorts, battling hordes and hordes of the undead in order to rescue the head cheerleader.

What Makes It Horrible? The game was released WAY late into the NES’ life cycle, and the graphics and audio are pretty darn underwhelming. The REAL backbreaker, however, is the game design, which fluctuates from frustrating to practically unplayable. You see, the enemies have this tendency to rush after you, and a single hit sends you flying backwards. This happens CONSTANTLY, since you have a limited time to attack, and even worse, it always seems to happen RIGHT at the top of staircases, resulting in your character getting knocked entirely off the screen.

What Makes It Worth Playing This Halloween? Trial-and-error games of the like are quickly vanishing off the face of the earth, and as long as you have patience and a lot of time to kill, you might actually end up enjoying the game, which is almost entirely anchored around exploration. Think of the game as a combination of “Metroid,” “River City Ransom” and “Castlevania,” only if all three of those games were incredibly shitty. That, and it’s not like there are that many games out there that are cemented around watching a poser smack eyeball monsters with yardsticks, you know…

Monster in My Pocket (1992)

What Makes It Horrific? It’s a platform-action hybrid based on the short-lived mini-action figure trend, in which you take control of either a Dracula doppelganger or Frankenstein’s Monster and fight Lilliputian ghouls and ghosts in a scaled-down environment reminiscent of Capcom’s “Rescue Rangers” games and the SNES title “Harley’s Humongous Adventure.”

What Makes It Horrible? As solid as the game is, it can’t compensate for two major design missteps. One, the game is really, really short, and totally beatable in about an hour or two. Without question, there is NOT a whole lot of replay value to be found here. The second flaw comes in the form of some of the most annoying enemies you’ll ever encounter in an 8-bit title, these cheap-ass bastards that are almost impossible to avoid running into. There’s a fine line between “challenging” and “frustrating,” and this Konami title definitely toes more of the latter than the former.

What Makes It Worth Playing This Halloween? This game, for all of its misgivings, is like a bite-sized candy bar. Yeah, it’s not really what you want, but if it’s in front of you, you just KNOW you’re going to enjoy it, anyway. The graphics and music are really good, and the controls, for the most part, are very intuitive. The level design is really awesome, and the gameplay, for the most part, is pretty satisfying. Especially noteworthy are the game’s bosses, which include, among others, an ungodly cat-porcupine monster that shoots knifes at you and ice-breathing yeti that hides out in a refrigerator.

Robodemons (1989)

What Makes It Horrific? It’s an unlicensed Color Dreams game based loosely on Dante’s Inferno, only instead of Dante, you’re in command of a jet-packed robo-master equipped with a never-ending supply of boomerangs. Throughout the game - which encompasses both side scrolling horizontal shooting stages as well as traditional action-platforming sequences - you’ll battle all sorts of mechanical demons and ghouls, in stages with names like “The Level of Bone” and “The Level of Condemned Souls.”

What Makes It Horrible? A lot of games can go a long way with minimal graphics, but “Robodemons” ain’t exactly a game that capitalizes on the “less is more” approach. Most of the stages look very, very sparse, and the sprites are very undefined. The difficulty level is also a major detriment, since it fluctuates from insultingly easy to knuckle-melting hard at the drop of a hat…and then there are the controls (especially during the flying-shooting stages). Eff them, man. Just eff them.

What Makes It Worth Playing This Halloween? While “Robodemons” sucks on a lot of levels, there’s no denying that it’s an addictive game, and one of the most challenging to be found on the NES. Yeah, a lot of the enemies are cheap as hell (kinda’ fitting, I guess, since most of the game takes place in Hades), but as long as you take your time and play it conservatively, you should have no difficulty at all finding a “groove” here. That, and the atmosphere here is just fantastic, with one of the spookiest soundtracks on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Trust me, that “death scream” your character emits upon expiring will make you shudder every single time.

Swamp Thing (1992)

What Makes It Horrific? It’s a platforming-action game in which you take control of the DC comic book character, traveling your way across the bayou and boss-fighting all sorts of hideous monsters, a majority of which are culled from the short-lived (but nostalgically awesome) cartoon series from way back when.

What Makes It Horrible? This game is, in a word retardomegasuperduperfreakinggiganti-DIFFICULT. Everything in the game, even floating soup cans in the water, causes bodily harm to your character, and since you are only allotted so many hits per stage, getting from level to level unscathed is a pretty demanding task. That, and the jumping mechanism is a little off, so you have to time EVERYTHING just right, or else it’s a guaranteed enemy hit. It’s playable, but it takes FOREVER to get down pat.

What Makes It Worth Playing This Halloween? A lot of people absolutely HATE this game, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near as bad as its reputed to be. Some of the sound effects are a little wonky (since a majority of them are yanked from “Bart vs. The Space Mutants,” of all things) and yeah, comic purists may loathe the fact that old Swampy is such a wuss, but overall, it’s a halfway decent action-jumping hybrid. If you’re looking for a challenging platformer with some pretty neat monster aesthetics, it’s not really a bad title to pick up at all.

Zombie Nation (1991)

What Makes It Horrific? It’s a side scrolling shooter in which you play a severed zombie head (which, oddly enough, looks sort of like a decapitated Dennis Franz) that pukes fire on SWAT teams and does battle with gigantic monsters in rainbow-hued caverns and atop the incinerated remnants of oil rigs. And oh yeah, there’s some shit about samurais in there, too.

What Makes It Horrible? It’s a unique game, to be sure, but it’s also an extremely difficult one (there are certain environmental hazards that are next to impossible to avoid, and they seem to sap your energy meter down to the very last pixel.) Length is another setback, as there are only a few levels to fly through, and while you do have the option of repeating them at higher difficulty settings, there’s really not much to do after you’ve completed the initial play through.

What Makes It Worth Playing This Halloween? It’s a high-speed, high-camp destruct-a-thon along the lines of “Rampage,” except - in my opinion - way more fun. Yeah, the game does have a pretty steep learning curve, and yeah, some of the levels do tend to get a little repetitive, but once you get the system down, it’s a really enjoyable little title. And hell, when else are you going to get an opportunity to vomit lava on battleship while commandeering the severed scalp of Carl from “Aqua Teen,” exactly?

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Legend of the Dollar Tree Giant Lawn Spider!

Presenting the Absolute WORST Thing I Have Ever Spent A Whole Dollar On...

You have to be an unbelievably petty person to complain about losing a stinking dollar on an unwise purchase, but as we all know by now, next to Tom and Richard, I’m pretty much the pettiest person on this planet.

The legend of the “Giant Lawn Spider” begins as so many of my misadventures begin: with me, hanging out at the local Dollar Tree, at 9:00 p.m. on a weekday. It being the Halloween season and all, an absolute ton of All Hallows Eve decorations were on display, ranging from the really crappy (some plastic severed feet and a Styrofoam pumpkin you can practice carving) to the mind-numbingly crappy (think, “bloody” translucent banners that are impossible to nail to the wall and poorly assembled “squishy” bats that fall apart after about five minutes of light handling.)

It was there, amidst all of the Jack O’ Lantern sippy cups and witch stickers and public domain DVDs that I saw it. Right there, next to the cheap-o synthetic spider webbing, and right underneath the light up ghost toy that didn’t light up or really resemble a ghost, for that matter…it was there, staring directly into my pupils. Nay, more like it was gazing into my soul, scouring my conscience for the blackest, bleakest recesses of my humanity. It was the kind of life-shattering, time-displaced moment that one simply cannot shake off nor ignore. I mean, how could any conscionable human, when THIS is within grasping distance?

LOOK AT THIS ABOMINATION OF CAPITALISM. I’ve seen some crappy decorations in my life, but this thing is so unbelievably, unconscionably shoddy that I was left drooling in a state of sheer stupefaction.

You know, I’ve seen a lot of spiders in my day, and I don’t think I’ve ever encountered one that looked like the bastard offspring of a garbage bag and neon green duct tape before. Calling this thing a facsimile of a spider is sort of like calling a brick Spray-Painted grey a “to-scale model” of the White House. I mean, yeah, it resembles a spider as far as basic geometry is considered, but even then, it’s by the absolute thinnest strand imaginable.

The instructions on the back of the bag are bad, as in, “instruction manual for an Electronic Arts-published game bad.” You get a diagram that loosely explains how one is to assemble the art project, totally glossing over the fact that the consumer ALSO needs to have access to a bunch of shredded newspapers to stuff into the body of the spider to make it look like anything other than a vast pool of electrical tape.

Basically, they want you to tie a couple of sandwich bag twisty-thingies around the head area and and the proverbial arse of the spider (but only AFTER you fill it with whatever debris you deem fit, of course.) Actually, you’re going to need three twist-ties, since you also have to segment the spider in half to make it look like an arachnid as opposed to a deflated kiddie pool.

Before plopping down my hard-earned Washington on this incredible piece of shit, I joked about the final product being nothing more than a plastic garbage bag with eyes painted on to it. And when I finally opened the package, what was there to greet me? A thing that looked suspiciously like a plastic garbage bag with eyes painted on to it.

Really, the only thing that makes this “toy” anything other than a garbage bag that been opened on both ends are the glowing, lime-hued eyes of the spider. I think it’s safe to say that without those, this thing would be a living, breathing FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection nightmare. And in case you’re wondering? Yes, of course this thing was made in China. It HAD to be made in China, and you know that.

What you’re staring at here are the “tendrils” of the spider. You may be saying to yourself, “wow, Jimbo, those things look more like nondescript slivers of black plastic than insect appendages!” and you know what? You would be right, and hard. Shit, these guys can’t even rip you off in a full three-dimensions, for crying out loud!

To be fair, though, the manufacturers at LEAST had the decency to throw in a few complimentary sandwich bag twist tie thingies. Well, more like they gave you A sandwich bag twist tie thingy, as you had to individual rip off pieces of this one long-ass twist tie for your three vital enclosure spots.

And after a week of amassing disposable print literature that nobody would miss, THIS is what I ended up with. Alike Charlie Brown’s piss-poor Christmas tree, I think I’ve officially uncovered the Halloween decoration equivalent of a dead sapling in a potted vase.

There really isn’t an excuse for this thing. Yeah, I guess it would look a little bit more “in place” if it were buried underneath a mound of auburn and gold leaves, but even then…shit, man. Just shit. There’s no way you can make anything stand erect with those floppy, thinner-than-spaghetti “legs” and if you’re somehow able to jerry-rig the prop so it does, you sir, ought to be out building bridges for the UN or something instead.

To add insult to injury, the final product didn’t even resemble the right goddamn insect, more closely looking like a mosquito than a Black Widow. “Giant Lawn Spider,” my ass, because there’s no way anybody can get this the thing to look like anything other than a “Mediocre Carpet Termite,” I attest.

Is there any saving grace to be found here at all? I guess you could say that it would make for a great conversation starter, but every time someone sees it, they just think it’s a freaking garbage bag left out in the den. I guess you could sprawl it out in front of the fireplace like some sort of ironic bearskin rug or something, but inside humor of the sort only goes so far. In hindsight, I would’ve been better served spending my one dollar bill on an oxidized nickel.

Really, what more can be said about this stupid thing? The fact that I was even able to stretch this thing out into a 1,000 plus word essay is a minor triumph of human nature, because I think most Pulitzer Prize winners wouldn’t be able to muster more than three sentences on the utter irrelevancy of the product. It’s not just shameless, it’s glaringly, eye-searingly shameless, a prop that wallows in its own inherent shittiness like a naked mole rat or something. Even for 100 pennies, I feel like I was molested as a consumer; it’s quite possibly the single worst thing I’ve ever spent legal tender on, and as god as my witness?

 I swear I’m going to keep this thing on display all year round at Casa de Internet Is In America.