Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

Enjoy this multi-violin arrangement of Michael Jackson's classic "Thriller," covered by Taylor Davis.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mulliga's Halloween Horrorfest 2014: Simpsons Treehouse of Horror XXV Liveblog!

Here at Shangrila Towers, October means Halloween, and Halloween means horror...all month, I'll be putting up special horror-themed features.

I can't believe it's been 25 years since the first of the Simpsons' perennial Halloween episodes, and to celebrate, I'm liveblogging "Treehouse of Horror" XXV. I grew up in the golden age of the Simpsons, and "Treehouse of Horror" was always a highlight of October. Even as the rest of the series started to wane, the vignettes in the "Treehouse" specials are usually creative and fun (except for several awful parody episodes).

Happy Halloween, everyone:

Live Blog Simpsons Treehouse of Horror XXV Liveblog

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mulliga's Halloween Horrorfest 2014 - Music for Trick-or-Treaters

Here at Shangrila Towers, October means Halloween, and Halloween means horror...all month, I'll be putting up special horror-themed features. Today, let's get in the mood for All Hallows' Eve with a mega-playlist of spooky songs and terrifying tunes curated by yours truly:

Growing old means you can't go trick-or-treating yourself, so I do the next best thing every Halloween: I set up the coolest possible mood for the kids in my neighborhood. At the doorstep, there are speakers connected to my computer, streaming a variety of creepy, interesting, or even funny horror-themed songs to greet the night's trick-or-treaters.

Most of these are very common Halloween songs ("Monster Mash," "Ghostbusters," "Thriller," etc.), but there are some lesser-known gems on the playlist, too:

"Anna of Covington House" - This is a cut from electronic composer Richard Bone's album, "The Ghosts of Hanton Village." The first half of the track is all eerie piano and willowy synth - perfect for scaring little kids. Several of Bone's pieces are on the list, but if it was available on Spotify, I'd basically just drop in "The Spectral Ships," Bone's dark ambient masterpiece based on ghost ships from folklore:

"Country Death Song" - The Violent Femmes' Christian-tinged sophomore album, "Hallowed Ground," featured this cheerful little ditty about a father who loses his mind, pushes his daughter down a well, and then hangs himself, giving him a "short trip to Hell." Just the thing for greeting neighborhood children!

"Dance of Pales" - There are plenty of horror-themed video games, but perhaps none are as enduring as the "Castlevania" series, which started in 1986 and is still going strong today. For men of a certain age, Michiru Yamane's elegant piece from the all-time classic "Castlevania: Symphony of the Night" automatically evokes images of annoying waltzing ghosts.

"The Ghost of Smokey Joe" - The legendary Cab Calloway's greatest creation was "Minnie the Moocher," but he also often sang about Minnie's boyfriend, Smokey Joe. This fun track brings Joe back from the dead at his scat-singing best ("I've got a date on my estate down in Hades/Call my chariot so I can go/And should the Moocher walk in/Just tell her you've been talkin'/To the ghost of Smokey Joe!").

"Midnight Monster Hop" and "Midnight Monsters Hop" - Two not-very-similar songs with confusingly similar names. "Midnight Monster Hop" is a psychobilly song by the Young Werewolves, a band from Philadelphia that was formed in 2002. "Midnight Monsters Hop" is a 1959 novelty rockabilly song recorded by Jack Huddle and Jim Robinson. I like them both, though.

"Murder in the Red Barn" - Let's be could put a lot of Tom Waits's discography on the playlist, and it would work as creepy ambiance. This one's extra super-duper creepy, though, since it's based on a real-life murder in England.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mulliga's Halloween Horrorfest 2014 - Eldritch Horror

Here at Shangrila Towers, October means Halloween, and Halloween means horror...all month, I'll be putting up special horror-themed features. This time, we'll be looking at Eldritch Horror, a board game designed by Corey Konieczka and Nikki Valens:

Fantasy Flight Games has released numerous H.P. Lovecraft-themed titles, each one focusing on a different level of the Cthulhu Mythos. Mansions of Madness took players through derelict buildings and cultist strongholds. Arkham Horror sent players racing around the streets of the titular city. Eldritch Horror raises the stakes even higher - now the whole world is at risk from the Great Old Ones:

The game is divided into three phases. In the "Action" phase, everyone takes turns moving around the globe, buying items or allies, and otherwise preparing for the challenges ahead. In the "Encounter" phase, the players fight monsters or resolve encounter cards. Finally, during the "Mythos" phase, numerous random (and usually bad) events occur.

The goal is to complete enough encounters (e.g., kill a special monster, explore a special location) before the Great Old One awakens and destroys the world. Each "encounter" is a little paragraph-long story that sets up a particular challenge, like fighting an ancient mummy at the Pyramids, breaking up a cultist ring in Shanghai, or getting detained by police in Rome. Your success or failure depends on your stats, your character's unique abilities, and the items you have in your inventory.

Overall, my group liked Eldritch Horror, since it plays like the most content-rich choose-your-own-adventure book ever. The gameplay is quicker and less fiddly than Arkham Horror, while the random nature of the encounter cards largely prevents the "dictator" problem common in co-op games (where one experienced player tells everyone else what to do). And, as always, FFG packs the box with best-in-class components and nice artwork, giving the game an excellent Lovecraft feel.

I do have some complaints. Out of the box, there aren't many encounter cards, so you'll see repeats sooner rather than later (if you expect to play more than a few times, the "Forgotten Lore" expansion - which contains hundreds of new cards - is basically a required purchase). Another downside is that there's not much to resolving encounters; usually, you read what the card says and roll some dice. Nearly all of the player choice in the game boils down to making sure you're in the right place with the right stuff, which might be off-putting to people expecting the game to be more interactive.

Despite these flaws, Eldritch Horror is a really great cooperative title that gives you the same globe-trotting, occult-discovering feel of the best Lovecraft stories, but without the tedium of some of FFG's other games. While Arkham Horror and Mansions of Madness are both pretty good, if you're going to only get one Lovecraftian board game, this is the one to get.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Mulliga's Halloween Horrorfest 2014 - Midnight Paths

Here at Shangrila Towers, October means Halloween, and Halloween means horror...all month, I'll be putting up special horror-themed features. Today's post concerns an anthology of horror short stories available for purchase via the Kindle Store and for loan through the Kindle Owners' Lending Library:

Midnight Paths: A Collection of Dark Horror

There's no unifying theme to this medium-length collection of horror stories by Joe Hart, save for the fact that the protagonists all encounter some very bad luck. Whether it's something as simple as a stressful day at work ("The Exploding Man") or as exotic as a mysterious undead killer ("The Man in the Room"), every tale features characters who are pushed to their absolute limit - and beyond.

Hart has a number of works in the Kindle Store, and his writing is a notch above average. While his plots and characters aren't anything special (as the author acknowledges, the novella-length "Pale Man" is a riff on the Native-American-spirit-seeks-vengeance story), Hart manages to create some gruesome original monsters. My favorite stories are "The Unfamiliar" (a gimmicky-but-fun trek into a nightmare world) and the Lovecraftian "Adrift" (a likable sailor gets stranded in the middle of the Pacific - but he isn't alone).