Thursday, October 31, 2019

Horrific Halloween 2019: Arkham Horror (Third Edition)

It's October, so Shangrila Towers is serving up All Hallows' Eve-themed posts for the guys and ghouls in your neighborhood. I hope everyone is having a happy Halloween! To close out this year's festivities, let's look at the new edition of the classic cooperative Lovecraftian board game, "Arkham Horror."

My friends and I enjoyed Fantasy Flight Games's 2005 revision of Arkham Horror, but playing it became increasingly unwieldy thanks to FFG's numerous expansions. With all the sideboards, new cards, and rules piled on over the years, it became a Herculean task just to get the game out onto a table.

The new edition of Arkham Horror is, in some ways, a big improvement from the old. The game now takes its overall design and writing cues from Eldritch Horror, but with two key additions. First, there's a neat modular board representing the titular city, helping both replayability and compatibility with future expansions. Second, and probably more importantly, the randomness in the end-of-turn encounters has been tuned way down, which is a blessing for people who don't want to be at the mercy of an unlucky card draw.

The news isn't all good, I'm afraid. This version inexplicably adds even more end-of-turn housekeeping, with a tedious "Mythos Cup" mechanic that forces each player to draw and resolve various tokens, one at a time, on every turn. The process takes forever - whatever suspense or relief you might feel initially from drawing a bad token is replaced with tedium, since you have to draw so many. The items, powers, and monsters will mostly be familiar to anyone who's played a FFG Lovecraft game, which feels lazy given the high MSRP. For these reasons, I think Eldritch Horror remains the superior game.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Horrific Halloween 2019 - Man of Medan

It's October, so Shangrila Towers is serving up All Hallows' Eve-themed posts for the guys and ghouls in your neighborhood. Today, I review "Man of Medan," a video game developed by Supermassive Games.

"Man of Medan" is basically an interactive horror movie. The game puts you in the shoes of four friends trapped on board a ghost ship with a crew of ruthless pirates. Through the actions and dialogue you pick for them, you decide who lives and dies:

Mechanics-wise, "Man of Medan" is a follow-up to "Until Dawn," Supermassive's first PS4 title. While that game didn't support multiplayer, my friends and I played it together, passing the controller around, sharing the scares, and kibitzing about what we should do next. "Man of Medan" goes one better by including a "Movie Night" mode that assigns characters to certain players and instructs you when to pass the controller over (usually right after a cliffhanger).

Because the story branches pretty dramatically at points (a main character can become separated from the other survivors in the first act and absent for the rest of the game), "Man of Medan" is relatively short - about five hours total. Another caveat is the game's heavy reliance on QTEs, which I know is a deal-breaker for some players. If you can live with those faults, I recommend "Man of Medan" to any group of horror fans looking for a good time.

Rating: 80/100 (90/100 when played in local co-op)

Monday, October 28, 2019

Horrific Halloween 2019 - Event Horizon

It's October, so Shangrila Towers is serving up All Hallows' Eve-themed posts for the guys and ghouls in your neighborhood. Our subject today is Paul W.S. Anderson's underappreciated box-office bomb, "Event Horizon."

Fresh off the runaway success of the film adaptation of "Mortal Kombat," Paul W.S. Anderson delivered a dark, disturbing sci-fi horror film to theatergoers in the summer of 1997, a literal haunted house in space:

"Event Horizon" had an infamously tortured production. Anderson agreed to a hurried editing process that resulted in a jumbled Act II that feels ten minutes too short, and ultimately the movie lost Paramount a whole lot of money. One can imagine an alternate universe where Anderson got the extra month or so he needed to edit the film, with it becoming a modest late-'90s horror hit, Anderson becoming a genre auteur like Guillermo del Toro, and the public not getting subjected to an unending series of iffy "Resident Evil" and "Death Race" movies.

That said, "Event Horizon" is still pretty good. The titular ship is one of the creepiest vessels this side of "Dead Space" and "System Shock 2," and the cast gamely attack the thin characters they've been saddled with. The standout is Sam Neill, who caps off his trilogy of horror movie performances (he starred in "Omen III" and "In the Mouth of Madness") with a scientist who's one part "Solaris," one part "Shining."

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Miscellany: Dodge Grand Caravan SXT review

This fall, we had a fun old-fashioned family road trip through New England. Our vehicle of choice? The Dodge Grand Caravan, easily the most common minivan in American rental car fleets.

By most measures - performance, comfort, technology - the aging Grand Caravan is terrible compared to contemporary SUVs and sedans. The pokey Pentastar V6 struggled to get up to highway speed, and keeping the thing planted on New Hampshire's winding mountain roads was a white-knuckle experience (not in a good way). Road, wind, and engine noise became downright intrusive at 75 mph, and we never warmed up to the Caravan's cheap interior and last generation head unit. Incredibly, the thing didn't have Bluetooth, much less Apple CarPlay; to connect an iPhone, I resorted to a 3.5mm aux cable scrounged from a Rite Aid in Montpelier.

On the other hand, the Caravan excelled in the one thing you need from a minivan - the ability to carry seven passengers and a lot of luggage from place to place. I suppose we could have rented an expensive giant three-row SUV, but even that would have lacked the Dodge's handy dual automatic sliding doors and stowable second row seats. So, when you consider the Grand Caravan saved us from the logistical headaches of guiding a second car through Boston traffic, you can understand how we grew a bit attached to it during the vacation...though not so attached that we didn't breathe a sigh of relief getting back into our cars back home.

Horrific Halloween 2019 - Night Shift

It's October, so Shangrila Towers is serving up All Hallows' Eve-themed posts for the guys and ghouls in your neighborhood. Today's post is about Stephen King's short story anthology "Night Shift," originally published in 1978.

One of the perks of practicing law is the esoteric research that's sometimes required. Case in point - to defend a copyright infringement suit, I looked into the provenance of "Children of the Corn," an early short story by Stephen King about a bickering couple who get trapped in an eerie Nebraska town. That meant digging up a copy of the March 1977 issue of Penthouse, where the story was first published, and buying a copy of "Night Shift," where the story was later collected.

Now, "Children of the Corn" isn't the world's greatest short story, but it is macabre and memorable in the grand Lovecraft tradition. Most of the tales in "Night Shift" are like that - hapless protagonists tangle with surreal, often apocalyptic forces, and invariably come out the worse for wear. Whether it's a malevolent laundry pressing machine ("The Mangler") or deadly semi trucks ("Trucks," the basis for King's cocaine-fueled, cheesy cult classic film "Maximum Overdrive"), these stories do a good job of showing the darkness lurking behind our everyday world, even if they are a bit rough around the edges.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Horrific Halloween 2019 - Music for Trick-or-Treaters (updated playlist)

It's October, so Shangrila Towers is serving up All Hallows' Eve-themed posts for the guys and ghouls in your neighborhood. Let's review some newer selections from my continuously-updated Halloween Spotify playlist, "Mulliga's Halloween Horrorfest."

"Season of the Witch," Donovan - I debated adding this classic rock song into the playlist for awhile, because I try to avoid songs that merely co-opt Halloween imagery but aren't really about the supernatural (e.g., "Black Magic Woman"). What sealed "Season of the Witch's" place on the list was the song's long association with horror movies (the latest being Lana Del Rey's eerie cover for "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark").

"Shankill Butchers," Sarah Jarosz - A lot of Halloween playlists include the protest song "Zombie" by The Cranberries, which of course is about an infamous IRA bombing, not the undead. My list swaps in Sarah Jarosz's cover of Colin Meloy's "Shankill Butchers." The subject matter is still the horrific sectarian violence of The Troubles, but the grisly serial killings of the titular UVF death squad fit Halloween a lot better (the worst monsters are, as always, men).

"Trick or Treat," Fastway - One of the nice things about constructing this playlist is discovering gems from lesser-known acts like Fastway, a band created by former Motörhead guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke and former UFO bassist Pete Way (get it?). "Trick of Treat" is the title track from Fastway's soundtrack album for "Trick or Treat," a rock comedy-horror film (no, seriously). The song delivers anthemic heavy metal vocals and has a strong Halloween connection, making it perfect for the list.

Danse macabre, Op. 40, Camille Saint-Saëns - I have several pieces of classical music on the list, including versions of "Night on Bald Mountain" and "Toccata and Fugue in D minor," but this piece is explicitly about Halloween. You'll recognize it from several supernatural stories, including this hilarious scene from a famous episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Dark Night, The Blasters - This is one of those borderline songs. The actual lyrics aren't about monsters or the occult, but it's a great song, and its prominent use in "From Dusk till Dawn" and its creepy vibe are enough to qualify. Elsewhere on the list is a Spanish version of "After Dark," the song played during Santanico Pandemonium's memorable dance scene.