<![CDATA[Ginger Nuts of Horror - FEATURES]]>Fri, 28 Apr 2017 11:40:35 +0100Weebly<![CDATA[COMPETITION TIME: WIN ONE OF TWO COPIES OF XX]]>Thu, 27 Apr 2017 10:21:52 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/competition-time-win-one-of-two-copies-of-xx
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To win one of two copies of this horror anthology film all you have to do is leave a comment in the comments section telling us which horror icon you would love to give a kiss to.  

                                              This Competition is open to Residents of the UK ONLY

XX is a new all-female helmed horror anthology featuring four dark tales written and directed by four fiercely talented women:
  • ̈  Annie Clark (St. Vincent) rocks her directorial debut with “The Birthday Party”
  • ̈  Karyn Kusama (The Invitation, Girlfight) exorcises “Her Only Living Son”
  • ̈  Roxanne Benjamin (Southbound) screams “Don’t Fall”
  • ̈  Jovanka Vuckovic (The Captured Bird) dares to open “The Box”

  • Award-winning animator Sofia Carrillo (La Casa Triste) wraps together four suspsnseful stories of terror, featuring a cast including Natalie Brown, Malanie Lynskey, Breeda Wool and Christina Kirk. 

XX is a new horror anthology featuring four murderous tales of supernatural frights, thrills, profound anxiety, and Gothic decay. Written and directed by four fiercely talented women the film stars female leads and is framed around innovative animator Sofia Carrillo. Vigorously challenging the status quo within the industry, this collection of tightly coiled short films by some of horror’s most influential women offers a refreshing jolt to the senses.

“Wildly entertaining cinema.”
Bloody Disgusting
“Rich, interesting, and rife with surprisingly fresh perspectives on the genre.”
Collider
“A ghoulish chronicle of the monstrous, the mysterious, and the morbid”
Paste Magazine 

Special features: Director interviews Genre: Horror
Language: English
Runtime: 78 mins (approx.) 
RRP: £12.99
Cat no: SODA369 
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<![CDATA[Video Game Review:  Resident Evil VII   Biohazard]]>Wed, 26 Apr 2017 12:14:08 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/video-game-review-resident-evil-vii-biohazardBY GEORGE DANIEL LEA 
​Good God. Good, sweet Azathoth, Baphomet; whatever demon and/or divinity you hold dear...
 
To think I'd be sitting here now, about to sing the unambiguous praises of a new Resident Evil title...barely a year ago, I would have proclaimed it an impossibility, the franchise one of the many beloved dead littering the wastelands of video gaming's murdered from within, by their own creators, no less.
 
Arguably since Resident Evil 4, the series has arguably been in decline; a victim of the constant, corporate desire to cater to the widest possible demographics, thereby alienating established audiences and diluting their own product and reputation. The urge to draw in the “Triple-A,” Call of Duty crowd finally culminated in the chimeric, frictionless abomination that was Resident Evil 6, what many believed (and even more hoped) would be the final nail in this zombie's coffin.
 
Then, sometime mid last year, the first trailers hit. Not only the first trailers, but a playable demo.
 
To say that we perked up and cocked our heads like wolves scenting blood is an understatement. Stylistically, what the trailers and demos betrayed were a far, far cry from anything that had gone before. In terms of atmosphere, this was not the hokey, B-movie japery we'd come to expect from the franchise. In their place, a dingy, depressive, foetid atmosphere; a sense of decay and genuine threat more suited to the franchise's contemporary and long-time counterpart, Silent Hill. A first person gaming perspective, imagery more redolent of films like 7 or Jacob's Ladder than Night of the Living Dead.
 
A genuine spark of excitement, of hope.
 
Then, the revelation that the game would be one of the first to utilise the new VR technology; a peripheral tailor made for horror. Hope becoming fervent, almost desperate; a new Resident Evil, the benchmark for a new and burgeoning state of video game immersion; perhaps, perhaps the title that would lift mainstream video gaming horror from its doldrums and set it high once more.
 
Then, at last, release, first exposure. 
​For the purposes of this review, I must make it plain that I'm writing from the perspective of someone who experienced this game via the Playstation's VR helmet; a factor that is far from essential to appreciate it (at least, according to the testimonies of those who've played it without) but that enhanced the experience so much for me, it was almost virginal: for the first time in as long as I can recall, a piece of media made me genuinely scared; tense and trembling and paranoid, heart racing, hands slick with sweat...all this in the first few scenes and chapters.
 
First of all, the VR experience, which could have so easily been just another empty gimmick like so many similar efforts before it. I find it difficult to describe how much this adds to the experience; the degrees of depth and shade and dirt; the shadows you feel you could tumble into, the dust and grime in the air, the physical, adrenal terror you experience when something lurches out of them wielding knives or chainsaws or their own severed arms. It is, potentially, the way forward for horror; nothing after this will do that doesn't provide the same facility; the same depth and range of immersion, the same heart-bursting sense as of being sealed off and alone in this dismal, hideous world with some of the most threatening characters and creatures I've ever encountered in a video game.
 
There is more here than a mere 3D effect; the helmet has a capacity for isolating you as the player; locking you off from waking reality, tricking your mind into projecting you into the virtual world you are exploring. In the case of Resident Evil VII, that world is a dismal, cockroach-infested, polluted, cannibalistic Hell-hole populated by characters and creatures that, unlike in previous titles, are no longer confined to their particular areas: it is no longer a case of working your way through this set of rooms and corridors, avoiding the familiar patterns of zombies and Hunters and chimeras; most of the entities in the game can and will follow you, the more human able to open doors and windows, to burst through walls, to come up through floors and manipulate the environment in all manner of insane and lunatic ways. Others are randomised, appearing according to their own peculiar algorithms in places that might have previously been safe or secure. Unlike previous Resident Evils, the familiar “safe rooms” are gone, deliberately undermined throughout the game so as to keep the player in an almost constant state of tension (a side note on this: playing the game in the VR made me so tense, I had to take very regular breaks in which I could physically feel myself trembling, my joints aching with stress, temples throbbing with anxiety. I would advise anyone wishing to experience the same to take regular breaks, and to avoid the experience altogether if you happen to have heart conditions or nervous issues). 
​It is terrifying. Absolutely, gut-wrenchingly, soul-shudderingly terrifying, and not in any way that I've ever encountered in a video game before: even in the likes of System Shock 2 or Silent Hill 2 (two of the most distressing titles in existence), I never felt as though I did not want to open doors or explore particular corridors; the horror and tension were always of a more distant kind, no matter how intense, outweighed by the knowledge that I was playing a video game, and therefore was obliged to explore the environment or simply stop.
 
Resident Evil VII, at least via VR, is a different beast: I did not want to open doors, to leave whatever temporarily safe little hidey holes I found; I did not want to go and explore that noise or that shadow glimpsed out of the corner of my eye, that flicker of movement. The immersion of the VR headset inflamed my animal sense of self-preservation, tricking my imagination into making the world and its threats more real than I imagined it ever would or could. If you ever wanted experience a semblance of what it would actually be like to be trapped inside a horror story; to wake and find yourself physically immersed in a nightmare, this is it.
 
The game itself is immediately a far cry from anything else under the Resident Evil banner, so much so that you'd be forgiven for thinking that this is a reboot of or alternative to the established universe (it isn't; there are some loose connections to the original games and their mythology, though the game is more than capable of standing on its own, story wise). The tone, the focus, the rhythms of storytelling...all different; more redolent of certain contemporaries and competitors of Resident Evil whose parent companies have recently embarassed themselves by undermining and potentially aborting through their incompetence, their lack of understanding of the material they have in their hands (rest in peace, Silent Hill). This is a highly deliberate and necessary move; in order to thrive again, Resident Evil had to necessarily divorce itself from what had gone before; to reinvent itself with close reference to the quantum leaps that have occurred in independent video game horror since its last instalment. Thus, the game boasts certain familiar elements (enough to make it very much a part of the franchise) but is sufficiently removed from all predecessors to be its own, unique entity: all of the faintly silly, overly baroque lock and key puzzles are here (finding certain emblems and icons to unlock doors, solving puzzles to open secret passageways etc etc), but the environment that frames them is entirely unique, as is the sense of atmosphere in which they occur: no longer expansive mansions and unlikely, secret research complexes, much of the action takes place within a single household (albeit suitably expansive): a derelict, seemingly-but-not-quite abandoned plantation manor in the depths of what look to be dense swamplands as one might find in certain locations in Louisiana. The “Resident” portion of Resident Evil had long since ceased to have any significance whatsoever in the franchise's last instalment, but here is restored and revitalised, arguably more significant than it ever was before: not only is much of the game set within the same, small location, but much of its threat and central tensions derive from a single, consistent source:
 
The Family. If you've read or heard anything of this game, you may have come across quite a few tales concerning these guys: a Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired family of inbred cannibals (keep an eye out for those horror movie references, by the way: everything from Alien to The Blair Witch Project has its moment), they make their debut in the game's early chapters as the denizens of this Hell hole; not only unpredictably insane and uniquely violent, they also seem to have the unusual capacity to survive the most unlikely traumas, such that an early dinner scene (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre all over) sees the patriarch of the family sawing off his own son's forearm as though it's nothing, the boy reacting as though he's doing nothing more than pinching him. Not much later, the true extent of their immunity to harm not only do you bury axes in shoulders, impale and burn and blow their brains out, they still keep coming back, and, after a few set pieces and appearances, become randomised, active entities within the house: they can appear almost anywhere, they follow and stalk you, giving their own little clues as to their proximity (most often fleeting glimpses; sounds, stray chords of music), the player having to learn the lay out of the house in order to lead them astray; to find hiding spots in which to curl so that the family members grow bored and wander away. These moments are the most hideously tense in the entire game, especially since the classic gameplay of Resident Evil has been turned on its head: barring a few story-essential set pieces, the game does not expect you to stand and fight; it wants you to run, run and hide; to practice stealth, to use the environment to your advantage. This is a far cry from how the original games were played and the nature of their horror, which relied upon a similar sense of vulnerability, but encouraged you to fight your way through; that increasingly equipped your character to the point whereby early enemies became almost redundant.
 
That is not the case, here: whilst the house contains numerous other genetically modified monstrosities, the family are the ones who will keep coming, no matter what you do to them: they will follow and chase and harass until you are dead or they can no longer find you, requiring the player to get used to the lay out of the house; to keep in mind certain safe spots and hidey-holes (none of which are completely effective; all of them can be violated, depending on a variety of factors in game). This makes the entire experience one of escalating tension; you don't know what is going to be waiting behind any given door or down any given corridor, even if you've walked it before. Sound plays as much a part in this as the game's visuals (which are gorgeous, by the by); the player has to pay attention to ambient and environmental cues, to the minimalist soundtrack (which only kicks in when something significant is in the offing; another removal from the original games), attempting to pre-empt what is going to happen; which direction threat is likely to strike from. Even then, the game still surprises, with characters and creatures bursting out from beneath the floors, seeping through walls, falling from the ceiling...every effort has been made to avoid any particular area within the house from becoming “safe;” to give you time to catch you breath or calm your nerves. 
​This is, perhaps, the point at which the game differs so markedly from its predecessors, all of which were based around similar structures of reaching particular “safe points” from which to procede or spread out and explore. That is not the case, here; spaces you might assume to be safe are not, or become areas of activity and threat in short order. You must be constantly aware, active and dynamic in order to survive, and be able to utilise your environment in ways never seen in a Resident Evil title before.
 
Certain familiar mechanics are still in place; the menu and item system is a refined version of that from previous Resi titles, with similar mechanics of examination, combination; minor puzzle solving, utilising the right item at the right juncture etc. Most of the logic puzzles that Resi fans havve become familiar with are still very much in evidence; pleasant callbacks to a somewhat more innocent time, that serve to enhance the horror of the situation by contrast rather than detracting from it.
 
The most significant changes refer to how you conduct yourself as the player; before, Resi titles relied upon a certain degree of familiarity; you would wade through the same corridors and rooms and hallways over and over until you'd gotten the placement of enemies, traps, doors and hide-aways down pat, rendering those spaces somewhat less threatening or impassable than they previously were. Nullifying those areas usually consisted of wasting the enemies that occurred there, with variations on that theme found throughout the series as it progressed.
 
Here, the emphasis is entirely different: though some enemies occur in pre-determined places and patterns (mostly for the sake of initial introduction), they are no longer confined to those areas, able to either open doors and climbs ladders etc (in the case of the more human enemies) or seep through walls, vents, ceilings and floorboards in the instance of the more...abstruse monstrosities. They are also all far, far more threatening than most enemies in previous Resi games; it is no longer a matter of emptying a set number of bullets into an enemy and watching its head explode: here, standing and shooting will get you murdered very, very quickly. More akin to Silent Hill, Amnesia and any number of independent titles (from which Resi VII draws more than a little inspiration), the most effective way of dealing with most enemies is by not dealing with them at all; running and hiding, making use of the environment, mapping out the house and its surrounding environs so as to make use of “safe spaces,” hidey-holes and the like...there is a greater sense of immersion and natural occurrence when it comes to the enemies in this game; they are not merely presented as roadblocks to progress or even as potential hazards, but as parts of the environment itself. In order to succeed, the player is going to have to familiarise themselves with how the environment works; to know where they are running and into what, so as not to flee one terror only to hurl themselves headlong into the arms of another or a dead end. Combined with the natural tension of the situation, the shock of enemies bursting through walls, doors and falling from the ceiling, this is heart-attack material of an entirely other order, especially with the enhanced immersion provided by VR equipment.
 
Again, I cannot emphasise enough how visceral and evocative this experience is in VR; the sense of depth and dirt, of darkness, decay and physical grime is uniquely oppressive; you imagine you can almost smell the dank and rotting wood, the filth in the air, feel the cockroach carcasses crunching beneath your feet. It is a dirty, filthy, moribund and nihilistic piece of work, enjoyment of which will largely derive from the player's ability to appreciate those elements. For those who find such things too oppressive, who like a promise of hope or potential redemption in their horror, this is not the game for them.
 
Flaws? Like all Resi games, it does tend to run out of steam in its latter chapters; when everything is finally established, the mysteries of the setting plot, characters and the mechanics of play unravelled, it loses some of its ability to shock or surprise; as is a consistent flaw in every Resi game to this point, the latter sections of the game are somewhat unsatisfying, as it doesn't quite go where you'd hope it would and the actual mechanics that have been established up to that point are almost entirely abandoned for something much more generic and familiar. 
​ 
 
That said, the experience as a whole and for the majority of its play time is so novel, so tense and fascinatingly unpleasant, these are the most minor flaws in an otherwise sublime resurrection.
 
Resident Evil, riding high in (arguably redefining) the echelons of horror once more.
 
Who would have ever believed? 
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<![CDATA[HORROR FILMS REDISCOVERED ON THE BFI PLAYER]]>Wed, 19 Apr 2017 11:43:58 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/horror-films-rediscovered-on-the-bfi-player
In 2010 the BFI published their Most Wanted list, a tantalising countdown of 75 British films classified as ‘missing, believed lost’. Of all these forgotten gems (which ranged from silent Hitchcock to '60s pop), nothing excited horror fans more than the inclusion of José Ramón Larraz’s 1974 little-seen cult classic, Symptoms. Selected for the 1974 Cannes Film Festival before promptly falling into cinematic obscurity, this claustrophobic Repulsion-esque chiller, which tells the uncanny tale of a young woman’s descent into madness at a remote English country mansion, was long confined to the blurry terrains of VHS bootlegs and online rips. Now lovingly restored and looking better than ever, Larraz’s infamous curio is available for all to enjoy on BFI player. And so, to celebrate the long-awaited arrival of a neglected genre classic, here are 5 more horror gems waiting to be discovered on BFI’s online platform. Let the nightmares begin...
The Night Has Eyes (dir Leslie Arliss, 1942)
One of only a handful of British horror films produced during WWII, this delicious slice of gothic melodrama (think Jane Eyre meets The Old Dark House) stars James Mason as Stephen, a reclusive composer living in an isolated mansion on the perennially misty Yorkshire Moors. When two lost women stumble on his property, Stephen offers shelter and a place to stay. But as romance blossoms between the taciturn recluse and one of his new guests, so too does the macabre truth of Stephen’s dark past. Also released under the more salacious titles Terror House and Moonlight Madness, this atmospheric chiller was given the BBFC’s dreaded H-for-Horror rating when it was released in 1942, possibly thanks to its surprisingly nasty conclusion. As ever, Mason makes for a broodingly effective leading man, while special mention should also go to Tucker McGuire for her scene-stealing role as man-hungry schoolteacher Doris. But the real stars are the Moors themselves – evocatively captured by Gunther Krampf (famed cinematographer whose work included Pandora’s Box and The Hands of Orlac) – which reek of dread and dark foreboding.


Fiend Without a Face (dir Arthur Crabtree, 1958)
Something of a cause célèbre when it was first unleashed in 1958, Arthur Crabtree’s low-budget monster mash was deemed so outrageous, and so morally reprehensible, that it actually sparked debate in Parliament, where questions were raised as to how a work of such supposed depravity had passed through the censors in all its gory glory. Years later, and of course the shock value has diminished. But while the film may not still possess the power to appal with quite the same ferocity, it remains one of the most wonderfully twisted little sci-fi shockers of the period. The plot (typical of the atomic obsessed sci-fi pics of the time) concerns an army of nuclear-powered flying brains (complete with spinal cords) who attack a US military base. Naysayers might dismiss this off-kilter British production as little more than a mindless (!) special-effects showcase – but when the climactic scenes are so unhinged and the stop-motion effects so glorious – who cares? If it all sounds frankly preposterous, that’s because it is. And wonderfully so. 


The Night of the Hunted (dir Jean Rollin, 1980)
Of the 50-odd films directed by Euro-sleaze connoisseur Jean Rollin over the course of his illustrious career, The Night Of The Hunted might stand as his most idiosyncratic, and, in many ways, most beautiful effort. A far cry from the saucy vampire pics he is perhaps best known for, this anomalous head-scratcher blends erotic horror with austere science-fiction (not unlike the early works of David Cronenberg) to tell the story of a young amnesiac woman being held in a strange asylum seemingly against her will. As perversities and murders begin to mount around her, she must make sense of why she is there and how she can escape. As with most of Rollin’s films, the end result is by no means perfect - the leisurely pacing can be testing at times (the lengthy sex scenes in particular feeling unnecessarily drawn out) - but for those of a more patient disposition and an keen eye for the perverse, this clinical shocker is quite unlike anything else, replete with scenes of abject terror which will not be quickly forgotten.


Heartless (dir Philip Ridley, 2009)
The long-awaited third feature from Philip Ridley (following his extraordinary sun-drenched slice of American gothic The Reflecting Skin, and the lesser-known, but equally fascinating backwoods allegory The Passion Of Darkly Noon) saw the London-born filmmaker return to his home turf with a Faustian morality tale set in the East End. Jim Strurgess plays Jamie, a socially awkward teenage outcast born with a large heart-shaped birthmark on his face, who discovers a gang of demons are plaguing the streets of his hometown. As one would expect from one of horror cinema’s true visual poets, Heartless is a feast for the eyes, steeped in fertile symbolism and menacing atmospherics. But perhaps most memorably, it is a richly empathetic piece of work, which succeeds as much as an unconventional character study as it does an unnerving and eccentric horror film.


The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (dir Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani, 2013)
An audacious exercise pure, unadulterated style, this modern day giallo from the gloriously twisted minds of directing duo Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani (Amer) is one of the most visually imaginative horror films of recent years. Following the unexplained disappearance of his wife, a man is thrown into a web of mystery and intrigue as he attempts to uncover her whereabouts. Traversing the labyrinthine halls of his ornamental apartment building, he encounters its various inhabitants, whose tales of sensuality and sadism play out before him. In this dreamlike (or should that be nightmarish?) world, traditional narrative gives way to a more sensory, instinctive approach to storytelling, resulting in an experience which can be as perplexing as it is hypnotic. For those with a taste for something different, this truly singular work delivers devious surprises with every blood-splattered frame. Watch it loud. On the biggest screen you can.




Michael Blyth




Symptoms is available on BFI Player, here


 
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<![CDATA[BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: A RETROSPECTIVE.]]>Wed, 19 Apr 2017 11:41:32 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/buffy-the-vampire-slayer-a-retrospectiveBY LEX JONES 
1997 was twenty years ago, apparently. Which means so was the dawn of a new show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It wasn’t a new idea, exactly. The concept had already been used to make a not-so-brilliant movie, but creator Joss Whedon was quick to point out that the failings of the first adaptation of his idea were down to studio interference rather than his own work. Which, anyone who knows anything about Hollywood will surely agree, is entirely believable. So Joss had another crack at it, this time in the form of a television show. The result became a pop-culture phenomenon, playing a huge part in the lives of many people’s adolescence, myself included.

There’s still a lot of supernatural drama shows on television today, but I don’t think any of them drive their way to the heart in quite the same way that Buffy did. Yes, that’s a staking joke. Live with it. Buffy managed to make you care about the characters aswell as the situations. To make a relationship breakup seem as tense as the possibility of the world ending is no mean feat, yet Buffy managed it time and again. The writing was tight, the cast was perfect, and even the special effects hold up. I personally feel that the latter is due to the reliance on practical effects, which always date much more slowly than their CGI cousins do. That’s why horror films like The Thing and Evil Dead still look alright, whereas more recent CGI-Heavy films from the nineties look dreadful. Buffy managed to try a lot of things like this and get most of them right.

With this being the twenty year anniversary, you’re sure to see a lot of articles like this, each trying to tell you something you don’t know and reveal that your favourite cast members actually hated each other. So I’m not going to do that. Instead I’m going to list my five favourite episodes and the reasons for each one, and then you can all argue about it in the comments section until the next apocalypse comes along. The following list isn’t in any particular order, it’s just the five that I’ve always thought of as being my favourites. Also, I’m not going to explain the mythology of the show or who the characters all are, I’m basically assuming prior knowledge for anyone who’d bother to read this far. Also, incase it’s necessary to point out, there will be spoilers (if you can still call them that when the show came out two decades ago.)



“Amends”
I never think of Buffy as being the sort of show that had Christmas episodes, and for the most part I don’t believe that it did. This one stands out in that regard, but also because it’s really powerful. It introduces the closest thing in the series to the Devil himself, but more importantly than that, it really drives home the concept of forgiveness. Particularly how, more often than not, the hardest person to forgive is yourself. Here, tormented by visions of his past, good-guy vampire Angel decides it would be better for his love Buffy (and everyone else) if he was no longer here. To that end he goes to the top of the tallest hill in Sunnydale and waits for the sun to rise. The whole episode is great and leads up to him standing on this hill at the break of dawn, with Buffy desperately trying to convince him that he matters, that suicide is never the best way. That strength is carrying on, not giving up. What happens next remains one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever seen on a television show.


“Passion”
Throughout the first season and a half of Buffy, we’re constantly told how Angel was pure evil before he got his soul back. But we don’t really see anything that makes us believe it until this episode, where having recently lost said soul once again, he goes back to his old ways. And how. It’s not simply that he kills more people, including Giles’ girlfriend Jenny. We’ve seen him kill people by now, we get the message that he’s not our Angel anymore. No, it’s not the murder itself, it’s the display that goes along with it. Candles, roses, romantic music, all setting the scene for a moment of horror that leads Giles to foolishly launch his own attack on Angel (which goes pretty well, actually.) Here we see the true Angelus for the first time. The passion he puts into his work, how he treats it as an art. He makes us hate him when previously all we wanted was for he and Buffy to work things out. That’s an impressive feat of writing and acting, and it makes for a glorious episode.




“Lovers’ Walk”
Spike (everyone’s favourite vampire) comes back to town looking for ways to win back his old flame Drusilla. The method that presents itself is to get up-and-coming witch Willow to cast a love spell. Of course, Spike being Spike, he doesn’t just ask politely. This episode is a perfect example of what Buffy does so well, which is to balance action with drama and humour, without it all getting muddled. There’s some great one-liners from Spike as always, but also some genuinely insightful comments that are difficult to argue with. In later seasons we see a lot of this from Spike; he becomes the guy who cuts through the naïve American Teenager bullshit and tells it how it is in true British fashion. The episode also features Buffy, Angel and Spike back to back in a fight for the only time in the entire series’ run, which is fantastic but also a bit of a shame. We get a lot of Angel and Spike fighting together once Spike moves over to his grand-sire’s own series, but we never have the three of them on the same side of a battle again after this. Of course, this only serves to make this episode all the more special as a result.


“Hush”
Bit of an obvious choice really, since this is often voted as the best Buffy episode ever. Expected or not, though, I stand by it. The plot is that a group of fairytale monsters steal the voices of everyone in town, so they can’t scream when their hearts are cut out (of course.) This means the entire cast has to do the entire episode without speaking. Or grunting, or making any kind of noise with their vocal chords. Which, according to behind the scenes featurettes, was incredibly difficult for all concerned. We may all think it’s the one of the best episodes, but the cast apparently remember it as the most stressful. All that effort pays off though, because it’s a master-class in story telling. Again, strong writing and acting come together here and the result it something that’s worth watching whether you’re a fan of the show or not.


“Becoming, Part 2”
I acknowledge that choosing one half of a two-part episode is a bit odd, but really the first half of this double is all set-up, the payoffs are in the finale. And what a finale it is. So much happens here, but what really stands out for me is that it can be summed up as “consequences.” The things that happen here have a lasting effect, in particular for the first time you see the hard choices Buffy has to make and how that can impact her life. Sure we’ve seen her die, but that was resolved in about five minutes as are most of the things that happen in season finales. But this one stands out. Angel would never move to LA and kickstart the apocalypse were it not for the events of this episode (he goes to Hell so the Powers That Be bring him back, which makes him realise he has a grander purpose, so off he goes to LA where he learns his part in a prophecy etc etc). Spike and Dru breakup for good which leads to Spike having a very different role in the show than anyone might have anticipated (and also being side by side with Angel at the start of said Apocalypse.) Buffy’s mother learns what her daughter does at night, Kendra dies which gives birth to Faith, Willow starts using magic. There’s probably more moments I’ve missed, but even after another five season finales, I don’t think any have the lasting impact that this one does. It really does change everything.


    So that it, my top five. And now I am just glancing out of my window to see the approaching villagers marching up my hill with the chants of “why did you miss out Once More With Feeling?” Well, this is only going to get said villagers to raise their flaming torches all the higher, but here’s the answer; I don’t like it. It’s a novelty episode, like the puppet one on Angel. And whilst yes, they are both fun and memorable, I take both shows pretty seriously and episodes that are clearly done as a “why not?” rather than actually adding anything to the series don’t sit well with me. I totally understand and respect that I am probably in a minority here, as the other polls of this type that I’ve seen would seem to suggest.  And that’s fine, I’m just saying that for me, I don’t think of a musical episode or one where the main character becomes a puppet can hold a candle (or a stake) to the ones I’ve listed above.
    There’s a comments section below so feel free to list your own top fives, and we’ll see what kind of crossover we all have. Get it? CROSSover. Because vampires don’t like crosses. Alright I’m not a pun person. Like most things, Buffy did those the best.
Lex.
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Lex H Jones is a British cross-genre author, horror fan and rock music enthusiast who lives in Sheffield, North England. 
He has written articles for websites the Gingernuts of Horror and the Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog on various subjects covering books, films, videogames and music. Lex’s first published novel is titled “Nick and Abe”, and he also has several short horror stories published in anthologies. When not working on his own writing Lex also contributes to the proofing and editing process for other authors.


His official Facebook page is:
LEX JONES 

Amazon author page :
LEX H JONES 
Twitter:
@LexHJones
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<![CDATA[PUBLISHER SPOTLIGHT: CROWED QUARANTINE PUBLICATIONS ]]>Mon, 17 Apr 2017 09:42:31 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/publisher-spotlight-crowed-quarantine-publications
 The Small / Indie Press is a tough place to be for not just the writers but also the publishers.  Profit margins are tight, in fact,  many of these presses operate at a loss and both the press and the writers who work with them struggle to get noticed, unless the spotlight of drama is focused on the small press.  

With that in mind Ginger Nuts of Horror's semi-regular column on the small presses, we should all care about returns with a look at Crowded Quarantine Publications, run by the instantly recognisable and damn fine author in his own right Adam Millard.  

Founded in 2011 by horror author, Adam Millard, and his wife, Zoe. Their goal was to release only the best in horror and speculative fiction, and work closely with their authors to bring their visions to fruition. In the short time since the company was formed, they have released close to thirty titles, with an ever increasing roster of great writers and books.  

In the short time since they opened their doors, they have published such fine authors as Rich Hawkins, Chris Kelso, Craig Saunders, Jen Haeger, Aaron J. French, Kevin Walsh and Luke Walker.  

Since their inception, they have always been a press that both their writers and contemporaries in the genre have always spoken highly of.  Their professional attitude to both their authors and their readers has seen them gain a reputation that is hard to beat.  

Last year saw the release of Unger House Radicals by Chris Kelso, a twisted, fractured horror novel that found its way onto many best of the year lists, and won The Ginger Nut of Horror's novel of the year award.  

Read on to find out what are our favourite books from CQP publications and which of their books we are most looking forward to reading this year.  

ASCENT BY LUKE WALKER

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When terrorists threaten to detonate a nuclear device outside RAF Lakenheath, Kelly Wells races for a nearby office block, frantic to find her sister in their last moments. At the same time, a handful of others do the same—all desperate to make it to loved ones before the bomb goes off barely fifty miles away. In the frozen second of the explosion, Kelly, her sister, and three strangers are trapped in that instant and trapped in the building. But they are not alone. A sleeping evil from the deepest pits of the earth has awoken. Stalked by a creature that knows their most private secrets and fears, the group are lost in a world of their individual Hells.



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Luke Walker has been writing horror and fantasy fiction for most of his life. His novel Hometown is published by Caffeine Nights while his novella Mirror Of The Nameless is published by DarkFuse. A new novel, Ascent, will be published summer 2017. His collection of horror fiction, Die Laughing, is also available. Several of his short stories have been published online and in print.

Praise for Die Laughing 

Dark, fun, and very inventive, Die Laughing is a memorable collection of short horror fiction that will unsettle you as much as it will surely entertain
 - Lee Wilson 

THE LAST PLAGUE BY RICH HAWKINS 

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A pestilence has fallen across the land. Run and hide. Seek shelter. Do not panic. The infected WILL find you. 

When Great Britain is hit by a devastating epidemic, four old friends must cross a chaotic, war-torn England to reach their families. But between them and home, the country is teeming with those afflicted by the virus - cannibalistic, mutated monsters whose only desires are to infect and feed. 

THE LAST PLAGUE is here.

Praise for The Last Plague 

Taking the tired trope of a zombie apocalypse and refreshing it with a palpable tension, genuine horror and a legion of nightmarish entities. Daniel Marc Chant 

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Rich Hawkins hails from deep in the West Country, where a childhood of science fiction and horror films set him on the path to writing his own stories. He credits his love of horror and all things weird to his first viewing of John Carpenter's THE THING. His debut novel THE LAST PLAGUE was nominated for a British Fantasy Award for Best Horror Novel in 2015. The sequel, THE LAST OUTPOST, was released in the autumn of 2015. The final novel in the trilogy, THE LAST SOLDIER, was released in March 2016.

Of Devils & Deviants: An Anthology of Erotic Horror 

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The French don't call orgasms "the little death" for no reason. La Petite Mort-the post-orgasmic state of unconsciousness that some people have following a sexual experience. But what if that "little death" became more permanent? What if, in the throes of passion, you suddenly realized your lover was not, in fact, human? What if one of the games you played to spice up your love-life went horribly wrong? What if you realized you were having sex with the Devil himself? Between these pages you will find tales of sex-bots, cosmic goddesses, and crazed lovers. Twenty-three authors are waiting to seduce you with tales so hot and erotic, so macabre and chilling, you'll pray you are sleeping alone tonight.

Featuring: Graham Masterton, Taylor Grant, Maynard Sims, Ralph Robert Moore, Claude Lalumiere, Aaron J. French, Adam Howe, John McIlveen, C.W. LaSart, Lucy Taylor, Jeff Gardiner, Christian A. Larsen, Shaun Meeks, Mandy DeGeit, Cameron Trost, J. Daniel Stone, Kenzie Mathews, Eric LaRocca, Stacey Turner, Jenn Loring, Kenneth W. Cain, Ken MacGregor, Bear Weiter.

Praise for 
Of Devils & Deviants

The result is an erotic romp through nearly every deviant behavior imaginable.- Frank Errington

Aberrations of Reality by Aaron J. French

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Do we always walk in two worlds? Our own we know, or think we know, and another we only glimpse? These twenty-two tales exploring occultism, religiosity, spirituality, existentialism, metaphysics, and the supernatural will attempt to answer that question. From the mind of Aaron J. French, Editor-in-Chief of Dark Discoveries magazine and noted Lovecraftian, comes Aberrations of Reality. Enter the New Age of weird fiction.

"Throughout this fiery modern grimoire of mystical horror, we're conscious of the restless urgency of the writing, as if the author is working against time to conjure onto the pages a sequence of transformations that must be seized and fixed before they dissolve again. Indeed, the task for the acolyte of the literary Mysteries today is to convey strange possibilities in a modern tongue, one which responds to the ceaseless now with news of a different eternity. They must have a need at least to suggest that there are aberrations in the world we usually take for reality. And, as the title of this book suggests, Aaron J. French is one of those willing to respond to that task."-from the Introduction by weird fiction critic and author Mark Valentine

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​Aaron J. French is the author of weird, occult, and dark fantasy fiction. His debut novel, The Time Eater (JournalStone), is available now. He is the author of Aberrations of Reality (Crowded Quarantine), The Dream Beings (Samhain), and many more published short stories. In addition to writing, he works as a book editor for JournalStone Publishing and the Editor-in-Chief for Dark Discoveries magazine. He has edited several popular anthologies including The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft, Songs of the Satyrs, and the Monk Punk & Shadow of the Unknown Omnibus. Aaron is currently pursuing a PhD in The Study of Religion at University of California, Davis.

UNGER HOUSE RADICALS BY CHRIS KELSO 

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When aspiring and nihilistic film-maker Vincent Bittacker falls in love with mercurial serial-killer Brandon Swarthy they decide to embark upon a bloody journey to re-define cinema and create their own sub-culture - Ultra-Realism.

Praise for Unger House Radicals 

The writing is dark yet exquisite, exploring uncomfortable horrors of mankind in a compelling, unique way. - Phil Sloman 

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Chris Kelso has been printed frequently in literary and university publications across the UK, US and Canada.

Chris Kelso’s publications include -
“Schadenfreude” (Dog Horn Publishing) 
“Last Exit to Interzone” (Black Dharma Press)
“A Message from the Slave State” (Western Legends Books)
“Moosejaw Frontier” (Bizarro Pulp Press)
“Transmatic” (MorbidbookS)
“The Black Dog Eats the City” (Omnium Gatherum)
“Terence, Mephisto & Viscera Eyes” (Bizarro Pulp Press)
“The Dissolving Zinc Theatre” (Villipede Publications)
"Unger House Radicals" (Crowded Quarantine)
"The Folger Variation" (Shoreline of Infinity)

He and Garrett Cook are the co-creator of ‘The Imperial Youth Review‘

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<![CDATA[COME TOGETHER IN THE GENRE:  HOW YOU CAN HELP A WORTHY CAUSE ]]>Sun, 16 Apr 2017 10:02:37 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/come-together-in-the-genre-how-you-can-help-a-worthy-cause
There is one thing you can count on the genre for, well after petty fights, and fall outs over submission guidelines, and that is once you get past the silly stuff it is a great community, people look out for each and help each other out without a second thought, even when the person in need is not one of your favourite people.  It's what makes us a community rather than just a bunch of fans. 

So when one of our own finds themselves in a situation, that can only be described as heartbreaking and unimaginable, we come together and help them out, it's what we do.  Kyle M. Scott is need of our help.  When I first heard of what had happened I stared at my screen for ages in disbelief, I couldn't understand how this could happen to someone living in this country.    It's heart breaking and it will make you angry.  For full details on this click here to read Kyle's account of what happened. 

Shocking isn't it.  I wasn't the only one who thought this, fellow horror Matt Hickman felt the same way, and he decided to do something about. Read on to find out how you can help Matt help Kyle.... 
Matt was spurred into action to do something for his friend this is what he had to say on the matter 

Kyle is a friend of mine and a well respected author within the independent writing community. Upon reading his story, it was a no-brainer for me to make a donation to his cause, but my humble offering was barely enough to make a dent in the cost of a transatlantic plane ticket. As a father myself, I couldn't begin to comprehend the torture that he must be enduring. I wished I could have done more.

Then, I had an idea.

I decided to reach out to my friends and peers in the independent horror writing community with a view to raise funds to donate to his cause. The idea was simple. I asked whether any author's would be willing to contribute a book of theirs, either a paperback or ebook to collated as a prize for readers to enter into a draw.

The response was phenomenal.

I was truly blown away by the immediate show of hands that responded to my appeal. Not only were these authors kind enough to donate their work, in cases there were multiple prizes offered. It's truly an inspiring show of respect, admiration and generosity of people within this community for one of their own. Upon review of the total number of books collected, we decided that there was a big enough prize to be split randomly into three equal winning prizes.
The three prize draws will be conducted on 30th April 2017, at which point every name that has donated will be entered into a random name generator and THREE winners will be drawn at random. 

As well as the potential of winning a fantastic prize, you have the chance to be a part of something that could really affect the lives of this man and his young daughter. Please donate, and please share. Let's get this thing all over Facebook and Twitter. Lets see if together, we can smash a massive hole in that target!!

So, what are the prizes that are up for grabs? They are listed below. Any other authors who wish to donate further to this prize, please contact Matt via his Facebook Page 
Signed paperbacks of Meat & The Dark Place by Michael Bray.
Signed paperback copies of Charlotte, Awakening, All or Nothing, Three's Company, Whispers 1 to 3, Outbreak, Gemini, Cine and Grin by Stuart Keane.
Ebook copies of Evil Embrace collection and TWENTY mystery titles exclusive to this event by Ian Woodhead.
Signed paperbacks of The Human Undead War I and II by Jonathan Ondrashek.
Signed paperbacks of Class Three, Prime Direcetive and Hexagram by Duncan Bradshaw.
Signed paperbacks of GodBomb and Breaking Point by Kit Power.
Signed paperback of Under the Red Meadow by Rich Hawkins.
Signed copy of Z Claus by Marc Moore.
Signed paperback copy of The Hobbsburg Horror by Thomas  Flowers III
Signed paperback of National Emergency by James Jobling.
Signed paperbacks of Dr. Blessing and the Seance by Jack Rollins.
Signed paperback of Every Twisted Thought, Audiobooks of Life to Waste and Keith, and ebook copies of Twisted Shorts and A Taste of Fear by Andrew Lennon.
Signed Paperback of The Tower and the Eye, and ebook copies of The Heir of the Dragon, Darkness in Mind, Blossom and Kitsune, and The Necklace of Harmony by Mandy Ward.
Signed paperbacks of Wind Up Toy, Broken Plaything and Chaos Rising by David Owain Hughes.
Signed paperbacks of The Exchange and Punch by JR Park.
Signed paperbacks of Celebrity Hell House, Larry, Larry II, The Marionnettiste of Versaille, and Peter Crombie, Teenage Zombie by Adam Millard.
Ebook copies of Dobson Lane and Skee-Bo by Dale Robertson.
Signed paperbacks of Mr. Robespierre and Maldicion by Daniel Marc Chant
Signed paperback of Driftwood From the Specific by Tony Gilbert.
Signed paperbacks of The Grays Anatomy and Life With Boris Karloff by Rob Shepherd.
Signed paperback of I Am Karma, and ebook copy of VS by Dawn Cano.
Signed paperback of The Shadow Fabric by Mark Cassell.
Signed copies of Hellspawn and Infernal by Ricky Fleet.
Signed copies of Tales of Blood and Sulphur, Peace and Quiet, Time and Space and a rare first edition of Tales by JG Clay
Signed paperback of The Doors by Alice J Black
Signed copy of Woom by Duncan Ralston
Ebook copies of Even Hell Has Standards - Pride and Wrath by Chantal Noordeloos
Signed paperback copies of Amnesia, Jeremy, Gemini, and Bound by Matt Hickman
A limited first edition Signed paperback of Subterrestrial by Michael McBride (Donated by Becky Narron)
Signed paperback copies of Nick & Abe, and VS by Lex Jones
That is a pretty awesome set of prizes and one that will surely grow in the coming weeks, so come on folks what is quid / dollar, it's nothing to us but it could mean a huge amount to Kyle and his daughter.    Please share  this and the other links around and please help a a loving father get back with his family.  

    To enter the draw please click here it's simple and will just take seconds.  
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<![CDATA[EXCLUSIVE IMAGE REVEAL: THE MONSTER CHARITY PROJECT 2017 ]]>Thu, 13 Apr 2017 07:20:17 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/exclusive-image-reveal-the-monster-charity-project-2017
In the second of our exclusive reveals today (click here for our cover reveal), Ginger Nuts of Horror is honoured to be given the opportunity to reveal a very special  Frankenstein's Monster  bust as you have never seen him before, completely customised in unique designs by some of the UK's top artists from the prop-making and movie Special FX make-up industries.  The Monster Charity Project has commissioned the creation of these unique busts so they can be auctioned off for the Make A Wish UK Foundation, with 100% of the proceeds going to the charity.   

Twenty five  of the UK's top prop-making, sculpting and SPFX make-up artists have been brought together to take part in a unique charity project. Each artist has been given a bespoke Frankenstein-inspired monster bust, created and supplied by SVFX University of Bolton Special & Visual Effects team, with the simple instruction: Customise him into any design you like.

Read on for our exclusive reveal of what is a rather special bust... 
Once customised, the artists then donate the finished bust back to the Monster Charity Project organisers who will auction them off via an online auction site. 100% of the proceeds raised from the auction will be donated to Make-A-Wish UK. All the artists and the back room project crew donate their time and skills totally free of charge.

Last year the same project team raised a staggering £28,000 for Make-A-Wish at Star Wars Celebration London with a similar project featuring an iconic Star Wars Helmet. 30 artists took part creating such custom designs as Deadpool, Judge Dredd , Batman and a Studio Ghibli inspired design.

The busts will be going on a UK tour during 2017 taking in such conventions as Horror Con UK,  finishing the year at Creaturegeddon where many of the featured artists can be seen sharing their work and also available for a chat. The Monster Charity Project is also in talks to have the display featured at the very popular Grimmfest event in Manchester.

People will be able to start viewing the completed busts from May 2017 via various social media outlets and the above mentioned conventions, the project busts then go to auction on October 31st 2017, ending November 5th 2017


For Further information and updates you can follow the project and all its progress at:


 https://www.facebook.com/The-Monster-Charity-Project-2017-1154419357915280/
Twitter -  https://twitter.com/monsterproj
https://instagram.com/monstercharityproject
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<![CDATA[THINGS A WRITER SHOULD NEVER DO TO GET THEIR BOOK PUBLISHED ]]>Thu, 13 Apr 2017 05:31:43 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/things-a-writer-should-never-do-to-get-their-book-published
In the fallout from last night's Facebook discussion  about a submission call   run by an author, (who for some reasons claims they  aren't  a publisher and is just a writer despite PUBLISHING ANTHOLOGIES) where upon acceptance to the anthology the  writer was expected to pay $40 for the anthology to use their story, here is a little handy guide to things a writer should never do / be aware off when finding a home for their story.  This list is by no means comprehensive, and if you have any more things to avoid please leave a comment in the section below.  

Here is the submission call 


Seven Deadly Sins Anthology Sign up.
The Seven Deadly Sins Anthology will consist of 3 anthologies. Each anthology will be published separate, but all in the same month.- Minimum word count for each story is 3,000 words and maximum is 6,500 words.
- I'm looking for 18 stories, 6 stories for each anthology.
I will be writing one for each.
- If selected, $40 is to be paid in full by July, this price includes Cover, Formatting and Promotion.
- Each participant must have their own Editor and Proof Reader if you feel you need a proofreader.
- The anthology will be published to E-Book and will be available for 6 months on Amazon. The anthologies will also have a one year paperback shelf life-the paperback is subject to change. After the 6 months on Amazon, each participant can re-publish their story if they so wish.
- The Anthologies will be published in December. Publishing 1 a week. (This is subject to change)
- Each story will need to be turned in at the beginning of October.
- Each author will be paid by PayPal and the royalties we earn will be split equally.
- Open to all genres.



1.  Pay any publisher for the privilege of publishing your book.  

This includes submission fees, reading fees, editing fees, cover design fees You should never have to pay to get a publisher or an agent to read your work. Never, ever, ever. Get this through your head. Many scammers will try to lure new writers in a “small reading fee.” A reputable agent and publishing house will never ask you to pay for them to read your manuscript.

The bottom line is that a real publishing company does not get paid until your book is published. That’s why they are so interested in selling your book.


2.  Give your story away for free, unless it is a charity anthology

There are still presses that offer "For the Love Of" submissions, the only thing an author gets from exposure is a cold arse.  

3. Submit your story to a piss poor publisher.

                                    How do you spot one I hear you ask?  

Here are a few handy tips 

I. The submission call application form is a burner google docs form with no contact info.  

II. Their website has a very vague contact / about section.

 If a small press is proud of their work and above board, you won't need to dig to find out who runs it.  

III. Look at their covers

do they look like they were done by their kid with zero artistic talent?  If so walk away.  Despite that adage, you can judge a book by its cover

IV. Author-unfriendly contracts

including rights grabs, taking copyright, restrictive option clauses, sub-standard royalty provisions (including reverse-accounted royalties), inadequate reversion clauses, draconian “defamation clauses,” and a host of other inappropriate and abusive contract terms.

VI. Deliberately misleading advertising 

if they are making bold claims about winning awards or publishing Amazon Bestsellers ask for proof of the awards, and sales rank.  Unless the award is from an industry recognised source, then the award is bollocks.  Just having your book on a top ten list from some blogger, no one has heard from is not winning an award.  

And an Amazon bestseller is not a book that was number one for something like this 

Books > Fiction > Science Fiction > Adventure>aliens>spaceships>I wonder how many more subcategories I can add until I hit a top ten ranking 


VII. Lack of editorial gatekeeping

if it looks like they publish any old shit chances are they publish any old shit without actually reading it 


VIII.  Lack of editing

check out a few of the books they publish, use the "Look inside" function on Amazon it is your friend. If the books look as though they have had no editorial eye on them, again chances are the publishers dodgy.  


Remember now more than ever; the term author brand is king.  And if it gets out that your brand is "half-arsed author who puts any old nonsense with edits" you are going to sink like a stone.  

IX Breaches of Contract

use sites such as Writers  Beware, and Facebook author groups, use Google research the publisher and if there are repeated accounts of them not fulfilling their contracts walk away.  Of course me reasonable, sometimes the claims are unjustified and come from a single  disgruntled author, but if there are a load of authors complaining about them, and they have made their way onto the Writers Beware website, then the chances are they are totally dodgy.  



It's hard getting published, but the worst thing you can do as a writer is publish your book through a publisher that won't do their best to sell your book, and if they are making money of you before they even publish your book then they really don't care if your book is a success.  

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<![CDATA[BLOODBORNE ]]>Wed, 12 Apr 2017 07:15:31 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/bloodbourneBy George Daniel Lea 
How do I even begin?
 
I have avoided From Software's uniqely masochistic range of video games for the longest time, despite being lured by their imagery, intrigued by their mechanics and design; the accounts of players who proclaim them epitomes of excellence.
 
Then, Bloodborne. A title ostensibly in the same family as the company's iconic Darksouls, Bloodborne is an entirely new franchise set in a new environment, with similar but subtly different emphases in dynamic, and an atmosphere and mythology that ers more towards gothic and Lovecraftian horror than the twisted fantasy tropes and subjects of the Souls series.
 
Again, despite being intrigued, I more or less ignored the title on first release; far too busy with this and that in my waking life to put in the time and energy that I'd heard the game required.
 
A chance taster of the game at a friend's house led me to seek out some play-throughs on line, not to mention a brief delving into the lore and imagery. 
As a lifelong fan of cosmic and body horror, I couldn't help but be immediately hooked.
 
Set in the decaying, diseased and impossibly gothic city of Yharnam, the game begins with a brief cut-scene in which the player character is administered blood by an extremely wizened and not entirely salubrious looking gentleman, in settings that appear less than conducive to health and healing. Following a nightmarish vision involving a skinless, demonic werewolf rising from a pool of blood beside the bed, the player wakes and the game begins. 
​This is a fantastic example of the storytelling in Bloodborne; one of the many, many, many areas in which it excels beyond expression: this cut-scene is one of the very few in the game and, like most, it is not expositional; it does not belabour itself attempting to explain what is happening. Instead, it treats the player with a great deal of respect; as though they are a sophisticated and imaginative entity, able to fill in the gaps or extrapolate their own conclusions.
 
As you'll come to discover, framing, implication and inference are all-important to discerning story and back mythology in Bloodborne. The game very rarely pauses or cuts away from the action, and when it does, very little is betrayed other than to set up an immediate situation: you will not find characters who will talk at length about what is happening, about where the various beasts and lunatics strewing Yharnam's streets come from: you need to figure that out for yourself from various ambient and environmental details. What becomes clear from the get go is that nothing is arbitrary; everything from architecture to statuary, from ornaments to pennants, even enemy and NPC placement, serves to tell a story; to enhance the sense of atmosphere, which is so treacly-thick you can scrape it from the screen and devour with a spoon.
 
Yharnam is immediately a deliriously beautiful setting; the most unlikely architecture, in terms of its insane elaboration (essentially, layers of gothicism piled atop one another) enhanced by its decay; the state of anarchy and collapse into which the player emerges.
 
That is, assuming you survive the first encounter.
 
Upon making your way through the clinic, passed many, many beds, all complete with straps and drips and various surgical instruments (not to mention universally stained with testaments as to what happened to previous occupants), the player comes across their first beast, squatting atop the torn and tattered remains of what might be the gentlemen from the opening cutscene (again, open to interpretation).
 
This encounter is designed to teach the player how the game works; what it is going to put them through. The encounter is almost impossible; unarmed, inexperienced as the player is, they can only slap and punch and kick the immense lycanthrope, which darts and shifts and lopes around the setting, knocking over tables, lurching away from the player's attacks. Though it is possible to defeat the entity (especially if you happen to have played the game before, and therefore know its tricks and tells), the encounter is designed to be next-to-impossible for the Yharnam virgin, the “newly blooded:” it is a fantastic example not only of how the game's storytelling works (i.e. via placement and setting of characters, objects, situations etc), but also how it teaches players: not through on-screen instructions or reams of redundant text, but via demonstration: the game hurls you headlong into the fray, informing you from the get-go that this is not some coddling, skirt-clinging escapade: you are going to die. And die and die and die and die. Then die some more.
 
Fortunately, being “blooded,” and therefore designated as a “Hunter” of beasts, your character does not die. Rather, they wake in an Edenic garden; a fenced off space littered with flowers and overgrown gravestones, a great, sealed building looming over all.
 
This is “The Hunter's Dream,” the place where Hunters go when they are slain; where they can gain some respite from “The Hunt” before “waking” again and returning to the fray. 
​The Hunter's Dream is a key part of the game's mechanics; this is where players go to level up, to tend to their weapons, to purchase equipment, gain advice etc, but it is also, cleverly, part of the game's stoy and back mythology: the dream is simultaneously a real and fantastical place; a transitional state between worlds whose origins and nature do not become entirely apparent until much, much later. Two characters inhabit this area; the wizened, wheelchair-bound Hunter known as Gerhman, who provides advice and direction to the player, and a bizarre, living doll, who, likewise, offers advice but also allows the player to spend “blood echoes” to level up certain characteristics.
 
The nature of the dream and its very existence throws into question all that the player experiences: given that the game begins with them on a hospital bed, it's entirely possible that all they experience is some form of vivid hallucination as a result of the blood they've imbibed. That theme continues throughout the game, with the distinction between what is “real” and what is not stretching, distorting and, ultimately, breaking: certain latter areas consisting of nightmares made true or cobbled together from lunatic hallucinations, hideous memories and febrile visions.
 
In Yharnam and its surrounding environments, the distinctions between dreams and reality are almost redundant; a factor enhanced by the mechanic of “insight:” certain encounters and the use of certain items (“Madman's Knowledge”) enhance your “insight” level, the state of which subtly or dramatically changes the game and provides fresh, well, insight into what might genuinely be happening: as insight increases, certain things become more apparent: enemies change visually and gain different abilities, the player suffers certain enhancements and vulnerabilities. Most significant of all are the environmental shifts: certain elements that are entirely invisible upon initial encounter, but which the player might catch ephemeral glimpses or hints of, become apparent depending on your level of insight. This is as much a mechanic of horror as it is of storytelling: the knowledge that there are things at play, always active and present in the environment, but that the player can't see or discern, escalates the atmosphere of derangement and paranoia that pervades the entire game.
​ 
It also allows for moments of breath-stealing shock, when you return to familiar areas after gathering certain degrees of insight only to find the environments changed, altered or revealed in some hideous fashion.
 
Initially, the affliction that pervades Yharnam (some disease of the blood which turns its victims into raving lunatics and, ultimately, beasts and monsters of various sorts) is the source of the game's horror and the pivot of its mythology: your purpose as a Hunter is to slay the afflicted, to cleanse the streets and return the city to some degree of stability (though it becomes clear from the get-go that this is all but impossible).
 
However, as the game progresses, it becomes clear that there are number of deeper conspiracies afoot, and a mythology that goes far, far beyond the merely lycanthropic: The Healing Church, which the player will find mention of throughout the early quarters of the game, and which seems to exercise something of a stranglehold over Yharnam culture and politics, being the source of “Blood Ministration,” seems to be involved in far darker and loftier practices than any could have ever imagined: the culture of “Blood Minsitration” (which, as the text for a certain item points out, has become more pervasive in Yharnam than the use of alcohol, owing to it being more intoxicating) seems to have given rise to the plague of beasts, not to mention called down some of the darker forces at work.
 
What becomes apparent as the game progresses is that the “Old Blood” which the church uses in its rites, and which has spread throughout the city and beyond, originally derives from some highly questionable sources: entities which the Church has been in contact with since its inception, and which it hopes to call down as a means of elevating humanity into higher states of being.
 
However, those entities (refered to as “Great Ones”) are entirely alien in nature, not only in terms of their anatomies, their spheres of operation, but also their intentions: though there are hints and suggestions throughout the game, it is almost impossible to discern what the various “Great Ones” intend or even if they operate according to common goals: all distinctly Lovecraftian entities, the “Great Ones” are manifestations of other-worldly madness and alien monstrosity; their presence alone foments lunacy and mutation and discord, and it is to them that the various cults, churches and colleges throughout Yharnam generally owe allegiance.
 
This is a significant synthesis and generalisation of the plot and back mythology, as there is very little set in stone or absolutely concrete: most of what can be derived is left open; as matters of implication and inference, meaning that no player comes away with quite the same notions or mythology; it becomes personal, a matter of what each individual player brings to the table as much as what is communicated or imposed upon them. The subtlety of storytelling within the game is one of the areas in which it has marked itself out as a firm favourite and a sincere work of genius: despite very little being specifically noted or detailed, the background is rich and complex, with various depths of elaboration and engagement: the player can treat it or delve into it to what degree they wish: those wishing for merely some surface detail to provide background for the action have that, whilst those looking for something richer, denser and deeper will find one of the most toothsome mythologies of cosmic horror available in video games. As an experience in atmosphere, aesthetics and story-telling, the game is sublime: there is little that can compete with its style, its grace; its wit, its utter nihilism: this is not a hopeful or happy game, in any sense: from its horrific beginning to its many and varied ends, the mythology it draws is one of hideous abandon; terrible and ineluctable possibilities, from which death is the only release one might find (and, often, not even then). It is a tale of diseased and lunatic Gods, of their diseased and lunatic worshipers, of mad men and cruel churches and monstrous violence; of blood letting and cannibalism and the most hideous of births. If you enjoy intense, visceral and transgressive horror imagery, you will find little in all of video gaming more beautiful than this. 
​As for the game itself, one of the elements that is a primary source of my admiration is that it is deliberately alienating: unlike so, so many software companies and game developers in recents years, From Software do not attempt to cater to the widest possible demographics: they know their fanbase intimately and do everything to appeal to them, to the exclusion of all others. This game will not appeal to or fulfil everyone: it is deliberately and consistently difficult, to the point whereby certain situations and encounters seem almost impossible until you've died a number of times and figured them out (don't expect the game to help you, either; you'll get no tips or tricks to make it easier. You have to LEARN). This is simultaneously part of the game's appeal and the source of its repulsion for many: it is a genuine learning experience: combat is subtle and complex; almost dance-like in its rhythms; you have to learn each enemy, in terms of their patterns, their weaknesses; their tricks and “tells,” until you know how they are going to respond and how best to take them down. This means each encounter, from the lowliest blood-maddened Yharnamite to the highest and most abstract of the Great Ones, is an exercise; you must engage, observe and alter your tactics accordingly. The game is thus endlessly new; it is never the case that a tried and tested tactic for one enemy will work against others. Depending on your proclivities when it comes to video games, this can either be a point of engagement and admiration or it can be what singularly turns you off from the game: particularly early on, before you've had a chance to learn how the game works, it is likely that you will die and die and die and die again, often to the same enemies, until you begin to understand; until you get that this isn't like most games, even of its particular, action-horror type: it, along with its Darksouls cousins, is designed against the grain; it does not coddle or cosset to make things easy for the player; to get the best out of it, in terms of both story and gameplay, you need to engage with it and provide your own input to the process.
 
That said, if you are willing to engage with it; if you are one of the very particular demographic it is designed for, then it will redefine how video games work for you; what they are capable of in terms of story telling, teaching basic mechanics, exploration and adventure, aesthetics...the experience is so rich, so deep and fulfilling, taking down an enemy that has been plaguing you for maybe days at a time is beyond description; a point of genuine celebration, as you have accomplished something in ways that most video games do not allow for: it is an exercise in skill and observation and dexterity; the game rewards engagement in ways that so, so few do and punishes assumption, arrogance and laxity (no matter how high level or well equipped your character is, the first enemies you encounter in the game can take you down, without the requisite consideration). 
​Another factor that makes the game deliriously fun is its encouragement of exploration: not only is the game ENORMOUS (Yharnam itself contains various sub-sections and surrounding environments, and this is before we even get into the numerous hallucinatory or “dreaming” segments, especially after the release of the “Old Hunters” DLC), it encourages and rewards exploration and returning to areas already trodden after certain events have transpired: each area has its own warren of hidden ways, shortcuts, links to other areas, secret rooms and tunnels and monsters and characters, their contents often opening ways to entirely other (and entirely optional) areas of the game or conistsing of monsters and encounters that you'll find nowwhere else. This makes the game feel like a gigantic, darkly hallucinogenic playground; after the first area (designed to introduce you to the game's aesthetics, mechanics and to provide a taste of what is to come), the game opens up, with various points of exploration and progression becoming possible. The order in which you tackle areas and encounters has a significant effect on the game's many and various character stories and progressions, how the game itself manifests in latter stages and the relative difficulty of those areas.
 
For example, defeating a particular boss-encounter causes the night to shift from dusk to midnight, the moon swelling, the shadows deepening. This has the effect of making a certain titanic and extremely threatening enemy in the Cathedral Ward area become somewhat placid, as they go to their knees either in mourning for the creature you have killed or out of fear or worship of the moon. Alternatively, an area known as Hemwick Charnel Lane (an entirely optional area, that I didn't find until much, much later in my first playthrough) becomes extremely hazardous as, under moonlight, demonic shadows manifest, hampering and harrying you throughout. Combined with the changes brought about by the “insight” mechanic, this can make familiar areas seem entirely new, depending on how and when you visit them. This also provides the game a great deal of replay value: you can play the game through again and have an entirely different experience, depending on how you choose to tackle it; what bosses you choose to kill first, what areas you traverse, items you pick up and equipment you carry. The game also has another mechanic to enhance replay, in that, upon completing the final encounter (which has many and varied outcomes, depending on certain decisions you make), the game will automatically switch to a “New Game +” mode, which is the same game, but much more difficult and with subtle differences from its previous incarnation. You will also start this game with all of the equipment, upgrades and experiences from your previous playthrough, meaning that your character can continue to evolve and develop.
 
But, aside from all of the technical brilliance, the challenge, the aesthetics, the masterfully conceived and communciated back story, what truly sells me on this game and what first snared my attention, are the monsters. Beyond any pretence of sophistication this review might pretend, it was originally the monsters that captured my black and suppurating heart and continue to do so: this game has some of the most beautiful and brilliant creature design I have ever come across in any medium. Derived from an entire wealth of backgrounds and traditions (from gothic to Lovecraftian, cosmic horror), the monsters are not only designed to be disturbing or horrific (which they are),  but also to be expressive and characterful. 
​Each entity is framed in such a manner that it not only makes sense in its location, but seems to be interacting with it in some way: you'll often find monsters gathered around a particular corpse, feeding upon it, harvesting its blood or organs, even lamenting or venerating it. Alternatively, you might find packs of particular enemies gathered in particular types of ruins, around particular trypes of altars, offering worship or sacrament to their lesser kin. Though there are consistent enemies from area to area (such as the various blood-mad citizens of Yharnam), each area also has its own unique encounters that are derived from the environment and seem to be a natural part of it: exploring the Cathedral Ward's grounds, you'll find pairs of Church Doctors, pale-skinned and emotionless hulks who seem to be some creation of the Church, designed to protect its grounds, to hunt down infected citizens etc. They not only fit perfectly in the locale, but seem to be engaged in patrolling and protecting it; maintaining its sanctity etc. After finding yourself lost in the Forbidden Woods surrounding Yharnam, you'll find yourself set upon by packs of gigantic, demonic snakes, some of which lurk in the long grasses or behind gigantic gravestones, others of which erupt from the ground in answer to their fellow's summons or drop from trees onto the player's head. Dropping down into certain caverns and crevasses in this area will bring you face to face with gigantic specimens of this species, not to mention a particular, isolated valley in which you'll have what is likely your first encounter with the entites collectively refered to as “kin.” The placement and framing of enemies (particularly the unfathomably gorgeous boss entities) lends them personality and character and back story without the need to belabour them with reams of text or self-explanation: it is up to the player to interpret what they are, why they occur where they do. 
​For example, quite late in the game (depending on which path you take), you'll encounter a creature known as Rom, the Vacuous Spider. From some vague clues picked up from earlier stages in the game, you know that Rom has some link to the wider mythology occurring throughout Yharnam and its surrounding environments. However, what is never explicitly stated is who or what Rom is; you only know from the encounter, its setting and its effects on the game itself. Rom is fought in what appears to be another dimension; a strange non-space that is discovered by leaping from a high balcony into a moon-lit lake. Your character will find themselves wandering an immense and empty ocean, able to walk atop the water, Rom and its many, arachnid children (or protectors. Or gaolers. It's left deliberately ambiguous) on the opposite side of the playing arena. Defeating Rom (no mean feat; one of the more difficult bosses in the game) results in a highly symbolic but also extremely open-to-interpretation cut scene in which a babe can be heard crying, in which a spectral and highly regal woman appears stained with blood, as though from a recent and abortive labour, the moon suddenly swollen, hanging low, lowering deep red. Returning to the waking world following this encounter moves the night on to its penultimate phase, and changes a great deal of the familiar playing areas whilst opening up numerous others. Nothing is explained or made explicit, but, owing to Rom's nature and what its defeat precipitates, we can infer that she is some sort of warden; that she is maintaining an occult veil that keeps the mysteries and powers at work within Yharnam concealed. As to why and where her loyalties lie, who can say? Though the matter has become a point of rampant and rabid speculation amongst the game's fans.
 
I find it difficult to express what a sincere joy, what a profound revelation this game has been. From the subtle and respectful storytelling, the deliriously beautiful design, the exquisite combat, level design, atmosphere, soundtrack...it is a sincere example of video game art; a vehicle of profound beauty and even more profound ideas and conceits, that has obsessed me in ways that very, very little media of any kind does.
 
Faults?; If you're playing an unpatched version of the game, the loading times are ATROCIOUS. Absolutely atrocious. Also, owing to the game's nature, many, many, many will find themselves frustrated with its level of difficulty, the engagement that it demands. It is highly reccommended that you try before you buy, to get a sense of whether or not this style of game is for you. As previously mentioned, it is deliberately alienating, and will frustrate and repel certain demographics as much as it will morbidly enchant others.
 
Similarly, the game's themes and contents is highly distressing, disturbing and, at times, utterly disgusting: there is very little shyed away from, here: the game explores encroaching madness and disease, murder, mutilation, monstrosity...there are also over-arching themes of pregnancy and birth that are highly distressing and manifest, in the game's latter portions, in the most hideous and obscene ways, which may prove “triggering” for some. 
But these are the most nit-picking and incidental of complaints weighed against what this game has achieved; the profound and sadly rare respect with which it treats its audience and the manner in which it engages imagination in order to draw players into its bleak and hostile world.
 
At present, I am near the final chapters of my second play-through; one in which I have discovered whole areas of the game I simply never found originally, in which I have encountered characters and story arcs and bosses and enemies I never even knew existed.
 
It will be something of a melancholy experience when I have finally bled it dry and have to put it down, but until that moment, I am happy to be swept up in Bloodborne's nihilistic delirium and have it become part of the influences upon my imagination and state of mind; as profound a recommendation as I can give. 
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<![CDATA[The Belko EXPERIMENT: THE MORPH VERSION ]]>Tue, 11 Apr 2017 03:50:16 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/the-belko-experiment-the-morph-version
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The Belko Experiment ​has been  described as Office Space meets Battle Royale where  an office block is turned into a bloody arena when the staff are pitted against each other in a vicious kill or be killed game, in this top-notch horror thriller from director Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) and writer James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy).  To mark its release in UK cinemas on 21st April 2017 we have a special set of clay animation clips  created by the talented British animator Lee Hardcastle, warning this is no Trapdoor into the world of Morph.  
In a twisted social experiment, a group of 80 Americans are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia, and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed in order to survive.

Presented by Orion Pictures, an arm of MGM, The Belko Experiment is directed by Greg McLean (The Darkness, Wolf Creek), written by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) and produced by Peter Safran (The Conjuring, Annabelle) and Gunn. The film stars John Gallagher, Jr. (The Newsroom, 10 Cloverfield Lane), Tony Goldwyn (Scandal), Adria Arjona (True Detective), John C. McGinley (Stan Against Evil, Scrubs), Melonie Diaz (Fruitvale Station), Josh Brener (Silicon Valley) and Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy).

Sprung from the mind of acclaimed filmmaker James Gunn and directed by Greg McLean, The Belko Experiment raises provocative questions while offering a black-humored thrill-ride that pushes ruthless corporate behavior to terrifying extremes.

When office workers arrive for work at Belko Industries’ isolated high-rise campus outside Bogotá, Colombia, the morning starts much like any other. Mike Pelk (John Gallagher, Jr.) smokes weed in the bathroom and flirts with his beautiful officemate Leandra (Adria Arjona) while new employee Dany Wilkins (Melonie Diaz) settles in for her first day on the job. Everything changes when an anonymous voice comes through the intercom speakers ordering employees to kill two of their colleagues within 30 minutes. Many of the 80 employees assume the order is a sick joke, even when steel-plated doors snap shut sealing off all windows and exits. When they fail to comply before the half hour is up, the heads of four randomly chosen office workers explode. Panic reaches a fever pitch when the disembodied voice issues his next command: thirty people must be killed within the next two hours or 60 people will die. Belko COO Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn), a former Special Forces operative, commandeers a vault filled with guns, assembles an ad-hoc death squad and begins executing elderly and childless employees. In the ensuing melee, ordinary office workers including stoner Marty (Sean Gunn), nerdy Keith (Josh Brener), creepy Wendell (John C. McGinley) and maintenance guy Bud (Michael Rooker) reveal their true colors.

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