Monday, September 30, 2013

Get Your RC Geek on with Wow! Stuff's Six-Legged Attacknid

I've ranted before about how the Terminator franchise really needs a much better selection of scale-accurate replicas of Skynet's vast army of kill 'bots, and I think that's especially true in the area of remote control (RC) toys. So far, there has only been one officially licensed RC toy replica of a Terminator vehicle, the aerial HK unit from Terminator Salvation; otherwise, the only other RC Terminator replicas that I know of are ones made by extremely tech-savvy fans.

However, even though we'll never see an official Lego Mindstorms version of a T-600 or a T-1 tank, there are other RC toys that toy collecting Terminator fans can use as substitutes to terrorize their action figure collections. A WooWee Robosapien toy could be used as a substitute for a Harvester, a quadcopter could be used as a substitute for an aerial HK, and a Kid Galaxy Cybercycle could be used as a substitute for a Moto-Terminator. Even the rarely seen HK Centurion and T-7T Tetrapod now have their own substitute with the Attacknid, which is part of the Wow! Stuff’s Combat Creatures line of RC toys. The Attacknid differs from the Centurion and Tetrapod in that it has six legs instead of four, but that doesn't it mean it is any less cool.

In addition to crawling like a mechanical insect, the 10 inch tall Attacknid features a rotating turret that launches discs up to 30 feet. It also has removable, customizable armor panels on each leg, and it shuts down if its "Battle Brain" is hit directly three times. The disc launcher and Battle Brain features are provided so that RC geeks can have fights between their Attacknid units; nevertheless, the Attacknid's disc launcher and 360 degree range of all-terrain mobility should provide hours of fun for shooting at action figures during an imaginary post-apocalyptic future war with a Skynet that outsources with Wow! Stuff.

Check out the video below to see the Attacknid in action, and you can learn more about this battling ‘bot toys on the official Combat Creatures site.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Goodbye, Bay Harbor Butcher: A Look Back at Dexter (2006 - 2013)

I remember reading a quote from Alfred Hitchcock a while back, although I can't find the exact source from where it originated. It was during an interview, and Hitchcock was asked about how to evoke an audience's sympathy for an anti-hero such as a criminal. He said that to have a sympathetic anti-hero, he can't just be what's normally thought of as a "bad guy"; he has to be the best at whatever vice he practices (e.g., bank robbery, art theft, high-profile assassinations, etc.) and, as long as he is portrayed by a handsome and charming actor, audiences will cheer the anti-hero along as long as he strives to maintain his reputation as the best. Hitchcock recognized that it's human nature to support hard work and success and his approach to anti-heroes proved that under the right circumstances, this support can be twisted around to cheer on theft, violence, excessive bloodshed, and death. Thus, while petty thieves, impoverished drug dealers and second-rate henchmen are the stuff of bit parts and small tragic dramas, expertly-trained assassins, international diamond thieves and rogue police officers who break all the rules to get the job done are romanticized and revered as superstars within the annals of pulp crime and suspense thrillers.

By that rationale, the TV series Dexter, which recently ended its eight season run on Showtime last weekend, gleefully pushed Hitchcock's approach to anti-heroes into the darkest and craziest corners of the horror genre. Charmingly played by Michael C. Hall, the titular character of Dexter Morgan built an audience of sympathetic viewers and impressed TV critics as he hacked and slashed his way through the criminal underbelly of Miami. Even though this plot summary sounds like the stuff of low-budget grindhouse horror, the creators of the series built enough twists into Dexter, his story and his supporting cast to make him approachable and even likable--likable enough that many fans were angered over how he didn't have a happily-ever-after ending, regardless of the fact that Dexter never stopped being a monster during the entirety of the series. Somewhere out there, Hitchcock is smiling from ear to ear.

Read on for my review of Dexter, and why I think that it's the boldest horror TV show to date. (Warning: There are many spoilers in this post.)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Alien Abductees Get Even in Altered (2006)

As movie monsters go, filmmakers have gotten plenty of mileage from the concept of extraterrestrial threats. There have been countless movies about high-tech alien invaders (War of the Worlds, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers), parasitic alien biology (Alien, The Thing), and too-close-for-comfort contact with an alien intelligence (Fire in the Sky, The Fourth Kind). In the midst of this crowded field of alien terrors is Altered, a 2006 creature feature that was directed and co-written by Eduardo Sánchez, co-writer and co-director of The Blair Witch Project.

Altered is about four men who were abducted and tortured by alien visitors when they were teenagers. After years of unsuccessfully coping with the trauma they endured, three of the men decide to hunt down and capture one of the visitors as an act of retribution; yet once they capture an alien, they're not completely sure of what they should do next. To make matters worse, their alien captive isn't quite as helpless as he looks and he has some sinister plans of his own ....

I'm recommending Altered to creature feature fans for many reasons. It's a well-made film that takes a unique approach to both alien horror movies and modern alien abduction lore. It effectively uses practical effects to bring its alien menace to life (no CGI here), and it also does an excellent job at balancing the horror with some bits of clever humor. Some scenes feature inventive examples of splatstick humor, and there are a few bits of redneck humor because the abductees in this movie are working class southern white men. However, this is not Tucker and Dale vs. Evil--Altered is a tale of terror at its core. In fact, some of the concepts and visuals in this movie reminded me of Scanners and The Fly, two classic "body horror" films by David Cronenberg.

Because most horror films feature characters who are being stalked by and defending themselves from a monster, the movie's story about men who search for and capture a monster makes it very different from most other films of its kind. Even though Altered is a horror movie, the pacing of its story reminded me fatalistic pulp crime dramas that begin with a major event (e.g., a bank heist gone wrong) and then subsequently unravel as the protagonists attempt and repeatedly fail to cope with the events they set in motion. The film also lets you understand the characters and the bitter motivations behind their actions. While hunting extremely deadly monsters sounds like something only a fool would do, you come to realize how the abduction left the main characters so broken in their adulthood that alien hunting has become the only meaningful thing left for them to do with their lives.

Altered ranks alongside Abominable and Alien Raiders as one of the better low-budget creature features to be released within the last ten years. It's everything that big-budget alien movies such as Signs and Dreamcatcher should have been but weren't, proving that some of the best horror films out there are the ones that never made it to national movie theater chains.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Toy Collecting Reaches a New Level of Excess with Gentle Giant's Six Foot Kenner Stormtrooper Action Figure

Last year, I posted two rants (click here and here) about Gentle Giant's release of "Jumbo" 12 inch replicas of 3 and 3/4 inch figures from Kenner's Star Wars toy line that was released during the late 70s. I couldn't--and still can't--comprehend the appeal of buying a larger scale replica of an action figure at a price point that's ridiculously higher than the original.

Of course, leave it up to me to underestimate the power of the toy collectors market. Since my 2012 rants, the 12 inch Jumbo line has expanded to include replicas of many Kenner figures from Empire Strikes Back (including the Wampa) and it looks like it will go on to include many Kenner Return of the Jedi figure replicas as well. With the Jumbo series proving to be a hit, Gentle Giant has decided to get even giant-er by releasing a limited edition six foot tall replica of Kenner's Stormtrooper action figure (complete with removable blaster), which will be released in 2014 for $2,300. To put it in another perspective, Gentle Giant is making an expensive six foot version of a toy that was originally less than four inches high and sold for a few bucks. The original Stormtrooper action figure can sit in Kenner's Star Wars vehicle toys; the giant Stormtrooper action figure can sit next to you on your couch.

Yes, really. (Photos courtesy of Galactic Hunter.)

If anything, the giant Stormtrooper action figure replica is a textbook example of geek exorbitance. I can understand releasing Alien action figures based on the scale of Kenner action figures, or releasing classic Battlestar Galactica action figures based on the scale of Mego action figures. But an action figure replica that literally towers over the demographic group for which the figure was originally designed and costs more than most home appliances? Seriously?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Two Great Tron Games That Aren't Really Tron Games: escapeVektor and Light Trax

After all these years, I'm still baffled over Disney's mishandling of the Tron franchise: Given the original film's premise and the popularity of its first arcade game, Disney could have used Tron to break into the video game market through a series of games set inside of a computer world. Instead, Disney's licensing of Tron games has been uneven and largely underwhelming. After the original arcade game in 1982, there was another arcade game in 1983, Discs of Tron, and a handful of Tron titles for the Atari and Intellivision home consoles. That batch of games was followed by ... 20 years of nothing.

The impressive Tron 2.0 came out in 2003 but between lackluster sales and poor support from Disney, that game quickly faded into cult classic status while other game franchises thrived. Since Tron 2.0, Tron characters have appeared from time to time in the Kingdom Hearts video game series, and a selection of tie-in games of varying quality were released under the collective Tron: Evolution title when the Tron: Legacy movie came out in 2010.

I'm sure that more tie-in games will be released for the upcoming Tron 3, but that's part of the problem: They're tie-in games for a movie series, not games that are part of an ongoing, stand-alone video game series. Between that and Disney's prompt cancellation of the incredible yet short-lived Tron: Uprising animated series--a series that could have provided game developers with plenty of fantastic ideas, plots and settings--it appears that Disney has relegated the virtual world of Tron to the silver screen and video game cameos and tie-ins. (I've also been disappointed how Disney let the Epic Mickey video game series go to waste, but I'll save that for another rant.)

Nevertheless, the slick neon-lit style of Tron has influenced the look and game play of many video games throughout the years, and this post highlights two that I've recently found that adhere to both the look and the metaphorical, computer-based logic of the Tron-iverse: escapeVektor by Nnooo and Light Trax by Skip Ltd. Read on for my review of these two games, and why Tron fans should add them to their video game collections.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Weekend Detention Becomes a Death Sentence in Bad Kids Go to Hell (2012)

When a movie opens with a SWAT team bursting into a school library to find a teenager holding a bloody fire ax and surrounded by corpses--one of which being so fresh that it hasn't even collapsed to the floor yet--you know you're in for something different. Such is the case of Bad Kids Go to Hell, a 2012 movie that was directed and co-written by Matthew Spradlin. Spradlin based this movie on his best-selling graphic novel of the same name; however, because I haven't read the graphic novel yet, I can't say how faithful the movie is to its source material and which one is better.

After its jarring first scene, Bad Kids Go to Hell goes back eight hours to when six students at Crestview Academy, an upper-class private school, arrive for a day-long session of Saturday detention in their school's library. When one of them suddenly dies under suspicious circumstances, the other students begin to fear for their own lives. Is there a killer in their midst, or is something else afoot that's orchestrating their collective demise?

While I was watching Bad Kids Go to Hell, I had a tough time pinning down what kind of movie it wanted to be. It has plenty of horrific scenes and imagery, although it does not have the mood of a horror film; it doesn't take itself too seriously, but it's neither a comedy nor a horror film parody either. After seeing the final scenes, what I can say it that it is an extremely misanthropic and dark humored morality play. Many have viewed this film as a horror genre version of The Breakfast Club (1985), but its overtly sardonic attitude toward its story and characters puts it in the same class as another 80s teen movie, Heathers (1988).

What impressed me the most about this movie is its plot adheres to standard teen horror conventions, and then twists them around to the point where you’re not completely sure of what to expect. Like most teen horror films, the kids who are promiscuous, drink alcohol and do drugs wind up dead in one way or another; however, unlike most teen horror films that keep their characters and plots simple, Bad Kids Go to Hell provides plenty of background details (both explicit and subtle, and through dialog, flashbacks and visual cues) about how the characters connect to each other and the school's own sinister history, and how these relationships set the stage for what happens during Saturday detention. Watching Bad Kids Go to Hell is like watching an elaborate, Rube Goldberg story configuration click together sequentially, plot point by plot point, to deliver a gleefully pitch-black ending. Sure, some of the subplots feel unnecessarily convoluted and not all of the jokes hit their marks, but rarely have I ever seen such an elaborate contraption in the service of such morbid and cynical humor. When I say that this film is cynical, I cannot stress it enough; in fact, even though it looks and feels like a teen movie, this film is so cynical that I doubt most teens would fully understand or appreciate what it is trying to do.

Bad Kids Go to Hell isn't a flawless film; I've seen better blends of horror and comedy than this one, and it's not nearly as ambitious or insane as another recent offbeat teen film, Detention (2012). Then again, I love grim-humored satire that proudly wears its cynicism on its sleeve, so I enjoyed watching this movie even if it doesn't completely work. If you like that kind of humor too, then you should give Bad Kids Go to Hell a look.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Xevious Reborn: Hot Wheels RC Terrain Twister

It's amazing how something things never go away. They just appear again under a different name.

Early this year, I did a retrospective piece about Namco's classic arcade game Xevious, its sequels, spin-offs and model kits. One of the items that I looked at was a Grobda model kit, a kit based on one of the enemy vehicles in Xevious that also had its own spin-off arcade game Grobda. As you can see in the model picture below, a Grobda tank doesn't have continuous track treads; instead, it has two spinning corkscrew tubes that propel it across terrain and over the water.

The Grobda tank makes for an interesting-looking detail in a video game, but who would want to actually see something like this move in the real world? Fast forward to today, where we now have the Hot Wheels RC Terrain Twister toy, which I have pictured below. Notice any similarities?

Apparently, this toy has been around for a while. It was first released almost a decade ago by Tyco under the same name "Terrain Twister", and it has recently been re-released under the Hot Wheels license. It's advertised as an RC toy that can go through dirt, sand, grass, water and snow, although I hear that it doesn't do very well on smoother surfaces. If you're a die-hard fan of the Xevious and Grobda games, you might want to give this toy a try. Not only does it actually move, but it's also much, much cheaper and easier to find than the official R.C. Berg Grobda model kit that I posted above.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Support Interactive Digital Insanity Through the Neverending Nightmares Kickstarter Campaign

Just as the falling prices of film and video production equipment has spurred the work of independent filmmakers, the falling prices of computer technology has likewise spurred the work of independent video game developers. Of particular note is an upcoming project called Neverending Nightmares by Matt Gilgenbach, an indie horror game that is advertised as being "inspired by the developer's battle with mental illness." Sweet!

According to the description provided inspired by Gilgenbach on the Kickstarter page he set up to raise funds for his game, "Neverending Nightmares is a psychological horror game inspired by the real horror of my battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression. It features a truly interactive narrative structure allowing you to shape the outcome of the game. It will take the psychological horror genre in a new direction by eschewing many traditions that don’t contribute to creating an immersive horrifying experience such as limited save points, item collection/ammo hoarding, and puzzle solving. ... The gameplay focus is on exploration. Horror is amplified by vulnerability, so you won't be picking up guns and shooting monsters. While there may be some very light combat mechanics, you will have to work to avoid confrontation. ... We want to make a game that is accessible and fun for a wide variety of skill levels. In Neverending Nightmares, the punishment for death is that you either wake up in the same nightmare (like a checkpoint) or "dying" will transport you to a different branch in our narrative than if you had succeeded."

Since I'm a huge fan of exploration-based horror games that emphasize madness and vulnerability (games like Silent Hill: Shattered Memories and Calling), I'm excited to see what Neverending Nightmares will be like once it is completed. Click here to go to the Neverending Nightmares Kickstarter page, which features more information about the game such as gameplay, controls, art style, and more. The page also features a disturbing teaser video, which you can see in the window below.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Phantom Sharks and Mutant Alligators Come to Life at Shark City Ozark

For as glamorous as it looks from the outside, the entertainment industry is an extremely tough business. For every international superstar, there are thousands of actors, directors, writers and production crew members who are struggling to get by in such a demanding, hyper-competitive business. This is especially true for practical special effects artists: With Hollywood's desire to go digital, artists who aim to keep practical effects alive in both movies and television are facing increasingly steeper challenges from production companies that see CGI as sure-fire means of saving time and money--albeit at the steep expense of quality effects work and fan satisfaction.

Entering the fray of practical special effects services is Shark City Ozark (SCO), a creature effects shop in Missouri. I've been in contact with SCO about their latest projects, the recent SyFy production of Ghost Shark (read my review here) and the upcoming Ragin' Cajun Redneck Gators, which airs on SyFy this Thursday, September 5th at 9 p.m. (Fans of the 1959 creature feature Alligator People should check out Redneck Gators, since both films seem to be cut from similar creative cloth.) SCO provided mechanical creature effects work for both films and given my fascination with mechanical monsters, SCO let me post some of their behind-the-scenes production photos of their work and shared some insights with me about what it's like to break into a field where hands-on monster making isn't nearly as valued as it should be. Click below to continue.