Sunday, October 29, 2017


When I first heard about Abzû, what caught my attention was that its development team included several team members from the thatgamecompany game Journey, including its director, Matt Nava, and its composer, Austin Wintory. This combined with its art direction and underwater setting, I had been eager to play it when it was released digitally, however I decided to wait on it once a physical release had been announced, receiving it last month as a birthday present. Having finally played the game, I think the wait was worth it.

The game follows an unnamed diver in the middle of the ocean. Once the player learns how to swim, the diver is able to explore the ocean floor beneath them, following a path to an undisclosed destination. The diver can also interact with the sea life before them, including the ability to ride them.

The game’s controls are very simple, making it easy for anyone to pick up and play. The camera and swimming controls can also be adjusted in the pause screen, which mainly affects whether the y-axis is inverted or not. The gameplay itself is very easy to get into, allowing one to get absorbed into the game world. In terms of graphics, the Abzû is a visual spectacle, with a surprisingly wide variety of marine life and a very stylized aesthetic reminiscent of Journey. The music by Austin Wintory works really well with the game’s setting and is actually available on CD for those who are curious.

There isn’t much I can say about the game (even with avoiding spoilers), as the game can be beaten in roughly two hours on the first go. You can, however, get more out of the experience by searching for hidden collectibles within each level, as well as some hidden wells that can release new fish into the game world. There’s also a Meditation mode, which allows you to visit Meditation Spots you have found within the game and observe the fish in each area. Interestingly, the game is also slightly educational, if only because it will often actually tell you what species of fish you are looking at.

While short, Abzû is an experience that’s well worth going through at least once. Though developed by Giant Squid Studios, it can easily be mistaken for a thatgamecompany game (which I would consider a complement), due to it having a similar experience to Journey, helped by its development team including members of that team. If you are a fan of thatgamecompany’s games and are looking for a similar experience from a different team, I would highly recommend picking up this title. Fans of the ocean and ocean life may also enjoy this game, as it is a very enjoyable diving simulator that seems to have done its homework on marine life. If any of their future games prove to be this good, I can’t wait to see what kind of experience Giant Squid Studios will deliver next.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Stubs - What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford. Directed by Robert Aldrich. Screenplay by Lukas Heller Based on the book: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? by Henry Farrell. Produced by Robert Aldrich. Runtime: 133 minutes. U.S. Black and White. Drama. Horror. Psychological Thriller.

Hollywood has never been kind to women as they age, no matter how big a star they might have been at one time. Even if you’ve won Academy Awards for your acting, like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Major stars in the studio systems of the 1930s and 40s by the early 60s, their careers were on the wane.

Rivals for headlines: Joan Crawford’s divorce from first husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr., grabbed attention away from Warner Bros.’ publicity campaign for Bette’s first major starring role in Ex-Lady (1933); men: Bette was in love with Franchot Tone, but Joan Crawford married him in 1935; and roles: Bette turned down the starring role in Mildred Pierce for which Joan won the Oscar for Best Actress. There were even rumors about Joan’s sexual attraction to Bette and to make matters worse, Bette played a thinly-veiled character based on Crawford in The Star (1952), which was unflattering, to say the least.

These two women might seem like odd bed-fellows to mount a comeback bid, but they were thrown together in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? It was Crawford who persuaded Davis to appear in the film and Bette did, but on two conditions: first, she played the starring role of Jane in the film and that Aldrich assure her that he was not sleeping with Crawford. The concern wasn’t about their private lives, but that Davis wanted to be sure Crawford didn’t receive any more close-ups than she did.

The actresses did not put aside their rivalry even then. Crawford, who thanks to her late husband, Alan Steele, was on the board of Pepsi-Cola. Davis, knowing this, had a Coke machine installed in her dressing room. And it didn’t stop even during filming. During a scene in which Davis was to have to pull Crawford across the floor, Crawford knew that Davis had a bad back and purposefully made herself heavy. Depending on whose story you believe, she either put rocks in her pocket, wore a weightlifter’s belt or just made herself into dead weight, causing Davis agony and takes to be ruined as a result.

Daddy (Dave Willock) watches Baby Jane, while his wife (Anne Barton) and
 other daughter Blanche (Gina Gillespie) watch him.

The film opens in 1917 when Baby Jane Hudson (Julie Allred, singing voice by Debbie Burton) is the toast of vaudeville and the apple of Daddy’s (Dave Willock) eye. Baby Jane’s signature song is even "I've Written a Letter to Daddy" (words and music by Frank DeVol).

The apple of Daddy's eye, Baby Jane Hudson (Julie Allred).

Jane’s long-suffering mother (Anne Barton) and sister, Blanche (Gina Gillespie), are forced to play second fiddle to Jane’s talent and to her whims. Mother tries to comfort Blanche by telling her that when her turn comes, as it were inevitable, she will have to be better to Jane than Jane treats her now.

Mother tells Blanche that when her turn comes, she should treat Jane better than Jane treats her.

That prophecy appears to come true when in 1935, Blanche (Joan Crawford) is a big star and Baby Jane (Bette Davis) is considered an also-ran, only have a contract because of Blanche’s clout at the box-office. We see the stars in footage from their films, Davis in Parachute Jumper (1933) and Ex-Lady (1933) and Crawford in Sadie McKee (1934). Studio execs find Jane’s acting atrocious and would love Blanche to let them dump her. But as they point out, Blanche is loyal to Jane.

But is that loyalty a two-way street. We’re shown the girls coming home to their mansion, the former home of Rudolph Valentino we’re told, drunk after a long night out. When one of the sisters gets out to open the gates, the other puts the car in gear and drives forward. We’re not told who is who, but when the story resumes in 1962, Blanche is a wheelchair bound invalid being cared for by Jane, who is not happy about waiting on her sister hand and foot.

Neighbors, Mrs. Bates (Anna Lee) and her daughter Liza (B.D. Merrill), talk about Blanche and Jane.

Blanche is rarely seen outside of her second-floor bedroom, something the neighbors Mrs. Bates (Anna Lee) and her daughter Liza (B.D. Merrill) discuss. They don’t seem to remember that Jane also had a career at one time, her movies apparently not even good enough for the afternoon movies on television. Every time Mrs. Bates makes overtures for Blanche, bringing her flowers from her garden, as an example, she is met with Jane’s coldness.

Blanche's (Joan Crawford) link to the outside world is her cleaning woman Elvira (Maidie Norman).

Blanche’s only outside contact is her cleaning woman Elvira (Maidie Norman), who fears Jane is displaying all the signs of mental illness. But when she tells Blanche her concerns, Blanche sticks up for Jane.

But Jane torments Blanche at every turn. She takes away Blanche’s parakeet under the guise of cleaning out the cage but then informs her that the bird flew away. The bird does reappear soon afterward as the lunch Jane serves her. Later, Jane complains to Blanche about rats in the house before serving her one for a meal. Jane gets a big laugh out of Blanche’s shock and horror at the dish.

Blanche about to find out what Jane has made for her lunch.

An alcoholic, Jane is cut off by Blanche at the local liquor store. But Jane gets around that by pretending to be her sister and rescinds the hold and enabling herself to buy more.

When she suspects that Blanche is plotting against her and trying to sell the house, she rips out the phone (in the days before modular connections), essentially cutting her off from the outside world. 
Blanche can do little to fight back, but when Jane leaves her alone in the house to put an advertisement in the newspaper, she tries to get Mrs. Bate’s attention by throwing a note to her pleading for help and not to show the note to Jane. But Blanche’s throw ends up short and Jane, who seems to make lightning-fast errands around Los Angeles, returns before Mrs. Bates notices the note.

When Jane picks it up, you know there will be hell to pay by Blanche.

The next time Elvira comes to work, Jane gives her the day off, but when she returns later in the day, Jane fires Elvira and sends her away.

Jane (Bette Davis) gives Elvira the day off before she outright fires her.

Meanwhile, Jane’s ad for a piano player gets attention from Edwin Flagg (Victor Buono), a would-be musician hungry for money. Jane wants to restart her career by going back to her early success on the Vaudeville stage. She even regales Edwin with a new rendition of "I've Written a Letter to Daddy”, who was probably the last person to believe in her. As a way of winning him over, Jane gives Edwin one of the leftover Baby Jane dolls that her father would hawk to patrons.

Jane revives her signature song while Edwin Flagg (Victor Buono) accompanies her.

When she takes Edwin home, Blanche, who is starving, goes looking for food and finds chocolates in Jane’s room, along with checks that she has forged. While she’s out, Blanche makes her way downstairs to the only phone in the house. She calls Dr. Shelby (Robert Cornthwaite) for help with Jane, but the delay in getting past his nurse and his own reluctance to act provides Jane with the time to return and catch Blanche in the midst of the call. She knocks her sister unconscious and then calls back and imitates Blanche telling the doctor not to come after all.

Blanche realizes that Jane has been forging her name on documents.

But Elvira does come back. Jane is again out of the house picking up the costumes for her new act and Elvira lets herself in with the key she told Jane she didn’t have. Elvira uses a hammer to take the pins out of the door hinges and finds Blanche tied up and gagged. But she makes a fatal mistake, leaving the hammer out where Jane finds it after she once again runs her errand quickly. Blanche tries to warn Elvira, but she’s unable to help as Jane takes the hammer to Elvira. Later that night, Jane disposes of Elvira’s body.

About a week later, Elvira has been reported as missing by her cousin and the police come to the Hudson house to investigate. Jane starts to panic and prepares to take Blanche away. But before they can, Edwin shows up drunk and uninvited. Jane tries to keep him outside, but he hears noises and goes to investigate, finding Blanche. Frightened, Edwin runs away and tries to call for help.

Meanwhile, Jane takes Blanche out to the beach just ahead of the announcement in the paper that Elvira’s body has been found. While she’s lying helpless on the beach, Blanche confesses to Jane that it was her who was driving the car that night and that she had tried to kill Jane, as payback for how she’d been treated, but instead got injured in the accident herself. Jane, who was already drunk, ran and blamed herself and Blanche never corrected her.

Blanche begs Jane to get help.

The police, who are out looking for Jane and Blanche, see a woman who looks like Jane getting ice cream from the café. They follow her back to the beach, but when they confront her, Jane doesn’t say anything but rather dances like a child for the assembled beachgoers. At the very end, they see Blanche and hurry to save her.

As the cops close in, Jane starts to dance around like a child.

When the film was released it was a surprise hit, earning $9.5 million on a budget of only $1 million. The film also received five Academy nominations, including one for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Victor Buono and one for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Bette Davis. It was the latter that brought back the rivalry. While Davis would accuse Crawford of campaigning against her in the Awards vote, Crawford did offer her services to any nominated Actress who couldn’t make it to the ceremony. Anne Bancroft was one of those who accepted Crawford’s offer and actually won the Award, so it was actually Crawford on the Oscar stage that night rather than Davis.

The film is not scary the way films are now. There is no gore as an example, the worst is when Jane serves Blanche a rat for lunch; pretty mild by today’s standards. Elvira’s brutal murder is not shown, but rather simply hinted at, but that’s the way it was back in the days of the Production Code. If you’re going in looking for an early version of Saw, then you should keep looking.

Both actresses give good performances, but of the two there is more meat on the bone with Davis’ Jane. She has more to work with and the Oscars love women who act crazy. Crawford had to give a more restrained performance as Blanche and while this is really a two-person acting performance, if you have to give a nod to one over the other then it would have to be Davis over Crawford. No doubt she better channeled her hatred of Crawford.

It must have been too much for Crawford to handle. Not only did she back out of the promotional tour for the film, but she pulled out of what was supposed to be a sequel of sorts, Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). Crawford, as she had done before, feigned illness as a way of getting out of the production. She would be replaced after other actresses turned down the role by Olivia de Havilland.

The fact that Victor Buono received a nomination is more of a head-scratcher. His character is almost superfluous to the story. He really doesn’t do much more than play a prop to Jane’s ambition and while they give him the cover of  a schemer’s backstory, he has drilled a dry well by getting involved with Baby Jane. While he makes for an interesting character, I’m not sure there is enough of Buono to warrant the nomination.

It is interesting to note, that B.D. Merrill, who plays another superfluous character, the neighbor’s daughter Liza, is Bette Davis’ own daughter by William Grant Sherry, but was adopted by fourth husband Gary Merrill. While her role in the film is somewhat minor, she still plays a part in the feud between her mother and Crawford. Joan apparently asked Bette to keep B.D. away from her adopted daughter, Christina, because Joan thought she would be a bad influence on her. Just what every mother wants to hear about her daughter. While B.D., like Christina, would go on to write an unflattering book about her mother and be disowned as a result, the potential bad influence is now the head of her own ministry and church in Charlottesville, Virginia.

This is one of those films that is serviced by its black and white cinematography. Not only do we have what we initially think is good and evil, but Davis’ makeup looks better this way too. She supposedly did it herself, thinking her character was someone who didn’t wash her face, but rather simply applied more makeup. I don’t think this would have had the same effect if the film had been in color.

While the film was interesting for its historic value, I found the story filled with too many characters that went nowhere and too many holes. Why were we introduced to the Bates living next door? They never really did anything of importance to the story except aggravate Jane. Would nobody ever really look in on Blanche? Why couldn’t Blanche just call out the window to Mrs. Bates while Jane was out of the house? It seems to me that there were too many also-rans when one character, Elvira, would have been enough. She actually tries to do something while the Bates and Flagg do nothing.

Once again, I haven’t read the book the movie is based on, but from what I can tell there is more focus on the Elvira character and less on these other side characters. Too bad Maidie Norman’s performance was overlooked in favor of Buono’s as Flagg.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane is at once dated and a good reflection of the time it was made. The Hollywood legends of the studio system were being forgotten, hence Davis and Crawford trying to make a comeback in a psychological thriller horror film. The performances by the leads are good, but one would have hoped they would have been better served in a different genre.

Be sure to check out other Horror films in our Horror Films Review Hub.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Wonderstruck - You Will Be

Following the release of The Invention of Hugo Cabret in 2007 (adapted to film in 2011 as Hugo), author Brian Selznick released another book in 2011, Wonderstruck, which features a similar style of combining words and images into a narrative, this time telling two stories split between the two styles. Though I had not actually read Wonderstruck for the longest time after it was released, I got the chance to do so after meeting Selznick at a signing during this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, where he was promoting the recent film adaptation from Amazon Studios. I not only bought the book from him directly, I even had it signed by him and, due to my family also getting things signed, was able to have a friendly conversation with him about Hugo and what to expect from Wonderstruck. Within a month of the movie’s release, I had finally read the book in one sitting and thoroughly enjoyed it, giving me high hopes for the movie (the screenplay to which was also written by Selznick). After seeing it as part of a limited run (prior to a wider release next month), I found it to be arguably comparable to Hugo in terms of the quality of the adaptation.

In 1977 Gunflint Lake, Minnesota, a young boy named Ben (Oakes Fegley) tries to learn more about his father, however his mother will not tell him anything, leading him to eventually run away in search of answers. In 1927 Hoboken, New Jersey, a young girl named Rose (Millicent Simmonds) has been following news on actress Lillian Mayhew and eventually runs away from home in order to seek her out. Both stories are told simultaneously, with the film switching between narratives at opportune moments.

The story of Wonderstruck is told in a rather interesting way that reflects how it was told in the original book. Ben’s story, told through text in the book, is shown in color; Rose’s story, reflecting being told through pictures in the source, is presented more like a silent movie, including the use of on-screen text to help carry the plot. The two narratives are interwoven fantastically, using clever transitions to display points when they mirror each other. Though the way movie tells the story works well in its own right, I will note that, as to be expected with adaptations, some elements from the book are either removed or condensed. I did, however, think these alterations helped make it work better for cinema, helped by Selznick having written the screenplay.

The acting in the movie was done well, with the more prominent child actors performing their roles in a very believable way. The music is also used well to set the time period of each tale, including an interesting usage of “Space Oddity” by the late David Bowie (which, incidentally, is actually a minor plot element in the original book). Much like Hugo, the movie also contains minimal use of special effects such that the movie is still grounded within reality and keeps the viewer emotionally invested.

While a great movie, Wonderstruck isn’t exactly flawless. I don’t really have much to complain about, aside from a point where it drags a little in the middle as though feeling the need to pad out the runtime. During one point in the middle of Ben’s story, they do a good job in establishing the setting, however it drags on a few minutes too long and can make you wish the movie would just hurry up and continue the plot. Once it does continue, however, the movie gets back into a fairly decent pace.

Wonderstruck, like Hugo, is a fantastic movie in its own right, on top of being a faithful adaptation, and I would recommend it for people looking for something different from the huge blockbusters coming out. If you are a fan of the original book and/or Brian Selznick’s work in general, I would highly recommend you see it. While a completely different movie from Hugo, I would still suggest fans give Wonderstruck a try on account of it adapting another of his books (just don’t go in expecting the same experience as Hugo). While I have not yet read Selznick’s latest book, The Marvels, at the time of this writing, I do hope for Wonderstruck to be successful enough to warrant adapting said book to complete the experience.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Stubs - I Walked With a Zombie

I Walked With a Zombie (1943) Starring: James Ellison, Frances Dee, Tom Conway, Edith Barrett Directed by Jacques Tourneur. Screenplay by Curt Siodmak, Ardel Wray. Produced by Val Lewton. Run Time: 69 minutes. USA Black and White. Horror.

Horror, like any genre, has its variants. We tend to think of the classic horror films as monster movies, Universal’s Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932) and The Wolf Man (1941) come to mind, as well The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Nosferatu (1922) and The Golem (1915) before that. But there are other kinds, too.

While modern horror tends to go in more for gore, there are other films that are more psychological in nature and even more environmental. I Walked With a Zombie falls into these latter categories.

With the coming of Halloween, the name Val Lewton comes up more and more in film history circles. Lewton, born in 1904 in Yalta, then part of Imperial Russia, now Ukraine, as Vladimir Ivanovich Leventon, would become best known for his work in horror films produced at RKO. After immigrating from Russia in 1909 with his mother, they would settle in suburban Port Chester, NY and change their name to Lewton.

A writer by trade, Lewton attended journalism school at Columbia University and would work for a time in MGM’s publicity office in New York City. He quit that position with the success of his 1932 novel No Bed of Her Own, which later that year would be made into No Man of Her Own (1932) with Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. But after his next three novels were not as successful, he ended up working on a screen treatment for Taras Bulba for producer David O. Selznick at MGM and later when Selznick went independent.

Even though that film was never made, Lewton continued to work with Selznick for the next decade. It was Lewton that originally warned Selznick against making Gone With the Wind (1939), feeling that Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel was unfilmable. He would later work, uncredited, on the screenplay and even be credited with the scene where the camera pulls back to reveal hundreds of wounded soldiers at the Atlanta depot, one of that film's most famous scenes.

After ten years, Lewton wanted to break out on his own and took a job at RKO studios heading a unit that was assigned to make low-budget horror films for the studio based on titles supplied by his supervisors. The first film from this unit was Cat People (1942), which on a budget of $134,000 would make $535,000 in domestic box office and a $183,000 profit, so it was considered a success. 

That film was directed by Jacques Tourneur, a Frenchman Lewton had met on the set of A Tale of Two Cities (1935), a Selznick produced film for MGM. Tourneur was a second unit director, and he and Lewton both receive credit for their work on the Revolutionary War sequence of that film.

Tourneur, who had begun his career as an editor in his native France, had come to Hollywood in 1934 under contract to MGM. He would later make his directorial debut with They All Come Out (1939), but would be dropped by the studio in 1941. He would direct Doctors Don’t Tell (1941) at RKO before reteaming with Lewton.

Following the success of Cat People, RKO executives had another title in mind, I Walked With a Zombie. Officially, the film was to be based on an article written by Inez Wallace for American Weekly Magazine, but Lewton encouraged his writers to use Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre to give the story a narrative structure and to do research on Haitian voodoo practices.

The screenwriters included Curt Siodmak, who two years before had written the screenplay for The Wolf Man, and Ardel Wray, who had come through RKO's Young Writers' Project. I Walked with a Zombie would be Wray’s first screenplay. While she would continue to write for Lewton’s group, she would leave Hollywood in 1945 when she gave birth to her daughter.

British actress Anna Lee was originally cast in the film as female lead Betsy. Lee, who had previously appeared in such films as Seven Sinners (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941) and Flying Tigers (1942), had to pull out due to a previous commitment.

In her place, Frances Dee was cast. Dee had been acting in films since Playboy of Paris (1930), a musical opposite Maurice Chevalier. She would also appear in An American Tragedy (1931) as well as Of Human Bondage (1934) to name a few. The wife of actor Joel McCrea, Dee’s last film was Mister Scoutmaster (1953).

I Walked With a Zombie went into production on October 26, 1942, and would complete filming November 19, 1943. One note about Zombies. Zombies had been in films since Victor Halperin's White Zombie (1932). The term Zombie means the undead recreated through the re-animation of a human corpse. The word comes from Haitian folklore, which may explain the Caribbean setting for many zombie films like I Walked with a Zombie.

A difference should be drawn between Haitian zombies and the ones that have permeated fiction since George A. Romero's seminal film Night of the Living Dead (1968). Romero turned zombies into living monsters who crave human flesh and even eating human brains.

The film opens with narration by Betsy Connell (Frances Dee), who recounts that she once "walked with a zombie". In the distance we see her walking with a rather tall person, whom we assume is the zombie in question.

The film opens with a long shot of Betsy (Frances Dee) walking with a zombie.

A Canadian nurse, Betsy is hired to be the personal nurse to Jessica Holland (Christine Gordon) by her husband Paul Holland (Tom Conway), the owner of a sugar plantation on the Caribbean island of Saint Sebastian. It is winter in Canada and the thought of beaches and palm trees sweetens the prospects.

The thought of palm trees and beaches seals the deal for Betsy

Soon, Betsy is on board a ship from Antigua, where she is thinking about how beautiful everything looks when Paul interrupts her thoughts and introduces himself. He tells her that everything is not beautiful, but rather full of death and decay.

Paul Holland (Tom Conway) tells Betsy that everything she knows is wrong when it comes to the Caribbean.

Betsy is taken from the boat to the Holland home, referred to by the locals as Fort Holland by carriage. The coachman (Clinton Rosemond) educates Betsy telling her that Saint Sebastian is populated by the descendants of black Africans brought to the island aboard slave ships to work the sugar plantations by early descendants of the Hollands. He refers to a statue in the Holland’s courtyard as “T-Misery”; the statue is actually the masthead of the first slave ship to arrive on the island. The island residents are still somewhat bitter about the circumstances that brought them there, though many are still employed at the Sugar plantation.

On the ride to the plantation, Betsy gets a brief history lesson from the coachman (Clinton Rosemond).
Despite the misery around her, Betsy is still excited about her new surroundings. That night at dinner, Betsy is joined by Wesley Rand (James Ellison), Paul’s half-brother. Unlike Paul, who has a British accent, Wesley is more American, having been schooled there. Wesley explains that the boys share the same mother, who runs the village dispensary. Paul, though, is the son of a Holland and therefore the owner of the plantation, while Wesley is merely an employee. It is clear from the way he talks about Paul that Wesley resents him. Towards the end of their dinner, Paul arrives and Wesley retreats to the mill where he is needed. Paul is taking medicine to Jessica and even though Betsy is anxious to meet her, Paul tells her that she can start work the next day.

At dinner, Betsy is entertained by Paul's half-brother Wesley Rand (James Ellison).

After dinner, Betsy is already in bed when the sounds of a woman sobbing wake her. She follows the sounds, which are coming from across the courtyard in a stone tower.

The sound of a woman sobbing wakes Betsy.

Still following the sobbing, Betsy ascends the stairs, where she is cornered by the cataleptic figure in white, who turns out to be Jessica.

Betsy follows the sobbing up a dark windy stairway.

She has not yet met her patient and is frightened when Jessica does not respond. Betsy’s screams for help are responded to by Paul and several of the servants. Paul is disappointed in Betsy and takes Jessica back to bed.

Betsy is frightened when Jessica (Christine Gordon) does not respond.

After they’re gone, we learn that the sobs were coming from Alma (Theresa Harris, miscredited as Teresa Harris). As part of a tradition, Alma is sobbing because of the birth of a friend's child. Because of the misery of their lives, a new birth is greeted with crying by the natives.

Turns out it was Alma (Theresa Harris) who was sobbing.

The next morning, Betsy is awoken by Alma, who has brought her breakfast in bed. Alma has been taking care of Jessica and wants to take care of Betsy, too, and work with her.

Paul is upset with Betsy for what he sees as her childish behavior and warns her not to get involved with the island’s superstitions.

Betsy meets with Jessica's physician, Dr. Maxwell (James Bell), who explains that his patient's zombie-like condition was caused by an incurable tropical fever. There is no hope of ever bringing her back to normal, which Betsy doesn’t like.

Dr. Maxwell (James Bell) tells Betsy there is nothing that can be done for Jessica.

On Betsy's day off, she encounters Wesley, who offers to give her a tour of the village. That tour seems to start and end at a local café, where Wesley drinks himself into a stupor. A calypso singer (Sir Lancelot) sings a song that is about Paul and Wesley's rivalry for Jessica's love. Hearing the song upsets Wesley and the singer, who had been unaware of his presence, apologizes to Wesley.

A calypso singer (Sir Lancelot) is upset that no one has told him Wesley was in the cafe.

But later, after Wesley has passed out, the singer plays the song almost as a dare. Betsy tries to rouse Wesley, but can’t wake him. Mrs. Rand (Edith Barrett) appears out of the shadows and comes to Betsy’s aid. She arranges to have Wesley put on his horse and then walks Betsy back to Fort Holland, deciding to stay the night.

Later, with Wesley passed out, the calypso singer repeats his song about the
Holland family rivalry. Mrs. Rand (Edith Barrett), in the background, arrives to help.

Over dinner, while Paul and Wesley exchange harsh words, in the distance, drums of the voodoo ritual play.

Later, Betsy is drawn to Paul’s piano playing. Alone, he apologizes to her for bringing her to the island to take care of his wife. After their encounter, Betsy realizes that she’s in love with Paul and wants to make him happy by bringing his wife back to him.

Betsy realizes she's in love with Paul after hearing him play the piano.

She approaches Dr. Maxwell about an experimental treatment using insulin shock to cure Jessica. Everyone agrees to give it a try, but it fails.

Betsy takes Jessica to Home Fort for a voodoo ceremony.

Since medicine has failed her, Betsy listens to Alma, who suggests trying voodoo. Betsy seeks out Mrs. Rand for advice and she tries hard to dissuade her from taking that approach. However, Betsy decides to give it a try and with Alma’s help, she takes Jessica to the “Home Fort” where voodoo is practiced. Alma draws her a map and gives her patches to wear that will let them get past Carre Four (Darby Jones), the tall zombie-like figure that guards the roads to Home Fort.

Carre Four (Darby Jones) guards the way to Home Fort.

They watch the ritualistic dancing before Betsy approaches the shack where the voodoo priest resides. She is taken inside, where she learns that the priest is none other than Mrs. Rand. Mrs. Rand explains that she has been using the natives’ belief in voodoo to get them to accept modern medical practices. She tells Betsy that Jessica can never be cured.

The voodoo ceremony features ritualistic dancing.

But Jessica’s presence at Home Fort has inflamed the natives and they intensify their ritual's intent on bringing Jessica back. Hearing the drums, Paul tells Betsy that he doesn’t want to demean and abuse her the way he had Jessica and begs her to return to Canada, but Betsy refuses.

That night, though, Betsy is awakened by the formidable presence of Carre Four, who has entered the house. Fearful, she runs to Paul’s room for help and Mrs. Rand orders Carre Four away from the Holland complex and he obeys.

The next day, Maxwell informs the family that the native unrest has caused an inquest to be opened into Jessica’s mysterious illness. Mrs. Rand admits to everyone that Jessica is not sick, but a zombie put into that state by Mrs. Rand. The curse was the only way she could think of to prevent Jessica from leaving Paul for Wesley.

Mrs. Rand confesses that she put a curse on Jessica, resulting in her zombie-like state.

However, Maxwell refuses to accept that explanation, insisting Jessica is a victim of a tropical fever. He says that since Jessica never died, there is no way she could be a zombie. He leaves without knowing that at one time, Jessica had fallen into a coma, allowing her to become one of the undead.
Later that night, the beating drums call Jessica out of the house and to the front gates. Wesley notices and opens the gates for her, taking an arrow from the statue of T-Misery before following after her.

T-Misery, the statue in the courtyard of Fort Holland, is the masthead from a slave ship.

At Home Fort, the voodoo ritual is calling her towards them, using a doll on a string to symbolize her. And then the worshippers stab the doll with a pin.

The voodoo ceremony calls Jessica to them in the form of the doll.

Mimicking the ritual, Wesley thrusts the arrow into Jessica. Followed by Carre Four, Wesley carries her body into the sea, where he drowns.

After killing her, Wesley takes Jessica's body out into the sea, where he drowns.

Later, while spearfishing at night, the natives discover their dead bodies floating in the surf and carry them back to Fort Holland.

Carre Four carries Jessica's lifeless body back to Fort Holland.

I Walked With a Zombie is more atmospheric than terrifying, so in some ways it barely qualifies as a horror film. At the time of its release, April 30, 1943, it was even referred to as “dull” in a review in the New York Times, which is never a good thing. Over time, however, its reputation has done nothing but increase. In 2007, what was considered dull in 1943 was named the fifth best zombie film of all time by Stylus magazine, an online music and film magazine.

None of the leads really distinguish themselves. James Ellison, Frances Dee, Tom Conway and Edith Barrett are good, but not great in their roles. I’m not sure if I really buy Betsy falling in love with Paul and her motivation then to bring Jessica out of her comatose state. Edith Barrett is good, but her part has a little more to it than the others; a proponent of modern medicine who uses voodoo to get her viewpoint across to the natives.

Two supporting actors, Christine Gordon as Jessica Holland and Darby Jones as Carre Four, say nothing throughout the film and pretty much just stare forward with blank expressionless faces. This is Gordon’s first and perhaps best-known performance, which may tell you something about her acting chops. Gordon was out of films by 1946, her last appearance being in the remake Of Human Bondage (1946). Darby Jones was pretty much stereotyped by Hollywood. Given the era in which he worked, the 1930s through the 50s, meant that he played a lot of African natives, slaves, and zombies, many times not receiving credit.

Jacques Tourneur would continue to work for Lewton, directing The Leopard Man (1943) for the same RKO unit. When he was eventually elevated by the studio to direct A-films, he would helm one of the best film noirs ever made, Out of the Past (1947), and then Berlin Express (1948), shot against the backdrop of war-torn Allied-occupied Germany.

If you’re looking for a really scary horror film for Halloween, then you should look elsewhere. I’m not even sure that real fans of zombie flicks would get much out of it either, since, as stated before, this is not your modern zombie film. No brains are eaten or even drooled over here.

Be sure to check out other Horror films in our Horror Films Review Hub.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Inside + Limbo Double Pack

Limbo is a game I knew about back when it released in 2010, however I had never actually played it for whatever reason. By contrast, I knew absolutely nothing about Inside, even when it first released in 2016, so I did not know that it had been done by the same developer as Limbo, Playdead, until the release of the recent Inside + Limbo Double Pack for PS4 and Xbox One. Though I saw this as an opportunity to finally see what the fuss was about with Limbo, my lack of knowledge on them sharing a developer led to me playing Inside first, as it had gotten top billing on the package. Either way, from playing the PS4 version of the collection, I found it overall to be a rather interesting experience.

Both games follow a young-looking boy on a mysterious quest, which is all I can really say about the stories of both games without possibly spoiling it. I can say, though, that the way each game drops you into the present situation is actually pretty engaging, as it makes you want to try and figure out what’s going on the further you get into it. Whether or not it pays off is entirely subjective, however the minimalist presentation of each game does keep you guessing until the very end (and possibly even afterwards).

The gameplay is similar across both games, utilizing minimal controls to solve environmental puzzles to move forward; this also gives the game more accessibility akin to a Thatgamecompany game, only with a much less family-friendly tone (Limbo and Inside are each rated T and M respectively by the ESRB). Both games also use a rather minimal soundtrack, which helps to highlight key moments as they come up and build up an atmosphere that the player can get sucked into. As an additional feature between games, there’s also some secret collectibles that the game gives you no warning about and can reward you with a different ending for finding them all. I managed to miss all of the collectibles in Inside and stumbled upon some in Limbo, however I don’t feel like scouring the games again to find all of them.

Though there are many similarities between both games, let’s look at the little things that make them stand apart from each other.

The graphical style of Inside contrasts with the previously-released Limbo, presenting itself in 2.5D with bright colors. The general aesthetic is rather minimalist, taking on a uniquely blocky appearance that is pleasing to the eye. The deaths the player character can face for messing up can get still get rather graphic, much like its predecessor Limbo, however the fact that the gore is largely bloodless does not stop it from earning its M rating. The fact that the setting is more 3-dimensional leads to some stunning backdrops, however the details found within them are what add to the game’s own sense of atmosphere and overall experience.

By contrast with Inside, Limbo employs an even more minimalist 2D style, with silhouettes very heavily employed to give the game its very iconic look. So iconic is this style, in fact, that electronic musician Deadmau5 (himself a gamer) used it as inspiration for the music video to his song “The Veldt”, the lyrics to which draw from the Ray Bradbury story of the same name (incidentally, due to the timing of the music video’s release, it is dedicated to Bradbury’s memory). Though it, too, has some gruesome death animations (I even jumped the first few times it happened), the game has a T rating and features a complete lack of blood. I would draw a comparison to the film Logan, in that the Logan Noir version somehow appears less bloody despite being the exact same movie, which can be attributed to the fact the Noir version is in black and white as opposed to color.

On their own, Limbo and Inside are both interesting games to play at least once, as each are good at creating an atmosphere with great visuals. Though their gameplay styles have some general similarities, they do enough in other areas to stand out from each other and immerse you in their respective worlds. As each one can be purchased individually, the collection doesn’t provide anything new to existing fans aside from owning both games on a physical disc. Notably, the game takes a page from Journey Collector’s Edition and allows you to install each game separately from the disc, so those that have only played one of the games on consoles can simply install and play whatever they haven’t already played. Those that have not played either game will get a great deal out of this collection, especially if they can get it at a discount. If you are new to either game, it really is best to go in blind and experience their stories for yourself firsthand.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Stubs - Predator

Predator (1987) Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Richard Chaves, Jesse Ventura. Directed by: John McTiernan. Screenplay by Jim Thomas and John Thomas. Produced by Lawrence Gordon, Joel Silver, John Davis. Run Time: 107 minutes. USA. Color. Action, Adventure, Horror, Science Fiction

Quickly name a film from the 1980s that would feature two future governors. Hopefully, you know that answer from reading the credits, but Predator has this distinction. After making his name as pro-fitness and pro-after school care, Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to maneuver himself into becoming the Governor of California as part of the recall of Gray Davis in 2003. But former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura would beat him into the governor’s mansion, this one in Minnesota in 1998.

That bar bet settled, it’s a shame that the film wasn’t better than Predator.

The movie starts off with the science fiction angle. A spacecraft flying near Earth releases a bright object which enters the atmosphere.

Major Alan "Dutch" Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) arrives ahead of his team.

Cut to the Val Verde jungle. Major Alan "Dutch" Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his team — mercenary Mac Elliot (Bill Duke), tracker Billy Sole (Sonny Landham), gunner Blaine Cooper (Jesse Ventura), explosives expert Jorge "Poncho" Ramírez (Richard Chaves), and radio operator Rick Hawkins (Shane Black), are hired by a former commando and friend of Dutch’s, Colonel George Dillon (Carl Weathers) to rescue an official being held hostage by insurgents after the helicopter he was in crashes. Also present is Dutch’s old commander, General Phillips (R. G. Armstrong), who has instigated the meeting but does little else.

Dutch is initially happy to see a former colleague, Colonel George Dillon (Carl Weathers).

Who this official being held and who he works for is as nebulous as the insurgents. But Dutch takes the job before finding out that Dillon will accompany them.

The commandos are choppered behind enemy lines.

The team is choppered in and left behind enemy lines. They soon discover the wreckage of a chopper as well as three skinned corpses. No one can figure out why the rebels would do something like that. From one of the dog tags left behind, Dutch identifies them as members of a U.S. Army Special Forces unit he knew personally. So now the mission takes on a personal dimension.

What's left of a U.S. Army Special Forces unit.

When they reach the insurgent camp, even though they’re outnumbered, Dutch’s team is too much for the rebels and they kill everyone, save one, including a Soviet intelligence officer who has been searching through captured CIA documents. Dillon, when confronted by Dutch, admits that the three bodies they found had been sent in weeks earlier in a failed rescue attempt. The mission, Dillon confirms, was not so much to rescue an official as to get back the stolen intelligence.

Dutch's men destroy the insurgent camp.

The lone survivor of the guerilla is a woman named Anna (Elpidia Carrillo) whom Dillon insists on bringing back to base to interrogate. Dutch tells him that she is Dillon’s responsibility as the team proceeds to the extraction point.

Dutch's team is followed by the Predator using thermal imaging.

While Dutch’s team is ignorant of the fact they’re being tracked using thermal imaging, the audience is not.

Rick Hawkins (Shane Black) catches Anna, but in doing so becomes the first victim of the Predator.

Seeing her opportunity, Anna escapes and is chased down by Hawkins, but soon afterward, they are ambushed by the Creature. Anna is spared, but Hawkins is taken away.

Anna (Elpidia Carrillo) is spared by the Creature.

Dutch organizes a search party for him, during which Blaine is killed by a blast from the Creature’s plasma weapon.

Blaine (Jesse Ventura) is killed by a blast from the Creature's plasma weapon.

Enraged by the death of his friend, Mac initiates a firefight, laying down a massive amount of ammunition, still managing only to wound the Creature.

Dutch, Mac Elliot (Bill Duke), and tracker Billy Sole (Sonny
Landham) lay down a barrage of bullets at the Predator. 

The Creature bleeds a luminescent green fluid.

The Predator bleeds green luminescent fluid.

When the unit regroups, Anna, who can suddenly speak English, tells them that this is really nothing new to the jungle. She tells them that their stalker is a myth to locals, called "el demonio que hace trofeos de los hombres", or the demon who makes trophies of men.

Everyone is on eggshells knowing that the Creature is out there. During his watch, Mac mistakes a wild pig for the Creature and kills it. In the confusion, Blaine’s body is stolen by the Creature. Dutch figures out that their pursuer is using the trees to get around.

The next morning, the effort to bring the Creature out in the open fails, leaving Poncho injured. Mac, followed by Dillon, set out to engage the Creature, but they are both outwitted and pay the price. Later it catches up to the others, killing Billy and Poncho, but only wounding Dutch.

Dillon is no match for the Creature in one-on-one combat.

Dutch realizes that the Creature does not target unarmed prey, reasoning that there is no sport in that for it. He sends Anna, unarmed, to the extradition point with the now famous “Get to the Chopper!” line.

The Creature, still invisible to Dutch, chases him into the river, causing its cloaking device to malfunction, allowing Dutch to finally see it. Dutch crawls out of the river into a bank of mud and is surprised when the Creature, only feet away, doesn’t see or sense him. Dutch realizes that the mud is somehow masking him from the Creature’s sensors.

Dutch realizes that the mud interferes with the Predator's sensors.

The Creature skins his kill and removes the spinal columns from their bodies. While he’s doing that, Dutch lays down a series of traps and weapons, once again trying to draw the Creature out, this time using a war cry. While Dutch manages to disable the Creature’s cloaking device and inflict minor injuries, he is still cornered.

For some reason, the Creature, which is bigger and stronger than Dutch, decides to fight him mano y mano and removes his garb, including his weapons, to fight him. Dutch is still no match for the Creature’s strength but still manages to lure it into a trap, where he crushes it under a heavy counterweight.

The Predator chooses to fight Dutch in hand-to-hand combat.

As the Creature lays dying, Dutch can’t seem to bring himself to kill it. Instead, he asks “What the hell are you?” The Creature, which can mimic human voices, replies in a garble and while Dutch watches, activates a self-destruct weapon and laughs. Running away, Dutch manages to jump out of the way just in time as the bomb explodes.

The next morning, Dutch is rescued by his commander and finds Anna already on the copter. And the world is rid of the Predator until Predator 2 (1990) and then it’s LAPD officer Lieutenant Michael "Mike" R. Harrigan’s (Danny Glover) problem.

The film plays, somewhat unsuccessfully, with the idea of misdirection. As a rescue mission in the jungle turns into the Most Dangerous Game. This is something Psycho (1960) did so well, turning a story about embezzlement into a horror story; though the title of the film was a dead giveaway that there was going to be more to the story. Here, the surprise is destroyed in the beginning when we see that something has landed on Earth from out of this world. The attack of the Predator is to be expected, rather than come as a surprise of genius story-telling.

The pre-Governator Arnold is a likable movie star, though the word actor seems a little inappropriate. He is always playing the same sort of character during the 1980s, strong and deadly and usually with some sort of catchphrase. While “Get to the Chopper!” might not be as strong as say “I’ll be Back”, it is what passes here in Predator.

The group as a whole is less winning that its leader. Jesse Ventura is big and strong, but like Arnold, that is his role in films. Dutch’s men have enough testosterone between them for hundreds of teenage boys. The jokes are sexual, juvenile and lame. Hate to say it, they’re not a likable bunch, which works against audience sympathy as they are killed one by one. Perhaps if we cared a little more about them, then their deaths would have had more impact. Instead, their deaths are sort of a relief as they stand between Dutch and the ultimate showdown. The motivation for the Creature to decide to battle in hand-to-hand combat doesn’t seem right either. Few mindless hunters take it to that step with their prey and that’s all we are to this Creature, sport.

Some of the actors, Bill Duke in particular, seem to have trained at the Nicolas Cage school of scenery chewing. Subtlety is not one of the strong suits of these actors and while that is not required in most action films, it is always appreciated when it does happen. Elpidia Carrillo is only okay. There really is not much for her to do but run in this film.

The Predator (Kevin Peter Hall) is nightmare fuel.

The Creature, the Predator (played by Kevin Peter Hall), has an interesting design, though you have to wonder what evolutionary crisis his planet went through to end up with a mouth like he has. (Pretty and handsome must not be terms on his home planet.) While I get the comparison between the Predator and the stereotypical hunter, who sees anything below him on the animal scale as fodder for a trophy room, I don’t know of any hunters that have self-destruction kits strapped to themselves.

The fisticuffs seem a bit forced, one of those moments in a movie that doesn’t seem to be organic as much as if he doesn’t there is no way to kill him sorts of things. When you can see that come about, you know the film has flaws. In this case, big ones.

Made on a budget of about $18 million, the film would go on to gross about $100 million, so quality is not a criterion for success. As mentioned above, it was successful enough to spawn a sequel. But 20th Century Fox didn’t stop there. No, they combined two space monsters with Alien vs. Predator (2004); Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007) before making Predators (2010). Not knowing when to stop, there is going to be The Predator planned for 2018 with a budget at about $50 million more than the original made.

The question, is, of course, whether or not I would recommend this film. If you’re a fan of Arnold’s and you haven’t seen Predator, then you should. It is somewhat typical for Schwarzenegger's sort of films from this period when he was mostly muscle with an accent. If you’re looking for a great film, then you should continue your hunt.

Be sure to check out other Horror films in our Horror Films Review Hub.