Monday, October 31, 2022

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Note: This review contains spoilers for The Nightmare Before Christmas.

If you’ve been to Disneyland, looked at Disney’s Halloween offerings or even stepped foot in a Hot Topic in the last several years, chances are you’ve at least heard of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Originally released in 1993 under Disney’s Touchstone label, the film remains one of Tim Burton’s best-known works, though Henry Selick (Coraline) was the actual director due to Burton being too busy with Batman Returns at the time. Though it initially underperformed on release, in the nearly 30 years since, the film has become a Halloween cult classic, to the point where Disney has since moved it under their own label and increased its presence at Disney parks, including an annual crossover event with the Haunted Mansion ride known as Haunted Mansion Holiday. Having grown up with the film and looking back on it now, it’s not hard to see how it managed to attain such a following.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Stubs - Bride of Frankenstein

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Starring: Boris Karloff (Karloff), Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Elsa Lanchester. Directed by James Whale. Screenplay by William Hurlbut. Suggested by the novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (London, 1818). Produced by Carl Laemmle Jr. Run time: 80 minutes. Black and White. USA. Horror

Following the success of Frankenstein (1931), Universal wanted to make a sequel. However, director James Whale wasn’t keen to return to the director’s chair. In 1933, Carl Laemmle, Jr. assigned Kurt Neumann to the task, with Boris Karloff as the monster and Bela Lugosi as the scientist. But this project got dropped. However, Whale changed his mind and the project was back on.

Originally called The Return of Frankenstein, the film is based, or suggested, on part of Mary Shelley’s book that was not included in the first film. In the book, Frankenstein promises to make a bride for his creation, but stops at the last moment, fearful of what he was about to create. This would be an issue in this film but there would be extenuating circumstances that he would have to overcome.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Second Look - P.T.

Note: The following review contains spoilers for P.T. and other Silent Hill games.

When I first reviewed P.T., I didn’t have much experience with the Silent Hill games outside of itself and Silent Hill 2 (SH2), but I still went out of my way to thoroughly document it due to its history and unique legacy. After playing through every main Silent Hill title in a row, however, my viewpoint changed on P.T. and I better appreciated its connection with the rest of the series. As such, I wanted to take another look at this legendary delisted demo to document my new perspective on it, though without retreading everything I wrote in the first review. I will start off, however, by repeating that P.T., the Playable Teaser for the canceled Silent Hills project, still holds up well as an incredible horror experience and serves as a powerful testament to what could have been.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Silent Hill Downpour: Anne's Story

Note: This review contains spoilers for Silent Hill: Downpour.

Back in 2012, Silent Hill: Downpour (Downpour) released to very mixed reception and, unfortunately, ended up as the final main title in the Silent Hill franchise. Within the divisive story, Murphy Pendleton would occasionally cross paths with Anne Marie Cunningham, a corrections officer who spends most of the game wanting him dead for turning her father into a vegetable, or so she believes. Her infrequent appearances also hint at her experiencing her own personal nightmare while navigating the town, leaving gaps that writers Tom Waltz, Tom Hulett and Devin Shatsky had planned on filling through a DLC campaign. Although Konami had scrapped this planned content, Tom Waltz got permission to adapt the planned story into a four-issue IDW comic book in 2014 as Silent Hill Downpour: Anne’s Story (Anne’s Story), with art by Tristan "T-Rex" Jones. This comic would then receive a trade paperback in 2015.

Of the Silent Hill material I bought, this proved among the least expensive, as I found a copy of the trade on eBay in early 2022 for about $18. I didn’t have much interest in the comic at first, since I didn’t feel like I needed to read any supplementary material, but when I learned of its canon status and original intention, I decided I should properly complete my Downpour experience. Although our previous comic book reviews turned out pretty awful (displaying an embarrassing lack of understanding of the medium), I feel that with time (and experience from creating our own book), I’m now much better equipped at writing about Anne’s Story. Without further ado, let’s look into whether or not Anne’s Story does a good job at supplementing Murphy Pendleton’s story in Downpour.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Silent Hill: Downpour (Xbox 360)

Note: This review contains spoilers for Silent Hill 2, Silent Hill 3 and Silent Hill: Downpour.

Like previous western-developed Silent Hill titles, especially Silent Hill: Homecoming (Homecoming), Silent Hill: Downpour (Downpour), originally released in 2012, has proven contentious, with a divisive reception from critics and longtime fans even to this day. It doesn’t help, of course, that Downpour ended up as the final main game in the franchise ever, with no future plans from Konami as of this writing. It also doesn’t help that its rocky development led to some notable changes. For one, Konami handed development to Vatra games, a Czech studio whose only other title was the critically-panned Rush'n Attack: Ex-Patriot, the 2011 sequel to Rush'n Attack (originally Green Beret) from 1985. Series mainstay Akira Yamaoka also left Konami around this time, with Daniel Licht of Dexter fame filling in as the composer and Korn set to provide a song, “Silent Hill”, that served as the main theme. Even the main concept of playing as a criminal, eschewing the series’ tradition of playing as ordinary people, met with some resistance during early development and focus testing, with those who didn’t want to play as “a bad guy” (ignoring James Sunderland’s actions in Silent Hill 2, it seems).

Since I played Downpour years after the fact, however, I went in without any nostalgia for the series, so the knowledge of its development didn’t affect my outlook that much, if at all. As for cost and accessibility, Downpour didn’t fare as well as Homecoming. When Sony announced the closure of certain storefronts, which they quickly backpedaled on, there was a brief point where you literally could not find a single North American PS3 copy on eBay and I couldn’t find it in the wild. As such, I bought a complete Xbox 360 copy (with a rather beat up case) on eBay for about $55, though that price may have gone up by the time of this posting. Like Homecoming, I also played it on an Xbox One to eliminate the possibility of a perfect circle scratch (a fate worse than death for a Silent Hill title). After three full playthroughs (more on that later), I honestly found Downpour the most underrated of the western Silent Hill titles, even with its very noticeable flaws, and believe the hate towards it is overblown.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Frankenweenie (1984)

Among the many films directed by Tim Burton, one was the stop-motion animated feature Frankenweenie, which released in 2012 to positive reviews and modest success. What most may not know, however, is that it was based on a 1984 live-action short also called Frankenweenie. Of course, no one would blame you if you didn’t, as it had a fairly niche audience for the longest time, with only one theatrical run alongside a rerelease of Pinocchio, as well as the critically panned Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend in the UK, with every home video release attached to certain versions of The Nightmare Before Christmas before the inevitable Disney+ listing. In the spirit of the season, we decided to look back on this lesser-known part of Tim Burton’s career. Unfortunately, it’s not very remarkable.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Wii)

If there’s one thing the Western Silent Hill games have in common, it’s that they started out nothing like the final product. In the case of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Shattered Memories), it actually came from a fusion of multiple concepts for completely different games. Shortly after Silent Hill: Origins (Origins) released, Sam Barlow’s team at Climax Studios wanted to create another entry for the PSP, though it was suggested that they instead make an FPS for the Wii. As a result, they pitched Brahms PD, a spin-off that featured an amnesiac police detective and combined shooting segments and sessions with a police psychiatrist. When this pitch failed, Climax came up with Silent Hill: Cold Heart, an original installment that starred 19-year-old Psychology student Jessica Chambers as its protagonist. Among other mechanics, this pitch featured melee combat, a body temperature system, scavenging and an updated version of the Psych Profile system with a therapist named Dr. Alan Fairchild. While this pitch never saw the light of day, it wasn’t due to rejection on Konami’s part, but rather Climax believing Konami would reject it.

What almost was.

At this point, Cold Heart turned into Shattered Memories, a reimagining of the original Silent Hill (SH1) that removed combat in favor of emphasizing the scenario, which released in 2009 for the Wii and 2010 for the PS2 and PSP to mixed reception. Nowadays, Shattered Memories, the seventh main Silent Hill entry, isn’t as easy to come by as the other Western-developed games, with my complete physical Wii copy setting me back about $81. While pricey, this version is still the cheapest secondhand, with the PSP and PS2 versions easily breaking triple digits on eBay. Much like Silent Hill 3, while Shattered Memories holds up as one of the better Western takes on the series, I’m not sure the price of admission is completely justified.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Silent Hill: Homecoming (Xbox 360)

Close to the release of Silent Hill 4: The Room (SH4) in 2004, a Eurogamer interview with Masashi Tsuboyama confirmed the existence of a sequel while debunking a rumor that it had the subtitle Shadows of the Past. Following this interview, fans wouldn’t hear any additional information until series composer Akira Yamaoka confirmed in 2006 that the development team planned on returning to the series’ psychological roots a la Silent Hill 2 (SH2) and that they were playing with a “fear of the light” concept. At E3 2007, Konami would later formally announce the fifth entry as Silent Hill V, later titled Silent Hill: Homecoming (Homecoming), for release on the PS3 and Xbox 360 consoles. However, Konami would also reveal that instead of Team Silent, Homecoming would go the route of Silent Hill: Origins (Origins) and be handled by an American developer, The Collective, later named Double Helix Games after a series of mergers. Information released afterwards also revealed that many of the original ideas didn’t make it into the finished product, but that the team wanted to stay true to the essence of the series while improving combat.

Homecoming’s full release would come in 2008, to mixed reception from critics, but would never see a Japanese release for unknown reasons. Fan reception also proved divisive, with some more receptive of the Americanization of the series while others viewed it as the worst entry in the series. Like Origins, Homecoming is also pretty easy to come by and is perhaps the cheapest one on the market, with my physical Xbox 360 copy only setting me back about $20 (I went for this platform since I could actually find it in the wild). Having no nostalgia for the series, I went into Homecoming with an open mind and played on an Xbox One to eliminate the possibility of dealing with the infamous perfect circle scratch. After completing two full playthroughs and viewing all five endings, I feel a little torn. While certainly very American in its approach, and pretty flawed, it’s also not as bad as I was led to believe.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Silent Hill: Origins

After Team Silent disbanded following the release of Silent Hill 4: The Room (SH4) in 2004, Konami shifted development of further Silent Hill entries to American studios. The first of these games, Silent Hill: Origins (Origins), started development under the Los Angeles branch of Climax Action as a PSP-exclusive prequel to the original Silent Hill (SH1). However, development didn’t go that smoothly. When the game was originally announced at E3 2006, it featured a radical departure from the conventional formula and not only more resembled Resident Evil 4 in its design, but was apparently intended as a dark comedy inspired by the TV series Scrubs. Following issues with the game engine and a confused vision, Climax closed their LA branch and transferred development to their UK branch, where Origins was essentially remade from scratch by Sam Barlow, who rewrote the script and altered the level and monster designs within a week. This version of the game intentionally followed SH1 more closely in its design, with the idea of giving fans a more genuine Silent Hill experience, and released in 2007.

A glimpse at the original vision of the game.

Today, Origins is also one of the more affordable Silent Hill games one can buy, much like the other American-developed entries, and I picked up a $10 digital PSP copy during the period where Sony said they would shut down some digital storefronts. Once I finally got around to playing it, I noticed on startup that the game recommended playing it in the dark with headphones on. For the sake of this review, I decided I would follow this recommendation as much as possible, at least during the first playthrough. After three full playthroughs, in which I viewed all three endings, I could see Climax’s intent in closely following SH1’s design and how they managed to make the series’ formula work well on a portable platform. However, I also realized that Team Silent had a point in their approach to SH4.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Stubs - The Strange Life of Dr. Frankenstein

The Strange Life of Dr. Frankenstein (2018) Starring: Jean-Claude Carrière, Béatrice Chéramy, Christopher Frayling, Gwyneth Jones, Laurent Lantieri, Miranda Seymour, Fiona Stafford. Directed by Jean Froment. Writer: None Credited. Produced by Matthieu Belghiti, Thibaut de Corday. Run time: 55 minutes. France. Color. Documentary, Horror, Sci-Fi

Written when she was only 18, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is considered by many to be the first true science-fiction story. The documentary The Strange Life of Dr. Frankenstein examines not only the writing of the novel, but also how it relates to Shelley’s life, science, literature and the theme of Man's quest for the secret of Life.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Silent Hill 4: The Room (Xbox)

During development on Silent Hill 3 (SH3), Team Silent also worked its successor, Silent Hill 4: The Room (SH4), with the philosophy of change and shaking up the established formula. While the general reception from critics to the new direction was by no means negative, SH4 was and still is a divisive entry, especially since development of the series was handed off to western developers afterwards. Looking online, you’ll find just as many people, from 2004 to now, who enjoyed the game in spite of its faults as you will those who don’t think very highly of it, both for justifiable reasons. As such, I knew what I was getting myself into when I got to this point in my deep dive of the series, but otherwise went in without any knowledge of the major twists and turns.

Of course, price is also a factor and, interestingly, SH4 is one of the more accessible and affordable Team Silent games, with a digital PS2 copy available on the Japanese PSN store on PS3 and a modern rerelease of the original PC port on GOG that’s Windows 10 compatible. Not wanting to go through the hassle of having a Japanese PSN account for the former or downloading patches to restore content apparently cut from the latter, however, I still ended up paying about $70 for a complete physical Xbox copy, if only because it was easier to find and cheaper than a complete original PS2 copy. With all of this in mind, I still found myself landing somewhere in the middle in terms of how I felt. While I found the game an interesting and often engaging change of pace, some development decisions do add some unnecessary tedium and I’m not sure that buying a physical copy of the game would be worth the cost for most people nowadays.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Silent Hill HD Collection

Merely one week after the release of Silent Hill: Downpour, Konami released Silent Hill HD Collection, which collected Silent Hill 2 (SH2) and Silent Hill 3 (SH3) for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Upon its release, however, it proved divisive among fans and critics, mainly for the numerous technical issues that plagued both versions of the game at launch. Although Hijinx Studios handled the port, the issues arose from Konami having lost the original source code and providing the developers with incomplete beta builds of SH2 and SH3, which the team had to work around. Fortunately, a patch would later come out and largely fix the issues, but only for the PS3 version, as the 360 patch was cancelled.

Knowing all of this, I still decided that a deep dive of the Silent Hill series wouldn’t be complete without experiencing HD Collection for myself (though admittedly I originally bought it out of desperation to play SH3 on a budget). As it stands now, is the game still filled with issues worth the negative outlook? Yes. Did the patch make the PS3 version worth seeking out? Kind of.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Silent Hill: Revelation

Note: This review contains spoilers for Silent Hill (Film) and Silent Hill 3.

While Team Silent’s Silent Hill entries maintain a high reputation, the same cannot be said of the films, which proved more divisive with both critics and fans. To give an idea, the original film currently holds a 32% on Rotten Tomatoes with a 63% audience score while the sequel, Silent Hill: Revelation, currently holds a 10% on Rotten Tomatoes with only a 35% audience score. Knowing this going in to both, as part of my journey through the Silent Hill series, I thought that for all its faults, the original film still understood the games and nailed the atmosphere and certain themes in live action. As for the sequel, its misguided attempts at reconciling the general plot of Silent Hill 3 (SH3) with the film continuity makes for an aimless and confusing mess that hardly resembles its source material.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Hocus Pocus 2

While certainly not the longest gap between sequels, twenty-nine years is still a pretty long wait for a sequel to Disney’s Hocus Pocus from 1993. At the time we finally saw the original, we found it entertaining and could see why it developed a cult following, but didn’t find it enough to go into our regular Halloween rotation. Come the release of Hocus Pocus 2 and although we were on the fence about watching it, we thought we might as well see how well the second appearance of the Sanderson sisters stacks up to the first. The good news is that it does a great job at emulating the tone and feel of the original film, but the bad news is that not everything lands.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Silent Hill 3

In the years since their original release, the Silent Hill games, particularly the entries developed by Team Silent, have maintained a reputation as some of the scariest horror games ever created. Unfortunately, general neglect from Konami, the series’ publisher and IP holder, following the infamous delisting of P.T. has caused a scarcity of the Team Silent entries and increased the monetary barrier of entry for fans of the console releases who either don’t want to deal with emulation or don’t have access to a PS3. This hit 2003’s Silent Hill 3 (SH3) particularly hard, considering it never received a digital rerelease, unlike Silent Hill (SH1) and Silent Hill 4: The Room, and outside of Silent Hill HD Collection only had a console release on the PS2. As such, without a cheaper Xbox copy to fall back on, secondhand North American copies easily go for over $100, even floating around $200 if you also want the soundtrack that it originally came with.

Since I was unfortunate enough to get into the series late, I was one of those who ended up paying about $180 for a complete PS2 copy in good condition and even then, I wondered how long it would take for buyer’s remorse to sink in. As such, I did everything possible to get the most value out of my copy, including playing on multiple difficulties, viewing every ending and obtaining or viewing just about every secret I could. After all of that, did the game hold up to its reputation as one of the best and scariest games in the series? Yes. Is it worth paying the unnecessarily high price point to experience it? No.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Silent Hill (Film)

If there’s one part of the Silent Hill franchise that a more mainstream audience would recognize, it’s the 2006 movie directed by Christophe Gans. Though thrashed by critics on release, it did get better reception from general audiences and I felt curious enough to watch it myself after playing Silent Hill, especially since I found a free TV airing through Starz Encore. After doing so, I think that Silent Hill is an overlooked example of a good video game movie, but it does drag in places for one specific reason.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Silent Hill (Game)

After I had played Silent Hill 2, I found myself interested in playing the other Silent Hill games, starting with the original Team Silent entries. For the original Silent Hill, often considered one of the greatest PS1 games ever made, I considered buying a digital copy off the PlayStation Store during the time Sony had announced legacy store closures. However, I came across a complete physical PlayStation copy for only $50, which put me in the unique position to experience it as someone who would have bought it at launch in 1999. While many aspects of the game have aged surprisingly well, I can confidently say it’s nowhere near worth the inflated aftermarket values.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Stubs - Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus
(1993) Starring Bette Milder, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Omri Katz, Thora Birch, Vinessa Shaw. Directed by Kenny Ortega. Screenplay by Mick Garris, Neil Cuthbert. Produced by David Kirschner, Steven Haft. Run time: 96 minutes. USA Color Fantasy, Comedy.

Home Video and TV airings (and now streaming) can sometimes save films that might otherwise be forgotten. Case in point, Hocus Pocus, a 1993 Disney film that when first released came and went without much fanfare, and in fact, cost its studio, Walt Disney, up to $16.5 million. Since then, annual showings on ABC Freeform and its DVD release have made the film a cult classic of sorts. So much of one, that nearly thirty years after its release Disney is strongly considering bringing back the stars for a sequel on Disney+.