Tag Archives: monsters

Great Graphics and Music, but Mediocre Overall : GODZILLA – MONSTER OF MONSTERS for the NES

GODZILLA: MONSTER OF MONSTERS

for the Nintendo Entertainment System


(3/5)

Pros: Graphics, sound, music, ending; appropriately strange at times


Cons: Excruciatingly repetitive; difficulty level presents some problems

“In the year 2XXX, the earth receives a declaration of war from Planet X. With the whole solar system as the battlefield, bloody combat begins between space monsters and our guardians, Godzilla and Mothra!” Essentially, that’s the basis for any number of Japanese sci-fi movies relating to , the giant fire-breathing reptile, so why wouldn’t it be the basis for Godzilla: Monster of Monsters, the first of several Godzilla video games?

GodMOM10
Rutrow! Those lousy Planet X-ians….

Developed by Toho Studios and released for the NES in 1989, the game finds the player controlling both the titular creature and giant insect as they gradually progress through the solar system, from Earth to the far reaches of Planet X, battling evil monsters and enemies of all sorts along the way. In the main game screen, the player manipulates chess-like representations of Godzilla and Mothra around hex grids in order to ultimately reach a base which allows for transport to the next planet. Maneuvering through any space on the grid instigates a pretty standard side-scrolling level in which either Godzilla or Mothra (whichever monster was being controlled) has to fight off smaller enemy units and destroy obstacles in order to advance. Each each monster in the game has both a life meter and a power bar: the life is self-explanatory (when it hits zero, the monster dies), but the power bar represents the monster’s ability to use a special attack (such as Godzilla’s radioactive death breath or Mothra’s life-zapping powder). Enemy monsters are scattered throughout the hex grids in the game and when these are contacted by a player’s monster, the game transitions to a sort of “beat ‘em up” level which plays out in front of a black background. The goal here is to reduce the enemy’s monster’s power to zero through hand-to-hand combat, with the special weapons being the attack of choice.

Main hex grid screen, with several monsters visible.


All the hex grid maps in the game are made up of different types of terrain which seem (somewhat) appropriate given the planet they’re on – Earth, for instance, is made up mostly of mountains and rocky outcroppings, while Mars is mostly volcanic. The farther the player gets in the game, the more difficult and frankly, bizarre the terrain: some planets are made up almost exclusively of so-called “sub-space” terrain, in which multi-colored blobs swirl around or giant, bubbling brains must be destroyed. Each planet includes a heavily-fortified “base” as its final hexpoint – all the player actually has to do is reach and occupy this base with both Godzilla and Mothra (or the last surviving one of the two). It really pays to defeat all the enemy monsters on any given planet however since this is the best way to “level up.” Advancing Godzilla and Mothra’s level gives them more life points, but also increases their power bar, allowing for more devastating special attacks.

Godzilla working through a side-scrolling level….

One of the things a player will notice about this game is that the side-scrolling levels are pretty chaotic. Godzilla’s basic weapons during these stages are punches, kicks, and tail swipes, while Mothra can fly around the screen using her eye laser to dispatch enemies – and plenty of enemies there are. Aside from various types of ground units, many of which fire beams and projectiles, a constant stream of missiles and bombs of various type swirl around with the player in the crosshairs at virtually all times. Godzilla and Mothra wind up taking substantial damage throughout any level they’re in, but in many cases, this abuse is almost inconsequential since there is an almost endless supply of life-replenishing power-ups available. There’s no incentive for the player to try and avoid incoming enemy fire, since it’s all but guaranteed that a power capsule will pop up within a short amount of time, so for the most part, Godzilla just stumbles right into enemy fire (though he can jump and duck to avoid it if desired).

01-620xand here’s Mothra progressing in front of a striking background.

I suppose the fact that Godzilla and Mothra can just absorb damage is fairly consistent with the movies (these are monsters after all!), but it winds up making the game somewhat pointless. There’s not much skill involved in negotiating levels since Godzilla and Mothra simply push through most any opposition coming their way with minimal difficulty. I should note that it is possible to be overwhelmed and killed (particularly in the “city” areas) and that there are a few enemies (including a flying torch of doom) that will severely damage the player if it is encountered. For the most part though, the side-scrolling levels lack much of a challenge and get painfully repetitive – there are a relatively limited number of level layouts, meaning that the exact same one will be encountered numerous times. Consider that a player has to negotiate eight hex grid planets before beating the game and you can begin to understand how and why this quickly becomes tiresome.

hqdefaultBattle scene – Godzilla squaring off against Gigan.


As much of a breeze as most of the side-scroll levels are, the actual monster battles get increasingly difficult over time. While the Earth board only features two enemy monsters, later levels feature up to eight, at least three of which are incredibly tough to defeat. The selection of villainous monsters in the game is pretty interesting since it seems that Toho was trying to raise the profile of some of their lesser-known films. It’s not a shock that fan-favorite monsters like and would show up in Monster of Monsters and even , the smog monster, isn’t that much of a stretch, but the appearance of cuttlefish , reptile/flying squirrel , giant robot , and four-legged (creatures who didn’t feature in any of the legitimate Godzilla films) is surprising – one can even notice imagery that relates back to , , and even , a.k.a. .

nesThe various monster graphics are outstanding for a game of this era.

Though Ghidorah pops up as the (obvious) final boss, my pick for the most imposing monster in the game is , a beast who first appeared in a pair of movies in the 1970s and didn’t make much of an impression. In Monster of Monsters, Gigan proves how formidable a monster it really is, attacking with laser beams, hooked claws, and a buzz-saw that juts from its abdomen. This saw attack is probably the most devastating thing a player will have to deal with in the game: it has the potential to pin Godzilla against the side of the screen, diminishing his life bar at an alarming rate. While Godzilla has the ability to stand up pretty well against the enemy monster assaults – and can deliver plenty of punch of his own, I have to say that Mothra frequently seems entirely useless. Since her body is quite small, she can avoid some enemy attacks and is able to do things that the bulkier Godzilla can’t, but it becomes a chore to drag her through the hex grid and I often wind up purposely killing her.

hqdefault.jpg3Mothra, your journey is futile, even against a leper mushroom blob.

Graphically speaking, Monster of Monsters is actually pretty impressive: backgrounds during the side-scrolling levels are rather stunning at times, with the individual sprites being pretty cool to look at as well. The actual monster animations steal the show however: all these gorgeous-looking and surprisingly detailed creatures move fluidly and seem to react well to what’s happening around them – they all respond to attacks in different ways and seem to show pain (this is especially true in the case of Varan, who reels back in agony when an especially brutal attack comes his way). Sound throughout the game is also excellent, with the various creatures all having their own war cries and whimpers…though strangely, Godzilla’s trademark howl is conspicuously absent. I’ve also got to point out that the music in this game is fabulous. Each monster and every planet has its own theme, and many of these are extremely memorable and catchy; I think this is one of my favorite NES game soundtracks.

GMoM_endingA melancholic, lonely ending…which I rather like.


The frequently quirky Godzilla: Monster of Monsters has numerous problems that keep it from becoming a great game or even an above average title for the NES, but I think it’s OK for its time overall. Though very repetitive, with side-scrolling levels that are eventually dull and mostly a time-waste due to the over-abundance of power-ups, the monster battles deliver the goods in terms of what a player would want and offer up significant challenges. I really enjoy the visuals and sound present here and find the almost somber game ending to be quite satisfying – a real contrast to the typical NES game “Hollywood ending.” Monster of Monsters isn’t something that I’d entirely recommend, but I’ve certainly played worse; those who enjoy the Godzilla series might want to check this out just to say that they did.

Click above to read the (pretty cool) creepypasta based on the game.

Contamination of the Redneck Zombies: I WAS BITTEN – THE WALKER COUNTY INCIDENT

I WAS BITTEN: THE WALKER COUNTY INCIDENT on Animal Planet

(2/5)


Pros: Not bad as a sketchy found-footage film

Cons: …it’s getting to be that you can’t trust nothing on the “educational” channels…

After several days of redundant River Monsters specials and some decent legitimate documentaries relating to , , , and , Animal Planet’s Monster Week 2015 finally got around to unleashing yet another test of audience gullibility. First airing on May 22, I Was Bitten: The Walker County Incident follows the story of a young man named Daniel who claims to have been bitten by an unknown creature in the Alabama woods. In typical pseudo-documentary fashion, a film crew quickly arrives to document the man’s inevitable hunt for the creature that attacked him, one which eventually uncovers a particularly ambiguous (and thoroughly unexplained) conspiracy relating to the local nuclear plants. Just when a viewer thinks this program will end without shedding light on anything, The Walker County Incident unleashes one of the worst endings ever seen in this already suspect genre of television. One is left wondering how such a thing wound up airing on a supposedly “educational” channel in the first place: this is virtually tailor-made for the Syfy Channel.

wuh?
No…it can’t be…not another phony documentary passing itself off as the real thing…

Circa 2015, the basic formula for the made-for-cable mockumentary has been well-established – we’ve had multiple seasons of Mountain Monsters after all, along with a host of even more reprehensible imitations. While its main story arc is woefully familiar, what separates The Walker County Incident from its kin is that this program mainly revolves around a single main character as opposed to a team of buffoons. Daniel comes across as the prototypical redneck, albeit one who’s become increasingly paranoid and maybe even delusional since he was attacked near his home by an unknown creature that he speculates may in fact be a zombie. The guy’s main goal is to identify and eliminate his attacker, but he also has to take the safety of his family – namely, a concerned wife along with his gun-toting mother and her Elvis impersonator husband – into account. To that end, Daniel installs a series of CCTV cameras on the property, which he insists on monitoring at all hours of the day. Ultimately, Daniel’s obsession with the beast that attacked him results in an inevitable showdown between the increasingly lethargic and glassy-eyed hunter and his fed-up wife.

if only
If only there was some sort of attack at any point…

Par for the course in a show like this, The Walker County Incident tries its damnedest to pass itself off as a legit documentary. The majority of the show is filmed from the perspective of a camera crew who are (inexplicably) right alongside Daniel as he tracks down his attacker and goes about his daily business. In my opinion, the show looks a little too flashy in terms of its image quality and editing, seeming to capture all-too-convenient angles on various, supposedly live events to be authentic (do you think the camera crew…like…knew what was going to happen before it happened???), but the show does seem to maintain a decent amount of semi-credibility up to its thoroughly ridiculous ending. I could see someone almost …almost… buying into this account prior to the ending, which is jaw-droppingly goofy, making a mockery of everything that came before it. I’ve seen most every one of these faux-documentaries that’s out there and have suffered through some mightily lousy conclusions in my day, but the climax of this program (replete with a “hand over the camera lens” final shot) takes the cake. It really seals the deal on the fact that a viewer has just wasted two hours of life.

show might
Program might have been better had it combined balt salt cannibals with backwoods hunters.

Considering the number of painfully similar programs out there, I hope that most viewers would watch this not because of its supposed verisimilitude, but rather because it’s a somewhat entertaining time waster. If nothing else, this show does make fine use of location shooting: along with the story elements, the director includes numerous montages which help nail down the setting in which the events depicted occur. These sequences are somewhat reminiscent of certain moments captured in the first season of HBO’s True Detective, and they go a long way in establishing Walker County, Alabama as a sort of decaying hell on Earth, ripe with pollution and plenty of tall tales. As is the case with many of today’s found footage-type productions, The Walker County Incident also utilizes different types of cameras, including cellphone videos and nightvision footage in the finished film along with the more professional-looking narrative camerawork. Interviews conducted with locals unaffiliated with the production itself are thrown in to add flavor to the proceedings, and the overall editing of the show is quite slick, with appropriate music cues and over-emphasized sound added at key moments.

edubucation
One has to wonder what sort of edubucation folks get in the Walker County School System…

Even if the production would be somewhat compelling for those who thrive on monster-related programming however, there’s really no denying that The Walker County Incident is sluggish in terms of how it plays out. There are very few genuinely exciting sequences in this ninety-odd minute show (two hours with commercials), and a vast majority of its running time is dedicated to documenting Daniel’s increasingly eccentric everyday life. We see the belligerent young man going to several doctors who attempt to analyze the strange injuries Daniel sustained during the attack and he even tries hypnosis to recall details about the incident that he had forgotten over time. These sequences do add dramatic tension to the piece, most of which relates to Daniel’s deteriorating relationship with his wife Krystal. Unfortunately, not only would most viewers have seen this sort of material before (it’s exactly what one would expect, with minimal imagination applied in an effort to spice things up), but the story also gets plain dumb at times, hitting a lowpoint when Krystal blows her top after Daniel skips out in the middle of one of his stepfather’s Elvis-inspired performances. Combine the predictability and absurdity of the story elements with the fact that there are so few moments of genuine tension or suspense and one is left with a program that’s not only genuinely ludicrous but also plain dull for most of its duration. The writers make absolutely no effort to explain a damn thing with regard to the creature/entity/force being investigated, and a viewer is left to stare perplexed and googly-eyed at the screen by the time this thing is over.

hell...
Hell, this story sounds as reasonable as anything put forth in this “documentary.”

Relying almost entirely on smoke and mirrors to sustain viewer interest, The Walker County Incident never quite compensates for the fact that it’s heavy on dialogue and speculation but contains nary a smidgen of actual “evidence.” Of all the recent phony documentaries dealing with unexplained phenomena (The Devil’s Graveyard), mysterious events (Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives), or unknown creatures (Wrath of Submarine), The Walker County Incident is probably among the more disappointing of the bunch – primarily because it doesn’t solve a damn thing, unveiling a cop-out ending right when the audience should be getting the veritable money shot. Capably shot and well-assembled but essentially a semi-ripoff of History Channel’s Cryptid: The Swamp Beast, I Was Bitten: The Walker County Incident offers nothing new to the savvy viewer. It might be acceptable as a C-grade found-footage thriller, but I’d call it rainy day entertainment at best.


RAWR

Here We Go Again…TRUE SUPERNATURAL

TRUE SUPERNATURAL on Destination America Channel

(2/5)

Pros: Interesting subject matter

Cons: …oh, it’s another one of shows…

Midway through a third season of Mountain Monsters that’s proven to be the most absurd yet, the Destination America channel has unleashed a mostly straight-faced program dealing with mysteries and monsters that provides an alternate to watching supposed investigator “Wild Bill” Neff grill corn on the engine block in his Ford or explain his tendency to name his push mowers after American presidents. Though its name might indicate that it falls more in line with the many “Ghost Hunter” shows out there, True Supernatural has more in common with Science Channel’s The Unexplained Files since it seems to be more wide-reaching in its approach, tackling most any subject that exists outside the realms of normal explanation.

gee...
Gee…d’ya suppose they’re going to drag out that dead “Chupacabra” again at some point?

Featuring the usual assortment of reenactments, talking head interviews and a spattering of actual “evidence,” the series premiered on April 8, 2015 with an episode that covered a pair of stories, at least one of which should be very familiar to paranormal enthusiasts – the alien abduction case of Betty and Barney Hill. Occurring in 1961, this incident is regarded as the first of its kind, and the program does its part to provide a (relatively toned-down) crash course in the particulars of the case. The other point of focus for the debut episode is the so-called “Rocky Mountain Demon Wolf.” After years of anecdotal reports, many of which came from AmerIndians, a bizarre, hyena-like creature actually was shot and killed in the late 1800s. After being lost for decades, the preserved carcass of the creature was recently rediscovered, leading to renewed interest in trying to identify the beast.

you'd look like that too
You’d have that morose too if you’d been kidnapped by aliens….

Like many other modern Unsolved Mystery-type programs, a main idea of True Supernatural is to apply science to these enigmatic stories. In the case of the Hill abduction, this mainly involves DNA analysis of the dress that Betty was wearing when the alleged abduction occurred. Past examinations of the article have revealed strange, pink-colored stains in certain areas which were reportedly handled by the extraterrestrial beings, yet new scientific techniques may be able to provide new information and maybe even an explanation as to what actually occurred more than five decades ago. The carcass of the “demon wolf” is also subjected to expert analysis during the course of this episode, although a squabble over ownership of the specimen has hampered efforts to test the remains.

beast of gevaudan
The Beast of Gevaudan which terrorized France in the 1700s – could the “demon wolf” killed in the late 1800s be a similar, unknown creature?

While all this actual science sounds great – and believe you me, the narration throughout the program does its best to “sell” the potential bombshells that analysis could reveal, I don’t think I’m really giving anything away by revealing that nothing much comes out of any of the hoopla put forth in the show. As is standard with regard to this type of speculative documentary, a viewer is left with more questions than definitive answers once everything is said and done – which isn’t necessarily a bad call considering how willing some people are to declare that a conspiracy is going on if science doesn’t provide the answers that they are looking for. If True Supernatural finishes things off by not explaining everything, all possibilities still exist…which means that the believers out there can keep on believing.

caution

Another area in which True Supernatural is quite similar to other programs of this sort is in its choice of subject matter. Browsing a brief list of future episodes, it seems like the producers have chosen to cover a nice variety of topics, alternating between stories about genuine mysteries and ones dealing with unknown creatures such as Bigfoot. Considering how popular monster/cryptozoology shows have been in recent years, this seems like a good call, but I’m forced to again go back to a point I’ve made before: how many times can these programs cover the same sorts of material? Is there honestly anything new to be added to these arguments…or perhaps I should ask whether additional scientific testing will reveal anything earth-shattering. In covering the same topics that have been explored elsewhere, True Supernatural, like many shows before it, seems mostly to be recycling material, which doesn’t much make for ground-breaking television as far as I’m concerned.

this

What is somewhat new is this program’s format: instead of using the usual investigative report format in which the show is broken down into separate segments, True Supernatural presents both stories covered in its episodes concurrently. This does mix up the (very tiresome) formula one might expect in a show of this nature, but I don’t think it’s an especially effective way to relate information. The debut episode seemed a bit awkward as it randomly switched back and forth between its topics, and I also found that the omnipresent narration was extremely repetitive, apparently designed specifically for viewers made brain-dead through exposure to too much awful reality television. To be completely honest, this program drags significantly and seems almost entirely to be composed of material that’s little more than glorified filler. Once the background information into the Hill case and demon wolf was presented, the episode proceeded to repeat information ad nauseum in an attempt to build anticipation for a “big reveal” moment that simply didn’t materialize nor actually provide any new information. The question then becomes why anyone would waste an hour watching a show that could easily cram its information and arguments into about a fifteen minute block.


Cue the Bigfoot episode now for maximum tie-in value!

If anything has been proven over the years since In Search Of…, it’s that so-called “paranormal television” provides a reliable – and increasingly easy – way to get butts in the seat. Hell, even if most of these shows are complete bunk and aren’t at all what I would label as being good television, I can’t help but be fascinated by the subjects they cover. In the end then, I suppose that True Supernatural provides a viewer with exactly what he would want from a show of this nature. It’s not a great series by a long shot and almost certainly won’t solve any longstanding mysteries as it goes along, but there’s no doubt it would appeal to curious viewers.

waiting....

“As Much a Process of Rationalization as Imagination:” BOOGEYMEN

BOOGEYMEN on Destination America

(2.5/5)

Pros: Interesting approach; it’s hard to deny the allure of the unexplained…

Cons: Very talky and rather dull – particularly when compared to other similar programs

First appearing in 2013 on Canadian television, the Boogeymen series presents a monster-related show of a different variety than is typically seen on American cable. Whereas the majority of today’s cryptozoology programs (i.e. those dealing with unknown creatures) focus on a group of (often stereotypically moronic) characters who set off into the wilds in search of this or that mythical – and most likely, imaginary – creature, the goal of Boogeymen seems more to examine monsters as a cultural phenomenon in an effort to determine why the public is so fascinated with them. Each hour-long episode of the show (reruns of which now air on the Destination America channel) focuses on a strange creature or situation and how this oddity has been embraced by the local community: in many ways then, Boogeymen is more a travel and tourism program than an outright monster hunt. Along the way, various eyewitnesses present their stories, experts weigh in on the possibility of the monster being real or completely bogus, and a handful of photographic and/or video evidence is shown to the viewer, who’s more or less left to make up his own mind as to whether or not he believes any of it.

sea monster or log
Sea monster or log?

Probably the best thing about the program is that during the course of its (so far) two seasons and 26 episodes, Boogeymen has dealt with a wide variety of topics and covered some really interesting myths and legends. The first episode of the program dealt with “,” the aquatic creature said to lurk in America’s Lake Champlain, but other episodes have covered (duh!) California’s Bigfoot and lesser-known mysteries like Tennessee’s , Canada’s , and even Iceland’s . In terms of the subjects discussed, I’d almost be inclined to say that this show is up there with History Channel’s Monster Quest as being the most comprehensive and ponderous cryptozoology show that’s been on television in the last decade or so.

chupacabra
Chupacabra or mangy dog?

The fact that Boogeymen is so consistent and decidedly non-sensational in its tone is another of its strongest attributes. In recent years, it’s become increasingly frustrating to see monster-related shows which push the viewer’s suspension of disbelief to ridiculous levels; quite simply, it’s incredibly difficult if not downright impossible to believe much of anything a viewer is seeing in the likes of Mountain Monsters and its numerous (and apparently, endless) clones. Boogeymen, on the other hand, operates in a refreshingly sober manner. Even if some of the material presented in it is borderline ludicrous (during the episode about Canadian lake monster Ogopogo, one man spends a great deal of time trying to convince a viewer that a series of murky underwater shots of logs actually show the snake-like creature in the stages of “hiding” – which is positively absurd), the producers do a nice job of keeping things level and under control. This is incredibly beneficial when establishing credibility in a show like this, and indeed commendable when covering this sort of material.

monster worm
Monster worm or snagged trash?

The even tone of the show has some unfortunate consequences however, namely the fact that viewers used to more exciting or outrageous programming would likely find Boogeymen to be extremely dry. Though the program is technically well-made in terms of its photography and editing, there’s no way a viewer can ignore the fact that the show is incredibly lackadaisical. Additionally, the program does quite frequently seem kind of corny in the same way that another Canadian import called Hauntings and Horrors (originally titled , reruns of this program also air on Destination America) does, with a narrator delivering borderline goofy monologues over a typical montage of ambiguous, often ominous images and cheesy landscape shots. Compared to the much more loud and obnoxious typical American television program, Boogeymen simply seems dull, which (when combined with the rather minimal amount of actual hard evidence provided in any individual episode) could be a deal-sealer that would kill this show in the minds of many viewers.

giant snake
Giant snake or…oh……

Ultimately, I think one’s appreciation of this show (or lack thereof) would come down to what he’s trying to get out of it. Despite the fact that it deals with mysterious creatures on some level, Boogeymen is very much not a speculative documentary trying to prove or disprove the existence of these creatures. Frankly, there are more than enough over-the-top monster hunt programs on TV in the year 2015, so a show dealing more with our culture and its fascination with mysterious creatures and situations rather than the myths themselves is interesting in my book. That said, I don’t think anyone is going to confuse Boogeymen with great television: it’s a way to pass some time and nothing more. Moderately recommended, but hardly essential.

“…you don’t have to believe in CRYPTID: THE SWAMP BEAST for it to get you…”

CRYPTID: THE SWAMP BEAST on History Channel

See it at or on the

(3/5)

Pros: Enjoyable as a horror miniseries

Cons: This just in: it ain’t real

“Throughout the United States, there are legends of strange and unidentified creatures stretching back hundreds of years. This program is a legend brought to life. It is told through dramatization, eyewitness accounts, and expert interviews.”

…so begins History Channel’s Cryptid: The Swamp Beast, a six-episode series run in the spring of 2014 that’s somewhat different from any of the other monster-related programming that’s been clogging up cable television for the past few years. Instead of following a “crack team” of investigators as they inevitably are hunted down by a mysterious (and imaginary) off-camera creature, Cryptid plays sort of like a version of True Detective or even True Blood in which the main villain of the piece is a mythical being known as the . Sometimes associated with the legend of the Bigfoot-like “,” the legend of the Rougarou originated in the Cajun bayou, with the creature usually being identified as a blood-thirsty, shape-shifting creature similar to a werewolf that can assume either human or animal form.

YIKES
Yikes!

Working from the basic folktale surrounding the Rougarou, the writing team of Cryptid (James Asmus and Collin Armstrong) weave a tale of several interconnected characters on the hunt for an unknown creature or person responsible for a series of deaths in southern Louisiana. The first episode of the program introduces these characters, namely an animal control specialist named Luc Baptiste, his two assistants Jules and Tammany D’Entremont (who are cousins), and a local sheriff’s deputy named Patrice “Trio” Lambert. After the discovery of a mutilated cow, Baptiste and his crew are sent in to investigate, eventually placing trail cameras and traps in an effort to either identify or hopefully capture the animal responsible. Things get more bizarre after a tourist’s phone is recovered deep in the swamp. When video footage is pulled from the phone, it seems to capture the moment when its unfortunate owner was attacked and presumably killed by an unknown entity. As the show progresses, more and more suspicion in relation to the killings is placed on the Jagneaux family (often hilariously presented as the virtual incarnation of evil and “a damn nasty bunch”), a local clan of stereotypical, shotgun-toting bayou folks who may or may not know more about the situation than they are letting on, and the hunt for the rampaging beast becomes more and more intense as it becomes apparent that not only the animal control team, but also the local citizenry are in ever-increasing danger.

so what exactly are we looking at here...
…so what exactly are we looking at here…

Admittedly, when I first caught the debut episode of this show back in February of 2014, I was somewhat less than impressed. Marketed and presented in a way that made it seem like a representation of actual events, it quickly became clear that Cryptid was nothing but a (possibly too) slickly-produced fabrication that owes more than a bit to The Blair Witch Project and any number of other so-called “found footage” horror films. That said, the fact that there’s a thread on the imdb.com message boards in which a user excitedly explains that he has “proof” the show is phony is indicative of the fact that many viewers are all to willing to buy anything they see on TV. I’d offer that the viewer who at all believed this program was a representation of real events after about a half hour of the first episode really needs to start evaluating his level of gullibility.

blurry photos
Blurry Photos? Must be a monster!

In all honesty, the program does a decent enough job of creating the illusion of authenticity. The main body of the show is presented from a first-person’s point of view, presumably photographed by a film crew who just happens to be tagging along with the animal control or police personnel whenever something important happens. As is the case with many programs of this nature (Finding Bigfoot being perhaps the most obvious example), the various characters often speak directly to the camera in an effort to explain or narrate their own story. In between the notable story developments, brief montages are inserted in which sensational newspaper headlines flash on screen while “locals” tell various folktales about strange occurrences in the swamp. More amusing than anything else due to their outlandish nature, these segments do add to the flavor of the program since they frequently feature images of how life works in the bayou. Though this show appears to have been produced with the cooperation of the state of Louisiana, it doesn’t do much to show the best side of the state. As seen here, the Louisiana bayou looks like an absolute dump, full of nearly impenetrable wetlands and lots and lots of rubbish and trash. Director Ty Clancey also presents occasional asides in which various scientists and experts explain various aspects of the story. These segments are obviously included to add some semblance of “credibility” to an otherwise ridiculous program.


Meldrum Check: 43 minutes into the first episode, noted Bigfoot believer Dr. Jeff Meldrum makes his first (of several) appearances in the series.

Ultimately, one’s appreciation of this program will come down to whether he’s willing to view it as entertainment: as a fictional television miniseries with horror movie overtones, Cryptid actually isn’t too bad. The main actors in the program do a fairly credible job: Britt George as main character Luc has a commanding presence throughout the show, while the marble-mouthed Jimmy Lee Jr. is believable as his spooked Cajun assistant Jules. Meanwhile, Rachel G. Whittle tags along as Tammany, the obligatory plucky female, and James Ricker II plays the increasingly worried local deputy. As tolerable as these performances are however, the supporting cast is laughable. Many of the show’s more outlandish claims are literally hammered home through sheer repetition from an apparent authentic local “folklorist” named Jami “Captain One-Eye” Burns who indeed has only one good eye. Apparently, this disability is supposed to make him more credible as an “expert” in bayou myth and legend – and it’s also supposed to make his doom-laden monologues more ominous, thus adding additional intensity to the show’s script.

Main cast
The main cast (here, we have Jimmy Lee, Jr. facing us on the left and Britt George on the right) isn’t bad – it’s the supporting players who are iffy.

The miniseries format makes this program more compelling than the typical episode of Alaska/Swamp/Mountain Monsters in which the (undeniably goofy) set up takes all of three minutes. The use of some rather wild, way-out-there locations certainly helps sell the situation in Cryptid, especially when combined with the “expert” testimony reinforcement, and several segments in the show are genuinely creepy (scenes in a grimy abandoned sugar mill and the surrounding cane field are highlights). The show’s first-person format additionally allows some of the more questionable special effects to be masked by shaky camerawork, and the use of eerie sound design and jarring musical accents only adds to the suspense, particularly in later episodes. Even if the program is pretty innocuous when compared to the mean-spirited modern horror films, there are some isolated moments of gore and nastiness here and the frequently disorienting atmosphere is a plus.

what is lurking out there?
What is lurking out there?

On the downside, nothing can entirely make up for the level of goofiness that exists throughout the series. Numerous segments of this show simply push the envelope of absurdity too far – when a nerdy “cryptozoologist” named Quinton Schuster (who’s main purpose seems to be to exclaim that he “has tons of equipment”) shows up for no good reason other than to provide a throwaway character for the titular creature to aggressively pursue or when Tammany visits the most unrealistic scientific lab in the world, many viewers will be cracking up rather than gasping in terror. It’s also increasingly hard to look past the fact that this program is quite literally a collection of scenes pulled from other, better movies and programs: viewers will likely recognize various elements transposed from The Blair Witch Project (stick figures hanging from trees), Jaws (the scene where Hooper pulls the tooth from the Ben Gardner’s boat), and any number of films dealing with violent/bizarre backwater folk among others. Ultimately, though the script is pretty solid and certainly watchable from start to finish, it seems very convenient and obvious, lacking much originality or genuine punch. This is particularly true of the series’ ambiguous ending, which is just plain dumb.

it's still out there...

All in all, Cryptid is a mixed bag, but one that I think is at least somewhat worthwhile. In my opinion, its main problem was that it was a fictional miniseries marketed as a real deal documentary and played on a channel that is associated with educational programming. People simply weren’t expecting and didn’t quite know how to take something like this, and I think once they figured out they’d been had by a phony show, some viewers were (perhaps rightfully) turned off. Conversely, as the entertainment piece it quite obviously is, Cryptid: The Swamp Beast satisfies, even if it doesn’t so much as attempt to reinvent the wheel. Hell, I’ve got to give the show credit for admitting to including dramatization at the beginning of each and every episode. That’s something none of the other modern monster shows will do, and although Cryptid is far from being perfect or even very good, I’d give it a moderate recommendation as an agreeable time-waster.


“Captain One Eye” says “uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

A Crude and Rude Unlicensed Zap Gun Abomination for the NES: CHILLER

CHILLER for the Nintendo Entertainment System

(0/5)

Pros: Blood & Guts on the NES! A few clever moments.

Cons: Pointless and absurdly short; terrible response from zapper input; graphics and music are abysmal

One of the coolest yet most underutilized accessories for the Nintendo NES was the zap gun. Included with early versions of the console (in conjunction with the iconic Duck Hunt game), this device was shaped similarly to a futuristic pistol and allowed a player to “shoot” targets on the screen. As great as this prospect sounds, there were less than two dozen games that were compatible with the zapper by the time the NES has run its course, making the device seem (in much the same manner as the ) more like a gimmick than an honest part of the NES gaming experience. Most of the light gun titles operated in essentially the same way: shoot all the stuff that pops up onscreen before time and/or life runs out. Despite the fact that it’s kind of hard to screw up this established formula, one title stands on its own as not only the worst zap gun game, but perhaps one of the most terrible NES games of any type: 1990’s Chiller.

be your own dirty harry
Nothing more satisfying that blasting ducks with the Zapper…er something like that.

Based on the , a game which promised – and delivered – some graphic violence and even brief nudity (note: the nudity was cut from the NES version), Chiller comes out of the horror movie universe and takes the premise of the player being a sort of ghost buster, blasting various ghosts and ghouls. Or at least that’s what the manual claims – in reality, one goes through the game not only shooting obvious monsters, but also people who have been strung up in various medieval torture devices. In case it wasn’t obvious given Nintendo’s history of censoring any title that didn’t fall in line with their strict policies with regard to content, Chiller was one of those unlicensed titles released without the Nintendo Seal of Approval, housed not in the traditional solid gray cartridge, but in a slightly misshapen one that’s a sickly-looking shade of light blue. Releasing this game without Nintendo’s approval did allow the developer (American Game Cartridges, who also released the similarly controversial Death Race, a crude predecessor to Carmageddon) to include as much outrageous content in the game as they wanted, but it also meant that the title as a whole plays like it was developed in about fifteen minutes in someone’s basement.

WTF
WTF?

Chiller includes all of four static screens during the entire course of its gameplay, starting off in a graveyard before moving into a haunted hallway and finally into two separate screens which are set in a dungeon. Each screen offers the player the chance to shoot various sprites that either pop up or roam across the screen before a time limit runs out – the graveyard, for instance, has a nun pushing a baby carriage, a hand tossing human skulls into a squirming pit of doom, and even a cheerleader who can be shot to pieces. On each screen, certain objects can be interacted with by targeting specific areas of the screen with the gun, leading to a few genuinely clever moments. In the hallway, a hole can be blasted into the floor so that a woman fleeing from a giant, ghostly face falls to her doom into it and a severed hand can be shot so that it falls to the ground only to be picked up and carried away by a dog. The torture chambers offer even more gruesome interactions: a man suspended above a river of blood can be fed to a crocodile swimming below by shooting the pulley that’s holding him up, while various people can be either blasted apart or tortured to death based on where the player aims the zapper. There’s nothing quite like reaching the final screen, only to be able to not only reduce two chained humans to piles of blood and viscera but also ensure that one unfortunate man’s skull is crushed in a vice.

double wtf
Double WTF???!?

Sound like fun? Well it is…to a certain extent. Unfortunately, a minimal amount of imagination or actual craft has gone into this title. Graphically speaking, Chiller is not only incredibly simplistic but also positively horrendous, appearing to have been one of the first titles made for the NES, not a title that was developed during the system’s heyday. It’s almost laughable to compare this to most anything else that was produced in 1990: games like the positively vibrant Ducktales, Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers, or frankly most any of the hundreds of other NES titles look even more stunning when placed alongside the drab, dull, and utterly lifeless Chiller. The game’s sound scheme (which consists of a single, heinously repetitive music track and a variety of crummy blip bloop sound effects) doesn’t improve the gaming experience at all and actually makes it all the more completely infuriating. Once the player reaches the end of the fourth screen, the game simply repeats an infinite number of times until the player no longer hits enough targets to continue, or he collects every one of a series of “talismans” that appear throughout the game. There’s no honest reward for collecting all the talismans since all one gets is a congratulatory screen of text. Woo! I sincerely doubt any player would honestly want to continue playing this game after a few minutes: there simply is no point.  Did I mention this game is two player?

look it those graphics!
Lookit those graphics!

Speaking from a technical standpoint, the game doesn’t impress either: each time the zap gun is fired, it initiates a black screen in which all potential targets momentarily show up (in a nut shell, this is how the gun detects where the player is targeting and is essential to the gun’s function). On most games which utilize the zapper, this screen appears for such a brief period of time that it’s all but imperceptible to the human eye. The corresponding screens in Chiller, on the other hand, definitely are visible, and since a player can see where all potential targets onscreen are, any sense of honest challenge in the game (at least relating to finding targets) is eliminated.

that makes me wanna play...
Well that certainly makes me wanna play the game….

Knowing that the zapper is incompatible with hi-def televisions, I broke out an old tube TV to test how well the zapper works on this game and was generally unimpressed with the game’s responsiveness. Honestly, this same problem exists on most zap gun games to some extent, but Chiller sets a new standard in how poorly a game responds to zapper input. I should point out that one can play this title using only the controller, but as is typically the case, the game becomes infinitely more difficult and nearly impossible at that point since a target reticule has to be manually (read: slowly) maneuvered around the screen. By the time a player using the controller has been lucky enough to hit a few targets, the time limit will almost certainly have been reached.

hallway
Every screen in the game is seen in this review. As Porky Pig would say…THAT’S ALL FOLKS!

I recall many times looking over the display box for Chiller at the local game rental shop and can now safely say that I am most glad that I did not choose to rent it at any point. (Considering that the cover art proudly proclaims that “Dead People Are Cool,” I’m unsure how I could possibly have resisted this temptation…) It boggles the mind that a game not only this short and unsubstantial but also this undeniably shoddy would even be sold at any point, and I can only imagine how disappointed I would have been had I wasted my hard-earned allowance on a complete P.o.S. like this. While some unlicensed NES titles were equally as good and maybe even better than their licensed counterparts, a truly reprehensible game like Chiller throws a bad light on these frequently quirky, very obscure titles as a whole (I can safely say that the infamous Bible Adventures – you know the game where – looks flawless in comparison). In the end, I would urge any vintage gamer – even those who, like myself, are fascinated with the unloved and neglected titles out there – to avoid Chiller at all costs; surely, there are much better ways to kill time than this.

guillotine

The Weird Side of the Soviet Union: MONSTERS BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN

MONSTERS BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN on Animal Planet

(4/5)

Pros: Well-organized; interesting variety of subjects; more level-headed and objective than is usual for this type of program

Cons: It’s a speculative documentary: some folks just won’t appreciate it; sensationalist title doesn’t represent the material very well

Refreshingly straight-forward in both its presentation and in the various hypotheses it proposes, the two-hour special Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain, which premiered October 26, 2014 on the Animal Planet Channel, stands in stark contrast to increasingly manipulative (and goofy) programs like the previous year’s Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives which handles some of the same subject matter. Directed by Gareth Sacala, Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain operates in much the same manner as an episode of Monsters and Mysteries in America in that it features discussion of a half dozen or so stories of the unknown which originated in and around the former Soviet Union. A few of these stories specifically involve the existence of unknown creatures which seems to be a very popular subject on television these days, but the majority deal more generally with unexplained phenomena.

The real monster
Subliminal messaging: is this the REAL monster behind the Iron Curtain?

The program starts with what in my opinion is its most interesting segment, one which seems to have been pulled straight out of the pages of Dark Matters: Twisted but True: a brief examination of the history of rather unorthodox experiments that took place in the Soviet Union during the 1920s. While researching how organs were controlled by the brain and functioned, scientists and developed the basic techniques by which organ transplants are conducted today, yet hearing about how this duo not only kept the hearts and whole heads of dogs alive after they had been separated from their corresponding bodies, but also created two-headed animals and very nearly reanimated a dead human suggests these scientists may have been willing to push the boundaries of science a bit too far in the name of progress. What’s more shocking perhaps is that even though the former Soviet Union has released some files relating to these experiments, it’s unlikely that anyone will ever really know how far these experiments went. After viewing some of the actual film footage seen here (which includes images of a heart beating independently of its body, one dog’s head being kept alive in a metal bowl and another animal having to fight off the snapping jaws of a second head that’s been grafted onto its neck), I’m not sure anyone would really want to uncover the true extent of these experiments even if the knowledge gained has proven to be invaluable.

WARNING: GRAPHIC! Footage of dog head grafting experiments.

From here, Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain goes through an intriguing, if fairly typical collection of segments and stories, some of which seem more outrageous then others. A viewer hears about the legend of the , a subterranean creature who’s said to spit venom and be able to conduct electricity and delves into the legend of the so-called “” which exists in the remote Siberian forest. This plot of barren land apparently causes death and misery to anyone who ventures near it, leading scientists to debate its true nature as the site of a possible underground fire or maybe even the location where meteoric debris has settled. A from the Caucasus Mountains in which a group of mountaineers was severely burned by an unknown ball of light is investigated, as well as a in which a young medical student attacked fourteen women, killing four. In the wake of the attacks, it was speculated that the man was possessed by a demonic spirit called a , a being which appears to have been at least partially responsible for the modern idea of the vampire. It’s almost expected that a program of this nature at least briefly focus on some sort of Bigfoot story, and this is provided in the form of an examination of the Russian Wildman. The documentary concludes with a substantial inquiry into the fascinating and enigmatic in which nine mountaineers were killed under mysterious circumstances while skiing in the remote Russian wilderness in 1959.


Remains of one of the Dyatlov expedition members. Half the mountaineers died from incredibly traumatic injuries which, according to official government reports, were caused by “a compelling natural force.”

Along with a steady narration provided by Eric Myers, Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain is told largely through interviews with various researchers and investigators and occasionally, the actual people involved first-hand in the stories. Throughout the program, we have a number of well-handled recreations of the situations discussed which hammer home the subjects the talking heads are discussing. I think one of the best things about the program (as mentioned) was its use of sometimes gruesome and disturbing archival film footage and photographs. Some of the segments here are largely recounted through dialogue, but there has been an obvious effort made to add credibility to the eyewitness accounts and people making them whenever possible. Keeping in mind the undeniably sketchy evidence usually presented in these types of shows, I’d have to say that Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain does a fine job of honestly presenting its information. I also appreciated that the program doesn’t automatically go for the jugular and force the viewer to buy into some very outlandish explanation for what’s occurring in these stories. The program for instance proposes that the mysterious ball of light was actually the incredibly rare meteorological phenomenon known as ball lightning, which actually seems plausible in this circumstance, and the Dyatlov incident segment focuses on the notion that a top-secret parachute mine test caused the deaths of the mountaineers. Generally speaking and as might be expected, this documentary doesn’t come up with any real answers, leaving it up to the viewer to make up his own mind with regard to these cases. I thought this sense of ambiguity was welcome when the vast majority of crypto-reality TV shows jump to wild conclusions in five minutes or less.

artists' rendering
Artist’s rendering of the Mongolian Death Worm.

Even if it takes this program less that twenty minutes to conveniently introduce Idaho State University professor Dr. Jeff Meldrum (who shows up in virtually every Bigfoot-related documentary to explain that yes, there is a possibility that previously unknown creatures do exist in the world – just in case anyone needed that point reinforced) as the obligatory “voice of reason” to add some sort of scientific seal of approval for what’s being proposed here, Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain is easily a more level-headed and ultimately better program than dozens of vaguely similar shows that have turned up in the last couple years. Compared to outright fabrications like the Russian Yeti, Megalodon, or Wrath of Submarine which choked viewers with phoniness, this one at least attempts to remain neutral and objective, simply presenting information in much the same manner as a program like Unsolved Mysteries. For that alone, it deserves commendation in an era where sensationalism goes a long way in making a program stand out from the crowd. Monsters Behind the Iron Curtain obviously wouldn’t be counted among the greatest documentaries of our time, but it’s well-done for what it is and should please viewers interested in the paranormal. Recommended.

dog

D.o.A.: KILLING BIGFOOT

KILLING BIGFOOT on Destination America

(0.5/5)

Pros: Fairly serious and more credible than the lot of similar programs

Cons: Everything is very familiar and I simply can’t for the life of me condone this show’s message

With the current, rather pathetic wave of cryptozoological (read: monster) related reality television shows coming to an end and a few weeks before the new season of Finding Bigfoot starts, it was only a matter of time – a week to be exact – before the Destination America channel’s next monster show would turn up. Unfortunately, as this genre as a whole has become ever more phony, goofy and unbelievable, Killing Bigfoot, which premiered on Friday, October 24, 2014, appears to be deadly serious – and, in my opinion, completely reprehensible. Following the exploits of another acronym-defined paranormal research group (the GCBRO – Gulf Coast Bigfoot Research Organization; they have their own hats so that means that must be legit), the show attempts not just to find one of the hairy, bipedal apes rumored to exist in the woodlands of Texas, Lousiana, and Arkansas, but kill one of the creatures to prove their existence once and for all.

Yes, as one eyewitness points out with regard to the unknown hominids, “most people just let ‘em be.” Not our gang of trigger-happy bayou folk. That’s just not how they roll…

oh snap

Working off the same pattern that led to shows like Mountain Monsters, Swamp Monsters, Monsters Underground, and Alaska Monsters (UGH! – that has to be one of the worst quartets of shows imaginable), Killing Bigfoot begins with a brief, stylized introduction to the eight-man team the program revolves around, a group of “vets, ex-cops, and hardcore woodsmen” who are shown in the opening montage cocking huge shotguns and blowing away paper targets shaped like the (in)famous . Multiple people featured in the show are identified as “snipers,” while a few – including one fella who’s name is given as “Grumpy” – are given the task of “investigator”; hell, I was cracking up imagining that the show existed as a deranged version of Snow White and the Seven Dorks. Mainly, this crew goes about the normal monster investigation routine – interviewing witnesses, looking for proof in the swamps and forests of western Louisiana, and conducting night investigations that tread suspiciously close to looking like what one would find on the typical hunting program since they involve multiple people traipsing through the woods with shotguns at the ready. What’s shocking about the show is that, unlike the increasingly preposterous monster-related shows on Destination America channel, the characters…er people featured in Killing Bigfoot don’t seem to believe they’re part of an ongoing hoax or comedic program. These guys really are trying to kill a Sasquatch.

leave it to texas
Leave it to Texas to declare that it’s legal to kill Bigfoot…

Right there, I’m already on the verge of writing this program off on principle alone. To me, that this group of supposed investigators’ first response when encountering an unknown creature – even one that reportedly is mighty similar in both appearance and behavior to human beings – is to “bag it and tag it,” is disgusting. It’s this kind of pompous, gung-ho attitude that has caused many problems in recent years (read into that what you like), and it’s about the most unscientific, irresponsible thing I’ve ever heard when mentioned in regard to the existence of unknown creatures. Sure, a Sasquatch corpse likely would silence all the critics – but I can’t in any way, shape, or form condone the wanton killing of an unknown creature just to prove its out there. In all likelihood, if these creatures do in fact exist (in which case, their habitat is rapidly decreasing due to human population expansion), they’re incredibly rare and by eliminating a breeding member of their population, the survival of the species as a whole is potentially put in jeopardy. All one has to do is examine the history of the , or to see what effect the kind of mentality put forth in this show can have on the animal kingdom.

I know harry, I know
I know Harry…I know.

By autumn 2014, television producers are old pros at making programs of this nature and the ultimate flaw of Killing Bigfoot (aside from its careless main theme of shoot first, brag about it later) is that everything here is painfully familiar. Despite that, I have to admit that this program seems substantially more credible than the likes of Mountain Monsters/Swamp Monsters/Alaska Monsters. First of all, the GCBRO members here don’t just conveniently stumble into the path of the creature they’re seeking: though the show’s narrator informs us that there are “signs of the creatures all around,” we never get any proof of Bigfoot’s existence – or a massive, fabricated pursuit of an unknown beast during the episode. This, in my mind, is indicative of the fact that the producers are at least to some extent attempting to make a more factual, level-headed program whose primary goal is not necessarily just to shock a viewer with how asinine the whole production is (as seems to be the case with most other monster shows).

um
Um…just what is that?

Refreshingly, though the show may feature some of the worst sighting reenactments I’ve ever seen, not one character featured in Killing Bigfoot falls in line with being labeled as the goofball, “wild card” or loose cannon (i.e. the , , or character) – this gang seems dead serious, although this has repercussions in the long run. Namely, the show is nowhere near as entertaining as some of its other, unbelievably ludicrous monster-hunting kin. There isn’t a whole lot of camaraderie on display between team member and there aren’t obvious jokes and wisecracks being traded around continuously – hell, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say the GCBRO was made up of people who hate each other even if they are rather civil about it. As might also be expected, the climactic “night hunt” sequence is pretty low-key – not much of anything happens and the show’s conclusion is more or less ambiguous (even with the obligatory cliffhanger).

told ya
Told you – the GCBRO has its own line of stylish caps. It’s gotta be a legit organization, right?        RIGHT???!?

Ever since Mountain Monsters changed the very nature of the crypto-reality show through the use of obvious fabrication, I’ve been wondering if any producers of this type of program would have the balls to make a show in which a monster wasn’t instantly, inexplicably found and chased down. Dumb as it is, watching a group of actors … I mean “monster hunters” … stumble around in the dark chasing phantoms has its appeal on a purely stupid level. As some have pointed out in the commentary on my no star review of Alaska Monsters, watching the show is like looking at a car crash – and the statement is true. I’ve just never quite come to terms with the fact that in order to watch these shows, I had to give up an hour of my life that would be MUCH better served doing something more rewarding and/or worthwhile. Problematic though it is in many, many ways, Killing Bigfoot to its benefit doesn’t automatically assume its viewers are morons looking for supposed entertainment of the lowest, most idiotic variety (and let’s be honest – most of these monster shows are designed for people who would watch just about anything if it was on TV). In a way, I appreciate its serious tone and apparent focus on faux-authenticity – no documentary can ever be entirely objective, but this show seems vastly more reasonable than many similar shows and for that it deserves some measure of credit.

just what we need...
Just what we need: another monster show, and another bunch of gun-happy “investigators” trying to shoot phantoms…and each other.

Try as I might however, I don’t think anything could ever make up for this show’s main premise as it goes out of its way to pursue its own, unreasonable agenda: when you’ve got multiple persons attempting to convince a viewer that Bigfoot should be killed to protect the residents of Louisiana…and GASP! their grandchildren…I could do nothing except shake my head at the screen. This type of blatant and unfounded paranoia-inspiring fear-mongering is dangerous in terms of what affect it has on viewers and one of the main problems if not the main problem with American media. Is it really us humans who should be afraid of Sasquatch, a creature which, if we’re to judge upon reliable evidence, has never posed any serious threat to people? Or is it Sasquatch who should be afraid of us, a species who not only randomly kills virtually every other animal on earth, sometimes purely for sport, but even kills members of its own species for the most fickle reasons imaginable? You be the judge. I’m giving Killing Bigfoot a half a star and I’d urge most viewers to avoid it.

from on .

Purposely Cheesy but Not Altogether Fun: TALES FROM THE CRYPT PRESENTS DEMON KNIGHT

TALES FROM THE CRYPT PRESENTS: DEMON KNIGHT

image-placeholder

or DVD at Amazon

(2/5)

Pros: Special effects are great; plenty of goop and gore

Cons: It’s done in by an unfunny and painfully predictable script and doesn’t deserve the Tales from the Crypt endorsement

Though it carries the name of the popular EC Comics line that was eventually turned into an HBO horror anthology series, 1995’s Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight was originally planned to be a standalone film unrelated to the comics or series. When finally produced for the screen, a “movie within a movie” wraparound sequence was concocted using the familiar, skeletal “Crypt Keeper” character who’s seen to be in the process of making a feature film of his own. After the introductory segment, the main story of Demon Knight begins, revolving around a battle between good and evil that’s not so far removed from John Carpenter’s underrated Prince of Darkness that hit theaters in 1987 (perhaps not coincidentally the year that the first script for Demon Knight was penned). Somewhere in the American southwest, a mysterious drifter checks in to a dilapidated boarding house. Unbeknownst to the (rather stereotypical) inhabitants of the hotel, this stranger is carrying the only weapon that can be used against so-called “demon knights” that are constantly trying to gain a foothold in the material world. Shaped like a key and containing what amounts to holy blood that originated during the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (cue some very odd flashback sequences), this device comes in handy when a sinister, bald-headed demon inevitably does show up in an attempt to crossover from the spirit dimension, leading to the expected showdown between the forces of light and darkness.

crypt keeper
Yes, the Crypt Keeper has hit the big screen, but is that a good thing?

Playing as a fairly obvious (if ineffectual) tongue-in-cheek horror film, Demon Knight is never quite as clever or funny as it thinks it is or wants to be. Sure, the film occasionally pushes the outrageous factor to extremes and features a sizable amount of carnage and, since it was made before the digital age, some eye-popping practical special effects work, but the underlying script (written by Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris, and Mark Bishop) is way too similar to dozens of other horror films that have turned up over the years. These writers attempt to inject some sense of fun and humor into the proceedings, but despite the occasional one-liner and general sense of absurdity, Demon Knight doesn’t inspire many laughs – or thrills. Director Ernest Dickerson, a one-time protege of Spike Lee, is unable to crank up the intensity in a capable manner and the entirety of the picture seems kind of lazy, suggestive of a director who really wasn’t feeling the material and was simply collecting a paycheck here. It’s not at all surprising that these days, Dickerson does most of his work in the smaller scope medium of television.

mood
Mood throughout the film, at least, is effectively dreary and creepy.

If Dickerson’s direction is pretty languid, some of the other people working on the film at least make an attempt to give it some life. Cinematographer Rick Bota and his lighting staff make sure most every scene here is dark and dreary, establishing an appropriate downbeat and spooky mood. Though Bota’s photography itself is pretty standard stuff, the art department has done a nice job of building and dressing the sets. An opening tracking shot that rolls through a prototypical haunted house to the tune of a classic Danny Elfman main title theme, is magnificent. The special effects are also pretty impressive. Demon Knight includes the usual (large) amount of goop and gore drenching the set and characters and additionally throws numerous severed heads and arms at the camera, but I was most interested in the demons themselves, who are related to the camera through a mixture of masks and prosthetics worn by actors and full-on, very intricate animatronic creations. Even if I don’t think the presentation of these beasts onscreen is quite as good as what one would find in the best horror film, I’d be OK with comparing the quality of the mechanical effects work to what was seen in the 1982 version of The Thing, which in my mind is still a high water mark in terms of cinematic special effects. Looking at the various highly-detailed demons seen in the film, I kind of wish they’d turned up in a movie that was more worthwhile overall: having these slam-bang effects in an overall shoddy movie seems a waste.

Billy zane
A hammy Billy Zane controlling the legions of the undead.

A further surprising element in this film is an accomplished cast: longtime character actor William Sadler plays the drifter guarding the key as a sort of itchy paranoiac who nonetheless comes to the rescue when the going gets rough. He’s joined in his fight against the demonic onslaught by a gaggle of rather cliched characters who are portrayed by actors too good for these roles. CCH Pounder (playing the hard-headed mammy-like owner of the boarding house) and a slim and trim Jada Pinkett (playing an equally stubborn young housekeeper) turn out to be heroine characters, making this film somewhat unique in its presentation of black women occupying these roles. Meanwhile, Thomas Haden Church skulks around the set playing the obligatory scumbag member of the human party who’s all too willing to sell out his compatriots in an attempt to save his own skin, Gary Farmer shows up in the small role of a slightly dim-witted police deputy, Brenda Bakke plays a local prostitute (you just know this hotel had to have one in residence), and Charles Fleischer appears as the buffoon who loves her. Honestly, this group of characters is nearly intolerable when a viewer is forced to witness the obligatory squabbling between them: none of them are developed substantially – or at all – though I suppose one could argue that their cardboard, cookie-cutter nature was part of the “joke” that this movie was attempting to present. Dick Miller as the town drunk doesn’t fare any better than the rest of the cast in terms of his acting of characterization, but I always enjoy watching his goofy performances nonetheless and Billy Zane overacts his behind off playing the slick, utterly nefarious title character whose main job is to tempt the humans into letting him enter their world. It was somewhat amusing to see a borderline ludicrous Zane go all-out developing a quintessentially “evil” character a few years before he’d become the main villain of Titanic.

demon dick miller
How can you not get some sort of kick out of a movie with a demon Dick Miller in it?

Generally speaking, Demon Knight is really nothing to get worked up over, and it’s actually disappointingly mundane considering that it carries the Tales from the Crypt name. It’s hard to entirely get down on a film that throws in a snarling demon version of Dick Miller or a fantasy scene involving a group of topless women trying to shower the camera with booze (keep an eye out for both Chasey Lain and Tracey Bingham during this sequence), but I wish the film wound up seeming more satisfying and original. Full of awkward moments of supposed humor and occasionally drowning in truly awful puns (part of the gimmick of the Crypt Keeper character), it’s no wonder why this script sat on the shelf for years. In the end, Demon Knight is simply a tiresome and perfectly predictable horror effort that’s moderately worthwhile only for its eclectic cast and clever special effects. Most viewers wouldn’t be missing much by skipping it entirely.


Neither the widescreen, standalone disc nor either of two double feature packages (which also include 1996’s equally sketchy ) has any extras aside from a theatrical trailer. I’d probably be inclined to get the two-fer.


8/10 : Gore galore during a handful of demon attack sequences, with lots of gruesome characters lurking about throughout the film.


8/10 : Quite a bit of strong, four-letter profanity and a few crude remarks.


6/10 : A brief but kinky sex scene and a fair amount of topless nudity.


7/10 : Fans of the comics of HBO series would probably have an interest in this, but it’s nothing remarkable.


“If you’re ready creepy, fasten your drool cups and hold onto your vomit bags. We’re going to the movies!”

Trailer:

Why…Just Why? ALASKA MONSTERS

ALASKA MONSTERS

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(0/5)

Pros: May amuse some people, though that may be an indication that there’s no longer any hope left for humanity

Cons: Completely…utterly…hopelessly unnecessary, phonier than a three dollar bill, and dumber than five boxes of rocks

Another week; another positively ludicrous phony monster hunt program. Alaska Monsters is the Destination America channel’s latest entry in the crypto-reality genre, following the exploits of a monster hunting crew located in the “last frontier” of the forty-ninth state. As has come to be the norm, we have the usual gang of characters: team leader “Little Bear,” a trap engineer named Todd, tech specialist Levi, a fellow named Rhett who’s billed as the “rookie,” a trapper named “Face” who’s the obvious “wild card” of the group and finally, a “researcher” who goes by the name of – get ready for it – “Crusty.” This gang, known as the “Midnight Sons” has been tracking creatures in Alaska since 2008 (at least if you believe anything this show is trying to tell you), and in the first episode of the reality show revolving around them, go in search of Alaska’s Bigfoot-like creature that’s known locally as the “Wild Man.”

first episode
On the first episode of Alaska Monsters, the team searches for “security expert” Huckleberry. Wait…that ain’t right…

The program follows the now very well-established monster hunt formula to a ‘T’: it starts with the initial night “recon” mission, involves a few eyewitness accounts (one of whom declares he was “out here gettin’ wood with my dog…” sounds like a personal problem), and sputters towards a final “midnight hunt” that puts the team directly in the path of an imaginary beast created solely through dubbed-in sound effects and blank expressions of fear from the actors…er…team members. Alaska Monsters seems a bit more modern in terms of the gear used during the investigations featured on it: in this first episode, the team not only utilizes night vision and FLIR infrared technology, but also a small drone with a camera mounted on it to survey the nearby landscape. This allows the seemingly misplaced Levi character (who seems not at all at home alongside a group of people one would expect to see waiting in line at the local soup kitchen) a sense of purpose in the show. Rhett, on the other hand, has nary a thing to do throughout the program and I’m not even sure that he takes part in the final night investigation that mainly involves the team tramping around a saw mill with firearms at the ready. After some obviously scripted “suspense” (“Oh no! A production assistant is shaking this blind I’m sitting in!”) and plenty of dubious acting on the part of the cast, the team walks away without a single solitary piece of evidence relating to the creature they’ve been pursuing. The show (like every episode of Mountain Monsters) ends with the crew making vague insinuations and wisecracks about the existence of the creature in an attempt to convince a viewer that he hasn’t just witnessed a load of complete bullshit.

supposedly scary scene
This poorly concocted, “scary” scene stands as the premiere episode’s climax.

It really is astonishing to me that somewhere, some network executive is giving each and every one of these absolutely ridiculous and devastatingly pointless monster programs the green light – and actually spending some money on their production. The ultimate sad fact about shows like this one, Monsters Underground, Swamp Monsters and Mountain Monsters (which lost all credibility or, more importantly, sense of fun it once had during a painful to behold second season) is that they make shows like Destination Truth and even Finding Bigfoot look not only like top-notch entertainment but actually, undeniably credible. Let’s not forget that Destination Truth’s host Josh Gates wasn’t at all afraid to admit that he found no evidence of the at best rare and more probably completely imaginary creatures he was seeking and Finding Bigfoot still has not one solid bit of evidence after five full seasons. The notion of a monster hunt program that doesn’t instantaneously come up with a creature seems almost preposterous in context of this new breed of monster hunt programs exemplified by any of the Mountain Monsters clones that not only invents fictitious and frequently outlandish beasts, but then tries extremely hard through glaringly phony video evidence, sketchy eyewitness reports, and falsified, scripted scenarios to convince the audience of their actual flesh and blood existence. I’m kind of scared to see what happens on the next season of Finding Bigfoot: will that show even continue when it becomes impossible to ignore the fact that there’s still nothing on the hill?

After an overload of absurdly similar and increasingly worthless programs, I would hope that most people would recognize the fact that very few of these monster-related shows are even making any attempt to be authentic in their presentation of content. Hence, it’s impossible for any savvy viewer to take these shows as anything except entertainment – they clearly are not documentaries. That said, it’s surprising how lousy most of them are in the entertainment department, and I think most of that is directly related to the fact that there is absolutely no originality to these shows. Alaska Monsters is a carbon copy of Mountain Monsters, a fact which is best exhibited by examining the characters. Trap builder Todd (much in the way his counterpart Willy does in Mountain Monsters) sets about building the most outrageously elaborate and positively impractical traps one could possibly imagine. In order to catch a Bigfoot-like creature, Todd constructs a “cylinder snare trap” – basically a huge tube with a system in place to close metal wire around a creature trapped inside of it. Why any beast would actually go inside this contraption in the first place is never explained (do these “expert trackers” not realize that their human stench would be hanging over this device like a fog?), and it’s no surprise when something goes wrong with the mechanics of the device and it’s not actually unusable.

acting
ACTING!

Additionally, we have smarmy narration provided by the appropriately named “Crusty,” a guy who seems vaguely unlikable and sleazy (or maybe it’s just that I can’t see the fashion value of the animal claw he wears in his thick, bushy beard) and “Face,” the obligatory “wild card” character who talks in a raspy, cartoonish voice and achieves moments of enlightenment when discussing wild man “doo doo” and imitating Fred Flintstone. I couldn’t possibly make this stuff up. The characters here seem way too “hammy” and almost make Vincent Price performances from the 1970s look restrained in comparison. All in all, there’s simply no way one could take anything in Alaska Monsters seriously – not when “Little Bear,” sporting an outfit that makes him look like a complete d-bag, starts mystically playing a pitch pipe around a campfire and discusses his tendency to “burn sage.” Seriously, where’s Bobo and Ranae when you need them?


So…”Little Bear” (in center) is wearing ass-less chaps, some sort of fur stole, a cowboy hat with the face of a small weasel on it, a fistful of gold rings, and a big, blinging medallion shaped like either a grizzly bear or a domestic hog. And we’re supposed to take this show at all seriously.

I’ve gotten to the point where there’s no way to even describe how atrocious shows like Alaska Monsters really are: this fails horribly as a monster-related program due to not having one iota of credibility, but even as the trashy, clinically dumb piece of populist entertainment that it is, it’s a complete waste, way too similar to other monster hunt shows that any viewer who watches this program probably would be familiar with. The producers don’t seem to be aware of the fact that they’re running this genre of television into the ground through pure, unadulterated, unchecked overkill, and I sincerely hope that someone behind the scenes is making hay while the sun shines, because the genre of the crypto-reality show is very quickly outlasting its relevance and has already overstayed its welcome. Programs like Alaska Monsters not only seem entirely capable of ruining anyone viewer’s interest in the subject of cryptozoology, but make me long for a program where a mysterious creature isn’t instantly located by a group of morons whose idea of “tracking” a creature is whooping, hollering, screaming, and careening through the forest while explaining each and every obvious move they’re making to an audience who is well aware of the absurdity of what they’re watching. I also don’t need any scenes of hobo-looking fellas giving each other a brofist each time they make a smart-ass, scripted remark about a fantasy creature. I never thought I’d say it, but I’m actually looking forward to the new season of Finding Bigfoot just to provide some sort of balance to a genre that’s well out of control at this point – better prepare the lifeboats just in case though…