Review: “Ghost Ship” (Film)

Well, since I was in the mood for a horror movie, I thought that I’d take a look at a film from 2002 that is quite literally called “Ghost Ship” (I wonder what it could be about?).

If I remember rightly, I noticed this film mentioned in film magazines and sitting on shop shelves back in the day and was intrigued by it. Unfortunately, I was only about fourteen or fifteen at the time and many of the video shops nearby had an annoying habit of asking for ID. As nostalgic as I sometimes get about the early 2000s, I’m so glad that I’m not a teenager any more.

Anyway, out of curiosity and nostalgia, I ended up buying a second-hand DVD of this film a couple of weeks before preparing this review. To my delight, not only did this film arrive in one of those wonderfully old-school cardboard and plastic DVD cases, but it also contained this utterly awesome lenticular cover art which makes a skull appear when you tilt it slightly 🙂 Seriously, I miss the heyday of physical media 🙂

So, let’s take a look at “Ghost Ship”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS (and a CREEPY SKELETON. Wooooo!).

This lenticular DVD cover is so cool 🙂 I’d like to see “Net-Flix” do something like this

The film begins in 1962, on board the luxurious Italian cruise liner S.S Antonia Graza. There is a lavish party, complete with big band and glamourous singer, and all of the passengers are enjoying the festivities. Well, everyone except for a young girl sitting on the deck who finds the whole thing utterly boring. Eventually, the ship’s kindly captain takes pity on her and invites her to onto the dancefloor on the ship’s front deck. Meanwhile, someone lurking in the shadows pulls a lever.

I’m sure he’s just turning the central heating on or something… Certainly nothing evil, surely?

Suddenly, the lights on deck begin to explode. A high-tension metal cable breaks loose and scythes its way across the deck – slicing and dicing all of the dancers except for the young girl, who survives by virtue of being very short. Then, in classic horror movie fashion, she lets out a loud scream.

We then flash forwards to the Bering Sea in 2002. A rough and ready salvage crew on board the Arctic Warrior are towing a dilapidated ship back to port when it starts to take on water. Captain Murphy (Gabriel Byrne) and a couple of the crew are eager to let it sink, but tough-as-nails crew member Epps (Julianna Margulies) thinks that she can weld the breach in time. After lots of high-wire acrobatics and some tense moments, she manages to plug the hole with the help of a couple of her friends.

In a dramatic scene that involves both sailing and abseiling, no less.

Back at port, Murphy isn’t really that annoyed about Epps disobeying orders. After all, the team have made a big pile of money from the old ship and are spending some of it in a neon-lit dive bar. Suddenly, a mysterious man approaches their table. He’s a sea-rescue pilot who has spotted a cruise ship adrift at sea and is willing to tell them where it is in exchange for both a cut of the profits and a place on the salvage expedition.

Wow! Their luck just keeps improving! Surely nothing can go hauntingly wrong for them…

The crew agree to his terms and set sail. And, after some mysterious issues with the radar, they almost crash into the floating remains of the S.S Antonia Graza. It’s covered in rust and appears to be slowly sinking. Strangest of all, there doesn’t seem to be anyone left on board. It’s almost like some kind of ghost ship

Who would have thought it?

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that, before I started watching it, I was in a fairly glum mood. By the end credits, I had a huge grin on my face 🙂

Yes, it’s a fairly cheesy mid-budget horror B-movie which is about as scary as a kitten and also includes some angsty late 1990s/early 2000s Nu metal music too. But, this stuff is what makes this film so enjoyable. It’s a gloriously fun “so bad that it’s good” horror movie with a lot of personality, a sense of humour and a wonderful atmosphere. It’s also a reassuring relic from a rose-tinted time when films like this actually appeared in cinemas and survival horror videogames were regularly being released for the Playstation 2.

And, yes, this film is a survival horror videogame at heart 🙂 It takes place in a self-contained location like the old “Resident Evil” videogames (and the first “Resident Evil” film) and it is filled with wonderfully rusty, dilapidated and gloomy set designs that wouldn’t be out of place in one of the old “Silent Hill” games. And, although I haven’t played it, the “abandoned ship” idea was also used as a premise for a game released in 2005 called “Cold Fear“. Not to mention that the 2001 Game Boy Color game “Resident Evil: Gaiden” (anyone remember that?) also takes place on a creepy old ship too. This film is wonderfully evocative of late 1990s/early-mid 2000s survival horror games 🙂

Seriously, this location wouldn’t be out of place in “Silent Hill 3” or something like that 🙂

Although this is a film that will probably only scare you if it is the very first horror movie you’ve ever watched, I still really loved the film’s horror elements. There’s a good mixture of ghostly apparitions, ominous locations, gory moments, some mild psychological horror and even a couple of gloriously corny jump scares that are more unintentionally funny than anything else 🙂

Boo! A scary skeleton! I shouldn’t laugh, but this “jump scare” moment is unintentionally hilarious!

All of this is handled with a knowing theatricality and a gleefully dark sense of humour which more than makes up for the lack of actual scariness here 🙂 Plus, like with 1980s monster novels, half of the fun of a film like this is the fact that you get to feel like an absolute badass when you find yourself totally un-scared by the film’s “horrifying” events.

The film’s special effects, pacing and direction play a large role in this “fun horror” atmosphere. Not only is the reveal of the film’s (utterly silly) film noir-style backstory directed like a cheesy, rapidly-edited music video but even the gruesome opening scene is played as much for hilarious dark comedy (with body parts moving independently of their owners etc…) as it is for actual horror.

Although this film isn’t quite as ultra-gory as I was expecting, this allows many of the film’s grisly and/or bloody moments to have a slightly slapstick quality to them which just adds to the film’s charm.

Add to this the fact that this film mostly consists of “build up” – with the horror elements only seriously coming to the forefront during the last 20-30 minutes, the fact that it has random moments with Nu metal music that are completely at odds with the gothic “1960s” horror atmosphere and the fact that it also concludes with a gloriously silly and random plot twist … and you have a film that – whilst it won’t actually scare you – is just fun to watch. It’s a gloriously cheesy “so bad that it’s good” late-night horror movie that will put a huge grin on the face of anyone with even a vaguely dark sense of humour 🙂

And, yes, this film is funny. In addition to various lines of dialogue, the cheesy neon pink font used in the opening credits, a couple of “laugh out loud” gross-out moments/jump scares and several moments of grisly dark comedy, this film also contains a brilliant parody of a popular horror trope from the early 2000s too. Although the ghostly child that appears on the ship is initially presented in the same “creepy” way that you would expect from other early 2000s horror movies like “The Ring” and “Resident Evil”, she actually turns out to be one of the good guys later in the film. Seriously, I was not expecting this and it certainly made me laugh.

Another awesome thing about this film is the characters. Although you shouldn’t expect in-depth characterisation here, the fact that the main characters are a rough group of salvage hunters means that they are just fun to hang out with. They make corny jokes about each other, listen to cheesy Nu metal, drink beer etc… and are just generally the complete opposite of the boringly “prim and proper” main characters who often turn up in older horror movies. You get a real feeling of friendship and camaraderie in this film that is an absolute joy to experience.

I’d say that this would make a great TV series. But, being a horror movie, you can probably guess what happens to most of the characters…

The best characters are either a hilariously comedic metalhead called Munder or the film’s protagonist, Epps, who actually comes across as a more understated and realistic version of the typical Ellen Ripley-style protagonist you’d expect in a horror thriller. Imagine Starbuck from the 2000s remake of “Battlestar Galactica” and this should give you a vague idea of the kind of cool character she is. Plus, the film’s villain is a wonderfully corny “evil for the sake of evil” character who is quite literally working for the devil. Scary? No. Hilarious? Yes 🙂

And, talking of awesome stuff, I cannot praise this film’s set design and lighting highly enough. Not only does the ruined cruise ship look intriguingly creepy and gothic, but the film is also filled with lots of wonderfully atmospheric lighting that is gloomy enough to create atmosphere whilst also being bright enough to let you actually see what is going on. As I mentioned earlier, this is the kind of film that – visually – wouldn’t be out of place in an old survival horror videogame and it is a glorious visual feast for anyone with a vaguely gothic sensibility and/or memories of when mainstream videogames were better 🙂

You have found the BISHOP KEY. Add this item to your inventory? > YES NO ?

Is it just me or would an air raid siren and lots of radio static be the perfect sound effects here?

All in all, this film was an absolute joy to watch 🙂 It’s a gloriously fun “so bad that it’s good” horror B-movie that is wonderfully evocative of both old survival horror videogames and the early 2000s in general. Yes, it’s a lot more likely to make you laugh than scream, but this is part of the film’s charm. It’s a film that has personality, a sense of humour and lots of entertaining macabre silliness. It’s the cinematic equivalent of one of those old monster novels from the 1980s. Seriously, I miss the days when films like this were a lot more common.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a four. It is quite literally “so bad that it’s actually good” 🙂

Review: “Two Weeks Notice” (Film)

Well, although I’m nearing the later parts of the next novel I plan to review (but am enjoying it so much that I want to slow down and savour it), I thought that it was time to review yet another film. And, since I was also in the mood for another “feel good” romantic comedy, I thought that I’d check out one that I’ve been meaning to watch for quite a while. I am, of course, talking about the 2002 film “Two Weeks Notice”.

I’d vaguely thought about reviewing this film during my “1990s films” series a couple of years ago, but it fell just outside of the time range (eg: 1989-2001) I’d set for the series. So, when a relative asked if I wanted to borrow any of their DVDs for these reviews, I was delighted to find this one in a box set.

So, let’s take a look at “Two Weeks Notice”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

The film begins in New York with a legal aid lawyer and community activist called Lucy Kelson (Sandra Bullock) and two of her friends protesting the demolition of a community theatre by the nefarious Wade Corporation. After managing to delay the wrecking ball for a few minutes with the strategic use of yoga mats, we later see her parents bailing her out of jail. Since they are both experienced lawyers who have a history of standing up for ordinary people, civil rights and local causes, they are proud of her for taking a stand.

And, in classic Hollywood fashion, Lucy is very much a “hippie” character in this part of the film.

Sometime later, Lucy learns that cartoonishly rich businessman George Wade (Hugh Grant) also plans to bulldoze the local community centre. So, after compiling documents about it, she decides to find him and plead the case for keeping the centre going.

And, yes, there’s an obligatory magazine article scene too. I miss the early 2000s.

Meanwhile, George is in a spot of bother. His richer brother, the head of the family’s company, is more than a little annoyed at him for hiring a string of attorneys based on looks and romantic interest rather than on actual legal skill. He gives George an ultimatum to find a good lawyer within the next few days.

When George leaves the office, talking to one possible candidate, Lucy confronts him with a folder of information about the community centre and tries to appeal to his better nature. Their conversation is interrupted by a reporter looking for a statement about the proposed development work. After Lucy inadvertently helps George to give an inspiring and eloquent speech to the press, he asks her to join her in his limo. He has a proposition. He’ll save the centre if she agrees to work as his lawyer.

Naturally, it turns out to be a rewarding and intellectually-stimulating career choice.

Much to the disapproval of her parents and long-distance boyfriend, Lucy accepts. At first, the job goes well and she’s also able to direct a lot of the company’s charitable spending too. However, George starts treating her more like a P.A. than an actual lawyer. And, after calling her in the middle of a wedding to ask her opinion about what he should wear during a TV interview, she hands in her two weeks notice. But, after a series of underhanded attempts by George to get her to stay at the company, the two reluctantly reach a deal. Lucy will find a replacement lawyer if George doesn’t try to stop her working for anyone else afterwards…

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that, whilst it is very stylised, it was still a lot of fun to watch 🙂 It’s also a romantic comedy that pays as much, if not more, attention to it’s comedy elements as it does to the romantic elements of the story 🙂

“Make sure you massage his cloven hoof!”

So, I should probably start by talking about this film’s comedy elements, which are excellent. Although the numerous comedic moments are more “amusing” than “laugh out loud” a lot of the time, the frequency of them really adds a lot of personality and fun to the film.

Although there are some well-placed moments of slapstick comedy (and other comedic set pieces), the bulk of this film’s humour comes from the characters – in particular, the amusing “opposites” relationship and dialogue exchanges between Lucy and George. Both of them are stylised, but amusing, comedic characters and are absolutely perfect.

Although Grant and Bullock aren’t exactly playing against type here, this is what makes the film so excellent. Lucy is the kind of awkward, eccentric, kind-hearted and slightly cynical character that Sandra Bullock excels at. George is the kind of utterly charming, but loveably foolish and endearingly stupid, character that Hugh Grant does so well. As you can imagine, this allows for a lot of amusing comedic conflict and character moments throughout the film.

Such as this scene where Lucy tries to get George to fire her from the company.

Or when George casually calls for a lift home after a bizarre series of events involving tennis, traffic jams, chilli dogs and a mobile home.

Plus, talking of the casting, I was amazed to see David Haig in this film too 🙂 Although he plays his role as George’s miserable, ruthless brother fairly “seriously” and is a much more understated version of the kind of grumpy character he played in classic BBC sitcoms like “The Thin Blue Line“, it’s still really cool to see him in a mainstream Hollywood movie 🙂 And, though he mostly just serves as a foil to Hugh Grant’s character, he still adds an extra something to the film.

Seriously, it was a really awesome surprise to see David Haig in this film 🙂

However, I should point out that – during one brief scene later in the film – Donald Trump has a cameo. Yes, in the 1990s and early 2000s, these cameos were kind of a Hollywood tradition/running joke – but, depending on your opinions about US politics, this scene may briefly ruin the mood of the film when watched today.

In terms of the film’s romance elements, they are better than I’d expected. For most of the film, the relationship between Lucy and George is this weird mixture of friendship, business and antagonism – which fits in well with the film’s unusual premise. They seem like two people who should hate each other but somehow get along in an oddly charming and amusing way.

This antagonism also means that their relationship progresses at a reasonably slow and sensible pace, with the two characters having enough conflict between them to provide the film with a few “serious” dramatic moments whilst still keeping a fairly “feel good” emotional tone.

The film’s dramatic moments add a bit of depth and character to the film, but never really get in the way of the comedy.

Likewise, the fact that their relationship for most of the film is this weird mixture of friendship, antagonism and business also means that the film sets itself apart from many romantic comedies, allowing for a lot more “traditional” comedic moments and situations than you sometimes find in this genre.

Plus, although it’s clear from the outset that they’re going to end up together, the interesting part is how this ends up happening and all of the inner conflict and character development (eg: Lucy is initially eager to find someone to replace her at George’s company, but has mixed emotions after she finds someone etc…) on the way to the expected final kiss just before the credits.

Yes, there are vague elements of a “Fifty Shades”-style dynamic between the main characters in some moments, but the film actually handles this in a suitably irreverent and vaguely intelligent way, with these parts of the film being presented as sources of comedic conflict rather than as anything particularly “romantic”. Likewise, although the giant wealth disparity between the two main characters is a well-worn romance trope, it’s not only played for laughs in many moments but the film also has a rather heartwarming message about money being less important than community, love, friendship etc… Although this is also a rather cliched trope, it’s still kind of refreshing to see it here.

As mentioned earlier, there is actually a fairly good amount of character development. Although this is slightly stylised and predictable- with Lucy going from being an activist and beleagured P.A. to a more confident character and George going from an arrogant, but charming, “more money than sense” businessman to a charming, but somewhat more decent, person – it still adds a bit of extra depth, nuance and humanity to this film’s characters. Who, again, are extremely stylised but somehow still manage to be very compelling.

All in all, this is a much better film than it probably sounds on paper (or, in this case, a computer screen). Yes, it’s incredibly stylised in a lot of ways, but Bullock and Grant turn it into something greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a romantic comedy which works just as well as a comedy (if not slightly better) as it does as a romance. So, if you want a fun, funny and “feel good” film with a quirky and cute main couple, then this one is definitely worth a watch 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a four.

Review: “The Apprentice” By Tess Gerritsen (Novel)

Well, for the final novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d look at something that isn’t technically a horror novel.

Between some point in the 1990s and the 2000s, mainstream publishing avoided horror fiction like the plague. So, novels that would have been classified as “horror” in the 1980s were often published as “psychological thrillers”, “crime thrillers” etc…. instead. And I’ll be looking at one of these novels today.

In particular, I’ll be looking at Tess Gerritsen’s 2002 detective thriller novel “The Apprentice”. This was a book that I found whilst browsing a second-hand bookshop in Emsworth a week or two earlier and, after looking at it, quickly realised that it was probably a slasher movie-style horror novel in disguise.

Although “The Apprentice” is apparently the sequel to another novel called “The Surgeon”, it can be read as a stand-alone novel (due to some well-placed recaps). However, having read “The Apprentice”, I’d advise that you read “The Surgeon” first since the recaps spoil the ending of that novel.

So, let’s take a look at “The Apprentice”. This review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS, but I’ll avoid major ones.

This is the 2003 Bantam (UK) paperback edition of “The Apprentice” that I read.

The novel begins with a segment showing a convicted serial killer witnessing a prison-yard stabbing and thoroughly enjoying the experience. Meanwhile, in Boston, detective Jane Rizzoli has been called out to investigate a grisly corpse that has mysteriously appeared in the middle of the street. After studying the body and talking to some of the other detectives, Rizzoli deduces that it was a bizarre accidental death rather than murder.

However, just after she works this out, she gets a pager message from a detective in Newtown asking her to visit a crime scene. A man has been murdered and his wife is missing. Not only that, the case seems to have some striking similarities to a serial killing case that she solved a year earlier. A case that still haunts her.

Things go from bad to worse when the FBI insists on joining the investigation, several bodies are found in the woods and the killer from Rizzoli’s previous case escapes from prison, eager to team up with the copycat killer and get revenge on Rizzoli….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really compelling, and creepy, detective story. It’s kind of like a mixture between a fast-paced thriller, a gritty police procedural and a horror novel. If you enjoy TV shows like “CSI” and “NCIS”, but wish that there was a bit more horror, then you’ll enjoy this novel.

Whilst this novel isn’t technically a horror novel, there are some brilliantly creepy horror elements here. Although there are well-placed moments of gruesome horror and/or medical horror, the novel focuses more on psychological horror, suspenseful horror and character-based horror.

In addition to offering the reader chilling glimpses into one of the killers’ minds, the novel also focuses on how Rizzoli is haunted by a previous case and also fears that the killers will target her. Seriously, as detective novels go, this one is surprisingly creepy!

In terms of the novel’s detective elements, they’re really well-written. Although this novel is something of a forensic police procedural novel, there are enough traditional detective elements (eg: stakeouts, drama, chases, interviews etc..) to add some compelling variety to the story. In addition to this, there are also some intriguingly mysterious characters, a clever red herring or two and a couple of dramatic plot twists too.

Likewise, the novel’s forensic elements are fairly well-handled, with intriguing clues not being fully explained until later points in the novel when the scientists have had time to study them. Likewise, although there is a lot of medical/scientific jargon in this novel, it is both well-explained and plot-relevant. Not to mention that many of the novel’s forensic scenes also allow for some surprisingly gross moments of horror too.

As for the novel’s thriller elements, they’re really well-written too. This novel moves at a fairly decent pace and, although there is relatively little in the way of action sequences, there are lots of moments of suspense, mysteries, close calls, twists, drama etc.. that really help to keep the story gripping. Likewise, aside from some medical/scientific segments, this novel is written in a fairly fast-paced thriller-like style too 🙂

In terms of the novel’s characters, they’re fairly compelling, if a little stylised. Whether it is Rizzoli, an expert detective who is haunted by her past but has to put on a brave face to avoid criticism from her colleagues (since she is the only female detective in the department). Whether it is the mysterious FBI agent, Gabriel Dean, who wants her thrown off of the case. Whether it is her fellow detectives, the pathologist Dr. Isles or the creepy serial killers, this is a novel with compelling characters.

The only criticisms I have of the characters are the fact that, despite the words “A Rizzoli And Isles Thriller” appearing on the cover, Dr. Isles is slightly more of a background character than you might initially expect (with Rizzoli being the main focus of the story). Plus, the two serial killers are also given ludicrously melodramatic nicknames by the police (eg: “The Surgeon” and “The Dominator”), which adds some unintentional comedy to the story.

Not only that, whilst the relative lack of characterisation for “The Dominator” adds a certain level of mysterious creepiness to him, it also feels like a missed opportunity for some even creepier narrative segments than the ones from “The Surgeon”‘s perspective.

In terms of the writing, it is really good. Most of the novel uses fairly “matter of fact” thriller novel style third-person narration, but there are also some first-person perspective segments from the perspective of one of the killers. These are clearly signposted via italic text, written in a more formal style and, in a creepy touch, are also narrated in the present tense too. The mixture of these two styles of writing works surprisingly well and really helps to add some extra drama and variety to the story.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 411 pages, this novel is a little on the long side, but this is fairly typical with thriller novels. Plus, thanks to the novel’s thriller elements, the pacing is really good too 🙂 This is a much more fast-paced novel than a “traditional” detective novel, with lots of dramatic, suspenseful, mysterious and/or creepy moments sprinkled throughout the story to make you want to read more 🙂

All in all, this is a really brilliant blend of the detective, horror and thriller genres 🙂 If you’re a fan of any of these three genres, then you’ll really enjoy this book 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Partial Review: “Enclave” (PC Version) (Retro game)

Sometimes, there are reasonably enjoyable games that get overlooked. A computer game from 2002 called “Enclave” is one of those games. I hadn’t even really heard of it before until I happened to notice it during a sale (where it had been reduced to about 99p) on GOG a couple of weeks before I prepared this partial review.

And, yes, this will be a partial review. Basically, due to getting distracted by other stuff, I’ve only got up to the final level of the game’s “light” campaign. So, this will be more than just a ‘first impressions’ article, but less than a proper full review.

So, let’s take a look at “Enclave”:

“Enclave” is a fantasy-themed “hack and slash” action game from 2002. Interestingly, the game lets you choose whether you play as the “light” or “dark” side in an epic Tolkien-esque fantasy story. However, it seems like the “dark” campaign doesn’t unlock until you complete the “light” campaign – so, this review will just focus on this one side of the story.

To sum up the story of the “light” campaign – you have to escape from prison, defend a small city from the forces of darkness and then go on an epic quest across a nightmarish wasteland in order to find and gain the support of various allies. Just imagine all of the epic parts from the “Lord Of The Rings” films and this will give you a fairly good idea of what to expect:

You. Shall. Not. Pass!!!!!!! … And, yes, you can play as a wizard in some of the later levels.

The game also occasionally includes some vaguely steampunk elements too – like this vaguely “Riven”/”Myst”-like location.

And, yes, the “Lord Of The Rings” movies are an excellent comparison to make. This is mostly because the bulk of the “light” campaign involves fighting goblins, orcs etc…

Although there are some mild puzzle-solving elements occasionally, this game is a proper action game – in that you will be spending most of the time swinging swords, shooting arrows or casting spells.

And, some parts of the game look like a heavy metal album cover too 🙂

Although the hit detection in this game is a little clunky and the combat can feel a little bit imprecise at times, it is kept reasonably fun and interesting due to the variety of enemy types, the challenging difficulty, a few boss battles, the fact that this game is almost like a heavy metal album (except for the music) in videogame form and the level of character customisation available.

Technically, you play as a group of characters… and they all actually appear in one cutscene.

Although you start the “light” campaign with just one character (the knight), more characters become available as the game continues.

Each character has different strengths and weaknesses, and you can also choose their weapons, armour etc.. too. These things are unlocked by completing levels and by finding in-game bonus items (and, unlike in greedy modern games, you can only get in-game gold by earning it via gameplay 🙂).

See that cool-looking fiery sword. You’ll actually unlock it via gameplay 🙂 Yes, this game is from the glorious age before *ugh* micro-transactions were a thing 🙂

This high level of customisation also means that, if you’re having trouble with one level, then you can try it with a different character type or with different weapons.

The character types are sort of what you’d expect, and the best character in the “light” campaign is probably either the “halfling” character – who is a badass heavy metal/punk warrior who has scary facial tattoos, can move quickly, can use the game’s best swords, who grins maniacally whilst fighting etc.. or the “knight” character – who is a badass Roman gladiator/barbarian style character, and is also pretty metal too.

Once you’ve got some decent armour (as opposed to the default crop top) and a good shield, then the halfling is probably the best character in the game.

You can also play as a cool Roman gladiator/barbarian-style character too 🙂

The worst character is probably the “druid” character, who is an elf-like character who has little to no protection against damage (probably due to wearing a swimming costume into battle) and has a few magic-based attacks that are shared with a much cooler Gandalf-like wizard character you can unlock later.

Plus, some characters only become good later in the game when more weapons become available. The “huntress” character is a good example of this. She’s a character who specialises in using longbows and crossbows. Whilst she is playable from the second level onwards, she’s only really a good choice a few levels later – when you can equip her with some of the more powerful bows and arrows, and when you’ll find yourself in situations where you’re faced with fighting long-range adversaries from a distance.

Although the huntress is playable from the second level onwards, she’s a terrible choice for levels that involve lots of close combat (like the second level).

In terms of level design, this game is reasonably good. Although most of the levels are reasonably linear, there are occasional non-linear segments, set pieces and easy puzzles that help to prevent it from becoming monotonous. Not only that, the variety of locations on offer in this game is pretty good too:

There’s even a really awesome “Ancient Rome”-style level too 🙂

Which even includes a beach area and a gladiatorial arena too 🙂

But, saying all of this, it is very clear that this game was originally designed with consoles (rather than computers) in mind. This is most notable with regard to the game’s saving system.

Whilst you can go back and play levels that you’ve completed, you can’t save mid-level. Although most levels feature mid-level checkpoints (which penalise you 10 gold whenever you use them, meaning your gold counter doubles up as a “lives” system), the only way to save your progress is to let the game auto-save at the end of each level…. and only at the end of each level.

Yes, if you leave the game after finding a mid-level checkpoint, then you’ll have to restart the entire level next time…

Since some of the levels can take 15-30 minutes to complete and since the difficulty level of some of the later levels is very much on the challenging side of things, this can cause a lot of frustration! Still, thanks to the character customisation and the relatively short length of the levels, it won’t take too long before you’ll feel like having another go at the more challenging levels.

Plus, this saving system encourages you to play the game in shorter bursts, which means that the combat won’t feel as repetitive as it might do if you played for longer periods of time.

In terms of music, voice-acting and general presentation, this game is fairly good. Whilst it would have been cool if there had been heavy metal music on the game’s soundtrack, the game’s more traditional “epic fantasy” music is pretty cool.

Likewise, the game’s animated menus and pre-rendered cutscenes still look pretty impressive to this day (less so with the in-game cutscenes though). The voice-acting is a little bit more variable, but there isn’t that much of it and even the cornier examples of it are “so bad that it’s good”.

One thing that helps with the pre-rendered cutscenes is that they mostly involve looking at a book, which is probably easier to render realistically with early-mid 2000s computer graphics.

In terms of length, this game is fairly reasonable. Although the “light” campaign contains 14 levels (some of which are fairly challenging) and probably at least 10-20 hours of gameplay, the fact that there is another campaign (the “dark” campaign) that can be unlocked when you complete this means that this is anything but a “short” game.

All in all, this is a fun (if occasionally frustrating) epic fantasy action game. If you like heavy metal album covers, gleefully mindless action games, the epic battle scenes in the “Lord Of The Rings” movies and things that are “so bad that they’re good”, then you’ll absolutely love this game 🙂 Yes, it certainly isn’t a perfect game, but it is something of an overlooked gem and it’s worth picking up when it goes on sale…

If I had to give what I’ve played of this game a rating out of five, it would just about maybe get a four.

Review: “Resident Evil” (Film)

Well, after reviewing “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” recently, I thought that I’d go back and take another look at the first film in the series.

Although I ended up buying a DVD boxset of the first four films (since it was actually cheaper to buy this second-hand than buying the films individually), I don’t know how many more of them I’ll end up reviewing.

Anyway, “Resident Evil” is a film that I first saw at the cinema when I was thirteen. Ever since I read in a games mag that they were turning this videogame series into a film, I just had to see it (and, luckily, getting into the film under-age wasn’t as difficult as I had feared). I was so excited! It seemed like it would be the coolest thing in the world. But, when I actually saw it, I felt somewhat cheated. The film seemed to be very different to the games that I had enjoyed so much.

But, given how my reaction to seeing “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” changed when I revisited it as an adult, I was curious to see if what I’d think about the first film in the series would be any different over a decade and a half later. And, yes, seeing this film again totally changed my opinion of it.

Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS. Likewise, the film itself contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS/IMAGES, but I don’t know if they’re intense enough to cause problems.

“Resident Evil” is a sci-fi/horror film from 2002 (starring Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius and James Purefoy) that is very loosely based on the “Resident Evil” videogame franchise.

The film begins with a voice-over that explains how the Umbrella Corporation has become one of the most powerful corporations in America. The film then cuts to one of the company’s secret underground laboratories, where a vial of mysterious blue chemical is released by an unknown character.

Don’t worry, the vial is made out of CGI – it’ll be fine!

A while later, the facility suddenly goes into emergency lockdown. The lifts begin to malfunction dangerously and the facility’s central computer looks on impassively as the crowded hallways are flooded with halon gas and the sprinkler systems begin to drown the scientists working in the laboratories.

Remember, safety first!

Back on the surface, a woman called Alice wakes up in the bathroom of a stately home with no memory of who she is or why she is there. After she explores the house for a while and encounters a mysterious man, a team of masked commandos suddenly burst through the windows.

They arrest the man and tell Alice that she is one of the company’s operatives. They have been sent to the house in order to investigate what has happened in the laboratory below, and they want to take Alice and the mystery man with them…

Well, this journey isn’t going to end well…

One of the very first things that I will say about this film is that it is much better than I remember. Unlike the action-packed sequel, this is a proper horror film.

Although it still has a sensible running time (97 minutes), this film actually takes a decent amount of time to build up suspense and atmosphere – with the first zombie attack not even happening until 37 minutes into the film. Likewise, although there are certainly thrilling moments of action in this film, the emphasis is much more firmly on horror, suspense and storytelling than action.

Unlike in the sequel, these types of scenes are the exception rather than the rule.

The fact that most of the film takes place in a confined underground laboratory really helps to add a sense of claustrophobia and tension to the film. This is in keeping with the spirit of the classic “Resident Evil” videogames, even if the characters and the details of the story are very different.

The film’s suspense is further increased by the fact that the laboratory is being run by a sociopathic artificial intelligence called the Red Queen, who has no compunction about killing people.

Likewise, when the zombies appear in this film, they often appear in overwhelming hordes that the main characters have no chance of actually defeating. This usually means that the characters often have to rely on their wits more than on their guns, which also increases the level of suspense in the film dramatically. The fact that the characters also realise that they only have a limited time to escape the facility helps with the suspense too.

Yes, the characters actually have to rely on their brains (in order to stop the zombies eating them).

As for the horror elements of this film, they work reasonably well. Although this film probably won’t give you nightmares, there’s a good mixture of jump scares, grisly moments, atmospheric horror, body horror, monster-based horror and character-based horror.

In terms of the characters, this film is reasonably good. Although there isn’t really that much in the way of deep characterisation, the characters often come across as vaguely realistic soldiers and operatives, rather than superhuman action heroes. Likewise, this is one of those 1990s-style thriller films where there is slightly more focus on teamwork than on individual heroics too. The film’s cast all put in a reasonably good performance too, with no glaringly obvious examples of bad acting.

The film’s special effects are reasonably decent for the time too. For a film made in the early 2000s, some of the CGI effects are good- with the highlights being both the film’s famous “laser grid” scene and the Red Queen’s creepy hologram.

Because you can’t have sci-fi without lasers!

Some of the film’s CGI monsters and CGI models look a little bit dated though. However, many of the film’s effects seem to be timeless practical effects, which still work reasonably well.

In terms of the film’s set design and lighting, it’s fairly good. A lot of the film takes place in an underground lab that looks both coldly futuristic and ominously disused. As you would expect from a sci-fi horror film, there’s also a decent amount of cool-looking high-contrast lighting. However, the film also uses bright, harsh cold lighting reasonably often too.

Not only is the lighting wonderfully ominous here, but this office looks both old and futuristic at the same time.

And this area looks a little bit like something from the “Alien” films 🙂

Not to mention that there’s quite a bit of cool high-contrast lighting too 🙂

As for the film’s music, it’s reasonably good. Especially near the beginning of the film, the music is often used to build tension and suspense in a reasonably effective way. Another stand-out moment is that Slipknot’s “My Plague” plays during the end credits. Even though I’m not a massive Slipknot fan (although “Wait and Bleed” is a pretty good song), this song is surprisingly catchy and it has a really cool chorus.

All in all, this is a reasonably decent sci-fi/horror film. Whilst the characters and the story differ greatly from the games it is based on, it is at least reasonably close to them in spirit. Instead of being a ridiculously fast-paced action movie, it is a slightly slower-paced suspenseful horror film (with some fast-paced moments). And, on it’s own merits, it’s actually a reasonably good film.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Review: “Rock In Rio [DVD Version]” By Iron Maiden

Well, since I’m still in something of a musical mood at the moment, I thought that I’d take a break from talking about Nightwish and look at something by one of my other favourite bands – the one and only Iron Maiden. In particular, I’ll be taking a look at their “Rock In Rio” concert DVD boxset from 2002.

This was the very first Iron Maiden DVD that I ever got (my first Iron Maiden CD was either a charity single taken from this album, or the CD bonus tracks on the “Carmageddon II” game disc) and, despite the fact that one of my favourite T-shirts is based on the cover art for this DVD, it was something that I’d forgotten about slightly. It had languished unwatched for years on the shelf above my computer until, during a slight moment of boredom shortly before writing this article, I decided to dig it out again….

Wow! I can’t believe that this DVD is over 15 years old! How time flies!

Rock In Rio” is a recording of Iron Maiden’s set at the Rock In Rio festival in Brazil in 2001.

This was about a year or two after Bruce Dickinson rejoined the band following several years apart from them, and the DVD is something of a celebration of both this and of the beginning of Maiden’s more “modern” phase. Gone is the more falsetto-heavy sound of Bruce’s original time with the band during the 1980s and 1990s. Instead, it is replaced by a slightly louder, deeper and more serious singing style that is synonymous with Maiden’s more current stuff.

Scream for me Brazil!!

Although it probably took place during the tour for Iron Maiden’s then-new “Brave New World” album, Rock In Rio’s two-hour setlist is crammed with classic songs, with only about five songs from “Brave New World” making their way onto the stage. But, since “Brave New World” is probably one of Maiden’s weaker albums (if such a thing even exists), the classics-filled setlist really helps to show the band at their best.

One interesting thing here is that Bruce also sings both old songs that were originally performed by Paul Di’Anno (“Wrathchild”, “Iron Maiden” and “Sanctuary”) and, more surprisingly, two songs from Blaze Bayley’s then-recent tenure with the band (“The Clansman” and “Sign Of The Cross”).

Needless to say, he brings his own unique interpretation and energy to these songs, turning Di’Anno’s more punkish renditions of these songs into something closer to modern Iron Maiden and turning Bayley’s broodingly dramatic performances into something even more epic and dramatic.

Seriously, I cannot praise Bruce’s rendition of “Sign Of The Cross” in this concert highly enough! It is, by far, the stand-out track on the DVD. Perhaps even the definitive interpretation of the song in question. He takes a solemn, ominous, emotional song and turns it into ten minutes of spine-tinglingly energetic passion and menacing quietness.

The Siiiiiigggnnnn Offff The Crrrrooosss!!!!!!

In terms of Iron Maiden’s performance, they are as energetic and enthusiastic as you would expect – with each song roaring loudly through the speakers as Bruce Dickinson runs and leaps around the stage in his usual fashion, whilst the other band members swagger around and have fun.

There isn’t a weak or lacklustre performance during any part of the concert. All of this passion and energy is emphasised through a lot of fast video editing, which rarely lingers on a single shot or camera angle for more than a few seconds.

Of course, all of the movement and quick editing makes getting screenshots for this review a bit of a challenge. But, oh well…

Seriously, if there’s one thing to be said for this concert, it is that the band are having fun. And it is a joy to watch! Bruce occasionally makes amusing comments to the audience, whilst the other members of the band do all sorts of hilariously silly and/or cool stuff, like throwing their guitars into the air. You really get the sense that these are six expert musicians who love nothing better than putting on a great show.

And what a show it is! The stage design, lighting design and filming still stands up to this day! Unlike the more limited concert halls from many of their earlier live videos (and the one time I actually saw them live – at a theatre in London in 2006), the band take full advantage of the extra real estate offered by the gargantuan outdoor stage. Multicoloured lights glow beautifully in the darkness, a helicopter hovers above the festival to provide a few dramatic aerial shots, and then there’s the stage design itself.

Seriously, this is one of the coolest-looking stages that I’ve ever seen!

It is truly epic!

The stage is filled with scaffolding and corrugated metal panels, which help to lend the stage a slightly “dystopian sci-fi” kind of look, whilst also providing a handy climbing frame for Bruce during a few instrumental moments. The backdrop changes several times during the set, varying between art from the band’s albums and a plain black background.

And, yes, Derek Riggs’ awesome cover art for “Number Of The Beast” also makes a welcome appearance too 🙂

Needless to say- later in the set – the band’s mascot Eddie makes his appearance. This time, he’s a giant wicker man filled with pagan-style dancers.

Surprisingly though, Eddie doesn’t appear during “The Wicker Man” at the beginning of the concert, but during “Iron Maiden” (about two-thirds of the way through the show) instead.

Naturally, Eddie also has glowing red eyes too. Because, would you expect anything less?

My only real criticism of this DVD has to do with the packaging. For some reason, the discs are packaged inside a thin cardboard sleeve and held in place by two sticky pieces of sponge. To call this flimsy would be an understatement!

In fact, when I opened this DVD case after quite a few years, both discs almost fell onto the floor and the piece of sponge holding the special features disc in place seemed to be missing. Needless to say, this has caused scratching to both discs and, to my horror, I found that a few moments of the concert disc were unplayable as a result. Likewise, when I put the concert disc back into the case, I had a rather difficult time getting it to sit back on the spongy circle, which seemed to have expanded somewhat.

As for the special features disc, I didn’t really have time to rewatch it before writing this review but, from what I can remember of it, it contains documentary footage of the band during their time in Brazil, as well as interviews with the band etc….

I might be confusing it with another Iron Maiden DVD but, if I remember rightly, one of the cool things I remember from watching this disc when I was a teenager was the fact that it contained a few silly little easter eggs hidden throughout the various menus etc…

All in all, DVD packaging aside, “Rock In Rio” has stood the test of time surprisingly well. It is two hours of pure energy and passion, and it is an absolutely stellar introduction to the band if you’ve never heard them before. If you’re looking for an epic music video, you can’t go wrong with this one! Whether you watch it in one sitting or just skip from song to song, it’s something that can be enjoyed again and again.

Yes, it might lack some of the pyrotechnics and/or background animations that characterise more modern concert footage from metal bands, but it is still pretty much timeless.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least five.