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Posts tagged “1998

Fright Fest 2018: John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998)

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One thing horror fans love to do is debate which film marked what is historically known as The Decline of John Carpenter. Some believe it began with the final chapter of Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy, In the Mouth of Madness. Others waggle disdainful fingers at his comedy misstep, Memoirs of an Invisible Man. There’s never a right answer to speculation such as this, but one thing practically everyone agrees on is that Vampires does not belong in the conversation when discussing John Carpenter’s classics.

To a certain extent, it’s a salient point. Carpenter’s latter-day career has often been considered inferior by hardcore fans of the director, preferring to focus on his output during the 1980s. The 1990s were a time when Carpenter could have used a monster hit. Vampires wasn’t it, only recouping its $20 million production budget by a few hundred thousand dollars. General audiences were less than impressed, giving the film a Cinemascore grade of D+.

There’s a reason for this, but it may not be the one you’re expecting. That’s because Vampires isn’t a horror movie.  Continue Reading

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Universal Monsters in Review: Pinball Wizard

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The history of pinball games is an interesting subject. The 1930s, the same as the Universal Monster era, is ultimately when the game began, though an argument could be made for the development of the machine since the 1700s in the form of Bagatelle, a billiard indoor table game. Starting in the 1930s, there were Payout Pins, in which coins would drop out of the game, and Flippers, a Penny Arcade game where the players used a “bat” to launch balls into a scoring mechanism and even an early era pinball game called TILT! The exclamation point was to further the excitement one ought to feel when playing the game. By 1936, the invention of pinball bumper came about, consisting of coiled springs that allowed the ball to rapidly bounce around the playfield, forever changing the modus operandi of pinball. Pinball was also not without its enemies. In a 1957 article published by Better Homes and Gardens, advocates called for the ban of pinball games. Some American cities had already fallen suit, in January of 1942, New York mayor LaGuardia banned the game throughout his city, which wouldn’t be overturned until the 1970s. The issue advocates and lawmakers were having was a failure to distinguish slot machines from pinball machines and the fact that many just wanted to play pinball for the sheer enjoyment of the game. Starting in the 1980s and running through the 90s is when horror themed pinball machines really took off. Some of the most popular ones included Freddy: A Nightmare, The Addams Family, Gorgar, Scared Stiff, Elvira: Party Monster, Twilight Zone, and Monster Bash, just to name a few. These games gave players another way of experiencing the universe of their favorite monsters, including those of the 1930s-1940s Universal variety. Here to talk to us some more regarding Universal Monsters most infamous pinball game, Monster Bash, is our guest author, Kit Power.

Monster Bash

By: Kit Power

Because I know what y’all were really thinking as you slogged through my four thousand word essay on ‘The Bride Of Frankenstein’, back in March – ‘Yeah, yeah, Kit, all well and good, but can’t you tell me more about this pinball table?”

Your wish is my command.

Before I start, though, in the interests of honesty, I have to confess something important: I haven’t played the physical table. I love pinball but was born about ten years too late for the heyday. One of the very, very few positive things about growing up in the ass end of North Devon was that there were two local pubs that still had machines. So I got to play Star Trek: The Next Generation, Judge Dredd, and later the Tommy table (based on the musical). ST and JD just ate my money, for the most part, but Tommy I absolutely owned – I remember one afternoon going in there with a single pound coin (which back then got you 3 credits) and playing for over 3 hours.

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But that was ‘98 or ‘99, and the art of pinball was already dying. Seeing a table in the wild is a rarity these days, and the time when any arcade of a decent size had a whole rack of them is long gone.

Luckily for shut-ins like me, there is, at least, Farsight Studios and The Pinball Arcade.

The press release version is, they buy real tables, take them apart, photograph each bit, then render them in 3D software, emulating the actual ROM used in the original machine to simulate the experience with as much fidelity as possible. Now, I only have one data point for this, because the Star Trek table is so far the only one they’ve digitized that I’d previously spent any time with, but I can say with some confidence that they have absolutely nailed the physics and feel of that table, so I have no reason to suppose that their talents are not similarly in evidence on the other tables in the collection. So, what follows is based on the experience of playing a simulation of the table rather than the thing itself. That bucket list moment will have to wait for when Tarantino comes knocking for the film rights for GodBomb! Hey, I can dream. 🙂

So, Monster Bash – as previously noted, a 1997 table by Williams, of which 3361 units were manufactured, according to Farsight Studios. The plot of the table (no, really) is that six of the iconic Universal Monster crew – The Creature from The Black Lagoon (hereafter Gil), The Bride, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy, Dracula, and The Wolfman – are putting a band together, with the end goal of playing a gig in ‘Transylvania Square Gardens’.

Of course.

To achieve this – well, it’s pinball. Keep the ball in play, and hit a lot of shots.

Or, in more detail…

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So there’s six creature games, each of which has ‘win’ states, which award the instrument for that creature (Gil plays Sax, The Bride is on vocals so claims a microphone, The Monster has an organ(!), Dracula is on lead guitar, with The Mummy on Bass and The Wolfman, of course, on drums). Playing all six games, win or lose, sets up the ‘Monster Bash’, which is the table’s wizard mode. Wizard mode is basically the ‘win’ state of a pinball game. Typically a multiball with a generous ball saver period (meaning 30 – 45 seconds where any balls you lose are replaced) and huge jackpots on all targets. If you’ve ever looked at the mind-boggling high scores on a pinball table and wondered how they were achieved – wizard mode is how. It’s always tough to achieve, and aside from Tommy, something I’ve never managed in real life (brag – though for Tommy, I managed it three times in one game).

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There is a fun wrinkle with Monster Bash, which is this: If you manage to ‘win’ each of the monster missions and claim the instruments, you enter a kind of super wizard mode called ‘Monsters Of Rock’, where the targets are worth even more, and the ball saver stays active for longer. If you can get that done before activating the Monster Bash, there’s a substantial bonus, but I’ve never managed that.

 

Here’s a quick breakdown of each of the monster missions:

FULL MOON FEVER: Shoot the left and/or right orbit 4 times to light a full moon and start the mode. You then have 45 seconds to shoot the orbits as many times as you can, scoring the full moon fever jackpot each time you do so. Score 4 full moon jackpots to claim the drum kit for ‘Wolfie’.

  • MUMMY MAYHEM: Hit the jets 45 times to uncover the sarcophagus and light mummy mania in the drop target. Once the drop target is hit to start the mode, shoot the orbits, ramps, and central spinner to score mummy mania jackpots. Score 7.5 million points to win the game and light the bass guitar.
  • BALL AND CHAIN: Shoot both ramps 3 times each to start the ball and chain game. Shoot both ramps a further 3 times each in 40 seconds to win the game and light the microphone.
  • DRAC ATTACK: Shoot the Dracula target on the right-hand side to spell the word DRACULA (the first time through you only need to do this 4 times, as the first three letters are lit for you). This lights Drac Attack in the drop target. Once you shoot that, a model Dracula will pop out of a coffin on the right-hand side of the play area and move slowly back and forth. Hit him five times with the ball to win the mode and light up his guitar.
  • CREATURE FEATURE: Shoot the far left target gully 4 times. On the fourth time, Creature Feature mode begins. Shoot each of the lit targets (both ramps, both orbits and the central spinner (though you can also shoot the left gully as a substitute) to win the mode and light the saxophone.
  • IT’S ALIVE MULTIBALL: To start this mode, shoot The Monster target in the center left of the playing field 7 times to build the monster. The target will then lift up, revealing a ramp. Shoot the ramp to start the multiball. Score jackpots by shooting the flashing targets, and score 6 super jackpots (by hitting the monster) to light the organ.

With me so far? Excellent. Now, let’s talk strategy…

Because beyond ‘keep the ball in play’, there are some useful tips. For example, if you complete three monster modes, an extra ball is lit, and if you go through to the Monster Bash mode and ‘loop’ the table, this chance is restored the second time through as well. Also, the monster game modes are stackable – as in more than one can be running at the same time. Even better – if you start the ‘It’s Alive!’ multiball the timer on the other games stops, which is really handy with games like Ball and Chain, where hitting 6 ramps in 40 seconds can often be a bit of an ask.

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Also, if you complete the skill shot by using the flippers to make sure the ball falls through the lit target post launch, you’ll get an item, such as a garlic clove or spear gun, that can be used to reduce the difficulty of the monster mission by one (A silver bullet, for example, scores you a free ‘full moon fever’ jackpot once that game mode has started). You use the items by pressing the launch button – pleasingly, there’s nothing in-game to tell you this, it’s just a neat little thing you discover through play – or, I guess, not.

And really, it’s a game of neat little touches. The sound is great throughout, with the side comments by the cast (“I hope he’s tall and handsome like you, doctor!” from The Bride, for instance, or “Somebody fetch me a razor!” from The Wolfman) amusing enough that they don’t grate on repeated playing. Similarly, while the table is relatively fast and the ramp entrances not over generous, it’s far from impossible to play, with a little practice. The single toughest shot is The Monster, not because he’s hard to hit but because the rebound tends to send the ball down the center gully with depressing frequency, but on the other hand, if you are anything like as bad as me at pinball, you’ll hit it with glancing blows enough times while aiming elsewhere to unlock the mode organically after a while.

And sure, it is both shlocky and goofy – they’re none of the horrors of the original tales here, this is strictly played for laughs, and if the idea of that offends you, this is probably not the pinball table you’re looking for. That said, there’s also an unmistakable ring of affection to the whole thing, if not outright love.

And if nothing else, it led me, by and unlikely and circuitous route involving the author of this blog, to finally actually watch The Bride Of Frankenstein on Blu-ray. For that alone, this pinball table will always hold a special place in my heart.

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Kit Power lives in the UK and writes fiction that lurks at the boundaries of the horror, fantasy, and thriller genres, trying to bum a smoke or hitch a ride from the unwary. In his secret alter ego of Kit Gonzo, he also performs as front man (and occasionally blogs) for death cult and popular beat combo The Disciples Of Gonzo. He is the published author of such works as, GodBomb!, Lifeline, and has contributed to numerous anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts, Widowmakers, and upcoming Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers.

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FIGHT THE FUTURE: X-Files in review

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With all the hoopla going on, in anticipation of the return of Dana Skully and Fox Mulder in the 6 episode event starting up in January 2016, I though it’d be a good idea to revisit not just the television show, but also the movies. Here, I want to focus more or less on Fight the Future, the 1998 cinematic debut of the X-Files from boob-tube to movie theaters. Personally speaking, and I’m sure many of you will agree, the X-Files defined my 1990s television experience, introducing ideas in a compelling narrative about two FBI agents who couldn’t be further apart, but are yet drawn together through circumstance, all-the-while, the outside world seems to be encroaching upon them, where friends are rare and trust is precarious.

As the show airs in 1993, we are guided into the dark and deary basement office of one Fox Mulder who has been, more or less, red flagged for his strange and unorthodox methodology and theories. Fox, in his own words, believes he is “the key figure in an ongoing government charade, the plot to conceal the truth about the existence of extraterrestrials. It’s a global conspiracy, actually, with key players in the highest levels of power, that reaches down into the lives of every man, woman, and child on this planet, so, of course, no one believes me. I’m an annoyance to my superiors, a joke to my peers. They call me Spooky. Spooky Mulder, whose sister was abducted by aliens when he was just a kid and who now chases after little green men with a badge and a gun, shouting to the heavens or to anyone who will listen that the fix is in, that the sky is falling and when it hits it’s gonna be the shit-storm of all time” (Fight the Future, 1998). Dana Skully acts as his counterpart, the yin and yang so to speak, of the duo. She’s the rationalist, balancing the supernatural and keeping Mulder rooted. As Fox says regarding the relationship, “But you saved me. As difficult and frustrating as it’s been sometimes, your God-damned strict rationalism and science have saved me a thousand times over. You kept me honest. You made me a whole person. I owe you everything, and you owe me nothing. I don’t know if I want to do this alone. I don’t even know if I can” (Fight the Future, 1998). And as we can extrapolate from his tone in the 1998 movie, their relationship develops over time. Dana started out as an outside perspective, brought in by the higher-ups to report back on Agent Mulder’s case files, aka the X-Files, to basically debunk his work. But through the course of their investigations, she caught glimpses of things she (or science for that matter) could not explain. And let me say right here and now, Fight the Future and the show has some of the best scriptwriting I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching play out on screen . So, now that the players have been set up, lets talk a little about the movie and where it fits in the lexicon.

Fight the Future was released in 1998, fitting between the end of season five and six. The show aired by in 1993 with some of the more darker episodes and best creature features. With the show, we’re given a central story arc mixed with “filler” episodes, episodes which typically have nothing to do with the main story. While the main story plots are intriguing, for the X-Files, I’m more of a fan of the fillers, the go-betweens. In these episodes, you’ll find more of the scares, the darker stories intermingled in the global conspiracy ones. Some of the best in this category include: Home, Squeeze, Jose Chung’s From Outer Space, Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, The Host, Die Hand Die Verletzt, Folie à Deux, etc etc, just to name a few (and these few are some of my favorite episodes). If you have a Facebook account, you can follow the day to day episodes on the official X-Files page. They’ve also included some very unique fan made mondo posters to par with each episode. Between “filler” and “central story,” Fight the Future was part of the main story arc. Its counterpart, I want to Believe, released in 2008, was the filler equivalent to the shows, which doesn’t mean it was bad because of it, though I don’t think it found much footing with fans in 2008. Maybe they were hoping for something more to the central lexicon than a filler, but as I said before…

Looking at Fight the Future as a stand alone would be confusing, I think. To watch this movie and understand what’s going on, you’d have to be a fan of the show. Though, Carter did throw in some clues here and there. Still though, I still think if I watched Fight the Future without ever having watched the shows, I’d feel as if I was missing some insider joke. I’m a really happy they did it that way, while not leaving a newbie out of the loop entirely, the movie was made for fans of the show. Consider Serenity, the movie based on the cult-loved Firefly. They made that movie so that anyone can walk in off the street and understand everything going on. Sure, they might miss a few relationship side jokes, but overall, the movie was a restart on the show. I feel it would have been better, had they ignored the noobs and made the damn movie for the fans. Does that make sense, or am I going crazy? Sure, maybe Josh what’s his name was just trying to finish his show knowing Firefly would never return to television and the story he came up with was the best he could do…

Back to the X-Files…

Fight the Future is a fast paced movie; which is rare, to be a 2 hour movie based on a television show which airs for roughly 45 mins. From the very start, we’re drawn in to this global event, from the Ice Age opening credits to the black blood virus to team Fox and Dana working the bomb threat in Dallas, all the way to the conclusion and those sinister bestial aliens the story whips us and keeps us glued to the set. There is a small lag near the middle, but even so, there you’ll find some damn fine writing, my favorite is with Mulder at the bar, as part of the quote above with him describing himself to the bartender and why he’s drinking so much. And then there’s the moment between Skully and Fox in the hallway when Fox tells Dana how he feels and they ALMOST kiss, an adolescent teen-girl expectation, I know, but one that had been built up over time…had someone walked in on the movie at that moment without ever knowing the events in the show, it would have seemed silly. But for those in the know, the romance between the two has been a slow and methodical build up, finally realized towards the end of the show and actually acknowledged in I Want to Believe.

If you haven’t seen Fight the Future, even if you’ve never seen the show, I think its a safe bet to assume there are enough clues for you to understand what’s going on. And if you’re a long time fan and haven’t seen this movie…well, I’m not sure what to say to you… FOR SHAME!!!

My Review: 5/5