Category: Supernatural


Falling Scales Chapter One

“All at once something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized,” Acts 8:19

Flames Rising DOT com has published my  review of Falling Scales Chapter One for White Wolf’s World of Darkness. This product is the first of a two part chronicle involving the Unmasked which is a cult in Denver that believes uncovering the supernatural and revealing it is more important than anything else. Even more important than the welfare of its own members. Check out the review.

Falling Scales Chapter One RPG Review

Dead Silence

You scream. You die.

Last night I watched Dead Silence which was co-written and directed by James Wan (Saw, Insidious) and starring Ryan Kwanten (True Blood) and Donnie Wahlberg (Sixth Sense, Saw II, Saw III).

A widower returns to his hometown to search for answers to his wife’s murder, which may be linked to the ghost of a murdered ventriloquist.

That pretty much sums up the premise of the film and it does not go too much deeper than that. Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) and his wife Ella receive a package late one night in which they find a creepy vaudeville doll (a ventriloquist dummy). Where Jamie comes from (a small town called Raven’s Fair) vaudeville dolls are considered bad omens but his wife dismisses his concerns and sends him out for dinner. When he returns he finds his wife murdered and her tongue torn out. Grief stricken, under investigation by the cops (Donnie Wahlberg as Detective Lipton) and looking for answers he returns to his home.

Jamie Ashen and Billy

Personally I would have burned Billy as soon as he arrived in the mail but that is just me.

Jamie’s father is not very helpful and no one wants to discuss Mary Shaw but eventually he learns that she was a popular ventriloquist who died in 1941 while Raven’s Fair was a booming town. He also learns that she was killed after a young boy went missing after ruining one of her performances. The people of Raven’s Fair cut out her tongue and killed her even though evidence that she took the young boy was never found. Since then people began dying off in the most horrible way with their tongues cut out. First the men who committed the crime against Mary and then their wives, their children and so on. While unraveling this story Jamie is hunted by Detective Lipton who continues to disbelieve the “ghost story” and puts more stock in the theory that Jamie is responsible for killing his own wife. Jamie tries to bury Billy to make things right but that creepy dummy just refuses to stay buried. Meanwhile Mary keeps killing.

Needless to say Mary Shaw was crazy and she did in fact kidnap the young boy and kill him. Not only that but she was working on turning the boy into her next vaudeville doll when she was killed which means she really got what she deserved. Too bad for the people of Raven’s Fair that she somehow managed to come back after death to haunt them. The final confrontation between Jamie, Detective Lipton and Mary Shaw is quite thrilling.

Dead Silence

Mary Shaw and Billy at their last performance.

Dead Silence has its up and downs. The story itself is not all that original but James Wan makes the most of it using the creepy nursery rhyme Jamie recites at the beginning of the movie. We find that the movie is less about learning the truth of Mary Shaw’s demise and more about Jamie accepting what he already knows as myth to be reality. Stopping Mary Shaw is the real challenge once Jamie has accepted the truth.

James Wan has a unique style when it comes to cinematography and he makes the most of it in this film. He mixes elements of Lovecraft and Poe with modern horror quite well. At times he is a bit heavy handed with light filters and the blue and red contrasts distract from the film. He also has a talent for capturing great “scares” in his films without being corny which helps this movie to move along.

Ryan Kwanten, most well known as the sex-crazed, not so bright ex-jock turned deputy Jason Stackhouse from True Blood, displays his talent for playing deeper characters in this film. This movie would not have worked if not for Ryan’s work as Jamie which makes the movie just believable enough to be entertaining.

All in all, I give Dead Silence 3 out of 5 stars.

Tips for Gamers

Vaudeville Dolls are Creepy!
This movie taps into the creep factor of vaudeville dolls and it uses it to great effect. Vaudeville Dolls became popular during the late 19th century although comedy was not part of the typical ventriloquist act until much, much later. Performances centered on making the dolls appear as if they were actually alive while also demonstrating the ventriloquists ability to throw and manipulate their voices. However, the practice of ventriloquism is much older and dates all the way back to ancient Greece. Ancient Greeks believe the noises made by people’s stomachs were the voices of the deceased and ventriloquists could communicate with the dead and foretell the future. The word ventriloquism comes from Latin; venter (belly) and loqui (speak). Giving any stock to this belief means that ventriloquists working with vaudeville dolls are actually imbuing them with the spirits of the dead. There is enough story material there for numerous game sessions.

Haunted Nursery Rhymes
One… Two… Freddy’s coming for you… We all remember that one. Nursery rhymes are often used mnemonic references to relay information or instructions in such a way that can easily be recalled. Horror films have used them to great effect to foreshadow impending doom because they are very catchy and if spoken in just the right way. In Dead Silence, the Mary Shaw nursery rhyme details how to know when Mary Shaw is close and what to do to protect yourself so she won’t killed you. The point is to watch for her in your dreams and don’t scream if you see her. When you scream she rips out your tongue and kills you. This is important to the movie because it helps to explain how so many have survived since Mary Shaw’s death in 1941 and why they are still scared of her. She still hunts them but they live in terror as long as they keep their mouths shut. This is a type of ban on the ghost which limits her power and allows protagonists to interact with her with some hope of coming out alive.

At the game table a nursery rhyme can serve a similar purpose. While being catchy and easily memorable they can help to frame the story and give the PCs clues about what they are facing and what they need to do to survive.

A little background will be important for you to understand this piece. Back in mid-2009 White Wolf Games ran a contest on their forums to promote the release of their newest game line, Geist the Sin-Eaters. Participants in the contest were asked to answer a question.

“If you did die, but only for a moment – how would that inform your life?”

The talent pool in the community of White Wolf fans is pretty deep so needless to say there were a lot of fantastic answers. I knew I needed to dig deep if I wanted to submit anything that had a chance at winning the contest. Below is the entry I posted which much to my surprise was selected as the winner of the contest having received the most votes by members of the White Wolf staff. I am still honored to this day.

*****

I know I shouldn’t have been in that part of town at that of night but it is hard to pass on one of Nancy’s famous parties. It didn’t matter how much of a loser you were in the real world your sorry butt was going to get laid. Sometimes you had to pay for a good time but thirty minutes with some of those women was all I needed to feel good about myself again. I didn’t care what it cost me. Lingerie gigs in abandoned subway tunnels and open air orgies in graveyards. Yeah, Nancy was into some weird and dangerous stuff.

I was so deep into thinking about the party I didn’t even hear that piece of shit walking up behind me. Before I knew what had happened he had kicked my legs out from underneath me like the bullies did to the smaller kids back in school and my face hit the concrete. Blood gushed from my mouth and I nearly choked on a couple of my teeth. I heard a mean, grating voice yelling at me but I couldn’t make out the words. He was talking way too fast and I was moving way too slow, maybe not at all, so he kicked me hard in the ribs. I collapsed on the sidewalk and slid halfway into the muck of the street gutter.

That was the first time I saw the gun in his hand and I started to cry but I don’t know why. My tears quickly blinded me and I clawed at my own face furiously. I wanted to get up. I wanted to fight back but I was shaking too hard to move. I couldn’t even feel my legs as terror seeped through me. He yelled at me again and I tried to yell for help but the sound came out like a sickening moan. He fired his gun and I shook violently at the sharp, harsh sound of the weapon. The smell of urine and feces washed over me and I somehow knew it was my own.

I felt empty inside and dropped my arms to my sides. Whatever fight I had left in my shaking limbs was now long gone and he started to kick me in the face when I didn’t respond to his yells anymore. I didn’t try to move although I don’t think I could have if I wanted to. With a sickening crunch I felt part of my jaw come loose. The pain shot through me and I barely felt him working his way through my pockets. Unable to do anything but cry I didn’t care what he took from me at that point. When he fired the gun again there was only a short flash of pain in my chest followed quickly by a strange numbness. I couldn’t tell if he was still yelling because everything around me had quickly gone very quiet. I knew I was dying and I just let it happen.

That was the easiest part of what happened to me that night…

I don’t know how long I waited there on the street staring up at the sky. I barely noticed when it changed to a strange, twilight gray. There was no pain but I could tell there was no life either. I don’t think I was even in this world anymore as crazy as that sounds. Eventually I looked down at myself and found a gaping hole in the middle of my chest. I would have tried to talk but my jaw still hung open. It didn’t hurt but I could tell it was broken in several places. What worried me the most though was the strange, black ink that was covering most of me. I thought it was blood at first but the longer I stared I realized it was moving on its own, not flowing out of my wounds. Even worse I could feel it moving around inside me as well.

The first footstep startled me.

I hadn’t realized how truly quiet it had become until the sound of high heels on concrete cut through the air like a knife. Then I heard the second step and I knew with a certainty that the owner of those footsteps was coming for me. Something deep inside screamed at me to get up and run but that terrifying sound had paralyzed me. Even in death it seems I was a coward.

The clicking heels drew closer and the woman appeared beside me on the sidewalk. The first thing I noticed was that she looked a lot like Nancy, a dead ringer honestly, but she was dressed like one of those classy dames from a detective novel, all in black. The second thing I noticed was the black sheen to her eyes and when she smiled her teeth looked like jagged shark’s teeth. With one hand she grabbed me by the hole in my chest and slammed me against the wall of the closest building. Overcome by a new kind of fear I tried to break her hold but with a quick squeeze of her hand she reawakened the dead pain in me. I howled in agony.

She laughed at me.

She quickly tore her tongue on her teeth and black ichors gushed from her mouth. I watched in horror as her bleeding tongue slowly slid out of her mouth like a serpent and began to probe the wound in my chest. I cried. I whined. I could feel her tongue working its way through my body and she moaned in ecstasy. It felt like her tongue was siphoning off bits and pieces of me and she lingered whenever she found one of the moving pools of blackness I had seen and felt before. Pain consumed me whenever she found one and I tried to beg her to stop but the meager noises coming from me only annoyed her. With a quick tug she ripped what remained of my face away with her free hand. I would have screamed but she had removed every part of me that I needed to do so.

I felt more and more of myself slipping away into her with each painful gulp. She began to gorge herself like a glutton on my flesh. I knew I wasn’t going to die this time. This was going to be something worse.

A brilliant flash blinded me and the woman in black dropped me in a heap on the concrete. The pain she had inflicted faded quickly from my body but I didn’t dare move. When my vision cleared there was a young woman with white hair standing over me. She smiled and the gesture filled me with warmth. The woman in black had disappeared.

The woman with white hair leaned over me, “It’s not your time yet… Go back through the door…”

With those words I woke up in a hospital bed. The doctors told me they didn’t think I was going to make it when the EMTs brought me in. I had even been dead for a few minutes but I pulled through in the end. They called it a miracle. I wanted to tell them what really happened but my mouth had been wired shut and by the time they brought me something to write on I realized it would be best if I kept my silence. It also gave her time to talk to me for the first time. Somehow she had followed me back through but now she was nothing more than a voice.

Now she tells me all sorts of things. She tells me that death is a doorway and I was lucky I got to go through it twice. She tells me that there are a lot of different doors and to go through them I just need to find the right keys. She is going to teach me how to find them because if I ever pass through death’s door again the woman in black will be there waiting for me. I need to prepare myself.

Tunnels with light at the end… Out of body experiences with flying angels wearing cute diapers… Happy-go-lucky revelations that drive someone to “live their lives like never before.” That’s all a bunch of bullshit! All there is for me now is the voice that only I can hear, my quests for knowledge and the occasional errands the voice asks me to run. I don’t always understand the things she asks me to do but I owe her everything. I do whatever she asks me to.

How did my little trip to the other side inform me? There is some dark shit on the other side and you better prepare yourself. That is, unless you don’t mind classy dames cutting through your guts with their tongues. That’s how I was informed.

Fright Night

Fright Night

Beware vampires named Jerry...

“That is a terrible vampire name. Jerry?” – Charley Brewster

The original Fright Night (1985) is one of the greatest vampire movies of all time. A teenager named Charlie suspects his next door neighbor Jerry is a vampire but no one believes him. While trying to prove his claim he finds himself in over his head and seeks the aid of Peter Vincent, host of Fright Night. Somehow the pair manages to destroy Jerry the evil vampire and save the neighborhood. The concept is pretty simple but the execution is what made this such a great vampire movie. The film draws as much inspiration from old horror movies as it does from the modern cinema of the 1980s. The movie is smart and terrifying while also being equally humorous in healthy doses. Tom Holland made a masterpiece. Anyone daring to produce a remake was taking a very big gamble because the original set a very high bar.

So when I learned about the remake to be released in August of 2011 I was both excited and scared at the same time. I got a little worried when I learned Craig Gillespie was going to direct, a man I knew nothing about and early investigation he had spent most of sixteen years directing commercials with a few other films I had never heard of. I am not against giving mostly unknown directors a shot at big movies but I was nervous about Hollywood giving him a chance on a movie like this one.

Marti Noxon was the saving grace who encouraged me to keep an eye on this film and really give it a chance. Her resume as a producer and writer is a long and distinguished one including such popular shows as Glee, Madmen, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Those last two are what gave me the most hope.

As the cast became known to me I knew the movie was heading in the right direction. Anton Yelchin (Charley Brewster) has been acting for quite some time but I was most familiar with his work in Star Trek (2009) as Chekov and Terminator Salvation (2009) as Kyle Reese. Collin Farrell (Jerry) is well known to most movie goers and Toni Collette (Jane Brewster) was a great addition to the cast. Imogen Poots (Amy) was excellent in 28 Weeks Later (2007) and she is the kind of actress that I think should do more work in the horror genre. I was even happy to learn that Chris Sarandon was going to make an appearance in the movie which makes him the only actor to appear in all three Fright Night movies (he appears in flashback scenes in the second one). And last but not least I believe David Tennant was a brilliant choice to play Peter Vincent.

They had all the right pieces to make a great movie but did they accomplish their goal? I think they did.

Fight Night (2011) does an incredible job of capturing the feel of the original movie while updating it to the 21st century. The vampires in this movie are sexy and terrifying at the same time. Unlike the original Peter Vincent (his name is a play on famous actors Peter Cushing and Vincent Price for those who don’t know) who would fit perfectly well in any Hammer film the new Peter Vincent looks more like Criss Angel, the pop icon of modern magic and illusion (or “bullshit” as Peter puts it in the movie). The movie did an excellent job of capturing the essence of “teens” today without falling into the trap of too much angst or melodrama. The writing did not disappoint and the special effects were quite excellent.

The movie also does an excellent job of establishing itself as a different kind of vampire movie when compared to the current status quo for vampires in movies and television (Twilight, The Vampire Diaries). While Fright Night‘s vampires are more than capable of seducing their victims they are more likely to fang out and start ripping their victims to shreds. The movie takes an early shot at Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series as Edd and Charley search for their lost friend Adam when Edd gets mad that Charley would even imply that he had read those books. I also could not help but notice the vampire Jerry had a love for apples but only the green kind, not the bright red ones which appear on the covers of Meyer’s books.

The new Fright Night not only managed to live up to the original but I feel it improved on the franchise because it updated the story for new generations of movie goers. If Hollywood stops now I am a happy horror movie fan but if they announce a Fright Night Part 2 remake I will be the first in line to see it as well.

Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton

Guilty Pleasures (1993) was written by Laurell K. Hamilton and is the first novel in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. Anita Blake is a tough as nails Animator (necromancer) who moonlights with the St. Louis police department dealing with the cases they are not equipped to handle, namely the kind involving blood sucking vampires. In Anita Blake’s world vampires and other supernatural creatures not only exist but they have come out of hiding as well. In the United States of America the vampire community has fought for and won rights under government law which makes life for a vampire hunter like Anita difficult at times.

In Guilty Pleasures the vampires of St. Louis have been targeted by a murderer who has a taste for only the most powerful vampires in the city. Anita hunts vampires because she fears them and the last thing she would ever want to do is help them find the killer but she quickly finds she has little choice in the matter.  Nikolaos, the most powerful vampire in St. Louis, sadistically manipulates Anita into taking the case. When Anita is mortally wounded by a vampire which cannot control itself she is saved by Jean-Claude who “gives her part of his life force” (also known as Marking) making her more resilient than your average human. Nikolaus wants Anita to find the murderer but there is something else the thousand year old vampire wants as well. She wants Anita.

Anita narrates her own story in the first person which adds a great deal of depth to what would normally be considered your typical supernaturally charged action thriller. Through Anita’s eyes we are immersed in the terrifying world of vampires, undead and were-creatures which Hamilton eloquently constructs even while we are swept along at neck break speeds. Hamilton surrounds Anita with colorful characters which works well with the fast pace of the narrative. Willie McCoy, the polyester wearing vampire middle man, only appears for five pages at the beginning of the novel but when he shows up later on he feels like an old friend come back for a visit. Hamilton is a master of constructing memorable characters with very few words.

Anita is a great character because she is such a strong woman who fits naturally into her own skin. She does not struggle with her identity, she is who she is and that is a refreshing change of pace in literature featuring female protagonists. Where Anita runs into conflict is where and how she chooses to express her sexuality and who she wants to develop relationships with. She attracts men of all kinds but she is very particular about who she lets into her private life. She is attracted to Jean-Claude but he holds power over her and Anita will not allow herself to be subjected to a life as a vampire’s servant. She and Phillip share a common, traumatic background and in a strange way she is attracted to that but she cannot allow herself to succumb to the trauma of their experiences like Phillip has.

Ultimately Anita needs to be strong because Hamilton is not going to show her any mercy in this book. The horrors which Anita confronts would drive most mortals insane but she finds a way to overcome and fights her way towards the light at the end of the tunnel. Pity the vampire that gets in her way and be ready to clean up the mess when she is done.