Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Monster Mania: The Burbs (1989)

Written by Stu Cooper

What's a person to do when they have a lot of time off? Maybe take up a hobby, travel the world, socialize with friends? Well for one man, this was a complex question. In the 1989 Joe Dante film "The Burbs" we see what happens when you live in a bubble and have too much free time on your hands. Tom Hanks stars as the lead in this amazingly dark and humorous satire of suburban paranoia. The film capitalizes on the frenzy that was born in the late 60's to mid 80's from the "satanic panic" era of news. During this time, a lot of people just assumed they may be surrounded by monsters. People were, and still are, constantly concerned about what their neighbors are up to. Well this film takes that human instinct and runs wild with it. It goes beyond paranoia, beyond neighborhood watch, and into...THE BURBS!

Tom Hanks stars as Ray Peterson, a suburban husband who decides to take a week off work to relax. His wife Carol(Carrie Fisher) insists that they take the kids and go on vacation, but Ray is perfectly content just lounging around. This is reinforced by his goofy best friend, and fellow neighbor Art Weingartner played by the gloriously cheesy Rick Ducommun. Together the two men pretty much dominate the conversation and create a world of their own. In this bubble that they've created, they are detectives of sort. Ray and Art are constantly scanning the neighborhood, looking for what weirdness may lurk beneath the fresh cut grass.

Through the perspective of these fellows, we are introduced to the neighborhood. We first meet Corey Feldman's character Ricky Butler. This was during a time where Feldman was getting too old to play "the kid", so he is a college age guy who randomly has an entire house to himself. It's a bizarre point in Feldman's career, and I wasn't quite sure what to make of his performance. If you've seen his performance as "The Frog Brother" in Lost Boys, it's along those lines. Then we have Walter who is a snobby older man who purposely trains his dog to poop on other people's lawns. That person's lawn in question belongs to some kind of military obsessed older man named Mark. Together in a culdasec, these men constantly agitate each other. But they all share one common figure out what the weird house on the block is up to. The weird house inhabited by a mysterious family simply known as...The Klopeks.

We don't know much about the Klopeks. We just know that they took over the house after the previous owners seemingly left town, and that the house is in terrible condition. It's as if the house is completely abandoned, but the neighbors know it isn't because they often see strange lights coming from the basement windows. After witnessing a series of strange events, Ray and Art attempt to introduce themselves to the Klopeks. All of their attempts fail miserably, so they enlist the military tactics of fellow neighbor Mark. All of their paranoia is unfounded, until the elderly neighbor Walter goes missing. The group can't locate Walter, and his dog is still around, so they see that as an alarming sign that something terrible has happened. This spurs an investigation into the Klopeks done by each neighbor. Together Ray, Art, and Mark try to infiltrate the house, and the mysterious family.

After a series of failed attempts to be stealthy, the group decides to just simply confront the Klopeks head on. To their surprise, the Klopeks welcome the neighbors into their home. What comes next is a peak into the Klopeks world, and it's definitely something straight out of the Addams family. We see a man, his brother, and what appears to be his young relative. They are inhabiting a house full of weird relics and macabre atmosphere. The group investigates the house and finds creaky doors, dusty photos, and weird foods galore. Nothing too alarming...until they discover a gigantic science lab and furnace in the basement. This area becomes the focal point for their paranoia and fuels their hunch that something disturbing lurks beyond the eyes of the Klopeks.

All of this sounds pretty creepy, but it's all played out in a very comedic way. There is a ton of slapstick humor, mixed with funny one liners. The film also contains classic "Honeymooners" humor, putting dramatically different people in the same room together for awkward periods of time. There is also a funny layer of satire that horror fans will definitely pick up on. Often the film has creepy music playing over what is usually a mundane landscape, playing up the paranoia of the suburban culdesac. The cinematography also plays up the paranoia of not only the characters, but the audience. As a viewer, you are left in the dark about the truth behind the people involved. It's very mysterious and uses the classic Hitchcock "Rear Window" suspense idea of what lies behind closed doors. It's not until the last ten minutes of film when you get solid answers. I won't be spoiling that reveal because this film is genius and deserves a dedicated viewing. After finishing the film, you will think twice about peering over your neighbor's fence or leering through the window with the strange light coming out of it. You may find something you aren't prepared for. If you would like to checkout the film for yourself, it's available for free as part of Amazon Prime, or 2.99 for non members. Also if you are already familiar with the film but want to revisit the best version available, SHOUT FACTORY released an amazing blu-ray edition last year.

Bonus Burb Fact: Early on in the film you can see Hanks and Fisher preparing breakfast for their children and they are all indulging in a box of GREMLINS cereal. Since Joe Dante directed both GREMLINS and this film, that's a fun little easter egg. I wonder if the cereal was any good?

Friday, October 26, 2018

Monster Mania: "What's In The Box?!"

Written by Stu Cooper

Who doesn't love a mystery grab bag? Well given the time of year and the maximum amount of Halloween hype I'm currently experiencing, I think it's time to take a look at some spooky products! This week I was graced with a mystery box full of Halloween goodies, courtesy of "Don't Eat The Gum". The site itself offers several different options for retro and pop culture themed loot boxes, none of which disappoint. Let's take a peak into what I got in my mystery haul! Before I begin, I want you to do your best Brad Pitt Impression while reading this article's title. "WHAT'S IN THE BOX?!"

There is a ridiculous amount of goodies in here. The highlights of which include A Freddy Kreuger He-man inspired figure, a fantastic fangoria back issue, tons of cards,and a beautiful portrait of Elvira that's created by the very talented artist Byron Winton!

The package included a mixtape of epic rock music that sets the tone for Halloween. That may be something I have to review on it's own entirely.

Here are some Universal Monster themed Garbage Pail Kids! I love these things. It's amazing how enduring the concept still is today.

A true throwback to 80's action figures, this Savage World Freddy Kreuger mixes Masters of The Universe with Horror and is part of a 5 character series!

And to absolutely seal the deal, I received a framed photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger with what appears to be the villains from Monster Squad. This is perplexing since the actor was not in the film. But thanks to Tales From The Crypt, we know Arnold is a big horror fan. I guess he just wanted to see that gem be made for himself.

All of those epic things were crammed into the mystery box I received from "Don't Eat The Gum". That's just a small sampling of what is available from them, and I highly recommend checking out their Easter baskets when that season comes around. Thanks for the extensive pop culture flashback!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Monster Mania: Party Hard (PS4) Review

Written by Stu Cooper

If you've ever lived in an apartment or close knit suburb community, you have most likely encountered a situation where you were annoyed with your neighbor. Whether it's loud noises, funky smells, or congested parking due to party animals, it's probably gotten under your skin. What if you were completely pushed to the edge and you were wiling to do anything to stop the party? Well most human beings are able to control themselves and get over it, but in the game "Party Hard", the goal is quite the opposite. In "Party Hard" you play the role of a young man who has been pushed to the edge, unable to sleep or find peace, he goes on a killing spree. Not just any killing spree, but a party killing spree. He goes from location to location, destroying parties by eliminating the guests. The game is played out through a series of stories the killer is telling the police. While that sounds incredibly morbid and sadistic, it is the 16 bit aesthetic and the humor found within the game that brings out huge doses of dark comedy.

In "Party Hard" you take the role of an unnamed killer, simply referred to as "the man who just wanted some sleep". You are armed with a knife, a bevy of tricks, and home alone-esque traps that you can utilize to progressively eliminate guests at the party. It starts out simple with a small house party, but throughout the game you can attend parties on boats, party buses, desert musical festivals, and night clubs. Each level features it's own unique set of guests, traps, and randomized events. The key to the game is definitely the randomization. Each time you play a level, it's different. It may be a small difference, but it's different none the less. The guests are often different, they may be doing different things, the effects the guests have on each other may differ, and then you have trigger events that are spread out throughout the level. These events include things like zombie outbreaks, police raids, framing other's for crimes, pest control gone wrong, alien abductions, and more! Thanks to the level of complexity, the game certainly doesn't lack in the creative kill department. You can even sit back and watch the party as if it were an installment of "The Sims". Guests will often argue with each other, have sex, get drunk and pass out, and even accidentally kill each other! It's as if someone created a mod for "The Sims" where everything is chaos. If you are one of those people who loves to play "The Sims" simply so you can find ways to kill your players, this is your dream game.

The game plays out through a birds eye view. You control the killer, and you have full view of the house and guests at all times. It reminds me of those books that show the insides of ships/castles/etc. and you can see all the bits and pieces and what the people are doing. It's an interesting perspective. It also kind of reminds me of "Paperboy" in terms of the level of bizarre activity and random events happening around you.

The player you control while able to kill, is incredibly vulnerable. The name of the game is stealth, almost like a cartoony version of Hitman. You must navigate through the party and eliminate the guests without ever being noticed. If you are noticed, it's full alert. You often get taken out by a bouncer, or the party goers call the police on you. One touch from the police and you're done for. Game Over. It's a pretty cruel learning curve, but once you figure out the sensitivity of the A.I., you're able to work with it. That's not to say it's impossible to evade. You can often find a way to get out of range of the cops, and they eventually give up their search, or in some cases they arrest the wrong person. If you really want to up the ante, you can call for back up, which is also randomized. Sometimes another killer shows up, sometimes a drive-by occurs, sometimes the swat team shows up and goes Full Metal Jacket on everyone. It's really the flip of a coin, which makes for a really fun nerve racking experience.

Now what would a party be without music? Well no worries, there is plenty of good tunes throughout the game. All of the music is instrumental and electronic, but it flows with the tone of the game perfectly. It features that 16 bit poppy tone you'd find in something like Earthworm Jim, while integrating royalty free music you imagine people dancing to at an actual party. In fact, the DJ is an actual character in the game and you often have to save killing them for last, because if the music were to suddenly stop, everyone would wonder what was up. It's tiny details like that, that make this game a truly unique and addicting experience. As a caveat to that, you can also perform dance moves! If you approach a guest and begin dancing, the reactions vary. Either the guest digs it and you are on the verge of getting lucky, or they are disgusted with you and alarmed. You can also use the repulsive dance techniques to herd the guests into a certain area of the party, lambs being led to the slaughter so to speak.

For a price tag of 12.99 or free if you're a PS Plus member, you definitely get your moneys worth. The game is a great time killer and it's easy to pick up and play. The game is also TWITCH friendly for those who prefer to use the PC version. At one point the game even gave gameplay power to TWITCH users, giving them the power to effect the party. There is a sequel on the way, so I imagine the title will be going on sale soon. I can't recommend this one enough, especially if you have a dark sense of humor. If you are looking for a creepy game to give you in the Halloween mood, this is a great one to start with. Party Hard 2 is set to be released on STEAM at the end of October 2018, so hurry up and give the first one a try before the sequel is released!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Monster Mania has returned!

After taking a year off, it is time to unlock the crypt, emerge from the fog, and bring life to the dead. Film Enigma has officially returned and what better time to make that return than the greatest month of all, October. It's a month filled with nostalgia, primal fears, costumes, unhealthy brightly colored food, and the finest in horror schlock. What more can a grown kid ask for? Well, this year for Monster Mania I'm coming in hot! I'm reviewing one of the darkest games I've ever played, some of the darkest films I've ever seen, and even some goofy Halloween specials you've probably forgotten about.

So get your costumed chicken nuggets and Elvira Coors light ads ready, it's time to dive into the 2018 Monster Mania!