Monday, 31 March 2014

Dark Review - NEO Scavenger

I had a little play with the beta of NEO Scavenger, a grim little turn-based survival game for PC, Mac and Linux. I was very impressed and also far too excited upon finding some shoes. Read my review on Geek Syndicate here.



Sunday, 23 March 2014

Dark Review - Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land


I did a review of the newly Steam released Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land on Geek Syndicate. A reasonable slice of Lovecraftian horror on tablets but when experienced on PC it seems a bit lacking. Well worth a punt though. You can read the review here.


Friday, 14 March 2014

Dark Article - Hoarding for the Gaming Apocalypse?


My Friday Feature Hoarding for the Gaming Apocalypse? is now up on Geek Syndicate here. A look at the possible reasons why gamers might buy games and then never get around to playing them. I also suggest a way to avoid that situation in the first place.



Dark Fiction - Potentiality

Potentiality

By Casey Douglass

as part of #fridayflash 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/andyhay/10471977903/

‘Living the way I live gives me the opportunity to see the world in a different way.’

‘How so?’

‘I live without limits and this gives me a freedom that others can’t imagine!’

‘And so you help them to see things your way?’

‘Yes! How could someone walking past a prison full of innocent people not feel the need to intervene on their behalf?’

‘The people you help are imprisoned?’

‘You all are! I can see it as plain as the pen in your hand!’

‘What do you see?’

‘It’s hard to explain without being able to show you.’

‘We both know that’s not going to happen.’

‘How can I put it...You have seen those plasma balls that gadget shops sell? The ones you hold your hand to and watch the miniature lightning dancing around your fingers?’

‘Yes I know the ones.’

‘People look like that to me! Yes that’s quite accurate! The transparent globe is their limiting beliefs, the lightening their potentialities...their striving to find a way out, to make something of their reality!’

‘Do I look like that to you?’

‘Of course!’

‘And you’d help me?’

‘Certainly, if you’d only unstrap me!’

‘Your aid proves fatal to the people you try to help though.’

‘Not straight away! They see the truth before that happens! Let me help you!’

‘Your hammer is locked up as evidence.’

‘I can use anything!’

‘You killed fourteen people.’

‘I freed fourteen people!’

‘What use is freedom if it cannot be enjoyed for more than a moment?’

‘It’s better than a life time of confinement!’

‘You’ll certainly find out if that’s true!’

THE END
I found the image of the plasma globe here with a CC Attribution license . I have made no changes to the image and use it in the manner allowed.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Dark Review - 300: Rise of an Empire

Review of 300: Rise of an Empire

By Casey Douglass

 

Image © Warner Bros. Pictures

I came to the first 300 film (2007) oblivious to both the background history it is loosely based on and the graphic novel by Frank Miller. While I now know some of the history, I have yet to pick up the novel, but none of this really matters. Like its predecessor, 300: Rise of an Empire is extremely enjoyable in its own right.

Its story runs parallel to the events happening in the first film, some starting a little before it, others carrying on from where the original ended. I really liked this as it was a great chance to find out some of the back story of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and other key players in the conflict.

Image © Warner Bros. Pictures
300: Rise of an Empire focusses on the travails of Thermistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) and his naval strategy genius whilst his fellow countrymen are defending the Hot Gates with King Leonidas. Basically, 300: Rise of an Empire is the first film but at sea on big ships. In my opinion, that is a good thing!

What I did find surprising was that Xerxes was not in the film a great deal. I don’t know why I thought he might, as thinking back he hardly stole the show in the first. Maybe it was just a hope that he would get his hands dirty this time. He had a flashback which did give some great insight into his path to becoming “a god” but the Persian side of the show was very much run be Eva Green’s Artemisia, commander of the Persian fleet. 

Image © Warner Bros. Pictures
I’m also not a great lover of naval warfare. Too much sea and choppy waves just bores me as a rule but I did find the ship to ship combat as riveting as the land based face-offs in the first film. That is the crux of the matter really. Both films are built around stand-off, clash, victory, clash, slight defeat, escalation, bigger clash, until they culminate in some grand-standing finale that would need some kind of mathematical savant to calculate the number of dead and the pints of blood spilt. That is what I watch them for! To get those goosebumps when brutal shit happens and to enjoy the chaos of battle in the safest way possible through a cinema screen.

Image © Warner Bros. Pictures
Talking of screens, I was lucky enough to watch the film in IMAX 3D and it was excellent. There were some scenes blatantly designed for the 3D, like the swing of Xerxe's massive axe but for the most part the 3D was functional without being distracting. I think I value IMAX for the extra size and the sound quality. I always feel like my trouser cuffs are flapping around when the bass hits in our local screen. If a film won’t move you in an IMAX, it never will.

I give 300: Rise of an Empire 5/5, purely because it gave me what I myself wanted. A shitstorm wrapped in the dressings of comic style brutality and with a tremendous soundtrack that accompanies the action like the trumpets of hell.


 


Published Letter



A nice surprise today as I finally had time to read through a couple of back issues of Writing Magazine. It sounds funny saying that I "finally had time", I should probably say that I finally felt well enough to read a little bit. I turned to the letters page and saw my letter. Not the achievement of the century but it's the first proper letter I have had published since trying to power up my writing, so I am quietly happy. I would happily recommend Writing Magazine for any writers who want tips/motivation/ideas. It's well worth the modest cover price.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Dark Review - Creak

Creak Review

By Casey Douglass

 


A few weeks ago, I reviewed Black Spot, a very low budget abandoned road horror by Luther Bhogal-Jones. I thought it was done really well and gave it 4.5/5. Check it out here.

Creak is one of Luther’s earlier films, and I must admit, that as much as I liked Black Spot, it was nice to watch something in HD with better sound.


Creak is set in a city house at 4am. Predictably, something creaks and upsets the two sleeping occupants. Well, it upsets one and she in turn upsets the other by repeatedly asking her to check the house in case someone has broken in. What then ensues is a great little cat and mouse sequence of room checking where something is always lurking at the periphery but never seen.


It's about 5.5 minutes long but that is just long enough time to ratchet up the tension for the conclusion to have a strong impact. I enjoyed the way the intruder was portrayed. At no point was it more than a dark silhouette with indiscernible features, besides strange protuberances around the head.

Like Black Spot, the soundtrack was brilliant, a synthy vibe and harsh punctuating moments all doing a great job to up the level of interest. My only issue with the sound was that in some places the levels for the dialogue were a bit hissy, but that is a minor gripe.

You can watch Creak yourself by clicking here to get to the Faster Productions vimeo page. 

When you have done that, there is a great behind the scenes look at how the film was created on the Faster Productions blog here . From the director running late on set to the perils of shooting in frigid rooms it’s an interesting read.

I give Creak 4.5/5. I enjoyed it for what it was, a story of paranoia proving to be true and a film that enjoyably uses a few horror tropes to tell that tale.

 

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Dark Review - Have Metal TV Channels lost their balls?

Balls

This is a review/rant/thinking aloud type piece. I may sound like a hating bastard by the end but it's just something I've been feeling for awhile now. It might not look at every angle, such as the metal scene itself, or make much sense by the end. It also draws heavily on my own experience of channel surfing (at all times of day/night). Night is marginally better but still ends up coming down to the same old faces. Maybe I am just unlucky always finding the same bands being shown, but I doubt it. My opinion is formed by what I find at random, but the consistency of what I see, for me at least, is what I talk about here.

I used to enjoy watching MTV2, Kerrang! and Scuzz, but all I see now is the endless repetition of safe established music. There might be the odd exception here and there but if you flick to those channels, chances are you will see Foo Fighters or Bullet for my Valentine or whatever else is on a loop. I used to enjoy finding new music by watching these channels, even sitting through the ad-breaks that come after every two fucking songs. The last time I found something new and genuinely different was over three years ago! So with that in mind, I wanted to link to a couple of the music videos that last resonated with me.


The first is Animal Alpha, a band that now no longer exists. A Norwegian group who formed in 2002, fronted by the rustic voice of Agnete Maria Kjolsrud. I love their sound and their zany videos. You can tell that they were very much doing their own thing and having fun.


From the ashes of the Animal Alpha, Djerv emerged, and whilst the videos are less mad-hat, the sound is in the same vein as Animal Alpha's. And yes, I'm fine with the irony of starting a post titled in a way that questions the lack of balls, with a female fronted band.


The other band that I wanted to mention are The Cumshots. It's not a name you would feel that comfortable asking for in a music shop but damn it they know how to rock.


Another Norwegian band fronted by the fucking tall and distinctively voiced singer, Kristopher Schau. Classed as a death'n'roll band, as you can imagine, the lyrics and chords are melancholy and soul-searing. This isn't "oh-no-the-pretty-girl-won't-go-to-the-prom-with-me" angst, this is the "scraping-the-depths-and-wondering-if-you-will-see-another-day" type of despair. Emotion. Presence. A pretty unique sound, at least when compared with the usual fodder.

I'm not bashing other bands by the way. I'm just so fucking tired of metal channels which rarely seem to deviate from the same bands. I know this is because they are popular, megastars or just good retro headbangers, but give the smaller unknowns more of a billing too at times!

I admit that I don't watch these channels 24/7, so they may well have small indie segments or new music here and there. It just seems that every time I switch channel to them, it's the same old thing. Red Hot Chilli Peppers Vs. Bullet for my Valentine and stuff like that, over and over and over. Or later at night it always seems to be Metallica, Pantera, and Slayer. On the rare occasion that I have seen a new band, they just sound and look like the others that came out the week before. Either androgynous pasty faced goth-a-likes or clean-cut/mildly tattoo'd moody looking people in black t-shirts. For fuck sake!

That probably sounds like a grumpy old man thing to say, especially about them all sounding the same. I agree and if I listened to them more carefully I'm sure I would pick up on their own unique flavour. Not all of them though, some will be scum-suckers made in a test tube boy band type way I'm sure.

That's about it. The days of hoping that I will find something interesting to listen to via this route seem to be over. I don't expect the channels to cover everything, just to maybe widen their scope a little more and not fall back on the usual suspects so often. I don't think that is being unreasonable.

I`ll end with a linked video of the song I've been listening to the most lately. I go through phases of liking Korn and not being bothered, but at the moment, I'm loving this one, especially the chorus:


Friday, 7 March 2014

Dark Fiction - Viewpoint

Viewpoint

By Casey Douglass

as part of #fridayflash 

(Something a bit different this week. Read only the bold text, ignoring the italics, then when you get to the end, start again at the beginning and read through it again, but only reading the italics the second time.)

Mike watched the tip of the hoodie as it crested above the pot noodle stand. His heart lumped a couple of times as it missed a few beats. Not another one he thought. Jason browsed the garishly coloured snacks on the shelves, shaking his head at the additives and sugar each contained. If his body was a temple, he certainly wasn’t going to be filling it with prostitutes. He edged along the counter to the panic button. At a snails pace, he pushed his hand below the lip of the surface, his finger trembling as it just touched the garish red plastic. He paused his aisle roaming and smiled. It didn’t sound right but he could use that for his art project. He ran a finger along the bottles, their shiny plastic reflecting the lights into tiny UFO trails. He looked out through the building length window. The only other inhabitant of the petrol station was an elderly man struggling to get the petrol cap off his ageing Rover. He would be next to worthless if anything kicked off. Damn it. It was always the way. He shivered and wrapped his grey jacket around him more tightly. He was glad it had a hood, this chill or bug or whatever it might be was really getting to him. He caught a sight of the attendant through the cans of Pringles. Six times the place had been turned over this year and it always happened when it was dead. Well, Mike thought, no doubt the little shits keep watch and choose their moment. He was looking through the window with a far away glaze to his eyes. Jason thanked his lucky stars that he didn’t have to work a job like that. He knew he would probably start hacking into his wrists with that razor again. Thankfully, that was a long time ago. He wouldn’t get like that again. Mike glanced back to ascertain where the roaming youth was now and jolted as he found himself looking into the depths of the hood. The boy’s mouth was drawn in an ugly grimace, the edges drawing up into his cheeks in a way that made Mike think of the Batman villain Joker. He decided to give up his hunt for something to eat and just pick up a packet of cigarettes instead. He moved to the counter and waited, the attendant still miles away. Jason wondered whether to cough. His phone vibrated in his pocket. He frowned, knowing it would be Teresa. She never got the hint. He placed one hand on the counter and pushed his other into his pocket. The boy stood on the other side of the counter, one hand upon the counter, the other hidden in his left hoodie pocket. Mike’s eyes stared at the covered hand, watching for any tell-tale sign of a sharp edge. The boy spoke. Adrenaline shot through Mike’s veins, a slight convulsion rippling through his organs and setting him trembling. He pushed the button. The attendant turned. Mike asked for a packet of Marlboro. The attendant flinched, and the world got a whole lot louder.

THE END


Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Dark Review - The Campground

Review of The Campground

A film directed by Roman Jossart

Review written by Casey Douglass 

  (I was given a free copy to review)

I never was a fan of camping. I didn’t mind the weather or the cold; it was the hard ground that always got to me. I know you can buy those little mattress/padded things but then it’s not really camping is it. You might as well just take your bed!

Well this film doesn’t improve my opinion on camping one bit, although it does do the important public service of hammering home the idea that you shouldn’t just camp any-old-where. You might just end up dead!

The Campground begins with a bickering couple driving through sunny fields on the way to a birthday party. They stop for a toilet break and both end up being off’ed before they manage to get back to the car. The title credits roll and the film proper starts. So far so good.

The film revolves around a camp ground in which a mother killed her son in the 80’s. It’s now the present day and a group of friends gather there to party, drink and have sex. In typical horror fashion, they get separated by call’s of nature, the need to fuck and to selfishly smoke joints without sharing. You can imagine what happens to most of them. 


I really liked some of the angles and techniques used in shooting the film. I’m no movie expert but I just knew what I liked. For some of the scenes, the camera is at an angle and this allows the scene to be framed in a novel way, such as the ladder going up to a bunk-bed when Brandon (played by the director) lays on his bed beneath. There is also a great scene in a cabin where the camera changes to the hand-held kind and follows the view of a torch-beam. With the other stuff going on like thumps and panicky breathing, it was a really effective change of pace.

The soundtrack to the film was well thought out, beginning with the punk rock styling of The Vains but soon switching up to the usual creepy piano and ambient menace of a horror film. The only issue I had with the rest of the audio was that in some scenes, particularly an early one around the camp fire, the audio of the actors was very hard to pick out against the other ambient sounds. This didn’t really occur as the film went on but was a little disappointing.

The acting in the film varied from very good to a bit flat which affected the tone of some of the scenes. A notable one was after the dead body of someone was found and one character gets up and suggests going for help in such an emotionless way that the scene was ruined for me. Thankfully the majority of the film was suitably gripping and enjoyable.

The horror itself was done very well, with nice gruesome effects and variety in the various demises of the friends. It made good use of flashbacks to tell the tale of the original 80’s tragedy and also a character’s memories. These utilised bright colours which were a stark contrast to the murky darkness of night that cloaks the action in the rest of the film. 


Throughout the film there was some humour and some references to other horror tropes, explicitly referenced in character dialogue or just written on the props. I liked this, especially the typical doughnut eating cop that turns up at one point.

I enjoyed The Campground. As an homage to 80’s horror I think it nails it. The flaws mentioned above are negligible when you look at the film as a whole, and for Roman Jossart’s first film, it is a fine effort.

Rating: 3.5/5

The Campground Links



Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Dark Article - Video Gaming Rituals

My article "Video Gaming Rituals" is now up in Issue 9 of the Geek Syndicate Digital Magazine. A look at why people do the things they do when it comes to getting enjoyment from their gaming hobby. There are also lots of other interesting things to read for anyone with a Geek Gland. Click here to go to the magazine page where you can choose a number of ways to read it.


Monday, 3 March 2014

Dark Fiction - Two Honourable Mentions in Darker Times Feb Flash Competition

My two entries to the Darker Times Feb Flash competition both gained honourable mentions. Gross and Stalked can be read by clicking their names.


Dark Distractions is Two Years Old Today!


My blog is officially two today, and just like last year, I thought it would be interesting to do a post that is more for me than anyone else. A post that will let me see what I did in the last year, and how that improved on the year before. It will also include some shout-outs and thanks, as I didn't do it alone.

The year before last I wrote 43 blog posts. This past year I did 75. I’m pleased that I almost doubled my output, even though I know quantity is no assurance of quality. I will aim to double it again this year.

I went from around 25 Twitter followers to around 300. I’m not chasing numbers as it’s all about quality followers, not just slack-jawed “I’ll follow you if you follow me’ers.” Twitter is nice but I don’t think I’m social enough to really take full advantage. Even so, my goal for this year is to pass the 1000 follower mark.

My blog traffic went from around 2,000 hits to around 21,000. It’s nice to see some traffic, even if a lot of it is just automated bots and crawlers. I think this year my goal will be another 10X increase to around 200,000 hits.

I managed to get an article into every edition of the Geek Syndicate Magazine, and thirteen articles/reviews for the website. I will aim to continue that level of contribution to the magazine (as it is beyond my power to make it come out more frequently) but I will try to increase my website contributions.


I wrote 9 film reviews for the Generic Movie and TV blog before I decided to part company with them and put my effort into my other areas of interest. I did have a look at letterboxd but think that I will just keep the odd film review to my blog.



I wrote 17 pieces of flash fiction for #fridayflash. Fridayflash is a great community of writers and it has only really been the second half of the year that I have been able to fully take part and commit to publishing a story each week. I think it has helped my writing a good degree to have something weekly to aim for.

I entered 5 competitions gaining various places/mentions in each, which won me a free ebook (Grey Matter Press) and my stories featuring in 3 print and ebook anthologies (Darker Times). I had only entered one competition before these, and that was before this blog even existed. I am committed to keeping the competition entries flowing as I feel that they are the main way to gauge my progress and, if won, the main way to get my name out more. It was also very nice to be able to hold my work in printed form, something physical to show for the effort. On a larger note, I aim to plan and complete a novel of some kind in the next 12 months.


I joined the Horror Blogger Alliance, which has led to three review requests from people that found my blog and asked me if I fancied reviewing their books/films. 


I was given a Liebster award by Steve Green which was very kind of him. It wasn’t my first but the first one I was able to accept. Paul Dail gave me my first but it came at a time where I couldn’t meet the criteria for accepting it and so it fell from my mind. I appreciated the gesture though.


One low point was that I did sign up to do NaNoWriMo but just couldn’t get started with it. I had a couple of ideas for novels that I wanted to follow and the indecision ended up putting too much pressure on me so I just let it drop.

As usual, I would like to thank my good friend Paul Brewer, who has tirelessly commented on my posts when I'm sure he has had much more interesting things to be getting on with. Thanks as always Paul :).

Thanks to everyone who knows me, reads my stuff and lets me know that I am not writing in a vacuum.

Casey.