Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Dark Review - Monochroma

I take a look at bleak platformer Monochroma on Geek Syndicate here. A strikingly styled game that manages to evoke emotion and convey the story without words or cut-scenes. Well worth a look for PC gamers.


Sunday, 25 May 2014

Dark Review - Penny Dreadful

Review of Penny Dreadful Episode One

By Casey Douglass


Penny Dreadful
Image ©Showtime

Are you afraid of spiders? If so you might find the first episode of new TV series Penny Dreadful a little squirm inducing. They don’t feature in a large way but just enough to provide some creeping menace. Spiders aren’t the only sinister thing to skitter their way into view though.

Penny Dreadful is a new series from Showtime and Sky Atlantic based on the old 19th century cheap and morbidly cheerful penny dreadfuls. These escapist books featured near-the-knuckle fiction that appealed to people seeking cheap and probably blasphemous thrills. Penny Dreadful as a series draws on this concept and drags in some well known horror characters such as Victor Frankenstein.
Penny Dreadful
Image ©Showtime
The first thing that hits you when watching is the care and detail that has gone into the clothing and sets. Everything has a fantastic Gothic vibe and conspires to make sure that the Sun knows it really isn’t welcome. I know I know, it’s all about the story in the end. Thankfully Penny Dreadful, as far as the first episode at least, delivers on this front.

After seeing a woman brutally attacked, we see the psychically gifted Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) approaching sharpshooter Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) with an offer of some dirty work. Ethan then meets explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) and is given his first taste of the other sinister world that is so close to our own.
Penny Dreadful
Image ©Showtime
Eva Green is the stand-out performance for me. I think she portrays complicated characters so well and she really nails the hard faced Vanessa. There is one moment where she is asked for a smile and it’s such the briefest of things that makes her expression shift into another aspect of the character’s personality.

Part of the fun of the episode was trying to suss out what each character brought to the table and, with the vague knowledge that they could be some great literary superstar, I found myself looking for clues. The episode ends with a nice reveal that confirms one such suspicion was correct.
Penny Dreadful
Image ©Showtime
The actually otherworldly stuff is done very well and much of the episode takes place at a brooding tentative pace. When there is a bit of action it is quite frenetic and often pretty gory, which all lends itself to the overall feel of the thing.

It’s hard to judge a series on one episode, but if the successive ones are at all like this one, I think Penny Dreadful will do very well. I certainly intend to keep watching at least.

You can check out the Penny Dreadful website here.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Dark Fiction - Sleeper Cell

Sleeper Cell

By Casey Douglass

as part of #fridayflash

The figure under the heavy duvet groaned and rolled onto his side. The air in the dark room was stuffy and oppressive, the kind that hinted at antique oxygen that was captured many weeks ago. The only illumination came from the faintly buzzing digital alarm clock, its digits declaring 01:17 in a ghoulish green light.

A tiny breeze fluttered at the tattered posters on the wall before all became still once more.

‘According to the manifest, this one sleeps like a log.’

Another swift movement of air billowed gently and faded into nothing.

‘Ugh this room stinks!’

‘They all do, to varying degrees.’

A tall stick-like figure moved out from the deepest patch of darkness and approached the bed. ‘He sleeps like he welcomes the oblivion.’

A smaller figure joined the larger one, its hands clasped behind its back. Both were cloaked in black material that shifted and swelled as the eye roved over it. The material hid their contours, their only visible body parts their hands and faces. Over-large foreheads squatted down on beady eyes, the nose in between looked stretched and pulled, the tip hanging just past the chin over mouths that were just a dark ‘O’. The larger one spoke again:

‘You are happy with your assignments?’

The small one nodded.

‘Do you have any questions?’

‘No Sir.’

‘You understand the ramifications of failure?’

The small one looked up at the tall one. ‘Yes Sir.’

‘What is your task?’

‘To manage and harvest my allotted cell, to utilise the energies within in furthering the goals of the movement, to stay hidden and nameless.’

‘Very well. You seem to have a firm understanding of your role but I think that perhaps a little test is needed. Why do we not like night workers and what do we do about them?’

‘We erm, we don’t like night workers because they are awake at night, going against the grain of the majority and denying us their sleeping energy. We manipulate their bodies to hasten poor health which will make them give up that kind of work or die, restoring the balance.’

‘Excellent! Question two. Explain Mardum’s principle of manifestation and tell me what your assignment is with ten sleepers.’

‘Haha that’s an easy one Sir. Mardum’s principle states that every sleeper generates five unnims of dark-wave energy. To derive your manifestation powers, that is your solidity, stability and reality control, you simply multiply the number of asleep by five. As far as my task with ten sleepers, that would generate fifty unnims, which would be...erm...information gathering from electronic devices, such as computers, tablets and phones.’

‘Very close. Fifty unnims just pushes you into your next grade of action, which in this case is modification of ventilation and air systems to force them to sleep longer and more deeply. If a little toxic gas gets into the atmosphere, it can push them into a deeper level of sleep. How much energy will they generate from this Kinnar state?’

‘Two extra unnims each.’

‘Good lad!’

‘Thanks Dad.’

The tall figure ran an alabaster hand over the head of the shorter.

‘You are very young, too young really, but needs must. Our people are fading down into the nightmare plane again, which is why it’s all hands on deck, so to speak. If we can’t infiltrate this world and make it our own, we are finished.’

‘I know Dad.’

‘Can you do it? Manage this ten story dwelling and get the energy you need to further our aims?’


‘Good boy.’

A mumble came from the bed followed by a dry cough. The two figures looked at each other as they began to fade.

‘See you at home son. If you get there first, make sure you wash properly. I know we will have to get used to the stink of this world soon but there’s no reason to bring it back with us before we have to.’
‘Okay Dad.’

The smaller figure blinked out in a quiet pop of air. The larger one lingered a few moments longer. He appraised the room around him. ‘Animals,’ he whispered, before imploding into nothing once more.


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Friday, 16 May 2014

Dark Review - Godzilla (2014)

Review of Godzilla (2014)

By Casey Douglass


I must admit to not having seen any other Godzilla film besides the 1998 version with Matthew Broderick. I quite liked it but it left me unimpressed. Roll on to this 2014 Godzilla and I came away feeling a bit better.

I could give a basic outline of the early story without spoilers but my brain is rebelling today so I will just comment on what I want, still hopefully spoiler free. Suffice to say that the story is the usual human arrogance plus massive forces equals mass destruction. 

Godzilla (2014) Pic 1
Image ©Warner Bros. Pictures

The characters that steal the show are Bryan Cranston’s Joe Brody and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Ford Brody. The father and son duo certainly have their issues but they are the two characters that stick well in my mind. The rest of the cast were pretty disposable and whose only job was to run around looking startled. Except the kids that is. My god. I saw the 3D version of Godzilla but even those 3D glasses couldn’t hide the 2D acting of the kids. Ford Brody’s son was the most unemotional kid I have ever seen. He managed a smile once near the end of the film. There was also a little girl about a third of the way into the film that watches something amazing unfold. She was like a mannequin, no emotion or response whatsoever, even when being bundled along in a hysterical crowd. I thought the kids in Everybody Loves Raymond were shit but these two can join that club now.

I was impressed with how the film handled the reveal of Godzilla and his adversaries. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that there is some monster on monster action. The film takes awhile to build up to seeing anything of Godzilla and even when it does appear, the first few fights are teasingly closed off by doors shutting or other things obstructing the view. I appreciated this and it all felt quite well done. I think it fell down a little at the end though, where I felt we see Godzilla too closely and can begin to read its expressions.

Godzilla (2014) Pic 2
Image ©Warner Bros. Pictures

The 3D was okay, it did the job but was forgotten about within five minutes of the film starting. The film delighted in shadowy silhouettes rising from dark places so maybe 3D was always at a bit of a disadvantage in those respects.

Godzilla (2014) Pic 3
Image ©Warner Bros. Pictures

What Godzilla is, is a competent mega-monster movie with oodles of destruction and escalation. It runs to around 2 hours and that felt just about right. There are twists to the story and interesting things to see, but don’t expect to really care what happens to the characters by the end.

Rating: 3.5/5

Godzilla on IMDb

Dark Review - Space Engineers

My review of space survival and building game Space Engineers is up on Geek Syndicate now here. A fantastic game that gives the player many stories to tell.

Dark Fiction - Fur


By Casey Douglass

as part of #fridayflash.

One image bleeds into the next, a hazy scene forming once the seeping impressions become more solid. An outdoor car-park, pretty full but with the odd space here and there. Groups of people chatter and laugh, the event or happening that drew them here either finished or about to start. There is a suggestion of folding tables and bric-a-brac so it might just be a car-boot sale.

A babbling man with a bushy beard is gesturing to a small gathering behind a red hatchback, his right hand continually shooting up to his nose to scratch at the hair just beneath. I recognise him as Slavoj Žižek, the Slovene philosopher from The Pervert's Guide to Ideology, a film that I had watched weeks ago. I like philosophy. I also would be intrigued by any guide written with perverts in mind, wondering how that might make it any different to a regular guide. What I got was an interesting look at some of the things that we treat as factual and don’t question. Where perverts come into it I still do not know.

The people are enraptured with the furry man’s talk but his words fail to reach me with enough volume to decipher. I pass by and continue to look around me, hemmed in on all sides by hot metal and baking concrete.

I don’t know how or why the shift occurs but things begin to change. Maybe a fleeting anxiety crosses my mind or it just happened without my intervention. What was a sunny day begins to dim into a very dark twilight, the cars around me falling into a deep shadow and only staying visible where some unknown light source glints from their contours.

A deep rumbling howl erects the hairs along my arms and neck. I hear a woman scream and sense the people around me scrabbling for somewhere to hide. I am grinning, a strange hot sensation in my chest, like the fire in the core of a furnace.

A loping thing rounds the side of the car ahead of me. I walk towards it, my right arm partly across my chest, the fist clenched. I know it is going to happen. Everything about it angles the events into one narrow funnel which can only lead to one outcome. The black shaggy dog launches at me with an almost sub-audible roar, its teeth latching onto my right forearm as I bring it meet it. I feel no pain, no real sensation besides the pressure around my forearm. I am surrounded by darkness now, the only feeling my pounding heart and the strain from smiling so forcefully. Then I wake up.


This is the tail end of a dream I had a few days ago. I have the feeling it was a dream which was getting a few things straight in my mind. My anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has continued to be problematic for weeks. The therapies and methods I have been using to try to improve my emotional response all rely on a certain level of acceptance, which at times I have struggled to get to.
This dream seems like a more visceral way of my mind getting the message. If I had to guess, I would say that the cars could be my obsessions, the philosopher the ways I try to get a handle on things/techniques I use and the black dog the anxiety that launches itself at me. In the dream, even not knowing it was a dream, I marched straight towards the dog knowing what would happen, accepting it. It’s quite funny that I can do something like that, yet the prospect of possibly having left a tap running reduces me to palpitations. Either way, a cool dream and one as I said, that feels like it had a use.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Dark Review - Paranormal

My review of PC and Mac horror game Paranormal is now up on Geek Syndicate here. Scary mannequins and clever visual effects all add up to a fun experience.

Paranormal Screenshot

Friday, 9 May 2014

Dark Fiction - Crackle



By Casey Douglass

as part of #fridayflash

It started as a tinny rustling sound, like a small plastic bag cavorting in the breeze. I looked outside my flat but could see nothing snagged or drifting across the small communal garden. Thinking it might be something on another resident's balcony, I did my best to ignore it.

A few days later it got louder. It sounded like a can of pebbles leisurely rolling down a grass slope. I struggled to hear the TV over it but again blamed the neighbours.

After a week, I managed to get an appointment with my doctor. He hummed and haaah’d and referred me to the hospital.

Things moved quickly after that.

Now I’m sat in a white sanitised room, large sections of plastic sheeting flowing from ceiling to floor on all sides. The machine next to me beeps now and then but I don’t always hear it. It can’t compete with the crackling inside my head.

Some kind of parasite they think. Probably came over in a shipment of bananas from the sub-continent they said. Horrible luck they whispered, eyes looking at the floor beside my bed.

A specialist came the other day, said that as far as she could see, the bugs reacted to stress hormones. The more stress hormone in my body, the more voraciously they reproduced. I asked if there was any kind of medication that would help me curb the hormone. She shook her head and said that it had to be an ‘authentic reaction’ or the bugs wouldn’t buy it. I asked if I relaxed enough, would they leave? She shrugged.

Now I lay and try to relax, calling on every technique I can to calm my body and unwind my mind. The slightest shock to my sensitised system, like a door slamming somewhere down the hall, causes such a jolt of agony that I pass out for minutes on end. On the plus side, my hearing is fading so that kind of stimulus will be no threat soon.

The relaxation seems to work but I know that in my heart, I am trying too hard to relax. It’s like trying to accept something horrible in the hope that it will go away. That’s not true acceptance. You should be able to accept something whether it goes or stays. It shouldn’t matter.

My head buzzes with the movements of the larger bugs now, new generations hatching and chewing on my brain with every passing hour.

I saw the orderlies install more sheeting around the doorways and windows yesterday. Nice to know they are planning for the best!

All I know is that I’m tired now. I feel annoyed to go out this way but I’m sure there are worse. I’m going to stop trying to relax, stop hoping that I will recover, give up the dream of recovery. I think it is a genuine acceptance I feel now but who knows. All I know is I’m done with the struggle and whatever happens happens.

People condemned to death usually get a last meal. It is rare indeed that they are the last meal.

Bon appétit bugs!


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Friday, 2 May 2014

Dark Review - Daylight

My review of new PC (and PS4) horror game Daylight is now up on Geek Syndicate here. A game that will give you some nice scare-jumps but that falls short of what it could have been. Enjoyable none-the-less.

Daylight Screenshot

Dark Fiction - Ink


By Casey Douglass

as part of #fridayflash

You feel the air currents swirling against your skin but can see nothing through the blackness that envelops you. You wave your arms around and feel slight relief that you can feel them, even if you can’t see them.

A cough rasps through the void behind you. You wheel around and see a small area of golden light glowing some way off, a dark shadow stooped in the middle.

You force your heavy feet to take move toward it. You struggle to get the muscles and nerves to obey the order but you manage a shuffling step. The next is easier, the third almost child’s play.

The tension in your body dissipates as you edge nearer the light. The dark shape that moves and twitches now and then is nothing more than an elderly man leaning over a large table peering at a piece of parchment. He is bald and wearing a weathered white robe that looks rather like an old dressing gown.

You stop beside him but he fails to acknowledge you. You gaze at the parchment and the design upon it, wondering what on earth he is doing. The paper is brown with age and pinned at each corner with a rusty nail. The centre of the page is covered with a large black blob of ink.

The quivering hand of the man pours more ink from a small clay vessel, expanding the dark patch so that it almost takes up the whole parchment. A tuneless hum sounds from his pursed lips, the smallest hint of a smile stretching the mottled skin above his white stubble.

‘What are you doing?’ you ask.

He begins to whistle.

‘Hello?’ you say, waving your hand in front of his face.

He reaches down to a small drawer and takes out a quill, the edges of the feather fizzing with tiny sparks.

You watch as he leans forward. He presses the writing tip into the inky dark and begins to scrape searing lines of white light. You cannot make out what he is drawing but your heart begins to pound as some of the elements coalesce into something horrible. You see a large maw forming, then some razor teeth. Further up, two eyes with an evil gleam. A little lower, a massive outstretched claw.

The elderly hand picks up speed and is gliding over the surface of the parchment now. You watch the creature take shape, each new feature adding to its hellish appearance. A trickle of sweat gets stuck in your eyebrow and you wipe it away with the back of your hand. The air is hot and stifling, the heat drying the back of your throat.

The man leans back and mutters something before adjusting his position. His hand manoeuvres the quill in the area just under the colossal claw, the scratching of the implement slicing through your nerves. You lean forward, trying to see what he is drawing now. It is small, tiny even, and very hard to make out. You reach out and grab his wrist, dread rising inside you. The wrist cracks in your fingers. The old man yowls.

You sense movement behind you, a shifting of the air, a tension pressing down on your head and shoulders. You lean forward, feeling your heartbeat in every part of your body. You look at the paper, your eyes struggling to focus on the intricate art. The tiny, dwarfed thing that the monster is towering over. It’s you! You reading from some device!

You notice your hand is empty, the man is gone. You vaguely wonder how he vanished and where he went. That is, until you turn around and empty yourself into the biggest scream you can muster.