Friday 29 March 2013

Dark Review - Thirst

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Thirst Review

By Casey Douglass

Directed by : Chan-wook Park
Written by : Seo-Gyeong Jeong , Chan-wook Park , Émile Zola
Starring : Kang-ho Song , Ok-bin Kim , Hae-suk Kim , Ha-kyun Shin

Whenever some kind of plague or disease is cutting a swath through mankind, one of the questions rarely answered by movies is “How would it effect a vampire?”
Most movies seem to view the vampirism itself as the plague, so in this respect, Thirst is giving you two afflictions for the price of one, in the manner of some backward pharmacy. Thirst follows the story of Sang-hyun (Kang-ho Song), a Catholic priest who volunteers himself for experimentation at an out-of-the-way institute that is trying to find a cure for the Emmanuel Virus that is proving fatal for anyone who is unlucky enough to catch it. It consists of blisters that grow and split, gradually ravaging the body of the poor sod that has contracted it, slowly spreading inwards until it affects the muscles and organs. Sang-hyun takes to it like a martyr, hoping it will bring him closer to God. He whiles away his time writing optimistic letters to his old patients and playing his flute, until the day blood gushes from the end of the instrument and he is rushed into surgery. He dies on the operating table and is covered over with a sheet. Before the doctors can even turn away, his croaky voice seeps out from beneath the white covering, reciting a prayer that becomes the last link to his old faith throughout the rest of the film. He has awoken a vampire, and as you can imagine, this is quite an awkward position to be in for a Catholic priest.

It isn’t all bad though, as the vampirism holds the EV virus in check, and also grants him the usual powers and desires that go hand in hand with any blood sucking story. The story is then set up for the conflicts and clashes of desire that are inevitable. It is very interesting to see the way he rigidly holds to his Catholic faith, but as the seriousness of the situation impinges on his mind, he loosens his hold a little. Things come to a head even more when he meets Tae-ju (Ok-bin Kim), the wife of his childhood friend. She is very unhappy in her life, running barefoot at night in shear exasperation and fantasy of what it would be like to really run away. Her restlessness and Sang-hyun’s identity crisis draw them together as two people unhappy with their place in the world and seeking answers.

Thirst is a very nice take on the usual vampire style film. There are no incisors that emerge with a clicking noise, nor are there any of the really fantastical abilities such as shape-shifting or mind control. This really helps the film in my opinion as it lets you concentrate on the human aspect a little more, and shows that no matter how powerful you might become, your frailties and weaknesses will still accompany you. The scenes of the film itself are shot in quite a dark way, much of the film taking place at night or in dim rooms. There are some scenes which are in brighter areas and they do add a nice contrast, and later in the film, one particularly violent scene takes place in the brightest room of the whole film, which I think sets up a nice comparison with the issues of dark and light and good and evil that the film plays with.

Thirst is a great watch and I think it is a film I will carry with me for a while, which is usually a good sign that a film appealed to me. If you enjoy subtitled films and vampires, it doesn’t come much better.

Rating: 5/5


My review is now up on Generic Movie Blog UK here.

I had hoped to have a short story up today but it's not quite ready yet so needs to bake awhile longer.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Dark Review - Parker

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Parker Film Review

By Casey Douglass

Directed by : Taylor Hackford
Writers : John J. McLaughlin , Donald E. Westlake
Starring : Jason Statham , Jennifer Lopez , Michael Chiklis , Wendell Pierce , Nick Nolte

Parker is a high-concept sci-fi thriller with a rich philosophy and epic scenes of majestic beauty. Sorry if that made you choke and dribble coffee down your chin…I am joking! Do you need a tissue?

Parker is the usual kind of Jason Statham movie, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Parker (Statham) is a thief with more highly developed morals than his contemporaries.

The film starts with him striding into a fairground dressed as a vicar, complete with grey wig and dog collar, although looking more like he might just punch someone rather than offer spiritual support. He and the other four men in his team are pulling a job, and the first fifteen minutes of the film sets the pieces in position and then slowly knocks them down. After which comes the almost inevitable cock-up, followed by the double cross which sees Parker fighting for his life and mightily pissed off he is too.

From this moment on, the film is about him getting what is owed to him, tinged with the chance for some brutal payback. While trying to track down his old team, he crosses paths with Leslie Rogers (Lopez), a failing real-estate agent that he hoodwinks into showing him around. She inadvertently hels him find where his gang are holed up as they plan for their next big score. This dynamic changes when she reveals herself to be more intelligent than he takes her for and sees through his fake papers and identity. The rest of the film sees them as active partners, her the bumbling newbie, while he has to tolerate her mistakes.

The film progresses at a nice pace, the gaps between one bout of violence and the next never seeming long. When it does happen, it is usually swift and brutal, although in this particular film Statham ends up trying to pull a John McClane, seeing just how beaten and injured he can be and still serve up retribution. There is also a nice brand of humour that popped up in unexpected ways which helped lighten the film a little.

I enjoyed the plot of the film, although there were the usual few question marks over some of the characters. Hurley (Nolte) plays Parker’s mentor and father to his girlfriend. He is conveyed as an old hand when it comes to shady dealings. Unfortunately, his part seemed particularly throw away, there to nudge Parker onto the job that becomes his downfall, and as occasional moral support. He then disappears less than half way into the film. Parker’s girlfriend is also quite a flimsy character, there to patch him up when he is injured, and to just weigh on his mind at times to show that he is a caring guy. There is also the well-known scene from the film trailer, that shows Lopez stripping in front of Statham so that Parker can see that she isn’t wearing a wire. Fair enough, the plot gives a reason for it, but when you see it you can’t help thinking it was put in to show that J.Lo still has it and to draw in a few more male cinema goers.

I couldn’t help but feel that if you added a nice black Audi and a little more driving, you could have happily put the word “Transporter” in the title, next to a number four. The character Parker is incredibly like Frank, both obsessed by morals and rules, both unwilling to see innocents get hurt, and both dressing in similar ways. I do enjoy Statham’s films, and the similarity didn’t particularly bother me. If you aren’t really a fan of Statham, I am not sure this film will win you over. I enjoyed the film for what it was, an interesting tale punctuated with brutal fights and the odd exhilarating stunt.

Rating : 3/5


Review also on Generic Movie Blog UK here.

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Dark Review - Ghost Dog

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Ghost Dog Review

By Casey Douglass

Directed and written by : Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Forest Whitaker , John Tormey , Cliff Gorman , Henry Silva , Isaach De Bankolé , Tricia Vessey , Camille Winbush .

Finding a philosophy to live by is something that has become quite important to me over the years. If you don’t have a vague idea of where you want to go and how you are going to get there, you can end up bouncing from one distraction to another for the rest of your life, and ultimately being at the whim of outside forces. Having a semblance of an idea about the kind of person you want to be, and how you would like to react to certain situations can become invaluable in times of hardship. I have yet to find my own life philosophy, be it set out by others (which just seems wrong to me) or self-created. Ghost Dog is someone who has certainly found his.

Ghost Dog (Whitaker) is the story of a man who chooses to follow the writings of Hagakure: The book of the Samurai. Saved from almost certain death when he was younger by Louie (Tormey), a passing gangster type, Ghost Dog returns years later offering his services as a hitman, taking Louie as his Master, and adopting the position of Retainer himself. The film begins with Ghost Dog carrying out a job for Louie, which is complicated by the unexpected presence of the mob boss’s daughter. Ghost Dog becomes the focus for the ire of the whole consortium and must juggle his feelings of loyalty to his Master and his actions against his master’s masters, so to speak.

The Hagakure infuses Ghost Dog’s way of life in almost every respect, be it the manner he chooses to be paid on only the first day of autumn or the way he communicates with Louie via pigeon. This guiding hand gives Ghost Dog much tranquillity, and also litters the film with many contrasts and comparisons between the old giving way to the new. He lives in a shack on the roof of a tall brick building, his pigeons lofted next to him. The shrine he bows to and lights incense on overlooks a large chimneyed industrial complex, which is a lovely contrast that nestles against his own practices. This theme of old giving way to new also appears in other aspects of the film. The mob organisation has fallen on hard times, their income falling and properties up for sale, a sorry-looking room of elderly gangsters, their financial debts mirroring the moral debt of gratitude Ghost Dog owes to Louie.

The above might make Ghost Dog sound like a forlorn loner who has little to do with humanity besides the people he eradicates, but this is not the case. He chooses a solitary life but he is not cold to people, he just doesn’t mix with them more than necessary. His best friend is Raymond (Bankolé), a French ice cream seller who speaks as little English as Ghost Dog does French. Yet, the two of them share a bond that seems to get past this apparent impediment, one often knowing what the other means, even if they aren’t certain they have got it right. They also look out for each other and both share the “outsider” status in society. As the film progresses, Ghost Dog chats to a young girl called Pearline (Winbush) and shares his books with her. He also introduces her to Raymond, the ice cream truck and park becoming the focal point of their interactions. These are the scenes in the film which give the most insight into Ghost Dog’s character.

Ghost Dog also enjoys life’s simple pleasures, and the film has a great pacing that conveys this in a relaxing yet intelligent way. Whether he is driving a stolen car listening to a CD with the window down observing the night-life of the slums around him, or sleeping peacefully on the rooftop surrounded by his pigeons, he doesn’t let the big stuff get in the way of the truly soul nourishing stuff, even if it is sometimes to his own detriment. One scene in the film sees him missing the perfect long-range sniping shot just because nature intrudes.

The film has a bitter-sweet ending that stays true to the themes that have emerged during its roughly two-hour duration, the final scenes holding the most emotion seen in the entire film. As the credits roll, you feel that you have truly had a glimpse into someone’s life, what makes them tick, what they care about, and how they view the world. You also see the pros and cons of living your life by a rigid doctrine, and the peace of mind and dangers that go along with it. Ghost Dog is one of my favourite films, if not the favourite. I hope if you watch it, you will enjoy it as much as I have.

Rating: 5/5


My review is also here on Generic Movie Blog UK.

Saturday 9 March 2013

Dark Review - Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

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Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Review

By Casey Douglass

Director and Writer: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: Jeremy Renner , Gemma Arterton , Peter Stormare , Famke Janssen

“This swamp witch used to have power, respect and numerous children to eat. Now, she fights over skinny orphans and must always keep a wary eye out for Hansel and Gretel; two witch hunters who between them have severely reduced the local population. Just two pieces of gold can change the life of this poor witch for the better!” I can just imagine this advert appearing on the TV while people are eating their dinner. While accurate in its content, anyone with half a brain would know that it was merely spread as a tool of witch propaganda, hoping to get people to drop their guard and feel pity for the old hags.

Hansel (Renner) and Gretel (Arterton) certainly live up to their moniker of Witch Hunters in this reworking of the old Grimm fairytale. Abandoned in the dark forest by their father (for their own good dontcha know), they stumble across that oh so famous house, you know the one, constructed from sweets and cakes and all things that make your teeth scream and your stomach gurgle. This is where they encounter their first witch; no mild-mannered old lady either but a hideous razor toothed crone with shrieking voice and a glowing wand. This part of the tale follows the usual route, with an impromptu cremation of the witch and Hansel and Gretel standing next to each other panting.
The traditional fairytale ended not long after this point, but H&G:WH is just getting started. The main title credits roll, the montage of medieval art showing brother and sister culling witches as they slowly grow older, taller, and more bloodthirsty. The story catches up with them many years later, when both are adults and more than a little jaded with the world and their fame. They take on the role of vermin exterminators, called in to trouble spots by mayors and villages struggling with disappearing children and outbreaks of witch phobic behaviour. The village in this film is under an extra special threat however, and the outcome has more than purely business implications for the two siblings.

The film progresses at a very nice pace, never too long between the odd humorous moment or expletive, and the action of actually dispatching the witches in suitably gory ways. The film is rated 15 and I would say it sits nicely in that bracket. The combat is fast paced and inventive, and the resulting splattering of gore suitably over the top to be enjoyable and a little humorous. There are some great set pieces to keep the carnage ticking along, and as the film progresses, the odd new creature or variation of witch all help to hold the interest.

The reworking or improving of the old Grimm tale is very clever, with a few twists that you can see coming easily, and others which might genuinely catch you unawares. I went to see this film expecting a bit of fun wrapped in some gore, and what I got was an appreciation of how you can adapt and expand on existing stories while keeping to the spirit of them, if not the letter.
If there are negatives about the film, I am sorry to say that it falls on the acting. Renner and Arterton both maintain steely expressions for the most part, the depth of emotion seemingly limited to the odd scream or grimace of pain. Peter Stormare as the sheriff plays an almost comedic role, even though he is also meant to be a nasty piece of work. Famke Janssen is very good as the most powerful of the witches who can appear more human if she wishes. Even appearing as human, Jansen gets a lovely sinister quality to her expressions and speech, which only improve more when she is in full-on hag mode.

The score for the film is your typical olde-worlde type fantasy fare, functional but not something to rush out and track down. The odd piece of heavier rock also features, with a great track over the end credits by the now sadly defunct band Animal Alpha.

The only other thing that I felt was an issue was the 3D. It did its job well in some scenes, at the most, you could say it didn’t get in the way. Many of the earlier scenes are amongst dark trees at night, and the 3D there was pretty woeful. Films like Prometheus were very dark also, yet the 3D in that was uniformly good, in my humble opinion. A minor gripe.

I liked Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. I went thinking it would at the least be a bit of fun, and was pleasantly surprised by the twists and turns that the story took. The occasional humour and over the top gore lent it a lighter feel, and the setting and creatures were for the most part very good, if you can overlook the odd bit of tame looking CGI.

Rating: 3.5/5


Also posted on Generic Movie Blog UK here.


Wednesday 6 March 2013

Dark Review - Franklyn

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Franklyn Review

By Casey Douglass

Written and Directed by : Gerald McMorrow
Starring : Eva Green , Ryan Phillippe , Sam Riley , Bernard Hill

Reality is a fickle thing. No sooner do you think that you have it pinned down, then something comes along that makes you question it, or some bright spark tells you that there are many realities, and everyone’s reality is unique to them. Well if that is true, in my reality, there is no place for line-dancing, Justin Bieber or four quid popcorn at the cinema. However, whatever reality you reside in, Franklyn is a film that plays with this kind of brain twisting issue with great skill.

The film is set in two superimposed realities, the more mundane and rainy high-rises of London, and the fantastic vistas of Meanwhile city. It follows the story of four people who wend their way through the winding streets, all suffering with great feelings of loss and sorrow, and all clinging to some manner of psychological crutch to help them live through the pain. The four are entwined from the very start of the film, the tangled threads of their solitary lives pulling tighter together as the film progresses.

One of the characters is firmly entrenched in Meanwhile city, Jonathan Preest (Phillipe). He walks the streets a persecuted man as he is the only inhabitant of Meanwhile city who has neither faith nor religion. Meanwhile is chock-full of all kinds of religions, from the familiar to the more extremely farcical. There is one based on the manual for a washing machine and another based on the noble art of the manicure. The Ministry (read as the people in charge) is forever on his tail as he tries to find and kill the head of a shadowy organisation called Duplex Ride, an individual that is ironically known as the Individual. This shows one of the many philosophical questions laced throughout the film. A lone guy with no religion in a city of faithful sheep, wanting to kill the one guy known as the Individual. The whole film is littered with clever thought-provoking devices like this. As far as character realisation, Phillipe plays Preest with suitable menace, his lines snarled out through a face (when not wearing Preest’s mask) that he manages to keep reasonably emotionless, yet still somehow conveying threat.

The other three characters are more firmly in London, although each has at least one aspect of their life that could be seen as a bit “Meanwhilish”.

Emilia (Green) is an art student who frequently orchestrates her own suicide attempts as a means to reach out for something, some kind of loving contact or resolution to her internal struggles. Eva Green plays her so well; she is a master of mercurial emotions sliding across her features, all somehow ending in a look of trapped sadness. Eva Green also plays another character in the film who is the mirror opposite of Emilia. This character is light and airy and all of the things Emilia is not.

Milo (Sam Riley) is suffering from rejection as he is jolted at the altar on the day of his wedding rehearsal. Cue lots of forlorn thousand yard stares and kicked puppy expressions from Riley as he plunges into the feelings aroused by everything falling away from him, taking sanctuary in his friends and the familiar.

The final character is Peter Essa (Hill), a man of religion and curator of a church. He is searching for his son, in more ways than one, and his crutch is his unwavering faith in God. Hill plays Essa very well, making him come across as humble and put upon by the world. He is also good at getting some of Essa’s naivety to shine through when dealing with some of the harsh realities of what is going on.
The stories of these four flirt with each other throughout the film, often visiting somewhere in Meanwhile city as a passenger with Preest, then some time later seeing the corresponding part of London with one of the others. In this way the film imparts meaning that otherwise might be lost. It does leave a fair few head scratching moments that aren’t explained though, which I like very much.

One scene sees Milo follow someone he thinks he knows into the basement level of a building. He hears children laughing and playing, yet when he walks into the room, it is full of old men playing dominoes. I am not sure what that means; maybe it was Meanwhile intruding on London. Who knows. There is also a strange cleaner who all three of the London-based characters talk to at one point or another. He seems to know what is going on, and his words prod them onto different paths. This isn’t really explained at the end of the film, you are just left to draw your own conclusions, which again, I quite like.

The threads of each tale come together quite spectacularly at the end of the film, where for good or ill, some things are resolved and others don’t really end very well.

The film itself is shot very well. Meanwhile city is a true metropolis with ram packed buildings reaching for the sky, large statues and figure heads looming over them in a sort of Gothic splendour. The characters are all shot with a slightly different colour palette which lends their scenes deeper emotion and novelty, and the score is suitably orchestral, varying from the grand theme of Meanwhile city to the quiet mundanity of urban London. Each element plays with the others to produce something that just feels very right.

It is a truly great film, one that hasn’t had nearly enough coverage in my opinion. I managed to miss this at the cinema, and it is rare to see it on Blu-ray or Dvd in shops nowadays. It is a little easier to purchase online but not by much. I think this is a great shame. I can only wonder if it sells any better in Meanwhile city.

Rating: 5/5


Also available to read here on Generic Movie Blog UK.

Dark Review - Plague Inc.

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My review of Plague Inc. just went up on Geek Syndicate. It's a great iOS/Android game that sees you try to kill off humanity. I know! Well it is well worth a purchase if you have a device that can play it. Find my review here.

Sunday 3 March 2013

One Year On

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My blog is one year old today. I wasn't sure if I would still be posting to it a year down the line. Going by my past attempts at blogging/website making, the chances were slim. Here we are though, so I must be doing something right, and it must have ensnared some small part of me as things I don't enjoy soon get dropped pretty quickly.

There were some spells where my posts became intermittent, nearly always health related, so I won't be beating myself up over that, even though it irked me at the time.

Over the year, I have broadened my writing to give myself a little more variety in the kind of things I write. I enjoy writing fiction, but the addition of the odd review here and there gives me the option of something a little different. I still intend to stick with the darker side of entertainment as that just appeals to me. I did notice that any fiction I submit as horror/dark gets less page hits than something I submit as cross-genre, so I am not sure if my choice of genre is making things more difficult for me. Thinking about it, I don't really know many horror readers, on or offline, so this year might be more about finding where they are hiding, going into their lairs and seeing whats what.

I feel that I have spread my leathery wings a little more, having a couple of websites agree to the odd contribution from me, namely Geek Syndicate and Generic Movie Blog. I really don't mind writing for free, it is just nice to be part of something and for others to value my writing. Publishing my own stuff on my blog is fine, but having other people want my writing on their site, it's a nice step up.

This year, I hope to reach more people with my writing, maybe find a few more Twitter followers and maybe get the odd thing published in traditional media, even if they are just the letters page of a magazine or the odd competition win. At the least I would like to increase my output, health permitting.

Thanks to Paul Brewer for his support as well, and for his diligence in letting hardly any of my posts stay on zero comments. I appreciate it mate :). Thanks also to everyone else who I have interacted with or come to know a little. A few other shout outs go to Barry Nugent at Geek Syndicate, Kat at Generic Movie Blog, and Paul D.Dail . If I missed anyone I am sorry, it doesn't diminish my thanks to you too.

Heres to another year.


Dark Article - Choose Your Own Path Adventure Books

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Choose Your Own Path Adventure Books
By Casey Douglass

Caves of Fury and Tunnels of Fear Image

In the process of sorting out some old books for the charity shop, I came across a couple of the old Battle Quest books; those old choose-your-own-path kind of book where you turn to a certain page for one choice and a different page for another. I remember getting them when I was about nine or ten and it has been a long time since I set eyes on them. I set them aside with a view to revisiting them later to see how they fared after years of playing video games.

I settled on Tunnels of Fear although the other one, Caves of Fury, hinted at a similarly dark adventure. Both were written by Stephen Thraves and were published by Hodder&Stoughton. I would guess that if there had been a third, it might be called Pit of Despair, keeping with the same subterranean theme. As far as I can see, these are the only two that were released in the darker fantasy style.

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The book comes with two dice, a red one to represent the monster and a blue for your barbarian hero. Each side has a symbol, a sword, shield and the face of the combatant, and you roll these to decide who hits who, or even if sword hits shield/sword etc. It’s simple and very easy. If the creature inflicts a wound on you, you are meant to decrease your character strength by one, and run away! If you hit the creature, you have to keep going until you have wounded it the number of times that the book tells you to. Simple.

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After looking them over I opened the book and various paraphernalia fell out that I had totally forgotten was part of it. This included a strength (read as health) counter, a treasure counter, and various overlays and information cards that you can only use if you find them on your quest. These are called things like Foresight Power and Cryptic Scroll. Being a good boy I turned them over out of the way. Following the instructions, I set my strength counter to 6 and treasure counter to 0.

I meet with a beautiful queen whose kingdom’s wealth came from a particular mine that has now been cursed by a sorcerer called Murgle, on the order of his evil master Draxun. The mine is now filled to the brim with demons and monsters and the miners cannot delve for the valuable diamonds that the kingdom so relies on. Can I help? The book says to turn the page if yes. There is no option for no but anyone saying no straight away deserves to be perplexed. Why buy the book?

The queen’s advisor Uvane drops me off some way from the mine. I am given the choice of resting or pushing on straight away. I choose to rest, and get to enjoy the sight of a bedraggled band of miners traipsing along the road. I can choose who to speak to! I choose the man with a beard and pick axe; looking the most minerly of the bunch, I guess him to have the most accurate information. All he tells me is that the mine is full of monsters and that the village is going bust. Okay, not very helpful but thanks I guess.

I push on for the village, giving some of my rations to a hungry child I see at the limits of the ramshackle area. I wasn’t given an option to give them or not. It felt like I had been burgled to be honest. Little shit.

I see the tear in the rock face that signals the entrance to the mine. Listening outside, there is no demonic roaring or clinking of chains. Silence prevails. I like it, it’s nice and ominous.

The tunnel is conveniently lit with oil lamps until it widens into a cavern. There are metal rungs stapled into the sides of a deep pit, one bunch to the north, one to the south. ‘Which way do you want to go?’ the book asks in its bold font. I choose south, thinking it’s a mine, I’m going down, South is down on a map. Poetic and fitting I think.

The book tells me I climb down 400 rungs, which I think is a suspiciously round number. These miners must have known their stuff. ‘We need to delve x metres down and no more. That will need exactly 400 rungs at y cm apart.’ This was an intelligent people.

Clearing the bottom of the pit and trudging on some little way, I encounter my first monster, and twinkling behind it, a lovely diamond! The creature looks a bit like Thing from the Fantastic Four, rocky and cracked, although this guy has tusks and a sword. The book asks if I want to fight or avoid it. Feeling confident I fight. The next page tells me that I need to wound him 8 times. 8! It takes a few rolls to get any proper contact as the first few end in swords clashing and shields bashing faces. I inflict my first wound swiftly followed by a second. The fight still feels far from won and it wounds me on the next roll, causing me to loose strength and scamper away. Damn it. I turn my strength counter down to 5.

I run into a segment of tunnel that is shaking and trembling, looking for all the world like it will crash down at any moment. The book gives me the option of running on or waiting. I choose to run. I make it mostly through but a stray rock knocks the back of my head and sets me unconscious on the floor. Lose 1 strength. Son of a bitch.

A ghost of a former miner is floating in front of me when I come to. He beckons with a misty finger. The book asks me if I would like to follow or ignore him. I choose to follow, he’s a miner after all. That’s the second time I have chosen a miner to trust/speak to. Maybe it’s the beards? Do I have a Father Christmas complex? Who knows.

I follow him until he stops in front of three smallish rocks in the wall, all looking a little wobbly. He points to them and tells me that behind one is a treasure, behind the others nothing. Which should I choose? I pick the lowest one, my thinking being again, I’m in a mine, you go low in a mine so choose the lowest. I’m not a complicated fellow. I grope behind the rock and pull out a musty old book. The Book of Cyphers! I fist punch the air and then chastise myself for being such a child, but I still grin broadly as I fish out the book of Cyphers from the forbidden pile of cards that has been mocking me since I started. Right, so I am down to 4 strength, have found 0 diamonds, but now I have a book that should tell me what to do later. Things don’t look so bleak.

Buoyed in spirit if not weighed down by loot, I push on deeper into the mine. It isn’t long before I cross paths with another monster, this one a Cyclops with a large scimitar. I decide to try my luck once more and engage the creature in combat. The book informs me that it needs to be wounded 7 times. It seems a lot, and there was no question of a swift rock thrown at the eye either. I roll and roll and roll, each dice throw resulting in weapons hitting shields, sword against sword, and once, monster face against barbarian face, which I can only assume meant a harsh stare. Soon, the wounds began to flow and I had knocked the creature down to needing 3 more hits. Swords clashed, shields thumped, but eventually I succeeded. The Cyclops lay dead before me, the body still twitching as my hands cupped the diamond that had been pressed into a nook in the cave wall. With another grin (but no air punch this time, I had learnt my lesson) I turned my treasure counter to 1.

I proceed down the tunnel once more and have to choose at a junction whether to go left or right. I choose left, hoping something evil is at the end of it. I was wrong. The danger came from behind. A yellow crackling glow whooshed behind me as a large fireball broiled towards me. I run but it catches me, singeing the back of my head. The heat sucks the air from my lungs causing me to faint.

For the second time in my adventure, I come to with something staring down at me. In this case it is a hideous goblin sniggering at me as he jiggles up and down with glee. He informs me that when I collapsed, the fireball stopped and rolled backwards down the tunnel. My first thought was “What the fuck? A fireball rolling? A fireball rolling backwards?” Maybe this wasn’t a magical fireball. Maybe it was the proverbial “rolling stone that gathers no moss”, but in this case happened to roll through some flammable oil and catch some flint on the way down the hill. But then again, it stopped without killing me and rolled away, so it probably was magical after all.

The goblin offers me three potions of various colours. One will do nothing, one will give me 1 strength back, and one will poison me. Ah ha! The book of Cyphers can be used. Each bottle has the same symbol etched into it, and the book of Cyphers informs me that I should choose the blue coloured liquid. The goblin snarls in irritation as my strength increases once more, the little window on my counter now proudly displaying 4.

I imagine myself walking down the tunnel, whistling some current barbarian pop tune as the goblin punches the wall and swears at me in his strange sounding native tongue. I push deep into the mine and negotiate all manner of obstacles, from rock falls, pits of flame and cryptic clues which are beyond my power to decipher. Not to mention the monsters and their diamonds. My strength counter now shows a forlorn 1, my treasure counter a healthy 3. Laughter drifts up to me from a particularly foisty part of the tunnel. I round a corner and floating white vapours take on the aspect of an elderly man with a long beard and the top of a grand looking robe. This definitely wasn’t a miner. I knew because I didn’t trust him.

It is Murgle, Draxun's sorcerer. He laughs and tells me of the trials I will face and surely fail. I say nothing apparently but this doesn’t discourage him from proceeding. The first challenge is similar to the goblin’s potion trick, and my trusty book of Cyphers swiftly dispenses with it. Murgle is unfazed and throws me into his mind maze with a flick of a ghostly hand. A large statue stands before me with a massive diamond on its head. I am given the choice to climb it or ignore it. I ignore it, something seemed fishy. Moments later the statue vanishes. Had I been climbing it I would have surely broken my neck as my hands and feet suddenly grasped at the thin air.

In the next tunnel a whirlwind blows and tears the air. I am given the option of going left of it, right, or to risk going straight through it. I wouldn’t go through it, if the statue was an illusion, I doubted this one would be as well. It is then that the book informs me of the glowing symbol in the tendrils of wind. Book of Cyphers comes to the rescue and right of it is the way to go. Things fade to darkness and I find myself facing Murgle again. He asks how I liked his mind maze? I would have said “Two sections is hardly a maze” but the book kept me silent again. Murgle informs me that the next part of the mine is the most perilous yet. Gravy.

I forge ahead, leaving the foggy old man behind. This part of the tunnel is interjected with large portcullises, each holding captive a stranger monster than the last. The first is like a large ape. Pass. It looked a bit handy. The second held a smirking lizard man with a large sword. Pass. He was too confident, and I couldn’t see any diamond. Strangely, it occurs to me that my mind is now in the picky mode it enters when looking for a date. Not that I date men or only people with diamonds behind them.

I finally came to a portcullis which seemed to house a monster that had been turned inside out! It was all brain, entrails and muscles snaking around, and fastened to its waist, a large sword. I fancied my chances, there appeared to be no bones, it should just be like cutting through a fat snake. It showed no signs of having a diamond behind it but the book obviously wanted me to face one of these creatures or the macabre procession might never end. It may as well be this one. Eyeing my strength counter and the 1 it displayed, I turned to the page for the creature and saw that 7 wounds were needed. Blast.

I managed to wound it once but the next throw saw its sword slice into me, opening a fatal wound in my torso. It was all over. I sadly twisted my strength counter until a mournful 0 peered back at me. My barbarian had died in the hall of portcullis, a mere hour and a half into his adventure. His story ends there, amongst the tittering goblins and slavering monsters, the three meagre diamonds he managed to find likely to be fished from his pack by skeletal fingers and dispensed to a new crop of hideous guardians once more.

Well, I can say that I enjoyed myself. It was something different for me that I hadn’t tried for a long time. I can’t really remember how many times I read through them as a kid, only that I remember that I did. I don’t think I was as bookish then as I am now though, and looking at it with another twenty years of life behind me, I think I got more out of it. The story was simple and a bit repetitive but some of that would be down to the nature of the medium and what it was trying to achieve.

One aspect that is true for this kind of entertainment and video games is that personally, I never feel the need to play/go through something more than once. Once I know the story, that’s it, interest mainly gone. The book tells you to play through again, getting better and better until you can get all of the diamonds. Nope. That’s quite optimistic of it really, but I think I will play through the other one I found at some point in the near future.

If anyone remembers these books and fancies trying their hand again, there are still a few to be had second-hand in the usual places, but they are quite scarce now. Scarcer than the diamonds in the story at the least.