Jacob's Ladder- Knowing When to Say Goodbye

I couldn't find a more fitting movie to end this project. Jacob's Ladder is a brilliant masterpiece about life and death, about the things the wars do to ordinary people, about family. It is a horror movie, it is a drama movie, it is a war movie, and it is a surrealist movie. It is hard to explain exactly what it is, just that it is one of the greatest movies of the nineties, perhaps even one of the greatest movies of all time.
The movie chronicles the life of Jacob, a divorced man, a Dr. of the arts and philosophy, a war veteran who fought in Vietnam. It chronicles the way that his mind, his world, starts to fragment after 2 years of war. From conspiracy to feelings of loss, from love to hippies, this movie has it all.
And (and from now on I'm gonna spoiler) it is also a movie about the need to accept one's end, one's death. In the end of the movie, Jacob accepts that he's gonna die, and just lets it happen, smiling, peaceful.
Campaigns and one-shots are going to end too. And we'll have to accept that, acknowledge that. Everything oughta end. Nothing good lasts forever. And as such is the case, we need to learn to let go, to know when something should end and to ensure that it will end there. Not all games need to last 200 years. Not all games need to last even a full single year. Some need to end after a single session, others after 3 or four. We need to accept that, understand that, not to stretch it more than we should.
Because it is better to let go of things, when they get to their natural ultimate ending than to stretch it any longer and let it disintegrate into no more than a thing that was once epic and now is… not.
Ending things is hard. It is not easy. But living isn't easy either, and we don't give on life because of that. We make the hard choices, we choose to live, and we choose to end our campaigns. We will end them on a high note, sure, but they will end. And we'll know, deep inside our hearts that the stories of those characters have ended. That now we do something else.
Because every ending is a new beginning. When a campaign ends, a new ones starts, filling the place of the earlier one, of the campaign that ended. I don't know if I succeeded expressing what I had to say, what I had in mind. But I do hope that you'll understand and take from it what you want.

Thanks for reading.

Pulse- In Horror, Nothing Really Happens

So… yeah, Pulse was nice. Or at least, it was nice in the beginning. Somewhere after the first 30 minutes or so it just lost its mark, and what followed was a mediocre film. The acting level went down, the dialogues became clanky, the metaphors became way too much for a normal movie. I left the screen disappointed, way too much disappointed.
In short, though, this movie is a metaphor for the way that the internet changed our society, driving us away from each other due to the internet. It is pretty easy to see that by the time we reach the end, the director practically says that the internet will destroy us all in one way or the other. But the ending just feels a little bit over-the-top, and is a little too happy for the tone of the movie up to this point.
But it doesn't mean that there's nothing to learn from this movie. True, it is located in the first 30 minutes of the movie, but this lesson is there nonetheless. In the first 30 minutes of the film, almost nothing happens. And that's one of the most important secrets in the horror genre- nothing really happens, but it is still scary as hell.
The trick for doing it is to say to us quite early that this is a horror movie or game. After stressing that, we're always on the lookout for those horror moments, because we first of all wanna be scared, and second of all we wanna be brave. This combination makes us far more stressful and jumpy in horror films and games.
A great GM can utilize that. After stressing that his is a horror game, and giving something to chew early on, it is only a matter of raising questions in most of the time left for the session. How to do that is what all those other horror posts are for. But firstly one needs to understand that in horror, being gentle and graceful in the use of the tools is the trick. Nothing really happens, or is it? The room is empty, or is it? There are marks on the floor, but do you really wanna know what thing left those marks? Nothing really happened here, but the feeling went out of my keyboard and (hopefully) entered your minds. Because in horror, just like in real life, nothing really happens. We just think that it does. And hope that we are wrong.

How about you? What have you thought about this movie? And what have you learned from it?

28 Days Later- Changing Just a Little Thing

And that's how a masterpiece looks. I guess that I shouldn't have expected any less from the director who made Trainspotting, but you know, when I should give a compliment I will give a compliment. 28 Days Later is our age's Night of the Living Dead, a movie that is so inventive and amazing that everyone tried to copy it, yet it still tops them all.
In short, a group of animal liberation militants free a virus throughout the entirety of Britain, resulting in a zombie apocalypse. The zombies this time are fast, real fast, and scary like they were never before. To that we add the personal horrors of the last act. Oh, and did I mention that it has the same amazing directing touch that Boyle employed in Trainspotting?
And that leads us to the lesson to learn from this movie. Apart from utilizing lessons of identification and beautiful scenery (which makes this movie a textbook example of how to do a high-level horror movie), it practically invented the concept of the fast-zombie.
And the zombies here are fast. Apart from being fast, they are the normal Romero-type zombies, but their greater speed makes them so different, so refreshing, and so terrifying. And that's a pretty good lesson to learn.
I wrote, a long time ago, about ways to make one scene characters unique, utilizing a known, common stereotype and building upon it. Boyle gave the same treatment to his zombies. And we can do the same- when using a known monster, keeping it the same, just like we read or watched hundreds of time, but changing something inherent in it, like the speed of the zombies. Or it might be a vampire that lives on computer data, sucking hard-drives and all the personal folders and documents.
Or we might drive a known characteristic to 11. The zombie isn't slow, it can't move, it just lies there waiting to be found and eat. The vampire isn't burned by sunlight- it explodes when the light touches it. And again, much horror ensues.
Or we might add a characteristic. The vampire can change its looks so he can look like your wife or husband. The zombie can now climb on walls. And these monsters won't ever look the same.

How about you? What have you thought about this movie? And what lessons did you take from it?

(Also published as The Bleeding Scroll's addition to the October Blog Carnival)

Black Sabbath- It's All in the Name

It is hard to believe it, but after this movie I have only three movies left. Time moves so quickly, it turns out, way too quickly. Anyway, Black Sabbath. I must say that I wasn't really impressed. Maybe it is because I watched better movies throughout this month, or maybe it is just because after 28 horror movies one starts to feel the dreaded "please no more horror films this month, I had to much" kinda feeling.
Anyway, Black Sabbath is an anthology film. It is made of 3 short films combined together. The first one, The Telephone (this might be the time to say that I've watched the Italian version and not the American one) is a story about a woman, a prostitute, who starts to receive telephone calls from her ex-pimp. Little by little, his threats become deadlier and far more frightening. For me, this short was the highlight of the collection. The next one, The Wurdalak, is a conventional vampire story. The last one, The Drop of Water, is a short film about a nurse who steals a ring and a ghost haunts her.
Now, the lessons from the better shorts, the first and the second, are lying in the posts about other movies in this project. But there is a lesson that is unique to this collection- the lesson of names and their power. You see, The Wurdalak is conventional. Way too conventional, if you ask me. We have a vampire, he kills those close to him, much blood. It even takes place in Eastern Europe, if it wasn't conventional enough.
But he is not called a vampire. He is given a different name. And this gives the movie some sense of originality. Because to a certain extent, it is like discovering and learning about a different, a new, monster. And this can be done in our games too. Give a familiar monster a different name and a description that is only a little different, and you can cut yourself a lot of time creating monsters on the one hand, and on the other the players will feel a certain feel of knowledge and similarity combined with a feeling of freshness. This is good.
As an added bonus, you can go the Troll 2 Way and have a connection between the names (yeah, it is probably the first and the last time that I'll mention something positive about Troll 2, as even this name change is executed terribly). You don’t have to go for the Nilbog kind of name, but you can go the anagram way. When the players will figure it out, they will feel like geniuses, like true investigators. This is even better.
Anyway, that's it for this movie. How about you? Have you watched this movie? What have you thought about it? And what did it teach you?

Dracula (1958)- Adjusting as Needed

It took me quite a while to finally see this version of Dracula. The vampire buff in me stands now in the corner, ashamed of himself. I hope that you'll forgive him… Anyway, this version doesn't disappoints, which is quite amazing to say when considering the bad aging of most of Hammer's Films.
I guess that most of you do know the plot of Dracula, but this version changes the plot of the book on the one hand and of earlier adaptations on the other hand, quite enormously. For once, Van Helsing is young, and for the other Harker is there to kill Dracula and not to sell him anything.
And that's quite interesting. Instead of sticking with the original book, like the opening scene might suggest, the movie quite clearly makes the story its own, changing what it sees as needing a change, a breather, some fresh air.
And that's something that isn't utilized enough. Many of us GMs try to do everything by the book, whether we're talking about the stats of monsters or of the plots of published adventures. We so try to go by the book that we sometimes forget that these things were written as guidance, so we will be able to adjust them according to our needs.
A great GM once said that nobody knows one's group better than this particular one that comes from the group. I know my group better than any other GM in the world, because I GM for them regularly. So do the players in my group. And that's an important truth, because when it comes to this, to GMing for them, or to figuring out what adventure to buy for the next session, or even which parts of the adventure I should stress and which I should eradicate, nobody knows it better than me. And it is true for you and your groups.
So please, when GMing published adventures, or when playing some fight scenes, or whatever else, don't try to play by the book. Instead, adjust it as much as you need to make it fitting with your own group, your real group, and not some theoretical one.

How about you? Have you watched this movie? What have you thought about it? And what have you learned from it?


Phantasm- Meeting the NPCs in Normal Situations

Some movies leave you with a lasting impression, others just don't. Phantasm belongs to the second group. It's not that it is a bad movie, or that I didn't enjoy it, but it just wasn't that good either. For me, it didn't have anything memorable within its 90 minutes, and even The Tall Man himself wasn't anything inspiring. I mean- after knowing The Slender Man, all I can say in benefit of this movie is that it was a nice inspiration for some great artistry. Too bad it's all I can say for this film.
Anyway, this movie's plot is pretty complicated, and not because of its presentation. You see, the movie twists itself quite a lot, combining gypsies with ice-cream men with heroic sensibilities, aliens and dwarfs, brotherly love and much-much grief over death in the family. Anything beyond that might be a spoiler, and I don't want that to happen.
Our protagonist, Mike, begins as a certain kind of stalker- he follows his brother anywhere, because his afraid of his brother leaving him behind, to leave his life alone. In a scene near the beginning, Mike follows his brother and witnesses his brother doing it, or at least beginning to do it.
And that's a great idea to use in our games. No, not this particular idea, but… one of the greatest GMing tips that can be given about portraying NPCs is that they should be given a sense of life. They should feel alive beyond the scope of their encounters with the PCs. A great way to do that is to have the PCs meet them in normal situations.
Imagine this scene- the PCs are doing their businesses in the city as usual, when suddenly they see the villain in a flower shop. "A-ah, this time we'll get ya!" they'll say to him, for which he'll respond "Can't I just but some flowers for milady?" or something along those lines. Or maybe he collects flowers because this is one of his hobbies? Or maybe because he is lonely and this is his way of escapism?
As an added bonus, try to think about ways to utilize these instances to make the players feel bad. "Look, if I'll try to kill this woman you'll be the first to know about it, and then you'll come and take revenge on me, and then you'll destroy my base (again) and then I'll have to start all over again (again)." Two benefits for the price of one, I'm taking it…
And that's it for today. How about you? Have you watched this movie? What have you thought about it? And what have you learned from it?

Tomorrow I'll cover the last five movies of this project, so I hope you'll enjoy it too.


The Orphanage- Use Sceptics to your Advantage

And here comes the big fix. A film that is so emotional, so intense, and so true to its roots. And it is far more than just a horror film- it is a film about motherhood, a film about childhood, about innocence, about the powers of our imaginations. This film is a masterpiece without a doubt.
It is the story of a mother, called Laura, who returns with her husband and son to her childhood home- an orphanage. As time goes by, her son starts to talk about some imagined friends, friends that Laura and her husband ignore as nonsense. But after her son, Simon, disappears, the real horror begins. Or is it just her imagination?
Short summaries like this one don't do the movie any justice. It is one of those movies that one just has to see for himself/herself. But I wanna talk about one of the things that make this movie so powerful, so full of horror and terror and suspense and dread. The movie has the sceptic character(s).
In this movie, we begin with all of the characters except for Simon as sceptics, but as the movie advances Laura also starts to believe. Yet, the others are sceptics. And those sceptics are important, as they give this movie to edges on movies without sceptics.
Firstly, sceptics leave our protagonist with no choice but to try and figure the truth by herself. She has no one else to ask for help, as after all nobody really believes her. The cops say that it is bullshit; her husband says that she starts to get mad, and the only ones who believe her are the paranormal experts, which doesn't make the situation any better.
But secondly, and far more importantly, is that this sceptic helps us to keep our suspension of disbelief. And why is that? Because through the sceptic(s) the director tells us that "yeah, it is quite strange, it does seem really farfetched". And when the director acknowledges that, it is far easier for us to believe in what we see, or at the very least to stop saying to ourselves- "Oh, this is just too strange to be real".
And when we're dealing with the supernatural, the combination of these two things is a huge edge that we can give to our games. Have in your Cthulhu game a cop who thinks that what the PCs are saying is crap. Have a friend of the PCs, in your World of Darkness games, dispute their theories. And suddenly, they will be inclined to work harder, because there's no one else to do the job, because if it is strange to the world inhabitants it is really strange and thus easier to believe, because of the disputer is close to the PCs the players will want to prove it to say to this friend of them: "A-ah, see? That is real!"

And that's it for today. How about you? What have you thought about this movie? And what did you learn from it?


Salò- Horror through Beautiful Scenery

I want my time back. Like seriously I want my time back. This film is supposed to be a controversial art film, but I don't know. Maybe I'm just not ready for films like this, or maybe it is just a matter of me being close to this subject matter. OK, not this exact subject matter, but I think that you know what I mean.
Anyway, it is a movie about 4 sick fascist libertines, in the North Italian region, and the ways they torture 18 teenagers, 9 boys and 9 girls. It is suffice to say that it is not a movie for those with a light stomach. For 120 days, the fascists torture them in about every dreadful way imaginable and finished with a Waltz and no punishment. Pasolini wanted it to be a social commentary. For me it is a sick flick that shouldn't have been made.
But, being made, and held to such a high regard by some directors and film critics, and being a part of my October Horror Movie Challenge (number 24), I have to pick a lesson from it. And what can I say, it is quite hard to pick one because there aren't many things to pick from this movie. But I picked one anyway.
When the film opens, we quite early get some glimpses of Northern Italy. We see some beautiful houses, some nice skyline and rivers, and we even see some nice small and big trees. The scenery is just beautiful. Way too beautiful. Even the house where the teens will spend their next 120 suffering for no reason whatsoever, even this house is beautiful from the outside, and has some merits in the inside.
This is made by purpose, because through this beauty of the outside world, and its contrast to what lies and happens within, we get a feeling of an evil world that doesn't care for those teens at all. Even the huge amount of statues, all of them religious statues, is there to advance this world. "The world is sick", Pasolini tells us, "and even though such horrible things are happening in this house, no one in the world cares, the world just continues with its usual affairs".
When we GM horror games, especially cosmic and other fifth level horror games, this contrast can add so much to our games. Because the power of this level comes from the realization that the world is an evil, uncaring and cold place, using this contrast can help us so much. The beauty is just a façade, terrible things lie beneath, and the world doesn't care, it continues to be beautiful, it continues to do nothing to prevent it.

Have you watched this move? What have you thought about it? And what lessons did you take from it?


Society- Please don't Break the Contract between us

There are two types of bad movies- those that are bad from the beginning, and thus you can laugh at them, and those that start good and then turn really crappy. This movie belongs to the second, much disappointing group.
In short, this is the story of a young man who thinks that he doesn't belong to his family. Slowly but surely he starts to find the truth, while it seems that the whole world is against him. At the end, when the truth is finally revealed, Yuzna tries to pass some social commentary. While the message gets to us, the execution is a bit… way too much over-the-top, and that's without mentioning the "fart-jokes" of the end. Too bad, it opened way too good to be campy, it is just a disappointment.
But, like always, there's something to learn from this movie. There's something that the movie does right, or otherwise I wouldn't have been this disappointed. And what the movie did right was to question my understanding of the situation- am I really seeing that something isn't right, or is it just the protagonist's imagination.
Throughout most of the film, Billy visits a psychiatrist. This gives us the possibility to ask ourselves: who really is the madman in this movie? Is Billy the madman, or is he the only sane person in the world. He himself questions what he sees, and time after time Yuzna disputes his protagonist's theories.
And it is so powerful. Because not only are we afraid for Billy, who might be sane and thus in real danger, we also fear that he really is mad and thus he might hurt all the other people in his disturbed world, people who only tried to help him. What Yuzna does at the end, though, is to throw all of these possibilities and fears out of the window, picking a lazy (even though much more social-stingy) solution. For an example made right, I'll have to point you to the great Buffy episode Normal Again (season 6 episode 17). But yeah, Society…
What can we learn from this failure? First of all, that sometimes we can't give both social commentary and a satisfying ending. And as we first of all game and only later try to say something, the game is more important (unless stated so from the beginning).
Bu secondly and far more importantly, if we have built something good, please don't let it fall. Because disappointment is a breaching of the contract between us people, players and GM(s). And this contract is far more important than shoving a message into our ears and brains.

With that out of the way, I wanna hear you. What have you thought about this movie? And what have you learned from it?


Dead Ringers- The Importance of Identification

And here comes Cronenberg to the rescue. Dead Ringers is one of those movies that I waited to see for some years, now. And it did not disappoint. I left it amazed and emotionally disturbed, which means that he succeeded with achieving his goal. Unsurprisingly, it is considered to be one of his greatest masterpieces, ranking among the greatest Canadian films ever made.
It is, to say the least, the story of two twin gynecologists, who are far closer than they look (and it's quite hard, being played by the same actor) yet so different from each other. T is the story of their collapse, of them losing all that they've worked for. It is a story about brotherly love. And it is one of those films that one has just to see for himself/herself.
And because of being such a great cinematic masterpiece, it was extremely hard for me to pick a lesson from this movie. Not because there weren't many (or even any), but because there are way too many things one can learn from this movie. But hopefully I picked the right one*.
In the last couple of scenes in the movie, we see Beverly kills his brother Elliot. A few seconds later, we cut to Beverly waking up and he calls and cries. He doesn't look on his brother, he doesn't really see him in this stage. He is vulnerable, he is crying and sobbing, he is human. And even though we remember what he did, that he killed his brother with gynecological tools for mutant women, we can't not feel for him in this scene, we cannot not like him.
And that's a great lesson for the Personal horror GM- always ensure that the players will be able to feel for, to like, to identify the characters, the PCs. As long as they feel for their characters, they will be able to feel the personal horror, because they'll feel that they do it, or at the very least that they can do it given the same circumstances. But without this ability to identify with the characters? They'll just be in shock, they won't feel the true personal horror.
And that's the whole truth, actually. The feeling for and the identification with the characters is the thing that enables the personal horror genre, and if one needs to spend more time before going all horror, or to show vulnerability after a terrible murder, so be it. The identification will give you the reward; the identification will give you the horror.
How 'bout you? Have you watched this movie? What have you learned from it? And what have you thought about it afterwards?

* I did want to talk about how to treat your subject matter, but AveryMcdaldno did it so much better.


Hellraiser- How Not to Use Gore

Ok… yeah… emm… I'm trying to think but words fail me. So I'll just say it plainly: "Hellraiser was shit." How shiity was it? Well, Ebert said it best, when paraphrasing King's remark about Clive Barker: "…but I have seen the future of implausible plotting, and his name is Clive Barker." True, Ebert did make a few mistakes recounting the plot, but it doesn't really matter, it doesn't make the plot any better, and the pace is bad no matter how you look at it.
It is a movie about a man who made a deal with a Rubik cube or something, and due to this pact he dies. Then his ex-lover kills people so he'll get his flesh back. Also- some ugly demons who were supposed to look interesting or something, especially the something part. One of them looks campy, with his sunglasses, but that's as close as it gets there.
Truth is, most of the lessons to learn from this movie have already been covered, only here we learn them as things not to do, as common pitfalls or whatever. But there is something that we can learn from this movie that I haven't covered: Appealing to the disgust factor.
 You see, this movie is just disgusting. There's no better way to phrase that, or even to describe it. It ain't scary, ain't anything else. It was a disgusting movie, plain and simple. And one couldn't even say that it was being disgusting with a purpose. It was disgusting for the sake of being disgusting. It had a man that eats insects. Why? God knows. We later see him return and we learn that it was supposed to be some kind of foreshadowing or something, but it was a lazy kind of foreshadowing. It was the kind of foreshadowing that leaves you with a sour taste. And this one was the one with a "purpose".
Stephen King once wrote that if he can't terrify he horrifies, and that if he can't horrify he goes to the revulsion side of the spectrum*. I say something else: If you can't terrify and you can't horrify, please don't do horror, it might be better to all of us.
And I think that I'll leave this movie here, alone and (hopefully) forgotten. Maybe one day I'll find the way to get my time back, or just thee opportunity to ask Barker (or King) what crossed his mind when making this movie (or complimenting Barker).
How about you? Have you watched this movie? What have you taken from it? And what have you learned?

* I can't say that I like King's terminology, but it is a topic for another post, for another day.


Day of the Dead- Have Yourself a Little Bub

I don't think that it will come with any surprise, that I found Day of the Dead amazing.  Truth be told, it is not on the same level of his earlier two zombie flicks, but it is not surprising. The first two films were (and still are) groundbreaking, satirical, amazing, among the best the horror genre ever came to be. Those films weren't just great in their own genre, but among the entire world of cinema. Day of the Dead doesn't have a chance against this, but truth is- it doesn't make it any less good. It is still a treasure trove of the genre, and it still has a lot to teach us.
In short, in this iteration of the series, we follow a group of humans, some of them civilians and some of them soldiers, and we see how humanity collapses due to a lack of real communication. Like with most of Romero's films, though, the zombies are there in the background and not much more, and this sets them apart, shows why they received such high remarks, why they are still being imitated throughout the entire world.
But we're not here for a lesson about the movie industry, and as such is the case I wanna move towards the GMing side of the things. Because, like I said a few days ago, most older horror movies which still hold their charm have something to teach us, positively, or otherwise they wouldn't be as scary as they are. And with this film, we have a great lesson to take.
Somewhat towards the middle of the film, we are first presented with Bub. Those who have watched the film know by now to where I'm going with this, but still… Bub is a thinking zombie. It has a brain, some feelings, a sense of an earlier life; it even enjoys listening to music. And Bub raises the level of the film by so many ranks.
And Bub is an amazing takeaway, because we don't expect to see, to meet, to encounter a thinking zombie. We don't expect to feel something for one of the monsters. And yet, we do. So many blogs and GMing books will talk about giving the goons and mooks a face, maybe even many faces. Most of them don't ask you to give the mindless monsters a face. They're just cannon fodder. But when you will give those mindless monsters a face, and a brain, you get so much more. Because when Bub salutes the "evil" soldier, after shooting him to death, one can't stay calm, uncaring, unfeeling. One only has the ability to look in amazement, to feel. And that's the power of Bub. So have yourself a Bub also.

How about you? Have you watched this movie? What did you take from it? And what have you thought about it?


Re-Animator - Adding Just a Tiny Bit of Humor

I don't like Stuart Gordon's adaptations of Lovecraft. Here, I said it. They are just so bad, so… they're just bad. This time, he does his best, giving us a trashy film done professionally. But that's about all I can say for this bizarre movie, too much for most of us' appetites.
In the movie, Herbert West is transformed into the early eighties, with that time's weird sense of fashion and strange ideals. I might have exaggerated a bit there, but the movie doesn't take itself too seriously either. Herbert messes with the dead, granting them "life" with a strange serum. Then we got much nudity, gore and something that is supposed to be some characters to identify with.
But I guess that I have to say something in its favor, or at least I need to find something to learn from it. After all, if I found something to learn from the terrible Braindead, I must find something to learn from this re-animated dead flick. And what can I say? It got a weird sense of humor.
Humor, from quite an early stage, was associated with the horror genre. When the movie is built around tension-and-release moments, doing the "release" part right is mandatory. And one of the greatest release-mechanisms ever? Why of course, it is the infamous humor.
And that's the lesson to learn from this movie- use humor, but use it well. The reason that the head-on-a-stick is so funny is that it comes just after so much seriousness and villainy, and suspense and so much more. After being serious for far too long for this movie's level, it just comes with a childish joke, breaking the ice, the statues, and our ability to take this movie seriously.
So, I don't know if I succeeded with explaining what I meant. Truth is, this movie's sense of humor is so hard to explain also. But yeah, use humor, it might be what you're looking for your "tension-and-release" cycle.

How about you? Have you found this movie any good? And what have you learned from it?


The Abominable Dr. Phibes- How Not to Use a Pattern

Another campy movie. Sometimes one has to ask himself (or herself) why camp goes so well with the horror genre. But this is a topic for another day (and maybe even for another blog). The Abominable Dr. Phibes is campy enough for its characters to remark about the stupidity of the characters' names. But, unlike with other works of film and television, here it doesn't help the movie to look any better, too bad for this movie…
To put it shortly, the movie chronicles the revenge that a famous and now supposed to be dead organist on a series of surgeons and others of the medical profession for letting his wife die. For some reason he chooses to take his revenge according to the plagues that hit Egypt in the famous chapters from the book of Exodus.
Now, up until now it is a very descent premise, and the list of actors is quite remarkable and promising. The musical score is wonderful and… you get the idea. So why does this movie fail? Mainly because it chooses such a wonderful premise, such a promising pattern, and destroys what it has to offer.
You see, the actions, the killing ways, they're not in the same order as shown in the bible. The film tries so much to be scientifically accurate that it changes the order of the plagues to something else. More logically correct, far easier to believe in terms of causality, but it has a devastating effect in terms of our building dread.
Most of us remember the order of the plagues, at least in broad strokes, enough to understand when the pattern is changed. And when they change the pattern, we don't know what death scene is gonna come now. So instead of looking forward for the death scene, we're busy trying to remember what the Rabi said will be the next one, and we can't because what comes to mind are the original order and the knowledge that it was changed. So we don't look forward to the next death scene, we don't have the anticipation building the right way, and as such it's far harder to dread the upcoming death.
So please, when creating a villain, or a monster, and trying to think about a pattern for the killing, if you'll ever think about using a common knowledge pattern, don't change it. You'll just make it worse.

How about you? What did you learn from this movie? And have you enjoyed it?


Black Sunday- Use the Scenery to Your Advantage

1960 was an interesting year. It was the dawn of one of the lousiest decades in the history of the American cinema (ok, most of a decade, the salvation came in 1967), but it also had the amazing film Psycho to give us some hope and grandeur for this decade. As it turned out, in Italy things were a little better, as can be shown by the rise of the Giallo movies. One of them, one of the earlier ones, is "Black Sunday", also known as The Mask of Satan. And it is still a very nice movie.
It is a story, a movie, about the consequences of the witch hunting of the 17th century. It is a film about the way Satan worshipers torment the pure of hearts, and how they fight back. It is a story about love. It is also a movie that stands to its title, to its rank, that time only benefitted it.
And like with all early masterpieces that still hold their charm, this movie has a lot to teach us. I, for once, wanna concentrate on the scenery. Especially the castle, the old dark castle. This castle is based around the gothic tradition- it is old, it is gloomy, it is filled with paintings of important figures from older times. It is also a castle made of narrow corridors and full of rooms and doors, not to mention some secret passages.
And this gives the director a lot to work with. The paintings can be used for foreshadowing; the gloomy and dark looks of the castle for the mod setting. But especially important are the narrow corridors filled with doors and the secret passages. The first one is important mainly because it gives the monsters the ability to attack from wherever they want. Through this we get a larger sense of paranoia and a greater fear of the unknown- after all, we know the monster will attack, but we don't know from where.
The secret passage is important from this reason, but also from a far more important one- it helps the director to control the pace- when the corridor will be revealed, we will enter the last phase. This is an important tool to have in the arsenal, as it helps to move past scenes of dwindling importance, action or dread-building.
And we, as GMs, don't have to limit ourselves to just old castles, we can use asylums, or hunted houses, or so much more. The important lesson from this movie, though, is to think about the scenery, to try to think and understand why do we want such a scenery and how can we utilize it. Hopefully, we'll get far greater benefits from our sceneries if we'll think about those questions.

How about you? What did you think about this movie? And what have you taken from it?


Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer- Give Principles for your Killers

Emm… No, I just don't know what to say. I'm just speechless, wordless, amazed, shocked, and horrified, perhaps not in this order. Henry is a strange film, a little gem and at the same time a little piece of trash. I think that in the end, it is only a matter of how one looks at the film. For me, it's mainly in the gem section, but it doesn't mean that I'll watch it again, or that I'm happy for this film to ever been made.
To put it shortly, Henry is a film that tells the story of a serial killer, portraying him in a documentary-style fashion, showing his brutality without flinching, protecting us, glorifying it or anything of this fashion. It is a Slasher, but not the typical teenagers-on-the-run kind of Slasher; it is a psychological horror film but not that close to the exemplary ones like The Shining or The Silence of the Lambs. It is a movie that one has to see in order to understand. Telling about it is not enough.
Now, this movie puts a serial killer on the center. True, we have Otis and Becky, but it is Henry who we are after. And Henry is an interesting character. We know that he is bad, and one can't listen to him teaches his modus operandi without suffering from so many chills that it hurts. Yet, we hate Otis more. We hate the drug dealer, we hate the amateur serial killer, we hate all of Otis's character far more than we hate Henry. And that's interesting, and that enables us to survive this movie.
So one has to wonder- how could they achieve that? How could they make us hate Otis far more than we hate Henry? The reason that I've found is located in a very simple scene near the beginning- Otis tries to grab his sister and kiss her, Henry says "no!" and stops him. That's the scene, that's the reason. And why is this so powerful, so important? Because it helps us to identify with this Henry-monster, because it shows that even Henry has principles, or at the very least some feelings regarding other human beings. Things that Otis has far less of, if he has anything of this type at all.
And when we come to present our monsters and villains in our games, it might be better to use something like this. Why? Because it will make the players question the definitions of good and bad, the definitions of what moral and what isn't, it will make them be far more afraid, because a killer that is prone to feelings can be understood, and this means that one can become such a killer. But it has an almost as dark in addition for the earlier one stated- if the killer has feelings, and the killer is prone to those feelings, he can do things that will be totally unexpected, because it will attack the understanding of the killer's psyche and not just the normal expectations. And that's far scarier than anything one could achieve on its own.

How 'bout you? What did you think about this movie? And have you taken something interesting from it?

16 movies up until now, all of them new.


Let's Scare Jessica to Death- The Powers of Clothing

Some movies hold to their title, others do not. Too bad that this movie belongs to the latter group. Let's Scare Jessica to Death is an interesting movie, its soundtrack is creepy like hell, and it knows how to play on the audiences fears. Each and every element works perfectly when looked at separately. But when combined? They overshadow each other. And that's the main problem in this movie for me.
In a nutshell, it is the story of a woman who just got released from a mental asylum and who now tries to readjust to her new life, in a house far from town, nice and cozy and quite morbid. She hears things in her head, many-many things, and she tries to deal with it.
What struck me the most about this movie is its use of clothing to tell us about the characters. Especially when looking at our two leading ladies in this film. Emily is dressed in red, which puts her in the sensual realm, as an adult woman. She knows what powers her sexuality possesses.
Jessica, on the other hand, starts the film dressed in violet, and her clothing grows darker in tone with each passing day. I mean, she "chooses" darker clothes with each passing day. And that's interesting, because we can see through her clothing the naivety being broken, we can see how what she hears makes her older, forces her to grow.
And this can be used in our games too. Clothing is such a powerful tool to convey feelings, to convey characteristics, to shed a light on the inner feelings and workings of the characters, it is useful to show social differences. In other words, we can say that "show me what you wear, and I'll know who you are".
All I can say is that maybe, just maybe, one should try to use it. I know that I do, and it works magic for me, why shouldn't it be the same for you?
How about you? Have you watched this movie? What did you think about it? And what have you taken from it?


Martin- When One Shouldn't Invent the Wheel

I owe you an apology, dear readers. I was to the IICON convention, the Israeli convention for geek culture, kinda like the Israeli Comicon. Unsurprisingly, it took me some days to recuperate, to return to normal. Truth is, I was quite sure that you won't even feel it, having prepared posts for the first two convention days, but personal matters made me unable to cover the following days (the last day of the convention and those days for breath-catching). So I'm in a bit of a delay. For that, I apologize. I do hope that the posts from now on will justify the wait.
And without much farther ado, let's move to the 14th movie in the project, to the movie Martin.  Martin is an interesting case. It is not a bad movie per se, and even Romero called it "my favorite movie", but for me, it just didn't work.
It is a movie about a person who is sure that he's a vampire, and who challenges through his twisted take on vampirism the myth of the vampire. Parts of these he does through the phone, talking with a radio DJ who understands what great hit he has in his hands.
The movie is very art-housey in its feel, and that's where the problems start to arise. You see, George Romero is a very talented director, and one feels it, and he knows what he's doing. But it just doesn't work. I didn't feel a thing for the character of Martin. I knew that I should have, but I just couldn't. The movie is so filled with art-house tricks that it just loses something in its way to glory.
Romero, and it might be strange to say, is just not Ingmar Bergman or Pedro Almodovar who can make a very art-housey movie and it will still be communicative enough for us to feel something for the characters, for the story. Romero isn't talented enough for the task, although he sometimes can come close to that.
And most of us are Romero-level GMs and not Almodovar- or Bergman-level GMs. It is not bad to be Romeros, but it does mean that we should know our places. We don't have to try and challenge the usual narrative or the basic and universal roles and tropes that make our RPGs. We don't have to conjure a meeting between the PCs and the players every other game, or to go to the meta-level game every time that we can. Truth is, most GMs can make wonders of just the usual party going to the usual dungeon to kill the usual dragon. Hell, I who finished a campaign with a meeting between PCs and players don't consider myself able to conjure a meeting like that again. Sometimes, or maybe even all the times, we just have to know our places, to know what we can achieve and what we can't, what we can challenge and what we shouldn't.

We don't have to invent the wheel from scratch every time, or even every other or third time. Usually, striving for a great experience, for a nice evening of dragon-slaying, sometimes it is just enough.


The Mist- Learning When to Stop

13 years after directing The Shawshank Redemption, Darabont directs another King's adaptation. And I can’t say that I was impressed. It is considered to be one of the greatest and most frightening horror movies of the century so far, but I couldn't agree less. It was one of the most disappointing films that I've ever seen.
On the surface, it has all the elements of being a good horror movie, and also a good movie outside of the genre, the same line that for me holds movies like Casablanca (my all-time favorite), Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, The 400 Blows and so many more. It has some very nice acting, and it has a political sting, and it has some interesting and surprisingly deep characters (well, most of them, if you look hard enough). It has a really nice conspiracy, and it tackles religious fanatics and hubris filled scientists. It has everything that a movie could ask for.
And that's the problem, it has way too much. The mist isn't scary, because there are creatures in there. They aren't scary, because we've got big ol fucking Cthulhu in there. Cthulhu isn't scary, because we got a conspiracy, and this conspiracy isn't scary because we also got some religious fanatics, and we're also told about the scientists, and we see the people going mad, becoming beasts like in Night of the Living Dead, and… I think that you've got the idea. We've got way too much.
And that's even before we look at the movie on the genre level. We've got horror, and then we got a love story (only for the woman to get killed 2 seconds or so later). Then we get into a Christian movie, later turned into a post-apocalyptic film, before finally ending on the melodramatic Hamlet side of the spectrum.
Maybe it's just me, I don't know. But for me it was hell too much to really care for what's going on. I watched the movie trying to understand what's going on at the beginning, and then started to guess what strange twist they'll bring this time.
And that's a lesson to keep in mind when designing and writing your stories, your adventures. Think not only about what to put in, but also about what to put out. Remind yourself that too much of a good thing turns everything into something bad, or at the very least tasteless. When every few minutes the story changes completely, and you throw something too different and too big to handle, you'll just end with people who don't care.
They don't care not because they don't want to, but because they can't, because you put too much for their minds to handle. Because, and that' a thing that one should keep in mind, you as GM's know everything and you had much time to absorb it, to analyze it, to understand what goes where and when. But players? They only have a few minutes. So have mercy on them, or don't be surprised when they can't get what you're doing next or don't care for your uber-impressive plot twist.

How about you? What did you think about this movie? And have you learned from it something else, something positive?


The Black Cat- Doing It the Lovecraftian Way

Universal's horror films rarely stand to the effects of time. Most of them look aged, irrelevant, and even quite silly. But there are a few that live to this day. The Black Cat is one of them, even though it doesn't bear any resemblance to the amazingly scary horror masterpiece written by Poe and bearing the same name (or is it the other way around?).
It is a movie about a newly-wed couple (yeah, again) who are honeymooning in Hungary, and are joined in the train by a Hungarian Psychiatrist. A few minutes later and they are already in the house of a mischievous Austrian architect. From then on we slowly get to the weirder realm, although when it does get to this realm it picks a Lovecraftian ending pace
And that's actually, the main reason that the movie works for me. There is a reason that Lovecraft's stories are so frightening. I mean, there are reasons for that. One of them is the levels of horror that he's working with, but another one is the pattern that all of his stories share.
In Lovecraft stories', he starts slowly, really slowly, with only hints and such, and only in the last page or two he picks the pace. From that moment onwards, all hell breaks loose and the weird element is skyrocketing in the speed of light. But he starts slowly. True, we know from the very beginning what we will face, but we don't see it till the end, and we only learn about it gradually.
Anyways, this pattern carries with it 2 main benefits. The first one is that it makes the thing, the monster, more believable. After so many pages of trying to understand it, and seeing the effects of its existence, it is much easier to accept this monstrosity.
But there is also another benefit, and this one is far greater. It creates a build-up, and this build up is way better than the build-up usually utilized in the horror market when pulled right. And Lovecraft knew how to do it.
But truth is, it isn't that much harder to pull right. One only needs to understand that instead of showing an attack in the beginning, one shows a diary. Instead of showing the remains of a victim, one only tells about it behind closed doors.
And then, in the end, when we pick the pace and show the true horror, gaze into the abyss and see the tentacles and eyes, we're much more frightened, much more terrified, much more scared. And that's the whole thing, that's the point, in the end, to frighten.

How about you? Have you watched this movie? What did you think? What have you learned?


Daughters of Darkness- Playing with the PCs

Some movies match to their masterpiece title. Others, like Daughters of Darkness do not. I can't say that I was impressed with this movie, or even close to that. It is so over the top that it comes close to the campy group of horror films, it is so trying to reinvent the eroticism of the vampire that it becomes too non-erotic. The dialogue is bad; the acting is mostly mediocre (except for the one playing Bathory who is perfect); the composition of the shots is pure genius at times and complete rubbish at others.
If I had to describe this film, I would say that it is a film about a couple, a newly-wed couple with not much love for each other, and the meeting with the vampire Countess Elizabeth Bathory. Bathory plays with them, enjoys their suffering. Throughout the whole movie, it seems like whenever the director was stuck he threw in some boobs. This idea works as bad as it sounds.
But there are some good things in this movie, specifically the acting on the part of Seyrig, the composition of some of the shots (you'll recognize them when you'll see them) and… the way Bathory plays with the couple. Okay, not all of the playing is good, but the concept is interesting and sometimes even a little bit surprising.
And that's a great takeaway from this movie, this playing thingy. Let your villains and monsters play with the PCs and much hours of enjoyment on your part and frighten looks on the players' parts will be achieved. They will enjoy afterwards, and when they'll win (as sure they will), they'll be far happier than every other defeat they bestowed upon a villain(ness). Make your villains play with the PCs, use the PCs for their own benefits, sometimes even treating the PCs like stolen cars (if I might paraphrase Avery McDonaldo's GMing section in Monsterhearts).
But don't drive it too far, right? You'll might just as well finish like (spoiler alert in 2 seconds or so) Bathory in this movie- dead and copied. Pull it as much as it seems needed and not a single second more than that. Or at least, I think that it's better this way, but I might be wrong…

Anyway, that's it for today. And now it's time to hear you? Have you watched this movie? What did you think about it? And what have you learned from it? 


The Fog- Silence is Scarier than Sound

I think that by now most of us horror filmgoers are pretty accustomed to the usual run of the mill horror monster. You know the ones- whether it's the devil, or an alien, a vampire or a werewolf, we pretty much know those monsters. But john Carpenter did something unique- he made a natural thing, a bank of fog, something scary. That's the work of a true horror genius.
The Fog tells of a small town called Antonio Bay, which celebrates its 1100th birthday the day the movie takes place. We get to know a few of the inhabitants of the town, and we get to know of the curse put upon the town a long time ago, a curse that lays a deadly and scary fog on the town. True, the fog has some zombies in it, but they're not so scary, and the fog does work pretty much on its own as we could see with the electricity lines…
Anyway, what makes the fog so scary is the silence. It is a deadly killer, this fog, and it works toward achieving its goal, but it does all of these in silence. We never hear the fog, we never hear the zombies inside the fog (except when they knock on the doors). The fog moves silently, kills silently, avenges silently. And silence is far scarier than sound, because we know sound, and if we hear the danger we can run. But when it is a silent killer like this fog? We won't hear it come, we won't be able to run, and it will kill us.
And it can be incorporated into RPGS. Let the PCs witness this silent killer unleashes its power on some NPCs in this dreadful silence, and the players will be scared as hell. Why? Because they'll understand a simple truth- when the fog will go for them, they won't know about it 'till it's too late. And this thing is scary as hell, knowing that there's something that is ought to get you, but you won't know about its presence until it will be far too late.
But the silence isn't there only when the fog comes, it's also when the fog attacks. True, the fog knocks on the doors to announce its presence, but if one doesn't open the door, the door will be destroyed in silence, and then the fog will enter in silence, and the zombies will come out of it I silence and kill you while still don't making a sound. Silence by itself is scary and unnatural. Silence accompanied by a certain sound signaling your doom is even scarier.

How about you? Have you watched this movie? What did you think about it? And what did you learn from watching?


Inferno- Treating the Discoveries like Art

I never was one of Argento's greatest fans. True, only last Saturday I recommended Suspiria to someone, but only due to those amazing 15 minutes. Inferno, on the other hand, doesn't have this amazing quality to it which enables me to recommend it even though I don't really like the movie. Inferno is not a bad movie per se, it is just not exactly my style of horror it seems.
If I had to describe its plot in a few sentences, I would describe it as a religious kinda-slasher, with three goddesses as the slashers. I mean, there's more to that, but it will be too much of a spoiler. Let's just say that if you know what an Argento's movie looks like, you'll probably know what Inferno looks like.
And still, there are things to learn from this movie. After all, he may not be my cup of tea, but he is still one of the masters and this movie shows that. For me, the greatest takeaway from Argento's movies was always the horrifying discoveries of the bodies. Argento made them into a sick tour-de-force, showing us the monstrosity of his monsters through the way they let others see their work.
It can be said, and it won't even be too farfetched to say that, that Argento's monsters take their victims as canvases for a new painting, for a work of art. Maybe this is the reason that in some of his best movies the victims are also of artistic upbringing, as maybe they will be the ones who will best appreciate it. Anyway, though, the discoveries of the bodies are usually more sick and frightening than the killings themselves, and that's hard as they are usually presented to us almost exactly one after the other.
And this gives us a glimpse to the monsters' psyches, and adds a little bit of morbid horror, taking Shakespeare's comment that life is but a show to the extreme, up to eleven. And we can use that in our games also. We can make those discoveries like sick jokes, or like the climax of a movie or of a theater show.
Treat those discovery scenes like the pinnacle of your movie, Argento says to us, and actually it might work. It might work really-really well, if we'll give it a chance. True, most of his death scenes (and as such the bodies discovered) are pretty gory, but if we'll limit the gore to these scenes like he does… it may prove far more frightening than one would think. After all, he does know what he's doing.

And that's it for today. How about you? What did you think of this movie? And what did you learn from it?


Threads- Giving the Victims a Face

I don't really know how to start this post. I'm pretty shocked and horrified, you see. I've just finished Threads, a TV-movie made in 1984, about how a single nuclear bomb hit may affect the UK. It's suffice to say that the movie is way too realistic to go unnoticed, unremarked, to let you leave it without the urge to cry. I don't know what else to tell about it, before delving into one of the far too many lessons to learn from it. Should I say that it is not your typical horror movie? That the movie chronicles a little more than 13 years in the characters' lives? That when it was made and first broadcasted this nuclear bombing incident was a possibility, that this movie had a chance to become a reality? That society just crumbles and one starts to somewhat envy the dead?
No, I wanna go to the lesson as quickly as possible, I want to just let it off of my mind. You see, the main reason for the movie's power is that we have feelings and empathy for the victims. We identify with them, we know their normal ways of lives, and they feel real. We also see how the bombing affects them. Them and not some random people, them and not some red-shirts. We get to know the people only to see them become the victims of the bombings.
The bombing itself occurs about 35-40 minutes into the movie. Up until that moment we got to know about 10 characters pretty-pretty well. We watched the Kemps banter, we watched the Suttons say their last goodbyes, and we watched the love story of Ruth and Jimmy who are going to have a baby and so decide to marry. And after we got to know them, the pain is so much stronger, so much more close to home.
But it is more than that. Because we know of people who feel for each other, we feel their fears for their loved ones. We feel for Mr. and Mrs. When they cry for not being able to save their children, but also we cry for them when they only fear it. We cry for Ruth who fears of her baby being deformed, and we hope for Ruth to find Jimmy when she goes out to try and find him.
We also see how they change, how they become quite monstrous themselves when they have to commit crimes in order to survive, how they change to the "dog-eat-dog" mentality. It's the feelings than we have for them that enable the movie to touch us on so many levels, on so many emotions (from the d'aaw in the beginning to the "oh-my-god" of the ending and all those feelings in the middle).
And we can also use it in our games. When we want the players to fear for a city, or to feel for a kingdom, we have to get the players and their characters to know the people there. To know and feel they human-ness in them. Bring those faces out and show them to the characters and to the players who play them, and when the city will be under threat, or when the country will be under a nuclear threat, the players and the characters will do their best.

How about you? What did you learn from this movie? And even more important, how did you feel afterwards?


God Told Me To- Stop Worrying and Embrace the Good Enough

The streak had to be broken, right? My seventh movie in the project wasn't that good. It wasn't that bad also, but… it was okay. Just okay. Nothing spectacular, nothing to fancy about, nothing worth remembering from, one of those movies that you just watch and 5 seconds later you don't remember anything about it or from it. God Told Me To was a watch & forget nothing more and nothing less.
It is a movie about a cop who investigates a series of murders committed by unconnected and too ordinary men. Slowly but steadily he learns that there's far more to it than what meets the eye. Yeah, even the plot is a big cliché, but at least the director knows how to do it. ;-)
And after this movie I did learn something. I learned that not every session has to be perfect, or great. In order for those really great sessions to feel great, they have to feel unique, well above the rest in terms of their level and all. If the rest of the sessions are nice, good and enjoyable, the campaign is in good hands.
And for me, that was kinda new. I learned to accept bad days, or sessions that were almost perfect, but sessions that are just nice- that was inconceivable. I expected from each one of my sessions to be at the very least almost perfect. And the sessions just took too much energy from me, and there were days that I came from the sessions depressed because they didn't live to my expectations.
And I don't know, maybe it is just a certain stage in my GMing career that had to come. And yet, this movie ranked better than some perfect movies like Cronos. And it says that maybe, just maybe, sometimes a nice and no spectacular session is better than the most perfect session imaginable. Sometimes "nice" is just enough.

How about you? When did you learn this truth? And what did you think about this movie?


Invasion of the Body Snatchers- When Knowledge Destroys the Fear

I think that by now it's three great films in a row, if I include this last movie I've seen. And I have to confess, I expected a lot more of the campy side of the genre in this project. I don't know, some of the names sound so campy, like Braindead (which was) and I Walked with a Zombie (which wasn't), but I guess that that's the beauty of it all, right? But today I watched, or should I say finally watched, the movie "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". True, it was the 1978 remake, but I haven't seen the original also (yeah, I know, shame on me). Anyway, let me just say that I was amazed.
To those who are like I was, this is a movie about a deputy health inspector of San Francisco who finds (with the help of one of his workers, and some accidents…) that some creature from space has come to Earth and it starts to spread in the city, creating duplicates of the townspeople. A lot of conformity and paranoia ensues. I didn't do it justice here, but honestly I didn't want to. You just have to watch it yourself.
The movie is great, and one truly becomes paranoid at a certain point (quite early, I must say), and some of the moments are just heartbreaking or utterly terrifying. But the first part of the movie is the most effective part of it, if you ask me.
You see, in the first part, all we have is a few crazy people, and the lead heroine, telling us that something is amiss (we also have a little feeling ourselves that something is amiss, but they pretty much dispute anything like that in the first hour of the film). We slowly begin to understand that there's something bigger in here, something far more horrifying than we thought, and the sense of conspiracy grows. We get the most effective fear of all- that the world itself is evil. As the film goes on, we start to get some info about how and what are those things that do the body-snatching job.
And that's the problem of the film. It shows us the monster, and it will ever be far less terrifying than what we have thought about. True, it gave us hope and then smashed it in the last scene of the film, but even so, it was less effective because at this stage we knew how those aliens work.
And that's a mistake that we can avoid in our games. In horror games, if you don't have to show and explain the monster- just don't! And if you have to explain it? It might be wiser to change the monster to something that you don't have to explain, that you don't have to describe. Because glimpses of something bad, just like we had in the first half of the movie, will be far scarier than any monster we can create ourselves, far more dread-inducing than what our players can devise. Because no one knows how to scare someone else than that someone and this person only needs some glimpses to get the engines to start rolling and to scare himself/herself.

And that's it for today. How about you? Have you watched this film? What did you think about it? And what did you learn from it?


Cronos- Making the Curse Feel Like a Curse

There are those horror movies that you see and immediately forget, and there are those that you'll take with you onward and maybe even forever. Cronos is one of them. A debut feature film by Del Toro, yet you wouldn't feel that when watching it. It is made with so much thought, devotion and emotion that you can't find anything bad to say about it. It is one of those movies that one hardly could make any better.
It is a story of an old man, who owns an antique shop, and becomes a vampire. It is a story of the relationship between a young girl named Mercedes and her grandfather. It is a story of the fear of the death, of the price of eternity. It is a film about life and living. It is mostly sad, sometimes even a little bit terrifying. I can't find the words to describe this film, to do it justice, not in English nor in Hebrew. It is this good.
And to find something to learn from it is so hard and so easy, takes so much energy and so little an amount. Watch it because it is a good movie, and then watch it again to analyze it. I don't know what else to say.
Right… lesson! I think that the moment in which I understood that I was watching something unique was the bathroom scene, the scene in which our vampire drinks blood from the bathroom floor. It is so powerful, so sad, and so pitiful. From this scene I knew that I was in good hands.
And this scene can teach us something about our games. Quite a lot to teach, actually, but I'll focus on a single thing. In most personal horrors games, the characters are very powerful, very strong and tough, with a lot of magical power. They call this state of theirs a curse, but here it usually ends. This scene can remind us of what it means a cursed state. This vampiric state of his made him do so many heartbreaking things, from drinking the blood from the bathroom floor to almost drinking his granddaughter's blood. And this can happen in our games too.
It is not enough to describe the life taking moment, the enjoyment of the act. It is not enough to say "you bite him, his blood is drawn to your bloody, his heart starts to beat faster and faster, and then slowly picks down the pace. The blood starts to run day, but it doesn't matter, the feeling is wonderful, amazing, and good like you've never felt in your life, better than the feeling of seeing your first child born. And when he dies, and the feeling's gone, you know that you just want more." No, it is not enough, not even close to it. Because it doesn't feel like a sad thing, like a sad act. Maybe it's better to not do it both ways at the same time, but by reminding the players that this is a curse, we help to bring the horrors back. We help to make them want the pain away, the feeling gone, and the horror will use this moment to strike.
Because there's another type of personal horror, besides "oh, what have I done"? This other type of personal horror is so close to the known one, yet so different from it. It is the type of "oh, what did it make me do? To what state have I been drawn?" And by reminding the players that this state is a curse, we bring them closer to the second type's embrace.

How about you? Have you watched this movie? What did you think about it? And what have you learned from it?


"I Walked with a Zombie"- The Power of the Voice over

Sometimes I start to think that maybe, just maybe, this genre isn't for me, that all those horror movies that I really like- it is all an accident and nothing more. And then comes a movie like this. I Walked with a Zombie might have a really bad name, but truth is that this is a descent movie, a good movie, even outside of the horror scope. It is even respectful for the minorities, considering that it's a 1943 movie, but even today it is far more respectful to the Voodoo than most movies today.
It is a movie about a nurse, who comes from Canada to an island in order to try and help to cure a woman who is in a coma. She tries her best, mainly because she's in love with that woman's husband. But the woman is far from being sick- she's a zombie, made like this because of a combination of voodooist magic and a desperate mother-in-low.
Like most Lewton movies, though, we don't really remember the director. Lewton's movies had such a distinctive style, and they were that good, that they surpassed the campy names given to the movies by the RKO studio executives.
But enough general movie talks, let's look at the movie, and especially what we can learn from it, shall we? For me, the main magic of the movie is the voice-overs in the beginning. They have dreamlike vibe to them, they're as mesmerizing as can be and they present has the character of Nurse Betsy Connell quickly and effectively. And I think that it can be useful in RPGs too.
Think about it for a sec- a scene has just ended, and before moving to the next scene, we have a break and one of the players gives a monologue, in voice over, showing what goes in his/her character's mind. Wouldn't it be wonderful? This opens to us a new world of possibilities for reflection scenes.
But it can be driven further that this- a character is facing a moral dilemma. Instead of just choosing, the player can do a voice-over, detailing the way that the character thinks, showcasing the thinking-machinations in the character's head. It can be used to explain changes of thinking, growth of characters and so much more.
I don't know, maybe I'm just optimistic, but if there is one thing that this movie showed me, is that it can be made in any stage of the game, and it carries so many benefits as a way to present characters, to showcase them, to create identification with them, to understand them. Most films during those times used voice-over to present motives, not to convey feelings, after all…

How about you? Have you considered using voice-overs in your games? How did it go? And what else have you learned from this movie?


Flesh for Frankenstein- Twisting what's Known

Some horror movies are scary, and some serve as some kind of a dark and twisted mirror for our lives, for our culture. Flesh for Frankenstein is one of those movies, yet it is so campy that I almost missed that; it is so gory that I almost threw the DVD out of the window (which is bad, 'cause it's a library copy). Yet, it does have certain merits to it, if (yet again) you look hard enough.
It is yet another strange spin on the story of Dr. Frankenstein and his unnamed creation, but it is taken to an almost Rocky Horror's extreme: The Baron creates the monster to join his earlier creation, "a female zombie", in order to create "a new human race". It adds to that a lot of very dark humor, much gore and sex. It also has the infamous line: " To know death, Otto, you have to fuck life... in the gall bladder!" Yeah, that's the movie we're talking about.
But still, there is something to learn from this movie, right? Rrrrrrright…
It's quite hard to find something in there, you know, social commentary, gore and sex aside. But we can learn from it something, though, or I wouldn't be writing this piece. And what I've learned is that one of the greatest ways to surprise the audience is to build a story on something that they know quite well, and then to twist and spin it until it is *almost* unrecognizable.
The almost is the most important part- if it is too similar, we won't be surprising anyone as we don't have enough playing space. Too different, though, and it will feel completely new and thus we won't be able to utilize the prior knowledge.
When one treats a story this way, the audience gets to feel a unique kind of experience: the surprise to see how different the events turned out to be change, with the anticipation to see those changes. That's the power of the Campaign Comics, for example, and utilizing it to our games can prove this much successful also.
Think about the possibilities of having an evil Snow White and a good Queen Regina, think about the character of the prince who climbed to wake the sleeping beauty- he's a necrophilia character, to a certain respect, and by utilizing it we get the whole relationship that our culture has with those characters.

And that's it for this movie, at least from me. How about you? What did you learn from this movie? Or did you use a twisted twist like this in one of your games? How did it go?


Braindead- When Death Becomes Boring

Another day- another movie. Or something like that, at the very least. Braindead is a bad movie. It should have stayed dead, never becoming alive or even close to that. It is a campy movie drawn to the extreme, and today it's a cult movie, because its director is Peter Jackson. Yeah, that Peter Jackson. It doesn't make it any better as a film, or as a horror film. It's just bad.
It's a movie about a 25 years old virgin, who lives with his mother, and tries to start a relationship with a woman named Paquita. The mother is bitten by a rat, and becomes a zombie, thus starting to infect the entire city. If I made a mistake somewhere about the movie's plot, it doesn't matter, and it doesn't survive any kind of scrutiny. Actually, I'm not even sure that it survives a brain shut-down.
But I promised a lesson for each movie, and this one is no exception. Because, if you'll look pretty hard, and try with all of your heart, you might accidently find something positively to learn from it, like what I've found: That death is kinda boring.
Think about it this way: it is true that if the mom would have just died, I wouldn't have spent these 100 minutes almost cursing this idea of mine, to take this challenge. But you know what? Death is boring. If the mom would have just died, we wouldn't have this movie. And bad as it is, without it we wouldn't have the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, and that's a shame.
So, what can I say? Death is boring, death is not scary that much. Try instead to make the characters suffer, try instead to ensure that the NPCs suffer, and then let them blame it on the PCs. And that's actually, a pretty good lesson. After all, it is far more interesting to have an NPC say to a PC "I lost everything because of you, and now I want you to repay for my loses" than to have this same NPC just die.
And maybe, just maybe, you can get the PC to kill this NPC and go the personal horror route. Or maybe I'm just exaggerating at this point. I don't know anymore, this movie messed with my head way too much.
And that's it for me with this movie. I do hope that at the very least you've enjoyed this post.
How about you? Did you find something else in the movie? Did you use something like along the lines of this lesson in one of your games? How did it go?