Archive for the Media Macabre Category

My thoughts on Draugen

Posted in Media Macabre, Occult Detectives with tags on July 2, 2019 by Occult Detective

From Red Thread Games comes Draugen, a first-person psychological mystery set in Norway.

“The year is 1923. You play Edward Charles Harden, an American traveller who’s come to Norway to find his missing sister. But you’re not alone: at every step of the way, Edward’s accompanied by his ward, Lissie; a gregarious, independent and enigmatic young woman. Together, you must explore this scenic coastal community — nestled amongst the fjords and mountains of rural Norway — in your search for Edward’s sister, and unearth the darkness that lies beneath the picturesque surface.”

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First, let me explain that I reached out to Astrid Rosemarin, who works in marketing and PR for Red Thread, requesting the opportunity to review this game. She supplied me with a code for Steam and off I went.

In full disclosure, I rarely play PC games. I prefer console (XBoxOne), but the theme of this game piqued my interest and I wanted to share my thoughts with fellow occult detective fans.

The gameplay was simple, which was a big help to me, not being very comfortable gaming with a keyboard. If keyboards aren’t your thing either, no worries here. You’ll have no trouble navigating the world.

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The visuals are stunning. The environment, settings, and characters are all extremely believable and immersive. I was never drawn out of the narrative because of graphics. Red Thread Games’ attention to detail is admirable.

I was also quite taken with the voice acting and sound effects. While Lissie was quite annoying, I can’t help but feel she was spot on and exactly right for what was needed for the story.

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And speaking of story, well, that’s the defining grace of the game. Billed as a psychological mystery, that is exactly what you get. It’s not horror, but there are elements of the genre to keep you more than satisfied if that’s what you’re looking for.

Of course there are some hiccups, narratively speaking, but I found the game more compelling than other similar games, such as The Vanishing of Ethan Carter or Kona.

All in all, a very positive experience and one that I think occult detective fans will find interest in. There are Lovecraftian moments, with a Ligotti sensibility.

In summation, it is flawed, but compelling, with an excellent sensory immersion that will often leave you breathless. The pacing is slow, painfully so at times, but I believe this is by design, as the isolation, desperation, and descent into madness as the core themes is simulated by the narrative structure.

On a scale of 1-10, I rate it a measured 7.5 stars.

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Coming Soon: @DraugenGame

Posted in Media Macabre, Occult Detectives on May 8, 2019 by Occult Detective

Hey, Occult Detective fans, I’d like to point you toward an exciting new game that embraces the genre we love. It’s gorgeously rendered, atmospheric, and, well, right up my alley. I suspect it’s right up yours as well.

Give their presskit a read, watch the story trailer, and see for yourself —

From the studio that brought you Dreamfall Chapters, and the creative team behind The Longest Journey and The Secret World, comes a first-person psychological mystery set in 1920s Norway.

The year is 1923. You play Edward Charles Harden, an American traveler who’s come to Norway to find his missing sister. But you’re not alone: at every step of the way, Edward’s accompanied by his ward, Lissie; a gregarious, independent and enigmatic young woman.

Together, you must explore this scenic coastal community — nestled amongst the fjords and mountains of rural Norway — in your search for Edward’s sister, and unearth the darkness that lies beneath the picturesque surface.

It reminds me of  The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, which I had high hopes for, though that game was ultimately a letdown. I have a good feeling that Red Thread Games is going to deliver the game we’ve been waiting for.

With any luck I’ll have a chance to review this for you soon. Stay tuned for further updates.

True Detective Disappoints…Again

Posted in Media Macabre on February 26, 2019 by Occult Detective

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Let’s cut to the chase — Season Three, the much heralded return of a series desperate to pretend Season Two never happened, was held together by some damn good acting by Ali and Dorff, but in the end it was an ultimately disappointing exercise where all the most interesting characters were women that got almost no screen time.

Pizzolatto is a writer who mines pop culture and true crime stories, pulls out the superficial bits, and then weaves an empty story around them.

There was a good story in there, hidden in the muck. That good story was recited as a weighty exposition while our characters were sitting at a kitchen table.

Ali’s portrayal of a man suffering from dementia was compelling and heartbreaking, but in the end it was just a mcguffin, a wearisome plot device so that the writer could deliver his ah-ha moment that was obvious as soon as we met Mike and his daughter, but we had to watch as “the ghost” of Amelia delivers the “truth” to Hays by the happenstance of a book falling to the floor on just the right page for the revelation to bear fruit.

That’s some weak writing unless you actually interject the paranormal element.

Pizzolatto just can’t make up his mind, largely, I think, because he’s lost in his own narrative. He doesn’t understand the story he’s telling. He has no grasp of the craft. He just plods along, stringing scenes together and hoping it all comes together in the end.

Well, it doesn’t. Not really.

Hell, he couldn’t even make up his mind how to end the damn thing. As we pull into Wayne’s eye, we find him and his girlfriend reconciling in the VFW then walking off into the white light like the finale of LOST.

Don’t tell me we’ve been in Purgatory all along.

Did Wayne die there on the porch just then, or did he descend even deeper into his dementia, never to return?

But wait, we’re not done. We end, instead, with Purple Hays in the jungles of Vietnam. Force Recon, Uh-Rah!

Did Wayne die and then take a detour into hell or did he descend even deeper into his dementia to become lost in that jungle of long ago?

Or is this Pizzolatto’s attempt at lifting the plot of Jacob’s Ladder? Did Purple Hays never come home from ‘Nam at all, dying in the jungle, and the entire season was ultimately a dying man’s fantasy?

Surely not, but one could see how such an interpretation could take hold. I suspect the author wrote both scenes and couldn’t decide which route to take, so delivered both, creating an ineffectual mess.

Want my bottom line? Nic Pizzolatto is a snake oil salesman with a flashy cart and fancy label on the bottle. Drinking it down won’t hurt you none, but don’t expect it to do you much good either.

Watch Season Three for the amazing performances, particularly from Stephen Dorff, who really surprised me in this.

Don’t expect much from the story and you’ll get along just fine.

Project Blue Book is still solid TV entertainment

Posted in Media Macabre on January 25, 2019 by Occult Detective

Catching up on Project Blue Book, History Channel’s retelling (mostly reimagining) of the US Air Force’s investigations into UFO sightings from 1952 – 1969, the series continues to be a treat. Admittedly, the stories have been as far from reality as one can manage, but entertaining, none-the-less.

The show is big on atmosphere and Aidan Gillen continues to impress, as does Ksensia Solo as the spy keeping tabs on Dr. Hynek’s wife and milking her for information.

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The second episode followed the case of The Flatwoods Monster. The only similarities between the show and the actual case lies in the fact that a meteorite crashed in rural West Virginia, near Flatwoods, and some people reported it as a flying saucer crash and a “monster” was seen after.

Eyewitness sightings detailed a crude sort of robot, as opposed to History’s tree creature.

The Air Force reported the fireball was a meteorite, as confirmed by an Ohio Astronomy Club. The show followed that example, but through in more Men in Black activity, the mysterious tarped saucer at the end, not to mention the Russian Agent’s attempt at seducing Mrs. Hynek.

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The third episode, “The Lubbock Lights”, hews a little closer to the actual events, but three in and we’re seeing a theme — government cover-up and conspiracy is the order of the day, and it makes for exciting tv.

The official culprit in Lubbock was plovers, small birds flying in formation, the city lights reflecting off their white underbellies. Of course Lieutenant Ruppelt, of Projects Grudge and Blue Book fame, disagreed with the assessment.

Ruppelt, prior to his death from a heart attack at the age of 37, called the UFO phenomena a “space age myth”.

Project Blue Book is far closer to fiction than fact, and I am more than fine with that. While I have long had a fascination with so-called UFO phenomena, I am enjoying this X-Files-esque retread. It reminds me of Project U.F.O., Jack Webb’s short lived series from the late 70s that was must-see-tv for me.

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True Detective resurrects the Ghost of WM3

Posted in Media Macabre on January 14, 2019 by Occult Detective

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Season One of True Detective was brilliant television and, despite some controversy regarding Nic Pizzolatto’s appropriation of the works of Alan Moore and Thomas Ligotti, was near universally acknowledged as being fresh, original, and disturbing.

It was like Twin Peaks and the Wire had a lovechild.

Season Two? Not so much. Oh, it had its moments, but it was, ultimately, a disjointed mess, with the best bits, I suspect, stripped from the script in an effort to remove the more ‘occult’ elements, elements that, in large part, made Season One so intoxicating.

Now, after a long hiatus, True Detective returns and it begs the question — can Season Three capture some of that same black magic that made its debut outing such a critical success?

Let’s find out.

The Great War and Modern Memory

What we have, initially, is Pizzolatto’s reimagining of the West Memphis 3 case, aka the Robin Hood Murders, and the subject of a true crime book (and movie) titled Devil’s Knot.

The root of the story seems to revolve around the disappearance of a brother and sister, ages 12 and 10, in an area known as the Devil’s Den. Detective Hays is interviewed in 1990 and 2015 regarding his involvement in the case back in 1980, the first by prosecutors and the second by ‘True Criminal’, which is, I presume, a tv docu-series.

Hays is a former long range reconnaissance and refers to himself as a tracker. He’s good at what he does. He sets out on his own and discovers the boy, Will, inside a cave, posed in prayer. The girl was nowhere to be found, though we learn that her fingerprints turn up in 1990.

Also of note, two cornhusk dolls, dressed as brides, were found, almost like breadcrumbs, leading Hays to Will’s body.

Set in Arkansas, I have to admit, they got the look right. The accents? Not even close. I know. My family is all from that nape of the woods and I spent a lot of time down that way, especially from the early-70s until the mid-80s.

The acting is solid. I expected as much from Mahershala Ali, but I was pleasantly surprised by Stephen Dorff’s Dennis Quaid impersonation.

I thought the mystery unfolded slow and easy, and enjoyed the three decade plot device.

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Now, let’s talk briefly about the first thing I took note of, at least in regard to Easter Eggs. In Will’s room, Hays pauses over an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons book titled ‘The Forests of Leng’. Trust me, no such book or module exists.

Leng made me think of two things right away. 1.) Lovecraft’s Plateau of Leng and 2.) George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire, where Leng is a jungle island littered with ancient ruins. Martin almost certainly titled the isle as a nod to Lovecraft.

Leng was described by the sorcerer Abdul Alhazred as a place where different realities converge.

One final [piece that bears mentioning. The children’s parents were estranged. For a time, the wife’s cousin was living with them, sleeping in Will’s room. When Hays was searching the boy’s room he found a peephole drilled into his closet, allowing someone, presumably the adult cousin, to spy on the little girl’s room.

On to episode two…

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye

“I like Batman and Silver Surfer.”

The second episode doubled down on the slow burn. Oh, there were plenty of red herrings and false leads, seeds of pedophile rings and conspiracies, but all in all, this felt like a character piece.

Where the first outing had a Twin Peaks meets Stranger Things (kids on bikes and D&D) vibe, this one hewed a little closer to noir procedural.

We get a richer glimpse into the lives of all involved, and we see new faces that are sure to play a bigger role as things unfold.

The three biggest things for me was Hays and Amelia’s relationship, the ransom note, and Hays’ Alzheimer’s (or dementia).

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We’re watching everyone on edge as the community and the police involved begin to unravel.

I’m still excited by the show, but I wonder if it would have been better served to have shown episode one by its lonesome, then the second week dropped two and three together? That first episode had all the water-cooler talking points laid out, while the second sort of defused that somewhat.

Regardless, I’ll be there, hungrily, next week to see where this dark road will lead us.

 

History’s Project Blue Book

Posted in Media Macabre on January 10, 2019 by Occult Detective

What follows is a true story.

In 1976 I was a fifth grader at Converse Elementary. We were housed in the old Converse High School, about a decade before they razed that beautiful building in favor of progress and cost reduction. It still doesn’t sit well with me, but that’s another matter.

In that glorious school year we were given the opportunity to ‘test out’ of math for the second semester. Several students were falling behind, so they decided to focus on those lagging by letting those who were getting it to do something else… a research project, the subject of which would be voted on by the group of those separated from those struggling.

In the interest of full disclosure: I cheated on the test. And so I was set free from the constraints of elementary mathematics and thrust into adolescent academia.

projblubkI petitioned the dozen or so who tested out of math for us to focus our research on the UFO phenomena. It, along with cryptids, the paranormal, and the occult, was my obsession. The students agreed and I presented my case to our teacher, Mr. Piper.

He agreed and we spent the next six weeks in an abandoned classroom on the third floor mapping out our theories on “flying saucers” and “little green men”. It was an amazing adventure and one I hold near and dear.

My bible was the Brad Steiger edited Project Blue Book. It, along with various UFO magazines and my collection of tabloid and newspaper clippings, made up our source material.

We plotted sightings on two large maps: one of the US and the other of the world. We filled not one, but three chalkboards with info, and then compiled it all into a report that we presented to the school.

Like I said, it was an amazing adventure and a memory I cherish.

bluebookFlash forward more than forty years later, and I’m watching Project Blue Book, a History Channel TV series starring Aiden Gillen as J. Allen Hynek, one of my childhood heroes.

The series debut, titled “The Fuller Dogfight”, played fast and loose with the facts. Blue Book was actually Hynek’s third UFO project for the Air Force for starters.

That being said, I loved it. Gillen was remarkable and Neal McDonough realy chewed the scenery whenever he took the screen. all in all, a solid start to a fictitious romp through early Ufology. As an old school X-Files fan, well, I can overlook the inaccuracies and instead allow myself to be immersed in the fantasy of what might have been.

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Fox Mulder was fond of the mantra, “The Truth is Out There”. Well, there’s little to no truth in Project Blue Book, but I’m all in. There’s a new “occult detective” in town, and his name is J. Allen Hynek.

What’s Your Name? Who’s Your Daddy? #ConstantineOnLegends

Posted in Media Macabre, Occult Detectives with tags on February 13, 2018 by Occult Detective

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The CW’s version of John Constantine, played convincingly by Matt Ryan, made an appearance on Legends of Tomorrow last night in an episode titled Daddy Darhkest.

Let’s just get this out of the way: Legends of Tomorrow is not a good show, by any stretch. In fact, I’m sorry to say, the entire Arrowverse has become unbearable to me. I abandoned Legends fairly quickly into its sophomore season, and it wasn’t long before I jettisoned the Flash as well. I stuck it out with Arrow the longest, but I dropped it as well in the end. They all suffer the same malady, I’m afraid: bad, clichéd writing and lifeless acting.

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All it took for me to tune back in was everyone’s favorite chain-smoking streetwise exorcist.

The story was solid enough: Damian Darhk’s daughter is in a mental institution (nice nod to John’s visual inspiration there, Sumner Asylum, calling back to one Gordon Sumner, aka Sting) and possessed by the demon Mallus (voiced by the always brilliant John Noble). When Mallus name-drops Sara Lance, John calls on the crew of the Waverider and off we go.

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There were some good visual effects, some nice graphic design with the inscribed Solomon Circle, and the like. Matt Ryan has got the charm to pull off Constantine well enough and I enjoyed both his flirtation with Citizen Cold and his hook-up with the equally sexually fluid White Canary, especially with the Zombies’ Time of the Season for accompaniment.

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This episode, much as Matt Ryan’s Arrow guest spot did, once again underscores the missed opportunity to breathe new life into a Constantine television series. I was a fan of the short lived FOX effort, even though I felt the premise was a bit daft and setting all wrong. It still worked because it had a solid lead and great visuals.

300The fact of the matter is, DC has mismanaged Constantine as a character for a while now, pretty much since the original series took a bow with its 300th issue. Subsequent comics have been poor reflections of what made Constantine innovative and brilliant.

The TV version comes bloody close, but I still clamour for a more steady dose of Johnny Con-Job. With an animated series on the horizon from CWSeed, perhaps we’ll get something to scratch that devilish itch.

More Matt Ryan is never a bad thing, even if its just his voice carrying the load.

 

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