Who Watches The Watchmen: Unlawful Entry (1992, directed by Jonathan Kaplan)


The upscale and complacent life of Michael and Karen Carr (Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe) is interrupted one night when a burglar breaks into their home via their skylight.  The intruder briefly holds a knife to Karen’s throat before taking off.  Shaken by the encounter, the Carrs are very happy when a seemingly friendly cop, Officer Pete Davis (Ray Liotta). offers to help them cut through all the red tape and get a security system installed in their house.

At first glance, Pete seems like the perfect cop but actually, he’s a mentally unstable fascist who quickly becomes obsessed with Karen.  When Pete offers Michael his nightstick so that Michael can use it on the man who earlier broke into his house, Michael refuses.  That’s all that Pete needs to see to decide that Michael’s not a real man and that Karen would be better off with him.  Even after Michael orders Pete to stay away from his home, Pete continues to drop by so that he can spy on the couple.  When Michael complains, Pete frames him by planting cocaine at his house.  When Michael says that he’s innocent, no one believes him.  Why would they?  Pete’s a decorated cop who is keeping the streets safe.  Michael is just a homeowner.  While Michael sits in jail, the increasingly violent and unhinged Pete makes plans to make Karen his own.

“Who watches the watchmen?” as the old saying goes.  Unlawful Entry is an efficient and no-nonsense thriller that was ahead of its time as far as its portrayal of a policeman abusing his authority is concerned.  Jonathan Kaplan was trained in the Roger Corman school of filmmaking so he doesn’t waste any time getting to the story and he even finds a role for Dick Miller.  Ray Liotta, fresh off of his performance in Goodfellas, is perfectly cast as the manipulative and misogynistic Pete while Kurt Russell is once again the ideal everyman.  Madeleine Stowe, who was one of the best actresses of the 90s, does not get to do much beyond be menaced but she does it well.  Whatever happened to Madeleine Stowe?  Kurt Russell’s career is still going strong and Ray Liotta still appears regularly in gangster movies and Chantix commercials.  Isn’t it about time for a Madeleine Stowe comeback?

Game Review: Eat Me (2017, Chandler Groover)


Copyright Chandler Groover

Eat Me is both one of the strangest and most delicious text adventures that I’ve ever played.

You are a very hungry child being held captive in a dungeon.  Fortunately, your manacles are very tasty.  For that matter, so is the door to your cell, probably because it’s made out of a cheesecake.  If you want to go for a more minimal meal, the skeleton of the prisoner who was in the cell before you is also available for snacking.  In fact, as the player soon discovers, everything in this dungeon can be eaten.  That includes the doors, the instruments of torture, the bodies of the other prisoners, and the guards.  If you’re going to escape you better start eating.

There are a few things that stand out about Eat Me.  One thing is that the solution to almost every problem is to eat.  Some things are easier to eat than others but eating is always the safest way to go.  The other is that it’s a very well-written game, with very tasty descriptions of each room, each object, each person, and, of course, each bite.  Some of the descriptions are downright tasty while others are not something you should read on a full stomach.  None of the NPCs in the game really want to be eaten but, in the end, it’s either you or them.

For those ready to start their meal, Eat Me can played online here.

Great Moments In Television History: Planet of the Apes The TV Series


On September 13th, 1974, audiences that tuned into CBS saw the premiere of a new TV show with a familiar premise.

The episode opened with a spaceship crashing on an Earth-like planet.  One of the astronauts was killed.  Two of the astronauts — Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) and Peter Burke (James Naughton) — survived.  Virdon and Burke discovered that the planet was inhabited by humans who, despite it being the year 3085, were living in medieval villages.  The humans were kept in a state of serfdom by the Apes who ruled the planet.  The Apes spoke English and had formed their own society of militaristic gorillas and scientific-minded chimpanzees.  Looking through an old book, Virdon and Burke discovered that they had crash landed on Earth, far in the future!

You know the drill.  Planet of the Apes was based on the famous series of films, with the first pilot episode featuring Virdon and Burke discovering in less than an hour what took Charlton Heston a journey into the forbidden zone to figure out.  Because the humans had “blown it up,” the Earth was now ruled by Apes!

As fugitives from ape justice, Virdon and Burke spent the next fourteen episodes being pursued by the fanatical General Urko (Mark Lenard), who was determined to capture the two astronauts before they revealed that Apes had not always been the planet’s masters.  Traveling with Virdon and Burke was a sympathetic chimpanzee named Galen (Roddy McDowall).  Usually just one step ahead of Urko, Virdon, Burke, and Galen traveled from village to village, seeking a way to fix their spaceship so that they could escape the Planet of the Apes.

Planet of the Apes got off to a strong start with an exciting and concise first episode but the series quickly ran out of gas.  Because Virdon, Burke, and Galen had to flee to a new village at the end of every episode, the show was never able to devote much time to exploring the most intriguing thing about the original Planet of the Apes films, the culture of a world where humans were subservient to apes.  Because Virdon and Burke were largely interchangeable with little in the way of backstory or personality, the show very quickly ran out of a stories to tell.  It didn’t take long for Planet of the Apes to start repeating itself with multiple episodes in which Virdon or Burke got involved in local village drama before Urko showed up and forced them to flee again.

There were some good moments, though.  Probably the highlight of the series was the third episode of the series, The Trap.  In this episode, Virdon, Burke, Galen, and Urko all reach the ruins of San Francisco at the same time.  After an earthquake buries Burke and Urko in a subway tunnel, the two of them are forced to work together to survive.  Burke and Urko make an unexpectedly good team and Urko seems like he’s on the verge of a change of heart when he spots an old poster for the San Francisco zoo, one that features a caged gorilla being gawked at by humans.  Urko’s angry reaction to seeing the poster is well-acted by Mark Lenard and, for a few minutes, his obsession with capturing Virdon and Burke can be understood.  It wouldn’t last but, in that moment, Urko went from being just another villain to being a complex character with his own clearly defined motivations.

The show also benefited from Roddy McDowall, who, by this point, was an expert at acting while wearing chimpanzee makeup.  McDowall brought heart and humor to the role of Galen, even if he was too often treated like a servant by Burke and Virdon.  Whenever the two humans were scared to go out in public, they sent Galen off to gather information.  Galen did a good job but he still deserved better.

Finally, Planet of the Apes had one of the coolest opening title sequences of all time!  Take a look:

Though cancelled after only 14 episodes, Planet of the Apes The Television Series lives on.  Episodes can currently be seen on MeTV.

It’s No Westworld: Futureworld (1976, directed by Richard T. Heffron)


Two years after the Westworld “incident,” (in which a group of robots malfunctioned and murdered hundreds of humans), Delos Amusement Park has reopened and is accepting guests.  Westworld has been permanently shut down but guests can still go to Romanworld and Medeivalworld (despite the fact that it was in Medievalworld that the whole robot rebellion started in the first place).  Delos has added two new worlds: Spaworld and Futureworld.  Spaworld is a spa for people who want to think young and Futureworld is the world of the future, which looks much like 1976, the year that this film was made.

Two reporters, Chuck Browning (Peter Fonda) and Tracy Ballard (Blythe Danner), have been invited to cover the grand reopening of Delos and to hopefully generate some good publicity.  Chuck, however, has reason to believe that there’s something sinister happening at Delos.  While Tracy is busy fantasizing about Yul Brynner, Chuck discovers that Delos is using Futureworld to clone diplomats.

At the end of Futureworld, Peter Fonda gives everyone the finger and that’s really cool but otherwise, this is a forgettable sequel to Westworld.  The whole point of the original Westworld was that the robots didn’t know they were robots but, in Futureworld, the robots not only know what they are but they’re also superfluous to the plot.  There’s no robot revolution in Futureworld nor is there any of Crichton’s concerns about technology run amok.  Instead, it’s all about clones and a predictable political conspiracy.

The main issue facing the makers of this film was how could they do a sequel to Michael Crichton’s unexpected hit when Westworld‘s main attraction, Yul Brynner’s robot gunslinger, was thoroughly destroyed at the end of the first film.  It would not make any sense for anyone to have reactivated the robot.  Their solution was to bring Brynner in for a cameo in which he appeared in one of Tracy’s dreams.  Sadly, why they thought it was a good idea to have Tracy develop an erotic fixation on a killer robot and then, just as abruptly, abandon the idea is not for us to know.  They would have been better off leaving Brynner out of the film entirely because his presence just reminds us that Futureworld is no Westworld.

Game Review: Suspended: A Cryogenic Nightmare (1983, Infocom)


Welcome to the future.  On the planet of Contra, an Earth colony is run by a self-maintaining system that is housed in a gigantic facility.  The system is responsible for everything from transportation to keeping the weather hospitable for the colonists.  You are at the center of the system.  You have been placed in suspended animation so that your mind can serve as the Central Mentality that keeps the entire system from falling apart.  It’s a job that’s meant to last for 500 years but the rewards are great.

Unfortunately, there’s been an earthquake and the complex has been damaged.  Though you are still in suspended animation, you know that you have to repair the complex before the angry colonists shut you down.  Since you’re in stasis, you have to direct five robots to do all the work.  Each robot has its own “personality” and unique way of describing each room in the complex.  You’ll have to figure out how to get the robots to work together before all of you get shut down permanently.

Suspended is one of the most difficult text adventures that I’ve ever played.  Since each robot can only tell you certain things about each room in the facility, the game often depends on getting the right robots in the right room at the right time.  If you can pull that off, the damage itself is often easy to fix but it’s not always easy to guess which robot will be useful in which situation.  In typical Infocom fashion, there’s also a time limit to the game and making too many mistakes can make it impossible to get things done before time expires.  For most players, winning this game will come down to trial-and-error and frequent saving.  The game is so complex, though, that you feel really damn good when you actually manage to figure it all out.

Suspended can be found at various archival and abandonware sites online, including here.

Snakes On A Vacation: Curse II: The Bite (1989, directed by Frederico Prosperi)


Clark (J. Eddie Peck) and his girlfriend, Lisa (Jill Schoelen), are vacationing in New Mexico.  It’s a romantic getaway, except for all of the snakes.  Clark manages to save Lisa from one snake through the use of his trusty rifle but then he himself gets bitten once they go to a motel.  Luckily, traveling salesman Harry Morton (Jamie Farr!) has a suitcase that’s full of anti-snake venom antidotes.  Unfortunately, the one that Harry gave to Clark doesn’t do much good because not only does the bite on Clark’s arm get worse but it starts to turn into a snake!  In fact, his entire body is full of snakes, just trying to slither out!  It’s a vacation from Hell as Lisa tries to find a cure for Clark, Clark tries to control his serpent-like instincts, and Harry tries to find the young couple so that they don’t sue him.

This is an unrelated sequel to a film called The Curse.  In fact, it’s probable that this film was just called The Bite until the first Curse did slightly better at the box office than anyone expected.  The two films share not a single character or plot point in common.  There’s not really even a curse in this so-called sequel!  Clark’s problems are all due to the snake being radioactive.  (Once again, science is to blame.)  It’s a typically cheesy, low-budget 80s horror film but it does have a few things to recommend it.  The special effects range between being enjoyably cheap and effectively gross.  Jamie Farr is entertaining as Harry Morton and seems to be happy to not be playing Klinger again.  The truckers that Harry enlists to help him search for Lisa and Clark are all colorful characters and they are a little more interesting than the usual horror movie canon fodder.  Bo Svenson also has a good cameo as the sheriff.

Best of all, the film features one the greatest scream queens of the late 80s and early 90s, Jill Schoelen.  Schoelen is best remembered for her role in The Stepfather but she actually appeared in several horror movies between 1987 and 1993.  As she was in almost all of her roles, Jill Schoelen is both sexy and believable in The Bite.  She had a talent for making even the worse dialogue sound natural and that was a talent that The Bite gave her many chances to display.

The Bite is hardly a great film but, by the standards of late 80s cable fare, it’s undeniably entertaining.

 

Silent Hill Memories


I was sixteen when Silent Hill first came out for the Playstation.

From the first minute I played it, I was hooked and Silent Hill would go on to become the first video game that I ever seriously got into.  I would study the game.  I would go online, in those early days of the world wide web, to read the theories of other players and visit the occasional Geocities-hosted fan page.  I actually got very upset when innocent nurse Lisa Garland was lost to the town’s curse.  I was also amazed to discover that the game’s storyline and ending could change depending on whether or not I saved Cybil Bennett.  A video game with multiple endings that went beyond just “good” and “bad?”  This was a big deal back in 1999!

Looking back after all these years, there are four main things that I remember about Silent Hill.

First off, and I know I’m not alone,I remembered the opening and especially the music that played during the scenes of Harry Mason driving down that foggy road:

Secondly, I remember the scenes that played after the game’s ending, which featured all of Silent Hill‘s characters blowing their lines, missing their cues, and laughing about it.  Today the animation may look primitive but back in 1999, seeing this at least provided some comfort if you got one of the bad endings, especially the “bad” ending where you defeated the monster but your daughter died (“Thank you, Daddy … goodbye.”) and then you ended up dead in your car.

I remember the nearly legendary fifth ending of the game, in which Harry Mason ended up getting abducted by aliens.  In the days before YouTube, when you had to trust word-of-mouth, there were some people who insisted that this ending was just an urban legend while there were others who couldn’t stop bragging about how they had gotten the alien ending while the rest of us just had to settle for the “saved the world and your daughter” ending.  When I finally managed to get the UFO ending, I was so happy that I felt like I was the one who had been abducted by aliens.

Finally, the main thing I remember about Silent Hill is that I was never very good at it.  I was the player who always ended up getting lost and walking around in a circle.  I can’t remember how many times I played before I managed to not die in the diner.  As soon as I heard the radio static that indicated that I was about to get attacked, I started to run because I know I wasn’t a good enough shot to fight off any of the game’s monsters.  Harry Mason was searching for his daughter and I was probably the worst possible person to lead him in that search because I somehow always managed to get Harry killed.  It didn’t matter how many times I played the game, I never really got good at it.  Even when I finally managed to get the best ending possible, it was only after saving and reloading the game a countless number of times.

I may have never been good at the game but I still enjoyed leading Harry to his death and occasionally to one of the good endings.  Silent Hill is what taught me that there was more to video games than just jumping and shooting and for that, I will be forever thankful.