Castlevania: TV Review

If you’re on this site, you loved monsters as a kid. Probably even had a “Monster In My Pocket” or two.

…or forty-eight

And during those days, you probably held that familiar Nintendo controller in your hand and threw down on some Zelda, Mario, or Metroid. But, as a monster lover, you inevitably found yourself playing one of the earliest horror games the NES had to offer.

Well, yeah, but… Man, did that game dash away the hopes of a fun weekend for so many kids.

But no, that’s not the game I was talking about.

How Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde got that same Nintendo Seal of Approval, I’ll never understand.

Released by Konami back in 1986, Castlevania was the go-to game for horror-loving gamers who didn’t mind getting their asses handed to them by the monsters they loved. And if you were just into challenging action platformers, Castlevania converted you into a fan of the macabre that was handed out in doses.

This should do you till the epicness that is Super Castlevania IV on the SNES.

Though the plots of each game took place over centuries, the premise was simple. Every hundred years, good begins to fade amongst the hearts of men, and Count Dracula wakes from his slumber inside his castle to spew forth unspeakable horrors onto all the neighboring villages.

LOOK AT IT! LOOK AT THE UNSPEAKABLE HORROR!

That’s where the Belmonts came in. A family of monster hunters and vampire killers, you would find yourself playing as one, armed with the weapon passed down through the generations and created for the sole purpose of destroying Dracula and all his evil minions. The “Vampire Killer”!

Okay look. I know it’s not the most original name, but this thing can hurt Death himself, so, you know, shut up

And the best part? Dracula had just about every known monster at his disposal. We’re talking Frakenstein’s Creature, mummies, evil knights, fish-men, zombies, werewolves, Medusas, skele-men, golems, gargoyles, hydras, demons…and a pair of dancing specters named Paula Abghoul and Fred Askare.

You thought I was joking, but there they are in the manual. Again, look, Death is also a boss.

The amount of lore that has built up through twenty-three games, spanning a timeline from 1094 to 2036, is staggering. And that doesn’t even count the “Lords of Shadow” alternate timeline. With this gothic treasure trove, you’d imagine someone would have tried to adapt it by now.

As much as I loved Captain N as a kid, that isn’t Simon Belmont anymore than that green guy is supposed to be Mega Man.

Well, after a decade of development hell, Netflix and Producer Adi Shankar have resurrected writer Warren Ellis’ adaptation of the game series from its tomb as an animated series.

And my God, is it good. It’s probably the best adaptation of a video game to date.

Sorry Mario. Now you’ll know how Luigi feels being in second.

THE STORY:

Based on “Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse”, the story takes place in 1476, a year after an event that promises to bring forth the vengeance of Vlad Dracula Tepes upon the nation of Wallachia. The misguided Church vow God’s divine intervention if all the non believers are dealt with, including a mysterious group seeking a legendary savior supposedly slumbering in the catacombs.

As the day of vengeance draws closer and the innocent suffer as horribly as the damned, the greatest chance at defeating Dracula is the last son of the family who were cast out of society for their ties to the supernatural.

Trevor Belmont.

What’s this in my hand, Dracula? Funny you should ask.

And when you take a story that is filled with every possible monster imaginable, there’s only one left to add. The most terrifying:

Thought that was gonna be a Kardashians joke, didn’t you? They’d already be dead in this world, and you know it.

One of the most interesting aspects added to the story is the looming threat of The Church and its belief that everything being done is right because it is in His name. And nothing is more dangerous than ignorance acted out with infallibility. In fact, that is the very thing that has ultimately set the nation up for its destruction.

The nation of Wallachia of course. Can you imagine if I was talking about the United States?

Can. You. Imagine?

But a chessboard, even one as beautiful as this one, is nothing without the chess pieces.

THE CHARACTERS:

What were once literally 2D characters on a CRT Television in your parents living room have been given a rich depth once left up to us gamers to provide.

Today, all we gotta do is hold the X button.

Our protaganist of this story is Trevor Belmont, current wielder of the “Vampire Killer” and all around nice guy.

I’m kidding. Trevor is an asshole.

[singing] There goes my hero!

Though rightly so. His family protected the lands for hundreds of years, keeping away the evils that lurk in the night and then were promptly thanked with accusations of being gold-seeking witches and warlocks.

You know, like this company of cash vampires is actually guilty of being.

 

So growing up and training your entire life to protect the ones who spit at you for doing so can leave you with a bit of hesitation to intervene. That and some razor sharp sarcasm. But our anti-hero is still a hero. And while his reluctance to help those who reject him exists, he never deviates from his purpose to defeat Dracula. He just wants a beer while he’s waiting.

But on the other side of the coin is Dracula himself. And right from the initial moments of the show, Dracula is given what he has been sorely missing from the main Castlevania series.

Humanity.

Dracula is no longer just a final boss inexplicably evil for the sake of being defeated. In the series, his 8-bit bones have been fleshed out into a cursed man inflicting his curse upon those that took his humanity from him. Much like Mr. Freeze in “Batman: The Animated Series”, he can be sympathized with in spite of his actions. And when you can question the actions of sending baby-eating demons into the homes of those who wronged you, maybe things aren’t so black and white in the show.

And as the whip’s end collided with Dracula’s face, Belmont whispered, ‘I’m sorry this has to happen to you’.

THE DIALOGUE

What is quite possibly my favorite aspect of the show, the dialogue exchanges are nothing short of superb. From the hilarious, sarcastic quips to the bone-chilling laments before both heartbreak and horror, all of it raises the stakes.

Oh ha ha. I’m trying to be serious here.

There are moments of sheer brilliance with the spoken word. The first episode alone will give you more goosebumps than…damn. I know there’s a good comparison there related to horror.

Nope. I’ve got nothing. Oh well. We all can’t be R.L. Stine.

THE ANIMATION

Spearheading the show is Powerhouse Animation. Their biggest project to date, the studio took most of their influence from the conceptual and promotional artwork of Castlevania, namely the PlayStation classic “Symphony of the Night”. The overall asthetic is as Castlevania should be.

Dark. Gothic. Audacious.

Bloody

It’s easy to mistake this show as anime. But unlike having the prevalent mark of every action super-stylized, Powerhouse has restrained themselves, giving each moment, each limited frame, purpose. The difference between how a drunken Victor in a barfight is animated and a sober (well, not so drunk) Victor killing a monster later on is very noticeable, and it should be.

By holding back the fluidity of skill behind the methodical, sometimes clumsy movements of being human, the impact of its revelation in the action scenes has much more impact upon the viewer. And this is proven with each fight Victor encounters with the supernatural, especially the one in the final moments of Episode 4.

Yeah, I’m not spoiling that one for you.

And just as the first season comes to a close, you are visually taught what it means to be a Belmont as Trevor accepts the challenge he was destined to face yet hesitated to admit was his.

FINAL THOUGHTS

See how I mentioned the season finale and Episode 4 pretty close to each other? Yeah, that’s because the first season is only four episodes at roughly half an hour each.

I know. I know. That’s the only real negative I have for the show is the pacing of each episode and length of the season. But, before you get upset, you should know two things.

First, when Warren Ellis was first working on this back in 2007, it was intended to be a direct-to-video animated film. And when you binge watch this (and you will), you’ll be quick to notice the pacing of each episode is corrected when viewed as a single movie. Ellis quickly learned that one movie wouldn’t be enough and planned it out to be a trilogy of films.

Second, the day Castlevania premiered, Netflix announced 8 episodes were already in the works for “Season 2”. You just need a little math to figure out that the other two installments are on the way, most likely completing Trevor’s tale in the Castlevania timeline.

And this time in between is what excites me most. Wondering what monsters we’ll see and how epic the journey through the mechanical labyrinth that is Dracula’sl castle will be.

But knowing that, even after the storyline of Dracula’s Curse is done, we could see each season following another game in the timeline, leaping across the centuries and seeing what a 100 years at a time does to all those involved with keeping Dracula inside his tomb.

This show has amazing potential. But for now, it’s a damn good start worth your time.

FEAR STREET! It’ll give you more goosebumps than Fear Street! That’s what I was thinking of earlier!

Nailed it!

 


My thanks to Shawn and Dusty for letting me write another article. I do love them so.

I have a survival-horror western out called “Year 47” on Amazon. You can pick it up here.

I’m no R.L. Stine, but Horror Writers themselves gave it “Novel of the Year” for 2016.

Also, you can follow me on Twitter: @infrafan

Twin Peaks Thoughts

I am 36 years old and had never seen a second of Twin Peaks until a few years ago.

Twin Peaks was one of those shows I had heard about long before I had actually seen it. I was 10 years old when it premiered, far too young to watch and certainly far too young to understand. As I got older, it was one of those shows I heard about a lot, but never watched. I’d be lying if I said the bulk of my “knowledge” didn’t come from The Simpsons.

Going off of those clips – along with the overall reputation – all I knew was that it was weird. No real point; just weird.

When I finally got around to watching it, I was shocked at how coherent it was. Yes, there was some weirdness, but it was a show driven by a cast of likable characters and a fairly simple plot: a girl was murdered in a quiet town and it was likely that someone in town killed her.

There is an oddness to the town itself, and some of the characters are strange – having a character simply known as “The Log Lady” speaks to that – but I didn’t find it hard to follow. The first season certainly had its share of odd moments, but it all had a purpose. There was a vision behind it. Looking at individual scenes on their own, it would be easy to dismiss the show as artsy-fartsy garbage. But, within the context of the show, I was amazed that all the pieces seemed to fit together. Trying to explain to someone else never ends well for me, but the show itself works.

It works for the first season, at least. I was immediately pulled into the world and fell in love with Agent Cooper and his wide-eyed love of everything he saw. Cooper lovingly saying”Douglas Firs,” with a huge smile on his face told me that this was a man I would absolutely love. Cooper drew me into the show, and the friendship he formed with Sheriff Truman cemented my love. Cooper had some odd ideas, but the two of them grounded me. There may have been weirdness with some of the residents of Twin Peaks – and Cooper certainly contributed to that weirdness at times – but Cooper and Truman gave me an anchor.

The show went off the rails a bit in the second season, and completely came unglued after Laura Palmer’s killer was revealed 7 episodes in. According to David Lynch, they never intended to reveal the killer, instead using the crime as a way to look at the darkness in this small town. The killer was not important; what the murder revealed was. After the killer was revealed, Lynch dropped out of the show and everything started falling apart.

My breaking point came when James – moping biker, love interest of many and my least favorite character – set off on his motorcycle and got entangled with a murder plot that served no purpose. I still enjoyed Cooper and Truman, but even their story got stranger. Lynch had a vision for the show and Mark Frost helped keep him grounded and put his nightmares into a coherent story. After Lynch left, people were left trying replicate his dark mind and the results were not good.

To Lynch, not every story needed an ending; not every question needed an answer. When we found out who Laura’s killer was, Lynch essentially posed a question: was this the work of a man possessed by a demon from another dimension, or was it simply the work of someone with a mental illness? When Lynch left, the story said that it was absolutely a man from another dimension so let’s go there and see everything and make sure none of it makes a ton of sense. They took Lynch’s warped vision and tried to make sense of it.

I still haven’t watched every episode. I lost interest when James took off on a solo mission. I watched the last episode to have some context for the new series, but there are episodes I will likely never watch. And I’m okay with that.

The first season is 8 episodes, and they are all incredible. More than that, they’re oddly accessible. If you’ve never watched Twin Peaks because you assume it’ll be too weird, I urge you to give it a shot. It certainly earns its reputation as a strange show, but it’s much easier to watch than I had assumed it would be. It is also beautifully shot and has a tremendous soundtrack.

If the show doesn’t grab you by episode 3, you’re probably fine to part ways. However, if you fall in love by that point, I urge you to at least watch through episode 7 of season 2. If you’re looking for one of the most harrowing scenes I’ve ever seen on TV, you’ll find it in that episode. After that, if it all gets to be a bit much, I give you my permission to cut and run.

Mailbag: May 23, 2016

Welcome to another exciting installment of the Horror Writers mailbag!  Thanks for the questions.


Did you see the Rec saga? – @NicoLasaigues

I have seen the first three, and I really enjoyed all of them.  Like a true American, I saw Quarantine first (USA! USA!), so I think that colored my judgment of the first Rec.  I enjoyed it, but I thought Quarantine was better, mainly because I love Jennifer Carpenter and thought she absolutely CRUSHED that role.

The first two were good.  It has been a while since I’ve seen them, so details are a bit scarce.  I’m a fan of any sequel that is able to expand upon the world of the first one without feeling tacked on.  We went deeper into the mythology of the infection and learned exactly what it was.  The mood of the two matched up perfectly.  I probably need to go back and rewatch those.

The third film was a marked departure from the first two.  The fundamentals of the infections were still there, but the feel was totally different and it involved a completely different scenario.  No longer were we confined to the apartment complex.  It felt more like a Return of the Living Dead movie than a Rec movie. It started off found footage, but switched roughly 20 minutes in when the groom, after asking, “Why are you still filming?” smashed the camera – and a well-worn found footage trope – into oblivion.  That allowed the movie to expand.  No longer were we bound to a hand-held camera for the duration of the film.  Which was good, because I didn’t want shaky footage of the groom donning a suit of armor; I wanted that crystal clear, and I got it.
Rec 3 was bonkers crazy and I loved it dearly.  Also, for a crazy zombie movie, they did a great job making me care about the two leads.  I was really rooting for those crazy kids to make it.  Plus, they’re beautiful people.

rec 3 - wedding
What are your top ten horror series on TV (cable or otherwise?) You can include mini series, too – @Real_Cesca

1. The X-Files – Sure, it begins to wane in season six and never recovers, but this was still five solid seasons of creepiness.  (It’s worth noting that the season 10 comic book run is a lot of fun.  I still haven’t dug into season 11, but it’s on my list.)
2. The Twilight Zone – Being an older show, some of the ironic twists can induce eye-rolling, but this show still holds up.  There are a ton of iconic moments/episodes.
3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – You can debate whether this is horror or not, but there are lots of monsters involved, so I’m making an executive decision.  The descent starts in season 5 (thanks Dawn), but there are still great moments scattered throughout.
4. Twin Peaks – Again, you can debate whether or not this is horror, but it revolves around murder committed by a possessed man, so I say it fits the bill.  Combine that with the owls not being what they seem and The Black Lodge, and I feel comfortable calling this a horror series.  Agent Dale Cooper is one of my all-time favorite TV characters.
5. Hannibal – A beautiful, beautiful show.  The fact that this lasted 3 seasons on network TV is a miracle.
6. Penny Dreadful – Like Hannibal, this is a beautiful show.  It’s a perfect setting to bring monsters to life in a way that actually feels real.  The acting on this show is tremendous.  Eva Green deserves every award ever made.  I’m fully convinced that she is totally out of her mind.
7. The Walking Dead – I honestly don’t think I believe it should be this high.  What am I doing here?  The first season was dynamite, and there have been enough great moments since then to justify putting it at 7.  I guess.  I don’t know, man.  This last season was great up until the last two episodes, so maybe there are even better things to come?  I think I just talked myself out of this ranking, but now I’m too lazy to change it.
8. iZombie – It’s basically Psych, except the fake physic is a zombie who gets visions from the brains that she eats.  It’s fun, and justifies this ranking based on Ravi alone.  That dude kills me.
9. Tales From the Darkside – It’s basically George Romero’s Twilight Zone.  I don’t know why, but I spent an entire week watching a ton of these episodes and I really enjoyed it.  That was a good week.
10. Sleepy Hollow – It had some plots that threatened to take the show off the rails, but it always righted itself.  I enjoyed every season of this show.

Just missing the cut:
Ash vs. Evil Dead – The first season was good, but I’m not ready to have it crack the top 10 based on one fun season.
Damien – Ditto Ash vs. Evil Dead.  I love the tone of this show, but I want to see more than one pretty good season.
Tales From the Crypt – I know, I know.  I will probably have to turn in my horror fan card after leaving it off the top 10.  I caught a couple episodes as a kid, but I didn’t grow up with it.  I’ve gone back and watched a couple episodes as an adult and it just didn’t do much for me.  I can appreciate what it did, but it doesn’t crack the top 10.
Millennium – It ran for three seasons, but they were all pretty good.  There were quite a few legitimately creepy moments in this show.

Movies that, sadly, DO NOT hold up and then ruin your nostalgic feelings of them. – @lcfremont

I’m not gonna lie to you guys: this was a pretty sad list to make.  Let’s just get to it.  I’m having a hard time writing through my tears.
I didn’t want to just go with “a product of the time,” movies, because that can’t really be helped.  Plus, it would basically be a bunch of computer movies (The Net, Hackers, Swordfish, etc.) and that’s really uninteresting.  I also don’t have many horror movies on my list, as I didn’t watch many growing up.

Highlander – Sweet fancy Moses this movie is bad.  Like, REALLY bad.  First of all, I was convinced that MacLeod was played by Vigo the Carpathian for a decent portion of the movie.  So that was confusing.  The soundtrack is comprised of music by Queen, so it should be decent, but it’s the worst of Queen.  “Who wants to live forever?”  Apparently this movie does, because it’s 116 minutes long for reasons known to nobody.  The only entertaining part of this movie is Clancy Brown as The Kurgan, and that’s because he seems to be the only one who knows just how bad this movie is.  He’s chewing scenery like it’s his job, which I guess it kind of was.

The NeverEnding Story – Let me start off by saying this: the scene in the Swamps of Sadness is still heartbreaking.  So it has that going for it.  Or going against it, depending on how you want to look at it.
Anyway, this movie is super cheesy and doesn’t look great.  I understand that “cheesiness” comes down to the fact that it is a sci-fi children’s movie.  It wasn’t really meant for adults.  As an adult who has seen a fair share of movies, I not only dislike this movie, but I look down on the younger version of myself for ever liking it.  For shame, Young Dusty.  For shame.

The Princess Bride – I thought this was a fun movie.  I enjoyed it.  I never gave it a whole lot of thought, but it was an enjoyable movie.  Then I went to college and, for some reason, every single person there thought this was the best movie of all time.  All of them.  Granted, it was a small Christian college, but there were still several thousand people there.  So I watched it with a group and hated it.  HATED it.  I tried watching it again afterwards and was just annoyed.  Part of my dislike is a product of that experience, but part of it is just that I don’t think it’s a very good movie.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan – As a child, it was all, “Jason punched someone’s head off!”  Then you grow up and realize that this movie is awful.  For “taking Manhattan”, Jason spends precious little time in the city.  For over half the movie, we are stuck on a boat with the worst kinds of high schoolers.  One girl is just trying to make a terrible music video the whole time.  And yeah, the head punching scene is fun…

friday13th-head_punching…but it’s not worth the rest of the movie being garbage.  Watching this taught me that a movie needs more than one scene to make it a good movie.

Troll – I know that Troll 2 is a laughingstock, but I feel like too many people are sleeping on the original.  I remember watching this as a child and being scared.  I recently rewatched it and was horrified – HORRIFIED – that I ever found this remotely scary.  It’s not even in the “so bad it’s good” category.  It’s just bad.  Listen: I still love Ghoulies and Critters, so it’s not like I hate these odd, mid-80s creature movies.  But Troll is bad.  Really, really bad.

Event Horizon – I remembered this as being a ridiculously scary movie, but now all I see is Sam Neill hamming it up all over the place.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – The majority of children are dumb.  I was one of those dumb children.  I liked this because there was punching and they had monkey brains on the table.  Those were the only two reasons.  As it turns out, the monkey brains aren’t that cool and lots of movies have punching in them.

I’m sure there are more, but I’ve ruined my childhood enough for one day, thank you very much.  Chime in with your own in the comments.


If you want to submit a question to the mailbag, you can hit us up on Twitter (@horror_writers) or over email (info@horror-writers.net).

Fear The Walking Dead: Pilot

 

Finally!  Zombies to hold us over until more zombies arrive!  I mean, I guess you could always watch Night of the Living Dead during the summer or something, but that probably doesn’t happen in most households.  It’s okay.  We can still be friends.  As long as you don’t love Survival of the Dead.  Then we might have a problem.

Remember how the first episode of The Walking Dead kicked off with about 10 minutes of Rick being a sheriff and getting shot, then waking up from a coma to find the world had gone to hell?  Take that 10 minutes of nothing, stretch it out over 65 minutes, and you have the first episode of Fear The Walking Dead.  I’m not saying it was a total waste of time, but I am saying that it looks like we’re going to have to be patient if we want any action.  We did get a bit of payoff at the end, so perhaps that’s a sign of better things to come.

This entire episode hinges on whether or not you connect with the family.  I did not.  I liked Madison pretty well, but I can’t tell if I actually liked her character or if I just really liked her on Deadwood.  Probably the latter.  Travis was fine, if a bit bland.  Alicia is the perfect, boring, too-good-for-this-place-I-need-to-get-out daughter, while Nick fills the role of the family screw-up, who manages to have the best abs of any heroin addict I have ever seen.  Nick gets a lot of face time in this episode and is asked to carry some pretty dramatic scenes, but he just can’t quite pull it off.  Every time he started talking about his life, my eyes glazed over.

Heroin dens are great places to do stomach crunches.
Heroin dens are great places to do stomach crunches.

And then there is Tobias, who is clearly a 30 year old high school student.  He’s the first one who knows that something is amiss.  He says “zombies” without actually saying it.  And what does he do?  Why, he shows up at high school – a high school with a metal detector at the entrance – with a paring knife.  A paring knife.  What was the plan there?  The best case scenario is exactly what happened: a concerned teacher pulls you aside, confiscates the knife and releases you into the school.  So now you’re knifeless in the school while a zombie threat shambles ever closer.  The worst case scenario is that the knife is confiscated and you are either arrested or released into the world, sans knife.  Now you’re out in the open with no weapons and a zombie horde on the horizon.  It’s a lose-lose situation.  If he knew zombies were coming, he would have grabbed a baseball bat, crowbar, machete and a bunch of canned food and run for the hills (or whatever).  Get out of L.A.  Don’t walk into school with a tiny knife.  The only person that benefits from that is the zombie, who will laugh his terrible laugh as your knife doesn’t come closer to penetrating the skull.

"I have to go now and do my taxes...I mean, study school things? Yes. Study school things."
“I have to go now and do my taxes…I mean, study school things? Yes. Study school things.”

Let’s talk zombie outbreak for a second.  I figure the entire first episode covers a minimum of two days.  During that time, we know that the zombies are among us.  We know a couple zombies escaped from the church.  We also know – both from The Walking Dead and from Calvin at the end of this episode – that everyone is infected.  If you die, you come back as a zombie.
Now that we’ve got that established…
The population of Los Angeles currently sits a little below 4 million people.  On an average day, roughly 170 people die.  That’s 340 over two days (not factoring in the fact that zombies would cause more deaths than that).  Congratulations!  You now have 340 zombies that no one knows about.  Once the apocalypse starts, it will roll over a big city like a tidal wave.  The fact that we know there are at least a few zombies on the loose means it’s not confined to just one part of the city.  I have a hard time believing that there are just a couple random attacks, only one of which has been filmed so far.  Large portions of the city would likely already be thrown into chaos.  (According to a simulation run on Zombietown USA, Los Angeles would be more or less overrun within 48 hours.)
For the record, the reason Rick was able to wake up alive is because the population of Cynthiana, KY is only a little over 6,000.  The fewer people in a town, the fewer zombies there are.  Come to Kentucky. Survive the zombie apocalypse.  But not too many of you.  I don’t need you blowing up my spot.

But I assume L.A. will soon be overrun, so we can all be thankful for that.

I'm really looking forward to Fear The Benny & Joon.
I’m really looking forward to Fear The Benny & Joon.

Random thoughts:

– Loved the blood on the piano in the opening scene.  Seemed like something Neko Case would write a beautiful song on.

– The “I just threw up in my mouth a little,” joke has run its course.  The delivery here was particularly painful.

– “If there’s a problem, we would know about it.  The authorities would tell us.”  We all know that authorities would give the zombie outbreak an unfamiliar disease name (like, say, SARS) and cover it up as quickly as possible.

– I admire Travis’ bravery in going into a dark heroin den by himself, but I condemn his stupidity.  He took no weapons.  He yelled, “Is anyone there,” after he already saw blood.  Tense scene, but driven by the bad decisions of a character.  (I don’t really admire his bravery.)

– “[Jack] London tries to teach us how not to die.”  It’s like someone slapping you in the face.  “Survival.  Get it?!  Cuz zombies?!  And literature?!  It’s smart.  We’re smart.”

"Did you get it?  That guy got it."
“Did you get it? That guy got it.”

– There is not a chance in hell that a nurse would ever untie a patient’s restraint.  “Well, he said he had to pee really bad and I felt bad for him.  It’s not like I thought he could actually free his other hand in the process.  How would I know that?”