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

Hush: Movie Review

hush - poster

Synopsis:
A deaf, mute female author lives alone in a fairly secluded house in the woods.  A man in a creepy mask shows up, kills her neighbor and terrorizes her.

My thoughts:
This seems like a pretty standard home invasion movie, but I gave it a shot because it was directed by Mike Flanagan.  I wasn’t overly fond of Absentia, but I loved Oculus so I was looking forward to what Flangan would bring to the table within the home invasion subgenre.  He did not disappoint.

hush - maddie & man
Having a deaf, mute protagonist certainly allowed for a fresh take.  Some of the standard slasher moves went out the window here.  There is a scene where the killer takes his knife and scrapes it against the window.  That nails-on-chalkboard effect didn’t faze Maggie.  I like to think that the killer had a lot of other tricks up his sleeve that he wasn’t able to use here.  “I’ll start clanging some cans together outside…okay, okay.  Can’t use that.  What about knocking really loudly on the door…nope.  Nope nope nope.”

hush - maddie
Maggie’s lack of hearing did put the killer at a bit of a disadvantage, although it’s really his own fault.  He saw a deaf woman living alone and assumed she would be an easy kill.  He toyed with her a little more than he should have.  In fact, at one point the killer is in the house with Maggie before she even knows he’s out there, and he doesn’t kill her.  He takes his opportunity to get into her head.  When he could have been using that opportunity to get into her head…WITH A KNIFE.  (I’m so sorry.)

hush - man
Granted, we don’t really see his method outside of his approach with Maggie, so maybe this is just how he operates with people trapped in their houses, but I got the impression that he was so confident of being able to kill her easily that he wasn’t as careful as he usually would be.  “I can come in at any time,” he tells her early on.  But he doesn’t.  He taunts her.  He walks around the house, stalking her in plain sight.  He gives Maggie enough time to get over her initial shock and devise a plan.  Initially to stay secure and survive, then to escape, and ultimately to fight back.

hush - maddie 2
This is a small movie.  If you count the brief FaceTime call with Maggie’s sister, there are only 5 people in the movie, but the majority of the movie involves Maggie and the killer.  At 81 minutes, it’s a short movie, but it’s such a small movie that it could easily have become boring in lesser hands.  On its face, this movie is simply, “Man walks around house while woman hides inside,” for roughly an hour.  But it never really dragged.  There were a number of tense moments, but it wasn’t always tense.  Even in those down moments, it was never boring.

hush - maddie at computer
By the way, the character of the killer is simply “Man” in the credits.  I love this.  It’s impossible to see things like that and not think of “?” (Frankenstein) or “The Shape” (Halloween).  There’s something about an unnamed character in a horror movie that makes me happy.
We also have no idea where the killer came from.  We don’t know how long he has been killing.  We don’t know why he chose to use a crossbow.  We don’t know anything about him, and I really don’t care.  I don’t need to know what led him to this point: all I need to know is that he wants to kill.

hush - man with phone
I had a few issues, but they’re nit-picky ones.  The killer wears a creepy mask in the beginning, but he gets rid of it 15 minutes in.  There’s a good reason for this, and the actor did a good job, but I wish we would have seen that mask for a little while longer.
During a call with her sister, Maggie says (well, signs) that she has “writer’s brain.”  Basically, when she writes, she looks at every situation and sees how it could possibly end.  Kind of like Choose Your Own Adventure.  Because of this, she has a hard time finishing her books, because she can’t stop writing alternate endings.  They play with this a bit towards the end of the movie, and it’s one of my favorite scenes.  I wish they would have done this a little more throughout the movie.  Perhaps more liberal use would lead to it not being as effective, but I would have liked to have seen this used a little more than it was.

hush - maddie 4
In the end, those were minor issues that didn’t detract from the rest of the movie.  I really enjoyed it and I definitely see myself revisiting this one quite often.

Rating: 4.5/5

Notable actors: Michael Trucco

Creep: Movie Review

creep - poster

This is a found footage movie, and the set-up is simple: Aaron answers an ad placed by Josef, a man who is dying of cancer.  As a father-to-be, he wants someone to record a day in his life, so his son will be able to see the kind of man his father really was.  Josef even references the film My Life, in which Michael Keaton does pretty much the exact same thing.  I kind of chuckled, because I love the idea of someone taking life cues from a subpar Michael Keaton movie.  But I digress.

Listen guys, there's this movie called Game 6...
Listen guys, there’s this movie called Game 6…

We all know where this is going.  We know that someone is the titular Creep, and we’re pretty sure that someone is Josef, mainly due to his penchant for jumping out at Aaron from hidden corners and wearing a cheap werewolf mask he calls “Peachfuzz”.  The clues are subtle, but I was able to pick up on them.

Pictured: Maybe a Creep. It's hard to tell for sure.
Pictured: Maybe a Creep. It’s hard to tell for sure.

Eventually, Aaron picks up on these clues and decides to leave Josef, a grown man who thinks it’s acceptable to say “tubby time” in the presence of another human being.  I thought this would be the finale: a game of Peachfuzz and mouse in an empty house.  I was mistaken.  The movie went in a slightly different direction at that point, and I was happy that I did not have to sit through 30 minutes of seeing the camera look over a couch slowly, then run down the steps.  Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

For spoiler related reasons, I won’t get into where the movie went from there.  It was an interesting little twist, but it didn’t add much to the movie.  I understand that this was not an action-filled gore-fest, but there was a ton of dead time in this movie.  I feel like they thought it was creepier than it actually was.

This was an extremely small movie.  There are only two actors listed: Patrick Brice (Aaron) and Mark Duplass (Josef).  (We actually hear a female voice over a phone at one point, but we never see her and the voice is uncredited.)  To love a movie like this, you have to connect with the characters.  Or, at least, not actively loathe them.  That was a test this movie failed for me.  Mark Duplass was basically his same character from The League, only with eyes that were slightly more dead.  He still had that same smarmy look, and I couldn’t shake it.  He didn’t scare me.  He annoyed me.

* makes an Adrian Peterson joke *
*makes an Adrian Peterson joke*

Aaron wasn’t much better.  After escaping the house, he had a number of moments where he is just talking to the camera, and he came off as a vlogger talking about what kind of dinner he was going to make that night, only with worse decision-making.

Went to the store to buy parsley, but they were out. Hashtag parsley life.
Went to the store to buy parsley, but they were out. Hashtag parsley life.

I understand what is going on here.  In this era of sequels, remakes and reboots, we have a tendency to champion anything that is new.  Creep is a perfectly fine movie that grabbed a lot of hype for being small and original (or, at least, a new take on an old story).  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Had I stumbled across this myself, I probably would have enjoyed it a little more than I did.  But, even then, I don’t think it would have grabbed me as much as it seemed to grab others.  It’s worth watching, but don’t expect anything mind-blowing.

creep-peachfuzz
Rating: 2/5