"If you don't walk with me, I will walk alone." -Life of Agony/Underground

“The astronauts were killed for food. The alien ate their flesh and drank their blood. And that is a real problem!” -Professor Hertz

I can’t remember who first introduced me to world of Troma and their horrible stable of films, but once I had seen one or two of them I went directly to eBay and purchased 25 of them on DVD. I probably have 50 Troma DVDs now. Most of them were not filmed by Troma but rather simply released by them, but regardless of whether we’re talking about Redneck Zombies, Beware: Children at Play or Igor and the Lunatics, if it has the Troma logo you know it’s going to be a terrible film. In a good way.

This review feels disjointed. The movie itself is disjointed. I’ll do my best to tie things together better than the movie does.

The film opens with a shot of a cardboard spaceship and is followed by 90 minutes of cardboard acting.

In the beginning of the film astronauts make contact with a “massive” alien ship. One of the aliens hitches a ride back to earth and begins eating the fine people of New Jersey. On the monster’s tail is the local police department, Riggs (the astronaut that inadvertently brought the creature back) and Sandra Lynn, a psychic who has visions each time the creature kills. Which is a lot.

The director loves close-up shots and many times while people are speaking their face fills the entire screen and then some. These extreme close-ups make the bad acting hard to avoid. The acting in this movie is so bad that not a single person utters a single line that sounds like normal conversation. When a couple thinks they may have hit a pedestrian with their car, the wife says “I hope you didn’t hit anyone,” with the same amount of enthusiasm one might utter “I hope it’s not cloudy three years from next Tuesday.”

And if the acting is bad, the dialogue is worse. My favorite line in the film comes when two police officers discover a severed head lying in the middle of the road. Says one cop to the other, “We better call this in.”

You think?

In this middle of all of this, a convicted rapist and murderer named Savino Fink (aka “Chop Chop”) escapes from prison and is picked up by a couple of boneheads who mistake him for John Belushi, even though they acknowledge that John Belushi is dead. The hitchhiker cuts his arm up with a razor blade before stealing their car. What does this have to do with the plot? I have no idea! It would be literally as if you were speaking with someone and for no apparent reason they began rattling off the ingredients of their favorite pizza in the middle of your conversation.

The creature eventually makes his way to a local heavy metal club where he eats a series of male and female headbangers. And I don’t care what year this DVD was released, this movie was filmed in the mid-to-late 80s, I’d bet a dozen severed heads on it. There are a lot of silly scenes of fake-looking violence here. There’s also some nudity as many of the girls take long showers before going to the club and after coming home from the club.

I hope you get all your laughs out of your system because ten minutes later Sandra the Psychic gets raped by her boss, her daughter gets killed, and Sandra slits her own wrists. And the most tragic part of all is she didn’t see any of it coming, which means she is also a terrible psychic.

In the last sixty seconds of the film, the creature eats Riggs’ brain and Sandra detonates a small nuclear device that destroys the monster, herself, and much of New Jersey. If knowing that makes you feel like you now have to reason to watch this film… you’re welcome.”

Did I mention Flesh Eaters from Outer Space was filmed on video? There’s also a sequel, Invasion for Flesh and Blood, although based on how the first one ends I can’t imagine it features Riggs or Sandra the Psychic. Or New Jersey. I found copies of both films bundled together on DVD for $3.93 on Amazon. Sounds high to me. The DVDs actually contain commentary tracks and several documentaries about the making of these films, so if you’re into learning about how low/no-budget films are made, it might have some insight for you.

Also, this film only contained one flesh eater. Singular. That bugged me.

Recommended for fans of B (and C) movies only.

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)


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As a kid I never completely understood the relationship between the first two Evil Dead films. Was Evil Dead II a remake? A re-imagining? A sequel? Who knows. I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter and I should just enjoy the films on their own merits.

Twenty-one years after the third Evil Dead film (1992’s Army of Darkness) fans were treated to a fourth: 2013’s Evil Dead. Is Evil Dead (2013) a remake? A re-imagining? A sequel? Who knows. I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter and I should just enjoy the films on their own merits.

In Evil Dead (2013), a group of twenty-somethings staying in a remote cabin in the woods accidentally summon an uncontrollable evil force by reading a passage from the Necronomicon. For those unfamiliar with the franchise, this is the same plot as both 1981’s The Evil Dead and 1987’s Evil Dead II. If viewers learn but a single lesson from these films it should be to stop opening opening books wrapped in human skin and randomly reading mystical words written in blood over pictures of the devil found within.

This time around our five victims have gathered to support Mia as she attempts to kick her drug habit cold turkey. Joining Mia in the cabin is her brother David, David’s girlfriend Natalia, and their friends Olivia and Eric. Fortunately the five of them each have unique hairstyles so they are easy enough to distinguish as they are being extinguished. Also joining the quintet is an ancient evil that enjoys possessing them one at a time (beginning with Mia) and alternating between attacking the body it has possessed and whoever happens to be nearby. Fortunately whenever the evil spirit possesses someone their eyes turn yellow and red, which makes it easy for us as the audience to tell who is evil and who isn’t.

Similar to Dawn of the Dead, Evil Dead (2013) forces characters to kill people they were once friends with. At least with zombies the person’s personality is gone and all that remains is the person’s shell. In this film, the evil spirit knows what the possessee knows and uses that information to tease and torment his/her/its victims. I’m not sure any of us really know how we would react if a family member became possessed and tried to kill us, but if their eyes turn yellow and red and they begin speaking in a demonic voice while shooting a nail gun at me and it begins to rain blood, I’m going down swinging.

Evil Dead (2013) delivers blood by the bucket. Knives stab, heads get smashed and blood squirts. Limbs are removed. In fact, two people even remove their own limbs. And, the chainsaw from the original three films even makes an appearance. This film pulls few punches. If you’re not into blood and gore, this one’s not for you.

The most important survivor of the film is the Necronomicon, which no doubt will be found (again) by a group of unsuspecting victims (again) who will read the spells contained within (again) and summon the evil force (again) with which they will do battle (again).

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)


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I’m starting to get deja vu every year at Yukon’s Czech Festival. Except for the years I was out of town for work, I’ve attended pretty much every Czech Day Parade since the early 80s and I have to tell you, they doesn’t change much. After I got home from this year’s parade I decided to compare some of my pictures with ones I’ve taken at previous parades.

Here’s a picture I took this past Saturday of the cannon they fire off each year to mark the beginning of the parade:

…and here’s a picture I took in 2007:

Here’s a picture of the 2014 Yukon Pom float:

…and again, from 2007:

Deja vu indeed. Of course we don’t really go to see floats — we go to support our community, to see old friends, and now, so our kids can see their friends.

Here are a few of my favorite pictures I took of this year’s parade. After the pictures you’ll find a link to all the pictures I took.

Link: Czech Festival 2014 Photos


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Despite the fact that I’ve seen dozens of zombie films over the years, somehow I missed this one — the one that turned Night of the Living Dead into a series. 1978’s Dawn of the Dead is the second film in the “Living Dead” series of films by George Romero.

In Dawn of the Dead, the zombie apocalypse that originally began in Night of the Living Dead has continued to grow. Now, major cities have begun to fall under swarms of zombies — the recently dead who have become reanimated and have only one thing on their mind: eating human flesh.

This film follows the story of four people: Roger and Peter, members of the Philadelphia SWAT team dealing with the hoards of zombies, and Francine and Stephen, two Philadelphia news reporters. Stephen, pilot of the station’s news helicopter, plans to escape the city before it completely implodes; Francine (Stephen’s co-worker and girlfriend) and the two SWAT team members join him.

Just outside of town the film’s four protagonists discover an abandoned mall. The mall turns out to be a great source of material goods like food and water and guns, but first it has to be secured. This is done by first sealing off the entrances and blocking them with large trucks, and then ridding the mall of all remaining zombies one bullet at a time.

Just when our four heroes have settled into their new reality, the mall is attacked by a roving motorcycle gang. Initially the gang seems more interested in simply looting than anything, but after Stephen begins firing shots at them, Roger realizes that they have just declared war. In addition to the battle between the two groups of survivors, the biker gang also manages to let hundreds of zombies re-enter the mall.

More than simply a zombie flick, Dawn on the Dead pokes at society by having the undead return to what they knew in life — shopping. Even in a world left with no economy, the biker gangs steal money and televisions from within the mall. Even a few of the zombies are seen wearing stolen jewelry from the mall.

The film’s make up and effects, done by Tom Savini, are simply over the top. Severed arms, legs, and corpses litter the mall everywhere you look. The only way to stop a zombie is by putting a bullet in their brain and our four heroes dispense hundreds of them on screen. If forehead-mounted bullet squibs and brain-splattered walls aren’t your thing, this film is not for you. The film’s effects were shocking enough in 1978 that the film, unable to avoid an NC-17 (“X”) rating, was released without any rating at all.

Also shocking is that not all the protagonists survive. In the original script none of them did; on set, Romero had a change of heart and let half of them walk (fly) away.

Dawn of the Dead is a worthy successor to Night of the Living Dead. It deserves respect not just for what it did for the genre, but also because it’s a good survival horror film. You’ll never walk through a dark mall without looking over your shoulder again.

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)


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For the letter “C” I considered watching C.H.U.D. (which I’ve never seen) or Chopping Mall (which I’ve seen a hundred times), but as I thumbed through my horror DVDs I realized I haven’t watched the original Child’s Play in probably a decade and I was curious to see how the film stands up today.

For half a century, the horror genre was represented by a small handful of iconic characters: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Wolfman, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. With the rise of the slasher genre, my generation’s four-pack of bad boys became Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and the baddest doll of them all, Chucky from 1988’s Child’s Play.

Child’s Play opens with Detective Mike Norris in hot pursuit of two criminals, Eddie Caputo and Charles Lee Ray. After Caputo ditches his partner in crime, Ray and Norris duck into a nearby toy store while exchanging gunfire. Ray, mortally wounded in the exchange, quickly performs a black magic chant and transfers his soul into a nearby Good Guy doll, giving birth to both the film’s villain and an entire franchise.

Through somewhat questionable logic Chucky climbs back into his Good Guy packaging, ends up in a hobo’s shopping cart, and allows himself to be sold to one Karen Barclay. Karen unknowingly purchases the possessed doll as a birthday present for her six-year-old son, Andy.

Once inside the Barclay’s home Chucky wastes little time in driving a hammer into his first victim’s head, Karen’s friend (and Andy’s babysitter) Maggie. While Andy puts two and two together pretty quickly, he (logically) has a tough time convincing the adults around him (his mother and Detective Norris) that Chucky is alive.

The film briefly toys with the audience in making us think that Andy might possibly be the killer, but it’s abandoned pretty quickly as we begin to see Chucky walk and talk on his own. After disposing of Caputo (his former partner who abandoned him), Chucky is wounded in another altercation with Detective Norris. Chucky’s then visits his former Voodoo teacher, Dr. Death, who explains to him (and us) that his (Charles Lee Ray’s) soul will soon be stuck in the Chucky doll forever unless he can transfer his soul into the first person he revealed his true identity to. That, of course, turns out to be six-year-old Andy.

This is turning out to be one crappy birthday.

Like most horror villains, it turns out Chucky has a weakness; his heart. And I don’t mean emotionally, I mean literally, you have to shoot him in the heart. (If you just had a visual of a human heart and circulatory system somehow developing inside this plastic doll, you’re overthinking the film.) The visual of a burnt and partly dismembered Chucky fighting to the end* mirrors Sarah Connnor’s final showdown with the T-800 in 1984’s Terminator, and like that film, the protagonists here are forced to stop what appears to be an unstoppable force.

(*There are six movies in the franchise; Chucky’s “end” is somewhat relative.)

Prior to the release of the sequel, I couldn’t help but wonder what happened after this film ended. Maggie’s death has been ruled a homicide (she did take a hammer to the face), and two detectives will have to explain back at the station why they pumped a burnt up doll full of bullets inside an apartment building.

The film’s special effects are surprisingly good. The change is readily apparent each time Chucky changes from a puppet to a guy in a costume, but the doll as a practical effect works. While some part of this is due to the special effects crew, a big part is due to the wonderful voice work of Brad Dourif, who completely sells his performances, both as Charles Lee Ray and Chucky.

Like Freddy Krueger, somewhere along the way Chucky lost his edge and began delivering more snarky one-liners than stabbings in later sequels. In the beginning though, Chucky was downright evil although not particularly prolific in his killing. Child’s Play delivers a total of six deaths, two of which are Charles Lee Ray’s and Chucky’s!

While Child’s Play delivers a few jumpy moments, it’s hard to be scared by the film at this point. More scary, I think, is the thought of experiencing something with no rational explanation. In the film’s sequel we learn that that Karen Barclay ended up in a mental institution, and why shouldn’t she? Nobody will ever believe her story, despite the fact she knows it is true. It’s a life-changing and permanent paradigm-shifting event that would probably drive any of us mad.

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)


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I love the awkward juxtaposition of setting a horror film during the Christmas holiday season. Black Christmas uses this to its advantage by creating several awkward and haunting moments. There’s a scene in the film where a sorority girl is being murdered upstairs while children sing carols downstairs at the front door. It’s disturbing and uncomfortable to watch, which is what makes horror movies great.

In Black Christmas, a sorority is under attack by a mysterious and creepy killer (“Billy”) who taunts the sisters with obscene, threatening, and occasionally unintelligible phone calls. With a body count of seven the film is often referred to as the first slasher film, but it doesn’t feel like one. The film’s pace is slow (like, 1970s-horror slow) and spends more time building tension than spilling blood. In fact, of those seven murders, one takes place within the first five minutes and four take place in the last five, with roughly an hour and a half between killings for viewers to ponder “who is the killer” and, more importantly, “who’s gonna get it next?”

I’m about to spoil the ending to a 40-year-old movie in the next paragraph. You have been warned.

The twist is that the calls are coming from inside the house. Black Christmas, released five years before When a Stranger Calls, appears to be the first full-length movie to use this gimmick, based on the urban legend that dates back to the 1960s. Here, the gimmick is milked for all its worth with police listening in on a remote handset as a phone linesman rushes down rows of clickity mechanical switches, manually searching for the one that will reveal where the calls are originating from.

Unlike modern horror films in which writers, directors, and perhaps audiences need to know more about the killer’s background, vintage horror wasn’t always that way. While Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween dedicated much of the film to Michael Myers’ childhood, the original attempted to do the opposite by stripping all personality away from the killer (even simply referring to him as “The Shape”). And while the 2006 remake of Black Christmas apparently delves into the killer’s background, the original does not; in fact, other than his hands in a few POV shots and one creepy shot of his eyeball, we don’t see the killer at all. We don’t know his motivation, his background, or his mindset. We don’t know why Billy has ended up in the attic of a sorority house, why he is making crank phone calls in different voices, or why he is killing these young ladies. All we know is that he is, and in this film, it’s enough. And part of that is what makes the film scary — that you could get killed by a random guy who decides to move into your attic and barrage you with crank phone calls for no reason other than the fact that he’s crazy.

Plot wise, my biggest problem with Black Christmas was with the shoddy police work. Our killer’s first victim ends up with a plastic bag wrapped around her head and placed in a rocking chair next to a window in the attic. We (the audience) can clearly see her from the street — why can’t the police? And why didn’t they search the attic? I also didn’t understand how Billy could yell into the phone repeatedly during his calls and yet no one inside the house could hear his voice coming from the attic. Unless you can’t hear someone yelling in your attic, in which case attics just got a lot scarier.

Black Christmas was rated R for violence and language, although today I suspect the violence would barely get it a PG-13 rating. The language however is strong — occasionally, shockingly so.

The influence Black Christmas had on films like Halloween and Friday the 13th and countless others is obvious and undeniable. While not without its flaws, it’s obvious that this film set the bar for (and perhaps invented) the genre.

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)


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Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, released in 1975, left more than blood and several bad sequels in its wake. The idea of hiding a practically unstoppable killing machine from the audience as it snacks its way through a long list of extras before meeting its demise inspired dozens of copycat films. Some of these copycats like Orca: The Killer Whale (1977) and Great White (1981) also took place in the water, while others took place in new locations like the forest (1976’s Grizzly) or outer space (1979’s Alien). 1980’s Alligator took the action to the sewers, the streets, and a wedding party.

In the first 30 seconds of Alligator we see a trainer at an alligator farm tourist trap get attacked and almost killed while performing in front of a live audience. A young girl named Marisa Kendall witnesses the attack and for some reason is inspired by it to get her own baby pet alligator. The following morning her belligerent father takes the alligator and flushes it down the toilet, sending it down into the depths of the Chicago sewer system. (While Wikipedia states that the movie takes place in Chicago, it was filmed in Los Angeles and there are hints that the movie takes place in Missouri.)

Later in the film we learn from the famous herpetologist Dr. Marissa Kendall (yes — the same person that originally owned the alligator) that alligators in captivity don’t typically grow to full size, and one living in the sewer would be even smaller than that. Unless of course the alligator was feasting on the carcasses of dead animals which were being injected with growth hormones by an unscrupulous medical company and tossed into the sewer. If that were to happen, you might just end up with a “30 to 40 foot long alligator” with an insatiable appetite… FOR BLOOD.

Alligator stars Robert Forster as officer David Madison. When random body parts begin showing up in waste management plants, officer Madison is convinced there’s a serial killer on the loose. Madison has a hard time convincing anyone to go check the sewers with him after the untimely death of his last partner, but eventually he persuades rookie officer Jim Kelly to join him, which leads to the untimely death of a new partner. Madison wakes up in the hospital, but neither Chief Clark nor sleazy reporter Thomas Kemp believe his story of a giant alligator. When Kemp decides to brave the sewers to see what he can find, he too joins Officer Kelly in the belly of the beast (literally), but not before snapping a few photos and leaving his camera behind. After the film is developed, Madison is vindicated and the hunt is on.

The comparisons to Jaws are unavoidable. A Jaws-like tune is played as we see the alligator (from a POV shot) stalking his victims. Apparently the filmmakers also had problems with their mechanical alligator. The mechanical stand in is used for shots where the gator chomps on his victims. Other times, a regular-sized alligator makes his way through miniature streets at night. The pre-CGI special effects may not seem that special today, but I found them to be a treat. Despite the lack of computer-aided special effects, there’s no lack of fire. I counted two car explosions, one boat explosion, and one alligator explosion.

After the arrival of big-game hunter Colonel Brock, I couldn’t help but notice how similar Lake Placid was to this film. Colonel Brock is played completely over the top. He’s not around long enough to dislike for too long. The first time Brock meets the alligator is also his last.

Eventually the alligator gets so big and so hungry and he literally busts up through a sidewalk and onto city streets, and that’s where the real fun begins. Along with Brock, the alligator gobbles up lots of innocent bystanders and at least one kid in a swimming pool. Eventually he ends up at the wedding party where he eats the mayor and several other socialites. In the end it’s up to Officer Madison to redeem himself and lead the alligator back down the sewers where the two of them must face off one last time, man to gator.

I don’t know that Alligator made me jump, but it did make me laugh. After discovering a few limbs floating in the sewage treatment plant, Madison comments that if he finds any more he’s “going to open a spare parts shop.” Later, after finding a dismembered arm, he notes they’ll need a small casket.

The film was written by John Sayles, who had just churned out Piranha two years prior, and directed by Lewis Teague, who also directed Cujo and Cat’s Eye. The film did well enough to warrant a sequel (Alligator 2), which bombed. Roger Ebert gave the original one star and suggested people flush the film itself down the sewer.

While not scary or particularly gory by today’s standards. Alligator is a fun romp through the sewers with a reptile whose only crime is that of being hungry.

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)


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Every year for the past ten years (at least) I’ve talked about watching 31 horror movies in October (one a night). Every year I come up with a reason not to do it. I can’t come up with a reason not to do it this year, so I’m going to try it.

To add a twist to things, for the first 26 days of October I’ll be working my way through the alphabet. If you have movie suggestions you can leave them here or on Facebook — no guarantees, but I’ll consider them. I’m not sure what I’ll do for the last five days of the months, but it’ll be REALLY SCARY.

Now it’s time for me to get back to a horror movie that starts with the letter A!

EDIT: You can find all of this month’s horror reviews by clicking this link!


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I spent quite a bit of last week contacting literary agents in hope of finding one interested in representing our new book Gastric Steps. Here’s how that went.

I suppose first I should explain why I would want or need to connect with a literary agent in the first place. If you want to have your book published by a real publishing company (as opposed to self-publishing), you pretty much need to have an agent. I self-published both Commodork and Invading Spaces and while I don’t regret the decision, I feel like Gastric Steps appeals to a wider audience than those books did.

Agents serve many purposes, like helping you make your book more marketable and giving you advice, but the primary purpose they serve is negotiating a deal for you with a publishing house. For this they get a percentage of the deal — and that’s a good system because they then have a vested interest in getting you the best deal possible. So you get some money, they get some money, the publishing house kills some trees… everybody’s happy.

Believe it or not, writing a book is the easy part. The hard part is finding an agent interested in helping you get it published. Finding agents is simple enough: you can either use the current Guide to Literary Agents or you can use Google.

After finding a huge list of agents, your first goal will be to rule most of them out. Based on a list of conventional genres, Gastric Steps is a non-fiction health memoir. With that, I limited my search to agents who represent authors of non-fiction books, and ones interested in both memoirs and health-related titles.

Another criteria used to limit my search was whether or not the agent accepted submissions via e-mail. Some only accept submissions through snail mail and require a SASE if you want a response. I’m much more digitally-grounded and ruled those out, looking instead for ones who accept submissions via e-mail. Most agents that accept e-mail submissions state that they don’t contact authors whose works are rejected. Instead they post a time limit (“if we’re interested, we’ll contact you in 4-6 weeks”) and if you don’t hear anything by then, you can assume they’re not interested.

Based on all of those factors I narrowed my list to five potential agents.

The next step involves checking the agent’s website and carefully reading their submission requirements and guidelines. While all five of the ones I submitted to were similar, all of them had slightly different requirements and I suspect following the rules to the letter is a “test” — in fact, some of the agents’ websites state up front that submissions missing materials or sent in the wrong format will be discarded.

Some of the agents requested query letters while others require full proposals.

Query letters are formal letters asking agents if they might be interested in representing your book. For the most part they consist of three parts: a hook, a description of your book, and an author bio. They should fit on a single page. Here’s a link to 23 examples.

Proposals are much larger letters. This page says that you should include the following information in a proposal: Overview, Marketing , Promotion, Competing Books, About the Author, List of Chapters, Chapter-by-Chapter Summary, and Sample Chapters. This is your one shot to convince a potential agent that your book will be successful and that they should want to represent it, so the more detailed the proposal is, the better.

For what it’s worth, none of the five agents I submitted to asked for the exact same things. One asked for a query letter, one asked for a proposal, one asked for a query letter and a proposal, one asked for a query letter and a proposal in a different format, and the last one had their own e-mail submission form. Based off of that experience I split my submission application into modular parts and used them to create what each agent was specifically looking for. Unfortunately these minor differences in submission formats prevents any attempts at further streamlining this process.

The next step appears to be… wait. Based on my records, the soonest any of the potential agents might respond might be in two weeks, with most of them requesting “up to a month” to review submissions. And again, if my work is rejected, they have already told me they won’t respond. I’ll let these five proposals expire before sending out another five or ten.

I’m not really sure how many times I should send the book out before deciding to self-publish it. Ten? Twenty? Fifty? I’m not sure. With an almost finished product in hand I am ready to get it out the door and the legacy publishing world simply doesn’t work that quickly. For now, I’ll wait and see what happens.


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A friend of mine tagged me with the following challenge on Facebook:

10 games that will always stay with you. Rules: Don’t take more then a few minutes. Don’t think too hard. They don’t have to be great works of the gaming industry, just games that have affected you in a positive way. Then tag 10 friends including me so I can see your list.

If you know me you know simply making a list isn’t enough, so I added some additional information and links to videos. Although many of these games appeared on many different platforms, I included the ones that my memories were most closely associated with. I also extended my list to 12 games, and you’re lucky I didn’t make it 50. Without further adieu…

01. Wizardry / Bard’s Tale (Apple II/C64)

Wizardry was one of the first dungeon crawlers to be released for home computers, and the first one I ever played for the Apple II. According to Wikipedia it was the first color dungeon crawler and the first true party-based Dungeons and Dragons-style game. Released in 1981, this was one of the first games I can remember my dad and I playing at the same time. He would play at night and make maps of the game’s dungeons on graph paper, maps I would use the next day to advance further in the game.

Just a few years later, my buddy Jeff and I would spend an entire summer playing Bard’s Tale in largely the same fashion. Although the graphics were slightly better, the gameplay of Bard’s Tale is largely identical to Wizardry. RPGs in the 80s got too large to keep my interest, but I greatly enjoyed (and miss) this era of dungeon roaming.

02. Lode Runner (Apple II)

The recent passing of Doug Smith has this game on my mind. Lode Runner was an early platform game with just enough tricks to keep it interesting. The goal was to collect all of the packages from each level while avoiding the “bunglings.” The game’s original gimmick came in the digging of holes, which could be used to bury your opponents or dig your way out of trouble. The original game only came with 50 levels, but there were sequels and also a level editor that allowed you to easily create your own levels. Lode Runner was fun in 1984 and it’s still fun in 2014, and I still play it occasionally.

03. Gauntlet (Arcade)

The first arcade games were one-player only. Then there were two-player games that required the players to take turns. Then came two-player head-to-head games. Gauntlet may have been the first four player game I ever played in an arcade, and unlike most games at that time, the goal of Gauntlet was for players to work together. Sure, occasionally Warrior would shoot Elf in the back while Wizard stole the food, but ultimately gamers learned they could get deeper into the dungeon (and more bang for their buck) by working together.

I have many wonderful memories of playing Gauntlet with my friends. Because of this, Gauntlet II was one of the first arcade games I purchased when I began collecting arcade games.

04. Dragon’s Lair (Arcade)

I will never forget the first time I saw Dragon’s Lair in an arcade. If you were there in the 80s, I doubt you have forgotten it either. Seemingly overnight we went from blips and bloops to actually controlling a cartoon. It was awesome! It was incredible! It was… not that much fun. And it was hard to play. Several laserdisc games (including Dragon’s Lair II and Space Ace) came and went over the next few years. Ultimately they did not change the gaming industry in the way they had hoped to, but it was still pretty awesome. The takeaway from Dragon’s Lair ultimately was that graphics aren’t everything; gameplay is king.

05. Doom II (PC)

While I had experimented with playing games online with other human beings, Doom II was the first game I ever played against other people on a local area network (LAN). I actually learned how to network computers together just so we could play Doom II. The graphics in the video below make me cringe a bit, but back them the gloomy dungeons and atmospheric sound effects set the tone for an amazing game. It took what worked from Doom (and Wolfenstein 3D before that), added multiplayer, and delivered an unforgettable gaming experience. Doom II was so good that the gaming industry has been applying new coats of paint to the concept and re-releasing it for 20 years now.

06. Donkey Kong (Arcade)

Donkey Kong is a light-hearted game starring a pre-Mario Mario in which he climbs ladders, jumps barrels, and saves his girlfriend level after level. It’s simple… or is it? Once you start to learn how to “control” the barrels, how to control where fireballs appear from and how to run up your score thanks to several glitches, it becomes and entirely different game. Adding to the pressure is the game’s infamous “kill screen,” a point where Mario dies for no apparent reason and the game ends. Suddenly the goal switches from “how high can you go?” to how many points can you score before the game crashes. For someone who doesn’t play a lot of Donkey Kong, a respectable score is in the 20-30k range. My high score is just over 100k. The current world’s record is 1.2 million. If you have a couple of hours, you can watch a recording of it below. Donkey Kong is an example of a seemingly simple game that is still revealing secrets 30 years after its release.

07. Paradroid (C64)

This game captured my interest back in the mid-80s and I still enjoy it today. In Paradroid you control a floating helmet and your job is to take over other robots by challenging them to a game of electronic switches which… eh, it makes more sense when you play it, I guess. This game has been ported to a few other machines including the Amiga and Windows, but the C64 original is still my favorite. There’s no other game like it.

08. 720 (Arcade)

In the futuristic Skate City, one must learn to “Skate or Die” and do it quickly. There are so many great things about this game: the boom box mounted to the top of the cabinet, the one-of-a-kind joystick, the awesome music, killer bees, exciting levels and challenging competitions. If you were into skateboarding in the 80s, this was the game to play.

I fell in love with this game in the 80s. When I began collecting arcade machines in the 90s, I put this on the top of my “must have” list. It took me fifteen years to track one down, but I finally found one. It’s still out in my garage today, calling me.

09. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

If I had a dime for ever minute — heck, every hour I spent playing Super Mario Bros. 3, I would be a rich man. Jeff, Andy and I played this game for so many hours that we could navigate some of the levels with our eyes closed. One of the greatest platform games of all time.

10. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (PlayStation)

THPS2 did what no other game had done for me; it accurately portrayed skateboarding. I lost myself in this game for months, chaining together huge combos and pushing the points on every level to the max. There have been several sequels, but none of them captured my attention the way this one did. For years I owned two PlayStations and one had this game in it at all times.

In addition to gameplay, THPS2 had an incredible soundtrack, a new concept in games back then. It’s so good that I still have it on my phone today.

11. Impossible Mission (C64)

“Another visitor. Stay a while… staaaay forever!” This was one of the first (if not the first) game I ever saw for the Commodore 64, and what an introduction to the machine it was. Puzzles aside, the speech samples and smooth animation was enough to capture a kid’s imagination, and it did. For years I didn’t know what the goal of this game was and it really didn’t matter. We had fun running around, avoiding the robots and the “killer black ball” and couldn’t have cared less about “winning.” When it came to graphics and sound, this game set the Commodore 64 apart from the competition very early on.

12. Rogue (DOS)

Ever heard of a “rogue-like” game? This is where the term came from. Originally designed for mainframes, Rogue made its way to home computers in its original, ASCII format. The combat was rudimentary (you just ran into creatures to attack them) but the game offered a ton of things to discover, from magic scrolls and rings to cursed items. The game’s maps are randomly generated every game and items are randomly placed, so every game is different. You’ll need patience and skill to make it all the way through the dungeon, but you’ll also need a bit of luck; since all items are randomly placed, that includes food. Occasionally, through no fault of your own, you will die of starvation.

Rogue taught me three things: sometimes success depends on luck, a good game doesn’t need good graphics, and sometimes life isn’t fair.


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