Wake Wood and the Hammer revival

Wake Wood poster imageWhen I was younger I adored horror movies. To a certain degree I still do although over time I’ve become less interested in the kind of show-me-show-me-show-me style of horror that studios spit out these days. Think Saw or Hostel and you’re on the right lines.
Those films have their audiences I know but they’re not for me.
I always much preferred ghostly tales. I guess this is why I fell in love with the J-Horror of 10 years ago – The Ring, The Eye, Dark Water. Essentially ghost stories with an original cinematic twist. But even they got a bit boring. A good idea is cool but not if it’s repeated 17 times.

Back in the day Hammer studios produced some real killer titles. As a kid I remember watching Dracula movies late at night on my old black and white TV (the ones where you had to twist the dial to tune the blessed thing in !). I must have been no more than 10 or 11 years old. The impact of those films is still with me today.

It was never really the visuals that gripped me more it was the story that was being told. There was (and still is) a penchant amongst British movie makers to have the actors tell you the story rather than relying heavily on staging or visual effects.

When I read on Mark Kermode’s Film Blog that Hammer was resurrecting itself and releasing stuff like Wake Wood I sat up and took notice.
It seems to me that there probably is enough of a retro fascination to see such films succeed. But I think in order for it all to work Hammer needs to stick to what it did best and not sway too far from what it was famous for. I dread the thought of Hammer going gung-ho for CGI in its films, for example. It really wasn’t what made them so good.
With any luck the script writers for the “new” Hammer productions will have a love for the classic Hammer. They’ll understand that there was always a story to be told before there was blood to be spilled. The story might never have won too much critical acclaim amongst the high-brow authors of the day but they were enough to set you up for a thrilling hour and a half of film fun.

According to some accounts Wake Wood falls down in the story department. I’ll reserve judgment until I actually watch it. But far more exciting for me is to see Hammer Horror appear in the news again. Hopefully this will give rise to many an effective spooky movie spawned from these fair shores.

The art of Dungeons & Dragons

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© Larry Elmore

I have always adored the paintings that accompany Dungeons & Dragons books, games and adventures. They’re beautiful depiction of such rich and fascinating fantasy worlds is the most inspirational thing for somebody with a wild imagination like mine.

For a long time I had no clue who was responsible for these masterpieces and then a conversation with a D&D enthusiast led me to a list of artists to explore.

Of all those artists it was Larry Elmore who really stood out. His compositions were and are just beautiful. His characters are full of expression and warmth and yet at the same time suitably mystifying or hostile in their appearance. His ability to draw stunning mountain vistas or rich woodland is second to none. But what I love the most is his use of colour. Every piece is so rich with colour. There’s no hiding behind the light and shade with Elmore’s work, it simply doesn’t warrant it. Yet it must be so tempting to paint in that way given the fanastical subject matter. How can any artist resist painting a Dragon lurking in the darkness his eyes glimmering like diamonds and his scaley skin glistening by torch or moonlight.

This is not Elmore’s style and I admire him for it. With his style of painting you get a full canvas worth of art. You can see for miles.
This in itself is inspirational. To be able to focus on the characters in the foreground and imagine their story is one thing but to see the valleys and mountains far in the distance from which those characters must have come is another wonderful layer of imagination.

I aim now to try and collect a few prints of Larry Elmore’s work and frame them for my office. Wonderful work from an outstanding artist.

www.larryelmore.com

Moving everything under one WordPress roof

It has long been my intention to pull all my web work under one web site. When I started Space Monsters I simply wanted somewhere to write up my day to day thoughts on “stuff”. The more I get used to having this blog the more I consider it to be my main web site.

I’ve enjoyed blogging about my HTML5 game development and look forward to continuing it on here. I will keep the original blog online since it contains a ton of stuff I just don’t want to duplicate. I like the WordPress interface so this site is built using the WordPress software as opposed to the hosted solution. The benefits of having more flexibility and the added ability to actually generate some revenue from it (one day) far outweigh the simple convenience of having someone else host all your work.

So the first thing I’ve done is to move a few of my mobile HTML5 based games over to Space Monsters.

They are HyperGunner, Spy Chase and the first one I made, Wizard Wars.
HyperGunner and Wizard Wars are playable with the keyboard arrow keys and Z or Ctrl to fire where relevant. All three use the mouse of touchscreen on relevant mobile devices.

So welcome to my new home. I hope you enjoy my prattling and thoughts on “stuff”. :)

Becoming a Dungeon Master

As a kid I could never see the fascination with Dungeons and Dragons. I’d much rather be outside playing football or riding my bike. In the rough weather I’d be quite happy sat reading a book or blasting my way through some Atari arcade game. The whole D&D thing pretty much bored me.
Perhaps as a young 12 year old boy I had even less patience than I have today ! That in itself is pretty scary since I have precisely zero patience these days :)

The one thing I can be certain of is that I didn’t lack the imagination to play the game as a boy. I was positively overflowing with it. Strange then that I didn’t at least give it a go.

This weekend I sat with a bunch of old school mates and as always we reminisced and sank several beers. A thoroughly enjoyable night and something we try to do as frequently as possible.
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons book imageSomething that came up was the topic of D&D. Now the guys I was sat with all loved playing the game as kids and talked at some length about their campaigns of old. Lovingly reciting their finest battles with Dragons, Orcs and Knights of the Underworld I listened with fascination at just how much detail there was to be found in the whole experience.
It probably goes without saying that I now wished I’d been a part of it. It sounded right up my street. So I suggested we do it again. 30 years later let’s have a stab at playing it all again. I saw myself comfortably fitting the role of Dungeon Master in that I could weave a good yarn and present countless fantastical challenges and scenarios for the party. I of course knew nothing about D&D but I’ve played Neverwinter Nights so how hard could it be :) To help things along I bought a book. Admittedly outdated but considering I know nothing about it anyway I figured anything would help !

Since leaving the guys on Saturday night I’ve been somewhat preoccupied with all things D&D. The whole concept of a pen and paper RPG experience is thrilling me. I’ve started my first Google Doc on the subject and am adding to it hourly with tons of ideas for plots, quests, setups, characters and challenges in beautiful and dangerous environments.
Whether we all agree to sit down and play or not I don’t know but I will be a Dungeon Master some day come hell or high water :) Even if I have to go adventuring on my own. I just need to somehow convince my good old buddies that it’s a good idea.

Spring and photography

The first true signs of spring are upon us. Blossom on the trees and spectacular yellow / orange / sunburst hues across the sky. Time to grab the camera and start snapping.
I always wanted a kind of photo blog. I’m no photographer but I have a feel for what looks nice.
It’s strange but it’s always the photos of things that you wouldn’t normally give a second glance that capture my imagination. Possibly because it’s framed and static and you’re forced in to giving it a second glance. Anyway I hope to be taking some photos now that we have some glorious sunshine to light the way.

A creative life

I think the first time I ever realised that real life wasn’t really all that good was around the late 1970s. As a 7 year old boy in 1977 Star Wars came at just the right time. By then I was already spending much more than 50% of my time in my own carefully crafted alternate universe, so to see this fantastic science fiction vision of conflict and self-discovery in a distant galaxy unfold on the big screen was pretty much to cement the fact that I should hand over a far greater proportion of my life to the “pretend” worlds.

Even at age 7 I knew I wanted to spend my life “creating”. With a pencil in my hand I could draw and write all of the wonderful things that I was dreaming up. And boy did I dream some stuff up.

In the years that followed Star Wars we saw such classics as Alien, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Blade Runner hit the screens. The timing of these movies was just perfect. In school I was surrounded by like-minded kids. We all dreamed of creating our own adventure stories. Naturally we all placed ourselves smack bang in the centre of each great quest. Our imaginations were running riot when the next great event in our lives came about – the home computer.

As 12 year old kids with wild imaginations and the yearning to create and tell stories Sinclair’s Spectrum, Commodore’s C64 and Atari’s 800XL provided a perfect outlet. We would quickly learn to write BASIC programs and before very long were creating and telling stories to one another in digital form. Anyone old enough will remember the delight of getting your first text adventure up on the screen:

You are at a crossroads. Do you turn left toward the Village or right toward the Forest.
(L)eft, (R)ight

Such games were a blast to create and a lot of fun to play. You never really knew the ending you just knew of a ton of great situations to place the player/reader in.

It was around this time in the early 1980s that Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson’s Fighting Fantasy series of create your own adventure novels emerged. They were essentially the same as our simple text adventures but included a bit more of an RPG element in that you had to protect your stats and inventory. Who could ever forget their first quest in to Firetop Mountain ?

Shortly after what I fondly remember as an exciting and creative time in my youth the reality of life started to creep in. Exams and the inevitability of further education started to raise their ugly heads. I hated exams and hated school. I learned a great many things at school but nothing like I’ve learned since. I guess the most important thing that school gave me was a safety net. A safe place in which I could safely escape to my comfy cosy world where I would simply create. If I could go back to 1983 I’m sure I’d like to think that I’d do it all differently. Make more of my life. But to be honest I think I’d quite honestly do it all exactly the same.

So zoom forward the best part of 30 years and where am I now ?
Well I work as a web developer. I still create but this time I get paid for it. How long that will last I just don’t know but I’m enjoying it.
I also have a wife and children. I have responsibilities. I have a house to maintain and cars on the drive.
What free time I get is spent collapsed in front of the television or with my wife. It’s hard sometimes just remembering that there’s more to life than family and responsibility and that you are married. Life it seems is just as much work as work is !
I wouldn’t change it for anything.

But I still, all these years later, have the same urge to create and tell stories as I did when I was a young boy. I still imagine far off worlds populated by magical and mythical monsters and young heroes battling with ancient sorcery and fantastical weapons.
My outlet however isn’t a word processor to collect such ideas it’s a blog. Or Twitter. Or Facebook. I seem to spend more time talking about writing than I actually do writing.

So I called time on it. I decided to relive my youth and start writing again. Start creating. I’m pleased to say it’s going very well and I have a wonderful repository of fantastic ideas and mini stories taking shape. Long may it last :) What’s really incredible is that this whole process has dug up a ton of characters and story-lines that I dreamed up as a 10 year old.

Thoughts on a home-made ghostly movie

I am somewhat pre-occupied with the idea of shooting my own film. I have been for a while if I’m honest. Thing is, as much as I have ideas for a cool plot and visual style I have no clue whatsoever how to shoot a film. Even the basics are a mystery to me – framing, lighting and pointing a camera at the subject !
I could probably get by with my small family digital video recorder for the the simple job of shooting a rough film but for a larger more polished job I’m at a loss.

So first things first I think I’ll spend some time trying to figure out a story and cool characters.

In terms of a style I’m drawn to all things spooky. Supernatural stories always get me since I’m easily disturbed by things that I read or hear. Japanese ghost stories such as The Grudge or The Ring re-ignited my love of the genre a few years back.

So what ideas do I have ? What could I possibly come up with ?

Well for some detail I have to look back to the works of Lovecraft, Poe and even H.G Wells and Mary Shelley. I’ve read a lot of Lovecraft but not a jot of Poe or Wells. I recently downloaded the Frankenstein audiobook so hopefully in around 7 hours worth of playing time I will be that bit more enlightened as to the neat tricks of telling a spooky tale.
It’s the Victoriana that gets me. I love it. I’m often drawn to any television dramas that are set around that time – even though I may never actually watch them – since they are so stylish. I love to read about how people of a certain class became obsessed with discovery and exploration. What a magical time it must have been. Little wonder that H.G Wells, Jules Verne et al had so much to write about.

I’m hoping to just get as many ideas down as possible and start making sense of it all at a later date. Researching this kind of thing is a wonderful way to waste an evening once the kids are in bed. I can see some late night reading and web surfing with a low light and glass of whiskey for company.

Dracula 1979 – the awful transformation of Mina

 

Mina's awful transformation

Mina's awful transformation

The scene with Mina in the mines from Dracula 1979 on YouTube.

As a young boy watching the 1979 version of Dracula with Frank Langella, Laurence Olivier, Trevor Eve, Jan Francis and Donald Pleasance to name but a few I was horrified at the transformation of Mina. The effects of becoming a Vampire were so visual, so catastrophic to her that the image of her stumbling through the mines in rags and with those awful bloodshot eyes and pale, flaking skin has remained imprinted on my brain for the last 30 years. Utterly terrifying.

I don’t think I’ve seen too many scenes in a movie that have left such an impression. Sure the Exorcist had plenty scenes of a similar style but they were used so much you almost became desensitised to it. With this short 2 minute scene played out between Olivier and Francis (and later Pleasance) you have something that is both heartbreaking and horrific at the same time.

Today I landed a Space Shuttle – as you do !

Space Shuttle simulatorSo I downloaded a Space Shuttle simulator for iPad – F-SIM Space Shuttle.
How hard can it be to land a glider ? Well the short answer to that is pretty damned hard actually.

I’ve really not invested much time in the app but from I’ve seen you get to land the shuttle at either Edwards’ Air Force Base or Kennedy Space Center. You can make it a complicated approach or a straight forward vertical straight line descent. Naturally whilst you figure the controls the latter is by far the best option.
Never the less I still hit the dirt like a dart every time.

There’s something very nostalgic about this app for me. I remember clearly the first shuttle flight 30 years ago and remember waiting and waiting for the much hyped descent as it returned to Earth some days later.
As with everything back then film footage was a little hazy. I’m fairly sure that the air temperature around Edwards’ didn’t much help either.
But what a truly mesmerising and inspirational thing for a young teenage boy to witness as this spaceship that had taken off days earlier returned in its entirety to land just like a plane. Magical stuff and something that I will never forget.

I might just have to have a good look around for other iPad flight simulators now that I have the bug !

An evening at Frogg Manor, Cheshire.

Well I can honestly say that I’ve never been to anywhere quite like Frogg Manor. What a gloriously ridiculous yet thoroughly entertaining place to spend a Saturday evening.

Frogg Manor room

A room at Frogg Manor

We all knew the moment we arrived that we were in for something quite different. As you make your way up the handful of steps in to the old building and step in to the entrance hall you could easily be forgiven for thinking that you’ve stepped unwittingly in to somebody’s home. And that’s just it. You have indeed stepped straight in to somebody’s home ! The proud owners of this home, John and Charlee, are right there to greet you and waste no time ushering you upstairs for a few drinks whilst you peruse the menu and make yourself at home.

At no point during our stay did we feel awkward. Every effort is made to ensure that you are 100% relaxed.
The first floor library is a wonderful throw-back to a time of unashamed bourgeois luxury. You sit amongst books, tables and all manner of chairs and loungers in what I can only describe as a scene from an Agatha Christie mystery.

During the course of the evening John and his wife pop round to say hello and share a few tales of their time at Frogg Manor. It is precisely this approach to hospitality that endeared each and every one of us to the place.
If I told you that we left at 1.30am and could easily have stayed (and would have been more than welcome) another 3 hours you probably get some idea as to just how warm and friendly a place this is.

To write any more may well kill the surprises that a Frogg Manor newbie ought to experience first hand. If you’re ever in this part of England I heartily recommend you pay a visit. A bonkers night.