Saturday, 28 May 2016

Total Cults Total Tabletop: Krull


Overview

Total Tabletop isn't just dedicated to the latest and most advanced tabletop games. We've always got time for vintage games, especially ones based around genres or properties in line with our little corner of the movie world. So with that in mind we travel to the besieged land of Krull and take on the role of Prince Colwyn, searching for the lost Princess Lyssa who has been kidnapped by the Beast and hidden away in the Black Fortress. We must gather an army, battle Slayers and changelings, discover the location of the Black Fortress and destroy the Beast with the awesome power of the Glaive.


Table Play

I am a massive Krull fan. Seriously. I'll happily admit it's not the best movie ever made but that is entirely not the point. The movie has texture and tone and soul and we are carried from each evocative fantasy diorama to the next by James Horner's beautiful and magical score. It didn't really do that well on release and certainly didn't lodge itself in the cultural consciousness the way Star Wars did and as such available merchandise had been minimal. So when I recently discovered there was a boardgame based on the movie I scored myself a copy on Ebay. I suspected it might be a bit shit but would you know it ain't half bad. The basic mechanics revolve around a stack of cards placed face down on the board. In there somewhere is the Glaive and the Black Fortress and these must be collected to advance to the final part of the game. You move your piece around the board collecting cards and regularly stopping in the centre space. The centre space represents dawn in Krull and this means that the player to land on it must secretly swap two of the cards. Essentially at Dawn the location of the Black Fortress changes. It's this porting of the basic conceit of the movie that impressed me the most. Alongside this, you must battle Slayers for chances to peak at cards, accuse each other of being changelings and generally compete to the first to snag both sought after cards. The winning player goes onto the final round that sees the addition of a new playing space. In the centre rests Lyssa, while the Beast lingers at one end and Colwyn at the start. Dice are rolled and the combination either advances Colwyn or the Beast and the first to reach Lyssa decides on the outcome of the game.



Above the Table

Krull is competitive and there are plenty of opportunities to screw each other over. Peaking at cards and shifting needed ones into places other players might forget and using action cards to steal the Glaive are the most common ways to mess with your opponents. The changeling mechanic, however, is where things can get fraught. Each player amasses an army of soldiers (cards depicting characters from the film) who do battle with the Slayers to allow you to look at and/or win the cards they protect. Some spaces allow you to accuse your opponents strongest players of being changelings and if the player fails a save roll it takes them out of their hand. The rules are a little fiddly and the frequency of this happening can get a little frustrating, but rather than a game that just requires you to shuffle pieces across a board there have been real attempts to get players plotting against one another.

Craft

The box, board and cards are adorned with some gorgeous artwork. The dice have little Glaives on them and the game comes with two figures representing The Beast and Prince Colwyn which, although not massively detailed, are nice little collectables.


Experience Level

I've been playing this with my nine year old and She got into it quickly and yet there is enough above the table play to keep it interesting for adults. There can be a lot of rule checking required, which slows things a little, but overall this is a really simple game.

Overall

Krull is no cheap cash in. There has been a real attempt translate the thrills of the movie into game play mechanics and they are largely successful. The game is handsome and there is enough going on to engage a range of player types. It's out of print and so you'll have to look for second hand copies but if, like me, you want some Krull merch on your shelf this is a good purchase (and it likely won't stay on the shelf too long).


Monday, 23 May 2016

The Ship of Monsters (Rogelio A. Gonzalez, 1960)


In order to repopulate the all-female Venus, two attractive female aliens travel to Earth to find a man with which to procreate taking with them a menagerie of monsters and their robot wrangler in case things go south. They land in Mexico and meet Lauriano, a chancer who is prone to burst into song and tell tall tales at the local drinking pit. One of the aliens falls for his charms while the other has far more nefarious plans to seduce him and then move onto world domination.

This Mexican sci-fi comedy is great fun and although there are plenty of hokey B-movie tropes to giggle at there are also enough nicely handled moments and bizzaro creative choices to generate genuine entertainment. The lead is charming and naturalistic, and his scenes where he tells his crazy stories are well acted and staged. There are some well constructed laughs in here and its nice to have a hero who is actually a flawed comedy character, albeit with a little pathos, rather than an uber-butch macho alpha. In many ways he is the 1960 version of Sean of the Dead’s titular hero.


Also nice is the moment that he meets the alien seductresses for the first time. Rather than just assume knowledge in order to move the plot along, the aliens first cycle through a variety of languages until they hit on Spanish. They also freeze Lauriano everytime he mentions something they don’t understand (Mexico, the Circus, etc) so they can look it up on their portable computer and get up to speed. It’s a nice little bit of business that gets exposition and character across in an amusing way.


The monsters are great. They are, of course, really ropey costumes but the designs are awesome. We have a Cyclops, a massive-faced Martian type, a furry insect thing and a living skeleton. Although the outfits are ultimately unconvincing a lot of effort has been put into the smaller details. The head pieces aren’t static and have moving eye stalks, mouths, flappy ears and at times pulsating flesh. They are all also oddly articulate, especially the low but debonaire voice attached to the skeleton. Both the Cyclops and big-face showed up a decade later in Santo Versus The Monsters which might suggest their funky designs achieved an iconic enough status to warrant an homage (although I suspect the suits were just knocking about in some store room and were cheaper to repurpose).


And yes there is some unintentional humour as well, but since the movie isn’t po-faced it all feels like part of the fun. The main source of amusement for me was the sound design. As a sci-fi movie there are plenty of effects used to make doors, machines and robots sound like advanced technology. The problem is they have seemed to source their sound effects from the Carry-On sound library. Each futuristic noise sounds like its punctuating an innuendo or a skirt being blown up. Automatic doors open to slide whistles, people teleport to silly percussion and the robot is constantly emitting rude sounds. Its amazing!

It’s also oddly appropriate considering the subject matter: This movie is all about sex. The aliens want to get knocked up by Earth men, the robot tries to bang a jukebox (“nice bulbs babe”) and the monsters all want to sleep with the lead alien. That particular scene is joyful. The woman reclines as each creature shuffles in close and attempts to woo her. There is nothing like the sight of a dwarf in a leotard and a giant paper-mache head trying to be suave. They even start to bicker amongst themselves as to who gets her, which leads to this bit of movie gold:


But it’s the robot that steals the show for me. The constant comedy sounds mixed with the shuffling of the aluminium and cardboard costume creates a fantastically ramshackle cacophony often louder than the dialogue. I found myself frequently giggling as two actors try to get through dialogue as this vast metal creature with a perpetually alarmed expression lumpered about in the background completely ruining the audio take. Add to that the fact he is a randy bugger and he can teleport and he might have just pipped TOBOR the Great as my new favourite robot.


This is a movie packed with value and when I thought I couldn’t love it any more it revealed it’s sweet side. Rather than just take these sexy space girls up on their offer our hero repeatedly insists that love between two people is entirely consensual and he rejects the advances of the far more sexually aggressive alien in favour of the one he seems to get on with better. Monsters, aliens, a horny robot, musical numbers and half decent politics? Surely that qualifies The Ship of Monsters for consideration as one of the best movies ever made. Right?




Friday, 20 May 2016

Gor (Fritz Kirsch, 1987)


A put upon teacher is blown out by his girlfriend and goes on a research weekend alone. His theories regarding an ancient world and how it relates to a weird stone become reality as he is ported off to the world of Gor; a fantasy dystopia ruled by an evil tyrant. There he discovers an aptitude for adventuring that he uses to help villagers usurp the tyrant's rule, recover their sacred stone and find a way to get back to the real world.

Gor, like most eighties' fantasy movies, is a mixed bag. It is actually pretty well produced. The actors are all built like Frazetta heroes (no stringy weeds in furry pants here) and the costumes are actually nicely put together. This doesn't feature anything close to the world building of Star Wars, not even that of Sword and the Sorcerer, but the frame is always filled with breadth, depth and detail in ways that other films of this era are not. Where it misses out, though, is in its reluctance to get messy. This is a bloodless and sexless affair and yet it doesn't try to go for a romantic fairytale adventure vibe either. Some of the costumes are downright brazen and as close to rendering their wearers (both male and female) as naked as they can be while still covered up. Women are sold as slaves, there are brandings and people cast into fiery pits - pretty brutal stuff. It's just that every scene of violence is neutered leaving it neither satisfyingly savage nor innocent enough to be fun.


Thank Christ someone had the bright idea to cast Oliver Reed who stomps through this movie dressed like Princess Aura from Flash Gordon, acting as if he's ignoring any direction. He is, as always, fantastic to watch and his character's demise is a keeper. I'm chuckling about it to myself as I write. The lead plays both the nerdy scholar and the dashing hero well, Arnold Vosloo pops up in an early role (and not in one you'd expect) and Jack Palance shows up for a couple of scenes. I can't remember why Jack Palance shows up, or who he was playing. He gets the last line of the film and it seems to be setting up for the sequel but I really didn't have a clue why he was relevant to the story. But hey, any Palance is good Palance right?


The battles aren't particularly well put together, its not as violent nor fun as you'd want but it is better than most. If you're in the mood for some fighting fantasy and you have exhausted your Beatsmasters and your Deathstalkers this would make for a diverting and mostly satisfying 80 minutes.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Total Cults Total Tabletop: Ghostbusters

Overview

Take on the role of the famous spook-hunting quartet as you manoeuvre around the streets of New York by foot or by Ecto-1 plugging up gates to the spirit world and ridding the city of awful spectres!


Table Play

Ghostbusters is a tabletop game that consists of three scenarios. Each scenario has a number of missions (each mission is a whole game in of itself) to play that end with a battle with an iconic boss ghost. Since I had the game on loan I was only able to play three of the four missions for the first scenario, falling short of going up against Slimer for the finale. I did, however, get a feel for the game and its mechanics. There are four players and each of you takes control of one of the classic Ghostbusters. The board is assembled by tiles according to a pre-ordained mission guide and a number of gates that spew forth ghosts are placed. Blocking your way are the ghosts that need to be blasted with proton streams and dumped back into the spirit world. The spirit world is a collective pool of ghost figures that sits to the side of the main playing area. If at any point in the game a ghost is required to appear in a gate and there are none left in the spirt world the game is over. This presents a ticking clock of sorts which is made even tougher by the addition of slime that slows your Ghostbuster down and prevents them from completing their tasks.


Above the Table

Ghostbusters is co-operative game and requires careful strategising to complete the tasks. Each character has special abilities that level up based on XP given. The basic gameplay comes down to managing which character is taking on which task. Who, for example, is going to be clearing slime off people? Who is going to be racing ahead in the Ecto-1 while others go it on foot? Who is going to manage ghosts while another closes gates? In addition parameters (such as the way gates behave) change each mission meaning the same strategies won't always work. This is a game that doesn't just encourage teamwork  but utterly relies on it.


Craft

There are lots of figures to play with here. The ghosts are primarily made from a translucent coloured plastic (kinda like the ghosts you used to get with the Real Ghostbusters action figures) and are nicely designed spooks. You also get the four GBs themselves, an Ecto-1 model, Slimer and a whacking great Stay Puft. The quality of plastic isn't quite up to the same standard as other games of this type but the sculpts are good. The real quality is in the details. The 'six' side on one set of dice being replaced with the Ghostbuster's symbol is oddly satisfying, while the symbols used to differentiate gates are the ones from Venkman's psychic experiment at the start of the movie. You only need to look at the company's Kickstarter for additional expansions to see they have gone to great lengths to not only come up with interesting new beasties but pretty much every iconic ghost from the movies (and cartoons) so far.


Experience Level

The smartest thing about this game is the way the difficulty increases. The first mission was so easy we worried we were playing it wrong, but by the time we'd reached mission three we were finding it to be a nice stretch. It was then we realised the game had been teaching us how to play. All the specific rules regarding ghosts and gates are placed on handy and available reference cards and once you're up and running it is the changing parameters that cause the slime/ghost management to be a struggle. Since the mechanics for that element are really straight forward this is great game for those new to tabletop action. You can also play the game on your own by simply taking control of all four characters yourself. It is a versatile game accessible for all skill levels.

Overall

Ghostbusters was a fun and accessible game and one that allowed us to spend a good couple of hours playing without getting bored. The nicely judged difficulty levels, the simplicity of play and the attention to detail makes this a great addition to a collection and a good way of involving those not normally inclined to play these kind of games to get involved.



Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Alien Undead (Greg Connors, 2009)

Alien Undead isn't a great movie, it doesn't even have any great moments, but by god does it try its damnedest to please.


On paper the movie would read as if made specifically for me: an all practical horror space opera featuring flesh eating monsters and gun-toting galactic marines. So why didn't it work for me? Many will be put off by the choice to shoot on what appears to be digital video (I say that like there is any other choice for the micro-budget filmmaker) and although this will eliminate the less forgiving viewers we at Total Cults are born of tougher stock.

Less palatable is the at best passable acting spoilt by an almost entirely looped audio track. Bad sound can make even the most expensive movie seem like amateur hour and the choice to ADR dialogue is to be commended, however the voices don't always match the lips and in addition seem weirdly dissonant, almost as haphazardly executed as the dubbing of most 80's Hong Kong releases. This, along with a script that functions as a string of cliches makes it hard to engage with characters or situations at all.


As such I frequently found my attention drifting, especially as the narrative quickly descended into a conventional 'squad under siege in alien infested complex' scenario repeated to infinity since Aliens. And yet, every time my attention returned I was treated to something pleasurable on screen.

The production has obviously been heavily influenced by 80's genre movies (perhaps a little 90's straight-to-video movies too) and yet rather than place these influences up front to the point of parody it felt like an authentic movie of the period, not unlike one of Roger Corman's Spaceploitation flicks. From the (awesome) miniature space crafts to the low-fi space ship interiors through to the armoured space marines it all felt so satisfyingly earnest. The lighting; greens, reds and blues spread through plumes of dry ice, rendered every little corner of their sets atmospheric. It never achieves the artistry of Argento but effectively replicates the garish and brazen aesthetics of Lamberto Bava's Demons.


In fact Demons in space isn't too far from a decent comparison. The monsters are delightfully grotesque and, more importantly, achieved through practical effects. Even the incredibly derivative final boss creature (basically a xenomorph) is a satisfying actor in a suit effect. Also practical; squibs. There are a number of scenes were soldiers mow down waves of creatures and the splatter flies furiously from good-ol' detonated blood sacks. I genuinely didn't detect the stink of CGI blood at all and it is a rare thing to be able to say that about a B-movie nowadays.

So the textures and the atmospherics are all on point. Alien Undead isn't like the army of movies that think they are homaging Grindhouse cinema but are actually just ripping off Planet Terror. It's heart is in the right place, yet the unfortunate voices pasted over dubious performances and a plot that I could barely remember the details of a day after watching it mean it isn't easy to recommend. Had I seen this at a local film festival I might have applauded the ingenuity, but it wasn't able to hold my attention on a regular night's viewing. Makes for an awesome trailer though.