Last Stand of the California Browncoats

Amusing that the start of the apocalypse is now in the past (the main books are set 20 years later), but I really want to point back at these, and in particular the prequel story, when people could have stayed home, avoided the plague, but instead wanted to go cosplay Firefly for a weekend.

Feed's a great epidemiology story, and a fairly good vlogging/social media (they say "blog" but only appear to do video) story, with zombies as almost a totally irrelevant side effect.

The main two caveats I have are technical: The blood testing system is basically what Theranos was pushing, and it probably can't be made to work, the sample sizes are too small. And later has a tiresomely impossible (at least with their tech) medical technology. There's a creepy personal thing, too, but you know, people gotta get their bone on with someone/thing.

I think I haven't read a bunch of the short stories, only the above and "How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea", which is a little silly because it's about Strines vs zombie kangaroos.

"Mira Grant" has a few other horror books, the Parasite series is very zombie-like as well; she's grim and serious but has just a little genre fanservice goofiness to lighten the mood. But the author under her real name, Seanan McGuire, also writes urban fantasy books, and they're dire. Easily some of the trashiest "I'm Wonder Woman and I wanna fuck a monster" books since Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake went off the rails straight into bondage-mutilation-porn-land.

Virus

If you think you have contracted the Vampire virus:

  1. Isolate yourself in a safe, dark place. Basement apartments, laundry rooms, service tunnels, and abandoned movie theatres are often ideal.
  2. By night, prepare a coffin or crate full of the dirt of your homeland.
  3. By day, sleep in your box.
  4. Make lists of enemies and annoyances. Each night, visit them and drain their blood.
  5. Make lists of friends and family who may join you. Each night, visit them and share the virus.
  6. Go to a sporting goods store and acquire legal firearms for self-defense against cross-wielding lunatics. Do not rely on magic powers.
  7. Even if you do not have the Vampire virus, this is a perfectly fine way to live.

Sleep All Day Party All Night Sunday Music

Never grow old. Never die. It's fun to be a vampire.

What I'm Watching: Dracula (2020)

Three 90-minute episode/movies on Netflix, each in a very different style.

The undead makeup is pretty good, there's not a lot of crazy special effects or fights, but lots of latex gags. There's a wolf transformation scene using some latex and raspberry jam, and some mannequin head gags. Fun practical effects, not too much CGI bullshit. The sets are great, the castle's a maze of twisty passages, like the Winchester house built in stone.

E1 is much like the first part of the novel, with interrogation instead of letters. Johnny Harker (John Heffernan) awakes in a convent, looking like the walking dead. Sister Agatha Van Helsing (Dolly Wells) interrogates him about his improbable escape from Dracula's (Claes Bang) castle. Dracula's a charming middle-aged monster, Van Helsing's a bad nun, but an excellent monster hunter, Johnny's the same wanker he is in the book. This gets progressively more horrifying, with one of the best vampire confrontations I've ever seen.

E2, Dracula goes on a boat ride, with a murder mystery aboard the Demeter. Fun, drawn out in a way I've never seen in a vampire film, but the other actors and characters aren't great; the one-handed quartermaster(?) and the captain are just stereotypes but competent. They were clearly trying to make Dr Sharma into a new protagonist, but we don't get enough of his backstory except unpleasant flashbacks, and he doesn't accomplish as much as Van Helsing. Agatha is conspicuously missing for most of it, which is a shame. The end of E2 genuinely surprised me a couple of times, which happens rarely enough in anything I need to call it out. I get all the "twists" in everything, I know every genre convention, and this one was smarter than I am.

Alas, E3 was an incredible disappointment, don't watch it. SPOILERS ahead:










It's not a vampire Agatha who greets Dracula on a modern beach, but a descendent working for a Johnathan Harker Foundation. Then a lawyer Renfield gets the mass murderer released, and immediately helps plan more murders; the Foundation could at least have fried Dracula then and there. Then there's a lot of Kids Today™️ including this Lucy Westenra (100 years apart from her girlfriend Mina), night-clubbing and fucking around. Dracula immediately adapts to Tinder/Grindr/Postmates delivering victims to him, but the writers are unaware that police could track missing persons thru contacts in the apps. Lucy's fate should be a warning, if you're engaged, don't let someone who's not your fiancé suck you.

In the first ep, and somewhat in the second, there's a deeper question about the undead, vampires, and what Dracula is. Why do so many of the myths seem to work on him?

Are they going metaphysical? Reveal a shocking truth behind Christianity, such as Jesus was a vampire (I've used that along with the Merovingian conspiracy in RPGs before)? Or do science & reason win and it's a virus, like Ultraviolet? No such luck. E3 has the most vapid excuse for an answer I've ever heard, everyone involved in writing that irrational twaddle should die of shame.

The first 2 eps are two of the best vampire movies in years. Absolutely nothing of value happens in E3.

★★★★½ for E1-2, ☆☆☆☆☆ for E3.

What I'm Watching: The Dunwich Horror

I found a cheap Bluray two-pack of The Dunwich Horror (1970), and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971), great classic weird horror movies. I'll see Murders later.

The Dunwich Horror looks great, that vibrant '70s color, sets with disorienting angles and weird lighting. Sound's not fantastic, music has a few repeated stingers but not a long soundtrack. Long stretches are silent, waiting for someone to speak.

Dean Stockwell's a charming but weird motherfucker at any time, but here as Wilbur Whateley (the presentable Whateley brother) he was at his peak. He's smooth but kind of square, with raving weirdo shit a millimeter beneath the surface. Just perfect casting and acting for the role. I don't care for his corduroy jacket style, but it was the '70s.

Sandra Dee as the naïve Nancy is certainly vapid enough, but maybe a little plump and matronly at 28 to be a college girl. She wears maybe the weirdest slit overcoat/cape thing I've ever seen, not explicable even by the '70s. Later when she's drugged out and just writhing around in a nightgown, there's no "acting" but she's a useful prop, and her vag doubles as a bookrest. The film does not pass the Bechdel Test, either with her or her girlfriend.

Ed Begley as Professor Armitage, mortal enemy of the Whateleys, uncomprehending owner of the Necronomicon, is as stuffy, closed-minded, and foolish as he should be. What I don't know is what kind of lecture he could possibly give; he doesn't understand the Mythos, and the book would destroy all of his precious Christian delusions.

It's an age-old story, boy looks for the Necronomicon, meets girl, seduces girl, steals Necronomicon, summons Yog-Sothoth with girl as sacrifice.

Unfortunately there's a very long stretch of no Wilbur and Nancy, just Armitage questioning people in his slow, "let me put it like this" "you may find this hard to believe" fussing around, with equally old, doddering fools who waste a scene filling a pipe. The girlfriend who wanders around is pointless. Unbearable and most of his scenes should have been cut completely.

The "good Christian folk" of Dunwich are the same bigoted, murderous mob that killed Wilbur's great-grandfather; justified perhaps but no less loathesome. They really do make you sympathize with Wilbur's desire to bring back the Old Ones and replace Humanity.

The Old Ones here are not Cthulhu and kin, but mere body-painted pagans who dance and orgy in the meadows, but Yog-Sothoth and the other Whateley brother are Lovecraftian enough. Most scenes of him are just weird camera angles, light & sound effects, and a wind machine, but a couple good shots of the being.

And then the shittiest rap battle in history ends with the sanctimonious idiots winning. But there is another…

There's a lot of room for improvement, and the middle stretch is dull, but it's a good film that's also a good Lovecraft adaptation, rarest of things.

★★★★☆

Godzilla Shows Again and Again

Considered while watching Godzilla Final Wars again:

The Godzilla Cinematic Universe is massively more high-quality science fiction/space fantasy than Star Wars, Marvel, and DC combined.

Sure, there's a few stinkers across 65 years like the Roland Emmerich movie GINO, Son of Godzilla, All Monsters Attack, and arguably Godzilla 2014, not every film has a great plot or fights. But by and large, they're respectable work.

If I'm going to show someone just three Godzilla films, they'd be Godzilla (1954), GMK: Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), and Godzilla Final Wars (2004); alternately for the last Destroy All Monsters (1968), similar basic movie but more serious, less awesome.

"One who depends on power will be destroyed by it."
—Xilian leader, Godzilla Final Wars

Tokusatsu is better than CGI, but Gen Orobuchi's Godzilla anime, Final Wars (a mix of Tokusatsu and CGI), & Godzilla: King of the Monsters show you can animate good Godzilla movies.

Compare to Star Wars: Two and a half good movies in the original trilogy, nearly a dozen garbage films since, a bunch of bad cartoons. Marvel: Maybe 5 good movies (Iron Man, Thor, Avengers, Deadpool, Guardians of the Galaxy) and a bunch of recycled junk sequels. DC: The Dark Knight, Wonder Woman somewhat?, rest is Zack Snyderism at its worst.

What's the moral of Star Wars, post-original-Trilogy? "This is pod-racing!" or "kill your father and burn anything you should respect" or some shit. What's the moral of Marvel & DC? Punch "bad guys" and they'll be back next week; a lot of civilians die as collateral damage.

The moral of Godzilla, the truth you should've learned, is always that nature is bigger than mankind, that war brings only misery, that science without forethought and sacrifice brings only monsters.

Open Cthulhu

And Chaosium's reaction to the threat to their cash cow:

"That is correct. We are releasing a BRP Open Game License and a BRP SRD. The SRD is a core BRP rules document that people are authorized to create derivative works from, including rules expansions, etc. But certain things are going to be off limits - you can't use the BRP rules to create your own game using the Cthulhu Mythos. Or your own version of Pendragon. Etc."
Jeff at Chaosium

So, a little context. After H.P. Lovecraft's death, his friend and executor Professor Robert H. Barlow was cut out of control of the publishing estate by con man and hack writer August Derleth, who founded Arkham House to exploit Lovecraft's work. In the '70s, Sandy Petersen wrote RuneQuest for Greg Stafford's Glorantha setting, and founded Chaosium. In the early '80s, Sandy got a license from Arkham House (upstaging TSR which had a… looser arrangement… and had to remove Lovecraftiana from their books) and wrote Call of Cthulhu. And while everyone loves classic CoC, it never lent itself well to fan publishing or 3rd-party publishing because you had to deal with Chaosium for a license.

Chaosium has for 40 years asserted that they own Lovecraft, works, body, and soul. Well, with copyright expiration and his work being clearly in the public domain now, nobody really cares what Chaosium or Arkham House think about that anymore. It certainly doesn't help that the "7th Edition" Call of Cthulhu is incompatible with the 1st-6th Editions, so there's those of us with 40 years of playing this game, and the "official" game which nobody plays.

Mongoose Publishing had a license for RuneQuest in the 2000s, and then released a clean-room OGL book Legend, which is an excellent RuneQuest-minus-Glorantha system, cheap, and unambiguously clear of Chaosium's ownership.

There's a couple of other Lovecraftian RPGs:

  • De Profundis: Epistolary solo or play-by-mail… I'm not sure it's an RPG, so much as a psychedelic drug in paper form. Highly recommended.
  • Trail of Cthulhu: Very rules-light investigation game, but I find the GUMSHOE games dull and predictable, too obviously railroaded by the GM.

Open Cthulhu: Because Cthulhu Wants to be Free

The current PDF is a pre-layout beta, no art, so I can only evaluate the rules.

Mechanically, it's CoC 6E, more or less, classic stats. Combat's streamlined quite a bit from the case-point mess of 6E, and you are directly instructed to inflict SAN rolls for committing violence, murder, and such, as well as the supernatural.

The implied setting is the 1920s-30s, but there's a decent chapter on customizing the setting, including a fairly extensive treatment of the Dreamlands, and rules for entering, leaving, and manipulating the Dreamlands! The Mythos tomes are limited to 5 translations of the Necronomicon, the Book of Dyzan, and The King in Yellow; most others have licensing entanglements.

Unlike Chaosium's "I shoot Cthulhu with a rocket launcher!" stats, Open Cthulhu doesn't give the Great Old Ones normal stats or limit their abilities; the Keeper is the author of the story and can do as they please. I like these guidelines:

  • Hint rather than show outright
  • Mythos Powers shouldn’t be “boss monsters”
  • Focus attention on human worshippers
  • Mental contact is dangerous; physical contact is virtually guaranteed deadly
  • Powers are never consistent; never predictable

Other monsters are almost entirely those from Lovecraft, not Derleth and such. The "Byakhee" are here called "Winged Servants" because Lovecraft didn't name them in "The Festival". The rather ludicrous presence of Mummies, Werewolves, Vampires, and such that would've made good old H.P. sigh with disdain is carried along from Chaosium's kitchen-sink approach; and yet they don't have Frankenstein's Monster, one of the few that H.P. liked! Stats are given for many of his characters, presumably prior to the events of their stories.

A compact but useful library of Mythos spells and artifacts adapted from the books finishes up.

I wouldn't classify this as more than halfway done; OpenCthulhu calls it 1.0a, which only makes sense if they're thinking it'll be done at 6.0. There's one skill for all "special gear" by which they mean photocopiers, computers, DNA sequencers, rockets, and any other tech which isn't a car or firearm; fine for 1920, incredibly stupid for modern games. There's no equipment lists, and while you can find online scans of Sears catalogs from the 1920s-1980s, things get more difficult after that. The weapons and armor system is greatly inadequate for modern games, and I hate low-fixed-value armor like CoC has used in most versions; the RuneQuest/Stormbringer-style random-roll armor is better. The bestiary could use work. Magic spells outside of just the Mythos aren't addressed, and for many games those are important.

But what is here, is a better Call of Cthulhu (almost but not yet a better universal Basic Role-Playing) than Chaosium has, and it's under the OGL so you can make your own, and write materials for it without arguing with anyone. I'm thinking I'll write up some adventures, maybe go back and re-adapt "Nightmare Eve" and my "Shotguns & Strip Malls" games into Open Cthulhu.

What I'm Watching: Assimilate

Two interchangeable, incredibly dull, incredibly white teenage boys with hidden cameras try to Youtube star their way out of an incredibly dull, incredibly white small town, and then an Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) ripoff starts, but with rather stupid children instead of competent adults.

Slightly creepy stalker vibe, which could've been a good variation on the theme, then the pod people start being obvious. As usual, the cops are useless until it's too late. The girl who joins the party in the second act is more liability than help. Her little brother Joey needs rescuing, but mostly takes care of himself, like Newt in Aliens. A film about him would've been far more interesting.

The pod people are strong, fast, hard to kill, organize wordlessly, imitate people tolerably well up close, and yet so stupid they fall for obvious tricks and can't tell their kind apart from Humans who walk slow and show no emotions. There's no way they should be able to replace more than a couple people before being noticed and shot by angry townsfolk. They do the open-mouth scream from 1978 with an extra CGI mouth expansion. They don't get you when you're sleeping, they just have your naked clone chase you down and hold your head; probably the filmmakers were scared to promote amphetamines. The mass body burnings are grim but a little obvious, unlike the dump trucks collecting bodies in 1978.

There's very little originality to this, it's as blunt and linear a ripoff as it's possible to get, with a little Youtuber narcissism as the only spice. It's as toothless and non-scary of a "horror" movie as I've ever seen. But I'm not bored by it. Certainly it's better than the military base remake (how are pod people soldiers different from regular soldiers?!), or the incredibly awful Nicole Kidman/Daniel Craig remake with the happy ending. Fuck Hollywood.

This movie's "not rated", but at most, it has moments of nude clones with their nipples and genitalia taped over/CGI airbrushed out/blocked by convenient furniture. The most the lead couple manage is a hug and kiss. There's no real blood, some ketchup stains for bug bites; hitting someone with a rock or pipe, or strangling them, is presented as cartoony, no physical injury shown. The few fights have no choreography, but they're just mobs grabbing or pushing. Even the one gunfight just has victims fall down, or a little ketchup on the head. It's basically G-rated. The 1978 film was PG (it's barely not R, and PG-13 wasn't added until 1984), and still had more nudity, sex, drugs, and violence.

The ending scene is silly, who is broadcasting that? How are they getting satellite feeds from around the world? Also most Internet services won't stay up long without Human maintenance. Organizing survivors in Youtube comments is not sustainable.

★★½☆☆