Friday, January 22, 2016

Video Nasties Episode 3!

Seems like I hardly ever update this damn blog anymore, but here's the latest scoop.

The newest video on the Dr. Sparkle After Dark channel has been posted. In response to Wes Craven's death, I decided to cover 1972's Last House on the Left, which was produced by Sean Cunningham and written/directed by Craven. Aside from the 1080p Youtube version, you can find downloadable versions on Archive in 1080p, 720p, and a smaller sized 720p formats.

Aside from discussing the film itself, I go into a bit of professional history of some of the cast and crew. Craven's work in the porn industry is somewhat well known, though little discussed. Additionally, several members of the cast, namely Sandra Cassel & Lucy Grantham, who played Mari & Phylis, as well as Fred Lincoln (Weasel) and 'Gaylord St James' (Dr Collingwood), had history in the sex movie industry. Lincoln, in particular, was an extremely prolific actor and director, who worked in the porn biz until two years before his death in 2013. He was also the co-owner of the notorious NYC swinger's club Plato's Retreat.  (Richard Dreyfuss was a regular there. Jeramie Rain, who played Sadie in Last House, married Dreyfuss a few years after Plato's Retreat opened. Coincidence?)

One way to look at Last House is that it is a porn movie without hardcore sex. It was originally planned to be a sexually explicit film. This element was dropped in pre-production, but it does explain the casting of several porn actors. There were also numerous ties, both personal and professional, among the cast and crew. For example, Fred Lincoln and Lucy Grantham were dating at the time; David Hess was dating Martin Kove's sister, and so on. 

One thing about Last House that really bothers people is the severe tonal shifts throughout the film. Scenes of psychological torture and violence are intercut with the goofy antics of the local sheriff and deputy. The music (by David Hess) appears to be wildly inappropriate at times. The killers' theme song is a rollicking bluegrass-y number that refers to  Krug, Sadie, etc as a "quartet in harmony/barbershop band" and describes the film's murders and rapes as a fun little afternoon outing.

The first time I saw Last House, the silly humor and inappropriate music struck me was being very strange. Having seen it a couple more times over the years, and then scouring every inch of the film while editing the video, I realize these elements are essential to Last House's artistic success. The lighthearted moments not only keep Last House from being 90 minutes of unrelenting bleakness, but also provide enough contrast to make brutal moments feel that much more brutal. 

The use of irony, especially in the soundtrack, acts as a distancing technique. Craven must have picked this up from studying Europeans films such as those by Bergman. Watching it now, I can see its art film roots much more clearly than I could when I was younger. For a debut film, Last House on the Left is surprisingly sophisticated.

Next up is Chrontendo 49, which will cover a bunch of crap along the lines of LJN's Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. A pretty rough episode, for the most part, considering it also has a Hokuto no Ken RPG and another Japan-only adventure game from Nintendo.

When The Video Nasties return, it will cover the bizarre 1980 horror movie The Frozen Scream, which was recently released in a pretty watchable edition, taken from the original negative, for the first time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Here It Is: Chronturbo 5

As many of you have already noticed, the new Chronturbo is now up on Youtube and Archive. Youtube now has the ability to stream 60 fps for 720p videos, though if you want to download the original, not-reprocessed-by-Youtube, file, then Archive is still the place to go.

We have a big fat three CD-ROM games this time: two arcade ports and one original title from the folks who gave us Valis II.  As I mentioned earlier, Super Albatross, despite being a golf game, has a lot of similarities to Valis II. The other two CD games are Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair, which is pretty straightforward port of the arcade game, and Juuouki AKA Altered Beast. This port of Altered Beast is pretty terrible -- the graphics are ugly and it controls are sluggish. However Hudson did add a semi-animated intro with sound and music. By semi-animated I mean that it simply uses pans and zooms of static artwork.

Wonder Boy

Tacking on a PC-Engine exclusive intro onto a port would be a pretty common tactic throughout the console's lifespan.  The unusual thing about the PC-Engine Altered Beast is that it was released on both CD-ROM and HuCard a week apart. The two versions are almost identical, except for the HuCard missing the intro and some voice/music samples. Off the top of my head, I can't think of another game that got released in both formats simultaneously.

Side Arms

We have several arcade ports this time, of games originally from Capcom, Namco, Jaleco and Data East. Side Arms and Ordyne are both horizontal shoot-em-ups. Bloody Wolf, probably the best game this episode, is a radically altered version of Data East's Mercs clone. F-1 Dream is an archaic-looking racing game which has been altered quite a bit as well. The biggest weaknesses of Side Arms and Bloody Wolf is that, despite having been originally designed for two players, only a single player mode is available on the PC Engine ports. Takeda Shingen is not the same game as Shingen the Ruler for the FC/NES, but is a horribly botched port of a beat-em-up from Jaleco.

Rock On

The rest are all original titles, most of which aren't very good. The most offensively terrible is Rock On, a bizarre and amateurishly made horizontal shooter from Big Club/Manjyudo. The last game we saw from these guys which a weird Space Harrier clone. Aside from being extremely dull, stealing one boss directly from R-Type, and having waaayy too many power-ups floating around, Rock On is notable for its utterly insane Engrish-y opening text scroll.

Deep Dungeons
Boring, pointless dungeon crawler. Only of interest to those to love to draw huge maps on graph paper. Excellent graphics/animation of moving through the dungeon, however.

Power League II

 Power League II
Sequel to Power League/World Class Baseball. Neither this nor any of the other Power League sequels got a US release. Standard baseball game.

Break In
This is actually a good billiards game with lots of game options, modes, etc.  It's from Naxat, so the graphics and music are pretty darned solid.

Maison Ikokku
A port of a MSX/FM7 adventure game based on the popular Rumiko Takahashi manga.  We encountered the Famicom version in an earlier episode of Chrontendo. Luckily the PC Engine port has a quality English translation available, so if you're interested in adventure games for this console, this is one of the very few English options.

Momotaro Dentetsu

Super Momotaro Dentetsu
A big game in Japan, I'm sure. Hudson moves it's popular railway board game to the PC Engine for the second entry in the series. Though in 2015 Nintendo got the last laugh, as it appears future entries the series will be published by them, due to the collapse of Konami.

Artist Tool
Not a real game, but instead an extremely basic drawing program. Three hardware accessories were available - a drawing tablet/stylus, a printer, and a scanner of some sort. The game and the accessories are somewhat rare and expensive now.

We are going to switch over to the Famicom/NES next, but when we do return to the PC Engine,  we'll reach up to early December 1989, and get to see some mahjong games, a golf game, and one of the ever-popular business simulation games.

In the very near future, though, we'll have a small update to the Video Nasties series on the Dr. Sparkle After Dark channel.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Coming Soon: Chronturbo 5

One bizarre game to be featured in Chronturbo 5 is Super Albatross. This is one of three CD-ROM² games this episode.  The odd thing is that Super Albatross is a golf game, which seems like a strange choice for the CD format. Golf games of the era aren't normally full of visual flair. However, Super Albatross was created Telenet/Lasersoft, the same folks who did Valis II for the PC Engine. The developers chose to insert absurd Valis-style cutscenes between levels.

These anime-like cutscenes almost make Super Albatross seem like a parody of Valis II. The protagonist must win a number of rounds of golf against a series of goofy opponents.  Each opponent in introduced in a dramatic cutscene and their stats -- height, weight, and power -- are provided, just like in Valis II's boss battles.

These animated cutscenes are done in the exact same style as those in Valis II, right down the same shade of green being used as the background. Unfortunately, the actual golfing part of Super Albatross is pretty lame, even by 1989 standards.

Chronturbo 5 has been almost completely recorded and will go into editing soon. Not sure of an exact date, but keep an eye peeled.

In the meantime, I've uploaded the second episode of the Video Nasties series. This one covers a well loved slasher film, The Burning. This movie is unusual in a few ways. It ended up on the nasties list due an error -- the label accidentally released the tape with the non-BBFC approved version. Also, there is a surprising amount of award-winning talent in this movie. Aside the various future Oscar, Emmy and Tony award winners who were involved, The Burning was produced by Bob and Harvey Weinstein (their first film production, in fact). Brad Grey, who is now the CEO of Paramount, was also involved to some extent.

Unlike some of the nasties, quite a bit of information is available on the background and production of the film, so I got into this in a bit detail.  Compared to Driller Killer, not too much psychological or artistic analysis is possible, since this was a completely mercenary project. Even the director admits to not having seen the movie since it was released. The main consideration seemed to be creating an movie with sufficient blood and nudity to keep the audience interested.

As always you can check this thing out on Youtube, and downloadable versions in various sizes can be found on Archive. Here are the individual files:
1080p 1.9 Gigs
720p 1.3 Gigs
720p (smaller) 713.8 Megs

Check back for another update soon.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Some News for You

My goodness! Has it really been this long since I've updated this blog? My apologies.

If you're wondering what's currently on the plate for Dr.  Sparkle, I'm currently waist-deep in Chronturbo Episode Five, covering July through September 1989. Compared to last episode, which featured Valis II, Blazing Lazers and the ambitious CD-ROM RPG Tengai Makyou: Ziria, Episode Five is kind of lame. We've got a handful of arcade ports, the usual golf and baseball games, one adventure game, and some random junk.

One rather bizarre PC Engine release is NEC's port of Altered Beast, or more properly, Juuouki, since this version didn't come out stateside.  There were a few Sega games ported to the PC Engine (and the Famicom!) but Altered Beast has been released not that long ago on the Mega Drive, and was considered of sufficient quality to become the pack-in title for the Genesis. I don't know exactly what Sega's reasoning was for licensing the game to NEC. Perhaps the popularity of the PC Engine meant it would sell more copies than it would on the Mega Drive.

Even stranger though, was the way Altered Beast was released. It is the only PC Engine game I know of (off the top of my head) that received  near-simultaneous releases on the HuCard and CD-ROM. On September 22, 1989 the CD-ROM version hit the shelves; then the card version came out a week later. The differences between the two are minimal. The CD version has an brief narrated intro that is accessible from the main menu. Unlike Valis II, this is not an animated style intro, but rather ugly looking still images with narration and music.  In addition, the CD version has speech samples which are missing from the HuCard version. Aside from that, the game itself is identical.

Scene from the CD-ROM intro.

I'm not really sure why NEC released this on CD-ROM, other than to give early adaptors another game to justify their purchase of the peripheral. The CD-ROM² was launched 9 months prior, and only 8 games had been released for it. A bunch of CD-ROM games started coming out around February and March of 1990, so there were clearly a lot of titles in the works. Still, everything about the CD-ROM Altered Beast screams "desperate cash-in." The disc itself if only 94 megabytes, making it the smallest PC Engine disc game I know of.

PCE Altered Beast looks considerable worse than the Genesis version.

Two other CD-ROM games will be covered this episode, one of which is Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair. This is the "other" Wonder Boy III: a port of the arcade game, not to be confused with The Dragon's Trap. It's a simple little platformer/shoot-em-up hybrid which has some slammin' music. The other game is Super Albatross, which has an intriguing name but turns out to be merely a golf game. Kusoge fans will be pleased to know there are two pretty terrible HuCard games this episode as well.

Rock On. This game is bullshit.

Also, I'll mention this stupid thing I'm doing during my spare time (ie: while I'm on the clock at work), the Day by Day blog. For the innocent among you, Day By Day is an extremely ugly, paranoid, sorta white supremacist, MRA comic. It began life 13 years ago and a Republican-leaning Doonesbury clone. It even had limited syndication for a while.  The creator's brain kind of snapped when Obama was elected and it just devolved into the awful mess it is today. This blog of mine is a look at Day by Day through the years, watching it turn into horrifying crap.

The current Chrontendo schedule is as follows: Chronturbo 5 is partway done. I've had very little time to work on this stuff for the last few weeks, but hope to pick up the pace soon. Also, Video Nasties Ep. 2 will be out soon (it's actually more or less been sitting in the can for a little while.) There will be a short Video Nasties Ep 2 Part 2 video soon afterwards. Sort of a one-off follow up video.