Thursday, November 15, 2007

Knock Knock

Today's jawsome revue is a revue of something that is basically jawsome* -- Jason Shiga's Knock Knock, an interactive comic book that knock knocked my socks off! Now that that's out of my system, on with the revue.

What exactly is an interactive comic book, you say? I've seen this book referred to as a Choose Your Own Adventure-style book, but to me it's more like solving a puzzle by finding the correct path. Granted, if I recall correctly the CYOA books had quite a few insta-death endings (resulting in having several pages bookmarked for easy backtracking), but this has only one true ending and thus the adventure is already chosen for you. Anyway, it's interactive because on each page, there are several (and I mean several) objects to interact with/actions, and you get to choose which one by turning to the designated page. Pretty cool, huh?

I can't really say much because I don't want to give any hints, so I'll talk about the presentation instead. It's "handmade" which probably means self-published at a local copy shop, which is pretty awesome, except after two run-throughs I'm worried about the binding coming loose. The cover is made to resemble a door, with a handle and an actual hole for the peephole, with the sound effect "KNOCK KNOCK!" emblazoned on it. When you open it, you're face to face with the dude on the other end (featured later in the actual book). The inside face of the cover has instructions, and page 2 has a reminder to read the instructions in case you're a douche and didn't read them. There is a noticeable lack of any kind of attribution to an author, which is unfortunate, but I guess if you bought it you probably know who made it. Still, weird.

The pages change color midway through the book; I guess they ran out of white paper at the copier? Leafing through it (after "winning"), I found an easter egg (I guess?), plus cheat protection, which rules. A large portion of the losing paths are worth following, for either a) clues on how to win, b) insight into the characters and your current predicament, or c) hilarious death scenes. Yeah, that's right, there's characterization going on in this game too! As I died in sundry ways, I developed a deep sense of loathing for the killer and a desire to emerge heroic and victorious.

The cool thing about it being in book form as opposed to being, say, a strip on the internet or a point-and-click game or something, is how simple and self-contained it is. It's just this impenetrable thing of 500 pages waiting for you to unlock its secrets. Pretty neat.

And when you do win? One nit to pick here: it is difficult to immediately understand the implications because it's hard to see what is going on in one of the most important panels. But the panels following it are just confusing enough for you to go back and -- that is when the full awesome, nay, jawsomeness, of the ending hits you.

So yeah, I'm now on the quest to acquire the other books in Shiga's oeuvre -- the ones that are available, that is. It is both cool and annoying that they are hard to find. He has made a great deal of them available to read for free on his website, but this is a rare occasion when having the physical copy is important to me. I'm even tempted to get a second copy of Knock Knock since I don't think I want to loan mine out.

If you decide to give this book a "Berry Good", turn to page 23.
If you decide to give this book a "Peary Good", turn to page 40.

* Basically jawsome defined as having a jawsome content of 98% or higher.

Star Ballz

All right, look. Here's the situation. My sadistic colleague gave me the assignment to revue Star Ballz. She had seen it years ago, so she should have known better, but she told me to do it anyway, and hearing that it was a hentai parody of Star Wars, Sailor Moon, and a bunch of other pop culture, I thought it might be fun. I knew it would be a bad movie, but I thought maybe I could enjoy it ironically or at least have some laughs making fun of it. I was young and foolish then.

I'm reluctant to even write this revue, because I just know that some poor fool will read it and make the same mistake I did. Don't do that to yourself! I am perfectly aware that some movies are "so bad they're good;" trust me when I say that this is not one of those movies. It goes so far past "so bad it's good" that not only does it go back to being bad, but it reaches new levels of badness that scientists haven't been able to classify yet.

You might also think, "well, I'm not looking for Hamlet here; porn's porn." All I can say to that is that if you actually get off on this movie, you're probably not the kind of person I ever want to meet. The character designs look like they were drawn in some horny fat kid's Trapper Keeper during sixth-grade social studies class. The animation for the sex scenes is the same few frames cycled over and over again in each shot, and then each shot is repeated several times (even in different scenes), so there are probably about seventeen total frames of animation in all of the sex scenes.

The voices sound like they were recorded over VoIP on dial-up using the built-in microphone on someone's iBook with the gain turned up too high. The best thing I can say about the audio for the sex scenes is that it's consistent with the animation, in that it's a few moans and phrases sampled on someone's Casio keyboard and played over and over again. Everything's mixed all wrong so you can hardly make out the dialogue most of the time, but that's probably for the best. In fact, if you must watch this movie, you should probably just turn the sound off. And the video.

The touted "hilarious parody" consists of including a character for no reason other than to say "look! We are aware of the existence of this character of whose existence you are also aware! Isn't that hilarious?" If you're lucky you might get more value for your buck when the character makes some sort of ass joke. It's the Family Guy school of comedy.

To add insult to injury, the movie includes no fewer than two fake-out endings before it finally does end. I'm letting you know ahead of time in case you ever get kidnapped and tortured by someone who shows you this movie, so the first time the phrase "THE END" comes up, don't get your hopes up, because you still have a good ten minutes left. Er, well, you have ten minutes left, but they are by no means good. The best thing I can say about this movie is that it is only forty-seven minutes long, but then, that's forty-seven minutes too long, and I assure you it feels like much longer. (That's what she said! (And I make that terrible joke only to point out that it's much funnier than any of the ones in Star Ballz.))

My initial reaction to this movie was the desire to punch everyone involved in the production in the mouth, but over time that feeling gave way to a sort of melancholia, and I started to worry about what kind of circumstances in people's lives could have led them to make a movie like this, and how many of them have killed themselves since then. And if they haven't, why the hell not?

Super Mario Galaxy

If Halo 3 and its embarrassing ad campaign complete with Mountain Dew Game Fuel have taught us nothing else (and they haven't), it's that the launch of a video game is a "cultural event," comparable to Woodstock, landing on the moon, or the fall of the Berlin wall. Yet as much as I mock this media blitz right now, my very own beloved Mario was guilty of equal or even worse crassness back in 1989, when the introduction of Super Mario Bros. 3 through the movie The Wizard went over like the third coming of Jesus. Since then, Nintendo have forgotten how to market themselves out of a wet paper bag, and the Mario brand has been diluted by an endless parade of spin-offs that have become franchises of their own (of varying quality), but suffice it to say that there's still a sizeable number of people for whom the prospect of a new Mario platform game creates a great deal of excitement, and quite a few of them grew up to be video game journalists.

What all this means for you, the consumer, is that if you're looking for a "fair and balanced" critique of said game, you may encounter some difficulty. Reviews of this game tend to be several pages of gushing hyperbole with a couple of token complaints thrown in to offset any accusations of bias. Look, I like Mario as much as anybody, but a review like that isn't going to do anyone any good. So with this revue I hope to balance some of that out and give you a better idea of what playing the game is really like, so you're not too disappointed when you play it and it's not the end-all be-all of human existence.

Don't get me wrong, Super Mario Galaxy is a great game. But that's all it is, and it's not perfect. I put it to you that if it were not a Mario game but a game starring some anonymous new characters, we as a society would be considerably less forgiving about some of its flaws. A lot of people raved about Super Mario Sunshine at first too, and now it's the bastard redheaded stepchild of the series. So I implore you, let's skip the "OMG a new Mario game" stage and go straight to looking at it critically.

The story of Super Mario Galaxy, if you really need one, is that Mario gets a letter from Princess Toadstool (Peach) inviting him to her castle because she has something she wants to give him. Wink wink, nudge nudge. Advanced readers may notice that this is exactly the same setup as Super Mario 64, except that this time there's an additional element of mystery because you don't know whether the thing she wants to give him is a cake or some other baked good, possibly a pie. Hell, it could even be a quiche -- this game breaks all the rules. Anyway, before Mario can actually approach Peach's castle, Bowser shows up in his airship (the disturbance you just felt was a million Mario fanboys ejaculating at once due to the return of Super Mario Bros. 3's airship motif) to kidnap Peach again. This time he just picks up her whole castle and takes it with him -- you know, kind of like what he did in Paper Mario. Kind of exactly like that. The one new element is that this time he's enlisted the help of a UFO, and they warp away after hitting Mario with a magic missile that knocks him onto some planet.

There, some little star creatures turn into rabbits and make you chase them around to teach you the controls, after which they introduce you to their "mama," the cyclopean (I can only assume) Princess Rosalina, who explains that, as you could probably have guessed, rescuing Peach will require collecting a bunch of stars, which will also gradually get you access to additional levels and open up the dark areas of this game's "hub world," the Observatory. If this sounds oddly familiar it's because it's the same tired level structure they've been using since Super Mario 64 more than ten years ago. Not a criticism... just an observation.

Okay, so with all that out of the way we can finally get to the meaty stuff: the game mechanics. Setting the game in space is a way to justify having Mario run around on small spheroids, which is a bigger deal than it sounds. When it's used effectively I would say that this is almost as big a change as going from 2D platforming to 3D in Super Mario 64. It's kind of like 3 1/2-D. Being able to explore every side of a surface and jump out of the orbit of one planet and into another opens up a lot of level design possibilities never before seen in a game like this.

It doesn't always live up to its potential, though. Like a little girl with a little curl, when the level design is good, it's very very good, but when it's bad, it's slightly less good. The problem is that the levels that make use of these new gravity-based designs are so fun and new that they make the other, more conventional levels feel quite drab in comparison. Too many levels in Galaxy are just large landmasses floating in space that you can only walk on the top of (which makes no sense, which is part of a separate issue I'll talk about later) -- they wouldn't be at all out of place in Super Mario 64. I suppose Nintendo didn't want to alienate people who preferred the more traditional level design, but seriously, fuck those people. And yes, these levels are fine by those standards, but after being tantalized with the more "galactic" ones, it's kind of a bummer to have to go back.

Besides the level design, the other big change to the Mario formula here is the physics. Maybe the problem here is just my own expectations, but for a game involving a bunch of free-floating stuff in space, I really thought that gravity would be more important. I mean, it's there; it stops you from falling off the planetoids. But that's about it. I do still have a ways to go before finishing the game, but so far, the amount of gravitational force has been the same on every planetoid, regardless of the size, and while you can sometimes do cool tricks like long-jumping around the edge of a planetoid (I haven't managed to get into orbit yet), I haven't encountered a situation where you actually have to use anything like that to your advantage. Which is okay, I guess; I mean, it's not really necessary, but it sure would be cool. Just strikes me as another case of potential not being used.

The other thing about the gravity is that it's somewhat inconsistent, by which I mean, sometimes you can walk around the edge of a planet and sometimes you'll fall off the edge to your death, and it can be hard to know which to expect. Even within planetoids, there may be some walls you can walk up and others that are just walls; some platforms you can walk all the way around and some you'll fall off, with no way to tell which is which. Sure, you can figure it out through trial and error, but if you're expecting Galaxy's gravity to be anything like the universe's gravity, let me disabuse you of that notion right now, my friend. The game uses black holes to justify all of its "falling in a chasm" deaths, but even if you can see a black hole nearby (which is a big "if" anyway due to the automatic camera), it's not always clear what will cause you to fall into it and what won't. In some situations the black holes work fine (it wouldn't be Mario without some jumping across chasms), but other times it seems like the designers didn't feel like making a planet that goes all the way around, so they just made a "flat Earth"-style planet and chucked a black hole under it to keep you from exploring the bottom. I guess it makes more sense than the invisible walls at the edges of levels of earlier games, but not by much, and unexpectedly falling off the world is quite annoying.

The last thing I want to talk about is the camera. I have actually seen a few reviews mention it, but they seem to be focusing on times when it doesn't automatically move to the best position -- which does happen occasionally, but I haven't found it to be a big deal. It does sometimes make it hard to judge the jump distance for stomping on things, and it's probably for that reason that jumping in this game has actually been downplayed quite a bit in favor of a spin attack, which feels like a bit of a kludge, but it gets the job done. But no, what I want to talk about is running around upside down (something you'll have to do fairly frequently). There's a problem that always plagues games where you switch from moving around normally to moving around upside down while the camera stays in the same orientation (something that happens surprisingly often in Nintendo games; see also the spider ball in the Metroid Prime series and the iron boots in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess). It's kind of hard to explain, but basically, once you're upside down, your directional controls are inverted, to an extent. I.e. you were pressing up on the analog stick and moving away from the camera a second ago, but now you've walked up the wall in front of you, but because you're still pressing forward you're now moving toward the camera. So now you need to turn right. Which direction should you move the analog stick? I don't know. I guess to the right would make the most sense, but then you're pressing right and your character is moving left on the screen. Pretty confusing. If pressing left makes your character go left, then the left/right axis corresponds to what's on screen but the up/down axis doesn't. Also pretty confusing. But to make things even more confusing, if you stop moving and let go of the analog stick, then start moving again, pressing the same direction might not have you moving the same direction you were a moment ago, because while you stopped moving the controls re-calibrated themselves so that analog stick direction will correspond to screen direction. Which is probably what you want to happen in the long run, but to press the same direction twice and have your character go a different way each time is a bit disorienting. In Zelda and Metroid, walking upside down was such a minor part of the games that this problem was pretty easy to ignore, but it's considerably more prominent in Galaxy. I don't know what the solution is, but keeping the camera more or less behind Mario at all times as he walks around a planet seems like a good start, although it might make it harder to get a feel for your environment.

So all of these are areas in which I think the game could be improved. Do they stop it from being fun? Hell no. Pretty much every other element of the game more than makes up for these minor quibbles, and it's easily the best 3D Mario game, even if the formula is starting to show its age. Still, when the worst thing you can say about a game is that sometimes it feels like playing Super Mario 64, I think you're in pretty good shape.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Double Happiness

Howdy howdy folks, welcome to my first jawsome revue (though I cannot in good conscience call any of my reviews truly jawsome -- I'm merely referring to it as a revue that is on the jawsome revue blog). Double Happiness is a graphic novella (1999, 64 pg) that delves into a favorite of topics: finding one's identity in a foreign land.

First a confession: I got this book because it was cheap. I ordered Knock Knock (review forthcoming) solely on its Choose Your Own Adventure premise, but didn't want to order just one book. So I browsed Jason Shiga's other selections, and based on pages per dollar -- 64 pages for $5 -- it was the best deal, compared to for example another book that was 60 pages for $25. I kind of wish I'd also sprung for the $25 book since it was another CYOA-themed book and probably would have had far more "replay value." Anyway, basically I had totally forgotten that I had ordered this book.

Okay. So it's about this Chinese guy that goes to live with some distant cousin of his in SF's Chinatown and his attempts to and feelings on fitting in there vs. his past life growing up in Boston. And it kind of goes in a fairly predictable way, including a burgeoning love story, until the last act, where it leads somewhere that was hinted at subtly throughout. So on the surface you have a sort of generic boy-makes-good-in-new-territory story, with undercurrents of something-is-not-quite-right. Granted, I don't know too much about the things that go on, so perhaps to a different audience it's pretty clear.

Which brings me to the art style. Apparently he's aped an artist that is hugely famous in Southeast Asia but not as much anywhere else -- and has provided a glowing recommendation to this artist in the introduction. It's a fairly simple, cartoony style with wobbly lines and all, but it effectively conveys character's emotions and it "reads" easily. There are also some trope-y things, like speed lines, extreeeemely emotional faces with sweat flying off, extreme close-ups, but used sparingly and appropriately.

The thing about the style is that it creates some assumptions as to what kind of story this is going to be -- a bit cutesy, a little romantic, funny, light in tone -- which is, as I said earlier, turned quite suddenly on its ear in the later parts. In fact, the shift hits at the highest point in the main character's arc, just when you think you've got the ending figured out.

I do want to talk more about this but I hate being spoilery (though the odds of you running out and getting this are slim -- but if you do see it, don't hesitate to pick it up; it's a really well-done book), so I'll just leave off with some of the notes I wrote in the outline for this review.

- Parallels to own life, vis a vis being a banana, Asian growing up in a predominantly white community, outsider everywhere (oh cry me a river).
- A lot of nice character moments. I'm a sucker for these.
- Abrupt, obtuse ending that made me google for reviews to try to figure it out.
- What would I have done? Probably the opposite of what the main character did. It seemed like a good idea to me.

Grade: 7 Jaws

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure

Let me make one thing clear from the start: Zack and Wiki is not a Wikipedia game. I'm sorry to give you the bad news so bluntly, but we might as well get the disappointment out of the way up front. It'll be better for you in the long run. It builds character.

Anyway, in case you haven't heard of it, Zack and Wiki is a new Wii game by Capcom. It's perhaps best known for being the "media darling" of IGN's Matt Casamassina and Mark Bozon, who spearheaded a "Buy Zack and Wiki" campaign during the months before the game was released, running the risk of looking like fools (even moreso than usual; see the photo below) if the game turned out to suck when it finally came out. They decided that such a campaign was necessary because Zack and Wiki has a stupid name. They much preferred its working title, Project Treasure Island Z. In fact they hated the actual title so much that they started referring to it exclusively as "Z&W" and then "Z-Dub," which is obviously much less stupid.

I have to admit that the "Buy Zack and Wiki" campaign sort of worked on me. Not that I based my decision to buy it on the opinions of IGN, which would just be absurd, but they did at least raise my awareness of its existence, and after further investigation I was able to determine that it did look like a game I was interested in playing.

So now the game is finally out, and the question on everyone's minds is: does it live up to the hype? Forget what those guys told you -- I'm here to give you the real scoop on Zack and Wiki.

...but it turns out they were pretty much right and the game is jawsome. I don't know if I would agree with the assertion that everyone should buy it, but I'm glad that I did.

Zack and Wiki is basically a point-and-click adventure/puzzle game that's about using the right item at the right time to accomplish a goal. It plays somewhat similarly to the old Sierra or LucasArts adventure games, but combined with something like The Adventures of Lolo. Instead of one large world with puzzles and items spread out all over the place, Zack and Wiki is set up as a series of individual levels, each of which puts a bunch of obstacles between your character and a treasure chest, and your job is to overcome those obstacles and get the treasure.

"What kind of obstacles?" you may well ask. The answer varies widely. Some puzzles are based on principles of physics, some involve creatures that can be turned into items, some involve items that can be turned into creatures, some have killer robots, mad science, paintings that do stuff, etc. There's a lot of variety, is basically what I'm saying.

You play as Zack, a kid who wants to be an infamous pirate, and you're accompanied by a gold monkey named Wiki, who has the power to turn into a bell that can turn other living things into various tools. You control the duo by pointing and clicking at things on the screen with the Wii remote, or shaking it to ring Wiki's bell and turn stuff into other stuff. Even though there's no real rhyme or reason to what each creature will turn into, you'll pretty quickly get a sense of what each animal can do for you. Complicating matters is the fact that Zack has no sort of inventory system and can only carry one thing at a time. Besides the animal items, there are various things built into each stage that you can interact with, usually by moving the Wii remote in some sort of gimmicky fashion. Some of these motions work pretty well, and some of them don't. Personally I could take or leave them, but if you're one of those people who are like, "I paid for motion sensing and damn it, I'm gonna use it!" then I guess you'll enjoy them.

Anyway, the puzzles are where the game really excels. Like I said, there's a lot of variety to them, and the solutions usually make some kind of sense, at least in video game logic (of course putting weight on a pedestal will make a bridge appear; why wouldn't it?). If you do get stumped, you can use up a "hint doll" and get a vision of what your next move should be, but those dolls ain't free, and in fact the prices go up every time you buy another one, so you'll probably want to use them sparingly (or you could just look up the solution on GameFAQs, but if you do that, you're really only hurting yourself).

This game also brings back the lost art of instant deaths. The game encourages you to just try messing with everything to see what happens, and sometimes you'll be rewarded for doing that, but other times it will kill you. That might sound incredibly frustrating, but it's actually not that bad. For one thing, you have the option of reviving yourself and undoing the move that killed you, using a system similar to that of the hint dolls. But even if you run out of those, the worst that can happen is you have to restart the levels, and most of the time the levels are short enough that once you know what you need to do, it's not that big an inconvenience to go through the motions again (there are a few exceptions with really big levels where you have to wait for Zack to walk long distances).

It's that fact, though, that initially led me to worry about the game's replayability. There are enough levels to keep you busy for a couple of days, depending on how long you play each time, but then what do you do? Fortunately they've taken this into consideration. Your performance on each level is graded based on how efficiently you solve the puzzles. For example, if it takes you a couple of tries to move some items into the right position, you don't get as many points as you would if you got it right on the first try. Additionally, sometimes there are alternate ways to solve puzzles, which might get you a different amount of points. So you can always go back and try to improve your score/ranking on each level.

If, on the other hand, you feel that playing for high scores has been pointless since 1987, there's still other stuff to do. Secret treasures are hidden throughout the levels, whether it's stashes of coins, collectible pixel art of characters from past Capcom games, or a skeleton guy who makes you play a rhythm game for a treasure map, which you can then use with another character who will go out and hunt down the actual treasure for you. That guy can also help you find other treasures to fill up little galleries of characters and creatures from the game, as well as sound/music tests and also probably some other stuff I don't remember off the top of my head. The point is, if you're a completist, you can play this game for a while. There's much more to do than meets the eye.

So that's about it for the game mechanics. What else? The story is pretty much irrelevant. It gets the job done setting up the premise of the game and then mercifully gets out of the way for most of the time, but if you must know, you're trying to collect pieces of this skeleton pirate made of gold so he can come back to life and give you his ship. There's also a hot female pirate who is your rival and will probably be the subject of a lot of fan art before too long.

The graphics are presented in a cel-shaded style that's somewhat similiar to Wind Waker but with better character models. It's very colorful and quite nice, and each 'world' has a different theme, most of which are fairly interesting to look at. The sound is a lot of various noises made by Japanese people, but no full-fledged voice acting (thank god). The music is well done but I didn't find it particularly memorable.

Anyway. The point and click adventure genre is hardly new, but it is still fun, and this game brings some interesting new twists to it. There's a lot to do, and it's all very well polished and presented with style and a unique charm. If that kind of gameplay sounds at all appealing to you, I highly recommend checking out Zack and Wiki. It's the most fun I've had playing a new game in quite some time. And if I may editorialize a bit here, I have to say that it's really a sad state that the industry is in when a jawsome, unique game like this is in danger of being overlooked in favor of games about space marines. So buy Zack and Wiki and support the blue sky in games.

Thank you, and good night.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II

In an earlier post, I asserted that the mission statement of this blog was to revue things that are jawsome, or to revue things that are not necessarily jawsome in a hopefully jawsome way. The subject of tonight's post, the 1987 horror movie Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, falls in the latter category. I could not in good conscience call this movie jawsome, or even good, but it does have a certain charm.

I haven't seen the original Prom Night, but from what I hear on The Internet, that doesn't matter, as aside from sharing a setting, an actor (as a different character), and the catchphrase "It's not who you come with; it's who takes you home," the two are completely unrelated. Prom Night 1 was apparently a straightforward slasher flick, fairly well respected in the genre and set for a remake in 2008. But I don't care about it.

In the world of 1980s horror, you were either a Jason man or a Freddy man. Unless you were a woman. I would count myself firmly among the Freddy camp. Prom Night 1, it would seem, was more of a Jason kind of movie, but Prom Night II: Electric Boogaloo is a rare case of a franchise changing teams mid-race (please pardon my mixed metaphors) and ripping off A Nightmare on Elm Street pretty directly with a supernatural villain and lots of surreal, dream-like sequences (though in this movie they're not dreams). Throw in a 1950s theme with appropriate soundtrack, a pinch of incest, and a dash of showering lesbians and you've got a recipe for wackiness.

The story of Prom Night II: Twenty-Three Skidoo starts in 1950-something at the high school prom, where the titular Mary Lou is floozying it up and making out with some guy, much to the dismay of her prom date, Bill. Demanding vengeance, Bill decides to dump pigs' blood on Mary Lou during her coronation as queen o' the prom. Sorry, did I say pigs' blood? I meant a stink bomb. Unfortunately something goes wrong and Mary Lou's apparently kerosene-soaked prom dress immediately goes up in flames, roasting her alive.

Flash forward to the present (the '80s), where we meet Vicki, a moderately not-unattractive blonde girl with an unfortunate hairstyle and an overbearing mother who's all set to be queen o' this year's prom (Vicki, not her mother). Some boring stuff happens, and Vicki's classmate Josh, who is basically J.T. from Degrassi, is introduced, making a radio out of a potato and saying, "This moment will be inserted into the anals [sic] of science history, and I think we all know how painful that can be." Which should give you some idea of the comic sensibilities of this film. (Okay, I'm underselling it; there actually are some decent jokes in the movie.)

We now learn that Bill, the guy who set Mary Lou on fire, is now principal of the high school and has a son who doesn't want to go to college and sometimes forget to eat. Oh, and that son is dating Vicki.

For some reason that I either missed or they just didn't bother to tell me, Vicki goes down into a spooky basement or something in the school... oh yeah, I think she's trying to find a prom dress because her mother won't let her buy one, and I guess they keep dresses in the school basement. Whatever, it doesn't matter. The point is she finds a mysterious chest and opens it. Little does she know that she's freeing Mary Lou's soul! Which was sealed in the chest for some reason, along with the official prom queen tiara and cape, which Vicki takes.

Next we get a bit of melodrama as Vicki's even-more-unfortunately-coiffed friend Jess reveals... very... slowly... that some guy impregnated her and won't call her back. Fortunately she won't have to worry about this for long. We're about twenty-five minutes in and it's time for the first official murder! (Mary Lou's origin story doesn't count.)

Jess fiddles with the tiara, which pisses off the ghost and all hell breaks loose. By which I mean some bags of shredded paper burst open and some paint falls off the shelf. Then the prom queen cape attacks her and drags her toward a paper cutter. You wouldn't be faulted for thinking she's about to get her head chopped off... but no! It's the classic misdirect, and she actually just ends up hanged by the cape instead. Oh, and then after she's dead, she gets thrown out the window for good measure.

Naturally everyone assumes that Jess killed herself and then threw her own corpse out the window, and some asshole priest uses her funeral to espouse his views about violence in the media (what?). Vicki finds herself mysteriously drawn to Mary Lou's grave.

But the prom must go on! One of the other prom queen nominees or whatever makes a snide remark about Jess, and Vicki flies off the handle. This is foreshadowing because -- I'll save you the suspense -- she's gradually being taken over by Mary Lou's spirit or whatevs. She starts having hallucinations about a dark, nightmarish Silent Hill version of the school, where the Fonz attempts to rape her.

Meanwhile, the nerdy comic relief J.T. guy asks a girl out, which I guess is supposed to make us like his character more, or maybe just remind us that he's in the movie, because to be honest I had forgotten. Then Vicki gets brained with a volleyball, resulting in more creepy hallucinations with everyone calling her Mary Lou and the volleyball net turning into a big spiderweb that she gets caught in. Principal Bill hears her yelling "I'm not Mary Lou" and is disturbed, so he goes to the basement/dress storage room and somehow figures out that Mary Lou's soul escaped from the chest, though I don't know how he knew it was in there in the first place.

On account of getting beaned, Vicki gets the rest of the day off from school, but her psychotic mother decrees that she must spend it confessing stuff to a priest in a pointless scene. That evening she has some more Mary Lou-related hallucinations, in case you haven't figured it out yet. Then her really fucking creepy rocking horse comes alive, unseen hands grope her under the sheets (or something), and her mirror turns into liquid in a gag straight from Evil Dead.

Well, that scene was pretty cool, but by this time the film's leisurely pace is starting to wear thin and you just want her to finish getting possessed and start killing people already. There are some more scenes that don't really add up to much. The priest tries to warn Bill (his former classmate) that Mary Lou is back and that "she can't touch me; I'm a priest," but Bill should be careful and find Jesus, but Bill's not having it. Meanwhile, Vicki complains to her boyfriend about the inconveniences of being possessed, and the mean girl convinces J.T. to rig the prom queen election via computer in exchange for sexual favors.

In an unrelated incident, Vicki slaps mean girl and gets sent to detention. Then, with some pretty cool effects, she gets sucked into the blackboard. She ends up in the basement/dress storage room, naked, and apparently this is the point where she's fully taken over by Mary Lou. Vicki Lou goes back to the priest for another confession, except this time she asks him to fuck her, then kills him. Apparently his crazy notion about being invincible due to his priestiness was inaccurate.

The next day, Vicki's classmates are confused because she's dressing anachronistically and being sassier than usual. J.T. is the only one who correctly assumes that it's because she's possessed. When Vicki Lou's chemistry teacher Mr. Craven (groan) gropes her, she blows the hair out of her face, causing something to ignite the teacher's crotch.

Next is the film's most famous (to me) scene. Vicki Lou and some girl get in a fight in the locker room. When the girl goes off to shower, Vicki Lou joins her and tries to make out with her. The girl gets creeped out and runs away, leading a very nude Vicki Lou to stalk her throughout the locker room while singing the Little Richard hit "Tutti Frutti" in a creepy way. When the girl hides in a locker, Vicki Lou uses her telekinetic powers to crush the locker that she's in like an aluminum can, causing what is presumably brain matter to sluice through the vents. Pretty gross. I actually saw this scene on television many years ago but didn't know what it was, and it left enough of an impression on me that I eventually decided to track down the whole movie.

Anyway, nothing can really top that scene, so I'm sorry to say it's pretty much all downhill from here. Vicki Lou comes to visit Bill and vaguely threatens his son, then goes home and makes out with Vicki's father, which unnerves her mother, whom she telekinetically pushes through the front door, possibly killing her but I'm not sure. Bill knocks his son unconscious with his own shoe, then goes to dig up Mary Lou's grave, but finds preacher-man buried in it instead. Why would Vicki Lou take the time to swap them out? How would she know that he would dig up the grave? It seems like a pretty random and stupid thing to do, but I guess maybe from having dated him, she knew that he was the kind of person who, upon finding out that the girl he killed was possessing his son's girlfriend, would go and dig up her corpse. That's pretty impressive forethought.

Next there's a weird scene where J.T. takes a picture of Vicki Lou at the prom and asks her if she's seen Monica, and she turns into a burst of white light. I have no idea what that's about, but it doesn't seem to affect anything, and the next time we see any of those characters they're just going about their business as usual. So, just ignore it, I guess.

J.T. goes to his secret nerd lab to hax0r the prom queen election results, as per his agreement with mean girl, who shows up and holds up her end of the bargain. Then she goes back to her date, who asks her if she has any more mints because her breath smells great. Gross. When J.T. changes the prom queen from Vicki to mean girl, Vicki Lou doesn't like it and electrocutes him through his computer.

After the most awkward possible reading of the line "Ladies and gentlemen, we're gonna pick the prom queen now," Vicki is announced as the winner. The mean girl is dismayed, and a guy asks her, "How'd you blow it?" See, because she blew that dude, get it? Meanwhile, Bill's son has recovered from the shoe attack and shows up at the school. Also meanwhile, Bill himself is up on the rafter above the stage as Vicki Lou is coronated. Is he going to recreate the stink bomb stunt and burn this girl alive too? As it turns out, no... he just shoots her. Just as his son arrives! But it's too late. She's dead.

But not really! The dessicated corpse of Mary Lou bursts out of Vicki's body (I guess that's where she put it after she took it out of the grave) and everything starts getting all Carrie on us. Oh, by the way, mean girl is randomly impaled with a neon light, so don't worry, she got her comeuppance for being mildly rude. Mary Lou makes a bunch of lights and stuff explode, and I guess this gives her energy and restores her body to mostly non-dessicated status. It also gives her voice a lot of reverb.

Well, Mary Lou rampages a bit and eventually chases Bill's son down to the basement/wardrobe department, where the priest's corpse (how did it get there?) tells him he's in deep shit. Mary Lou pulls the classic "pretend to be a loved one" trick and impersonates Vicki, and Bill's son falls for it, the poor dope. It seems that if she can get him pulled into the chest (the one her soul was stored in, I mean, not her breasts), then... well, I was going to say that she'd be free, but she seems pretty free already, so I don't know what she's trying to do, but basically he's in danger of being sucked into the chest. But at the last second, Bill shows up, puts the tiara on her head, and kisses her. Then there are a lot of bright lights and a crazy tracking shot, and something explodes. The implication is that Bill and Mary Lou are gone, somewhere. Now Bill's son opens the chest and for some reason Vicki comes out of it, even though we saw her get shot and die and a creature burst out of her corpse earlier. I think what they're trying to say is that the real Vicki was in the chest ever since that blackboard scene, and everything since then was really just Mary Lou looking like Vicki, which I guess I can buy.

Anyway, when Vicki comes out of the chest, Bill's son asks her if she takes sugar in her coffee, and she says, "No, that stuff'll kill you." That's a callback to an earlier scene where they had coffee, but it doesn't make any more sense in context. It has nothing to do with the current scene and is really lame.

Cut to: A cop saying, "I don't know what we got here! Something strange," in a way that just sells it. And that's his only line. Anyway, the survivors are leaving the prom. Bill is back, so I guess he didn't die after all... or did he?! He's going to drive Vicki and his son home, but he turns the radio to one of the soundtrack's dozens of songs that include the name Mary Lou! And he's wearing a ring that seems like it probably has some significance, but I wasn't really paying attention to that scene earlier. But at any rate I get the idea that the kids are probably not in a good situation as creepy Bill says, "Hey kids. They're playing our song! Let's cruise." and all the windows roll up and doors lock and they drive away to their doom in a direct rip-off of the end of A Nightmare on Elm Street, except nobody gets pulled through a door which was really the best part. Also, the car's license plate says "MARY LU2". Why the 2? Oh well. The end!

In conclusion, this isn't a very good movie, but for the most part it is at least entertaining, and has some pretty neat special effects set pieces. For me, cheesy horror movies like this live and die (no pun intended) on their creative death scenes, and this one delivers a few pretty decent ones, and it has a sense of humor without becoming a total parody of itself like the later Freddy movies. And if you're not into any of that, well, you can't go wrong with full frontal nudity.

Dexter 2x06: "Dex, Lies, and Videotape"

And now the Jawsome Olde Tyme Revue presents a new feature, in which my associate and I discuss the latest episode of stuff we've been watching. You'll feel as though you're there standing around the water cooler with us, observing our conversation but not participating, much like all of my social interactions. First up on the agenda is the latest episode of Dexter.

How's it going?
I saw Dex[ter episode 2x06].

What did you think?

nearby: I'm disappointed that Dex is in recovery.

me: At least he killed somebody.

nearby: But he didn't "need" to. Also, Rita's a nag; a harpy. I liked her much better in the first season.

Yeah. But they broke up, so it's OK.

nearby: No wonder Pa
ul used to beat her. [chuckles]

me: [laughter]

nearby: God, I'm so horrible.

me: Yeah.

nearby: [grins] But at least you're not offended. Also, I don't like the
new Cody.

me: The new Cody?

nearby: The kid. He's new from last season. I mean, they replaced Cody 1.0.

Oh. I didn't notice; they all look the same to me.
I like how the FBI guy was like, "It tastes like a hippo."

[grins] I like how Deb's boyf was like, "you lo
oooooove Grundy." [laughter]

me: Yeah... [chuckles] Grundy.

nearby: Man. Hilarious.

me: Man, the secondary characters were actually not that bad this time (besides Rita).

I guess. The thing is, of the secondary characters, I usually like Rita, because of her relationship with Dexter. But lately she's become a harp.

me: Frankly I've never
liked her.
I like how Lila keeps showing the goods.

nearby: She's always wearing the same kind of underwear (character consistency). That weird thong thing; it's got, like, a thick band and then a thong. Weird.

It's probably the same pair.

nearby: She's got a nice pair of 'tocks.

She's a butterlips.

nearby: Also, tvclub linked to another TV commenter in the Dexter commentary that I started reading. The funny thing is I already saw this blog before. He retroactively recapped Freaks and Geeks; he was quite fawning about it. Anyway, he did some season 1 reviews of Dex, but not enough. But now I'm reading his commentaries on season 2.

[quoting from the commentaries:]
"Mostly, though, I didn't have much
to say. The show was so consistent both in what was working (Michael C. Hall's performance, the flashbacks to Harry's lessons, Dexter's relationships with Deb and Rita, the advancement of the Ice Truck Killer mystery) and what wasn't (office politics in the Miami PD) that I would have been repeating myself week after week."

me: Heh. Yeah.

nearby: It's true.

Frankly I like this season better.

nearby: I don't like how Dex is showing too many emotions. [chuckles]

me: [chuckles] I don't know; I think he always had them.

nearby: I guess. I prefer him being like this empty hollow shell of pretending. [laughter]

[chuckles] Like me.

nearby: I like how he basically still has no moral compunction abo
ut killing, though.

me: Yeah. I guess you're right, though. Dex should need to kill people; otherwise he might stop doing it.

nearby: Yeah. I hope he ends up killing Lila at the end of the season. Or, um, Lundy (Grundy).

me: Why would he?

nearby: She finds out his secret and freaks out. (Butterlips.)

me: But she would have to murder someone.

nearby: Eh. I don't think she'd have to. He doesn't care about Harry's code any more. I mean, like, he's trying a "new me."

me: I don't know; I think he's still using the code. Why else would he kill that guy even though he didn't need to?

nearby: My favorite thing about Television Without Pity's recaps of Dex is the one time where they suggest that Doakes and Dex will kiss (because of Six Feet Under). [laughter]

me: [chuckles] You're such a "shipper."

nearby: UGH! Please, don't call me that.

me: You just want all the dudes to make out with each other.

No! No. It's funny because the first time i watched Dex, I was like, "Heh, Doakes is Dex's Keith."

me: I did like seeing Dex get all mad this eppy.

[swooning] Me toooooooo! Also the other eppy, when he beat that dude.

me: Even though that's an emotion.

I don't mind angry. [chuckles] I agree that he has emotion. It's just like, all effed up.

me: You just don't want the good emotions.

nearby: He probably can't control them, so he buries them.

me: Like me.

nearby: That's why he feels like he has none. He just wants to bury the bad ones, but it's a package deal.

me: Yeah.

nearby: I like how Dexter never uses an umbrella. He was wet, like, half the time.

me: I didn't notice that, possibly because I never use an umbrella either, so it just seemed natural.

nearby: Also, I forgot to fawn over his shirtless scene. I also like how Dexter is all, "Great, I'm THAT guy."

me: What guy?

nearby: With a love triangle. Well, I gotta eat. Laters.

me: Wah!