Wickedly Fun and Damnably Entertaining

You can see, almost, the thought process behind The Wicked and the Damned. You’re working on setting up the Warhammer Horror line and want something fresh to release alongside Maledictions and the reprint of Drachenfels. The phrase “Warhammer Horror” naturally makes you think of Hammer Horror and other classic Brit-horror studios of yesteryear, and that in turn makes you think of the old tradition of the portmanteau horror movie – a set of short and essentially unrelated short films strung together to feature length by a framing story offering a context in which each story is told in turn.

In the case of The Wicked and the Damned, the framing story is set on the cemetery world of Silence, to which three people have been drawn under mysterious circumstances. These three people are the protagonists and narrators of the three novellas framed by the framing story; they aren’t sure how they came to Silence but they feel compelled to tell their stories. Gosh, what could the secret of them being brought here be? (They’re fucking dead and it’s so obvious they’re dead that this barely counts as a twist.)

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Maledictions Or Malapropisms?

The undignified, blubbering, grumpy weeping on the part of certain Warhammer fans when it comes to the Warhammer Adventures line of kid’s novels set in the Age of Sigmar and Warhammer 40,000 universe certainly involved a lot of utter bullshit being spouted. The entitled self-appointed gatekeepers of the hobby couldn’t be honest and direct about some of their objections – such as the prominence of girls, PoC, and girls who are PoC in the proposed fiction series – so they had to talk a lot of nonsense which was demonstrably untrue.

An oft-repeated claim, for instance, was that the settings in question weren’t suitable for kids – this despite the fact that the books are pitched at a reading age of 8-12 year olds, an age which happens to match a good many hobbyists’ first encounters with Warhammer in its various flavours more or less exactly. A related complaint, equally unfounded, was that the Warhammer Adventures line would herald the Bowdlerisation of the settings, with disturbing material excised by dint of being not suitable for kids.

The latter complaint was especially ridiculous, since it could only sustain itself if you only paid attention to the Warhammer Adventures announcement and didn’t give any consideration to the other new fiction line Black Library had announced at more or less the same time. This line was Warhammer Horror, an imprint for stories set in any of the Warhammer universes which put a particular emphasis on their horror-oriented aspects – of which there are a great many. This is precisely the material which dullard nerd gatekeepers would have us believe Games Workshop was about to censor forever for the sake of capturing an 8-to-12-year old demographic which, so far as I can tell, they’ve rarely actually lost.

Maledictions is part of the first wave of Warhammer Horror releases – an anthology of short stories (with, concerningly, no editor credit) offering up a range of all-new horror stories in the Warhammer 40,000 and Age of Sigmar settings. Although the book doesn’t separate the stories out into a 40K section and an Age of Sigmar section, I will deal with the stories from the two sections separately anyway because my level of exposure to the settings differs greatly.

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Revisiting the X-Files, Part 1: The First Step Into the Shadows

So, we’re dealing with an iconic 1990s TV series here, in the pilot episode of which (Pilot) we have a young woman showing up dead on the outskirts of a small woodland town in the Pacific Northwest of the US. Thanks to parallels with a number of deaths elsewhere, the FBI become involved, represented in part by a handsome agent who reveals slightly eccentric habits and even more eccentric beliefs. The death turns out to be part of a web of local intrigue that belies the bucolic charm of the town, and there’s frequent hints than higher powers are involved in all this.

This is not, despite all of the above, Twin Peaks; instead we’re dealing with the start of The X-Files, lovingly crafted by Chris Carter, though he’s letting his Peaks fan flag fly here. The first episode sets the formula for most of the series’ “mythology” episodes: Mulder and Scully zoot about uncovering evidence of creepy alien activity, Mulder buys into the supernatural interpretation of events, Scully resists it but increasingly finds herself coming around to Mulder’s point of view step by baby step, they discover some incontrovertible evidence that something outright fuckabooie is going on but the sinister government conspiracy as represented by the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) manages to destroy the evidence yet again.

That’s a formula we’ll see repeated over and over during the run of the series, with incremental bits of additional motifs and recurring thingamuffins creeping in here and there to give the impression that we’re getting somewhere, but a quarter-century later and we all know goddamn well that it isn’t really going anywhere impressive – and with Gillian Anderson comprehensively fed up of the whole thing and no longer willing to come back after the mytharc episodes in 2018’s season 11 bombed, it looks like short of a full reboot we’ve had all the X-Files we’re ever going to get. (Conveniently, nice blu-ray sets of the TV episodes are widely available at a reasonable price, and the HD-remastered episodes are available on iTunes and other platforms at that.)

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GOGathon: Third Time’s the Charm… Or Seven Years’ Bad Luck?

Fans of the Black Mirror series of point-and-click adventures (not to be confused with Charlie Brooker’s “Oh no, technology!“-themed Twilight Zone knockoff) had to settle in for a long wait between the first two episodes of the series; the original The Black Mirror was released by Czech developers Future Games in 2003, but it wouldn’t be until 2009 that German outfit Cranberry Production served up Black Mirror II. Fans did not have long to wait after that for Black Mirror III, however, with the final game in the original trilogy coming out in 2011, also through Cranberry.

The signs that we should expect another sequel were right there: the previous game ended on a bit of a rushed cliffhanger. The action here picks up in the immediate aftermath of that. Darren is the prime suspect in the grim events that concluded the last game, and the police have little patience for his story; however, they don’t quite have the evidence they’d need to bring him to trial. After three weeks cooling his heels in a cell in the local police station, Darren has his bail paid by a mysterious benefactor. He’s warned not to leave the Willow Creek area, and he’s feeling the occult consequences of the end of the previous game; if he’s to rid himself both of his legal troubles and the Gordon curse once and for all, he needs to resume his investigations of the area.

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GOGathon: A Second Reflection

It’s the mid-1990s – 12 years after the nightmarish events surrounding Samuel Gordon’s return to Black Mirror Castle shocked the world. Across the Atlantic, Darren Michaels is spending his break from college visiting his mother, who has recently moved to the sleepy seaside town of Biddeford in Maine. Darren earning a bit of extra money by working in the town’s photography shop, run by the boorish Fuller; in the course of this Darren meets and feels an instant attraction to Angelina, a charming British tourist who seems to reciprocate this attraction.

Before Darren can get time off to get to know Angelina better, however, he has a range of errands to perform – and in the course of this, he becomes aware that there’s a shifty individual apparently stalking Angelina. Or is Darren himself the target of this snooping figure’s attention? Darren’s worries only become more acute when his mother suffers a fall at home which leaves her in a coma… a fall in suspicious enough circumstances to make Darren think she was pushed. Resolving to investigate, Darren uncovers evidence of a wider conspiracy – a conspiracy that’s somehow connected to the English village of Willow Creek, from which his mother’s been receiving mysterious payments.

How was his mother involved in all this? Who in Willow Creek has been paying her? And what does this have to do with Willow Creek’s main claim to fame… the mysterious Black Mirror Castle, and its former resident Samuel Gordon?

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Dead of Winter? Dead On Arrival

Struggling actress Katie McGovern (Mary Steenburgen) is hired by retired psychiatrist/polar bear hunter Dr. Lewis (Jan Rubeš) to replace Julia Rose (also played by Steenburgen) – the lead actress on an independent film that the wealthy doctor is somehow connected to (presumably as a financial backer). Katie is told that Rose stormed off the set, leaving the production high and dry and desperately in need of someone who resembles her closely enough to finish off her scenes – but before she heads up to the main set in Canada, she has to visit Lewis’ snowbound estate in upstate New York to film some preliminary scenes.

Of course, as the audience we know a little bit more than Katie; most importantly, we saw the prologue sequence in which Rose, travelling incognito, seems to be involved in some sort of shady deal involving the transfer of a large sum of cash, only to be murdered. As it turns out, Dr. Lewis is playing a very long and curious game with the powerful Evelyn Rose, Julie’s sister (also played by Steenburgen), and has brought Katie into the conflict as a pawn in order to trick Evelyn into thinking Julie is still alive. This leaves Katie in danger both from Evelyn and the forces that killed off Julie in the first place, and Dr. Lewis himself, who sees her only as a tool to be used for this specific purpose and then… well, who knows?

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Bido’s No Bava

Giallo is an Italian genre of cinema which can best be described as an arthouse precursor to the good old-fashioned slasher movie, combining a reverence for Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock with brazenly violent and sexual content. To a large extent The Bloodstained Shadow has Antonio Bido working as an acolyte of Dario Argento’s school of giallo, as perfected on Argento’s run from The Bird With the Crystal Plumage to Deep Red. Combine the classic hooded-and-black-gloved killer that’s been a motif of giallo ever since Mario Bava’s genre-defining Blood and Black Lace, a string of murders beginning with the slaying of a medium, a killer motivated by the suppression of information about a long-forgotten crime, a painting that proves to be a crucial clue, a prog rock synthesiser soundtrack, a fakeout ending where the protagonists think they’ve caught the killer when in fact at most they’ve only dispatched an accomplice, a decades-old killing shown at the very beginning which turns out to be the catalyst for all the action, a creepy toy motif, and a recurring emphasis on the artistic, the aesthetic, and the erotic, and you end up with a film in peril of turning into Argento-by-numbers.

Bido almost saves himself; certainly, as far as Argento imitators go he pulls off a really masterful job, producing a piece which for the most part could sneak its way into the grandmaster’s own canon through the back door had it a mind to – were it not for a bungled conclusion that makes the whole thing unravel.

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