Monthly Archives: June 2018

Movie Review: “Lights Out”

18 June, 2018

Note: As with every review I write, if you click through my links like this one (Lights Out) to buy or rent the movie, Amazon pays me a cut, per their Affiliate Marketing program. Thanks!

A Decent, not Great, Horror Movie

For those who celebrated, I hope you had a great Father’s Day. I did.

This review is coming atrociously late, as I watched this movie back in early May. But, better late than never. It is, as my title suggests, a decent, but not great movie. It has it’s scary moments, pretty good acting overal, some cleverness, but…not enough of any of those things. The backstory felt cliche and uninteresting. The movie is largely a festival of horror tropes.

The feature film fails to properly expand on or live up to the short film that spawned it. Maybe there wasn’t enough potential in that short film to begin with.

So, it’s not bad. I basically liked it. But there are better horror movies to check out.

Premise

First, watch the 2013 short film that led to the 2016 Hollywood movie:

Great, right?! It’s simple. It reminds us of the simple unease we can get if we let our imagination wander as we turn the lights off, getting ready for bed. The cinematography helps the suspense.

Now watch the trailer for the 2016 movie:

Yeah…maybe it’s good?

I ended up watching it on a whim.

Alright. Here’s what the movie’s about: there are these half-siblings, the younger of whom lives with their mom, who suffers from depression. She also suffers from supernatural issues, as there’s a shadowy woman named “Diana” who keeps appearing and freaking out her son. Diana only appears in the dark, she can’t enter areas that are lit above the level of approximately “very dim.”

The family has to figure out who/what Diana is and what’s going on and how to stop her and what’s up with mom. The backstory of all that is “okay.” Most of what happens with the story is “okay:” it’s mostly predictable, but, it’s got some suspense, a bit.

Acting

It’s all fine. Pretty good. Not amazing.

Music

Typical well-executed horror movie music. But definitely typical. It makes scenes scarier.

Diana

She’s scary at first and then mostly less scary every time you see her again. The movie overexplains her, and that makes her a lot less interesting.

Overall

It’s like 6/10. Really not a great movie, but not awful. Probably a great example of a paint by numbers horror movie. It explores themes of familial depression pretty well.

 

I’m really not in much of a mood for writing this anymore. I’m gonna walk down the street to a bar and drink beer now.

Book Recommendation and Response: “Black Hearts” by Jim Frederick

15 June 2018

Note: I am an Amazon affiliate marketer, meaning I get a % of money from sales if you buy a book by clicking through its link, like this one: Black Hearts: One Platoon’s Descent into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death. Thank you! I’m not directly paid by the publishers/authors, but when I recommend a book or movie, I see no reason not to put an affiliate link. 

Book Recommendation and Response: Black Hearts by Jim Frederick

"First Strike" insignia

Good evening,

I’ve been hard at work on my novel today. I’m going a lot further on the planning this time, using the “Snowflake Method” developed by Randal Ingermason. I’ll tell you more in the next few days, but this book will be a haunted house story, with well-developed characters and (hopefully) surprising twists.

But today on the blog, I want to talk about some real-life horror. It’s the story of a platoon of American soldiers, pushed too far in the brutal counterinsurgency warfare of 2005/2006 Iraq: underresourced, undermanned, and handed an unwinnable mission. The particular platoon came from the 101st Airborne Division’s legendary 502nd Infantry Regiment, aka “the Black Heart Brigade,” and was assigned to secure a village south of Baghdad, as part of a larger effort of protecting the country’s capital from insurgent infiltration.

The soldiers of that platoon lived in an intensity of war seldom seen in American history, “taking contact” virtually every single day in the form of roadside bombs, sniper fire, and mortar attacks. This onslaught all came from a ghost-like enemy that blended all-too-well into the very same population that the Americans were supposed to protect.

Ultimately, a small group of soldiers from that platoon took their bitterness-turned-to-hatred of the local civilians so far as to brutalize a random Iraqi family, committing vicious rape and cold-blooded murder, and then using fire to obscure the gruesome evidence.

How did such a crime occur? How could American soldiers, some of the best-trained and disciplined troops in the history of mankind, deployed on a mission of reconstruction and handoff rather than imperial conquest, come to commit such things? Where does the blame lie, aside from the obvious minimum of at the direct perpetrators’ feet? What could have prevented this injustice?

Investigative journalist Jim Frederick’s Black Hearts is his attempt to answer those questions. He takes a detailed look at what went so horribly wrong for so long as to allow such barbarity. He interviewed as many veterans of the Black Hearts as possible, as much as possible. Frederick does an admirable job of putting all the pieces together and analyzing them in the big picture, and in detail.

The resulting book shows both the tremendous capabilities of American soldiers, and the tremendous, critical reality of the violent madness that lurks in the heart of human beings, and which can be stirred and unleashed in the horrors of war. One is reminded of Apocalypse Now, and its inspiration, Heart of Darkness.

I read Black Hearts for an assignment in my Military Science class this most recent semester with ROTC. I wrote the following response to it. I got a good grade on it. It’ll make more sense to you after you read Frederick’s book:

Reviewing Black Hearts: Bad Strategy Exacerbated by Improper Battalion Leadership

The story told by Jim Frederick in Black Hearts is almost unbelievable. One wishes it wasn’t true, but the evidence of the crimes described is too strong to ignore. It is shocking that American Soldiers would commit such atrocities. But one can trace the failures of leadership through the chain of command to at least the Battalion level and find the causes for the extreme mental deterioration of the men of 1PLT/BCO/1BN/2BDE (“Black Hearts”) which culminated in the horrific rape and murder of the Janabi family. Essentially: the BN was overstretched in the Yusufiyah area South of Baghdad as a symptom of poor U.S. strategy that severely underestimated manpower needs across Iraq; LTC Kunk was willfully ignorant of the needs and challenges of his Company Commanders, and repeatedly demonstrated his preference for berating them rather than sincerely listening; as a result of these higher-level failures, 1PLT was overstretched for the mission and size of AO assigned to it, leading to overtaxing and under-security of its Soldiers; and down to the individual level, Soldiers’ resulting mental deterioration wasn’t taken seriously enough by Army mental health specialists or by NCOs and Lieutenants at the Team, Squad, and Platoon levels. Reallocation of combat units to the most troubled areas South of Baghdad, (that occupied by BCO,) and proper R&R and more serious mental health probes and responses for Soldiers (like Green) who expressed disturbing thoughts all could have likely prevented the massacre.

Without dwelling too much on the strategic level rather than direct level leadership, it’s important to note the ill-conceived nature of the American strategy in Iraq, especially the low troop numbers, and how this led to 1PLT finding itself so overstretched. In 1999, with high U.S./Iraqi tensions after the Gulf War, the NSC, DoD, CIA, and other agencies ran a war game called “Desert Crossing,” to examine the possibilities for regime change in Iraq. (Gordon and Trainor, pages 6-10) This exercise found that an overthrow of Saddam, with or without an American invasion, would likely lead to massive sectarian violence, intervention by neighboring states, and immense difficulty and expense for the U.S. to piece together a democratic government. When the U.S. actually did invade and attempt to occupy and rebuild Iraq, a country of 25 million people, with a little over 100,000 troops. Ambassador Jerry Bremer disbanded the 500,000-strong Iraqi army and national police, and kicked from office many more bureaucrats whose only crime was being Baath Party members. The U.S. military lacked a counterinsurgency doctrine. Altogether, there weren’t enough American troops in-country to get the job done, and strategic mistakes made those troops’ jobs more difficult than they had to be.

This failure fell hard on the “First Strike” BN of LTC Kunk, tasked with occupying the greater Yusufiyah area south of Baghdad, keeping the routes there clear of IEDs, denying insurgents access to Baghdad, protecting the locals from insurgent violence, killing the insurgents, building good relationships with the locals, and training and setting up new Iraqi Army units to take over security. This was a lot to ask of one infantry BN, who had to both maintain its own security with patrols and traffic control points, and work towards the longer-term goal of friendly Iraqi governance and security hand-off, all while giving the Soldiers enough rest time to stay combat effective.

LTC Kunk made his task even harder than it needed to be, and hurt his own men, by demonstrating horrible leadership habits. (Note the entire chapter “The Kunk Gun.”) He publicly berated his Company Commanders, leading to them becoming timid and unwilling to speak up about problems and ideas in meetings. (First discussed pages 34-35; also described throughout the book too many times to count.) When Officers and NCOs were obviously already feeling depressed, guilty, and angry about the deaths of men under their command, Kunk would instantly start berating them about uniform standards or how their supposedly lax security had led to their men’s deaths. While it is important for commanders to keep everyone in their units in proper discipline, including uniform, it would have been dramatically more helpful for Kunk to first listen to what challenges Goodwin and other COs were facing, and find out why “The Alamo” looked like shit, or why it was so important that 1PLT get proper fortification supplies ASAP, or why Soldiers isolated out at undermanned TCPs for days on end were getting “lax” about their helmets, vests, and mental awareness. Kunk was too quick to blame BCO and especially 1PLT for the horrible experience they were having compared to his other companies, without even trying to allocate more troops to their AO, which had clearly become a particular hotspot of insurgent violence.

The accelerating violence in December 2005, especially the murder of Nelson and Casica by an Iraqi civilian with a handgun (Frederick, page 139) accelerated the mental deterioration of the 1PLT Soldiers, who increasingly saw all Iraqis as the enemy. One may find it inevitable that some broadly hostile thoughts will develop in all counterinsurgency operations, but, we also know that 1PLT was severely overstretched with all the TCPs and route patrols they had to maintain at all times, without enough truly secure rest, and this would likely worsen psychological effects. PFC Green did, at the prodding of SSG Miller, (one example of good NCO troop-care) talk to LTC Marrs from Combat Stress. In his evaluation, he expresses to her his suicidal and homicidal thoughts, and his open desire to kill as many Iraqis as possible. This is after he’d expressed alarmingly hateful thoughts to other Soldiers repeatedly, far above and beyond usual Soldier complaining and venting. Marrs didn’t seem to take Green’s thoughts seriously, and just gave him some insomnia pills, and the concept of some vague further counseling in the future. (Pages 157-159.) The fact that there wasn’t more concern for and about Green’s seemingly psychotic thoughts reflects bad individual leadership on the parts of the NCOs and even fellow lower enlisted closest to Green. But, one should never forget the blame at the feet of LTC Kunk, under resourcing his most troubled company: the cumulative results of this seem to have made it hard for 1PLT members to “see above” their own horrible feelings and realize how dangerous Green had become. On the topic of Green, it’s noteworthy that the PFC got a half hour meeting with COL Ebel (2BDE commander) and expressed persistent thoughts and actual questions about shooting all the Iraqis, and that COL Ebel wasn’t alarmed, especially given the context of his unit’s condition. LTs Norton and Fisher share in the responsibility of not identifying extremely disaffected Soldiers like Green and removing them from the AO, but, they were also busy requesting more general tactical help from Higher, and being ignored on those requests.

In the end, after the rape and murders of the Janabi family, it was the humble Private Watt, rather than Sergeant Yribe, who finally blew the whistle on the whole grisly affair. (Pages 318-319.) And, predictably though disappointingly, LTC Kunk didn’t take the accusations seriously (page 323) and proceeded to severely berate 1PLT as they were mourning their dead comrades. (Pages 326-328.) Page 328 critically describes the way that official blame was all pushed on the Company and Platoon level, for not maintaining proper accountability and standards.

Overall, the experience of 1PLT at Yusufiyah is among the worst reflections of the under resourcing and poor strategic planning embodied in the Bush administration’s plans for invading and remaking Iraq, and, 1PLT’s situation was made abysmally worse by lack of useful attention at the battalion level. If the 101st had been able to deploy in greater mass like the the 10th Mountain later did as part of General Patreus’ and President Bush’s “Surge” strategy, (page 351-357) the troops would have had better security, more rest, and more energy to focus on completing their mission, leading to less psychological damage. When multiple incidents proved that 1PLT of BCO was in the toughest AO of Kunk’s BN, the calls for reinforcement were ignored, and the blame for problems was shoved back down to PLT leadership. When psychological deterioration and outright psychopathy became apparent in Green and other Soldiers, one sees that the Platoon’s NCOs, junior officers, the Army psychologists tasked with treating these problems, and even a brigade commander, didn’t realize and respond to the growing risk of atrocities with the needed decisiveness to prevent what ultimately occurred.

Sources:

  1. Frederick, Jim. (2010.) Black Hearts. New York City, NY. Harmony Books.
  2. Gordon, Michael R., and Gen. Trainor, Bernard E. (2013.) The End Game: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama. New York City, NY: Vintage Books

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Next time, I’ll talk about more fun types of scary and fucked up things. Like ghosts or sea serpents.

Sincerely,

-Geoff

Quick horror game initial impression: “Witch Hunt” (It’s on Steam!)

14 June, 2018

Quick Look: Witch Hunt

witch hunt picture

Hullo,

Today, after seeing the video appear on Chris O’Neill’s gaming channel, I tried out the indie horror game Witch Hunt, developed and published by Andrii Vintsevych. It’s in early access, but I cautiously think it looks promising. I played for about half an hour. Like I’ve mentioned, I got a janky laptop that doesn’t run games or screen recorders too good. Especially not at the same time. Soooo I don’t have footage yet.

 

Game’s Premise:

The game drops you straight into the action, light on story. The time is the 18th century, and the place is the town and surrounding area of Bellville, in English North America. The town is haunted by a variety of undead and monstrous creatures. You have supernatural powers (apparently because the blood of an angel runs through your veins) and yo have silver bullets, so you go to be a hero. Your horse gets wrecked, but the mayor, the merchant, and the doctor all like you, and you have a few weapons, so into the woods you go! Happy monster (and apparently which?) hunting!

 

Gameplay Experience:

Let’s start with the most important thing: how the game plays. Witch Hunt is played in first-person, with standard FPS controls: shift to sprint, control to crouch, space to jump, mousewheel to scroll weapons, right click to look down the sights. You start with a flintlock musket, and a flintlock pistol, both with delightfully 18th century reload animations, plus, a silver saber for backup.

The game is light on objectives and story: after talking to the first couple NPCs in town, you wander across a bridge and start exploring: gloomy trees, gloomy roads, gloomy dead sheep, gloomy dead horses. And, at sudden moments, you have to fight vicious dogs, shadow people, and possibly zombies. Your goal is to kill enemies and secondarily to collect loot to improve your abilities.

Because your old school weapons have such long reload times, you have to be particularly prudent with your aim, and a missed shot will react in a furious melee combat out of sheer necessity. Enemies are tough, and you die fast.

The game has more RPG elements than most horror games, too: you can buy lightning and “watcher” wards to attack or spot enemies, and you can upgrade your movement, armor, stealth, and damage with various items from the merchant in town.

For the ~35 minutes I played, there was little in the way of objectives or firm guidance, which I found both a bit frustrating, and a bit refreshing. The game really makes you feel like you’re wandering into the unknown, with it being up to you to discover enemy behavior and to explore the environment. That adds to the fun sense of dread and unease.

witch hunt gameplay

Graphics, Visuals:

Standard Unity engine indie fare, especially for early access. The textures are fine, the enemy models are unsettling. The woods, rivers, and hills are all visually effective. One cool touch, reflective of the game’s time period, is that your musket produces a ton of smoke: this will effectively obscure your vision immediately in front of you for a few seconds.

Sound:

Good werewolf sounds, decent gunshot sounds, creepy heartbeat (that gets faster as enemies approach,) and many ghostly whispers. It’s effective!

Did I like it?

That’s the crucial question. Answer? I cautiously like it. The premise is cool and the atmosphere is scary, and the history buff in me always digs seeing FPS games with old-school weapons. At times, I felt a bit cheated when I had NO idea where to go, or when apparently invisible enemies were draining my health and mana. Plus, I’m having trouble opening the game again right now after playing it for one session. -_-

Still. I’d add it to your “watch” list, and see if it’s worth a buy once the full version is released.

 

Book Recommendation: “12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers”

14 June, 2018

Note: While I am not sponsored by Doug Stanton, Simon & Schuster, or Warner Bros, I do receive an affiliate marketing payment from Amazon if you buy the book after clicking through any of the Amazon links on this page. I appreciate it if you choose to do so, and I hope you enjoy this review either way!

An excellent, harrowing, true adventure: 12 Strong

Good afternoon!

I’ve had a great day of working out, writing my novel, studying how to call in artillery fire, practicing CSS at Code Academy, practicing French at DuoLingo, and killing wasps! Wooh!

Today, I want to tell you about a killer book I listened to on Audible last month: 12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers(Originally titled simply Horse Soldiers, but renamed in the new edition to tie-in with the film.)

(Link to the movie on Amazon.)

The movie adaptation came out earlier this year. which I still have yet to see it, so I’ll keep the focus on the book for now.

September 11th, 2001 …

A date which will live in infamy.

A day of horror and grief for so many thousands of individuals, and for an entire nation- an entire world – which had so recently entered a new and promising century. History with a capital “H” was supposed to be over. Violent events on this scale were supposed to be a thing of the past, relegated to the overflowing dustbin of 20th-century totalitarianism and radicalism.

And yet, on that clear September morning, America was hit, hard. Nearly 3,000 people were murdered. A towering symbol of American economic prosperity was brought crashing down, leaving a smoldering crater in the heart of the nation’s biggest city. The very heart and brain of America’s proud defense establishment was left with a gaping hole in its side, pouring smoke like spilled blood into the blue summer sky. And the daring and the lives of brave airline passengers prevented an equally devastating attack on the United State’s seat of democratic government.

9/11 was and continues to be a new generation’s Pearl Harbor: the biggest attack ever on American soil. But unlike the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor, this devastating and well-coordinated suicide-attack killed mostly civilians, who moments before had been going about their regular lives. It set offices, not warships, aflame.

The Bush administration and the American public soon learned that this insidious attack did not originate with a nation-state, like Imperial Japan. 9/11 was done by a network of radical Jihadist terror cells, known collectively as al-Qaeda, inspired by the most wretched and hateful aspects of the broader Islamic religion, and led by the Saudi construction magnate-turned-terrorist, Osama Bin Laden.

al-Qaeda had operatives all over the world, especially in Muslim majority countries.

The group had killed Americans before, in Africa and in Yemen.

And al-Qaeda, with its “caliph,” Bin Laden, held its main base of operations in the landlocked, war-torn, and savage land of Afghanistan. There were the training camps, there was the money, there were the weapons, and there were the bombs, that would allow Bin Laden and his ilk to continue to stage similar attacks in the future. The JIhadis had the manpower, pouring in from the disgruntled youth of the Islamic world, to fight Holy War against the great “Far Enemy:” the United States of America.

soldiers on horseback

Revenge

It was self-evident that the smoldering crater in the heart of Manhattan, and all the gruesome trauma and loss it represented, compelled a strong response from the American people.

Bush, from the oval office, in New York City, and in front of Congress, promised that strong response.

It would be up to the American military and intelligence services to execute the mission. To avenge the Twin Towers.

And in that execution, is where the Horse Soldiers enter this story, which Doug Stanton so doggedly researched and now conveys through this book.

Secret Soldiers

The real-life characters who 12 Strong follows are a mix of U.S. Army Special Forces operators, Central Intelligence Agency paramilitary agents, and U.S. Air Force forward observers. They are all elite servicemen, and most of them highly experienced, being in their 30s or even 40s. (Practically ancient in active duty combat arms terms!) They were selected for the mission due to their unique sets of skills.

The Bush administration knew the U.S. and NATO would have to enter Afghanistan and fight the theocratic Taliban government there in order to kill and capture al-Qaeda. But it wasn’t initially clear how exactly this would be done.

As Stanton elaborates, the United States military and State Department had no war plans for going into Afghanistan. After the 1980s, the place had basically fallen off the radar. Now, no one was thrilled at the idea of stirring up the Afghan hornet’s nest. But, the 9/11 attacks and the threat of further al-Qaeda offensives demanded swift and smart action.

So, the administration settled on a “light footprint” approach, utilizing Special Forces (SF) soldiers like Captain Mike Nelson, Chief Warrant Officer Hal Spencer, and Sergeant First Class Sam Diller. Also known as the “Green Berets,” SF soldiers first fought for the U.S. in Vietnam, and they specialize in operating behind enemy lines, in the hostile wilderness with little food, shelter, or hope of resuppply. They’re trained to fight smart, and to make allies among the local population and friendly indigenous forces.

In other words, SF was the perfect tool to quickly rush into Afghanistan, make contact with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, and help them run the Taliban out of the country. The terrorist training camps would be dismantled. Bin Laden and his lieutenants would be dead.

Justice would be done.

And it would be done without an expensive and unwelcome large American ground presence.

12 strong movie picture

The Stories Within the Story

Stanton’s book reads like a war movie, in the most welcome sense. It’s descriptive to the senses, it gives flashforwards, flashbacks, and cliffhangers all on the right beats, and we get our anticipated epic victories and sobering losses.

Stanton offers plenty of backstories to flesh out the lives of the “Horse Soldiers,” (so named for their famous equine riding with their Afghan allies,) including how they grew up, their relationships to their wives, and how they prepared for their deployment. The narrative often zooms in on a particular aspect of a character’s motivations or concerns, leaving us more invested in the next action scene.

And there is plenty of action. The team of a dozen SF soldiers participated in frontline airstrike targeting, mounted charges, and close-quarters firefights with their Afghan hosts. This is the action of the first phase of the 17-year-old American war in Afghanistan: legions of anti-Taliban rebels charging, on horseback, into the enemies’ well-equipped lines of trenches and tanks, while orbiting American B-52s and F-16s provide devastating satellite-guided ordinance from above. This stunning mismatch of technology is rightly dubbed by  the U.S. soldiers involved “the Flintstones meeting the Jetsons.”

Stanton also provides a great deal of context to the struggle on the Afghan side, starting with the immediate aftermath of the Soviet War. He describes in awful detail the daily carnage inflicted by the Taliban on the country’s various non-Pashtun ethnic groups, and on any Afghan deemed an infidel. The punishments to women, in particular, are especially brutal. As readers, it’s refreshingly easy to root for the people fighting against the kind of guys who stone, de-hand, and decapitate people in crowded stadiums as a prelude to soccer games, or who assault men simply for daring to not grow a beard.

The colorful portrait of the Northern Alliance General Abdul Rashid Dostum is interesting, as well: a Muslim who drinks, a warlord who fights for peace, a tribesman who craves connection with the modern world. He proves to be an indispensable, if challenging, ally to the small American force in 2001/2002, and every scene of him interacting with his American allies is engaging.

12 strong picture 2

The Climax

Like any good war movie, 12 Strong has an action-packed climax: the December 2001 “Battle of Qala-i-Jangi.” This was an uprising of Taliban POWs, intermingled with al-Qaeda operatives, who smuggled handguns and grenades into their prison quarters, and then fought a savage battle against their Afghan guards and American adversaries. It’s an extremely trying combat, taking place at a time when the Afghan war looked to be nearly over. It led to the first death of an American in combat in the war, and the disturbing discovery of a captured terrorist of American origin, John Walker Lindh, who betrayed his country to join al-Qaeda.

I don’t want to spoil too much for people who don’t already know the real-life story. But, Stanton’s telling of the battle, based on heavy research and interviews with the veterans involved, is a compelling story of American bravery and the continuing savagery of war in the 21st century.

Lasting Impressions

There’s a lot I didn’t talk about, in the interest of space as well as time. 12 Strong is exciting and engaging, but it is also well over 16 hours long in audio form, and a lot happens. I’ve barely touched on the record-setting high-altitude Blackhawk and Chinook flights by SF aviators around the treacherous peaks of the Hindu Kush, or the Wild West-like mood of the whole adventure, complete with horseback rides along narrow canyon ledges and capture of ancient mud forts with nicknames like “The Alamo.”

I think whether you’re a veteran yourself, someone who knows a veteran, someone in-training for the service like myself, or simply a person who likes military history and contemporary true-stories, you’ll find things to appreciate in this book.

For me, I was struck not only by the individual skill, bravery, resourcefulness, and dedication of my country’s servicemen but by the sheer strangeness of the war. Afghanistan is a country the United States didn’t want to get involved with in the first place. And then, when we did, it wasn’t with infantry and armor divisions rolling in WWII style: it was with tiny teams of elite operatives; warrior-diplomats who built their success not only on firepower, but on coalition-building at the grassroots level. The 2002 victory over the Taliban regime belongs to America’s Afghan allies more than to America itself. The Afghans formed the ground forces, and they paid 99.9% of the cost in blood.

Of course, we have to recall what happened later in Afghanistan: the Taliban resurgence, the shift of focus to Iraq, the endless troop deployments, the suicide bombings…it all puts 12 Strong in sobering perspective. We didn’t win entirely in 2001/2002. Not by a long-shot. The war isn’t over. While it’s impossible to say for sure without an Alternate Universe Hopping Machine, maybe things cohave’ave been different. Maybe if we (the US and NATO) hadn’t poured so many more troops into Afghanistan and made our presence there permanent, if we hadn’t tried to build a centralized government in Kabul contrary to the entire socio-poltiical nature of Afghanstian, maybe then, we wouldn’t be in such a mess there now. Maybe keeping our presence small, limited to CIA agents and spec ops, so that we could be mere enablers for the anti-Taliban, anti-Qaeda forces, would have achieved our objectives of vengeance and homeland security at an acceptable cost.

Maybe.

But, that wasn’t the question for the horse soldiers. And this book is their story. It’s not a pretty story, most of the time, but is at the same time a gritty, inspiring, and riveting one. If you have any interest in looking back to the earlier days of the long War on Terror, when success seemed just one cavalry charge or one bomb-strike away, I highly suggest you check this book out. The Audible version, I can personally say, is great.

Bye bye,

-Geoff

Listen to the opening of the “The Devil and the Doctor” audio edition, read by DeadJosey!

12 June, 2018

Good afternoon readers,

As previously mentioned, I have an Audible version of my first novel, The Devil and The Doctor (Malcolm Leeds Chronicles) (Volume 1) in the works right now. DeadJosey, aka Josselyn Monserrate, is producing this most excellent audiobook version of my supernatural thriller story.

For those who don’t know, The Devil and the Doctor follows the harrowing supernatural journey of Malcolm Leeds, a shapeshifter from the New Jersey Pine Barrens, to vanquish a murderous doomsday cult and save the people he loves. It’s an action-packed, gory, creepy story, full of monsters and mayhem, swords and spells.

Joey has finished the first 15 minutes of the audiobook, which you can preview here:

Thanks Josey!

We expect the finished audiobook to be available on Amazon late this summer, around the same time as Paranoia.

In the mean time, you can purchase the paperback or Kindle versions here:

Au revoir,

-Geoff

A look back at a 1990’s PC edutainment classic: Baldi’s Basics!

11 June, 2018

Who else remembers Baldi’s Basics in Education and Learning?

Good morning rad gamers,

If you’re a 90’s baby like me, surely you remember growing up on such edutainment classics as Math Blaster, Sonic’s Schoolhouse, Jump Start, and Zoombinis! These games, with their colorful casts of cartoon characters, charming soundtracks, and genuinely fun gameplay, got us excited to learn about topics such as math, logic, and science. Sometimes the graphics were a bit cheesy, (or even unsettling!) but, developers generally did their best with what the computers of the time could do, and the finished product was generally pretty good! Besides, we were kids: we were just happy to be playing computer games in school!

There’s one game that really stands out …

The past couple weeks, the Internet’s had a great revival of interest in 1998’s PC edutainment title, Baldi’s Basics in Education and Learning. Personally, I had flashbacks to the game when I stumbled across this totally rad, totally 90’s ad for it while I was browsing nostalgic YouTube content a couple days ago:

Instantly, upon hearing that melodic and authoritative voice, so full of mathematical expertise and love of teaching, and seeing those wholesome and attentive eyes, I was transported back to the 2nd grade, when I played waaaay too much of this game on my dad’s Windows 1998 Dell machine. (I wish I had a picture of that PC.)

The game was fun. Surprisingly fun, considering its graphics that seemed odd to me even at the time. The cheap, kooky music didn’t hold me back from enjoying it! I felt so immediately sucked into the game’s world, from the moment I heard those unforgettable words:

“Oh, hi, welcome to my schoolhouse!”

Baldi’s Basics put a smile on my face, and I credit it with helping me pass many math tests. But, why was it so good? What was so compelling about this 3-D, first-person perspective schoolhouse adventure that I had to keep coming back to it again, and again, and again? (I even just downloaded a copy and played it again, here! Unfortunately, my computer isn’t powerful enough to record usable Let’s Play footage, or I’d upload that for you guys, too. 🙁 )

In my humble opinion, here are the top 10 reasons.

The Top 10 Reasons Why Baldi’s Basics is Awesome:

picture of baldi in schoolhouse

1. The Graphics

They’re bright and colorful: perfect for kids and adults alike. There’s a great range of diversity across all the characters, from the photo-realistic Arts and Crafts, to the whimsically distorted It’s aBully. You can tell at a glance what every object and character is, perfect for when you’re in a rush to your next virtual lesson. And, it’s all in glorious 3 dimensions, a true delight for the eyes of the 1990’s gamers.

2. The Music

Who could ever forget all the earworms of Baldi’s Basics? From the start menu, to the music when you first meet Baldi, and complete your first notebook of math problems. Catchy, playful, and fun. Just like the gameplay!

you can think pad

3. The Challenge

While it may have been developed by Michah McGonigal rather than the Japanese corporate giant, Baldi’s Basics certainly fits the definition of “Nintendo Hard!” The first few math problems properly ease a young player into the game’s essential tasks, and the difficulty quickly ramps up in a most satisfactory way. Maybe the learning curve is a little too steep for some young students, even today, but personally I remember adapting well to Baldi’s tougher and tougher problems, and the game’s faster-paced later portions!

map picture

4. The Level Design

This game was more than just a fun piece of learning software: it was also a place, a place of pixels and of memories that live on in the hearts of all us 90’s babies who enjoyed it in our youth! Baldi’s Schoolhouse, even after all these years, still feels big, vibrant, detailed, and full of exciting possibilities for learning and adventure. From the cavernous but well-supplied cafeteria, to the cheery outdoor-facing windows, and even to those “Faculty Only” rooms, (that we all know we snuck into anyway!) this virtual schoolhouse was a glorious place to explore and learn each time we got a chance to enter it. What could be waiting for us behind the next set of yellow doors?!

bsoda can

5. The Items

Oh man, nostalgia alert! The Bsoda, the principal’s key, the lock, the safety scissors, the quarters! I remember such a great feeling of freedom and adult-like power as I grasped, collected, and used these many magical objects throughout the game. And with a limited inventory player space, the game taught the value of careful choices and planning ahead.

principal of the thing

6. The Principal of the Thing

While Baldi was our fun-time, wacky, and diligent teacher, we also needed someone to enforce the rules and keep the schoolhouse running right! Though getting put in detention for running in the halls, or shooting Bsoda at fellow students was often a groan-inducing delay from our learning and fun, we all always understood that the ever-vigilant, cheerfully whistling principal was always looking out for our best interests. For as often as he put us in detention for sneaking into the Faculty Only rooms, he also cleared away those Bullies who blocked our paths and stole our precious quarters! Three cheers for the Principal of the Thing!

playtime

7. Playtime

This game wasn’t multiplayer, but on my more recent playthrough, it sure felt like it when Playtime was around! Her photo-realistic graphics, memorable voice, and love of physical games help add a real flash of life, color, and youth to a virtual schoolhouse primarily inhabited by adult faculty and sentient brooms. Plus, as a seeing-impaired character, she taught us all the value of respecting and including people with disabilities.

baldi face

8. Baldi’s Hair

Haha! He wasn’t completely bald! He even has eyebrows!

9. Baldi’s Voice

So silly! So thoughtful! So instructive! So encouraging!

angry baldi

10. Baldi

Glorious green-sweater-wearing, ruler-wielding, math-instructing, fun-inducing God of the Virtual Schoolhouse. Truly, he shall reign over all other edutainment software from now until man turns against his brother until man is no more,  until the Earth is devoured by the Sun, and until the fabric of reality itself is torn asunder, and its remnants scattered back among the eternal darkness of the void.

Ha ha! 😀

If you haven’t played it since you were a kid, check it out at the link below! It’s free, but you can also pay a contribution to the game’s creator, Micah McGonigal.

(Great game btw, Micah! Thank you!)

https://mystman12.itch.io/baldis-basics

Just be sure while you’re playing, to double-check your work! You know how ol’ Baldi gets when you answer math problems incorrectly!

Happy gaming,

-Geoff

 

Hear the first 28 minutes of my second horror anthology audiobook!

11 June, 2018

The first story is recorded! See audio player below!

Good afternoon citizens,

I’m sitting in a Starbucks enjoying an iced coffee and wearing my new glasses as I write.

picture of me

(Shirt from Grunt Style)

When I booted up my laptop, I was happy to see that the amazing Kim Noyes had uploaded the first 15 minutes of my second horror anthology audiobook, Paranoia: More Dark Tales from the Mind of G.R. Wilson.

In fact, she went above and beyond to the ~28 minute mark, to finish her reading of my werewolf story, The Full Moon’s Hunt, which follows the treacherous path of a 19th century London writer all the way to the Scottish Highlands, at the behest of a mysterious and beautiful noble Scotswoman with an especially dangerous father. It’s got suspense, it’s got horror, it’s got action! It’s a good time, I hope you check it out.

You may also recall that this story got an audio treatment a couple years ago on the Satanic Storytime podcast, to which I’ve been a contributor both in writing and in acting.

Here is Kim’s recording of the book’s first story:

The full audiobook, with all its other stories, will be available through Amazon Audible late this summer! In the meantime, the paperback and Kindle versions of Paranoia are available on Amazon through the link below (click the picture):

Thank you again Kim, and thank you as always, my readers!

My life would be far less compelling without people to share my stories with.

TTFN,

-Geoff

 

Movie Review: “Hereditary”

09 June, 2018

Hereditary movie poster

Movie Review: Hereditary

Good afternoon y’all,

Today, I’m going to tell you about the movie I saw Thursday night, Hereditary. (I wrote another pre-watching post about it a couple days ago, here.) In short: it was deeply unsettling, it was original, and I absolutely loved it.

Hereditary Facts and Major Credits:

Premiere: 21 January 2018 at Sundance / 8 June 2018 in theatres nationwide.

Director: Ari Aster

Producers: Kevin Frakes, Lars Knudsen, Buddy Patrick

Written by: Ari Aster

Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolf, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne

Music by: Colin Stetson

Cinematography: Pawel Pogorzelski

Edited by: Jennifer Lame, Lucian Johnston

Production Companies: PalmStar Media, Finch Entertainment, Windy Hill Pictures

Distributed by: A24

Running time: 127 minutes

Budget: $10 million

Hereditary family picture

(This will be a spoiler-free review.)

“Evil runs in the family …”

Premise:

The film follows the Graham family, consisting of mother Annie, (Toni Collette,) her husband Steve, (Gabriel Byrne,) and their two teenage kids, Peter (Alex Wolf) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro.)

Annie is a professional miniaturist with a deeply troubled childhood and young-adulthood, Steve is maybe retired (? It’s not clear what his profession is, but he seems learned,) Peter is a somewhat uneasy but generally norma weed-smoking high-schooler, and Charlie is a lonely and generally “troubled” 13-year old who draws and makes sculptures out of random junk and animal parts.

The story begins when Annie’s mother, Ellen, dies after a devastating bout with dementia. (The film opens with her obituary and funeral.) We learn immediately that Annie and her mom were on-and-off estranged, and this has something to do with Ellen’s eccentric behaviors and controlling attitude. Of course, we gradually get some disturbing elaboration on this as the film progresses.

So, Annie isn’t particularly broken up about her mother’s passing. Nor are the rest of her family…except, that is, for Charlie, in whom Ellen took an especially keen interest when the teen was growing up.

The family matriarch’s death is the spark that ignites a slow-burning, but constantly dreadful and ultimately, satisfyingly horrific inferno of family secrets, buried memories, twisted compulsions, and paranormal catastrophes.

picture of Peter freaking out

Why it’s one of the scariest movies in years:

It’s hard to talk about this movie in much depth without spoilers! But allow me to elaborate on why Hereditary had me on the edge of my seat and has haunted me for the past three days.

This movie does not rely on jump scares. Does it have jump scares? Well, it is a horror movie. But me saying for sure would be spoilers, so draw your own conclusions. This is a movie of dread, of suspense, of disturbing revelations, psychic and physical.  And yes, also, horrific imagery, and the prudent use of special effects. Aster’s film teases the viewer with hints of boiler-plate horror movie scares, motifs, and plot points, but then flips those expectations on their heads: as a result, the viewer is constantly on edge, creeping and feeling slowly their way across a dark room of hidden perils and creaking floorboards. The disturbing implications and played-with expectations, plus gruesome scenes (never gore just for the sake of gore) and frightening supernatural occurrences, are what make Hereditary so genuinely staggering and haunting.

The story itself is scary. That may sound simplistic and obvious, but contrast it with a more mainstream horror movie you’ve seen, where the dread and surprise the audience experiences is derived 90% from special effects and jump scares, and only 10% from the actual motivations, emotions, and obstacles the characters experience, all knocking against each other and weaving themselves into a plot. In Hereditary, that plot is genuinely unsettling: it keeps you uneasy with the uncertainty of what’s going to happen next, and with the sheer horror of what has already happened. In the film’s beginning, we share Annie’s dread, when she’s so haunted by the feeling that her dead mother is “still around” that she insists on keeping the door to Mom’s room locked at all times, especially after it’s mysteriously opened by itself. Later, as the strands of this family’s rotten web of inherited secrets are untangled and brought to shocking light at an accelerating pace, we constantly want to look away, but we cannot: the plot has its hooks in us, and our emotions and curiosity compel us to keep watching, just as Annie must uncover the truth of her late mother’s strange behaviors and social circle, and what these mean for Annie and her own daughter, Charlie …

picture of Toni Collette as Annie

The cinematography is also top-notch. The camera in Hereditary is dynamic in the truest sense. It is practical. It doesn’t default to shaking about as a cheap method of adding jitters to a scary scene, but rather, it moves or stands still, gives us a wide shot or a close-up, as appropriate for what the director needs to convey. We get objectively lovely establishing shots of the mountains and forests of Utah that surround the Grahm family home, (and treehouse,) but these repeated landscape images almost immediately feel ominous and grow more so as time creeps on. The camera tortures us with uncomfortable close-ups of a character’s horrified face, before we inevitably, we know, must see what they are seeing. The camera swings from side to side nervously, both in emotionally torturous familial outbursts and in nervously surveying a room where supernatural events are afoot.

One of the most creepily charming camera-uses is the frequent focus on Annie’s miniature dioramas, which depict detailed and realistic scenes of the family’s home, the hospital where Annie’s mother died, and other tiny representations of the family’s past, present…and perhaps more. There are some technically awesome shots where the camera zooms slowly into one of these miniatures, and then graces us with a seamless transition into a real-life set with the actors.

The acting in Hereditary is stellar and brings director Ari Aster’s dark vision to life with heart-wrenching, spine-tingling, and heart-pounding authenticity. Toni Collette, to my mind, handily steals the show– no, steal isn’t the right word, she earns every second of our attention, empathy, and investment: she beautifully portrays  a complex mother and daughter character, with the best of intentions but the least capacity to deal with what both her loss, and the peculiar “inheritance” of her mother are going to inflict on herself, her husband, and her children. Her range of emotion is staggering, from protective and loving, to heart-broken, to sarcastic, to manic and enraged. Collete’s Annie is very scared, and very scary …

Milly Shapiro, who plays young teen daughter Charlie, stands out for her newness and for her at-once creepy and charmingly awkward and sympathetic demeanor as the most emphasized character from the trailers. This emphasis is for good reason. That’s all I’ll say on that.

picture of Charlie

It’s tough to even talk about Ann Dowd’s character without spoilers, but she’s good. She’s convincing, she’s real. (In the trailer, she’s the woman who talks to Annie in her car; “I recognized you from your mother.”)

The fellas, Alex Wolf and Gabriel Byrne, also exhibit great emotional range and authenticity, as their respective characters, each with their own distinct attitudes and goals, are sucked into the story of maternal-bloodline disintegration and corruption.

Hereditary movie poster 2

Conclusion:

The writing and directing of director Ari Aster, combined with the technically skilled and emotionally interesting cinematography of Pawel Pogorzelski, plus the torturously authentic acting of the stars, especially Toni Collette, altogether make Hereditary already one of my favorite horror movies, and the best movie I’ve seen yet this year.

I give it a 10/10.

It’s intriguing. It’s painfully suspenseful. It’s emotionally genuine. And most importantly, but also properly developed from all those other traits: Hereditary is horrifying. It says something about parenthood (especially motherhood,) about the ties that bind family bloodlines, and about the ways that we as mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, react to the disruption, loss, and poisoning of those bloodlines.

The scariest stories, Hereditary proves, are those with one foot firmly planted in the reality we all inhabit.

 

 

Let’s Watch Me Be Really Totally Good at Let’s Playing

8 June, 2018

Good afternoon aliens and alloys,

I have an announcement.

*deep breath*

*drumroll*

I played a video game and posted a video of it on the Internet.

I also used the free version of software (Flashback Pro, which is actually pretty versatile easy to use, check it out,) so I got that adorably amateurish watermark there.

Plus, I did something wrong where my webcam display didn’t make it into the video.

STILL! It’s there.

Time to let those PewDiePie dollars roll on in. >:)

If you guys wanna see more, subscribe to my YouTube channel, I’ll do some non-horror games too.

byebye,

GeoffyGeoff

Meet DeadJosey, the narrator of my “The Devil & The Doctor” audiobook!

7 June, 2018

DeadJosey cover photo and logo

😀

Good morning fellow humans,

Yesterday, I introduced Kim Noyes, who is producing the Audible audiobook edition of my second horror anthology, Paranoia: More Dark Tales from the Mind of G.R. Wilson

Today, I want to you all to know about DeadJosey, aka Josselynn Monserrate, of YouTube fame! She’ll be producing the audio version of my first novel, The Devil and The Doctor (Malcolm Leeds Chronicles) (Volume 1). Ms. Josey has a beautiful voice, a great sense of humor, and has good tastes in comics and video games, in my humble opinion. (Which is, of course, always correct.) She has a lot of Overwatch and Doki Doki Literature Club comic voice-overs on her YT channel. Plus, she’s got a Discord, a Twitter, a Facebook, and another YT for ASMR.

I asked her for a blurb for this blog post, and here it be:

I have been a horror fan for years watching “Tales From the Darkside” and “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” and reading scary stories when I was a kid. I started doing horror narrations on youtube in 2013, here in 2018 I’ve expanded what I do from horror narrations to comics and ASMR videos. I’m really excited to be doing one of G.R Wilsons pieces and taking my narrating to a professional level.

Thanks Josey! Don’t worry, you’re good at blurbs. Also, your avatar is adorable in chibi form.

 

a chibi-style picture of DeadJosey

See?

And here are a few neato VA (voice-acting) examples:

(The DDLC one reminds me I gotta do a proper post or three about that game!!)

Once again, check out Josey’s stuff, she’s great. We’re aiming for a late July, early August release of the audiobook, which will be announced in my newsletter.

dead josey picture / twitter link

Twitter Link

DeadJosey picture / YouTube link

YouTube link

DeadJosey picture / Facebook link

Facebook link

 

 

 

 

 

 

stay spoopy,

-Geoff

P.S. – I came out with my first audiobook a couple years ago, narrated by Mr.CreepyPasta: