Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Bad Movie Bender on Netflix

I like bad movies. Mind you, I also like good movies, but a childhood habit of watching low-budget science fiction movies Saturday afternoons left my mind open to some truly low-budget terrible films, and some of that magic still remains. And oddly enough, Netflix has many truly terrible films on instant play, all of which become part of the fodder for my gaming ideas.

Planet of the Vampires is an ultra-low budget international production directed by Mario Bava. The tale of alien possession and reanimation and a doomed planetary expedition, PotV has obvious connections to later films such as Alien and Event Horizon. The acting is terrible, the science is nonsense, the costumes vague fetishy, and the pacing uneven, but the creepiness of the film and the general sense of doom it builds up to really set the path for later sci-fi horror films. Gaming-wise, this gives a good idea of building dread: isolation, attrition, and victories that come at great cost for dubious game. Kind of like any adventure written by Jim Raggi.

Message From Space is a Japanese space opera with an international cast and a plot loosely stolen from The Seven Samurai. The good and nature-loving space hippies of Jillucia have been conquered by the silver-skinned and militaristic Gavanas. The head hippy sends 8 magical seeds out into space to find the heroes who will save their planet and all he ends up getting are four Earth teenagers out of a sixties hot rod flick (complete with all the associated melodrama), jaded tough-guy General Garuda (played by Vic Morrow in a set of strangely pimpin' outfits throughout the film), a renegade Gavanas prince played by Shinichi "Sonny" Chiba sans silver makeup (I'm guessing because he refused to wear all that silver crap) pretty much playing a standard Sonny Chiba samurai character, and a couple of surprise characters. There's a space princess in white, a goofy short robot, semi-transforming spacecraft, a rip-off of the Death Star trenches, and spaceships that look like space sailing ships (complete with sails.) It's a goofy mess of Rientsian proportions that should inspire any sort of Encounter Critical gaming you would like to attempt. Sure, the dialogue is terrible. Well, and the acting. And the pacing. But there are cool models, oddly Kirby-esque villain costumes, and the kind of goofy camp that you can't achieve intentionally.

The Keep is visually interesting, but poorly written and a jumbled mess as far as storytelling goes, particularly at the end, where it seems like someone just cut off the end of the film. This was directed by Michael Mann who, along with Stanley Kubrick is on my Way Too Over-rated Directors List, and this was before Mann had somehow moved his way onto that list through some sort of diabolical contract. Throughout the film Scott Glenn is robotic, Alberta Watson dull, and only Jurgen Prochnow and Gabriel Byrne play characters worth paying attention to. Even not-yet-Sir Ian McKellan fails to make the grade here. That said, the film's first act build up is satisfyingly slow, the middle of the film generally competent, and the ending is deeply anticlimactic. But the classic gothic plotting (ancient evil awakens, temptation to free evil to get it to wipe out the Nazis) could be the perfect sort of justification for events in a game, and the kinds of clues about the titular keep's real purpose are nice details to set into a campaign of your own. Again, the German soldiers stupid acts that unleash the Big Bad seem like the kinds of things you would run into in a Jim Raggi adventure, and might still be stupid enough to get yourself screwed over, but that's what you get when the crazy villagers tell you not to mess with stuff in the keep.