The Steampunk Yule Ball 2015

If real life had achievements the same way many video games do then last weekend I would definitely have unlocked some good ones! Participate in a massive Steampunk conga line? Check: achievement unlocked! Get up onstage and dance alongside the legendary Professor Elemental? Check: very fun and happy achievement unlocked!

These antics are all courtesy of local alt-rock / steampunk band, The Mysterious Freakshow, who for the past three years have organised annual Yuletide Steampunk extravaganza at Exeter Phoenix. This year’s event took place last Saturday and it was bigger and more enjoyable than ever, lining up an eclectic array of performers (and proving that Steampunk is one of the most enjoyably eclectic of genres), spreading some seasonal cheer (including plenty of yuletide spirit of the alcoholic variety) and of course, offering a wonderful excuse to get really dressed up. There were some wonderful costumes and everyone was welcome from the very finest bustled Victorian ladies, via crazy mad scientist looking-types, to military gentlemen and even a steampunk Mandalorian (none other than our pal Exeter Cosplay).

The evening's programme of entertainment

The evening’s programme of entertainment

Two of my favourite social activities are going to geek conventions (especially when in cosplay) and going to gigs and music festivals. The Steampunk Ball is one of my favourite nights of the year because it feels like the place where these two wonderful things collide. It’s a music event with some really interesting and talented bands performing, but it also has a bit of a nerdy convention feel to it too…

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Creepy Countdown: Secure, Contain, Protect

This bat has now been successfully contained.

Last part of AddAltMode’s Creepy Countdown series

That’s it! No more creepiness, no more weirdness. All the spooky, anomalous stuff around here is going to be sequestered away and locked up in the name of public safety by a Secretive Creepy Person.

A secretive governmental organisation, a Foundation if you will, is going to intervene and take away all the freaky stuff so that it can’t hurt anyone… or, in some cases, hurt everyone. The SCP Foundation will take any steps necessary to Secure and Contain hazardous and supernatural items, creatures,  and people in order to Protect the general public.

The SCP wiki is a collaboratively-written collection of horror, science-fiction and weird fantasy stories based on the unifying theme of a shadowy pan-governmental agency which hides away monsters, ghost and supernatural artifacts in order to prevent these things from harming people. The contained objects range from being slightly wierd and a bit creepy, to world-endingly powerful and malevolent. The Foundation doesn’t destroy anomalous items unless it has no other recourse: careful study of these items might bring about the next big scientific breakthrough — or it might bring knowledge that proves to be the best chance of containing the next big scary anomaly.

The backbone of the site is the listings of “Operational Information” on contained anomalies. These stories take the form of containment procedures, safety notes and descriptions of anomalous items that are in the Foundation’s care. Many of these are “Redacted” for reasons of security and safety: with blocks of text blanked out with black bars.

There’re a lot of good stories on this wiki, but here are 10 of my favourites, with some text [redacted] to prevent spoilers:

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Film Review: Crimson Peak

Part of AddAltMode's Creepy Countdown series

AddAltMode’s cinematic Creepy Countdown choice

Year: 2015
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston

Guillermo del Toro is a director who is remarkable for his strong artistic vision and for the unbridled passion he displays for the various genres in which he works. His latest film, Crimson Peak, is no exception on either count. A beautifully macabre treat for the eyes, I honestly can’t remember the last time I watched a movie quite so visually sumptuous. It’s also a work that really embraces its genre, although that isn’t perhaps the genre some filmgoers may have been expecting…

Mia Wasikowska in Legendary Pictures Crimson Peak. Screencap from Official Trailer

Mia Wasikowska in Legendary Pictures Crimson Peak. Screencap from Official Trailer

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Halloween Transformers Episode Appreciation 2: Thirst (Transformers Prime)

Part of AddAltMode's Creepy Countdown series

Part of AddAltMode’s Creepy Countdown series

IT LIVES! Time now for part two of our double feature exploring the creepiest cartoon episodes that the Transformers canon has to offer. Part one, which examines the origin story of Transfomers Animated‘s Blackarachnia, can be found here. Unlike that first pick, my second episode selection doesn’t overtly have a Hallowe’en setting. Nobody actually chooses a pumpkin or goes trick or treating here. Yet surely there can be no Transformers moments that more deliciously capture the spooky season’s general love of all things horror than “Thirst,” otherwise known as Transformers Prime does Zombies.

Starscream and Knock Out. Just look at those faces! There's definitely more trick than treat gong down in this episode. (Screencap from TF Prime episode 60)

Starscream and Knock Out. Just look at those faces! There’s definitely more trick than treat going down in this episode. (Screencap from TF Prime episode 60)

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Halloween Transformers Episode Appreciation 1: Along Came a Spider (Transformers Animated)

Part of AddAltMode's Creepy Countdown series

Part of AddAltMode’s Creepy Countdown series

It was inevitable that we’d find a way to shoehorn in some Transformers-related content somewhere along the wooded, winding and deliberately badly-lit path of our Creepy Countdown series, so here we go…

Across the vast corpus of Transformers TV show content there have to have been some episodes that would make for sufficiently spooky viewing, and indeed there are. It doesn’t happen too often but when Transformers cartoons do decide to engage with scary tropes they pretty much go all in: from All Hallow’s Eve-set episodes that see the Cybertronian immigrants struggle with the night’s candy grabbing traditions, via reanimated zombie showdowns to that classic horror staple, spiders, oh so many spiders – here with a robot twist of course. So grab your pumpkin-flavoured popcorn and sit back for the first of two posts in which I recommend and appreciate a double bill of the finest Hallowe’en episodes the franchise has to offer…

When Transformers do Hallowe'en, things get weird fast

When Transformers do Hallowe’en, things get weird fast. Screenshot from Transformers Animated Ep.9.

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Creepy Countdown: Spooky Scary Skeletons

Part of AddAltMode's Creepy Countdown series

Part of AddAltMode’s Creepy Countdown series

Well hello, internet! This post is part of AddAltMode’s Creepy Countdown. Cue bat (on the right):

Today I’m going to talk about skeletons; specifically, I’m going to list some of the more interesting ambulatory skeletons in geek culture. Skeletons are a necessary thing for vertebrates like ourselves, dear reader. (If you’re not a vertebrate, then please don’t be offended.) They stop you from being a pile of meat flopping about on the floor, or having to leave a trail of your own mucus on which to glide. No offense to snails, but their preferred method of locomotion is less than dynamic, and it makes a mess on carpet.

The problem with skeletons is what happens when black magic gets involved, and they get uppity and decide to claw their way out from that itchy overcoat of suffocatingly warm meat that they’re covered in and feel the moonlight on their skulls.

So, on to the list…

Even scarier is that they dnace like this to dubstep. Wubwubwubwub.

Still from “The Skeleton Dance“, © Disney 1929

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Halloween Soundtracks: The Vision Bleak

Part of AddAltMode's Creepy Countdown series

Part of AddAltMode’s Creepy Countdown series

So, Hallowe’en draws nearer and our Creepy Countdown continues. Today I’ll be discussing soundtrack choices for this spookiest time of the year, and oh there are so many to choose from! It’s a well known cliché that the Devil has all the best tunes and this is a great time of year to put that to the test. The soundtrack to Hallowe’en can run anywhere from the old classics like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” or Bobby “Boris” Pickett & The Crypt Kickers’ “Monster Mash” through The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack (always a good choice) right through to horror-inspired rockers like Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie or even the much missed Type O Negative who have numerous Hallowe’en themed songs (RIP Pete Steele).  But today I’m going to enthuse about a band you perhaps may not have heard of. Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you symphonic German horror metallers The Vision Bleak.

vision bleak

The archaic structure of the band’s name together with their ornate logo should immediately clue you in to their interest in horror, and not just any horror but the epic grandeur of old school creepy tropes: candlelit journeys by horse and carriage through dark, sprawling forests, highway men and mysterious strangers. As I commented recently in my review of Dan Simmons’ faux-Victorian novel, Drood, there’s something particularly atmospheric about spooky tales set in the past. The Vision Bleak are a band who understand this and manage to bring an 18th/19th century classic Gothic sensibility to their music even while rocking out with modern electric instruments and drawing on a much wider range of overall influences: from dark fairy tales of werewolves, witches and headless horsemen right through to the works of H.P. Lovecraft and the films of John Carpenter…

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Book Review: Drood by Dan Simmons

Part of AddAltMode's Creepy Countdown series

Part of AddAltMode’s Creepy Countdown series

When I’m not reading about robots, I do love a good horror story, so as part of our Creepy Countdown series, I’m going to recommend and discuss a few of my favourite creepy reads in the run up to Hallowe’en.

Title: Drood
Author: Dan Simmons
Published: 2009 by Quercus

Now, horror literature is a genre that I think often works best in concentrated doses, ideally suited to short stories or – at a push – novellas, as it can be hard convincingly to sustain terror and suspense for the course of a long novel. Which isn’t to say that long reads can’t be scary, but it’s a different kind of scare: more about creating an atmosphere of mystery and doubt than conjuring jump scares and physical threat. It’s probably significant that most of my favourite 500-pages plus horror reads sit squarely in the genre of Victorian-inspired historical fiction. Why is that? Well, Those triple-decker-penning Victorian writers like Charles Dickens and Wilkie Coillins certainly knew a thing or two about how to pace a marathon read, and even works by modern writers that are set in the nineteenth-century can often get away with being very expansive, as the length feels authentic for this setting rather than just an authorial indulgence. Also, let’s face it, when it comes to creating an atmosphere of spookiness there is something unbeatable about a nineteenth-century milieu, especially an urban one. Perhaps it’s the obscuring smog for which Victorian cities were notorious; perhaps its the darker shadows cast by gaslight, or perhaps it’s the idea of London during this period as a city expanding and mechanising at a prodigious rate, all of which make it a perfect setting for mysteries and secrets.

In Drood, Dan Simmons draws on all of these ideas, as well as re-imagining the lives of two of the era’s foremost writers of spookily atmospheric fiction, the aforementioned Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. Dickens’ ghost characters (particularly those from A Christmas Carol) have to be among the most famous of all pop-cultural spooks, while Collins’ The Woman in White and Armadale are classic spooky thrillers that would both feature on my list of all time favourite reads. So it’s a wonderful – if slightly crazed – conceit to follow these two men as they become embroiled in a mystery of their own. Simmons speculates (wildly but enjoyably) on the inspiration behind Dickens’ unfinished final novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood in a plot which sees the two great authors battling demons of their own – both metaphorical and slightly less so. If that sounds silly, that’s because it is. Let’s be clear, Drood is a completely ridiculous and overwrought piece of faux-Victorian Gothic hokum. But it’s also unputdownably gripping, brilliantly plotted and tempers its crazed flights of dark fantasy with some impressively heavyweight literary and historical research. In short, although I freely admit this novel is mad, bad and dangerous to know, I adored it – and sustainedly adored it throughout all its mighty 800 pages. So this is one of my top picks for a Hallowe’en read. But Drood is a weighty tome indeed so if want to get it ticked off your reading list before the end of the month it’s probably best to start now. Here’s more on why you should…

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Hello October: creepy content incoming!

October has to be one of the best months of the year, not only does it bring us many of the most strikingly beautiful sunrises and sunsets, it also usually provides plenty to see and do for fun-loving geeks. The local convention circuit is in full swing and it’s also the time of year when many bands have recovered sufficiently from the summer festival run to head out on a proper tour, so October usually brings a few gigs to look forward to as well. This year is no exception; B and I are hugely looking forward to seeing the legendary Alice Cooper live later this month! And then of course there is Hallowe’en, also known as the annual non-convention-related excuse for putting on a silly costume, as if an excuse was needed!

Photo by Dennis Taufenbach

Photo courtesy of Dennis Taufenbach

Speaking of excuses, the imminent approach of the spookiest day of the year seems like as good a reason as any to do what I’m sure many in the WordPress community will be doing this month, that is, sharing some posts of a more scary/horror themed nature. To get in the mood for Hallowe’en we’ll be discussing some of our favourite spooky music and literature as well as tackling the burning questions of the day such as:

  • batWhich Magic the Gathering cards have the scariest art?
  • Which Transformers cartoon episodes are the spookiest?
  • Which rat-inspired Hallowe’en decorations/props are most offensively un-ratlike?

 

Our Creepy Countdown posts will be interspersed among some of the more regularly themed content we’ve got planned for AddAltMode during the coming month, so watch out for the bat image, then you know things are getting spooky.  Join us… if you dare!

Binding of Isaac Rebirth: The Most Brutally Effective Survival Horror Game I’ve Ever Played

Type of game: Roguelike RPG/Shoot-em-up
Designed by: Edmund McMillen
Published by:  Nicalis
Year: 2014
Played on: Steam

This doesn't look so bad; it's somewhere between The Legend of Zelda and Muppet Babies.

This doesn’t look so bad; it’s somewhere between The Legend of Zelda and Muppet Babies.

The starting room doesn’t look so bad, but I advise you skip the rest of this post if you’re disturbed by gore, Satanism, more gore, poop, aggressive sentient poop, yet more gore, Oedipal nightmare fuel, & even more gore. If horror games and gross stuff aren’t for you, don’t click the “Read More”.
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