And that’s a wrap for an entire month of horror recommendations! As we leave you with a couple of picks that didn’t quite fit our other categories, we wish you a happily harrowing Halloween weekend.
After the jump, our ultimate recommendations.
Chris Hornbostel: Dana Gould Halloween Hour
What is it about smart comedians that brings them to horror? Is it just part of the vocabulary of people who need to be well versed in pop culture references as a part of their jobs? Maybe it has something to do with the formative years of comics, and the way so many seem to have been outsiders while growing up. In any event, if you find a clever, witty comedian, there’s likely a reasonable chance that he or she will be able to talk your ear off about all things horror, and that’s especially true of Dana Gould. Gould is probably best known for his standup, but he got his start as a regular on the Ben Stiller show, and worked as a writer and producer for The Simpsons and Parks & Recreation.
Gould is also a horror aficionado, and each October one of the great pleasures in life is listening to his Halloween podcast. I realize weve covered podcasts here already once before, but those were fictional, serialized stories. Gould’s Halloween podcast is more of an informal, non-fiction chat show with guests who have strong connections to the genre. Gould takes deep and entertaining dives on the horror movies of childhood, good new examples in the genre, and even some real life ghostly tales. Both he and his guests are well-versed and steeped in the subject matter and the show assumes that you are, too. Things zip right along, making this a fast-seeming three-hour podcast rabbit hole. Gould and his guests just assume that if you need to google names like Forrest Ackerman you’ll do that on your time.
The latest incarnation of Gould’s Halloween podcast dropped just this week. In it he talks with makeup/special effects genius Rick Baker about the latter’s start in the industry in a gorilla suit for King Kong as well as The Howling, American Werewolf In London, and Ed Wood among other subjects. Gould and MST3K star Joel Hodgson also dive deeply into good and bad horror movies from the classic age, as well as an extended discussion on how Hodgson and MST3K handle horror movies and humor. Theres also horror memories galore with witty standup storyteller Ken Reid. Gould cleverly edits and intersperses his conversations, so you never get more than 15 or 20 minutes with each guest at a time, with the conversations always circling back to continue the train of thought in another easily digested piece. It’s an interesting, non-linear way to handle the demands of a long podcast, and it works really well.
If you enjoy this year’s version of the Halloween podcast–and I just finished it and loved it–the good news is that Dana Gould’s done this a few years now, and they’re all worth a listen. Last year he and Patton Oswalt took an amazing trip through obscure horror films. The year before, Gould and wiseguy Tom Kenny did the same. There’s nothing particularly fancy going on here, really. Just smart, witty people who ask interesting questions discussing passionately how and why scary movies and stories are so important to us in our culture.
Tom Chick: Eldritch Horror
Whereas kids used to sit around campfires telling ghost stories, now they can do it in the comfort of their homes and they don’t even have to be kids anymore. Eldritch Horror, a sprawl of narrative shreds, decks of cards, and handfuls of dice, is a Lovecraftian ghost story generator. The Doom that Came to Your Tabletop.
One of my friends dismisses it as more of an adventure game than a Lovecraft game, and he’s partly right. It’s very Indiana Jones the way your characters trot the globe, trying to save the world one set piece at a time. Sometimes they die or go insane, so you draw a new character (and go on a corpse run, of course). But mostly they prevail against cultists, monsters, and die rolls like the hardy heroes they are. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom could be fully rendered with the Eldritch Horror engine.
But what sets this apart from other co-op or solitaire boardgames is the horror theme, which isn’t merely a theme. Just as you choose heroes at the beginning of the game, you also choose an elder god. Each of them presides over the board with a set of special rules. Although each of them is unique, the basic gameplay is the same. You have to hold back a doom clock while solving challenges from a deck of cards unique to that god. Solve three of them before the clock runs out and you’ve saved the world. Gratz! Indiana Jones would be proud.
You might think this is like any other co-op or solitaire boardgame. In Pandemic, Dawn of the Zeds, or Flash Point, instead of a doom clock, you hold back an onslaught of disease, zombies, and fire, respectively. Hold them back long enough and you’ve saved the world, town, or household. Gratz! Don’t, and you lose.
But what’s unique about Eldritch Horror is that you don’t just lose when the clock runs out. That would be too easy. Instead, the doom clock marks time until the elder god comes into the world. When this happens, new rules come into play. Harder rules. Rules that will probably destroy your characters. It’s not necessarily over at this point. Hopefully, your characters have gotten powerful enough to put the genie back in the bottle, as it were. Usually they haven’t. Usually this is where Eldritch Horror brings about the detailed demise of the characters you’ve gotten attached to while playing the game. There goes archaeologist Monterey Jack, lost in time and space. Now Professor Harvey Walters, devoured by a shoggoth. The end of astronomer Norman Withers, driven mad after returning from Yuggoth. Psychic Jacqueline Fine is the world’s last hope. She is unceremoniously murdered by cultists. These are the equivalent of the gory deaths in a horror movie.
In a way, horror is about breaking rules. Order being violated. Reality subverted by the supernatural. How can you do that in a game, which is by definition a set of rules? Gamecube videogame Eternal Darkness pretended to break. Oh no, your saved game was corrupted, the graphics broke, or the interface flipped backwards. Technical glitches as an expression of madness. Eldritch Horror’s late-game shifts work similarly as an expression of apocalypse. When the doom track runs out and the elder god’s card flips, you’re no longer playing the same game. This paradigm shift is hanging over your head from the very start. Feel free to look at the other side of the elder god card just so you know what you’re in for. It’s not a secret. It’s a prophecy.
Eldritch Horror is a considerable investment, what with all the add-ons. What’s more, Fantasy Flight’s ravening business model compromises the gameplay by thoughtlessly chucking so much new stuff into the mix. I don’t recommend buying all-in until you’ve had experience with the base set. It’s got four Elder Gods who will keep you plenty busy. You can read my review here and you can get a sense for how the add-ons stumble here. Here’s an overall “state of the game” assessment from a few months ago.
Eldritch Horror is available from Amazon.com.
The Make October Scare Again hub is here.