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The Incredible Career of Horror Director John Carpenter. Part 4

January 20, 2011

By Andrew Clarke

We’ve now reached the more highly rated set of reviews of John Carpenter’s movies and this time around we have a Stephen King adaptation in the form of Christine, we’ll also take a look at the seventies classic Assault On Precinct 13 and consider the exploits of Snake Plissken, whose character inspired the videogame character Solid Snake from the Metal Gear Solid series.


An adaptation of a Stephen King novel (which I haven’t read) about a killer car.

Carpenter takes his time setting things up and we begin in high school with (as with Carpenter’s Halloween) a whole bunch of people who clearly shouldn’t be in high school anymore. The high school bullies seem particularly out of place – I mean did the school really keep them on up to 18? Or is that just an enormous 16 year old?. Still, the characters are well formed and the plot moves well.

The protagonist is living with puritanical parents but in an act of rebellion he buys a clapped out old car and decides to fix her up. This gives him a sense of worth and he clearly goes through a change in character as a result, but it’s not just his parents who think that his car isn’t as good for him as we might initially have thought.

One thing that’s particularly impressive about Christine is how unthreatening the car first appears. It’s the sort of shade of red Noddy would want for his car and yet when Carpenter takes the gloves off, we really come to see this car as the monster Stephen King intended. In the end though, unlike Christine herself, there’s something unpolished about the movie. Great fun nonetheless.

My Score:



A very early Carpenter movie about a police station under siege. This is seen very much as a classic, but I felt somewhat detached from this movie. The characters all felt a little too scripted and not sufficiently natural. A prison officer rather naively seems surprised that not all murderers are rabid psychopaths. The convicted murderer promises to tell the prison officer how he came to be murderer despite not being a rabid psychopath, but only when he’s about to be executed. Personally I found it rather contrived that a policeman, of all people, would be not only be surprised that a murderer wasn’t foaming at the mouth, but also be desperate to hear about the criminal’s background.

The movie seems to suggest, rather bizarrely, that silencers make no noise whatsoever. (They muffle the noise, but there’s still a bang all the same.) Something else which bugged me was that the gang is apparently willing to sacrifice as many people as necessary taking down a police station rather than risk a couple of their members being done for killing a child. Perhaps I’m overthinking things, but this seems like a massive gap in the internal logic of the movie.

Whether you think the characters feel real or not, there are some rather cool lines and plenty of excitement. Unlike in Village Of The Damned, John Carpenter makes good use of explosions in this low budget affair.

My Score:



To properly appreciate this film it helps to have some idea of what makes New York distinctive as a city, to fully take in the dystopian vision of the city as an enormous prison. This setting seems quite serious, but if you are going to enjoy the movie you are going to have to remember that, however dark the movie might appear at times, you are supposed to treat it as silly fun.

It sets up a rather compelling sci-fi setting, but just when you’re getting comfortable with that, our protagonist is quickly shifted to a dilapidated city which is pretty much gadget-free. In the intro we are also shown the awesome chemistry between Kurt Russell and the legendary Lee Van Kleef (“the bad” to Clint Eastwood’s “the good”) only for the two characters to be annoyingly separated for the majority of the movie. It’s at this point where the silliness gets more obvious.

There’s the devoted cabbie who is still doing the same job even though civilisation has collapsed around him. This is a great comic touch, but if you are taking the movie seriously it’s bizarre and jarring. Another example is the bad guy’s car with a disco ball in it (with the bad guy role suitably filled by Isaac Hayes). Snake Plissken’s character is thoroughly daft and he’s no more to be taken seriously than any other character.

Once you are in the right mood, there’s a great deal of fun to be had in following the exploits of the cynical anti-hero Snake Plissken. However, John Carpenter is possibly a little too effective in portraying the darker side of this dystopia making it a little hard to lose yourself in the satire.

(They are remaking this now…. with Gerard “This Is Sparta!” Butler as Snake. *groan*)

My Score:


VAMPIRE$ (1998)

James Woods stars in all his cynical anti-hero glory. The vampire hunters aren’t righteously defending us from unholy horrors. Instead they are thugs for hire and as much of a potential embarrassment to the Catholic Church which hires them as the vampires they hunt. These thugs are loutish and misogynistic, but nevertheless with a kind of “honour among thieves” mentality.

The depiction of vampire hunting is really well done with some rather more modern and creative methods and the central master vampire in the movie has a fantastic screen presence (not Twilight sparkly at all, oh no).

However, in a scene late on in the movie it feels a little odd that the bad guys aren’t ruthless enough to actually hammer in nails when setting up a mock crucifixion. Another example where the logic seems a bit frayed is where a woman being kept captive wakes up to find she’s been stripped naked, it’s not until after she’s had her situation explained to her that her captor has the presence of mind to hide her nakedness with the bed cover. (Another case of the thug being a misogynist or a simply an opportunity for gratuitous nudity? You decide.)

The portrayal of the gradual psychological change into a vampire is very well depicted. James Woods is on top form as his, now typecast, dickhead persona. Overall this is quite a unique action-packed take on the vampire mythology, even if it’s somewhat lacking in depth.

My Score:

-Andrew Clarke

Next month we will reveal the penultimate list of  John Carpenter films and look out for the final part in Issue 3 of The Avatar in print Spring 2011.


Written in the Stars

January 11, 2011

The process of dying had not been too bad on the whole. Although it had taken a while and been rather painful, now it was all over and Evans had fallen off the mortal coil he was beginning to have fun for the first time in what felt like years. Some of the baggage he had had to lug around during his physical life was slowly washing away from his new mind and this new state of being.

A lot of people had got the concept of heaven wrong, but then heaven as a physical place had never existed. The stages of dying were well known to a lot of people but the final end really was an undiscovered country. By that time the person who was going through this transformation process had long ago lost the ability to speak or communicate in any meaningful way. The body slowly shut down and the drugs calmed what was left to some degree. As this was going on, family members who had passed on would cross over from a different dimension to ease the person over to the other side.

Finally when the body was all that was left, the essence of the person joined the others and they all slid pleasurably into a new dimension to spend the rest of eternity watching what was going on all over the Universe. Occasionally they allowed themselves a visit to the old places and tried their best not to be seen, although there were those of unsound mind who said they had seen angels and fairies and would the person they were speaking to send a lot of money to the address of this religious organisation as soon as possible.

“This is not a good idea,” said Evans.

“Why not?” Said Stuart. “It’s a good idea and a fun joke.”

“But we’ve never done anything like this before,” replied Evans.

Evans had been a civil servant before death and alas still had the spirit-crushing, jumped-up, bureaucratic mindset that far too many public servants have. This attitude had been bad before he died but now this odious little jobs-worth was using eternity for his own ends. He had even started calling the process of dying “the existence conclusion of being” which usually caused all right thinking spirit people to immediately leave the room and kick the metaphorical cat on the way out.

“What harm could be done?” enquired Stuart, “it’ll help all the beings in the Universe finally to understand that there is no God.”

“But that only happened on Earth! Every few thousand years an event occurred and they got rid of whichever dopey deity they were slaughtering chickens and people for and starred gibbering over something else. At the moment on Earth they all believe the world is flat!” Said Evans.

“So when the big ones come along, it might convince a few of the herd to do something better with their lives rather than strap some Semtex to their bodies and snuff out their lives because the people around them are worshipping the wrong Sky Pixie!”

“But there’s a lot of work involved in arranging stars in such a pattern. We have to set up a planning committee, decide a place in the Universe where the constellation is to go and then make sure that when they go Supernova, they’re not going to inconvenience anyone living on local planets in the neighbourhood.”

“I see,” said a weary and bored Stuart, “we have all of eternity ahead of us and we can make as many stars as we like but we have to fill in the right forms first. Balls to your bureaucracy Evans! I’m going to do it.”

And so Stuart did. For the next few periods of whatever can be called time, he spun stars into existence; beautifully crafted explosions in infinity orchestrated in the blackness. It certainly had the unintended side effect of completely buggering up astrology. The new constellation had under worked, overpaid, pointless individuals trying to gain meanings from it in much the same way that Scorpio, Pisces and the rest had when they were first looked on by the gullible.

As he was building his stellar words Stuart realised just how wonderful the possibilities were for being sued for libel had he been alive. The start of all this had been in school and continued through his working life as various people had done him wrong. Justice had been a long time coming. When he had finished, Stuart looked on the new constellations and saw that they were both good and insulting to all the relevant people.

He could travel across the eons to before he was born and play with the Universe like a luxurious toy. The stars were timed to explode into life just after his death. The work took a long time but Stuart enjoyed it. He wondered if a deity could have such an enjoyable time creating a big cosmic joke.

It had taken a lifetime to codify in the stars the names of people who should have known better. There were such gorgeous hues of scarlet and blues and purples in the constellations. They glowed in the night, a healthy mixture of red dwarfs and blue super giants.

“Do you realise how much work you have created for me?” asked an enraged Evans. Stuart looked up from his chart of stars. He hadn’t seen the late Evans for days but even now he could see that he was not a happy being and the aura around him that all ex-humans have was crackling with energy brought about by someone else pissing on their bonfire.

“I should have known you wouldn’t have been pleased,” replied Stuart.

“Not pleased? Not pleased!” crackled Evans, “I can’t believe that for the first time in the history of the cosmos, one of us has called a group of humans a bunch of assholes!”

“They deserved it.” was all Stuart could say, glancing down at this charts.

“But did you have to include all these people? It’s a good job you’re not worshipped on Earth or people would be building effigies and burning you!”

“I was tempted to include you, Evans. You weary me with your constant droning about work load. Nobody cares here. You still have the same drab mindset now you’re dead that you have when you were alive.”

“I have it for a reason! I have to follow the rules just as you should have done.”

“Live with it,” said Stuart “I’ve put them in groups so that when the Earth people evolve English, they can understand exactly who I’m having a go at and why.”

“I’m sure that’s a great comfort to the people on your list.”

“They’re on there for a reason. Makepiss… sorry, Makepeace, Garner, Hudelston and Brown bullied me in school. Dheal, Charlton, Edwards, Lawrence, Woods, Green, Roberts, etc. let things go to hell when I was in college. Then there is Hennessey and Lacey, a couple of halfwits who couldn’t run a bath let alone a business. In the stars is Baxter who tried to be my friend but was in reality someone who played mind games. Finally we come to Newton, Jenkins, Sayles and the company called Supertemps who were to good management and sound business skills what Adolf Hitler was to world peace. Oh and there is…”

“Enough!” interrupted Evans, “You really don’t care about what you’ve done do you?”

Stuart started singing to the tune of ‘As Some Day It May Happen’ by Gilbert and Sullivan.

“There’s the pestilential nuisances who buggered up my life. All giving me lots of pain and stress and loads of strife!”

“Stop it!” shouted Evans.

“Don’t you like Gilbert and Sullivan?” enquired Stuart sweetly, “You were a civil servant in life and remain one in death. I should have mentioned Whittaker as she’s in the stars as well. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to put them into one big constellation and shout to the Universe that they are all assholes!”

“And what happens when they all arrive here. Do you want a war up here?”

“They won’t be able to. The star making plans were burnt in a star that travelled across the sky shortly before the winter solstice on Earth. I hope this will teach them to be better people in what remains of their lives.”

“But what about you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you worry about what kind of person you were back then? Or what you are now?”

Stuart stared at him. He wasn’t concerned about what others had thought. He had cared when he had been mortal and life was finite but now the rules had changed. The power to create beautiful points of light that meant nothing to some and a lot to others had given the chance to pause for a few moments but then he dismissed it. They had all done him wrong and all this had been a long time coming.

“I don’t care about what I am now,” he replied to Evans, “if you think what I’ve written is bad now, just you wait until you see what I’m going to write about Health and Safety Officials!”

An History of the Galaxy in 100 Objects Part II

December 24, 2010


We would like to thank the staff of the Starbase Leicester Xeno-Archaeology Department for their hard work in collecting and identifying these and the other alien objects in the museum. We hope they all soon recover their mental faculties enough to return to their work.

You can read Part I here

Object #3: A Preed Map

This object is a small, white, soft piece of cloth and it dates from a time so far back in the History of the Galaxy that no known date system can be applied to it. It is a relic from an epic war, fought between clones and immortals, then later, as each side’s technology was leaked to the other, between cloned immortals.

The object is actually a map, one of many made by prisoners of war who were kept on the notorious Penal Colony of Preed. Initially these maps allowed escapees to safely traverse the treacherous outlands which surrounded the high security prison; an almost featureless terrain of snow and ice covered hills. However, the prison authorities quickly found out about the maps being circulated among the inmates and took action.

Far from stopping their distribution though, the Governor decided to capitalise on the opportunity this presented. One of the main problems with an endless war and a prison full of immortals is that of massive overcrowding. Allowing prisoners to escape was one of the few ways of controlling the inmate population and so the Prison set about making its own maps, all of which contained subtle variations in their design, to the point that eventually nobody knew which were the originals and which were the fakes.

Sadly, this all went no way towards ending the war itself which had gone on for as long as anyone could remember, with nobody quite sure what it actually was they were fighting about. The only real upside was the frequent major advances in technology. As one side would innovate itself into a position of advantage the other would fight to compete or steal the idea and thus both civilisations sped through the various technological ages from simple mechanical tools, to industrialisation to computers, a space race and then on to cloning, immortality, on to teleportation, hyperdrive to wormhole manipulation to time travel to virtual omnipotence; all in the time it takes most civilisations to perfect segmented bakery products.

No one really knows what eventually happened to the makers of the Preed Maps or the civilisations they came from, but some believe they ware still at war in a parallel universe of their own construction.

Object #4: A Tyrfing Bag

A bag, 21 cms long with just enough space inside for an infinite amount of storage. Used for holding objects which nobody wants to ever see again.

Tyrfing is a Dendrecrenalian word which roughly translates as “forgetting”. The bag is made of a quantum coating of stasis laminate which has an entire galaxy trapped in it’s layer. This makes the inside of the bag effectively a black hole. This means that anything you put inside will not only vanish from the Universe, but also from the Multiverse; past present and future. People will forget it ever existed and any causal effects of that object will be undone.

It is, of course, impossible to say what this object was used for, or indeed even if it was ever used at all since we have no way of knowing what, if anything, is inside the bag. Its very existence does seem to suggest storage of a very special kind rather than ‘destruction’, which means that the held objects were probably intended to return at some point.

We might speculate that this bag is some kind of time capsule, designed to convey objects from their point of origin to a point in the future where they are needed, with no intervening period of existence. A sure defence against theft by time travellers. Of course, emptying the bag of all it’s contents to have a look is risky since the causal link with the objects will then be re-established and events which were undone will be redone.

Object #5 Corer for Radioactive Fruit

This elegant piece of heavy machinery dates from the early Glock-Ram period of the Mid-Westlands. With this corer (shown here with it’s stylish yet functional storage case) the cores of various radioactive fruit can be removed simply and quickly

But why radioactive fruit? Well, radioactive fruit is much easier to find in the dark, and this was vital for the residents of the Mid-Westlands as they had no light whatsoever. In fact, the whole region was dubbed the ‘Dark Country’ because of the profusion of heavy industrial sites located there. It is this very industry which led to the creation of the radioactive fruit (as well as radioactive meat, fish, vegetables, bread and cakes, milk, stick on eyebrows, etc.)

When consumed on a regular basis, these fruits bestowed a sinister brand of ‘super-powers’. First of all ones clothing would begin to exhibit a sparkling, shimmering effect, the area around the shoulders would increase in size and the heels of shoes would grow making the person seem taller than they actually were. The face would also start to manifest odd changes with large and colourful markings forming around the eyes and cheeks.

This was, sadly, just the start of their problems as soon their behaviour would also change. They would begin communicating in a thick, hard to understand accent of elongated vowels and nasal sounds. Sufferers would find that the only way they could communicate was by shouting and stomping their feet, a dangerous endeavour given the stacked heels. One enterprising individual even attempted to alleviate the effects by attaching mirrors to a top hat in order to reflect the radiation away, but alas it had no effect.

The corer was a somewhat more successful remedy, by removing the most hazardous part of the fruit, it’s core. Eventually, the whole sorry situation was put to an end by the so called “New Wave” which relied wholly on electronically produced fruit.

Object #6 Co-colian Currency.

These coins are now extremely rare in the Galaxy, and yet at one time, several million centuries ago, they were one of the most numerous forms of currency on the planet Co-coli. These few survive because they were not on-world when the infamous ‘meltdown’ occurred and they were later found hidden inside a sofa bought at inter-auction several weeks before this tragic event.

The financial meltdown of co-coli was not simply figurative, but literal. There are two kinds of currency-token in the galaxy; The first kind is direct – gold coins, gem-stones, allennov teeth, objects which are actually physically worth the amount they are being traded for. The second kind is representational – a credit chip or a currency note which is a promise to pay the bearer a certain amount.

Co-colian currency was of the former kind, but with another important factor built into it. The material it was made from was a rare element, usually stable but if too much of it was collected into one place there was a risk it could reach a critical mass and set off a chain reaction. When this happened all of the money would melt down and cause massive damage to the planet.

This simple fact had a strong effect on Co-colian society, since anyone who dared to collect enough coins in one place risked causing the ‘end-of-the-world’ and so spreading wealth around became very important. The Co-colian banks were in charge of making sure that their funds were distributed evenly among the population so there were no rich people, and no poor either, in fact anyone without money was in high demand since they could be used to take large amounts of cash away.

Being poor on Co-coli was actually a very lucrative profession, but nobody ever managed to make a career out of it until one man (through a combination of bad luck, poor timing and being known world-wide as one of the poorest men on the planet) won the lottery, received a bank error in his favour and became the recipient of a large charity donation. The resulting explosion not only wiped out the entire Co-colian population, but also destroyed one of the most beloved tax havens in the Galaxy.

The Incredible Career of Horror Director John Carpenter. Part 3

December 19, 2010

By Andrew Clarke


This issue we have a special bonus review of one of John Carpenter’s short movies for the tv series Masters Of Horror. Asides from that there are some decent movies here; Dark Star is quite impressive considering it was Carpenter’s low budget debut, meanwhile The Fog, Halloween and Big Trouble In Little China are all considered classics. We’ve not yet reached the cream of the crop in John Carpenter’s career though…

PRO-LIFE (2006)

Just look at that DVD cover. Doesn’t that look the most awesome thing ever? It’s called Pro-Life and it features an ultrasound image of a foetus with claws!!!

The premise is also rather awesome; a right-wing fundamentalist preacher (Ron Perlman) tries to ‘save’ his daughter from an abortion clinic while the doctors struggle to understand the supernatural nature of the pregnancy.

Unfortunately, JC’s second addition to the Masters Of Horror tv series wasn’t as impressive as his earlier entry Cigarette Burns. Sadly the violence of the piece gets rather too gratuitous without really being terribly satisfying and this one-hour short seems happy to end on a note where, as far as I could tell, everyone worth caring about suffers the most. Also, I think if you are dealing with what is, essentially, rape by an evil demon, you need to deal with it a little more carefully.

Quite unusually for Carpenter’s work, the atmosphere of Pro-Life didn’t really do much to properly make me care about what was happening onscreen. Nor was it one of Carpenter’s less serious and more fun outings either. After a promising beginning, it all falls down at the end and a great deal of it ends up feeling rather pointless.

My Score:


DARK STAR (1974)

This low budget, silly sci-fi movie later inspired the creators of Red Dwarf and at times it’s also reminiscent of the Hitchhikers’ Guide.

Dark Star has some great sci-fi comedy moments with some really good dark humour. However, with some drawn out scenes, no real sense of direction and a very obviously low budget it’s hard to really get involved.

The slapstick struggle with the less-than-appreciated alien life form and the polite but insistent bomb deployment system are both great fun, but the comedy is not always terribly funny and the tone of the movie isn’t always consistent.

It could perhaps have done with being rather less 2001-esque (what was with the glass-water music?). All-in-all I’d say the merits just about outweigh the faults, making a good if not perfect debut from John Carpenter.

My Score:




This is possibly the movie John Carpenter is most well-known for. Spawning several sequels (not directed by Carpenter) and launching the slasher genre, it served to catch the audience’s imagination. So I should probably say a bit more than, “yeah, it’s okay”.

To be honest, I’ve never really understood the appeal of the slasher genre. A movie showing lots of people getting stabbed is distinctly unappealing to me. However, I have to admit that John Carpenter’s Halloween has a few features which set it apart.

We aren’t expected to empathise with the killer. Michael is utterly dehumanised, making this essentially a monster movie with a masked human-being taking the place of the monster. This isn’t a serious statement about the mentality of serial killers or a warning to be on your guard against mass-murdering lunatics. This human murderer monster has about as much relevance to threats in the real world as The Thing From Another World (which just so happens to be on the tv set in one scene).

Also, Carpenter didn’t feel the need to make the murders overly gratuitous. The tension is in full force, but Michael only seems to require one fatal blow to take people out rather than the brutal stabbings again and again which the audience are treated to in the Scream movies. Interestingly, though you don’t notice it when you are caught up in the movie, there isn’t actually any blood in Halloween.

I’ll admit that there is the unfortunate cliché of adults in their mid-twenties who are inexplicably still in high school, and the dialogue is a bit dodgy in places, but there are some very nice touches nonetheless.

I’m not entirely sure why Scream needed to make fun of this genre when it seems that Halloween, the film which started it all, actually has many comedy elements and quite happily plays on existing horror clichés of the time. (On the phone: *crunch crunch* .. Hello? … *muffled sound* … What is this? … Sorry, I was just eating something. – Classic!)

It wasn’t perfect. Some better dialogue amongst the ‘high school seniors’ (yeah right) would have gone a long way and, while they had their moments, the characters could have been given a little more depth. Still, it’s a pretty good fun movie.

My Score:



THE FOG (1980)

A pet peeve of mine is when the bad guys have seemingly arbitrary supernatural powers and this movie features a supernatural evil fog which seems to be able to go wherever it wants. Whether you get killed by the fog or not seems to basically depend upon luck for the most part and that irritates me.

That said, the attacks by the nasty things in the fog which come to kill you are very well done. Also despite quite a varied cast we get to know several of the characters quite well and we always feel enough of an attachment to them to be invested in the action (though some characters aren’t developed as well as others).

While the cast does a very good job with what is actually a pretty meandering screenplay, the real star is the various special effects John Carpenter puts to work to demonstrate the evil power of the fog. While dated, the effects are still very um… effective. John Carpenter really plays to his strengths by focussing on the atmosphere.

The ending sticks with you, which always tends to be a good sign.

My Score:




So much fun! Some of the effects shots are filled with the John Carpenter magic, though in general this is quite low budget. This movie is, admittedly, very cheesy. Also some of the lines aren’t delivered especially well. That said, the two male leads (Kurt Russell and Dennis Dun) have the energy to really pull you into the action and, once you get caught up in it, the cheesiness ceases to matter.

While this might not sound like much of a recommendation, I can’t help but feel that this was an inspiration for the video game Mortal Kombat. The abilities of Raiden – God of Thunder in the game seem reminiscent of a rather awesome bad guy. Also the sorceror Shang Tsung in the game seems rather similar to the main bad guy sorceror in the movie.

The whole premise of dark Chinese magic and nothing being what it seems really captures the imagination and it isn’t surprising that it may have influenced others later on. Don’t expect too much though, this is essentially just some silly fun. But if silly fun is your thing, you won’t be disappointed.

My Score:


– Andrew Clarke


Check back in the coming months as Andrew continues to review more John Carpenter movies from worst to best, concluding with the TOP 2 which will be published in The Avatar Issue 3!

Scorpius Episode I: Blue Sun

December 14, 2010

When the Firefly class ship Scorpius touched down at Meridian spaceport it ended seventy-two days of confinement, frustration and hard work for the crew. Kitosa Kurza flopped back into his pilot seat and stretched out his arms as he tried to work some feeling back into his muscles.

As the previously unnoticed drone of the engines died down, he could hear the argument out in the corridor. It was between the Captain and the Engineer as usual and neither of them was either winning nor showing any signs of backing down.

Kitosa mused over whether Captain Eastman would bother to keep the troublesome Scotsman on the crew after this drop was made. Before he could shut down all of the Scorpius’ systems the hatchway at the rear of the cockpit rolled open and the two men made their noisy entrance,

“Tell him Kurza,” pleaded the Engineer, “we gotta have those new parts or the whole pulse capacitor system will go bad!” Before he could answer the Captain butted in,

“Keep him outta this Scott, you’re both just ruttin’ crewmen ya hear? Ain’t nobody tells me how I run my ship,” he emphasised the last point by jabbing his thumb into his own grubby coveralls. The pair of them would go around in circles like this for hours, but Kitosa just wanted to get out and see a sky that wasn’t behind six inches of clear-screen.

When he got down to the cargo bay the rest of the crew were already waiting by the huge ramp. Most of them had only been with the ship a few weeks, but they had become a of family of sorts. The tightness of a ship seemed to do that to folks, there were just as many rows and playful teasing as in a real family, but everyone got along pretty much. Everyone, except for the Captain.

Eastman kept himself tucked away in his quarters most of the time and usually only came out when something was wrong. Consequently, his presence was associated with bad feeling. He rarely talked when he could shout and never missed an opportunity to tell the crew what a lousy job they were doing, before disappearing back into his cabin. He usually paid most of them off and hired in new at each stop, but Kitosa had been on board for one complete run; the best part of a year’s round trip from where they were now, in towards Persephone at the core and then across to Bellerophon. Kitosa guessed his long service was down to his piloting skill. Pilots were hard to find since the war and what flyers there were favoured the nice steady corporate jobs rather than these grubby little freighters, but then those pilots probably had a license.

Meridian opened up before them as the Captain cranked the lever for the loading ramp and clambered into the ship’s Mule. This was the old homeworld of the Blue Sun Corporation, not the shiny new Corporate Headquarters of Muir where all the latest R&D and Technical Services were based. Meridian was almost 100 years old and looked it’s age. Here was where ‘dust zones robotically cranked out soap powder, spare parts and construction materials.

The spaceport for outside traffic was separate from the main city, but from where they were they could see the grand offices and housing blocks, all with the Blue Sun logo emblazoned on them, just in case there was any doubt as to who owned this entire system.

“I got another job for any of you that’s interested?” Said the Captain. The others all looked at each other, knowing that until they’d got their cut from the delivery they weren’t letting Eastman out of their sight. Jake and Walter, the ship’s most recent hired muscle, had spent the morning loading up the mule with the core samples that had been the cargo on this trip, and these didn’t seem particularly dangerous or illegal. Everyone clambered aboard as Eastman booted up the crafts systems, which actually involved using his boot.

The Captain guided the Mule down the ramp and onto the cargo lift. It descended for a couple of minutes and led them to a service road buried beneath the spaceport. They sped on, past fuelling towers, automated warehouses, service sheds and eventually out into the open air. They could see the city and spaceport behind them now as they drove down an embankment and onto a vast shiny black strip of what looked like plastic. Captain Eastman gunned the throttle up to full speed. Occasionally they would overtake enormous windowless grey buildings, which as they drew closer, they could see were actually crawling up and down this long smooth ribbon. Nowhere was a single living person to be seen.

The sky grew dark, the air got thinner and the temperature dropped. They seemed to be entering the more rarified atmosphere of the planet’s northern region. The crew huddled around the small and inadequate heater in the front of the Mule. Finally they slowed down, turned off the track and headed into an old run-down area of abandoned buildings. The road was broken and covered in a fine grey dust. It led past wrecked structures with missing walls and roofs. Near the centre there were a couple of high rise blocks, factory complexes and commercial offices.

“Fine place for a bushwhackin’ I’d say” said Kitosa. The others nodded and checked their weapons.

“What are we doing here Captain?” Asked Doc Whiteman. The Captain didn’t answer, he just kept staring at the map overlay on the screen. Then he stopped, just inside the end of a side street.

“Right there’s where the exchange is going to take place. Any of you fired a sniper rifle before?” Jake and Kaine raised their hands like school children and were rewarded with a collection of heavy objects wrapped in a blanket from under the front seat. The pieces assembled easily into two high powered rifles which were divided between the pair. “I got to make the exchange on my own, you’re job is to make sure everythin’ goes smooth, and if it don’t, to make sure I’m the one who lives to tell about it. If I die, none of you gets paid, so keep that in mind when you’re starin’ down those sights!”

Everyone else hopped out and surveyed their surroundings. Kitosa looked around for the entrance to the taller of the office blocks and Jake and the Doctor started walking towards the two-storey factory building overlooking the main square.

By the time they had all reached their lookout positions the Captain had hidden the Mule in one of the side buildings and had taken up a comfortable spot in the nook of a partially collapsed wall, in full view in the middle of the square. On the fourteenth floor of the administration building, not quite the top since they’d been too tired to bother climbing the rest of the stairs, Kitosa, Kaine and Scott had cleared some room to sit among the litter and office furniture. Kitosa got to work on the bottle of whiskey he carried around inside his flight suit while Kaine fiddled with the settings on the rifle sights and Scott went through the contents of a waste paper basket he’d found.

“What I cannae understand is, why spend all that money on sensors and redundant back-up systems, when you’re not even willing to buy a replacement compression coil?”

“It doesn’t make any sense,” agreed Kaine. Kitosa, thanks to years flying atmo’ craft with no ear protection and the rapid effects of the whiskey, couldn’t really hear or understand any of it. “Captain’s up to something, no doubts there,” Kaine added, then asked, “you joined before me, you know him better than I do.”

“Nah, I only came on at Persephone, Kitosa’s the longest serving out’ae any of us and even he doesn’e know,” Scott looked at the pilot but could see he wasn’t going to get any sense out of him.

“But, it’s not his own ship?” Said Kaine.

“Nah, he flies it for some family out on Bell’,” said Scott, absently reading a twenty year old office memo.

They saw movement outside, a small planetary cargo hauler appeared over the top of the buildings, followed by four smaller air-cars, each with three or four people inside. They circled the landing area, causing Kaine and Scott to duck behind a desk, Scott dragging Kitosa with him. The hauler dropped slowly to the ground and the cars formed a circle around the meeting area. Eastman stood up.

Kaine moved back into position near the main window, but from the back of the room near to the door Scott heard something coming from up the stairwell. A chattering sound, a radio and then a voice, muffled by several walls. Taking out his sidearm, Scott left the room and slowly made his way up the stairs. On the top floor he found a man, lying on his front facing the window. He appeared to be directing a squad of law enforcement officers with phrases like,

“Renegade is in position now, standby drop-squad,” and “prepare on my signal, A and V are you recording, over?”

Scott moved slowly and silently off the last stair and moved in, across the corridor, into the doorway and straight through an invisible sensor beam. A loud alarm pierced the air and the Officer rolled over, grabbing his rifle and bringing it up to his chest, but not fast enough. Scott fired off a shot and hit him straight in the neck. The shots from the Officer’s assault rifle popped into the ceiling as he flailed about wildly. Scott put another half a dozen rounds into him until he’d stopped moving and then emptied the rest of the clip into the wailing alarm unit.

“Now, I would have set the alarm up on the stairs,” said Scott, to nobody in particular.

Scooping up the man’s binoculars he could just make out Eastman below counting some money as two of the men from the cargo hauler were moving the Mule out of its hidden location and towards the truck. Suddenly teams of security officers poured out of every ground level building and air-cars swooped down covering the escape route of the other vehicles. Behind him, Kitosa appeared at the top of the stairs and looked over to the dead body.

“Who’s he?”

“Dunno,” shrugged Scott, stooping down to examine the man’s uniform, “Agent Heston of Internal Security,” he read.

“It’s a sting operation!” Said Kitosa, more sober now than he’d seemed a few minutes before.

“What about the Captain,” Scott looked out of the window to see a team of black-clad officers like the one he’d just killed, bundling Eastman into the back of an armoured unit along with several bound and wounded gang members.

“Grab that stuff, might be useful,” said Kitosa, wrenching the assault rifle from the cold dead hands of the Officer.

They met Kaine on the way down the stairwell. They didn’t stop to talk until they’d got themselves out of the office block and down a couple of streets in the opposite direction to the main square. It was almost night and with no artificial lighting they were having trouble seeing where they were walking, but none of them wanted to stop.

“We have to try and get back to the city, and the ship,” said Kitosa. Scott lifted up the small computer unit and examined it. Any key press elicited a request for an access code, which he didn’t have and so he decided to shut it off until he had a chance to look at it back in his workshop on Scorpius.

On the outskirts of town, they found Jake Cobb and the Doctor wandering in the same direction. From here Quing Long city, or ‘Blue Dragon’ as the locals called it, looked like it might be about forty or fifty kilometres away. Walking it could take them days to reach and after a quick check round they realised none of them had brought any water or food.

“Should we call the authorities?” Asked Doctor Whiteman, “tell them we got lost maybe,”

“You reckon’ they’d believe us?” Said Jake. Nobody reckoned they would.

“Why don’t we just hitch a ride,” said Scott, suddenly breaking into a run down the embankment towards the huge black-top they’d travelled along.

A vast monolithic block was moving towards them down the road at slightly more than walking pace and the Engineer was jogging towards a service ladder which dangled down between the massive tracks at its base. Since nobody wanted to get left behind, one by one they all followed Scott’s lead.

Up on the service platform there was a multitude of control boxes, access panels and readouts. The noise of the huge machinery was monstrous, even Kitosa could hear it.

“This thing’s not much faster than walking!” Screamed Scott at the top of his lungs. Nobody bothered to try and answer and seemed content to at least be moving in the right direction. The road, they knew, would take them into the warehouse and loading sector of the city where they’d eventually be able to find a local transportation hub, but Scott wasn’t satisfied with their rate of progress.

Ripping open a panel he began poking and prodding until he found the speed control for the main power drive. A couple of adjustments set the governor to a higher setting. The engines sounded the same for a few seconds, but gradually they heard the whine increase in pitch. Scott smiled widely as he realised his efforts had been successful. The ‘building’ began to move very slightly quicker, and several minutes later quicker still. The engines grew louder as the block trundled along its predestined route with ever increasing velocity. They could feel the wind whipping around the service deck as they gained speed.

At the prow of this great land ship Kitosa was at last enjoying the feeling of being out in the open air, breathing something which wasn’t recycled. The city was not too far away now and all seemed to be going well, until he noticed something. Another building, in the same lane as theirs.

Kitosa ran back down the gangway to Scott, who’s smile turned to a frown when he saw his shipmate’s expression. The pilot didn’t attempt to speak but instead made the gesture of two fists meeting each other. It was either a threat or a warning of an imminent collision, Scott took it to mean the latter. He rushed back to the engine systems control and made short stabs at the rows of switches. He shut down everything he could find, until the sound of the engines was suddenly cut dead. Now all they could hear was the whistling of the wind and the heavy rolling vibrations of the tracks beneath them. They were not, however, slowing down.

“Kitosa, you’re a pilot,” said Scott. Kitosa nodded. “How much inertia does a building about forty stories high and full of fruity oaty bars have?” Kitosa appeared to be doing some mental calculation before confiming,

“Ooh, lots.” They each decided it was time to get off this death-trap. First Kaine, then Jake, then the Doctor, hesitantly made the jump from the lowest part of the access ladder onto the black, almost frictionless, surface of the road below. It was hard but very smooth and as each of them landed on it they slid for several metres before coming to a stop. Kitosa grabbed Scott’s arm and they both launched off from halfway down the ladder and hit the ground half running, half rolling. Tucking in arms, legs and head they couldn’t see the massive collision when it happened, but they could definitely hear and feel it. The others saw it though. The outer layers of both of the bulk movers peeled away as their contents spilled out over an area the size of a city block.

Fortunately for Kitosa and Scott the momentum took the huge tower blocks of materials away from where they were laying on the ground. Four-hundred-thousand tons of Fruity Oaty bars laying atop four-hundred-thousand tons of medical packs. The rest of the group came limping up to the two men lying on the floor and picked them up before everyone, instinctively, ran away.

They kept going for a few minutes before they all ran out of breath. Since none of them had eaten for at least twelve hours none of them had the energy to run for long. As they sat and rested they watched a solitary aircar approach the scene of the crash, fly around the perimeter and then land.

“Come on,” said Kitosa, getting up again and making off back towards the crash site.

Within a few minutes they were all flying along in a stolen aircar back towards the spaceport. They could see the Scorpius, surrounded by Security units with a large warning sign notifying them that the bay was sealed off.

“Now what?” Asked the Doctor. Kitosa found a piece of open ground outside one of the unmanned warehouses beside the spaceport.

“Well, it’s been nice knowing you guys,” said Kaine, “looks like we’re all out of a job, and with no pay to show for it!”

“Maybe we could sell some stuff, split the money?” The Doctor suggested.

“No, we can’t give up, that ship’s my home. Everything I own in the ‘verse is on there,” said Kitosa, but Scott was already rummaging through the bag of equipment he’d found.

“Mebbe this wee computer could be worth a bit te someone?”

“We’ll discuss it at the spaceport bar,” said Kitosa Kurza, climbing out of the car.

* * *

The Mare Inebrium was outside of the main city and served as an entertainment complex, somewhere to get horrendously drunk on the cheap, a good source of gossip and an employment exchange all in one place. It was possibly the only place on Meridian into which the five crew of the Scorpius could have walked in their current state and not been noticed.

They went up to the long chrome-effect bar and sat down.

“How you figger we gonna get back to the ship?” Asked Jake. Kitosa, who had been here so many times they didn’t need to ask him what he wanted, picked up the glass of Bourbon that had been placed in front of him.

“I think right now that would be an incredibly bad idea,” said Kaine, pointing up at a news feed hanging from the ceiling at the end of the bar.

They saw a mugshot of the bruised and beaten face of Captain Vic Eastman. This was replaced by a live feed overlooking a courtyard lined with military-type officers

“They don’t hang around do they?” said the Doctor, knowing what was coming next. Eastman was lined up in front of a man with a large ceremonial sword while a string of white text rolled along a red bar at the bottom of the screen with a list of his crimes. Chief among them was drug smuggling.

“They’re gonnae make an example of him,” said Scott grimly.

“He couldn’t have expected anything less,” said Kitosa, who was suddenly distracted by a short, blonde haired woman who had sat down on the stool next to him.

“Hello, what’s your name?” He asked with a wide smile. The man on the TV with the big sword swung it down in one swift, smooth stroke and beheaded Captain Eastman. The woman grimaced, but since she had been looking over Kitosa’s shoulder at the execution, Kitosa chose not to take it personally. Then she turned to him.

“Are you with that ship, the Scorpius?”

To Be Continued …

The Incredible Career of Horror Director John Carpenter. Part 2

November 17, 2010

By Andrew Clarke

Read Part 1 HERE


Quick explanation of ratings system:

1 star – Absolutely dreadful

2 stars – Bad, but watchable

3 stars – Deeply average, bog-standard

4 stars – Solidly good

5 stars – Excellent


John Carpenter does aliens on Mars. Well, you can imagine my excitement upon hearing that!

The biggest problem is that Ghosts Of Mars is not terribly exciting. Nor does it make up for the lack of action by being in any way clever (in spite of signs that it might have been trying to do so).

Apparently the society on Mars in the future is a matriarchy, though in the scheme of things this seems to make very little actual difference. There’s a suggestion that all of the authority is held by women and that heterosexuality is uncommon. On the positive side, this isn’t used as an excuse to show the actresses getting off with each other. On the negative side, that would actually have been more interesting. While a matriarchy would suggest that women had the upper hand in terms of privilege in society, Jason Statham’s character gets away with a stream of unprofessional bravado and flirtation which reaches the level of sexual harassment. So while there are admittedly more female characters than male (at least to begin with), the differences between this futuristic matriarchy and our still quite patriarchal society are pretty negligible.

The bad guys in Ghosts Of Mars are essentially the same as the “Reavers” from Joss Whedon’s Firefly/Serenity series. Yes, this movie came first, but in Serenity Joss is sensible enough not to make “Alien Possession” the explanation for the Reavers’ decision to self-mutilate and slaughter. It’s quite hard to understand why an extinct alien race would just happen to be entirely familiar with flags, swords, earrings and other very human tribal features.

While Jason Statham is not at all at his best here, Ice Cube actually puts in a pretty decent performance as an infamous convict the team have come to collect. The movie doesn’t have brilliant pacing, but the actors do the best with what they have and there are some points where you really get to settle in and enjoy the action.

Ghosts Of Mars is fun enough if you think of it as popcorn fodder and don’t let your expectations get too high. In the end this is basically just an early Jason Statham B-movie, which ends up being mostly about the gore.

My Score:



The news that this was a poorly-rated comedy starring Chevy Chase didn’t give me a good feeling about this one. Memoirs Of An Invisible Man is, unsurprisingly, about a man who turns invisible. What was rather more surprising was that Chevy Chase insisted on being seen on camera and his request was granted.

Actually the decision to leave the lead actor visibly on screen even while he’s supposed to be invisible works in the movie’s favour. This is used quite creatively with some shots showing things as they appear and others giving the audience a very clear picture of the location and feelings of the central character. The invisibility effects are used very effectively. In the image above some makeup has come off around the invisible man’s lips, revealing his false teeth in a rather disturbing way. However, there are also a lot of scenes which are quite clever in the way the protagonist, still visible to the audience, is ignored by the rest of the cast.

Sam Neil is fantastic as the bad guy, but sadly Chevy Chase is rather less impressive and the movie cannot really survive without a decent central performance.

While the dialogue suggests that the main character is selfish and a bit of a loner, Chevy Chase’s acting suggests nothing much worse than a “lovable rogue”. He simply doesn’t seem to able to express the range of emotions necessary to portray a character with depth and this puts severe limits on our investment in the story.

Chase is actually surrounded by some quite awesome talents in this movie and I found myself doing a bit of star spotting while I watched. Of course, there is Sam Neil, who is always brilliant and can really raise the bar in otherwise under-par movies like this. However, there is also Stephen Tobolowsky (Sammy Jenkis in Memento and Ned in Groundhog Day), Michael McKean (David St. Hubbins from This Is Spinal Tap) and Jim Norton (Bishop Len Brennan from Father Ted). With so much talent in the supporting cast and so much creativity in the filming methods the presence of Chevy Chase in the central role is really this movie’s biggest letdown.

My Score:




It’s not normally a terribly good sign when a horror movie starts talking about the relationship between religion and science. Scientists get annoyed enough when religious figures like Deepak Chopra start telling everyone that quantum physics has important consequences for religion. However, this movie circum-navigates the issue, partially by being pretty vague on the science, partially with some wholly unorthodox revelations in regards to the religion, but mostly by just making it so none of it really matters to the movie. Sadly this also makes the entire first half of the movie seem pretty pointless.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that, for most of the movie, the EVIL seems to be able to do anything it wants. The EVIL is supposedly trapped in a container from which it cannot escape, yet that doesn’t seem to stop it spraying people with evil goo. The EVIL is also capable of controlling a group of people outside (led by Alice Cooper) who can turn someone into a weird zombie-like figure full of rats. The function of the people outside seems to be to provide a similar sense of being under siege as was found in Carpenter’s classic Assault On Precinct 13, but with little explanation as to why they are there it all feels a little odd.

The story as a whole feels a bit slap-dash and though we are following a group of characters, the one we seem to be expected to consider the protagonist is not terribly likeable nor easy to empathise with.

John Carpenter’s own musical score for the movie does a great job of building up fear and tension and the movie’s final scenes are absolutely brilliant. Unfortunately there’s a little too much dross along the way.

The final quarter of the movie almost makes it worth your while, providing the clear threat of a Lovecraftian apocalypse (albeit without the tentacles). It is at this point where the film gets a real sense of excitement along with some really interesting visuals. Sadly, since I am not at all keen on including spoilers in my reviews, this is about all I can say about this final section of Prince Of Darkness. I should make it very clear that the movie’s conclusion in no way makes up for the first half of the movie, but it does make this a little more worth checking out if you find yourself becoming a fan of John Carpenter’s better movies (see later reviews in the Avatar for more details) *shameless plug*.

My Score:


– By Andrew Clarke


Next Month, as we continue our countdown of ‘Worst to Best’ Andrew will be tackling 4 more of John Carpenter’s Movies, including some true classics of the Sci-Fi and Horror genres.

Rock Band 3D

November 3, 2010

Yes it’s finally here, after staring at the new drum kit for the last 2 days the slimline Amazonian parcel containing the actual game dropped through the letter box at approximately 2.30pm. Since then I’ve been playing until my arms were sore.

Actually, it’s NOT 3D, that’s just my little joke. But it so easily could have been and I’d be willing to bet that they considered it when they were deciding what new features they were going to add to make this third instalment in the Rock Band franchise stand out from the crowd.

Rock Band 2 certainly wasn’t much to shout about, it was basically a song pack with no real changes made to the gameplay, but this time around they have chosen to address one of the BIG criticisms which gets thrown at all of these ‘rhythm action’ games by non-gamers; “Why don’t you just go and learn to play a real instrument?”

So now with the new Pro Mode, you can learn to play a real instrument! Guitars, Drums and Keyboards now all feature in this high level mode which doesn’t just aim to create an instrument-like experience, these are like-instruments.

I can only speak for Drums, since that’s the only peripheral I was interested in, and with most of the instruments costing about £100 EACH, I wasn’t going to waste money on something I wasn’t going to play. So anyway, I shall deal first with the hardware, and then the software.

THE KIT: The official Rock Band Pro Drum Kit is made by Mad Katz and is really just the same drum pads as previously with cymbals added. These cymbal add-on packs have been around for a while and if you already own a compatible drum kit you could just buy the cymbals on their own (check this first though, I could be wrong).

Each cymbal is mounted on top of a thick metal pole which clamps onto the legs of the drum ‘head’. The electronics to detect the hits are built into the cymbal itself and a wire runs down and plugs into the drum pad controls, so you can connect 1, 2 or all 3 cymbals and then set the game up accordingly. The game can easily be set up so it won’t send you hits for cymbals you don’t have.

The problem with the cymbals is that the drum pad set-up isn’t really very sturdy on its own so hanging a load more metal and plastic off the back of it just makes the whole thing even more wobbly. Really the drum-pad arrangement is too small to fit the cymbals in as well and you do find it hard to switch from hitting the pad to cymbal and across cymbals quickly without banging into the pads, the bottom of the other cymbals (the ones you don’t want to hit), the poles, your arms or your own face.

The clamps for the poles are very naff ‘plastic’ and can’t be tightened enough to stop them moving around while they’re being hit, so I had to resort to taping up all the clamps with big thick gaffa tape (the roadies friend). The good part is that you can set the cymbals up more or less where you want them, so if you’re used to a real kit (like me) you can try to replicate the placement of each cymbal, which is useful if your using RB to learn real drums. There’s also the problem of seeing over the kit to look at the TV screen.

If you’ve got a spare foot pedal, you can add that too, but this will only give you another bass drum pedal in the game. You can use it as a hit-hat pedal but only in free-play. My old PS3 pedal even works with my Xbox kit, but that’s not so surprising since it’s basically just a micro-switch and a wire.

Once you’re actually playing though, preferably with the lights off so you can’t see this monstrosity sitting in front of you, it’s possible to forget about the drum kit itself and just start playing. It takes a while to get used to hitting the Yellow Cymbal and not the Yellow Pad, and so on, because the 3 colours of yellow (hi-hat), blue (ride) and green (crash) are doubled up with the pad colours, which are all now toms apart from the red snare.

Most of the songs I played use mainly the hi-hat/snare combo with the ride cymbal thrown in and the odd crash here and there. The other 3 pads don’t get much of a look in and it’s actually easier to learn the new cymbals since you’re using them a lot. It’s actually harder harder to remember where the pads are when they come up in a song, since seeing a blue, yellow or green gem now tricks your brain into hitting cymbals!

THE GAME: For anyone who’s played the other Guitar Hero or Rock Band games, there’s still the same basic mechanics at the heart of this game. Pro mode is like an extra add-on which you get the option to select each time you go into a song. So you still have Easy, Medium, Hard and Expert which are all the same as before. In Pro mode you also have Easy, Medium, Hard and Expert but these will use the new Pro mechanics for the instrument. So on drums, Pro mode adds cymbals but there’s still an Easy mode if you’re struggling. Expert in Pro Mode is now everything the real musician is playing on the track, note for note.

While I would play drums on Expert in normal mode, Pro mode adds so much more complexity that I am forced to go down to Hard or Medium, even for fairly simple songs. It’s a little bit like starting all over again, which is pretty neat because it reminds me of how I was when I started out playing on these games, working my way up the difficulty levels. I’m looking forward to working my way up to Expert again.

If you have a lot of songs in your collection, the cool part (for drums at least) is that the boys and girls at Harmonix have been coding everything for 4 pads, 1 pedal and 3 cymbals right from the very start, so even old songs should have full Pro Mode support! I tried this out by downloading ‘Message in a Bottle’ which was DLC made for Rock Band 1, and sure enough in Pro Mode all of the cymbals were there and everything was just where it should be. Unfortunately I’ve switched systems from PS3 to Xbox so I’m going to have to buy all my songs again.

Really I’m hoping to cross-train from Rock Band to my real kit, which from what I’ve seen is entirely possible. Playing Rock Band will improve my technique I hope and it’s close enough to fool my brain into manufacturing the right kind of neurones in the right places to play better in real life.

I’ve yet to see what the full functional stringed guitar brings to Pro mode, but from what I’ve seen on the internet it replicates every note and chord on Expert and also trains you up through the levels. Similarly with keyboards. It’s really just a shame that all the instruments are so expensive because it seems unlikely that we’ll be able to get a full Pro band going at our regular Starbase Console Nights.

My Rating