Audiobooks You Should Hear

As I’ve said many times before, I’m an audio book addict.  Listening to a book has become my standard entertainment while driving or working on some simple task that would prevent normal reading or watching something.  Audio books are the fastest growing market and frequently I’m asked which ones I’d recommend.  So here’s a list of my most regularly recommended audio books and why.

WWZ World War Z

Written by: Max Brooks

Performed by:  Full Cast

I was fortunate enough to have read this book right when it was released and I instantly fell in love with it.  After hearing about the audio version, I gave it a shot and it did not disappoint.  It features a spectacular cast including Alan Alda, Mark Hamill, Henry Rollins, and many, many more.  It’s absolutely wonderful.

The only gripe I have about the book is that it is abridged.  The version that I originally listened to (many times) was made in the time just before streaming and MP3 downloads made abridged audio books a thing of the past.  When the movie came out, it was decided that they would release a full-length version with all of the missing stories (this is the only positive thing I will ever state about the movie).  It’s a dramatic improvement, however, while the additional stories are unabridged, the small abridgments that were made to the stories that were in the original recording are still there.  This does disappoint me, but the audio book is still amazing and it’s often the first one I recommend to anyone wanting a great listen.  Mark Hamill’s performance is my favorite.

HBH The Hellbound Heart

Written by:  Clive Barker

Performed by:  Jeffrey Kafer

This is another one that I had read years before I tried out the audio book. After a Hellraiser marathon, I decided to revisit the original story and picked up the audio edition.  Jeffrey Kafer nails the performance and I especially loved the effect they added to the cenobites’ voices.  It’s an extremely short listen, but really packs a punch. Because it’s so short, it has also become one of those old stand-by books I save for when I need something to hold me over for just a couple hours.


Silence of the Lambs The Silence of the Lambs

Written by: Thomas Harris

Performed by:  Frank Muller

I’d seen the film version of this story countless times and was interested in checking out the original book.  When I saw that Frank Muller (my absolute favorite narrator) had performed it, it was instantly in my Audible shopping cart.  This audio book is amazing.  I can never ever praise Muller enough for his voice and timing, and the novel itself is brilliant.  One fun feature to the audio book is an introduction read by Thomas Harris where he tells a story of meeting the doctor that inspired Hannibal Lecter. Great stuff.


LLL The Lies of Locke Lamora

Written by: Scott Lynch

Performed by: Michael Page

First, I have no idea what’s up with that cover.  Lies of Locke Lamora has had some beautiful covers, but the audio edition looks like it was designed by Timmy over in Accounting.  Bad covers aside, I love this book.  I wrote an entire blog post about how much I love this book.  It’s amazing and Michael Page does a fantastic job performing all the characters and accents.


RP1 Ready Player One

Written by: Ernest Cline

Performed by: Wil Wheaton

This is one of those cases where a narrator took a great book and made it even better. Ready Player One is brilliant and funny.  It’s the ultimate ode to nerd and 80’s pop-culture. And who did they get to perform it? Wil “Nerd Lord” Wheaton. He was the perfect choice for this book and Wheaton nails this performance so well that I could never imagine anyone doing a finer job than he did.


TLD The Lesser Dead

Written by: Christopher Buehlman

Performed by: Christopher Buehlman

Set in 1970’s New York, The Lesser Dead is a beautifully written vampire novel.  It’s scary, dark, and incredibly entertaining. The audio book was performed by the author. Now, normally I’m not a big fan of author-read books. Authors might be able to craft a brilliant story, but an audio book requires a brilliant performer. Christopher Buehlman is both. His character voices and accents were masterfully done and The Lesser Dead has been my absolute favorite book I’ve read in 2016 so-far.  Horror fans should definitely give it a listen.


Martian The Martian

Written by: Andy Weir

Performed by: R.C. Bray

There isn’t much that can be said about this book that hasn’t been said already.  It’s earned stacks of accolades. It’s fun and highly entertaining. R.C. Bray deserves every single bit of praise that he’s received for it.  I honestly prefer his version of stranded astronaut Mark Watney over Matt Damon’s movie performance. Damon did a fine job, but to me he felt like Matt Damon surviving on Mars. Bray’s performance made Watney feel like a real guy.  I will confess I may have a teeny-tiny bit of bias because Bray performs my own books, but that still doesn’t change a damned thing when it comes to how great this audio book is. Listen to it.


Gifts The Girl With All The Gifts

Written by: M.R. Carey

Performed by: Finty Williams

This novel beat Dämoren for Best Paranormal Audie Award, so it had one strike against it when I began it. It quickly won me over. Finty Williams’ performance is wonderful. She gives the perfect amount of whimsy to Melanie’s voice and just the right sinister edge to what happens as the story progresses. The movie version will be coming out soon, so I recommend you check out the audio book before it does.


Super Bonus Audio Book

VL Virtual Light

Written by:  William Gibson

Performed by: Frank Muller

This book gets the Super Bonus Category because it’s no longer being made.  I scored my copy years ago and I’ve listened to it more times than I care to admit (Hint: It’s over 10). It was my first exposure to Frank Muller and his performance of this novel is what propelled it from “Pretty Good” to “Holy Crap This Was Amazing!”.  While a brilliant storyteller, Gibson’s writing style is sometimes difficult for me to follow. Muller grabbed onto the dreamy prose and ran with them. While a decent cyberpunk novel in near-future San Francisco, Muller’s performance is why I always recommend this book and why I’ve listened to it as often as I have(Hint: It’s over 15 times).  If you can find the Frank Muller version of Virtual Light you should do yourself a favor and jump on it.




The Great Roleplaying Experiment – 5e D&D versus Call of Cthulhu 7e

As I’ve said before, I’m a massive roleplaying fan.  I’ve been gaming since I was 13 and I hope to continue until my dying days.

Two years ago, I posted how I was running a Pulp-Era game that was essentially mixing Call of Cthulhu and old horror movies using a modified Cyberpunk 2020 Interlock system.  It was a fun game and very rewarding to build something new. I also have even more respect for RPG designers, since there is a whole lot of work that goes into tiny details.  But the game kicked butt and we were having fun (Having a player take down a charging T-Rex with a tommy gun was a dream I never knew I had until it was fulfilled).

5th EdThen my friend and fellow author Clay Sanger sold me on trying the new Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.  It took some convincing, but I gave it a shot and spent all of 2015 playing D&D.  It’s a clean system and it’s very apparent that they put a lot of work into making it Dungeon Master Friendly instead of only focusing on it being Player Friendly (after all, who cares how bad ass a system is if no one is willing to endure the nightmare of running it?). Also, I judge an RPG by its art and layout, and the aesthetics of 5e D&D is seriously top-notch.  But after several months of playing, a few problems began to surface.

Nothing against the game at all. As a die-hard First Edition player, I’ll admit that 5th Edition D&D is amazing. Its just that a level-based game that focuses on combat in order to gain more powers doesn’t appeal to me as much as it once did.  The other issue was that the character personalities were not as good as they should be.  That’s no fault of D&D, but it is more common in it since Feats and Abilities can overshadow a player’s attention to the character itself. Something needed to change.  I was about to kill that campaign and start a new one, letting everyone write fresh characters now that we all had a better understanding of the game mechanics. But then something happened.

Cthulhu called me home. 7th Ed

Now, I hadn’t been looking to leave D&D. My players and I had finally gotten proficient enough with the new system that we were really stretching our legs with it.  But I was on the Chaosium email list and I read a few of their updates on the release for their new 7th Edition and I decided to give it a look.

Quite simply, it’s beautiful.

First, Call of Cthulhu is really more of my kind of game right now.  Being skill-based, players aren’t restricted by character classes where they only advance once they’ve achieved a set number of Experience Points. Characters can use any skill and advance in those individual skills as they use them. That was my favorite aspect of Cyberpunk. Second, combat is less important than the story, and man, they made the system great for storytelling.

Character creation is wonderful, and they offer a lot of tools to make it easy.  A player can quickly make a character with intimate details in a way that’s easy and very personable. Cyberpunk had a great character creation system too, but CoC’s is much easier to use not only during creation, but within the game itself.  I don’t have to remind any of them about character histories because they are so well ingrained and easy to reference. They players instantly fell in love with their characters not because of their racial or class abilities, but because of who their characters were.

Like with Interlock or previous CoC editions, combat in 7th Edition is nasty.  Characters do not magically gain hit-points like they do in D&D, so they’re always weak and a small weapon is seriously scary (No matter how awesome you are, a hobo with a shank will still fuck you up).  Also, things like Healing Potions, or Cure Wound spells are absent, which means getting hurt is a big deal.  Taking away their safety nets makes the player much more cautious and play smarter. Over they years, I’ve noticed D&D players become more careless as their characters’ accrue a good number of hit-points and armor. In systems without hit point increases, they become more careful the longer they play because they are more attached to their character who are still just as squishy as a 2nd level D&D character. The other great thing about CoC combat is that it’s extremely simple. Combat is fast-paced and easy to learn.

ChasesOne of the biggest selling points for me was the Chase Rules.  Normally, chases in an RPGs are handled by taking Initiative and Movement Rate. Fastest movement wins. Pretty simple. It’s also kinda boring.  But Chaosium knew that with combat being so brutal, and most of the monsters being so deadly, that characters would spend more time running from baddies than they would fighting them. So they made Chases a large part of the game (as large as Combat), and man they’re fun.

The Idea Roll is also another thing I appreciate. Since most adventures center on investigation and cleverness, if the PC’s find themselves against a wall because no one thinks of the right thing to do or they missed a clue, the Idea Roll can save the day without anyone feeling like the GM is just bailing them out.

Bone HillFinally, the coolest thing about 7th Edition CoC is that it’s backwards compatible.  Meaning that a GM can pick up a 1980’s adventure module and can convert the game to 7th Edition in their head. It take a little getting used to, and it isn’t my ideal way of running a module, but it’s also awesome.  That means that any CoC adventure that has ever been written over the last 35 years are still available for Game Masters to use.  One of the things that saddened me when we started 5th Edition D&D was that all of the modules and supplements for each previous edition (many of which I owned) were completely obsolete and that future generations of players would never know them.  In fact, when we played 5th Edition D&D, I had converted The Secret of Bone Hill, a classic 1st Edition adventure that I loved, to 5th Edition. The conversion process was hell. It was insanely difficult and took a lot of time. The results were fantastic, but I’d be real hesitant to convert any other adventures to 5th Edition after that.

deadlightSo far this year, we’ve played four Call of Cthulhu adventures:  The Haunting and Dead Light, which are 7th Edition, Crack’d and Crook’d Manse (6th Edition), and Edge of Darkness (5th Edition). All have been a massive success.  In fact, with Edge of Darkness being an adventure that’s been around so long, there were some great fan-made supplements and handouts for it.

And since I mentioned my affection for great art and layout, the art was what drew me in in the first place.  Chaosium has done an outstanding job making the book easy to learn from and with plenty of great art to fuel that creative fire.

Both Dungeons & Dragons 5e and Call of Cthulhu 7e are brilliant in their executions and feel like they are written not as a cash-grab to strong-arm players into buying all new books, but as a real evolution of the games with 35+ years of experience behind them.  I’d gladly recommend either of them. But as a story-based GM, I prefer Call of Cthulhu.

Edge of Darkness

Now nothing is perfect, and CoC’s biggest hindrance is that the physical copies of the books are still not available (though they should be very shortly). However, the PDF Copies are out there and the 7th Edition Quickstart rules are totally free to download (and come with The Haunting adventure).  I strongly urge Game Masters to check it out if they’re looking for something fun.

And if you’re a fan of Penny Dreadful, then you have to check out Cthulhu by Gaslight.


UPDATE:  So the same day that I posted how Call of Cthulhu’s biggest hindrance was a lack of physical books, Chaosium released their 7th Edition Pre-Order.  Already ordered mine. Books expected this May. 


Three Casting Ideas to Save Indiana Jones 5

While many of my generation subscribed to the fandom religion of Star Wars, my great love went for Indiana Jones. Raiders of the Lost Ark was the first movie that I can remember seeing in theaters. Being three years old, I wasn’t paying too much attention to what would become my favorite movie series. All I can remember was the classic Boulder Chase scene and my mother desperately trying to cover my eyes while Nazi faces melted off (I was probably playing with my shoes at the time and had no idea what was going on).

Temple of Doom was one of the first VHS movies that I owned.  And while I’m not much of a fan of it now, I watched it hundreds of times while I was younger. Last Crusade was brilliant, though cheesier than the first, and greatest, installment.  And while the world loathed Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I was merely disappointed (I’m 50/50 on whether I dislike Indy 2 or 4 the most. It will require back to back viewings to decide). But Crystal Skull gave us a nice closure to Jones’ life as our whip-swinging hero.  He’s old, he’s married, and he has an adult son that’s probably going to disappoint him.

Being a fan, many expected me to be thrilled when Spielberg announced that Indiana Jones 5 was green-lit with Ford in the lead.  But I’m not.  Frankly, I’m worried that there will be yet another bad Indy flick that stomps on the beauty of the character.  Ford is simply too old for the role.  I’m sorry, but it’s true.  Crystal Skull went out of its way to hammer home that Indiana Jones is now old and the last thing I want to see is another two hours of Old Indy struggling to hold on to his former glory.  It’s depressing.

So in order to keep Indiana Jones 5 from being just another sad case of Hollywood making a nostalgia cash-grab at an ageing franchise with aging actors, I have a few ideas that could make it the Indy movie that the character deserves.

1:  Focus On His Son (No, The Other Son)

Indiana Jones has 2 children.  There’s Mutt, the annoying biological child played by Shia LaBeouf and then there’s his REAL son, Short Round, played by Jonathan Ke Quan.


While Mutt grew up fencing at primary schools only to embrace his life as a Wild Ones wannabe, Short Round grew up as an orphan on the streets of Hong Kong until he failed his Pick Pocket roll on Dr. Jones.  The last we see him is in 1935.  So what happened to him?  The last we knew he was going back to America with Indy.

What I want:

Short Round has become a kick-ass archaeologist.  Think about it.  He’s been adventuring his entire life. Now in his early 40’s, he comes back to dad with a problem and they have to go on one last adventure.  This lets us have both Ford’s Indy and a younger version of the character that we can actually believe can swing around on a whip.  Hell, bring back Mutt for a moment where he says, “Hey, Pop,” just so Short Round (I mean, Doctor Round, just because you KNOW he’s a doctor now) can throat-punch Shia LaBeouf and say, “You call him Doctor Jones.”  Trust me, Hollywood, fans would lose their minds if this happened.

2:  Re-cast Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones is the American James Bond. And when faced with an aging actor, the Bond franchise learned early on that they can just recast him.  Yes, there’s a risk. Yes, there’s going to be fans that say that only Harrison Ford can play the character. But the simple truth is that Indiana Jones is a popular franchise owned by Disney.  Disney is going to make more of them, so re-casting Indiana Jones is inevitable.  It’s going to happen.  So instead of digging our heels in like a child that doesn’t want to go to their first day of school, let’s embrace it.

Discussions of replacing him have already circulated the Internet.  Some say Bradly Cooper would be perfect, others say Chris Pratt was born for it.


What I want:

While Pratt and Cooper do look the part and could probably do an amazing job, they’re just not right for it.  Both are handsome, rugged, and have good comedic timing. However, they also suffer from the fatal flaw that they are already established Hollywood stars.  Their names alone draw crowds. If Pratt plays him, it’ll be Pratt. It won’t be Indy that just happens to be played by Pratt. We need an actor that isn’t already a super-star. We need a blank slate, an actor that comes in and makes us believe that he IS Indiana Jones.

Ford was nearly passed for the role because he was already too big of a star in Spielberg and Lucas’ eyes. When Tom Selleck wasn’t able to get out of his Magnum PI gig, they ended up going with Ford.  I suspect that it was at that time that Lucas hatched the most genius casting plan of all time…


3:  We Keep to the Plan

While it might be difficult to remember now, George Lucas was an insane genius when it came to storytelling.  Some believe that his last great moment of genius was with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989. After that, he spent the 90’s screwing up Star Wars with Special Editions, until finally ending the millennium with the screaming dog turd that was The Phantom Menace.

However, just before his mind went out, George Lucas set in motion the greatest actor handover of all time. So in 1992, he began grooming Ford’s replacement by casting a young, unknown actor as Indiana Jones.


Sean Patrick Flanery played Indiana Jones for 22 episodes of the Adventures of the Young Indiana Jones. At 45 minutes an episode, that seals Flanery’s title as the man who has spent more hours playing the character than for anyone else alive. Now Flanery is old enough to embrace his destiny and step into the movie role that he’s spent over 20 years preparing for.

What I want:

Open the movie with Harrison’s old Indy.  Give him an eye patch and some audience that asks him about some adventure in his past. Harrison sighs and begins to recount the time he once chased a magical MacGuffin. Have the scene fade as his voice continues and and we now see a familiar figure in a fedora on a grand adventure. Then the character turns to the camera and we see Sean Patrick Flanery.

Since we’re recasting with a younger Indy from the POV of Old Indy, it allows us to recast all of the roles (after all Indy’s memory might show them different than they were).  This brings us back Sallah, Short Round, Marcus Brody, Belloq (Mother of God we need more Belloq), even Indy’s dad.  In fact, this single move of Ford passing the torch in a movie transition allows us to smoothly reboot a franchise without actually rebooting it.

While you might say, “Seth, I highly doubt this was Lucas’ original plan back in 1992,” I say, “You can’t prove otherwise.”  Sure you could call Lucas up and ask him, but remember, he’s already gone on record saying that Greedo always shot first when we have scripts showing that he didn’t.  George Lucas is no longer a credible source in saying what his plan was.  All we know is that Flanery is the right age, the right look, isn’t a huge super-star, and already knows how to swing a whip.  Let’s just go with it.


As Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones would say, “Trust me.”


Review of The Gentleman Bastards (1-3)

Two years ago, I was bumming around a bookstore and saw display that stopped me cold. It was for a newly released book, and the cover depicted two figures dressed to the nines in Venetian masks and attire.  Now, I’ve mentioned before that I’m a huge fan of Venetian Carnival, so it’s no surprise that I was immediately, “Oh hey there, Good Lookin’. You waitin’ for me?” The novel was Republic of Thieves, a title that also completely had my interest.  Picking it up, I read the back, and was sad to see that this was the third book in Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard Series.  Being that I’m not one of those weirdos that starts a book series half-way through and expects to somehow understand it (seriously, what is it with people that do that?) I set it down and thought, “OK, I’ll get to you later.”

The series remained on my radar for a while, and I knew that fans absolutely loved it.  Finally, in April 2015 I picked up the Audible audio edition of The Lies of Locke Lamora, narrated by Michael Page. I have a problem that the more things are hyped to me, the more likely I am to be disappointed in them. So walking in with a mountain of hype and a vague idea of the story, I gave it a listen.

Holy shit.

I mean, WOW.

The book was far more than I’d expected and I was hooked.  Over the next month I read the remaining books and wanted to share my thoughts on what I loved, what I liked, and what disappointed me.

The Lies of Locke Lamora (#1)


Published in 2006 when I was still figuring out how to put words together, Lynch was kicking down the doors with his debut novel. The story opens much like a fantastical Oliver Twist with very young orphan being taken in by a Fagin-like thief master. However Locke isn’t some sweet child like Oliver, but more like the Artful Dodger cranked up to 11.  After some tales of his childhood misadventures, we are introduced to the now adult Locke Lamora and his team of Gentleman Bastards who run elaborate and high-stakes cons on the city’s nobility. We go back and forth between young and adult Locke as the novel goes on.

The first thing that really captured my interest was the dialogue. It’s wonderful. It’s hilarious, clever, vulgar, and beautiful. This is the type of book where you could be perfectly content just listening to our heroes chat about the weather. The characters are all well done, from the lowliest bit-character to the main heroes and villains. Finally, the world is fascinating and cool. From a Venetian-style city with islands and canals, to the elder glass ruins of some unknown and bygone race, Lynch set his story in a world that is both alien and familiar. Once I was done reading it (or listening to it, since it was the Audible version) I immediately read it again just to study what Lynch had done. 


Red Seas Under Red Skies (#2)


So after reading Book 1 twice in a month, I figured it was time to continue the series with Book 2. The problem was that I was walking in with massive expectations and Red Seas Under Red Skies did not meet them. The book picks right up after Lies of Locke Lamora, and we still have the elaborate world with elder glass ruins and wonderful dialogue, but the story just seemed messy.

While the first book was very tight, with everything coming back, Red Seas Under Red Skies wandered around and went off on long and ultimately useless sub-plots.  It starts with a brilliant setup as Jean and Locke are running a long con, then their plan goes sideways.  Troubles pile on troubles and lies pile on lies and this is where the book begins to suffer.  In the first book, problems went away, usually by escalating into worse problems, but here the problems just pile on without any of them resolving. This becomes a little too much as Jean and Locke are juggling a massive number of false faces and personas to the point that it becomes very confusing.

While the heroes are struggling to keep all their plates spinning, everything becomes more convoluted with strange tangents that go nowhere. The two largest examples are when Locke goes to a town to commission a set of chairs required for the con. The story starts going into detail about the horrible way the nobility and rich treat the poor. Then nothing comes of it. While it was neat world-building, it was a lot of attention spent on complete background stuff that drags the story down. The other big one occurred when Jean and Locke get jumped by a really stupid highwayman. The scene goes on for entirely too long, but concludes with the highwayman “owing them one”. Nothing ever comes of it. We never see this guy again. Maybe we’ll see him in a later book (he isn’t in Book 3) and if he does show again, a flashback at that time might be more suitable than it was in Book 2.

There is one more thing that irritated me about the book, and it’s a pet-peeve of mine that I’ve brought up before (I’m looking at you, Stephen King). We have a “terribly mysterious” character that is working behind the scenes against our heroes because their “employer” wants them to. The employer is never named, even when we are in that character’s head, they are only referred to as their employer. This is a cheap gimmick that storytellers use to add mystery and to hook a reader. Most of the time it simply irritates me. I especially hate it when the reader has a dozen hooks and suspenseful things already keeping their interest and having a blatantly “I’m going to taunt you with this mystery. Aren’t you curious?” move has the opposite effect on me. Had we not already had so much going on, I might have been intrigued. But here I wasn’t.

Now please don’t think that I didn’t enjoy the book. I honestly did. I enjoyed it quite a lot. I loved the characters. Lynch’s clever dialogue is awesome. His world-building is amazing, and there was a point where Locke’s luck and clever antics involving a sudden reputation he gets dropping a barrel caused me to laugh so hard that I thought I was going to crash my car listening to it.

Unfortunately, Red Seas Under Red Skies was less than the first book. I think Lynch might have had too many ideas going on and threw too much into it. I don’t know. But my initial disappointment caused me to re-read it after I had finished the series and judge the book off of what it was and not off of what I wanted it to be. The results were the same.

Republic of Thieves (#3)


Finally, the book with the cover that first drew me in.  Take a moment to look at that thing.  It’s freakin’ awesome, isn’t it? (The answer you’re looking for is, “Oh, fuck yeah!”)

The third installment was a definite improvement over the second, but still not quite to the level of the first book.

The Republic of Thieves is two stories that alternate back and forth, similar to the flashbacks in Book 1. The first picks up right after the end of Red Seas Under Red Skies as Jean and Locke are still dealing with Locke’s issues from the finale. Once that’s solved, they’re drafted into service of the Bonds Mages into assisting with an election. The other side of the election has hired their own outside adviser as well: Sabetha, the Gentleman (Lady) Bastard that we’ve always heard of and never met and the love of Locke’s life.

The second story is a flashback to the Gentlemen Bastards when they were young and learning under Chains (yay, we get to see Chains again. I love that guy). They are assigned with their first real job without him (damnit, it was nice seeing you for only 2 minutes, Chains). They are posing as a group of actors that join a troupe of players that are performing a play titled, The Republic of Thieves. During this job, Locke is professing his love of Sabetha while trying to keep the troupe operating. There is a minor noble that becomes involved with the troupe’s affairs and also falls for Sabetha and chaos happens (Imagine if Shakespeare wrote Moulin Rouge and that’s what you get). I loved the flashback story that is about one half of the book. It was fun. I enjoyed the characters. I loved the way Lynch has problem after problem pile on and how the heroes are scrambling to keep everything going as they fix one just in time for 2 more to occur.

The same cannot be said for the present-day story. The recruitment of Jean, Locke, and Sabetha into this election feels so forced and so weak that I just couldn’t buy it. Now, I’m also a little biased against politics in my fantasy. It bores me. Locke is still pining over Sabetha and while I did enjoy the interaction between them, Jean got dumped into a backseat role. As a huge fan of Jean, I was not pleased.

Ultimately the book ends with the setup for the next installment. I has a good hook and doesn’t have the fulfilling ending that Book 2 had. Many readers were annoyed with the big twist and teaser for Book 4, but I was rather excited about it, honestly.

The Fourth book, The Thorn of Emberlain, is set to come out next year. I’m very eager to read it when it does.  Scott Lynch has written a fun and exciting series, and while I might not have enjoyed the 2nd and 3rd books as much as the first, I did enjoy them all.  If you haven’t read Scott Lynch, I strongly suggest you start.

The Riddle of a Good Conan Movie

Recently in an interview, Chris Morgan and Fredrik Malmberg, producers of the upcoming Legend of Conan, gave us all hints and promises of what to expect with the long-awaited sequel.  Like with many fantasy fans, the original 1982 film Conan the Barbarian is a treasured classic. And with the exception of the recent Fury Road movie, Hollywood has been more than a little disappointing with sequels and remakes.

I grew up with cheap sword and sandal movies always playing on TV, and I never really differentiated between them. Beastmaster, Red Sonja, Deathstalker, Steve Reeves’ Hercules movies, and Conan the Destroyer seemed to play every single Saturday on one channel or another.  I never really thought of Conan the Barbarian as different than the others, I’d seen the last half of it a handful of times.  Then one day I saw it from the very beginning and the movie instantly elevated from the rank of cheesy muscled barbarian flick to a well-made film.  I love the 1982 Conan.  So I want to take a little time to explain what separates Conan from the rest of the movies, including the extremely awful sequel.

1:  It’s Not About a Hulking Hero


Conan the Barbarian launched Schwarzenegger’s movie career.  He looked wonderful in the role of Conan.  He was huge.  But a super-muscled hero is not what made Conan so good.  If that were the case, then Red Sonja, Kull the Conqueror, and the Jason Mamoa remake wouldn’t have been so bad.  Hell, Mamoa looked even more like the Robert Howard Conan than Schwarzenegger and that couldn’t even save that movie.  Having a massive hero was essential in Conan the Barbarian’s success, but it was only one part of it.  Many of the knock-offs only saw a bodybuilder lead and incorrectly assumed that’s all it was.

2:  Using Fan Art as Storyboards

One of the many things that I loved about the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies was that when he was deciding on the look of Middle Earth he immediately turned to Alan Lee and John Howe, two artists that have spent decades drawing and painting the look of Tolkien’s world.  Not only does that mean the movie has a look that came from decades of thought and effort, but it also captures the image that many movie-goers wanted because we’d grown up with the art. 

The John Milius Conan used the art of Frank Frazetta to capture their looks. The sets were designed around Frazetta’s paintings, even the actors (most notable in the witch scene) were told to move in ways that emulated the captured movements in Frazetta’s work.   

Frank_FrazettaThis man was a badass

We’ve now had 30 more years since the first Conan and an entire generation of very skilled fantasy artists have emerged.  They, as well as Frazetta, should be used to capture the look.

3:  Real Sets, Real Stunts, Real Extras

CGI has made massive scene very easy.  But back in the 80’s there were only a few ways to capture the scope Milius wanted for Conan.  There were matte paintings, models, and going out and building that shit for real.  Milius chose the third.

Conan used real sets.  That snake tower…real. Thulsa Doom’s fortress….real.   1,000 extras dressed in white robes and chanting Thulsa Doom’s praises…real. 

In case you’re wondering why real sets work better than CGI, I’ll give 2 reasons: 

  1. They look real.  CGI, unless spectacular, looks CGI.  The colors are too perfect, and there’s a cartoonish quality because of it. 
  2. The actors can interact with their surroundings and get into a different frame of mind than dancing in front of a green screen can give.  Just compare The Hobbit to Lord of the Rings.  Peter Jackson used real sets and forced perspective to make Lord of the Rings and it looked spectacular.  Yeah, CGI was used, but not as much as one might think.  Then in The Hobbit they used way more CGI and the entire movie looks like a cut-scene in a video game.

And stunts.  Recently, superhero movies have made impossible stunts and action sequences look just too damned easy.  It has passed the realm of realism and into a netherworld of cartoons.  Then you have Fury Road where the stunts are real and it’s so noticeable and so drastic that you can’t even ignore it.  Conan deserves that.  Don’t CGI that shit. Make it really happen.  Conan The Barbarian set the Women’s Free-Fall Record when a stunt woman fell 182 feet.  Legend of Conan should see this as a personal goal to set that record again.

4: Realistic Violence

Conan Blood

Unlike the slew of PG-13 rated knockoffs, Conan was violent and bloody.  We have a massive audience that loves Game of Thrones, Spartacus, and other violent shows.  Making it PG-13 to get a wider demographic will ruin the movie.  Making it a stylized, slow-mo, 300 knock-off will make it look like a 300 knock-off.  Make it R.  Give us blood.

5:  The Supporting Cast is Essential

Conan followed three heroes, Conan, Valeria, and the highly underrated Subotai.  And while it’s hard to remember now, all of them, even Schwarzenegger were unknown actors.  However the supporting cast was spectacular and respected actors.

James Earl Jones plays the villain. Max Von Sydow plays the king that send them on their quest, and Mako plays Conan’s chronicler.  Those three men probably deliver 75% of all the dialogue in the entire movie.  Sydow’s performance where he talks about how one day all the gold losses its luster and all that remains in a father’s love for his daughter was so good that I hope they have Conan deliver it in the new movie.  I also want Jones’ monologue about how steel is weak and flesh is stronger and how THAT is the Riddle of Steel. 

Jones and Sydow are so straight-faced and perfect in their performances that they lend absolute credibility to the rest of the story.  These days, it feels that when a major and credible actor is given a small role that they are either held up high like, “Hey look we have a badass actor here. Look at them!” or there’s a cheesiness to the role, “Hey look, we have Judi Dench and she’s being weird. Isn’t that cool because she’s letting loose?”


The new Conan needs serious actors playing serious roles.  No tongue in cheek. They need to be the kind of actors that when they walk into a scene you instantly pity all the other actors because they OWN the camera.  Just throwing out some suggestions here:  Morgan Freeman, Ken Watanabe, Meryl Streep.

6: Music is the Most Important Character

In the interview with Chris Morgan and Fredrik Malmberg the biggest thing that they didn’t mention is the most important. Music.

Basil Poledouris’s score for Conan is probably one of the best damned scores made.  There, I said it.

Conan Soundtrack

Remember when I said that my entire opinion of Conan the Barbarian changed when I saw it from the beginning?  Here’s why.

The film opens with an entire song as the scene of the sword forging and the introduction to Conan and his family is shown to us with zero dialogue.  We learn to love this sword.  Then we have a couple minutes of Conan’s father telling him about Crom, then BAM, another full-length song where we watch a grand battle and the death of Conan’s family.  His mother, who never once speaks, comes through as fiercely brave and we genuinely mourn her death and the reason for that hinges on the music.

Music touches us emotionally. It moves us, and Director John Milius knew that. He harnessed that and the opening of his movie plays more like some fantastical opera than any of the well-muscled sword and sandal flicks that copied it.  Without the help of a full score, perfectly timed and edited with the movie, Conan would be nothing but a fantasy action movie, not much different than those that came before or after it.  The masterful score is what propels it into being a great film. 


I want Morgan and Malmberg to be correct that Legend of Conan will be the sequel that the first film deserves.  We’ve been waiting for this movie for 33 years, ever since we saw a glimpse of old-man Conan sitting on a throne.  I want them to succeed.  But Hollywood has burned me.  Too many producers/directors don’t seem to understand what makes an original film great when they’re making a sequel or remake and they latch on to the most obvious thing and crank that shit up to 11.  Conan the Barbarian was a wonderful film and what made it wonderful was a perfect combination of many things.  It should be treated like a gourmet dish. Mix the flavors and don’t just focus on one specific spice.

That’s what Conan deserves.

Conan Throne

The Influence of 80s Cartoons

Recently on the  Reddit r/Fantasy page, a member posed a simple question, “What got you into Fantasy?”.  My first thought was, “The Hobbit.”  I read it when I was 12 and it opened the door for my reading of fantasy novels.  Then I realized that by the age of 12, I was already a huge fantasy fan.  The Hobbit was only the first true fantasy novel I’d read.  So I started thinking further back, searching for what exactly was the origin point for my love of the genre.

The answer I decided was cartoons.  While movies like Robin Hood, Last Unicorn, Sword and the Stone, and plenty of others certainly had their influences, my biggest ones were either every Saturday morning or every day after school.

The Smurfs (1981)

Yeah, the Smurfs is cheesy. But we have magic, castles, and all the foundations of fantasy right there.  The Smurfs was a weekly ritual for kids of my generation and certainly had its influence on us. It also had the catchiest and stupidest theme song ever, composed of only the words, La la la la la la.


He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983)

He-Man was awesome.  It was some sci-fi/fantasy hybrid where characters were just as likely to use a broadsword and magic as they were a laser gun.  I owned all the toys and watched the show religiously.  I even watched She-Ra which was the spin-off show aimed at girls and that 8-year olds like myself were’t supposed to admit that they watched (now that I’m in my 30’s I can openly confess that I freakin loved She-Ra).  There’s a debunked rumor that the toy line was originally meant to be for the Conan movie before Mattel realized how much violence and sex was in it, but that was only a rumor. However, He-Man’s inspiration is still obviously from old pulp stories and art for Conan and John Carter.


Thundarr The Barbarian (1980)

It amazes me how many of my friends don’t remember this show.  It kicked so much ass.  We have a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting where every week they somehow work some famous monument into the background.  One week Thundarr is battling in front of a chipped and overgrown Mount Rushmore, next week he’s stomping heads in front of the Eiffel Tower. While my sense of geography was certainly thrown off by the show, I loved it every time it came on. Thundarr was probably the most original and purest pulp of all the cartoons from my childhood.


ThunderCats (1985)

Probably one of the best made of the lot.  Thundercats was awesome and the art was great.  It was in the same Sword & Laser or Sword & Planet genre as He-Man, but was about freakin cat people.  An entire generation fell in love with Cheetara (myself totally included).  This was unquestionably Pulp-era inspired.  Years later, when I finally did read R.E. Howard’s Conan tales, I had the strangest deja vu when the story ‘The Devil in Iron’ started out exactly like an old ThunderCats episode I remembered from years before. And while I could remember episodes with such detail for years, I had also somehow completely wiped out any memory of Snarf.  When Cartoon Network first started carrying ThunderCats I first thought that they had somehow added the horribly annoying creature because my memory had perfectly removed him.


Dungeons & Dragons (1983)

When I was little, I had no clue that Dungeons & Dragons was a role-playing game. I thought it was a roller coaster.  No clue why the show’s creators took the roller coaster route, but they did.  The cartoon follows a group of kids that are magically transported to a D&D world. Each of the kids fills one of the classic D&D archetypes as they set out on adventure to make their way home.  They show was fun, but very short-lived.


Dragon’s Lair (1984)

I never played the video game from which the cartoon was based and didn’t even know it was a video game for several years later.  What I most loved about it was that before commercial breaks our hero, Dirk the Daring, was confronted with a choice on how to proceed (like fight the mud-men or battle the tentacle monster). After the break, we would see the results if Dirk chose incorrectly (i.e. how he dies) and then show Dirk choosing the correct path and then the story continues.  The Choose Your Own Adventure aspect was very cool. It was also the only show that stressed the danger our hero was in because things like death was a real possibility for him.


Adventures of the Gummi Bears (1985)

Gummi Bears followed a group of adorable bear people in a classic European fantasy setting.  While considered nothing but myth to all but a few humans, the Gummi Bears go around using magic and helping people.  When they find themselves in some kind of bind they’d down a bottle of their super-secret gummiberry juice which would make then bounce around like rubber (a superpower that you wouldn’t think would be as useful as they make it out to be).  The villain, Duke Igthorn, is always seeking for the secret of the gummi bears’ magic, especially the juice because when humans drink it they don’t become bouncy flubber, but gain super-human strength.  I’ve heard some criticism of the show because the gummiberry juice promotes drug use.  Honestly, I suspect that anyone who came up with that idea was either stoned themselves or were some fantasy-hating troll that can’t understand the idea of awesome.


Super Bonus Show

The Pirates of Dark Water (1991)

OK, so this one isn’t 1980’s, but it came out prior to my reading of The Hobbit and was also so awesome that I’m counting it.  Pirates of Dark Water was freaking fantastic.  Here we follow a young pirate that is trying to save the world from a substance known as Dark Water.  Unlike the other shows, this cartoon followed a linear narrative and singular quest.  Of course they had to throw in an annoying Jar-Jar character, but unlike Snarf or Scrappy Doo, Monkey Bird was tolerable.  Sadly, Pirates of Dark Water was cancelled before the heroes’ quest was completed, so we’ll never know if they succeeded in saving the world.

Of course saying that these shows were specifically what got me into fantasy or if my love of fantasy is what got me into these shows is debatable as a chicken versus egg argument.  Maybe I’m just hard-wired to like genre fiction. But if I am, the doors were definitely opened a bit wider by these cartoons.  Either way, to answer the r/Fantasy question, it definitely wasn’t The Hobbit.

Review: The Devil Rides Out

Devil Rides OutWhile fantasy forums and websites frequently gravitate to the newest and hottest titles, I have a serious soft spot for the classics, especially Pulp-Era fiction.  Readers today have been able to categorize everything into neat micro subgenres, but there was once a period which was more like the wild west of fantasy, where anything goes, and stories were constantly forging new ground.  And though authors like Lovecraft and Howard were certainly the most remembered trail blazers, they were hardly alone.  Among them was Dennis Wheatley.

I first became aware of Wheatley when my wife and I were visiting some older friends of ours.  While discussing writing and my love of Lovecraft, our hostess mentioned that when she was growing up in New Zealand, her favorite horror author was Wheatley.  I’d never heard of him, and quickly picked up a copy of his most famous horror novel The Devil Rides Out (1934).

The Devil Rides Out is the first of Weatley’s Black Magic series, but also a sequel to the extremely successful novel Forbidden Territory (1933), which was an action/adventure novel.  Please take a moment to appreciate this. Wheatley followed a normal and extremely popular adventure story with a supernatural horror.  This is pretty much the equivalent of Liam Neeson fighting vampires in Taken 2. Having not been aware that this was a sequel, I was very happy to see that the novel was written so that a newcomer like myself would quickly be brought up to speed on the characters and their histories.

The story follows five characters, their leader the Duke de Richeau, is pretty much Christopher Lee.  Seriously.  Take Christopher Lee, the most bad-ass Renaissance man alive and just call him de Richeau.  Being that Wheatley wrote the character in the 1930’s we can assume that one of the following happened: A) Wheatley had access to a crystal ball and modeled the Duke after the future Lee,  B) The universe was so impressed with what a bad-ass the fictional Duke was that it immediately aligned the stars to make a then 11 year old Lee into the Duke, or C) A young Christoper Lee read the about the Duke and said, “Holy shit, I’m going to be this guy,” and promptly succeeded at it.  Given what I know about Christopher Lee and of Wheatley’s extremely thorough research into the occult, all of these are equally possible.  In fact, Christoper Lee enjoyed the novel so much that he played Duke de Richeau in the 1968 film version when he was finally old enough to play himself.

Duke de Richeau Christopher Lee

“Now the circle is complete.”

The heroes find themselves at odds with a group of Satanists who have kidnapped their friend in order to find an artifact of unspeakable evil: The Talisman of Set.  That doesn’t sound so bad, until you find out what exactly that is.  I’m not spoiling it for you, but trust me, the Talisman is kinda gross.  Armed with their wits, their devoted friendship, and the Duke’s formidable occult knowledge, the heroes endure hellish horrors as they chase the Satanists across Europe.

I found the story a lot of fun.  Yes, it’s dated.  But it’s also a fascinating time-capsule of pre-war British horror.  Wheatley gives a good jab at the Nazis at one point and it was interesting to see the thoughts about them so far before the start of the war.  It’s obvious that Wheatley did some incredible research for this book. I even read somewhere that he interviewed Aleister Crowley about it.  However some of the thorough occult information Wheatley pumps into the novel skates a narrow line between absolutely fascinating and boringly tedious.  But the histories and debates the Duke gives when convincing his friends that magic is real are simply wonderful.

The eternal 15 year old in me snickered several times through the book.  Not just the use of “ejaculated” as a means of speaking, but several strangely uncomfortable moments that they sort of charged through without the least acknowledgement of how weird that would be.  My favorite was when the heroes encounter a Satanic rite and they have to ward all of their bodily orifices with sanctified holy water to keep the evil out (Nine for men, ten for women).  For some reason you can not do this yourself and your friends have to apply the warding water to all of your holes.  I’m immature, I admit it, and if I ever found myself lurking in the woods outside a sabat with a hundred cannibalistic Satanists performing their evil before Baphomet himself, I doubt I’d have a single scruple in dropping my pants and ordering my best friend to ward my openings for protection.

Rex and the Duke

“I’ve changed my mind.  Please seal my holes from evil.”

Another thing I enjoyed was the American character of Rex.  Being a proper British author, Wheatley made Rex the most steretypical loud-mouthed gung-ho kinda dense but lovable character he could.  It’s pretty clear that Rex epitomized Wheatley’s opinion of Americans and I found it quite entertaining.  I also wanted to reach into the book several times and choke Rex out.  He’s a nice guy, but damn he’s dumb. Best to think of him as a huge lovable dog.

Being a 80 year old book you can also expect some racism.  I’d been warned before hand and I didn’t find Wheatley’s racism to be that bad (I cannot say this about the next book, Strange Conflict).  But be warned.

Racism and awkwardness aside, I thoroughly enjoyed The Devil Rides Out.  I even used some of it in my Call of Cthulhu games.  I recommend it for anyone that enjoys classic horror or might be interested in something a bit different than the standard tropes we find in today’s Horror and Urban Fantasy stories.

After reading the novel I picked up the sequels.  I read Gateway to Hell(1970) and Strange Conflict(1941) out of order by mistake and am happy that I did.  Gateway to Hell was an OK sequel.  The first half was a tedious and boring travel guide to 1950’s South America, but the second half did a fine job of redeeming it (The book gets good the moment the Duke finally shows up). Still, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you LOVED the Devil Rides Out.  Also…bit more racist that the first book.  The second book, Strange Conflict, was terrible.  Fucking awful.  The setup was great, brilliant even.  It was awesome to read a story about the London Blitz that was written during the Blitz. Then we find that the Nazis are using occult powers to locate British ships and sink them. It started out so good, but much of the Duke’s dialogue was recycled word for word from Book 1, the beautifully set up plot plot fell absolutely flat and devolved into plain silly, and the incredible racism expressed was difficult for me to get through.  Seriously, please don’t think this is a call to act and see how bad it is.  It’s bad.  Best to avoid it. Also, with the incredible research Wheatley did on European occult in the first book, he did extremely little research into Haitian Voodoo, and pretty much latched on to the horror tropes that were coming out at the time.

The versions that I read were the Audible editions read by Nick Mercer.  Mercer did a fine job narrating and it greatly added to my enjoyments of the books.  If you want to try some classic British Horror, check out The Devil Rides Out.

Highlander: My Favorite Urban Fantasy

When people discuss the most influential or most genre-defining Urban Fantasies, the two most common names I see are the Dresden Files and the Anita Blake series.  And while both of those did forge serious ground in the Detective Noir Urban Fantasy genre, they’re by no means the first Urban Fantasies and aren’t even close to being my favorite in the genre.  That title belongs to the 1986 film Highlander.

For anyone not familiar with Highlander (which is a serious offense that I’m sure you will rectify the moment you are done reading this), the story follows an immortal who has secretly lived among us for 450 years. He must sword fight other immortals, killing them by severing their heads, and then absorbing their power.  As the centuries roll on, the last of their kind are drawn to New York City to battle each other until only one remains.  The movie spawned several terrible sequels (I secretly enjoyed Highlander III), a TV show, and even a cartoon that we’ll never discuss and that I shouldn’t have even acknowledged. It also gave Nerd Culture the infamous cry of, “There can be only one.”

I was 11 when I first encountered Highlander.  My brother came home from college, handed me a VHS tape, and said, “Watch this. You’ll love it.”  So, having no idea what the movie was about, or even what the word “highlander” meant, I popped it in.  Within a few minutes I was treated to a sword fight in a parking garage. The movie definitely had my interest.  In fact, even to this day, I can’t walk through a dark parking garage without picturing two men battling to the death with swords.  Then one of them got decapitated.  Being 11 years old, this was one of the most violent and awesome things I’d ever witnessed.  And right when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I was treated to lightning, exploding cars, and straight-up magic. At this point Highlander had my absolute and undivided attention.

Which was good, because moments after this completely unexplained awesomeness, we’re suddenly transported back to 16th Century Scotland.  Only after several more flashbacks, and some rockin’ Queen music, we meet Sean Connery, who is a 2,000 year old Egyptian Spaniard with a Japanese sword and a Scottish accent (just go with it) who arrives to explain what’s going on.


After the movie I walked out of my house with the distant-eyed glaze of a prophet having just seen the future.  I told everyone about it.  It was the most incredible thing I’d ever encountered and I wanted the world to know.  Even now, 25 years later, I can look at Highlander, and while I now see its many flaws, I can’t help but be amazed at how mind-blowingly original it was.

That’s right, I just called an 80’s B-movie mind-blowingly original.  So let me explain…

Storytellers draw on the works written before them to craft something new. It’s pretty easy to see a story’s DNA.  For example, Dresden Files follows a style template that came from Pulp Era detective stories like those of Hammet and Chandler.  Those drew their inspiration from the earlier works of Sherlock Holmes. While yes, they’re very different with original elements, the influences are undeniable.

Highlander, however, is so freakishly original that there’s nothing else you can compare it to.  There is a teeny bit of inspiration they drew from Ridley Scott’s The Duelists, which follows two men who spend their lives repeatedly dueling one another.  But the whole immortal head-chopping lightning-shooting part seems to have come out of nowhere.  It’s so strikingly original that it’s impossible to use that element without being an obvious rip-off. Highlander is the beginning and the end of its own subgenre.

When I was a kid, I didn’t dream that I’d find some droids and get swept into the Star Wars Universe, or that I’d get a letter from Hogwarts or Xavier’s School for Gifted Children. I dreamed I’d be a sword-fighting immortal, battling it out behind the 7-11. I wanted a world where magic and and the fantasic were’t in some far away time or land, but right now, living in secret in our very world.


In the end, there can be only one.

The Black Cauldron: Darkest Disney Movie Ever

The Cauldron

The Early 80’s was a magical time when kids movies like  NeverEnding Story, The Last Unicorn, The Dark Crystal, and Secret of NIMH all subscribed to the theory that the most effective way to entertain children is by scaring the living crap out of them.    Not to be out-shined by any one else, Disney tried their hand at terrifying children, too.  After some test runs with Watcher in the Woods, and Dragonslayer, they perfected their sinister craft and laid down the child-scaring law with the darkest Disney movie of all time, The Black Cauldron.

black_cauldron_posterThe poster is about as cheerful as this movie gets


The movie opens with a tale of a king who was so cruel and evil that even the gods feared him, so the threw him alive into a molten crucible to hold his demonic soul, and forming the Black Cauldron (One minute into the movie we have tales of throwing people into molten iron.).

Fast forward to “present day” and we meet Taran, an assistant pig keeper who protects a magic pig that knows where the cauldron is hidden.  Because the evil Horned King is after the cauldron so that he may summon a deathless army, Taran, Princess Eilonwy, a pathologically lying minstrel, and an annoying creature named Gurgi (who is essentially Sméagol mated with a schnauzer), quest to find the cauldron before the Horned King can get it.

So far, this sounds a lot like Star Wars.  Nothing too dark in that.  Taran even has a light saber glowing sword that can cut through anything (which he stole from a corpse).  But hold on, this is about to get a whole lot darker…



the-black-cauldron-brightBright and cheerful = 5%

black cauldron castleHeavy Metal album art = 95%

Disney movies (at least the good ones) all have dark scenes, and I don’t just mean dark-theme, I mean visually dark and uncomfortable scenes.  But the Black Cauldron ups that by making every piece of this movie foreboding and bleak.  Even the normally bright and cheery scenes have a darker quality than other animated movies.  They called this The Black Cauldron and by-god Disney wanted some blackness.  That being said, the art in this movie is extremely good.  Disney spared no expense in hiring the best animators to show your children the blackest pits of their souls.



The villain is a terrifying creature called the Horned King.  The best way to describe him is to take Skeletor from He-Man and Darkness from Legend then mix and concentrate only the scariest parts.  Disney chose actor John Hurt to lend his gravelly voice to their perfect evil overlord.


Most Disney villains have a light moment, such as a joke at their expense or maybe a funny expression.  But not the Horned King.  His always serious and always scary.



The Black Cauldron was the first Disney animated feature with no singing.  Our hero never sings how misunderstood and different he is.  Our villain never sings about his nefarious plans.  Singing lightens the mood, and Disney wanted none of that.

Black Cauldron Dead RoomInstead of singing about it, the Horned King just monologues to thousands of rotting corpses about his evil plot.




Once the Horned King gets his claws on the Cauldron, he creates his undying army out of the mountain of bodies he keeps lying around.  Now alive, terrifying, and insanely evil, his Cauldron Born (Sorry, another Heavy Metal band already took that sweet name) immediately kill and devour(probably) the Horned King’s living and loyal army.  They die screaming.



In the end, The Horned King dies.  Now many Disney villains die, but rarely is that death the kind of death normally reserved for Nazis in Indiana Jones movies.  Namely, having the flesh graphically stripped from his bones as he screams.





So you’re probably thinking, “Yeah yeah, I get it, Seth.  This movie is a bit dark.  But that doesn’t make it darker than the others.”

OK, but how many children’s movies have you seen where a character kills themselves because they have no friends?


During the climax, when the Horned King has summoned an army of skeletal warriors to murder everyone in their path, Taran volunteers to destroy the army the only way possible, by selflessly throwing himself into The Black Cauldron, and dying.  Gurgi stops him, saying that Taran shouldn’t kill himself because he has many friends.  Since Gurgi has no friends, he should die instead.  And with that uplifting message, Gurgi kills himself.  That’s right, a Disney character outright commits suicide because the world is a better place without him.

For obvious reasons, The Black Cauldron was a box office bomb.  It’s only started gaining a cult following, mostly from the generation that grew up scarred by it.  And it’s actually a very enjoyable movie and I plan on reading Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Pydain novels on which it was based.

“Escape into a world of darkness…”
Can’t say they didn’t warn you.