We get into a creepy zone for winter 2023 with horror games and films. Featuring such titles as The Last of Us, Barbarian, Twin Peaks, Cultic, Sunless Sea, and Call of Cthulhu TTRPG.
I always go into the holiday season with excitement and come out the other side emotionally exhausted. This year the post-holiday blues were coupled with 3 weeks of intense rain which led to a lot of media consumption in our house. Something about the season made me want to dig in on horror titles I had missed. And 2022 was a great year for creepy things (that pandemic sure left a mark on culture). Here’s what I’ve been playing, watching, and reading over the first few weeks of 2023.
Call of Cthulhu Tabletop TTRPG
My favorite RPG to collect but it seems like I’m always Looking for Group with CoC. Gorgeous artwork and books deliver mysterious adventures into the occult with Lovecraft monsters and themes. The game is less crunchy than D&D and more focused on exploration. CoC monsters are gothic beasts that often wipe out your team of investigators but that’s half the fun as you peer into the darkness and try not to lose your mind.
Call of Cthulhu is a very well written role playing game with multiple adventure books set in a variety of settings. Horror on the Orient Express is rumored to be one of the best beginner campaigns (if also massive) while Masks of Nyarlathotep is one of the most incredible (if also difficult) CoC adventures. For solo players there is also a solo campaign called Alone Against the Dark which I’ve been enjoying. Read more about Call of Cthulhu TTRPG at the Chaosium website.
Blades in the Dark TTRPG
Blades in the Dark is a Tabletop Roleplaying Game (TTRPG) created by John Harper set in a steampunk and Lovecraft inspired industrial city called Duskvol. Players take on the role of a crew of criminals, each with their own unique abilities and motivations, who are trying to make a name for themselves in this dangerous city. I kept reading about this game on forums and have been digging into the rule book to learn about this unique role playing system. Blades in the Dark puts emphasis on collaboration and team story building and less focus on crunchy battle mechanics. Read more in our recent profile of Blades in the Dark.
Sunless Sea (PC, Switch)
Exploring the Unterzee in this beautifully gothic world of Sunless Sea is a treat. Something about this mashup of graphic text adventure, Cthulhu monsters, ship combat, and port trading hits all the right marks for someone who grew up in my gaming era (80’s/90s). Sunless Sea is built on a framework similar to Sid Meier’s Pirates. But Sunless Sea offers a darker, Lovecraft-inspired atmosphere set in “Fallen London” instead of the Caribbean. The combination of storytelling, sound, and design creates a gorgeous bleak atmosphere that is unique and wonderful to discover. The game is also difficult with souls-like progression and permadeath for each captain that you play as (you can always start as a new captain). It’s worth noting that the creators of this game have parted ways with the publisher and now run a game company called Weather Factory which releases games such as Cultist Simulator and Book of Hours. Tip of the hat to Mandalore Gaming who first introduced me to Sunless Sea with his review video.
This game crossed my path in late 2022 as it appeared on many “best of” lists and seemed to have a cult following for it’s old school shooter style and horror movie narrative. Cultic is a love letter to Doom-era FBS games. The game is low-resolution which allows for graphic gore (piles of bodies, heads flying off) to be less horrible but still gory. It’s not easy (I haven’t gotten very far yet) but it’s fun to play in short runs. Level design is clever with lots of secrets to discover and multiple paths to success (from what I have experienced so far). Cultic scratches an itch and I keep going back in.
AMC puts it’s creative weight behind this Ann Rice adaptation about a “neurosurgeon who discovers she is the unlikely heir to a family of witches.”
Alexandra Daddario stars after a brilliant performance on White Lotus and brings depth to the central character. A bleak drama cast in blue and grey hues, perfect for the winter chills. Read more about Mayfair Witches on IMDB.
I caught an interview with Director Zach Cregger on Letterboxed where he listed films like Lost Highway and Audition as influences for Barbarian and I knew that I needed to check it out. The film is best viewed without knowing anything going in. Barbarian is a tense ride with some scary graphic moments – be prepared if you watch. Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, and Justin Long turn in great performances for this gritty modern day scare set at an Airbnb. Read more about Barbarian at IMDB.
The Last of Us
HBO’s adaptation of Naughty Dog’s game seems to be doing things correctly. With an opening that delivers more weight to Joel’s backstory we are immediately invested in the drama. This show different than other zombie-themed shows with flashbacks to normal life and emphasis on dramatic tension between characters. And they seemed to get the clickers right also. So far this is one of the best video game adaptations around. Read more about The Last of us at IMDB.
The Walking Dead
I am probably the last human alive who hasn’t seen The Walking Dead. But the arrival of this show on Netflix coincided with my January horror dive. I’ve been grinding through these zombies for the past week (wow is this show dark). Now I understand all the fuss about Norman Reedus.
Twin Peaks The Return
It’s been a couple years since I’ve watched David Lynch’s latest excursion into darkness. The series is every bit as interesting as I remember. Twin Peaks The Return twists all of the characters of 90s television that we knew into something more sinister and multi-dimensional. The Dougie Jones story is more entertaining this time around (Mr. Jackpots – Hello!) And the origin story in Part 8 is, in my opinion, one of best television episodes ever broadcast. This is weird and wonderful television that combines horror, drama, and experimental filmmaking into a beautiful twisted mirror of the original series. Tip of the hat to David Lynch for always pushing the boundaries of his mediums.