It Came From Toronto After Dark: Grabbers

Toronto After Dark is here, and once again I find myself skulking in the spider haunted shadows of the Bloor Cinema, madly scribbling down profane ideas birthed by the weird and wonderful sights revealed on the silver screen…
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration (if you’re in the GTA Oct. 18-26 be sure to check it out).  Many of the films the festival showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid.  I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.
Roleplaying games helped foster an unhealthy love of monsters which hooked me at an early age to genre films, that in turn help to inform my tabletop games (in a weird kind of feedback loop).  This ongoing series of articles takes these influences and mashes them together to create a strange hybrid I call It Came from the DVR (although I seem to be in the theatre more often than in front of the television, but I’m not complaining – they have better snacks).


Nothing much happens in the small, Irish village of Erin, and that’s just the way chronic alcoholic police officer Ciaran likes it.  Unfortunately, that’s all about to change.  Ciaran has just been assigned a new by the books partner… and the island is being invaded by a swarm of bloodsucking alien tentacle monsters.  The good news is that the aliens are deathly allergic to alcohol.  So the question is: can Ciaran and Lisa get the whole town drunk in time for the invasion?

A Throwback in All the Best Ways

Grabbers is a delightful throwback to the monster comedies of the 80’s, combining equal measures of lighthearted fun and menace.  It doesn’t really break new ground, but it’s territory I haven’t visited in a long time, and Grabbers navigates it perfectly.
The film is immediately comparable to Tremors (itself a throwback), and not just for occupying the same niche and having a similarly tentacled monster.  Grabbers takes the best parts of Tremors and transplants them to Ireland: suspense cut by funny kills, lots of playing with cultural stereotypes (Irish instead of the American Southwest), colorful personalities, and great back and forth between the two main characters (OK, the film’s name also seems to be taken from the ‘graboids’ of Tremors as well).  But here’s the important thing, Grabbers isn’t just a Tremors rip-off.  Aside from the change of scenery, Grabbers has a very distinct personality and brand of humor.  When was the last movie you saw where the only way to defeat the monster was by getting drunk?
A slight aside.  Acting drunk is hard, especially ‘funny-drunk’ (faking it I mean – getting drunk is incredibly easy… and fun).   If it’s not done right your film can turn from hilarious to stupid in a heartbeat.  Given Grabbers’ kind of ridiculous premise, it would have been easy for the whole thing to descend into Ernest Goes to Camp-ness.  Fortunately the actors pull it off, with some truly hilarious scenes and actress Ruth Bradley delivering some choice lines.
The romantic sub-plot is also well delivered.  Ruth Bradley and Richard Coyle have great chemistry, which adds a nice dimension to the whole buddy cop thing.
The titular monsters of the film are well realized and look good (even if they are mainly CGI).  For a smaller budget picture, this is an achievement (one that made for SyFy films rarely accomplish).  Though not perfect, the aliens never come off as so cheap that they take you out of the action of the film.  That’s important because, like the creatures of Gremlins, Critters, and yes Tremors, they provide just enough horror and suspense to keep things from getting too goofy.
Grabbers is recommended for a night of good old fashioned monster fun.  It’s the perfect film if you’re in mixed company and need something accessible for varied tastes in horror.  For fans of Tremors (or Gremlins or Critters for that matter), Grabbers is a must see, and a much better inheritor than any of the sequels those films spawned.

RPG Goodness

Horror comedies are a great inspiration for rpg games.  Inter-party conflict is the stuff of buddy pictures and any game that presents owlbears and gelatinous cubes as serious enemies makes the manoeuver from silly to scary commonplace.  Even some of the most dramatic and sober campaigns I have played in featured goofy table talk, full of pop culture references and lines from movies (not to mention the link between Monty Python and D&D is practically cliché).
I think the real lesson monster comedies have to teach DMs is how to handle the inherent absurdity of the game.  The lesson: play it absolutely straight.  The monsters in Grabbers or Tremors never try and ‘act funny’ themselves.  The humor comes from ridiculous situations and character interaction (in game terms: table talk and PC actions).  There’s no need for the DM to joke things up on their end.  An encounter with a vampire can inadvertently generate laughs and something seemingly silly like a fight with a mimic posing as a table with a birthday cake (an example from one of my own campaigns) can be absolutely terrifying.  In Dungeons and Dragons terms, I think a fight with a grabber could go either way, with a drunken party making all kinds of poor decisions and flubbing skill checks (as in the film), or as a gritty tactical battle that incorporates elements of many of Pathfinder’s alternate class archetypes (like the drunken master and drunken brute).  With that in mind, I present the grabber for the Pathfinder edition of D&D.


“Slithering out of the water is a rubbery, black mass of ropy tentacles.  It rolls forward with a wet flopping sound, a horrible barbed tongue flickering out from the centre of the beast’s mass like a bullwhip.”

Grabbers are a race of ravenous, aquatic blood drinkers from the same destroyed world as the akata, where they occupied a similar, aquatic niche in the planet’s food chain.  Chunks of that dead planet cross the dark tapestry as asteroids, making planetfall and releasing grabber eggs into oceans and lakes.  Once hatched, grabbers relentlessly hunt warm blooded life, travelling inland in search of prey on rainy nights.  When compressed, a typical grabber is 2 ½ feet in diameter and weighs 150 pounds.

Juvenile Grabber
Juvenile grabbers have the young template.  Freshly hatched grabbers look like short stubby worms, but still possess the dangerous tongue and blood drinking of their adult form.

Giant Male Grabber
These creatures have the advanced and giant templates.  Female grabbers are far more common than the male of the species, which can grow to enormous size and appetite.  Female grabbers abandon their egg clutches in shallow water or on sandy beaches, leaving the males to protect them from predation – which they do zealously.

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