Friday, 26 May 2017

POP! Television: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

Back in October last year, I reviewed the Mystery Mini version of Elvira; astute readers will notice that there is a lot of overlap between this review and that one. But please feel free to read on nonetheless, and appreciate all the subtle differences.

Horror hosts aren’t really a thing over here in Australia, but it seems there was a time where every local TV station in the USA had one of their own. Typically serving as campy gateway figures to introduce audiences to crappy old horror and sci-fi films, in many cases they’re more entertaining than the actual films they were hosting. A handful went on to become international celebrities, like Vampira – though to be fair, a lot of that really had to do with her work with Ed Wood.

But probably the best-known to horror fans the world over is the subject of today’s review – Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Portrayed by Cassandra Peterson, I’m not actually sure that she’s ever been broadcast on Australian TV, but a couple of YouTube videos confirmed pretty much what I expected – silly comments about the films being shown, bad puns and double entendres. But she does it with more style and panache than many of her contemporaries, and Cassandra Peterson has turned herself into a global brand as a result.

Typically, I can appreciate Mystery Minis and POPs as separate entities; they’re both striving for different aesthetics and they should be treated as such. But sometimes one really outshines the other, and in this case I think the Mystery Mini is substantially better. Though the POP is not bad, it suffers by comparison; the large head coupled with the large hair is a little too much, and the paint on small details like her dagger and nails are a bit sloppy. In her favour is that they’ve done a nice paint job on her face; it captures the pale skintone very nicely.

Nonetheless, if you’re a horror POP collector, she’s still a great addition to the shelf. There’s no doubt that Elvira is a horror icon, and considering how many horror-related POPS I own, I figure they need a good host to accompany them.    

Thursday, 25 May 2017

POP! Heroes: Firestorm

You have to feel a bit sorry for the B- and C-list members of the Justice League. Sometimes it feels like you’re totally expendable, and that at a moment’s notice you could be killed and/or your superhero name taken by the next random old mate showing up. Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Supergirl – even the A-listers aren’t immune to it, with Wonder Woman and Batman having been (temporarily) replaced for varying reasons over the years. 

Of course, order is usually restored, but it can take an awfully long time. Just ask Barry Allen, who died as The Flash in Crisis on Infinite Earths and proceeded to stay dead for the next 23 years of real-world time. 

Firestorm hasn’t had it quite that bad, but there still been several different iterations of the character taking over the years. Add to this that his secret identity is typically two people, not just one, and I was left with my head spinning after reading through his Wikipedia article.

I’ve only ever read a handful of comics featuring the character, but I’ve always liked his design. He’s a very visually distinct character among his JLA companions, reminding me of Jack Kirby’s drawing style, with the weirdly baggy unitard, puffy sleeves and the “could be a scientific diagram, could be made up” chest emblem. And of course, his head was literally on fire. It’s a design that should irritate me immensely, but for some reason it all kind of clicks here. Not as immediately as say, Ghost Rider, of course – but he has a very cool 60s vibe nonetheless.  

There are two other versions of Firestorm that utilise this mold – White Lantern Firestorm and the glow-in-the-dark version of White Lantern Firestorm. A few years ago I would have picked the glow version up almost without question, but I’m really trying to cut back these days. Horror stuff, and some DC – that’s about it. I mostly picked him because he was on sale for a good price, but he’s a nice addition to the mix overall. Much the like the character, he’s solid but not outstanding. 

Thursday, 18 May 2017

POP! Movies: Jason Voorhees – Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning really splits fans of the franchise. To cut a long story short, the film flashes forward a few years from Part IV, and in spite of his apparent death, “Jason” shows up again. Things unfold as they do in any Friday the 13th film, but this time the killer isn’t actually Jason – it’s a paramedic named Roy Burns, who’s wearing an elaborate Jason costume and avenging his own son’s death.

Kudos must go to the producers for trying something a bit different, but fans did not react well and to this day it’s one of the least-loved films in the series. Unsurprisingly, the real Jason was back in the forefront for Part VI, and has remained there ever since.

I’ve only seen Part V once myself from memory (probably on VHS back in 2003 or 2004) and I remember being less than impressed. But horror is a genre that favours the unusual, and naturally it’s picked up a cult following in the years since its release.

This figure was part of a range of Hot Topic-exclusive blind boxes, rolled out just in time for Halloween 2016 – and Jason is clearly the one who got the short end of the stick in the tooling budget. Alex was a new sculpt, Pinhead got a new body (not to mention the glowing head) and Beetlejuice got an elaborate paint scheme. Conversely, Jason reuses the original figure’s head and the body from the Michael Myers POP.

In spite of the reuse, this “Jason” is a good exclusive; not essential for more casual fans but worth tracking down if you’re a completist. Paint could be slightly better, but Roy Burns-based Friday the 13th merchandise isn’t hugely plentiful, so sometimes you just need to take what you can get.I’m no huge fan of the film, but he’s a neat variation.  

Monday, 15 May 2017

POP! Television: Twin Peaks – Leland Palmer

Spoiler Alert: This review contains spoilers for Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me.

Leland Palmer: [as BOB] Leland's a babe in the woods, with a large hole where his conscious used to be. When I go children, I will pull that ripcord and you watch Leland remember. Watch him!

Twin Peaks is a quirky show, with plenty of humour and fun oddities. But the light is contrasted with the dark; the show is centred around a murder mystery after all. And one of the key figures in that mystery is the subject of today’s review, Leland Palmer.

When we first meet Mr Palmer, he’s simply a bereaved father trying to keep it together after the death of his daughter. But as the series continues, the deeply unpleasant truth is revealed; Leland is the vessel for the mysterious BOB, and Laura was not only murdered by him, but the victim of his incestuous attentions for years prior. 

Leland’s complicity in his crimes is the subject of some debate. It’s suggested that Leland has been possessed by BOB since he was a young child, as a result of being molested himself. By contrast, Fire Walk With Me paints a somewhat different picture. BOB may be controlling Leland when it comes to the abuse and murder of Laura (and Teresa Banks) – but there’s no real indication of BOB’s influence when he earlier visits prostitutes. 

Of course, David Lynch is not really known for providing definitive answers, so I just go with the most commonly held opinion; namely, that Leland is largely ignorant of his own acts until the he kills Jacques Renault, one of the suspects in Laura’s murder. Although an all-round terrible person, Renault is actually innocent of the crime, so Leland murdering Renault of his own volition appears to provide BOB with a gateway to fully take over.

As is traditional with breakdowns or mental illness in pop culture, this is demonstrated in incredibly *cough* subtle *cough* form. Leland’s hair turns completely white overnight and he runs through the Great Northern Hotel singing showtunes from the 1940s. But I suppose some of it can be excused by him being literally demon-possessed by this point in the series.   

Naturally, the POP opts for this look, with white hair and white eyes. It is the more visually interesting option, but I do think it’s a shame that we don’t also have a “regular” version of Leland. I think I may pick an extra one up and just repaint the hair, eyes and hands, as that’s pretty much all that’s required. Also, the body would make for a perfect Carl Jung custom, if coupled with a Bernie Sanders head.   

It’s now been 26 years since Leland was revealed as Laura’s murderer…and although I love Twin Peaks, the show kind of fumbles a bit awkwardly after the big reveal. Nonetheless, Ray Wise’s performance as the tormented Leland is nothing short of excellent. What could have been camp, silly or contrived is instead a compelling, sympathetic and well-rounded character. Already an established actor by the time of Twin Peaks, he’s since gone on to have a fantastic career as a character actor – and now it’s only a week until he returns to our screens again. Roll on series 3!

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Funko Mystery Minis: Retro Video Games – Frogger

A few retro gaming characters have already made it to the shelves as POPs, but Funko have now gone all-in on the concept with a Mystery Minis line. There are 16 iconic characters from yesteryear in the series, but only 12 “arcade cabinets” in a case. Apparently each character is packed 1/12, so there’s nothing outrageously rare – but the two boxes I saw at my local hobby store seemed to suggest that each case has a random mix of characters, as opposed to the preset layouts that some of the other Mystery Minis series use. 

THE BOX

Funko has some great designers working for them, but the Mystery Minis boxes are not typically very exciting – some control art, a title and not much else. But they’ve really stepped things up for this series; each character is housed in a box shaped to look like an arcade cabinet based on the game they’re from. It’s a great touch, one indicative of the care that Funko has put into the line*. Sadly the box is just a little too big for another Mystery Mini to use as an arcade machine. Nonetheless, they look so cool that it’s very tempting to keep it and incorporate it into a wider display. It would be great to Funko do more like this on future/other Mystery Mini series. 

THE MYSTERY MINI

In the original game there are multiple Froggers (Froggi?), but this one is specifically based on the image on the logo strip atop the cabinet.  He’s depicted with a tie and a briefcase, presumably on his way home from work to see his wife and frogspawn. It’s stylised HD Frogger, rather than a literal attempt to render pixels in plastic. He’s pretty cute, though he does look a little dead-eyed – I suspect this is because they’ve given him a croaking, half-open mouth rather than the closed-but-smiling expression on the cabinet. But those of us working desk jobs can easily relate to feeling dead inside, so it’s oddly appropriate if you decide to use him as a desk ornament.  

Of course, some of the coolness is undone by the sloppiness of the paint. This is disappointing, as the Mystery Minis have typically had better paintwork than their larger Funko POP companions. But for a $9.95AUD collectible, it’s adequate.

OVERALL

I was born in 1985, so Frogger had kind of already come and gone before I even arrived on planet Earth. But I am a staunch video game history buff, and you can’t look too far into the history of the medium before you run across Frogger. It’s easy to see why it was a hit – cutesy design, combined with easy-to-play but difficult-to-master controls are a winning combo in any era, but perhaps never more so in an era when gaming was filled with thinly veiled Pong and Pac-Man clones competing for kid’s coins. And in the years since its release, Frogger’s pop culture influence has outstripped plenty of its contemporaries. It was even a central plot point on an episode of Seinfeld** which brings with it a level of fame that few games can ever hope to reach.

I don’t intend to go too deep with this line, but Frogger’s cutesy design and iconic status made him a must-purchase for me. And there’s still plenty of iconic retro characters to be made, so here’s hoping we see at least a series 2 in the near future.


*Of course, I had to go and spill water on mine, didn't I? 

**And here’s a thought for you – that episode of Seinfeld is now older than Frogger was when they first filmed it. Double retro!  

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Turtle Monster Pin Set – Junkship

Like many of you, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a huge phenomenon during my childhood. They’re still popular now, but it really was a whole different level back then. The action figure line alone was huge, spawning all manner of wild spin-offs which spanned both awesome and totally crap – sometimes at the same time.

One of the more inspired was a Universal Monsters/TMNT crossover range of action figures. Two waves were released, covering The Mummy (Raphael), Dracula (Donatello), Frankenstein’s Monster (Michelangelo), The Wolfman (Leonardo), the Metaluna Mutant (Raphael), the Invisible Man (Michelangelo), the Creature from the Black Lagoon (Leonardo) and the Bride of Frankenstein (April).

To celebrate those heady days of the early 90s, Junkship have recently released a series of pins based on the first wave of those figures – The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and The Wolfman. I missed the initial release of these pins last year, but fortunately they were re-released last month.
They showed up today, and they are excellent. Though I like all of the designs, my favourite is possibly Donatello. I think the combination of purple, green and black works most effectively out of all of them, with the glow in the dark elements adding a nice touch. Following close behind is Raph, who’s primarily glow-in-the-dark, which makes him an automatic favourite.

I don’t really collect pins as such, but last year I put together a battle vest – and along with the patches, quite a few have found their way onto the denim. So when I came across these pins combining my love of Universal Monsters and the Ninja Turtles, I knew that they were a must-buy. You can get your own set here – but be fast. After the success of the initial run, I imagine they’ll sell through pretty quickly.


Friday, 5 May 2017

POP! Movies – The Mummy: Ahmanet

As a little kid, around the age of 6 or 7, my parents gave me a book about Ancient Egypt. I think it was a Christmas gift, an Usborne Pocket Guide; a little pocket or digest-sized volume. I’d heard of Egypt before from church (Exodus and so on) but this was my first real introduction to them as a wider culture. I remember being gripped of the images of the Egyptian gods – particularly the jackal-headed Anubis – and it sparked off a life-long love of Ancient Egypt.

Naturally enough, The Mummy became one of my favourite Universal Monsters. The other day we took a look at the undead version of the Mummy from the upcoming remake, and today we look at her more human form. 

I had a look online but can’t yet find any stills of Sofia Boutella in this costume, so I can’t say whether it’s “accurate”. But it certainly looks more typically Egyptian then most of what we’ve seen of the film so far – white linen dress, lots of gold jewellery, lapis-lazuli-coloured fingernails, kohl-painted eyes and ornate hair*.

Assuming that this film follows the rough formula of the 1932 one and the 1999 one, Ahmanet will look like this in the Ancient Egyptian flashbacks, emerge from the tomb looking like her undead self and then return to a similar look to this once she’s regenerated by killing a few people. I also have a strong suspicion that Tom Cruise’s character will have some kind of psychic/magical link with her. We see in the trailer that he dies and is resurrected – but why? Probably he’s the reincarnation of her lover or something, like a gender-swapped Anck Su Namun.

Even if the movie’s not that great, my love of Ancient Egypt will let me enjoy this figure – it’s a good generic Egyptian princess or priestess figure to go on the shelf. Well done, Funko. 


*On that note, her hair looks totally implausible at first glance – but perhaps not as implausible as you might think. Wealthy Egyptians were very fond of shaving their heads and wearing wigs instead. The climate of Egypt was a little different a few thousand years ago, but it was still damn hot. So by shaving you could look good when necessary, and stay cool the rest of the time.