Thursday, 16 November 2017

POP! Games – Scorpion (Flaming Skull)

Mortal Kombat. Holy shit, this game was a big deal when I was a kid. The franchise is still a big seller, but I think kids these days would struggle to grasp the scale of the excitement around the first two Mortal Kombat games. 

They were wildly controversial, featuring an insane level of violence that still has the capacity to take your breath away today.
And of course, the more parents hated it, the more kids loved it. Mortal Kombat had just about every edgy trope from the late 80s and early 90s shoved into one fun package fighting game.

  • Horror movie imagery? Yessir.
  • Weird monsters? You betcha.
  • Over-the-top gore? Check.
  • Characters that look like X-Men knock-offs? Can do.
  • Martial arts? As many as you want.
  • Ninjas? You got ‘em

One of those ninjas was Scorpion. He was one of three ninjas featured in the original game, and at face value he was just a simple palette swap; yellow to Sub-Zero’s blue and Reptile’s green. But all of them had distinct play styles, which helped separate them as characters – a stark contrast to Ryu and Ken from rival game Street Fighter II.  

Scorpion wasn’t the most heavily promoted character, but he rapidly became a fan favourite. He was arguably the easiest character to use, and just to up the ante, when he took his mask off he didn’t even have a face – he had a fucking skull and he spit fire! In a game full of memorable, gruesome characters and extreme violence, Scorpion was still among the best.

This POP depicts Scorpion sans mask, complete with Ghost Rider-esque flaming skull. This version is a Hot Topic exclusive in the US, though it’s a regular release in Australia. Funko certainly haven’t cheaped out; the head and body are totally different to the regular version, and the sculpt is excellent. He’s got his signature spear and chain wrapped around his torso, and all of the little elements of his costume are highly detailed.  

Paint lines could be better, but it’s easily one of the best POPs Funko has put out this year. Normally I’m indifferent to variant takes on characters, but this is almost as essential as the “regular” version of Scorpion.

Mortal Kombat X is fantastic fun... but Funko’s Mortal Kombat X series is quite a mixed bag. All three Scorpions look great, as do both the Sub-Zeroes. Raiden looks adequate, while Liu Kang and Kitana look totally crappy. Hopefully we get a couple more characters down the road, but in the meantime this figure is a solid investment. 

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Pint Size Heroes (Horror) – Cthulhu

In the last couple of weeks I’ve taken a look at the Pint Size Heroes versions of Jason Voorhees and Pinhead. But today, we take a look at the biggest and baddest Pint Size Hero of them all – Cthulhu.

I’ve written about Cthulhu collectables a few times on here now, and every time I do the site tends to go a little nuts for a few days. I don’t have much additional material to contribute about H.P. Lovecraft’s as a person since the last article I wrote. So let’s just say the short version is that he was a very flawed man, but since his passing his figurative tentacles have permeated broader pop/geek culture in a way that he never could have anticipated in his lifetime.

Though the Pint Size Heroes aesthetic is quite different, the look is clearly based on his larger POP compatriot – outstretched tentacles, furry loincloth, speckled skin and dragon-style wings. To fake his obvious size advantage over his series companions, Cthulhu’s been made to appear larger by giving him a massive head. For the most part this works well. However, the backside seems to be tampoed with the same design as the front, giving us ample view of Cthulhu’s backside – and inadvertently giving the impression that he’s wearing a g-string. Cthulhu is THICC, apparently.

The only other downside is that his head doesn’t turn particularly well, as the wings kind of block the neck motion. But it’s a small price to pay, on the whole.   

Of the Pint Size Heroes I own, Cthulhu is far and away my favourite. Like virtually every other piece of cutesy piece of Cthulhu merchandise out there, it’s a total violation of H.P. Lovecraft’s original vision. But does he look kind of fun on the shelf? Well, yeah. It’d be better if he glowed in the dark, but he’s definitely a solid addition to my ever-expanding horror merchandise collection. 

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

POP! Holidays – Krampus

In Australia, we tend to celebrate Christmas in a pretty conventional fashion. It varies a little from family to family and across geography of course, but the broad strokes tend to go something like this:

-Church in the morning
-Visit a relative’s place for a BBQ and prawns
-Open presents
-Off to the beach

Adherence to Christianity is far from mandatory for participation; for many it’s a rather secular affair. It’s not very hard work to trace a lot of the symbols (e.g. the tree, mistletoe) back to pagan Europe, but such is the way that culture shifts over time. But my overall point is that Christmas in Australia is a pretty pedestrian affair; Santa is jolly, gifts are abundant and there is food and drink aplenty.

But in other parts of the world, it’s a little…different. In parts of Europe, a lot more of the pre-Christian culture has survived into modern Christmas celebrations – and some of it is absolutely terrifying. One such example is the Krampus.

I probably first became aware of him a few years ago, when I was putting together an article for my then-day job on unusual Christmas traditions from around the world. Having spent quite a bit of time with Dutch people from childhood, I already knew about (the frequently controversial) Zwarte Piet – but the Krampus was fairly new territory.

Hailing from the Austrian Alps, he’s a half-goat, half-demon, who’s a companion of the holy St. Nicholas. Rather than bringing gifts for good children (St. Nicholas looks after those) he delivers punishments to naughty kids. All fun and games, like getting a lump of coal in your stocking, right? Maybe nowadays, but in ye olden times there were stories of him throwing naughty kids into his bag, dragging them off and either eating them or throwing them into Hell.

How seriously anyone took this is up for debate, but look at him. Imagine getting one of those cards in the mail as a kid. It’s a slightly more intimidating prospect than ending up on Santa’s naughty list, isn’t it? As might be expected, these days he’s a little more sedate, and “only” tends to hit kids with his bundle of birch branches. 

Like many pagan holdovers that got turned into Christmas traditions, Krampus has also generated his share of controversy over the years. Conservative Christians are frequently not fans (perhaps not surprising, given his obvious resemblance to the Medieval depiction of the devil) and the Dolfuss regime tried to stamp out his presence from the 1920s to the 1950s.

Still, these efforts don’t seem to have dulled his popularity; if anything, the last few years have seen him have something of a renaissance, both in Europe and in America. And so we now have a Krampus from Funko.

Funko are staking more than you might expect on this POP – there’s a regular version and a flocked version, both of which also have a chase. There’s also a “frozen” FYE exclusive too, though it doesn’t seem to be out yet. I assume it’ll just be available at Popcultcha in Australia.

For myself, I just went with the regular version. It’s a fantastic POP; a nice, chunky piece of plastic. He’s massive, and bedecked with all the trappings you’d expect; big horns, big tongue, chains around his body and holding a whip. Turn him around and you’ll even see he’s wearing a basket on his back, complete with a naughty kid peeking out, who’s no doubt destined for some kind of terrible punishment.

While the paint lines could definitely be cleaner, this is still a great figure. The only real downside is that there's no Saint Nicholas to accompany him, though Funko did make a Rankin-Bass-style Santa a few years ago. 

I can’t quite see Krampus ever taking off in the same way in Australia that he has in other parts of the world. The climate’s wrong for one thing. But will he garner a cult following? All the signs point to h*ck yes. If you like the macabre, the unusual, or just want a different take on Christmas, this is a must-buy. 

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Guest Review: JIGSAW at Supanova

It's already been a busy week for film reviews for me -- today, it's a review of Jigsaw over at Supanova's website, the latest installment in the long-running Saw series. You can read my review in full here. Hope you enjoy it!

Monday, 30 October 2017

Guest Review: ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS at The Robot's Pajamas

Since 2014, The Robot's Pajamas has been running Horror Month during October -- the basic theme being that in the lead-up to Halloween, they publish a review of a horror film each day of the month.

Now regular readers might...just might...have noticed that I'm quite fond of horror. So when they put out the call back in 2014, I decided to volunteer my services, and contributed a review of Creature From the Black Lagoon, which you can read here. I missed 2015, but I returned for 2016 with a review of  weird Italian classic The Beyond.

This year I've contributed a review of Zombie Flesh Eaters, which you can read here. Hope you enjoy it -- and have a look around The Robot's Pajamas as well. If you like my site, you'll love theirs!

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

POP! Disney – Halloween Donald (2017 Fall Convention Exclusive)

Kingdom Hearts. It has a truly dedicated fanbase, but I’m not one of them. I played a few hours of the first game on PS2. It was fun, but I wasn’t (and am not) enough of a Disney or Square Enix fan to make my way through the entire thing.

So as with the Sleestak – if I don’t care about the property, why the hell did I fork out for this?

Basically, it’s because I’m a sucker for mummies. I’ve been obsessed with Ancient Egypt since I was a little kid. In the last few years alone, I’ve bought all manner of silly mummy-related merchandise since, including a Ninja Turtles pin, both POPs from the decidedly mediocre 2017 The Mummy, a POP and Mystery Mini from the excellent Boris Karloff movie, plenty of Lego, two Madballs, and a bunch of other Egyptian stuff that hasn’t made the site. So Halloween Donald here is hardly a stretch at this point.

Having now purchased him, I’m happier with him than I expected to be. The paint is better than average for a Funko POP, and the bandages have an appropriately brown look – it’s a step up on most pop culture mummies, who tend to just throw some clean white bandages at an existing character and hope for the best. In a world where people collect any old crap that Disney and Square Enix care to pump out, Funko must be commended for going the extra mile.  

My only real issue is that he’s cast in transparent plastic, to emulate his semi-ghostly look from the game. It may be “accurate” but it doesn’t end up looking terribly convincing; it probably could be executed via more sophisticated moulding techniques, but I doubt it would be cost-effective.  

This is a fun extra for Kingdom Hearts fans or general Disney obsessives, and pretty non-essential for everyone else. But as an avowed fan of Ancient Egypt, it was a must-have for me.   

Friday, 20 October 2017

POP! Television: Stranger Things – Mr Clarke (2017 Summer Convention Exclusive)

Though we don’t see a ton of him in Season 1, Mr Clarke was a great character, and quite integral to the plot of Stranger Things. I suspect that if the show had been set in more contemporary times, the role would have been played in a slightly more…creepy…fashion, but fortunately that particular trope was avoided on this occasion. Mr Clarke is just a genuinely nice guy who wants to encourage the kids’ knowledge.

This POP showcases Mr Clarke about halfway through the series, when he demonstrates how a door between the “real” world and the (theoretical to Mr Clarke) Upside Down. The sculpt isn’t that exciting; Mr Clarke is just a dorky guy in a suit after all. But the paint is really cool, specially the tampo of Mr Clarke’s diagram on the paper plate itself! For this element alone, the figure is worth picking up – with the caveat that you should only pay retail for him.

Even a couple of years ago, Funko’s SDCC exclusives were pretty much repaints of existing sculpts. They offered something unusual, but not totally essential to consider your collection complete. But things have changed since those days; now we see unique sculpts, and characters that don’t come out anywhere else.

Plenty of people are happy about this, but personally I think it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Mr Clarke isn’t necessarily a key character in Stranger Things, he is a bit of a fan favourite, and I’m not sure that releasing him as an exclusive was the best idea. Importantly, it sets a bad precedent for the way we may see other fan-favourite characters released. Convention exclusives are fairly easy to come by in Australia, but it’s not the same way in the US in particular. 

As it stands, Mr Clarke is a cool POP – but not cool enough to pay crazy aftermarket prices. Here’s to seeing more of Mr Clarke in Season 2, and hopefully that this POP – or another version of him – gets a more general release in the future. 

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Pint Size Heroes (Horror) – Pinhead

While many of us own scores (if not hundreds) of DVDs and Blu-rays these days, younger readers may be surprised to learn this was highly unusual back in the 80s and 90s. VHS tapes were expensive, not to mention incredibly space-consuming. Renting and home recording were the order of the day.  

But if you did grow up around the same time as I did, you probably remember the golden age of video stores. VHS was a far inferior format to DVD and Blu-ray, but I do have very fond memories of browsing through the aisles of the local store, trying to decide which video I’d rent that week – opt for something I knew I enjoyed, or take a risk on something I’d never seen before? A virtually immaterial question in these days of cheap DVDs and online streaming, but of crucial importance to a 9 or 10-year-old in the mid-90s.

For me, the horror section was particularly intriguing. This was in no small part because it was almost totally forbidden as a child. My parents were never been outrageously strict, but they were products of 1980s church culture. Horror films were just one of many things to be treated with suspicion, potentially touched by the taint of The Occult. But that aside, there was a healthy dose of pragmatism and good parenting in play here too – horror films really aren’t for meant for little kids, after all!

Even without the forbidden aspect, the horror section was fascinating at a visual level. Weird creatures, odd graphic design choices, horrifying illustrations…they worked hard to get you to pick up the case and rent them. Graveyard Shift was one that always jumped out at me. It’s not much to look at now, but I was terrified of skulls as a kid, and the image has stuck with me to this day.  Of course, having subsequently seen plenty of these films as a teen or adult, I can attest that most of the cases were far more garish and upsetting than anything that happens in the actual films themselves.  
But what does all of this have to do with today’s review, you ask?

Well, the garish cover rule doesn’t apply to Hellraiser. Pinhead was terrifying on the VHS case, but the film itself is far more disturbing. In the last 12 months I’ve been fortunate enough to watch it with two separate groups of people who’d never seen it before, and each time I found myself a little horrified on their behalf at various points during the movie. It’s not a film for the squeamish viewer, with its mix of violence, skinned people, BDSM imagery. 

As such, the amount of cutesy merchandise that has been released in the last few years seems pretty incongruous with the license itself. Multiple Funko POPs, a Dorbz figure, Living Dead Dolls, fluffy dice…and now, the subject of today’s review, a Pint Size Heroes figure.

When I first ran across Pint Size Heroes, Pinhead was one of my only must-have figures. I’m a huge fan of the first Hellraiser movie, but my enjoyment of Clive Barker’s work in general has really expanded this year. While I was in the UK a couple of months ago, I read his debut novel The Damnation Game and am now working my way through the Books of Blood. A couple of other bits and pieces of his are also sitting on the “to-read” shelf at the moment too. So an additional Pinhead seemed to be the logical fit; not to mention that his design has translated quite well to the format.  

In stark contrast to his actual demeanour, Pinhead has never looked so cute. Unlike Jason, the tampographs are pretty excellent, and impressively detailed. Pinhead’s flayed chest, gruesome tools of the trade, and even his bellybutton piercing have made the transition. No Lament Configuration, but it would have been tricky to make work in the format. Though only the upper point of each of his pins is painted, it still creates a convincing illusion at a distance, and holds up when enough when viewed more closely.       

I’ve previously expressed hope that Funko makes more of the Cenobites – and though this wouldn’t be my preferred format, Pint Size Heroes probably aren’t a bad way to test the waters for their sales potential, which could lead to future POPs or Mystery Minis. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, of course.

Ultimately, Pinhead is a fun little figure. As I stated in my review of Jason, I have no interest in collecting the complete line, but I’m glad to have him up on the shelf. 

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Pint Size Heroes (Horror) – Jason Voorhees

Well, we’re now well into October – just two weeks from Halloween, in fact. Now Halloween didn’t mean a lot to me as a kid; during my childhood it was treated as either with suspicion as a sign of America’s cultural imperialism, or with outright hostility as a sign of the devil’s work. I still see plenty of people doing both those things now – but for the most part I’ve really enjoyed seeing the holiday more widely adopted in Australia during my lifetime.

And for Halloween aficionados, this October was more special than most, as it was also host to a Friday the 13th. Now while I think that the superstitions surrounding the date of Friday the 13th are complete bullshit, I am a fan of the Friday the 13th films. Which is how we tenuously lead into the subject of today’s review – the Pint Size Hero version of Jason Voorhees, from Funko. 

Pint Size Heroes are one of Funko’s latest additions to their ever-expanding line of cutesy, stylised collector’s toys. They’re tiny standing only around 1.5” high, and given some rough sense of height and proportion to differentiate themselves from one another via their differing head sizes. The most obvious point of comparison is their Dorbz range, but obviously smaller.

When Funko announced a horror range, it was a total non-surprise that Jason Voorhees was included. He was the very first POP! Movies character released, and a very safe bet in terms of driving sales. Being a Jason fan I’m naturally pleased about this, but I do hope they dig a little deeper in future lines and get some characters that we haven’t already had in POP form. 

This particular figure is based on Jason’s appearance in Friday the 13th: Part III, so he’s kind of plain. Hockey mask, work shirt and pants, with none of the various stages of undeath that would could later down the track. Given that Freddy’s also included in this series, I was surprised that they didn’t go for the Freddy vs Jason look, but perhaps there’s some kind of licensing issue.
Paint is not great. I picked up two other characters at the same time, and Jason is easily the worst of the three. The tampographs making up his pants and shirt are kind of misaligned, while the mask and strapping is a bit sloppy. I suspect that the mask is likely to be an across-the-board issue, but I imagine the issue with the tampographing is more of a one-off.

While ultimately not as cool as Mystery Minis or POPs, Pint Size Heroes are still far better than Dorbz. I have no interest in completing the collection for this line, but there are a few key characters that I was happy to add to the collection – you should see my take on them on here in the next few days.  

Friday, 13 October 2017

POP! Televison – Sleestak (2017 Fall Convention Exclusive)

My exposure to the various TV series created by Sid & Marty Krofft has been pretty minimal. I don’t recall any of their series being on TV at an age where I would have noticed. H.R. Pufnstuf is probably the most famous in Australia, and had some kind of VHS re-release around the time I hit high school, but I’d aged out of the target audience by then.

I’m sure the shows were quite charming in their day, and I can appreciate why some of my older friends have fond nostalgic memories of them. But it all kind of falls a bit flat with me. So with that out the way, you’re no doubt wondering why the hell I bought a Sleestak at inflated convention exclusive prices? 

A complex question which has a simple answer – Reptilians. I’ve spoken on here numerous times about my enjoyment of UFO literature, and this Sleestak is likely the closest thing Funko will ever release to a Reptilian.

These alleged creatures have probably most heavily popularised by David Icke, former professional soccer player and noted conspiracy theorist. By his definition, reptilians are an offshoot of ancient astronaut ideas; sinister shapeshifting creatures who make up most of the globe’s elite (e.g. Presidents, Prime Ministers, pop culture figures), exploiting the common folk for their own benefit. This alleged control has been going on more or less since the dawn of civilisation. In the years since he first introduced the idea in his writings, it’s infiltrated mainstream and fringe pop culture alike; it’s a joke to many, but taken seriously by a dedicated few*.  

Of course, Icke’s ideas weren’t without precedent. The most obvious inspiration is the TV miniseries V, which featured reptilians disguised as humans. But things extend back further; Theosophical beliefs, Robert E. Howard’s fantasy stories, and reports of alien abduction have all played their part in developing this cultural myth. 

The Sleestak are really just another piece in this puzzle. Originally appearing as semi-villainous creatures on Sid and Marty Krofft’s The Land of the Lost, it’s not hard to see how closely they resemble the reptilians of conspiracy theory. One must also ask if Dale A. Russell had been drawing from their design when he hypothesised the “Dinosauroid” back in the early 80s, too.  It’s a cool design which, while dated, is still kind of unnerving thanks to those horrifying blank eyes.

The sculpt and paint are solid, making this a great piece for fans of Land of the Lost and the Kroffts in general. I’m not a fan of the show, and bought it for much more niche reasons but I’m still very happy with it**. I know I say this a lot -- but this really is one piece where your mileage really will vary according to personal taste.

*I feel it would be helpful to note here that I in no way believe or endorse Icke’s ideas. Reptilians make for entertaining science fiction tropes, but the man himself has some dubious associations.

**Hopefully we get a glow version in the future too! 

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Madballs Series 1 – Dust Brain

Best enjoyed while listening to some Nile.

You may recall that a couple of months ago I took at the Kidrobot version of Dust Brain, an excellent piece of mummy merchandise. I picked him up in England, in part because I assumed that the Madballs relaunch was never going to hit Australia. But much to my surprise, the mass release Madballs blind bags from American Greetings are now available here, the better part of a year after they hit the US.

In contrast to the traditional style of the Kidrobot version, this is a more updated look, slightly streamlined for both modern sensibilities and modern toymaking techniques. Cast in a soft, squishy plastic, it’s not quite as rough and ready as the original 1980s version. But I don’t think they’ve watered it down; it’s still weird and gross, which is exactly how it should be. They’ve actually added a detail too – a scarab tucked into the bandages at the back of the head. Paint is a little fuzzy; still, the sculpt is excellent.  

Overall? At only $4 AUD, the price is definitely right. Well worth checking out for longtime Madballs aficionados or horror fans. 

I’ve only seen these guys in Big W in Australia so far; they’re blind-bagged, but there is a decoder available. I suggest you use it if you’re after a particular character, though most of the designs are worth a look. I picked up a couple of others, which I’ll hopefully showcase here in the next few days.

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Thursday, 28 September 2017

POP! Harry Potter – Remus Lupin (as Werewolf)

I’m not the world’s hugest Harry Potter fan. I’ve read the seven main books in the series (and enjoyed them), but I only ever saw the first movie…and that was back in 2001. But as the name of this blog suggests, I am a big fan of wolves – and by extension, werewolves. This review should be read with that in mind; this is my first and likely last foray into the world of Harry Potter POPs, though there are plenty of good designs in the lineup.  

So, Remus Lupin is one of the seemingly stream of Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers that do the rounds at Hogwarts. He’s first introduced in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and continues to show up here and there until *SPOILERS* The Deathly Hallows when he becomes one of that book’s huge body count.  

To the best of my memory, his transformation into a werewolf is presented as something of a twist in the book – but the clues are actually right there in his name. “Remus” was one of the mythological founders of Rome (who was suckled by a she-wolf during infancy) and “Lupin” is a corruption of the Latin word “lupus”, which itself means “wolf”.  

I hadn’t previously seen his look in the movie, but a quick Google Image search suggests it’s kind of crappy. I mean, the Twilight werewolves looked mediocre, but this was several steps below them in terms of quality. Harry Potter has always been geared at a slightly younger audience, so we were never going to get The Howling…but still…

Nonetheless, the design has overcome its cinematic shortcomings and actually looks pretty cool in POP form. The body is maybe just a little small in relation to the head (even by POP standards) but it captures a nice gangly, inhuman look for the character.

There's not a tonne of paint, as he's cast in grey. It's a little dull, if functional; I feel like it needs some more highlights and maybe a wash to bring out some of the details. But the green eyes really pop on this guy, and the minimal paint does mean less from error.  And with that said, I strongly suspect we’ll see at least one more version of this POP – a flocked one. Hopefully they’ll throw in some glow-in-the-dark eyes, too. If such a thing becomes reality, I probably won’t double-dip myself, but it would be a compelling release for more diehard fans.

Remus Lupin is a solid werewolf POP, whether or not you’re a Harry Potter fan. Given that we’re unlikely to get Dog Soldiers POPs anytime soon, this will have to do. It was an essential buy for me – and what else would you expect from a site called The Lupine Book Club?  

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Tuesday, 26 September 2017

POP! Television: Herman Munster

I have a mixed relationship with horror parodies. I love the Evil Dead series, but was never really sold on Shaun of the Dead, for example. I suspect this is in part because the genre is often so unintentionally silly that sometimes (though not always) throwing parody into the mix can really undermine genuinely good horror in the eyes of the wider public*.

Another part is simply because we never, ever need to see a scene from The Exorcist parodied in any film ever again. It’s been done, guys – leave it alone.

But The Munsters – at least the little I’ve seen of it – is one of the good ones. It managed to successfully poke fun at both horror and family sitcoms without ever being condescending. So today we take a look at a POP of their patriarch, Herman Munster. Oh Goody!

A childish but ultimately kind and caring character, Herman Munster endeared himself to kids and adults alike back in the 1960s. Though clearly based on Frankenstein’s Monster, he was just a regular sort of working class guy of the era – one of the running jokes of the series was that the Munster family was actually quite normal, in spite of their appearance. No doubt there’s a life lesson in there somewhere.

This POP isn’t a bad likeness of the character, but of the four they released of the family it’s probably the weakest. But it’s not without positive features; its paint is certainly better than plenty of other POPs I own, and it does look great as an addendum to the Universal Monsters series that was released back in 2014. So Herman may not be totally essential, but he is fun.

Sadly, The Munsters isn’t quite as big a presence on the pop culture landscape as it once was; it’s not as well-remembered as its contemporary The Addams Family, and the franchise has been relatively dormant through my lifetime. 

It was last revived just a few years ago, with a pilot called Mockingbird Lane. I haven’t watched it, but reviews suggest that much like Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, it seemed to miss the mark; not funny enough to be a comedy, not enough supernatural drama to try and capture a Penny Dreadful vibe. It’s a shame, but perhaps not surprising. Still, if you’ve never the original before, you should make an effort to check out an episode if you get the chance.  

*To be fair, horror often deliberately shies away from mainstream acceptance anyway. It’s no coincidence that there’s so much overlap between horror fans and heavy metal fans.  

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Sunday Afternoon Reader -- Part 6

Well unfortunately it has been a few months since Part 5 – but such is the way things go sometimes. Here’s what I’ve been reading since we last checked in.  

C.G. Jung
Publisher: Vintage (Random House)
Year: 1963

I am a great admirer of Carl Jung, but most of this stems from his wider influence on pop culture, rather than having read much of his stuff directly. Man & His Symbols – which is probably his best-known work to the general public – is great, but I was thrilled to discover that he actually had an autobiography of sorts available. 

With that said, Memories, Dreams, Reflections is far more concerned with his inner life than with the usual etcetera of dates and events that you might expect from a more conventional autobiography. The closest analogue (particularly in the early chapters) that I could draw is C.S. Lewis’ “spiritual autobiography” Surprised by Joy, though they differ quite a bit in terms of content.

It’s not always an easy read and I didn’t come away from it agreeing with all his thoughts – but nonetheless, it what has been something of a turbulent year, reading it was both psychologically and spiritually helpful – and for the most part only served to increase my admiration of him.   

Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher
Publisher: Running Press
Year: 2011

VHS, hey? Such a relic of my childhood, yet not one I remember all that fondly. It was an inconvenient format dictated by the technological limitations of the time – and as soon as DVDs came in, I never really looked back.

That said, there are so many oddities that never made the transition to DVD (particularly horror) and now that we’ve entered the era of blu-ray and digital download, there’s even more that have been lost again. This book compiles some of the most bizarre VHS covers known to man, spanning the predictable (80s workout videos) through the truly unnecessary (How to Spot Counterfeit Beanie Babies). As with any book like this, things are predictably hit-and-miss in terms of the level of amusement provided, but it’s good to flick through for a chuckle.

Michael Witwer
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Year: 2015
Dungeons & Dragons has been a big part of my life for a very long time, but I wasn’t terribly familiar with much of the life of Gary Gygax, one of the key figures in its creation. I knew the broad strokes, but I didn’t actually know there was anything comprehensive out there – so this was a must-have for $6.    
The book began life as Witwer’s thesis, and reading this not long after the exhaustive (and exhausting) Charles Schulz bio, it seems quite light on details. It’s worth a read for fans, but there are some valid criticisms to be levelled – Dave Arneson’s role in the creation of the game is downplayed, for one – but I think it serves reasonably well as an insight into the man and his methods. As the book itself states, Dungeons & Dragons is far bigger than Gary Gygax himself. And the cover is a heartfelt (if not entirely successful) tribute to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons supplement books from the 1980s.    

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Thursday, 21 September 2017

Happy 5th Birthday to the Lupine Book Club

5 years ago today, I published the very first article on the Lupine Book Club. While the blog didn't become particularly active until several months later, that first article is still where it all began.

Much has changed since 2012; I could talk for pages, but the short version is that I've gotten married, bought an apartment, hit the big 3-0, and become a cat owner.

I don't plan to do anything particularly special to mark the occasion -- maybe have a beer or two. But I want to thank all of you who've visited the Lupine Book Club over the years.

Here's to many more years ahead!   

Friday, 8 September 2017

Grossery Gang: Trash Head

Trash Head aka Clanky
Trash Head used to be your average filthy trash can until he was splashed by toxic juice and mutated into a pile of trash that’s ready to smash!
Trash Head is choc full of slop and is ready to empty himself on his enemy!
He’ll always throw up a challenge to the Clean Team!
Get ready to fight dirty!

Well, I’ve certainly referred to action figures as garbage in the past, but I think this is the first one where I didn’t mean it as a pejorative.

Last year, I took a look at a couple of Grossery Gang miniatures back when Series 1 was first released last year. We’re now up to series 3 – released under the title of “Grossery Gang vs The Clean Team” – and as something of a supplement to the main series of blind-packaged miniatures, Moose have release a number of Grosseries as fully-fledged action figures.

Trash Head here is (unsurprisingly) a trashcan. He’s leaking slime from his lid and his disgusting gaping mouth, while his limbs also appear to be made of the green stuff. In the mix is all sorts of other stuff, including cockroaches, fish bones and even an apple core. It’s totally disgusting and it is completely AWESOME! It’s the must-have accessory for every crust punk this year.

The overall aesthetic is quite reminiscent of the 1980s/1990s Playmates Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line, both in packaging and sculpt. Others have been pretty swift to point out the similarities to the long-defunct Food Fighters, who were originally released by Mattel in 1989. You’ll also find that the price point is reasonably retro, too – this figure retails for $11, which is impressively cheap in this day and age.  

As befits the figure’s pseudo-retro look, articulation is not amazing – but it’s slightly better than you would expect. I was expecting cut arms and legs, similar to a 5POA figure, but they’ve actually included swivel joints on all four limbs, which gives it an adequate range of movement.

Trash Head also comes with two accessories – a large set of fish bones which serves as his weapon in his war against cleanliness, and a Grossery of himself*. I believe the Grossery (or at least the paint scheme) is unique to this particular set, which will make it worth the price of purchase alone for some obsessive fans.

The Grossery Gang action figures are collectively great, and I hope we see more of them in the future. They’re incredible designs, a reasonable price point and they have a fantastic throwback feel overall. Highly recommended, even if you haven't been collecting the line. 

With that said, while these figures have been out in the US and Canada for a few months now, they’ve only just shown up in Sydney. The Grossery Gang brand seems to be going gangbusters overseas, while apparently having a bit of a mixed time here in Australia. Series 2 never really seemed to get much distribution, and Series 1 is also still hanging round in quite a few places too. Hopefully with the arrival of series 3 we’ll see a bit of a resurgence the public’s awareness of the brand.  

*What a narcissist  

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

POP! Television – Bob Ross: The Joy of Painting

Until recently, I’ve only really known Bob Ross as something of a campy cult figure via the many, many parodies and memes of him that have done the rounds. With his easily imitable afro, beard, soft-spoken manner and memorable catchphrases, he was a comedian’s dream. But his endearing onscreen persona seems to have had at least some grounding in reality – he’s developed quite a sincere following over the years, one that seems to be far larger than the irony-driven fandom.   

This second-hand familiarity isn’t so surprising, though; I’m not sure that The Joy of Painting was ever actually on Australian TV. But more than 20 years after his passing, we can now enjoy his work more easily than ever, thanks to his presence on YouTube and Netflix. And of course, Funko have now seen fit to add him to their POP! Television line.  

The sculpt is excellent, capturing him in his signature painting outfit. It’s presumably a younger Bob Ross, as by the early 90s he had fairly evident streaks of grey throughout his beard. He’s also armed with his famous 2-inch brush, and his clear palette, complete with smears of paint, ready to be daubed onto the canvas. It’s a shame he doesn’t come with one, but I’ve seen ones in The Reject Shop which would be just about in scale. I may have to invest in a few, and create a display for him.

But on the topic of paint...unfortunately, Funko seem to have had numerous “happy little accidents” in the process of applying apps at the factory. One of his eyes isn’t properly painted, his beard isn’t covered properly and his outfit is a little sloppy. Another one for the ever-growing to-fix pile. 

Paint imperfections aside, I have no hesitation recommending this figure. Bob Ross doesn’t really fit in with most over POPs you’ll own, but is nonetheless a fantastic addition to the shelf or desk. Figures like this really remind me why I started collecting POPs in the first place; the figure captures the subject exceptionally well, as opposed to just being some garbage ground out to meet a licensing commitment. It’s an eccentric addition to the collection, just as Bob Ross himself was – and continues to be – to our TV screens.  

Saturday, 2 September 2017

POP! Movies – Carrie

I seem to have been on a bit of a Stephen King kick of late. I reviewed the new version of IT just a few days ago, today we look at the POP version of Carrie and even as I type I’m watching the first episode of Stephen King’s The Mist.

Based on Stephen King’s first (published) novel, Carrie is the incredibly depressing story of a teenage girl who develops psychic powers. It was adapted into a film pretty quickly after release, with Sissy Spacek cast in the titular role. 

Both the book and movie of Carrie certainly contain their fair share of supernatural scares, and there are a lot of themes you can draw from it – high school as the real horror, bullying, victim blaming and sexual awakening just some of them. It’s not hard to see why the popularity of both continues after so many decades, even if they show signs of age*.  

But for me, most of the terror lies in Carrie’s religiously abusive mother. We don’t really find out which brand of Christianity Carrie’s mum adheres to, but it looks to be some kind of strange variant of Catholicism (we see Carrie praying in front of a statue of Saint Sebastian at one point). But in terms of practical application, her mother’s rantings and ravings come across as some kind of fundamentalist Protestant strain – ill-informed and deeply suspicious about the world. 

I’ve never experienced anything as extreme as Carrie, but as a kid I attended a Christian school that fell under the sway of a Charismatic movement known as the Toronto Blessing – lots of speaking in tongues, people collapsing around the place, that kind of thing. From my perspective, the principal used it as a way to consolidate his particular ugly brand of authoritarian leadership, by trying to fill student and teacher minds with bullshit. Maybe some of them even believed it at the time, I don’t know. It’s affected me more as an adult than I think it did as a kid, causing me considerable anxiety and leaving me highly skeptical of the whole phenomenon. 

Now to be fair, I haven’t been to the church in Toronto that originated the whole thing, so I can’t speak for their experiences. But based on my own, I’m inclined to think the whole thing was a hoax, or some kind of hysteria. I certainly don’t think it was a good thing – it’s been a blight on the modern church since. So yeah, the scenes with Carrie’s mum pushed some buttons for me.

But I have digressed heavily. The POP itself is quite simple, showing Carrie at her prom, post-pig’s blood. She’s wearing a slip-style dress, and still has her corsage on. My only real complaint is that could actually be way, way bloodier to better match the art on the back of the box, and the film itself.
If you’re a fan of the movie, this is a no-brainer. It’s one of Stephen King’s better adaptations, and though it’s showing its age, hugely influential on horror films ever since followed. Not Funko’s finest work, but definitely a solid piece for the shelf.

*I’m yet to see the remake from a few years ago

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Lupine Film Club: IT (2017)

WARNING: Contains spoilers for the novel of IT, the 1990 adaptation of IT and the 2017 film of IT

Book to movie adaptations are always going to upset a certain contingent of fans. It’s not hard to understand why, either; the adaptation is often seen by far more people than read the original work, and if it’s a bad one…well…  

Few writers probably understand this as well as Stephen King, who must surely one of the most heavily adapted authors in the world. The man already has his name on literally dozens of terrible adaptations of his novels and it doesn’t seem to have hurt his book sales any – so what’s the issue here?  

Well, when you’re talking about IT, it’s not so simple. The book was actually already adapted for the small screen back in the 90s, as a TV miniseries which became an instant classic. For a certain generation of horror viewers, it’s one of the most terrifying pieces of TV ever made. Sure, it hasn’t aged perfectly, but it’s a pretty faithful adaptation and it’s readily available for home viewing. A remake seemed like a dubious idea at best, and an abomination at worst. Tim Curry’s take on Pennywise has long since entered the horror pantheon, and despite not having aged terribly well in the fashion department, the miniseries still conjures up some impressive scares today.   

But like IT herself, Hollywood seems to operate in 27-year cycles*. And so, the creature has again risen from beneath the sewers to terrify a whole new generation. Things have changed a little since we were last in the town of Derry, though. The children’s setting has been moved from the 1950s to the late 1980s, and the characters have also had certain background elements tweaked.

I am not a purist when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations myself, so for the most part, these changes are fine. The only one I didn’t really like was Beverley’s reduction to a “damsel in distress” role towards the end of the film. Aside from that, the plot follows the main beats of the novel, so there’s no real surprises if you’ve already read it. If you haven't, I won't give too much away; it's a kid's adventure story meets Stephen King's signature brand of disturbing small-town horror.

Proceedings feel a little cramped and rushed, but part of this is simply because there quite a few main characters. I may draw ire for saying so, but I suspect that at least one of the Loser’s Club could have either been cut or amalgamated into another character; a movie is not a book, and you don’t have the same space to work with in terms of giving characters equal time. With that said, all of the kids put in a great performance – there isn’t a weak one among them, and it’s almost a bit of a shame that we probably won’t see them in these roles again.

But the real question on everyone’s lips is really centred around another character, though – Pennywise the Clown, the titular IT. Revealed to be something of a Lovecraftian entity in the original novel, IT's origins largely go unexplored in this film, beyond the obvious conclusion that he’s some kind of supernatural monster -- but more importantly, how does this new version compare to Tim Curry's take on him? 

Well, Bill Skarsgård does a good job, if not quite such a distinctive one as Tim Curry. My main objection is that most of the time it really seems like a stuntman or CGI double is there in his place; though Pennywise gets a reasonable amount of screentime, I didn’t really feel like Bill Skarsgård got enough time for himself to shine in the role. Part of the character’s appeal is that he’s menacing without necessarily doing too much; the implied threat is often more effective than the xenomorph-esque jaw dislocation. Still, his design will no doubt give kids nightmares for years to come – and that’s as good a measure of success for a horror villain as any, really.

IT has had something of a troubled production. Actors and directors have come and gone, and it becomes most evident in the updated 1980s setting -- or rather, the lack thereof. With Finn Wolfhard in a starring role, and the 1980s setting, comparisons with last year’s Stranger Things are inevitable -- you can't help but think they're aiming for some crossover appeal. Indeed, you sometimes find yourself wishing for the deft touch of the Duffer Brothers in handling the look and feel of the era. The period setting feels more like window dressing; aside from a few bizarre outfits and the lack of computers or mobile phones, it could have been filmed last week. The main concession we get are some vague allusions to The Goonies and Stand By Me. Neither is surprising, given that The Goonies came out around the same time the novel was released, and Stephen King wrote the short story Stand By Me was based on.

Part of the reason IT – both the novel and the TV adaptation – worked so well is because it tapped into the zeitgeist of the time. Clowns are always objectionable and terrifying, so King picked a good villain – but there is much more to its success than that. Y’see, back in the 1980s there was a big revival of interest in 1950s culture; early rock and roll, James Dean, all that stuff. Baby Boomers were getting nostalgic for their childhood, and the pop culture of the time reflected that in a lot of ways**. IT pushed all these buttons, and also tapped into a more disconcerting truth about the era, too – it’s fun to reminisce, but you’re getting older…and you might actually have been a better person back when you were a kid. Your best days are quite possibly already behind you.   

This adaptation doesn’t really have, or even try to create that kind of resonance, and instead trades subtext for (admittedly effective) jump scares. The end result is that it’s creepy and unsettling, but it doesn’t really establish a distinct identity for itself. IT is ultimately a very competent film, and certainly worth a watch on the big screen – but it does feel a little disposable. Here’s hoping that Chapter 2 rectifies some of those issues, and showcases the true potential of the story. 

IT opens in Australian cinemas on September 7th. You can view the trailer here.

*Not entirely, but just suspend your disbelief for the purpose of the line here.

**This is also part of the reason Back to the Future was such a hit, and why Chris Isaak had his breakthrough in the era.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

POP! Rocks -- James Hetfield (Metallica)

Since the release of their eponymous “Black” album, Metallica have consistently been one of the most controversial bands in heavy metal. Many (this writer included) cut ties a long time ago, content to remember their past glories fondly but abandoning any hope that they’d rise above the level of average dad rock again. They kind of did on Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, but calling it a triumphant return would be...generous. Still, they have nothing to prove critically, based on their first few albums. And based on the albums that came afterwards, they have even less to prove commercially.

But though I think they’re a bit of a spent force musically, I was quite pleased to see Funko were making Metallica part of the POP! Rocks line. I knew James Hetfield would be a must-buy for me, and so now he stands on the shelf alongside Jimi Hendrix and Lemmy.   

This POP shows Hetfield circa the release of the Black Album, though it could kind of be him anywhere between 1988 and 1992; the main thing marking it out as specifically from this period is his wolf’s head necklace. But if you can pinpoint it to a certain date or concert, please feel free to let me know in the comments below.

It captures an interesting time in the band’s history; Metallica were transitioning to a much more commercial sound via the release of the Black album, but they were still unapologetically a metal band, and looked the part. Hetfield has a bit of a pseudo-Lemmy look going on with his facial hair, in tandem with a not-quite mullet. It’s not his best look, but he’s certainly had worse over the years. Appropriately, he’s got his distinctive white Gibson Explorer, though it’s sans “EET FUK” sticker and instead has a Metallica logo printed across the lower edge. The guitar itself is surprisingly detailed, with tone and volume knobs, and even a pickup selector switch! Funko have also included a guitar strap, which is a nice touch. This is the first time I’ve seen them do it, but I assume future guitar-slinging POPs will also feature them.

Paint is sloppy, which is not particularly surprising. It’s mostly forgivable, except for the face, which is noticeably patchy on the moustache. This is one I might – MIGHT – actually get around to repainting myself, because I really wasn’t thrilled with the work done at the factory.    

It’s definitely not Funko’s best POP! Rocks piece – but it’s a fun one for Metallica fans. You can also pick up Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Rob Trujillo to complete the band, should you feel so inclined. I’m still hoping for Ronnie James Dio further down the line; hopefully the release of Metallica is a sign of them testing the water for future metal releases.   

Friday, 11 August 2017

Lupine Record Club: Celtic Frost – Morbid Tales (2017 CD Reissue)

Year: 1984/2017
Label: BMG/Noise

You can’t talk about any type of metal or hard rock for too long without running across Celtic Frost. Hugely influential across death, doom, black, thrash, and even helping shape Creed(!), Celtic Frost are in a league of their own. There were lots of bands working in a similar vein at the time – most notably Venom and Bathory – but Celtic Frost always stood out above their competitors. There was an intensity and seriousness to their work that belied their youth, and I suspect has helped their work last the distance over the years.  

I first came across their name in 2002, when taking my first steps into the world of extreme metal. But this being a time before YouTube and Spotify, and me not being an avid music pirate*, I didn’t actually hear them until I picked up a copy of Morbid Tales in 2005. Not long afterwards, they’d reform again and release Monotheist; it was intended to be the start of a grand new era for the band, but within a few years things deteriorated again and Celtic Frost were no more, with the key members barely on speaking terms.

Frontman Thomas Gabriel Fischer (aka Tom G. Warrior) has gone on to form Triptykon, while bassist Martin Eric Ain has kept a comparatively low profile. Nonetheless, their legacy still looms large, so I was pretty excited when I heard there was a new reissue of their albums on the way. I think it’s been around a decade since they had any sort of larger scale release, probably to coincide with the then-new Monotheist.

Morbid Tales has been remastered, but not remixed as far as I’m aware. In the past, Tom G. Warrior has been pretty adamant that for better or worse, the original mixes of his albums should be retained, serving as something of a historical document. Plenty of bands of their stature take a pretty revisionist stance when it comes to their own history, so I think there’s something admirable about keeping things as they were, warts and all.

30-odd years later, it still sounds great. It’s definitely raw by comparison to modern production techniques – and even in comparison to some of their contemporaries – but it suited their sound, and it still holds a power that is often lacking in bands that are far more polished. Totally essential for anyone interested in the history of extreme music, and great on its own merits too. But is it worth upgrading if you already own a copy? That’s a more complex question than it might sound – you’ll see why at the end of the review.  

Aside from the remastered audio here are three major changes to the packaging – the first is that that the artwork has been restored to its original look. The more recent reissues had an ersatz artwork on it which was perfectly serviceable, but didn’t have the same crude 80s feel**. For some, this will justify the purchase on its own merits.

The second is one that annoyed me a little – namely, the three Emperor’s Return EP tracks have now been moved to the reissue of To Mega Therion. Every other reissue I’ve run across has had Morbid Tales and Emperor’s Return together, so it seems a little strange to me – but no doubt there are compelling reasons for now doing it this way. It is more “correct” in terms of release chronology. In their place are four rehearsal tracks – Morbid Tales, Messiah (an old Hellhammer track), Procreation of the Wicked and Nocturnal Fears. They’re novel, but (like most bonus tracks) not essential. Still, they were impressively tight on these old tracks; missing them live in Sydney a few years ago is still one of my deepest regrets.

The third is the inclusion of a new booklet; the lyrics are contained of course, but there’s also plenty of cool photos from the era, and some liner notes. But you’ll notice that there are no written contributions from Celtic Frost themselves…and herein lies the complexity that I mentioned earlier.
Though Fischer was heavily involved in the process of creating these reissues, he has now withdrawn support for them due to a dispute with BMG concerning his liner notes. Prior to their release, he also had this to say on Twitter:

 I’m sure both sides have compelling arguments as to why they were right, but being a creative type myself I’m more inclined to side with the artist. So would I have still picked it up had I known this beforehand? Probably not. The older reissues still seem to be readily available for the time being, and I was certainly satisfied with my older copy when I bought it all the way back in 2005 – the extras are nice but don’t necessarily warrant replacing an older edition. But if you’re a fan, you’ll have to make up your own mind.  

*Not to mention that a lot of metal was actually quite hard to get hold of if you wanted to go that route back then.  

**Curiously, it’s been readily available as a t-shirt design for pretty much this whole period; maybe they were able to get the rights back around the time they put out Monotheist