Sunday, 31 December 2017

Transformers Generations: Titans Return – Autobot Shuffler

I mentioned in my 2017 Roundup that the Titans Return range was one of my favourite things of last year. So it seems fitting that for the first review of 2018, we take a look at one of the Titan Master figures.

Being a huge sucker for prehistoric creatures, it’s actually a wonder I hadn’t picked up the mammoth-shaped Autobot Shuffler sooner. Largely it’s down to his Autobot status; though I have picked up a number of Autobots from this range, I am increasingly loath to by Autobots product. They don’t tend to fit into the larger collection, and space is increasingly at a premium within my house. But I made an exception for this little guy. 

Shuffler has three modes – the aforementioned mammoth, a tank and a gun for larger figures to hold. Typically, the Titan Master-scale figures look good in one or two of their modes and totally crap in at least one. Not so the case here; all of them look pretty good!  

In bot mode, Shuffler is a bit plain. It’s been a running complaint that there isn’t enough paint on the Titan Masters, even at the top-end models, and the same applies here. Even some eyes would have done wonders. However, his face is a little interesting by virtue of having a “snout” where his nose would be. It’s a nice sculpted detail. 

Shuffler’s mammoth mode has the rare distinction of appearing “complete” even when his head isn’t inserted into it. In fact, when he is inserted into the base body, the tab that sits on the back of his legs kind of makes it look like he has a big ol’ robotic dong. Hilarious.

The tank mode hides the elephantine look of the head more effectively than you might have thought. Shuffler serves as pilot, but if you leave him off the vehicle still has a nice mecha-style look to it.

While the gun (not pictured) is definitely the weakest of the modes, it still gives off a nice missile launcher vibe. The designers are to be commended for not simply trying to make the whole thing look like a giant pistol, which is something that has plagued a lot of the other Titan Master accessories. 

In head mode, he gives the appearance of definitely being a Decepticon, with his masked face and red eyes. Still, it’s oddly friendly, and I find myself sort of wishing that he had a “real” body to attach to. In fact, the only real downside about Shuffler is that he’s an Autobot. I mean, why cast him in these colours and NOT have him as a Decepticon? 

"Curse your betrayal, Shuffler!" 
Brand history is one thing, but he’s hardly a major character in the mythos. Recast him in a different colour scheme and call him a new character for the Autobots; new characters aren’t going to hurt. But in my personal canon, he will be serving strictly as a warrior for Galvatron. Maybe some kind of undercover spy, lurking among the Autobots until the time is right. Maybe even hijacking Autobot bodies in the process…who could say?

Though I only picked him up quite recently, Shuffler has rapidly become of my favourite figures from the Titans Return line. He’s sturdy, yet easy to transform, offers multiple play patterns and is easy to carry around in your pocket. Well done Hasbro.   

Saturday, 30 December 2017

The Lupine Book Club 2017 roundup

2017 has been a difficult year both personally and professionally, though not without a number of highlights. So inspired by Dinosaur Dracula’s end-of-year list, I thought I’d pull together a (shorter) list of some of my favourite things from the year gone by.

1. Horror Movies
I spent a lot of time watching horror movies (sorry, FIL-UMS) this year, and it was absolutely fantastic. New and old, I don’t think I’ve watched so many since I was back in my sharehouse days, the better part of a decade ago. Standouts included The Void, IT: Chapter One, The Devil Rides Out and Drag Me to Hell. Hopefully this tempo will be maintained well into 2018.

2. Transformers: Titans Return
Inspired by the old Headmasters line from the 1980s, Titans Return was my favourite Transformers sub-line since I started collecting them again a few years ago. Distribution in Australia has been a mixed bag (I want that Cosmos, dammit!), but for the most part I was able to get hold of the characters I wanted. My only real regret is that I didn’t make time to review more of the ones I purchased, though some of that may be addressed in the new year.  

3. SNES Classic Edition
The SNES is still my all-time favourite console. Though I didn’t own one as a kid, several of my friends did and so I have many hours of fond memories associated with it.
I missed out on the NES Classic in 2016, and so I pre-ordered the SNES Classic pretty much as soon as they became available. It was an essential purchase, as has brought me many more hours of joy since. Certainly there some additional games I would have liked to see included, but all-in-all I think Nintendo did an exceptional job with this one. Hopefully we’ll see some kind of expansion, or perhaps an N64 Classic further down the line.  

4. The Lupine Book Club’s 5th birthday
Though it came and went with little fanfare on here, 2017 marked the 5th birthday of the blog. Back when the blog started, I was in a very different state of mind. I was emerging from what I would later realise was a nervous breakdown, and the Lupine Book Club was quite therapeutic in emerging from a particularly dark time of life. It has been a huge help; 2017 was the first year I really felt like “myself” again in quite some time, and the blog has certainly aided in this process.
I originally saw the Lupine Book Club as more nostalgia-focused, in a similar vein to Dinosaur Dracula, Branded in the 80s or The Surfing Pizza. This hasn’t quite happened; things have been very Funko-focused of late, but in 2018 I hope to see it regain some of the diversity I originally had when I was pulling it together. And who knows, there may even be a surprise or two on the cards!

5. I finished (the first draft of) my book!
Though I haven’t said much about it on here, I’ve been working on a horror novella for quite some time now. Well, I’ve finished the first draft and am now in the process of editing it. I hope to self-publish it early next year on Kindle.  More details to come soon, but keep your eye on here, and on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more information.  

Most importantly, I must extend thanks to everyone who has visited over the years. 2017 was easily the biggest in terms of pageviews, in part due to a concerted effort on my part to write more – but also through the support of other blogs like The Robot’s Pajamas, who were kind enough to have me write the occasional guest post. I look forward to seeing you all again in the New Year!

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

POP! Games – Sub-Zero

Sub-Zero! Arguably my favourite character from the Mortal Kombat series. A ninja who could freeze people and who had one of the most brutal fatalities in the original game. What more could you really want from a fighting game character?

A couple of different people have worn the Sub-Zero mantle over the years. The Sub-Zero from the first game got killed off, eventually returning as Noob Saibot. The current holder of the title is the original Sub-Zero’s younger brother – why not, I guess?

But back in the day, before you could just look this stuff up on the internet, we mostly just knew Sub-Zero as the blue ninja with ice powers. You could kind of infer that he was a rival of Scorpion, given that they were different coloured ninjas, but let’s be honest here – no-one was playing that first game for the intricate story.

As one of the most popular characters in the series, Sub-Zero’s inclusion in the Mortal Kombat line was a foregone conclusion. He’s been designed to look like his Mortal Kombat X incarnation; it’s much more intricate than his first costume, but you can see there’s a common thread there. Personally, I think it’s a little over-detailed here, but Funko have been transitioning away from their plainer designs for quite some time now.

The paint isn’t going to blow you away, but it’s better than you might expect; the main areas you’ll want to watch out for are his hands. In classic Funko fashion, paintwork seems to be improving at a rate of two steps forward, one step back. The excess of detail certainly makes the painting process trickier, too.

There’s also a chase version of Sub-Zero available, at a 1/6 ratio. It’s the same sculpt, but his right hand is holding some kind of ice blob, cast in semi-transparent blue plastic. A good variation but not something worth paying scalper prices for.

Sub-Zero isn’t as good as the Scorpion I reviewed last month, but he is a fun figure nonetheless. Hopefully we’ll see some more additions to the line and/or repaints in the near future. Personally, I'm hoping for an MK/MK 2 Reptile.

Friday, 8 December 2017

POP! Movies – Masked Predator (Specialty Series)

Predator is one of my favourite movie monsters, up there with the Creature from the Black Lagoon. He’s a monster who crosses age and fandom barriers, proving a compelling presence even when the movie itself is less than stellar.

Funko have actually pumped out quite a few Predator products since 2013 – many more than I realised. I bought the unmasked version a while ago (maybe a couple of years?) and I assumed that I had written a review of it. But it turns out I haven’t, so I can’t just pillage from it the way I sometimes do when I’m reviewing two very similar figures.

As might be expected, the body is the same, though he gets an entirely new head. The body sculpt is a little softer and less-detailed than we would probably get from Funko these days, but I quite like it; to be honest, I think Funko over-details many of its newer figures, detracting from the relatively simplistic style that made them so appealing in the first place. The mask is a little tighter, but this still works as it’s fairly simple in its style.  

As might be expected, the paint is adequate. Better than the original, but still lots of room for work. It doesn’t do much to enhance the sculpt. The most egregious error is on the back of the head, around the dreadlocks – it’s been left plain black where it should be the predator’s beige-y skin colour.  
This POP is a good one, and it’s a long-overdue addition to the Predator line. To be honest, I’m surprised it was released as a Specialty Series figure. The unmasked and “cloaked” versions were released back in 2013, but they don’t seem to have been discontinued – certainly they’re easy enough to track down in Australia.

This new release also seems to have been selling quite well, so perhaps we may even see more Predators? Personally, I’d love to see a Predator 2 version. It wouldn’t need to be radically overhauled; a different mask and a new paint job, and there you have it. But in the meantime, this one will sit nicely on the shelf alongside his unmasked companions. 

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

POP! Rides – Ghost Rider (Glow in the Dark)

Today's review is best enjoyed while listening to Hell Bent for Leather by Judas Priest.

Way back in 2013, Funko released their original Ghost Rider POP. It’s still one of the best Marvel figures they’ve released; though more recent figures are more detailed and include an impressively broad scope of characters*, it has an elegant simplicity which puts many other POPs to shame.

Of course, that POP is now discontinued and outrageously expensive on the secondary market. But never fear! While Funko don’t tend to reissue old POPS very often, they have been pretty good in the last year or so about re-releasing old characters with new moulds. And so today we take a look at Ghost Rider with his bike, courtesy of the POP! Rides range.

Judging by the leather daddy Evel Knievel-style costume, I’m assuming this is the Johnny Blaze iteration of the character. I kind of prefer the Danny Ketch costume that the original POP used, but both are great. As I noted back in my review of the original, Ghost Rider is a character who you can appreciate on a purely visual level; fortunately, it’s something that applies to pretty much all of Ghost Rider’s incarnations over the years.  

He’s an all-new sculpt. I don’t think anyone would have been surprised if he reused the original head sculpt, but instead they’ve opted for something different. I think it’s maybe just a shade big (even by POP standards), but it’s hard to tell without being able to actually take him off the bike.

And on that note…most of the POP Ride range has had removable drivers, and so if you own the original figure I daresay you’ll be wondering if you can yank this new one off and slot the original on. Sadly, the answer is no. This new iteration of Ghost Rider is glued on. That’s maybe understandable from a logistical perspective, but still a bit of a bummer; this one would still look pretty good standing on his own as well.

As for the bike…it’s pretty rad. The flames are well painted and “tastefully” placed, so it provides a good illusion of motion without ever being overpowering. However, it is quite realistic in its scale and proportions. I can’t help but think they maybe should have gone a little cartoonier as they have with some of the vehicles to better fit the aesthetic. With that said, it does match the style Funko established Daryl’s bike back in 2014. I’m not 100% certain, but I’m pretty sure at least some of those pieces have been reused/retooled here.

There are two versions of this Ghost Rider available – regular and glow in the dark. Both are pretty great, but getting the glow version was a must for me. The glow seems to have been selling out more quickly, but I don’t think either is necessarily rarer than the other, which is nice.  

If you have the original, now you have a different iteration of the character on a bike, and if you missed out then you have a much more cost-effective way of adding a Ghost Rider to your collection. Ghost Rider on a bike is a must-buy, no matter how dedicated or casual a fan you are of the character. It has some minor shortcomings, but none are dealbreakers. He’s easily one of the best POP figures I’ve bought all year.

*Let’s be honest, does anyone really know who the Inhumans are?

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

POP! Movies - The Shining: Jack Torrance

As a general rule, I’m a staunch believer that the book is better than the movie. But every rule has exceptions, and The Shining is one of them. 

I read the novel when I was probably 19 or 20, and reading a huge amount of Stephen King’s stuff in general. I don’t recall it doing a lot for me; it was entertaining, but didn’t leave nearly the same impression that say, IT did. I think that part of that is because I’ve never really believed in ghosts, and so they don’t hold a great deal of terror for me*.

The Stanley Kubrick adaptation, though…that was something else. I don’t remember whether I saw the film or read the book first, but the film has stuck with me for years. So many bizarre images, and so little explanation for them. A lack of exposition can be incredibly infuriating, but it works impressively well in The Shining

Much of what I said about the Mystery Mini version of Jack Torrance last year also applies here. The POP does a reasonable job of replicating Jack Nicholson’s “Here's Johnny” look in the film -- the red jacket, jeans and of course the axe. It looks a little more like Jack Nicholson, but it’s not exactly a dead ringer.

I have two main criticisms. The first is that the paint on the shirt is almost completely absent. The check pattern is present on the control art, but on the final POP it’s just plain blue. The other is with the hair. Jack Nicholson has never gone totally bald, but even by the time of The Shining it was looking pretty thin – though this is probably just a side-effect of the aesthetic.

The line also includes Wendy Torrance, Danny Torrance and the Grady Twins**. Funko are to be commended for doing more than one character – but Wendy et al are kind of boring. I feel that they could have gone in some more creative directions, considering the good work they’ve done with horror licenses in the past. The woman from the bath, the butler, the animal suit couple...they all would have been a lot better, though admittedly they’re not as retailer/family-friendly.

There’s also a 1:6 Chase version of Jack available. It’s the same sculpt, but has been given a “frozen” paintjob to depict him as he appears in his final moments alive in the movie. I like it okay, but it’s not essential.

Jack Torrance is ultimately an adequate but imperfect figure. This is one to keep in the box; the details like the carpet patterns, blood spatter and of course REDRUM all help elevate it above its shortcomings.

*Of course, I don’t believe in Jason, Pinhead, Pennywise or the Creature from the Black Lagoon either. But here we are.

**The Grady Twins are a Popcultcha exclusive in Australia. They’ve got a 1:6 bloodied Chase variant.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Guest Review: Deadman #1 at Supanova

Another post over at Supanova from last week. Click here to find out what I thought of issue 1 of Neal Adams' Deadman #1.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

POP! Television – Elvira (Mummy)

Elvira has long been a merchandising powerhouse, and I can only assume that her recent partnership with Funko has been as a successful one. Within the space of a year or so we’ve had two POPs, a Rock Candy figure and a Pint-Size Hero. Today, we look at the second of those POPs – Elvira in her Mummy costume.

While Elvira’s best-known look is the split black dress, she’s actually dabbled with a number of looks over the years. You can find them on Google Image search, though I would not suggest doing so on your work computer.

This particular POP, however, is drawn from this image, which is also replicated on the back of the box. I’m not sure if the pic was originally taken for that Fangoria issue, or it’s an older one that was recycled. There are probably more notable secondary costumes Funko could have gone with, but it works well enough.  

Paint is nicely executed for her makeup – but make sure you check her lips. The control art clearly shows that she’s got white “shine” on her lips, but if the tampo isn’t aligned properly then it just makes her look like she has wonky teeth.  

The paint on the body is a little sketchier. The lines on mine are mostly clean and well executed, but the hands and feet are a little sloppy. Additionally, I think the bandages themselves could probably do with a bit of a wash to bring out some more detail.

As well as the regular release, there’s a chase version of this figure, packed at a 1:6 ratio. It’s the same sculpt, but her bandages glow in the dark. Ideally I would’ve got that one – but it’s really the luck of the draw with chases, isn’t it?

Mummy Elvira is a solid POP, but non-essential for the more casual fan. It’s a good look, but not quite as classic as the black dress. Still, it’s good to see a bit more Elvira stuff out and about on the shelves. As a relatively recent fan, I missed the “golden age” of her fame, so it’s nice to see her enjoying a bit of a renaissance.  

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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

POP! Television: Stranger Things – Max (Costume)

By now most of us have made our way through Stranger Things 2, and what a ride it was. It didn’t take me to quite the same heights as the original, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. As might be expected, quite a few new faces were introduced in season 2. Since Barb seems to be permanently dead, another redhead was required to round out the cast – and thus we have Max, played by Sadie Sink.

Max is much more pivotal to the overall plot than Barb was, but I’m not sure she’ll inspire the same level of obsessive fandom. I had mixed feelings about her as a character; she got on my nerves initially, and though she had an interesting arc she hadn’t quite won me over by the end of the season. Still, I think we can assume she’ll be back for Season 3, and the character definitely has potential. Here’s hoping for good things.  

But though I’m still kind of indifferent on the character, this POP was a definite buy as soon as I knew it was being released. While it’s not my favourite horror series, I do thoroughly enjoy the original Halloween film and it’s nice to see Michael Myers referenced in the show.
It’s one of the best scenes in episode two; Mike, Will, Dustin and Lucas are out trick-or-treating as Ghostbusters, and Michael Myers suddenly appears on the street in front of them, wielding a knife. But it’s merely Max beneath the mask, who’d earlier been ambiguous about whether she’d come trick or treating with our intrepid heroes. It’s not a scare for the viewer, of course, but it’s a nice moment that shows us something about all of the characters involved.

Sadie Sink herself apparently didn’t really know who Michael Myers was before filming the scene, according to aftershow Beyond Stranger Things. But that’s no real surprise; she’s only 15, and there wasn’t been a new Halloween film in years. There’s a new one on the way for next year, and hopefully it’s a good one; it would be nice to see him regain some of his former pop culture status.  

This is a great figure, but it feels kind of bootlegged. Not in quality or anything; but she’s clearly wearing a Michael Myers costume, but it’s not identified anywhere as such on the box. Additionally, there’s no sign of Halloween in the trademark notices on the box. I get that the appearance on the show could probably be covered under some kind of fair use legislation, but going and making a toy out of it? Funko already have the Halloween license, so maybe they were able to shoehorn things together that way.

Max is a Hot Topic exclusive in the US, but over here she’s a regular release. It’s a good variant of the character for fans, and it’s a fun piece of memorabilia for a memorable scene in the series. 

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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