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.