Saturday, 21 July 2018

POP! WWE – “The Demon” Finn Balor

POP! WWE – “The Demon” Finn Balor

Well, it’s been quite a few weeks since I last posted on here. Things have been a little chaotic, with me starting a new job, along with a variety of family illnesses. But here we are back again, and hopefully it won’t be anywhere near as long until the next.

As I’ve been watching wrestling again over the last few months, Finn Balor has become one of my favourite performers. He’s not being used as effectively as he could or should be, but he’s prominent on RAW and you can always guarantee he’ll put on a good show.

Now, at first glance he might seem an odd choice for a POP. He doesn’t tend to be the most flamboyantly dressed wrestler in the business – black, blue or silver trunks with matching boots. But every now and then, he’ll emerge for his matches as The Demon.

In layman’s terms, he essentially throws on a whole bunch of body paint to look like the demon king Balor of Irish mythology, who ruled over the evil Fomhóraigh. The look definitely has some similarities to Marvel’s Venom, but it’s still one of the better pop culture appropriations in wrestling over recent years.    

This isn’t the first time the Demon version of Balor has been released; originally there was a Chase of the regular figure which depicted him in makeup but without the headdress. I’d prefer the Chase to be the regular release, and this version with the headdress to be the Chase…but hey, that’s Funko for you.

The body sculpt is the same as the regular Finn, and the head appears to be a retool. It’s a surprisingly heavy piece as a result, though it doesn’t have any issues with balance. My only real complaint is that he looks a little too tall in comparison to most of his WWE POP! companions, but that’s simply a limitation of the format.

Now, the facepaint doesn’t work quite as well in Funko format as it does in real life, but the general effect is still conveyed. Additionally, they haven’t given him his usual back paint, but I can imagine this might have been a costing issue. It’d be covered up by the headdress anyway, so it’s not a huge deal. It all adds up to a fun, if slightly imperfect figure. In a line dominated by dudes with beards in tights, he definitely stands out.

Like many white people in Australia, I’m of partial Irish descent*. Accordingly, part of the reason I like Finn Balor** is because he doesn’t play to traditional and offensive “Oirish” stereotypes. You might be surprised to learn that there’s actually quite a bit more to Gaelic culture than potatoes, four-leaf clovers, Riverdance, Guinness and leprechauns. The fact that they haven’t forced him into a Lucky Charms outfit or similar is a shockingly progressive approach from WWE, an organisation which seems to aggressively seek controversy around race and ethnicity. Balor has helped give Irish mythology a bigger place on the pop culture landscape, and he’s a darn great in-ring performer.

It’s been quite a while since Finn has performed as The Demon, which is a shame. At the moment WWE seem to be using him as mid-card eye candy, rather than the guy who could convincingly beat the h*ck out of Kenny Omega. Still, with Summerslam and a high profile Australian PPV on the way, you never know what we could see in the near future.

*English, Scottish, Welsh and Finnish too. More results to come from the other side of the family soon, hopefully.  
**Same thing goes for Becky Lynch

Saturday, 23 June 2018


So as many of you know, I’ve been working on a horror novella for quite some time now. Well, it’s now available on Kindle as an e-book!

That’s right, after months and months of writing and editing, Lost Tunnels has finally been unleashed on the public. If you like Lovecraft, Stephen King or grindhouse horror, you should get a kick out of Lost Tunnels.

You can purchase it now on Amazon here, though if you’re outside the USA, you’ll need to visit the Amazon site relevant for your own country. You can even read a preview, to get a taste of whether it's your thing or not. Hope you enjoy it – and if not, that you’ll let a friend know who may enjoy it more!

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Braun Strowman (WWE Elite Series 58)

Ah, Mattel. You inspire such mixed feelings in toy fans. You’ve done some great lines (like DC Universe Classics and Masters of the Universe Classics) while also consistently refusing to listen to fans, making questionable management decisions, skimping on accessories and generally conflating “bare minimum” with “great work”.  

But one thing Mattel does do well is wrestling figures. Sure, not all of them are perfect – but they pump them out at a frighteningly fast rate, they consistently improve the quality and the pricepoint has been maintained at a reasonable level. So today, we’ll take a look at their most recent version of WWE’s terrifying heel Braun Strowman.

I’m pretty newly returned to wrestling, so I haven’t really seen Strowman's ascent to stardom. But from a newcomer’s perspective, he’s pretty likeable – and he’s getting a bit of a push at the moment, having recently won the 50-man Royal Rumble. Unlike certain other wrestlers we could name, he seems to have both the charisma and in-ring skills to leverage it successfully.

Strowman has had a couple of Elite figures before – once in Series 44, which depicted him in his Wyatt family garb, and another in Series 52 which came with a wheeled stretcher. Though all share some parts, this one looks to be a virtual re-release of the Series 52 figure; the primary difference at first glance is the head, though a closer examination reveals a few different paint apps on the pants. 

The likeness in the sculpt is quite good, much better than the (okay) paint would suggest. I’m sure there are already customisers out there already working on better paint jobs, but I’m happy enough with what I have. Normally I prefer more neutral faces on action figures, and Mattel certainly has a mixed record for delivering yelling faces. But for Strowman I’ll make an exception; he is a big unit who spends a lot of time yelling at his opponents. 

This makes for a fun figure, but he’s certainly not perfect. Though his articulation is mostly pretty good, his shoulders appear to be on pegs, rather than swivels. His arm movement is considerably more restricted than…well, any other Elite figure I own. This is a problem, because unlike many of his bigger WWE brethren, Strowman can actually wrestle, rather than simply delivering big hits. Additionally, the beard means it’s all but impossible to turn his head.

Paint is solid, especially on the tattoos. It’s a shame he doesn’t have any stubble on the sides of his head, but at this price point I think it’s a forgivable admission.

Accessory-wise, he comes with an ambulance door (not pictured), and a stand with a stylised portrait of Strowman on it (also not pictured). The stand is handy, but I’m so-so about the portrait that it comes with. Personally, I preferred the backstage diorama look from previous series. What would be far better is interchangeable hands. I’m sure I’m not the first person to express this sentiment, but it would really take things to the next level. One open hand and one fist is okay, but it would be good to be able to get a bit more variety -- especially considering the guy's catchphrase is literally "Get these hands". 

Braun Strowman is a solid figure that looks great on the shelf, but the lack of shoulder articulation definitely hurts him. Also, given Strowman's inclusion in this week's Money in the Bank match and his overall popularity, it seems more than likely that we'll see more more Strowman merch in the near future. Recommended for diehard fans, but not strictly necessary if you picked up the Series 52 version. 

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

POP! WWE - The Iron Sheik

Pro wrestling has always been known for its larger-than-life characters, but in the WWF’s golden era of the 80s and early 90s, they went REALLY big. Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Ultimate Warrior…and of course, the subject of today’s review, the Iron Sheik.  

Born Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri (or حسین خسرو علی وزیری in his native Persian), the Iron Sheik was once a real Graeco-Roman wrestler, and former soldier in the Imperial Iranian Army, who moved to America and burst into the zany world of professional wrestling. Arriving in the then-WWF as the Iron Sheik, he’d grow to become one of the best-known heels in the history of wrestling.

Iron Sheik’s gimmick was questionable, even by the looser standards of the 1980s. Presented primarily as a sinister Middle Eastern heel to Hulk Hogan’s All-American babyface, he’d show up in the ring holding banners depicting the real-life monster Ayatollah Khomeini and denounce the American way of life. It was pretty edgy at the time and generated a lot of heat in the ring, but it seems pretty tasteless to modern eyes. Even more so when you look at the way aspects of the Cold War were played out in the region, all while this stuff was all airing…

There was plenty of drama in the ring, and it was far more extreme outside. Drug addiction consumed much of Vaziri’s life from the 1980s, and one of his daughters was murdered in 2003. In tandem with other events and injuries, his career and earning potential were derailed numerous times.

Still, he’s enjoyed something of a comeback in more recent years, establishing himself as something of a NSFW Twitter sensation. In character as his wrestling persona, the Iron Sheik shoots off all manner of profane insults at anyone and everyone, naturally reserving his worst bile for Hulk Hogan. Naturally enough, this means that he’s the ideal character to be rendered in the kid-friendly Funko POP style!

The POP looks fairly true to his peak attire; he’s wearing a white keffiyeh and a pair of paisley print trunks. His signature curled-toe wrestling boots have been sculpted, which is a great detail. All in all, pretty good attention to detail. There’s a Chase version which features a red keffiyeh, which is cool but non-essential.    

Now, Iron Sheik doesn’t seem to be flying off the shelves at the same speed as many of his WWE contemporaries. Granted, he doesn’t have the same profile among younger fans as someone like The Undertaker, but it does seem like a bit of a shame. Nonetheless, this does mean you should be able to pick him up for a reasonable price.  

Though there’s already been a “Hollywood” Hogan POP, there isn’t currently an era-accurate figure of the Hulkster to face off against the Iron Sheik. Given Hulk’s currently dubious status with the WWE, we’re unlikely to get one anytime soon. Of course, with the recently released Jake the Snake, you can re-enact one particular feud

Iron Sheik is an interesting piece of wrestling history, marking a bygone era of WWF/WWE. While plenty of wrestlers are still big personalities, the reduced emphasis on kayfabe and greater real-life awareness of scandals in the industry has drastically changed the way the industry works. For better and for worse, the squared circle is unlikely to have anyone like the Iron Sheik step inside ever again.  

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Lupine Film Club - Hereditary

Contains major spoilers – do not read if you want to go in unprepared. THIS IS YOUR FIRST AND ONLY WARNING.

Well, it's been almost a year since the last instalment of the Lupine Film Club. Thank you all for your patience; 

A friend sent me the trailer for Hereditary earlier this year, and I was immediately intrigued. When you’ve been watching horror for as long as I have, you get pretty wise to the tropes and clichés of the genre, and it’s easy to get a little jaded about the whole thing. I mean, the yearly franchise stuff that gets churned out like Saw or The Conjuring series is fun and all – but it’s nice to have something with a little more style and substance.

Based on that trailer, Hereditary definitely looked the goods. Having now seen it, I certainly agree it has a lot more style than your average franchise fare. The substance…well, I’m still not totally certain yet. But it absolutely did certainly throw my expectations for a loop.

Going in, I assumed that Hereditary would be a pretty straightforward ghost story. The grandma dies, the little girl is a conduit for her ghost (or at least something malign imitating it) and all manner of weird stuff unfolds from there. Nothing particularly original, but that’s okay. The successful execution of a well-worn formula can be very satisfying in its own right.  

But this isn’t quite how things play out. The film starts off this way, complete with “is it real or not” visions of the deceased grandmother – but not long afterwards, the little girl we’ve been assuming is the villain is brutally killed in a car accident. Her ant-riddled head on the roadside must surely be one of the most iconic (and disturbing) scenes in horror cinema this year.

From here, the film movies into more of an extended meditation on grief and dysfunctional family dynamics. This is arguably where the film is at its strongest, as it wrestles with some uncomfortable questions that none of us really like to address – what if we aren’t sad that a family member is dead? What if we don’t really love our kids? How do you deal with survivor’s guilt? And how do you cope with a family member who’s in the midst of a breakdown?

Throughout all of this, the cast is solid but not especially sympathetic. Toni Collette easily acquits herself as the film’s primary likeable character. Gabriel Byrne is fine, but he doesn’t blow you away; anyone could have played the role, really. Milly Shapiro is particularly disconcerting as the introverted (and unlikeable) daughter. But the primary weak link is Alex Wolff, who plays half his scenes well and the other half as though he was portraying a 9-year old who’s afraid of the dark.  

After a séance, more overtly supernatural elements begin to emerge, causing issues for all the surviving members of the family. New Age figures like John Edwards and Alison DuBois tend to present the image that the dead are happy to hear from us and have plenty of nice words to pass on. But what if the dead were angry – justifiably angry, even – at the way they had been treated by their family?

It’s an interesting idea, but it ends up being another red herring – for the ghost is no ghost at all. Rather, as we discover fairly late in the piece, it’s a demon prince named Paimon, masquerading as deceased loved ones. Now, Paimon is a name that will likely be unfamiliar to you, unless you have an active interest in the occult and demonology. Kudos to the filmmakers for going in a slightly different direction for the supernatural foe, but it does create an issue with the film’s ending that I’ll detail a little more below.   

Hereditary effectively builds mood and tension throughout the piece, but it comes with some flaws. It’s a shade over two hours long, and it absolutely feels longer. It also plays pretty fast and loose with its own “rules” about the supernatural. Towards the end, strange stuff seemingly happens solely for the sake of being weird and/or violent. This is not a bad thing in principle, but I’m not quite sure Hereditary establishes its own dream logic or surrealism effectively and early enough to allow for some of its own conceits. Which brings us to the Suspiria and Wicker Man­-inspired twist ending!

It's a bold departure from the rest of the film, and it’s sure to polarise audiences. There are definitely clues peppered throughout as to the true nature of Paimon (even hidden in the soundtrack) – but unless you’re unusually conversant in Western Esotericism, you’re probably not going to spot them. Sure, you can do the reading and be impressed at the level of detail afterwards, but I don’t think this should be a prerequisite. Twists need to be effectively telegraphed; audiences should be able to go “Aha!” when they eventuate, drawing new significance from earlier elements in the film with this fresh knowledge in mind. 

Hereditary doesn’t exactly cheat on this front, but I’d argue that it does play on the audience’s assumed ignorance to force an extra level of bizarreness in the final scene. By contrast, Skeleton Key and The Wicker Man played similar moves much more effectively. The relevant lore and mythos was gradually introduced throughout the respective pieces, and then twisted at the final moment for an horrific reveal. Here, it feels a little more shoehorned in, though I suspect some will argue that it’s a natural extension of the occult themes that the film explores. 

These issues aside, Hereditary is well worth your time and money. It’s creepy, unsettling, sticks with you long after the credits have rolled and though it wears its influences on its sleeve, it feels remarkably fresh. To cap things off, it has a fantastic soundtrack too. Ultimately, I don’t know whether Hereditary will be the best horror movie of 2018, but I can almost certainly guarantee it will be the most talked-about.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

The Westall UFO (We Are The Mutants post)

As regular readers will be aware, I write for other sites occasionally. You'll also know that I've written about UFOs and aliens from time to time, usually in the context of the Sunday Afternoon Reader articles.

Well, those interests have finally combined in my first piece for We Are The Mutants! A relatively new online magazine, We Are the Mutants focuses on the history and analysis of Cold War-era popular and outsider culture, with a strong emphasis on speculative (sci-fi, fantasy, horror), genre, pulp, cult, occult, subculture, and anti-establishment media. In other words, it's right up my alley, and I think a lot of you will really enjoy it too. There's plenty to be found for nostalgia buffs and more serious historians alike. 

I've put together a piece about the 1966 Westall sighting, a famous Australian UFO incident. With a huge crowd of witnesses to the event and possible government conspiracy to cover the whole thing up, it's a fascinating insight into the Cold War paranoia of the time -- and you can read the full story here.

This will hopefully be the first of several pieces from me for We Are The Mutants. As always, keep an eye on this page for updates, but you can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook too. 

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Sunday Afternoon Reader, Part 8

Well, my local library had its annual clear-out sale this weekend. I bought a bunch of things, but these are the ones that will probably be of the most interest to you, dear reader. Let’s browse our way through the 8th instalment of Sunday Afternoon Reader!

Unscripted: World Wrestling Entertainment
Authors: Ken Leiker, Mark Vancil
Year: 2003

WRESTLING! I’ve recently returned to wrestling fandom after many years away, so this was a perfect find. Unscripted is a coffee table book, which ostensibly provides a bit of a behind-the-scenes (though still heavily curated) look at some of your favourite WWE Superstars.

“So what?” you ask. Well, in 2018 shoot interviews have been done to death, and pretty much every WWE star has mouthed off on social media at some point. But in 2003, this book would have been quite novel. Kayfabe was on the decline, but glimpses into the inner workings of the company were still rarer than today.

As with most coffee table books, the emphasis is on the images rather than the content. The photography is mostly quite good…but it is coupled with some exceptionally ugly early noughties graphic design and typesetting. There are some interesting tidbits shared within though – Matt Hardy and Lita at home together, Stone Cold with his hunting rifle, Ric Flair calling Triple H “the best performer in the business” (which exemplifies why I have never been a Flair or Triple H fan), Vince discussing his childhood and Undertaker summing up his experience in the industry.

Some of it rings a more than a little sad now. Undertaker has since divorced and remarried, Matt Hardy and Lita split over a decade ago and a number of wrestlers featured are retired or dead. Most depressing of all are the images of Chris Benoit, who was a big star for the company in 2003. Just four years later he would commit the most horrific crimes an already scandal-ridden industry had ever seen. 

Still, this was an interesting read for me, as it was published around the time I stopped paying attention to wrestling. I still played the WWE Raw Deal card game with friends occasionally, but mostly I was busy with the multi-layered commitments of senior high school. Wrestling necessarily took a backseat…also, John Cena was getting a big push by then, and I was entering some of my prime heavy metal years. White boy rappers were not my thing at all.   

Creatures of the Night: In Search of Ghosts, Vampires, Werewolves and Demons
Author: Dr Gregory Lee
Year: 2012  

Huzzah! Another addition to the ever-expanding paranormal shelf. I haven’t looked at this in great detail so far, so I can’t say much about it yet. I’ll have to come back to it once I’ve had a more thorough look. At any rate, Dr Gregory Lee has written a number of different books previously, all of them looking at esoteric subject matter.
Books on this kind of subject matter are becoming increasingly hard to come by, at least in my usual haunts. The supernatural publishing boom died off some years ago, and the older books from the 70s to the 90s really just don’t show up in second-hand bookstores as readily anymore.
Indeed, once upon a time I might have even passed this one over as it’s not expressly about UFOs or aliens. But times are tough, and you take what you can get – especially for only two bucks. Also, the cover is designed to look like an old issue of EC’s horror comics, which is a nice touch.

WWF WrestleMania: The Official Insider's Story
Authors: Basil V. Devito with Joe Layden
Year: 2001

Another wrestling book!

This time, we get an overview of the history of Wrestlemania, up to the year 2000. I’ve only skimmed it so far, but it seems fairly comprehensive and has some great photos from the mid-1980s onwards. Liberace once appeared a Wrestlemania? Amazing!

Importantly, you can really see the evolution of the company from cartoonish fun into the Attitude Era. The Attitude Era was still in full swing when this was published, and everything was ADULT and EDGY. Costumes get darker, matches get bloodier, stunts get wilder and the fanbase changes.

Your feelings about this transition will vary. The Attitude Era is apparently held in very high esteem these days, but I didn’t actually enjoy it much as a teen. Sure, it gave us some good characters and matches – but I don’t think it was inherently superior to what’s available today. I was never a big fan of The Rock, Stone Cold or Triple H (though I’ve come to appreciate them all to varying degrees) and the manufactured “edge” seemed contrived even to a wannabe goth kid like myself. 

Similarly to Unscripted, some of it makes for pretty sad reading these days. Given that it’s been more than 30 years since the first Wrestlemania, it’s inevitable that some of the faces you see are no longer with us…but it’s depressing to realise how young some of them went. Rowdy Roddy Piper, Miss Elizabeth, Macho Man Randy Savage, the Ultimate Warrior, Chyna… 

As someone once noted – maybe Matt from Dinosaur Dracula? – wrestling books are always a product of the time they were written. WWE plays pretty fast and loose with the kayfabe canon, but they’re just as happy to do it with their actual history. If you happen to be on their shitlist at time of writing, you’ll be written off as irrelevant, made to look terrible or simply excluded altogether. Given the controversy surrounding Hulk Hogan since 2015 – and the necessity of talking about him a lot in the context of early Wrestlemanias – WWE will probably want to save another instalment for the more distant future. 

The Ultimate Metallica
Author: Ross Halfin
Year: 2010

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I fall into the classic metal cliché of loving Metallica’s first four albums and not wanting much to do with anything after that. In 2018, belonging to their fandom can be slightly embarrassing, as many of their fans really seem to think they’re the final word in metal and this is in no way true.

I don’t say this to try and be trve or kvlt; I have a Master of Puppets poster flag on the wall of my office, I own a bunch of t-shirts and I even bought the Hetfield Funko POP a while ago. I was lucky enough to see them live in 2004 during a lightning storm, which was incredible.

But do I care to hear new music from them? Probably not. Still, for $5 I felt I couldn’t pass up this lavish hardback book, which no doubt cost at least 10 times that on initial publication.

Ross Halfin has been photographing Metallica on and off since the 1980s, so you can trace a course from their young and hungry days through to around 2010. How you feel about Metallica now will pretty much sum up how you feel about that, but either way there is some genuinely nice rock photography. Halfin is a talented guy, and it would be interesting to see some more of his work with other bands.

Interspersed among the photos there’s some notes from admirers and some thoughts from Halfin himself. But the real highlight was the obscenity-laden email on the very last page, which rips into Ross for a variety of perceived sins, including insulting “ROBB FLYNN of the TRULY LEGENDARY MACHINE HEAD” and being “the EXTREME epitome of POMPOUS BRITISH WANKERY”. This, dear reader, made it worth the price of admission alone.