Friday, 11 August 2017

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

Year: 1984/2017
Label: BMG/Noise

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

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

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

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pretty adamant that for better or worse, the original mixes of his albums should be retained, serving as something of a historical document.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Lupine Film Club: The Void

Directors: Steven Kostanski
                 Jeremy Gillespie
Year: 2016

I first heard about The Void late last year, when its name began getting thrown round on a few movie sites as a horror movie to keep an eye on. Words like “Fulci-esque” and “1980s” were mentioned, and that immediately piqued my interest. I love horror but I tend to be pretty bad at staying current; I’m usually happy enough to wait a year or two and then check things out on Netflix or DVD. But this looked like a must-watch.

I would say that the initial descriptors have carried through to the final product. The Void isn’t as intentionally period piece-y as Beyond the Gates (also released in 2016) but the spectre of the 1980s still looms large over the proceedings. The most obvious cinematic touchstones are John Carpenter’s The Thing, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond, but there are plenty of other references to be found too. H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmic horror and the Silent Hill video game series both deserve nods. So if you like any of these, then it’s a fair bet you’ll find something to enjoy about The Void.

It’s a good pool of influences to draw from. But with that caveat, it would be pretty fair to say that The Void is driven by style over substance. The plot is thin even by the standards of the genre; all you need to know is that some kind of cult is trying to open a gateway to the titular Void, and so a whole bunch of horrifying stuff happens along the way. As for how it actually plays out…well, let’s just say you will have many questions, and virtually none of them will be answered by the final reel. The characters are barely even archetypes. Kenneth Welsh’s Dr Powell is fleshed out a little, but you’ll find yourself longing for the rich characterisation found in something like Zombie Flesh Eaters. I also think there are probably a few too many characters onscreen; even allowing for some of them merely being there to build the body count, it doesn’t aid the viewer in building attachment to any of them. There isn’t anything terribly original for experienced viewers and the experience may well be too abstract for newcomers to horror.   

But don’t let this put you off! After all, most of this is a deliberate tribute to The Void’s grindhouse and pulp origins, and the final product is a lot of fun. There are a lot of horror films which are kind of trash when viewed on their own merits, but contain scenes or a special effect that ultimately redeem the film. The Void still stands above plenty of its forebears in that regard. It’s consistently great to look at, with excellent special effects – if you can stomach the gore – and something weird is always about to happen, so you’re never given the chance to be bored. While I wouldn’t say there are any plot twists per se, there are still definitely numerous gruesome surprises in the way things play out. The mythos definitely leaves room for a sequel, and if they take the IndieGoGo route again, I’d be more than happy to put my cash forward. 

The Void is a good, stylish piece of low-budget filmmaking, even showing signs of greatness at points. It’s held back on a number of points, but it’s nonetheless a welcome change from the standard demonic possession fare that has been filling cinemas over the last few years. Highly recommended, if not quite the instant neo-grindhouse classic that I was hoping for. 

Friday, 4 August 2017

POP! Television – Bert Macklin (Parks & Recreation)

Parks and Recreation was one of my favourite comedies of recent years, and there’s no doubt that a huge contributor to its success was Chris Pratt. He’s now a massive star, but just a few years ago he was podgy Andy Dwyer, a lovable fool bumbling his way through life.

One of the most memorable aspects of Andy’s character was his alter ego – FBI agent Bert Macklin.  He’d show up every so often, essentially acting the way a kid does when they’re playing cops and robbers, but usually actually managing to solve a mystery or right a wrong in the process. My favourite episode he features in was probably the one where he helps solve the mystery of who pied Leslie, but all of his appearances are worth watching.

Side note: The spelling of his name seems to be a big ambiguous; most sources online seem to list it as “Burt” but presumably “Bert” is the correct spelling, given that this is an official piece of merchandise.  

I was originally going to pass on the POPs from the Parks and Recreation line. All of them are quite good, but in a time where I am largely restricting myself to horror POPs, I felt Bert was probably the only one I felt would fit in. It’s kind of funny to imagine Bert Macklin bumbling about amongst supernatural foes like Pinhead and IT, but still managing to save the day in the process.

The POP nails the pose and the overall sculpt, but the paint is kind of sloppy. It’s disappointing that Funko are still letting it slide like this after having a couple of years of relatively good paint work. But nonetheless, Bert Macklin is still great fan if you’re a Parks & Recreation fan.       

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

POP! Movies – Pennywise with boat (Chase Version)

I’m normally pretty ambivalent about book-to-movie adaptations. And I must say, I become particularly ambivalent when it comes to Stephen King adaptations, because the hit-miss ratio is very unfavourably skewed.

But with that said, the upcoming adaptation of IT actually looks quite good. Trailers can be misleading, but I’m quietly confident that this will be a good update of the source material. Entertaining as it was, the 1990 Tim Curry miniseries is definitely showing its age (look no further than the spider scene if you need confirmation) and it’s time for an update. It’ll be good to see a new generation pick up the book too.  

Anyway, Funko have decided to release POPs based on Pennywise the Clown, the titular IT. There are three different sculpts, but four versions in total if you include the Chase. The “with boat” version is the basic one, with the other two sculpts serving as retailer exclusives in the USA. No word on when (if ever) they’ll show up in Australia, but I would assume sometime around the movie comes out.

Though I had my initial reservations, I quite like the design they’ve gone with for Pennywise’s costume. The 1990 miniseries was a good take on a “real” clown, though of course with various distorted details to make it clear he was actually anything but. This version is a little more overtly creepy, with the costume having a sort of Elizabethan look, combined with Drop Dead Fred hair and weirdly angled teeth. And of course, he’s holding Georgie’s little paper boat. Poor Georgie…

The paint leaves a little to be desired, but this seems to be the same across regular and Chase versions. The teeth in particular could be neater, but it’s all within acceptable standards.

When I found out there was going to be a Chase version, I figured it would be a pretty easy pass. It’s a sepia paint scheme, which are often underwhelming in execution. But then I ran across it in person and decided it looked just as good as the regular version, if not better. I wouldn’t go and pay aftermarket prices for him, but at retail price it was much of a muchness.

It remains to be seen whether this new look will become iconic in the same fashion as Tim Curry's take, but with the movie just around the corner we don't have long to wait to find out. In the meantime, this figure is a great take on the creepy clown trope; one that doesn't simply look like a poor man's Insane Clown Posse. 

Monday, 24 July 2017

Madballs – Dust Brain (Kidrobot)

It might not come as a huge shock to discover that I am not a huge sports fan. Good Lord, who would have thought it? Please be careful while clutching at your pearls and fainting to the floor, I don’t have proper liability insurance on this place.

But I actually loved sport up until about the age of 11 or 12. Rugby league, baseball, basketball…I spent hours watching and playing them all, at school and with friends. There were always kids who were better than others at sport, but it was quite acceptable to play just for the pleasure of playing.
I feel like around year 6 this changed; as people hit puberty there’s suddenly far greater emphasis on playing to win, rather than enjoyment. Skill and co-ordination are suddenly required to be a serious contender. As a kid who lacked both but had recently discovered Star Wars, I realised that my time as a sports fan was drawing to an end.

But I might have hung in a little longer if I’d known about Madballs.

Y’see, Madballs are the perfect bridge between sports and weirdos. They’re such a simple concept, but genius – monster heads as balls. Put them on the shelf to impress your geek friends if you want, but you could actually toss them around like a real ball too. Perhaps the peak example was Oculus Orbus, a ball that is literally an eye! Whoever designed that deserves to be earning enough royalties to never have to work again.

Madballs had come and gone by the time I was old enough to pay much attention -- far too early to salvage my interests in sports. They didn’t have a supporting cartoon series to keep the line on life support in syndication, and the concept itself screams “fad”. This isn’t a criticism, but more of a reflection of the attention span of kids in the 1980s, an era where new franchises were debuting every other week. You can see how things got lost in the wash. The range was revived in 2007, but I don’t remember it at all (did it even make it to Australia?) and for a time it seemed that the world’s experience of Madballs would be limited to reading about them on nostalgia blogs or paying extortionate eBay prices for them.

But all that’s old is new again. Kidrobot has licensed the Madballs range, releasing a range of foam balls, and a bunch of blind-boxed stuff. More is apparently on the way too. So today, we take a look at Dust Brain!   

Mummies have been well-established horror tropes for more than a century now, and any horror-related toyline that doesn’t include at least one is simply getting it wrong. With my love of ancient Egypt, Dust Brain was the natural purchase for me. And boy, did Kidrobot do a nice job on this guy.

One thing I really like about these new versions is that they’re very faithful to the original designs. They’re subtly updated, but no less effective as a result. Often when 80s properties get revived, their character designs become a little more streamlined, toning down some of the weirdness in the process. Madballs is a property that is almost totally oriented around gross little details, so it’s to Kidrobot’s credit that they’ve opted for maximum grossness.  

He’s wrapped in horribly yellowed (browned?) bandages and you can see his teal mummified face peeking out from beneath. Orange eyes leer while rotting teeth often to form a horrible imitation of speech. It’s totally disgusting, while still being totally kid-friendly. Great work!

Dust Brain is cast in a soft but solid foam; these are clearly designed more as collector pieces, but you could do damage if you hit someone in the face with one*. Durability and paint will be rapidly tested if you start hurling it around though. Keep this guy on the shelf.  

My only real criticism is that the price seems just slightly high. I paid around $15AUD for this guy, and while I don’t think it’s outrageous I would feel much more comfortable if things came in around $12AUD. The sculpt and paintwork is very solid…but I do feel like there’s a slight Kidrobot tax on it too. Nonetheless, if you’re a fan of the old toys you won’t be disappointed. And if you just want something weird on your desk for work, you won’t be disappointed either.

*Don’t hit people in the face with Madballs  

Saturday, 22 July 2017

POP! Television – The Master (The Strain)

This instalment of the Lupine Book Club comes to you live from London! Yes, I’m travelling at the moment, which is the cause of the delay in updates – but rest assured, there are more articles planned for the next few days.

This POP actually came out a couple of years ago, but I picked him up because he was going for a song at a comic store. He resembles a grossly corpulent Nosferatu, and thus I figured he’d look great on the shelf with my other horror POPs. The Anne Rice take on vampires is fine and all, but I like my undead to look a little more overtly disgusting.

But with that caveat, I’ve never actually watched The Strain. So I can only assume it’s called The Strain because the Master here has given himself terrible haemorrhoids during his bathroom visits. The thought of spending an hour each week watching this guy grunt away is not an appealing one, but hopefully he gets the whole situation under control by the end of the season.  

Jokes aside, Funko seem to have put a lot of effort into this guy. He’s really big and chunky in comparison to most of his POP counterparts – around the same size as Cthulhu – which lines up nicely with the reference shots of the character I came across online. He’s heavy, but not actually solid. His body is actually hollow, and he has a hole in his base, similar to kid’s bath toys. The plastic has a similar odour too. The only real downside to the sculpt is that he can't really turn his head -- though given how high the collar is, I guess that's "realistic" anyway.  

As cool as he is, the resemblance to the character is kind of loose. It’s entirely possible that the figure was based on preliminary concept art and test shots, rather than finished work. However, I’d argue that the figure actually looks better than the real thing. There’s a strongly inhuman aspect to him, which is always important when you’re dealing with monsters onscreen. I mean, it’s obviously based on a guy in a suit – but you can kind of believe that it’s not just that. It’s quite passably a literal undead entity, which is impressive.

As always, paint could be better. The face is pretty good, but the unicolour wattle on the neck lacks the intended subtle shading and so it kind of looks like he has some kind of genitalia there. The wash on his hands is good, but a little heavy. The robe and its attendant details could have done with the wash or some drybrushing too; as it stands they’re just a little flat.

Still, The Master is a great vampire figure. I may check out the show eventually, but really I’m just happy for Nosferatu to have a shelf companion.  

Saturday, 8 July 2017

POP! Movies: Chucky (Child’s Play 2)

There’s always a suspension of disbelief involved for any slasher villain, but a killer who transfers his soul into a doll via voodoo ritual? Yeah, right. But the first Child’s Play film is actually far more unsettling than you might expect, with some genuine scares and a great villain. I wouldn’t put Chucky in quite the same circles as Freddy, Jason or Pinhead – but he’s certainly not far below. So given the esteem the films are held in by horror fans, it’s no real surprise that sooner or later we got a POP of Chucky.

This is the Child’s Play 2 version of Chucky, who looks a little rougher round the edges than he did in the first film. I assume they went with this look for a couple of different reasons; the license is probably more easily acquirable/cheaper than the first film (as with Hellraiser vs Hellraiser III). Additionally, Chucky spends most of the first film looking fairly plain, so the scars on his face here add some nice additional detail. It’s a good decision – who would want a POP version of what’s essentially a “My Buddy” doll?

Originally released back in 2014, he’s sculpted to be a little smaller than his horror contemporaries. He’s still bigger than he would be in “real” life but one must forgive the limitations of the format. Additionally, this was around the time Funko stepped up their paint game quite a bit, so he’s better rendered than many of his contemporaries. It’s certainly not perfect but Funko are still to be commended for doing an impressively neat job with so many apps in play – just look at his sleeves! 

There are two other POPs of Chucky available. The first is simply a bloody version of this one; you can pay the premium for it if you want, but making a custom would be easy enough. The other is based on his appearance in Bride of Chucky – it uses the same body, but a different head sculpt. Both are good choices, but not being hugely familiar with the series I thought I’d opt for this one.

While not as great as some of the other horror-related POPs Funko have done, Chucky is still a solid addition to the collection. With Cult of Chucky due out this year, there’s bound to be a revival of interest in the character – who knows, we may even see a third take on Chucky hitting shelves in the near future. 

Saturday, 1 July 2017

POP! Rocks – Jimi Hendrix (Monterey Pop Festival)

I listen to a lot of heavy metal, and a good chunk of what makes up the genre today wouldn’t exist if weren’t for one James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix – a guitarist extraordinaire who ended up dying tragically young. His story is too lengthy to recount in full here, so let’s just say that music was never quite the sameafter he hit the scene.

This POP depicts Jimi at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Rock n’ Roll was already used to wild characters, but Jimi really turned things up to 11 when he decided to end his set by setting his guitar on fire. It doesn’t seem so outrageous these days – particularly in a post-G.G. Allin world – but it was near-unprecedented at the time. It’s easy enough to find photos of the event online, and this POP replicates his meditative position quite nicely.    

In the States, this is an FYE exclusive, but it’s just a regular release in Australia. From the store I went to, they seem to have come out here in about equal numbers. Both this and the Woodstock POP are great choices, and I would have been quite happy with either – but you don’t see a flaming guitar every day, so it seemed the logical choice.

Jimi kind of got a POP a few years ago, in the form of the Purple Haze figure. I mean, it’s not technically him…but it’s definitely him. I can’t find an exact release date for it, but I assume it was 2011 or 2012. And it sells for absolutely silly money these days (no doubt in part due to its legally dubious nature) so these new and official versions are much appreciated.

After being relatively dormant for a few years, the POP! Rocks range is expanding quite a bit this year. We’ve just had these two versions of Hendrix, Joey Ramone, Justin Bieber and Guns N’ Roses in 2017, while Metallica arrive later this year. I’ll be taking a hard pass plenty of those, but it’s good to see Funko looking at the range again. Maybe we’ll even get a Little Richard one of these days! 

Jimi is an essential buy for any rock fan. His career was terribly short, but even more than 45 years after his death, his influence can still be felt everywhere.  

Did you know that years before Motörhead, Lemmy was actually Jimi's roadie for a while? 

Monday, 26 June 2017

POP! Games: Tyrant – Glow in the Dark (Resident Evil)

As I said in my last review, I don’t really collect video game-based POPs…yet here I am reviewing my second one in just over a week! But the Resident Evil figures definitely fall under my guidelines for horror, and hopefully by purchasing them it will also encourage Funko to finally make a Silent Hill line too. So today we take a closer look at the Tyrant, one of two 6” figures in the line.

The Resident Evil games have always been good at providing the player with novel and freakish takes on zombies, and the Tyrant is no exception. His ghostly white skin, exposed internal organs and gigantic claw are quite a few steps removed from the Night of the Living Dead, but there’s no doubt that this is some kind of undead monster.

There are actually multiple different Tyrants throughout the game series, but this one seems to be based on the T-002 Model, which appears in the original Resident Evil game. It’s been a very long time since I played it, so I have to say I don’t remember it specifically – though it’s easy enough to find screencaps online of course.

POPs are never really built to scale, but making this guy a 6” figure is a lot more “accurate” that plenty of others that we’ve seen in the line. He’s probably a little too big in comparison to Nemesis, but he looks about right next to the average human character. Tyrants are big, terrifying bastards after all, and this guy delivers that scare factor it in spades.

Funko have done an excellent likeness here, bringing in considerable detail but never departing too wildly from the simplistic aesthetic. It’s really quite disgusting, with numerous family members commenting on its unsettling look. And even better, this guy glows in the dark, allowing him to be unsettling by night too!

My main criticism (and boy, have we heard this one before) is that the paint job could be a little tighter. Certainly the paint job is more complex than lots of other POPs, which elevates it above many of its contemporaries – look at the shading on the claws for instance – but it’s still quite fuzzy in parts, especially on the bright red veins.

Still, it’s clear that Funko has put a lot of effort not only into this POP, but the entire line. Capcom has no doubt held them to a fairly high standard, and when taken as a whole I’d say that I feel they’ve delivered a strong final product. An essential buy for Resident Evil fans and a great addition to the shelf for any horror fans.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

POP! Games – Vivec (Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind)

Ah, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. I couldn’t even tell you how many hours I put into it back in my sharehousing days. It was an easy way to spend a lot of time without spending a lot of money, and that was very important to me back in those days. It had major flaws (the journal system, the repetitive soundtrack, the overly specific skill trees), but it was my first real introduction to RPG games beyond pen and paper ones, and I will always have a great love for it.

Central to the (admittedly loose) story of Morrowind is Vivec, one of the deities of the titular setting, and the subject of today’s POP review. You can read about him in much more detail here, but all you really need to know is that he was a mortal who became a god – and who may not be quite as benevolent as he first appears. And why’s he getting a POP? Well, The Elder Scrolls Online just released its latest expansion, which is shockingly enough subtitled Morrowind. There are two versions of Vivec available – the glow in the dark one reviewed here, and the “regular” metallic release. Both are good, but the glow one was always going to be the way that I went.

There have been two series of Elder Scrolls Online POPs, and Vivec is definitely the most visually interesting of all of them*. His half-gold, half-blue appearance is incredibly striking, and also alludes to his hermaphroditic nature. And of course, his floating posture is quite distinct among POPs, giving him an appearance something like a Hindu god or goddess.   

By and large, I don’t collect gaming-based POPs. I’ve owned a few over the years, but I’ve pretty much sold or given away all of them by now. Vivec is an exception, due to my fondness for the license and his glowing nature. He’s not essential unless you’re an Elder Scrolls obsessive, but I think he looks great on the shelf nonetheless.  

*The upcoming Dwarven (or Dwemer if we’re being anal) Colossus looks great in illustration form too, but we’re yet to see any “real” pics as yet.  

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

POP! Marvel: Captain Marvel (Masked)

In spite of sharing a name with the company the character is from, Captain Marvel has actually been fairly C-list until the last couple of years. The original iteration of the character was probably most notable as being a superhero who died and actually stayed dead for more than 5 minutes. But thanks to Ms Marvel taking up the title in the comics a few years ago and a Brie Larson-led film on the way in 2019, Captain Marvel’s star is ascendant at the moment. Naturally enough, this has translated into her getting her own Funko POP.

And it’s a nice take on the character, too. The sculpt is something of a throwback to Funko’s simpler days, which keeps it looking consistent on my Marvel shelf. The paint could be tighter, but it’s not a bad rendition on the whole. My only real criticism is that I don’t love the dark blue used…it doesn’t pop (ha) on the shelf in the way I think it should. Maybe a gloss tone would have fixed this?

I actually picked this figure up late last year, and various things have prevented me from reviewing it until now – she was actually released part of the same wave as She-Hulk and Dr Strange. The basic figure was the unmasked version, while this masked version was exclusive to GTS Distribution in the USA. Here in Australia it was just a regular release as far as I could tell; either way, neither version seems to be selling for crazy money or anything. You should have an easy enough time tracking one down if you want it.

Final verdict? I’m pretty neither here nor there on the character at the moment – I’m not familiar enough with her comics – but it matches the current look nicely and the mohawk is a cool distinctive feature. Fun, if non-essential to my collection.   

Monday, 12 June 2017

POP! Television – Demogorgon (Stranger Things) Chase Version

Back in February, I had STRANGER WEEK on here to celebrate the release of the Stranger Things Funko POPs, including the Demogorgon. Well, I managed to get hold of the Chase version via a trade last week, so tonight we’re taking a closer look at it.

At the time, I mentioned that the creature design showed influence from a few different sources, including H.P. Lovecraft, Silent Hill and H.R. Giger. I specifically mentioned that it came sans the Freudian sexuality usually associated with any of these influences. Well, you can retract that this time, as this Demogorgon has its face clenched shut…so best to address the elephant in the room. It straight-up looks like a clenched anus.

It's an interesting choice, as you don’t actually see the Demogorgon looking like this too much in the show; it’s primarily depicted with his mouth wide open, with numerous characters falling prey to its fangs over the course of the show. I think that was a wise decision, as it’s much less menacing with the mouth closed, though still disconcerting. I suppose if I'd been in charge of designing the chase versions, maybe I would have suggested a bloody version or something? Or glow. Glow is always a winning choice. But kudos for trying something different.  

As with the original version, the scale is not quite right. Looking at screencaps, the Demogorgon is substantially larger than a human, but nowhere near big enough to warrant a 6” POP. They’ve gone bigger in the past with figures like Cthulhu, but on this occasion I think the reduced scale still works fine. It’s wildly different in style to the other figures in the series – which would ordinarily be a criticism, but makes sense in light of the way the character is depicted on the show.  

Overall, this figure is a good example of a chase. It adds something cool to the collection, but it’s not essential to own in order to consider the collection complete (Eleven’s chase is a bad one for this very reason). Importantly, the regular one is a better overall figure, so people who miss out on the chase aren’t really being deprived of anything. This chase is apparently packed at a 1/6 ratio, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find if you really have to have one, but make sure you don’t pay silly money.

Friday, 9 June 2017

POP! Movies - Nazgûl (The Lord of the Rings)

I like the Lord of the Rings movies, but I don’t really love them. I’ve seen each of them a few times each, and there’s no doubt that they demonstrate a level of quality, attention and care that most blockbusters don’t. But they just never resonated with me in the way that they did for many of my friends*.

I think there’s a few reasons for this. One is that I was already a massive fantasy fan via gaming sources such as Warhammer, Dungeons & Dragons and Terry Pratchett (admittedly all highly influenced by Tolkien in one form or another) well before the movies were released, so it didn’t really introduce me to anything I wasn’t already familiar with**.

Of course, plenty of other people who loved them already loved fantasy too. I think for some fans (though not all) seeing the mainstream success of Lord of the Rings was something of a validation of their private interests – which had no doubt been the target of malicious attention in the past by many of those who now sang the praises of the films. But how others feel about my interests has never bothered me all that much, so I guess it didn’t resonate on this front either.  

But I did love the books, and by default that’s meant I have a fondness for certain elements of the movies, and one of them is the Nazgûl. There are nine Ringwraiths in total, but Funko have so far released only two – this subject of today’s review and the Twilight Ringwraith. I hope we get the Witch-King of Angmar eventually, but I doubt we’ll get ever get all nine...though given their similarity in appearance, it might be a little redundant.    

You can read more about their extensive history here, but the tl;dr version is that they were originally nine humans who swore themselves to Sauron’s service, and received magic rings from him in return. But swearing yourself to serve evil is never a good idea, and Sauron’s gifts were poisoned chalices. The Nazgûl were corrupted and turned into shadows of their former selves, eventually adopting the armoured Grim Reaper look.

As with the real costume, the character design is fairly basic; textured and tattered black robe, along with armoured hands and feet. He’s spattered with mud (so I suppose this is from the scene where they’re pursuing the hobbits in The Fellowship of the Ring) and he’s also wielding a battered-looking blade. It’s a great translation of real-world design to POP, mimicking the invisible look of the original via partially hollowed-out head beneath the cowl. Well done!

My only real criticism is that unlike most POPs, the head doesn’t actually turn, though this may be an issue specific to mine. Also, the sword can warp a little in the package, so keep your eye out when purchasing.

Nonetheless, the Nazgûl is an essential buy for Lord of the Rings fans. It’s been a while since there were any new Lord of the Rings POPs, and with the inclusion of characters like Saruman and the Balrog, this is a particularly good series.  

*Conan the Barbarian though? That is essential viewing.
**A few years later I’d experience similar things when 28 Days Later was released – a great film, but not the transformative, this-turned-me-onto-horror experience that it was for plenty of others.  

Saturday, 3 June 2017

POP! Movies – Gizmo (Gremlins)

First of all, keep him out of the light, he hates bright light, especially sunlight, it'll kill him. Second, don't give him any water, not even to drink. But the most important rule, the rule you can never forget, no matter how much he cries, no matter how much he begs, never feed him after midnight.

A couple of months ago I took a look at Stripe, and you’ll notice that many of the things I say here are copied verbatim – despite their vastly different looks, they still apply equally.

Gremlins, hey? A movie that, along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, helped get the entire American movie ratings system adjusted. Why? Well, the movie’s initial marketing may have *cough* downplayed *cough* those horror elements in favour of the film’s cutesy mascot, Gizmo – a face that launched at least a thousand plush toys. And more than 30 years on, Gremlins merch still relies heavily on the little guy’s presence. So when Funko was in the early days of their POP! Movies line, it’s no surprise that they decided to make Gizmo along with Stripe.

Odd fact: Gizmo’s voice was provided by Howie Mandel. Not terribly well-known in Australia, he’s quite famous as an actor and as the host of Deal or No Deal in the USA – and also for his crippling mysophobia. The poor guy can’t shake hands with anyone, which must make day-today life a nightmare. 

This being a relatively early entry in the POP! Movies line, you’d be guessing that the paint is on the sloppy side. And you’d be right; it’s by no means their worst work and it’s better than Stripe, but they’ve come quite a way in the last 5-6 years. The sculpt is particularly cool; these days I would suspect it would be executed in quite a different fashion, and not necessarily as well. Before around 2013 or 2014, POPs were much more heavily stylised, and I don’t think that was a bad thing; not all of them are winners, but they definitely had their own feel. Though the overall standard of sculpting and paint has improved in the intervening years, the simplicity of the older figures definitely has its charms too. 

There is another version of Gizmo, though unlike most of his horror POP companions it’s not a glow one – rather, it’s flocked. It was released in 2011 as an SDCC exclusive, with an edition size of 480. Good luck tracking one of those down!

Even for a relative newbie to the franchise like myself, Gizmo here is a fun figure, and it’s a bit of a shame that we never got more characters beyond him and Stripe in POP form. The first film alone has so many cool character designs, to say nothing of the second. That said, Gremlins 3 is allegedly in development at the moment, so we may yet see more of them hit the shelves in the future.  

Friday, 26 May 2017

POP! Television: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 25 May 2017

POP! Heroes: Firestorm

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 18 May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 15 May 2017

POP! Television: Twin Peaks – Leland Palmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Funko Mystery Minis: Retro Video Games – Frogger

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Turtle Monster Pin Set – Junkship

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

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

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

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

Friday, 5 May 2017

POP! Movies – The Mummy: Ahmanet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 4 May 2017

POP! Movies – The Mummy (2017)

The new version of The Mummy is on its way next month, and I have no idea whether the finished film will be any good. I hope it is – because I love the original and the 1999 remake – but I have reservations. For me, Tom Cruise is a bit hit and miss. And the design work we’ve seen in the trailers is a little dubious. That new sarcophagus does not look Egyptian, which immediately puts the tone in stark contrast with the other two iterations. Nonetheless, I’ll wait till the final product for a verdict.    

I suspect there won’t be a ton of merchandise for the film; it’s a new franchise, and it looks like it’s playing more adult than the Brendan Fraser film. Nonetheless, Funko have taken the plunge and produced some tie-in POPs. Originally there were meant to be three; Nick Morton, Ahmanet and the subject of today’s review, the titular Mummy. Curiously, Nick Morton has been cancelled prior to release.    

Though I’ve been pretty ambivalent about most of the design we’ve seen from the film, I do quite like the undead version of the Mummy. She’s wrapped in her grave clothing and her skin is an ashy grey. a reasonably good update on the Boris Karloff look from the 1930s. Given that they cast Sofia Boutella in the role, I appreciate that they didn’t want to go for the totally decomposed look.  

Ironically, if the Egyptians wanted to curse you, they would have done anything but preserve your body. Ancient Egyptians deliberately preserved the body to avoid the “second death” – dying in the afterlife, which was permanent. Want to destroy someone’s soul permanently in Ancient Egypt? Destroy their body and all the images of them. It’s no coincidence that we’ve never found Akhenaten’s mummy, and virtually every image of him ever discovered has been vandalised. 

So it’s a solid POP; my only real nit is the writing on his face, arms and body – it looks kind of like hieratic, though there looks to be elements of cuneiform in there too. I understand not wanting to repeat the past, but it’s almost like the movie is embarrassed to be Egyptian, which is incredibly silly.

So, good POP. But what about everything else? Ultimately, Universal is taking a risk with The Mummy. It’s intended to launch their new cinematic universe…which in itself is an even bigger risk. The Brendan Fraser films were reasonably well received, but the law of diminishing returns kicked in pretty quickly. Not to mention that tastes have changed, and the new version looks to pander more to the superhero audience. Understandable given the current film climate – but will the concept/s transfer? Iconic as the original Universal Monsters are (and will continue to be) I think the biggest risk of all is probably audience apathy. We’ll find out come June.