Sunday, August 23, 2015

If anyone can, Carlos can

A pleasant trip to London last weekend to meet up with the 2000AD Southern contingent and peruse the fine offerings on display in Forbidden Planet before repairing to a nearby hostelry for a drink or seven. If you want details of these and other area meet ups check out the events page on the official 2000AD forums.

Forbidden planet had a Doctor Who comics signing so I took the opportunity to get writing droid Nick Abadzis to sign my ongoing Thrill Power Overload charity book. Later on in the afternoon Orbital comics were also holding a similar event with Paul Cornell signing his Four Doctors comics so I nipped across to get him to sign my book as well, and while there I spent a little money on some nice old Progs and then I saw this up with the other wall books for a mere four earth pounds.

Art by Carlos Ezquerra with a cover by Bill Sienkiewicz, and all presented in a glossy prestige format comic. How could I resist? Before my review I have two confessions to get out of the way, first of all I quite enjoy the Stallone movie. Clearly it's not a Judge Dredd film, or not the one we wanted, but as a dumb Sylvester Stallone action film from the 1990s it's pretty good popcorn fare, and my mind can edit out most of Rob Schneider's performance and have an enjoyable time. Secondly, and perhaps more shockingly, I didn't get the appeal of Carlos Ezquerra's art when I first saw it in the late seventies and early eighties. It took a while to grow on me, it was the same with Jack Kirby's work which first left me cold and now I can see how brilliant he was. Of course I now worship at the altar of King Carlos and he leads my list of the top three original 2000AD artists, have I told that story about me buying him and John Wagner a pint in Kendall? OK, just checking.

However over in the US comics market I think most readers would share my initial impressions of Ezquerra's work. It can be an acquired taste and one that apparently a lot of American readers don't bother to get. So choosing Carlos for the official comic adaptation of the movie is an interesting choice but it worked for me.

His usual storytelling and frenetic action sequences are all present although I did miss those signature jagged black lines around his panel borders or on Dredd's helmet. I'm guessing that they may not have had the rights to use the likenesses of any of the actors apart from Stallone, or maybe they just thought it wasn't worth the effort and seeing Fergy as a more typical Ezquerra lowlife goes some way to blotting out the memory of Schneider. And Carlos can now claim that not only did he co-create Dredd but he is also the first artist to actually show Joe's face in a comic. Although interestingly even when Dredd loses his helmet Carlos cannot resist the opportunity to show the top part of his face hidden by shadows whenever he can. Old habits die hard

Andrew Helfer's adaptation is pretty straightforward and discards a lot of the catch phrases and attempts at humour from the film itself. The result is a frenetic action romp which would probably have produced a film more in keeping with the tone of the comics. yes there is off beat humour in Dredd but it's far more subtle than the caperings of Rob Schneider and a strained catch phrase. Michael Danza colours Ezquerra's art and gives it a look that is perhaps more typical of US monthly comics and in keeping with DC comics who published this one shot.

It is a bit of an oddity but with Ezquerra artwork and a Sienkiewicz cover you can't go far wrong. Definitely one for the completists and not likely to cost you to much money to acquire a copy.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Dark Justice

No Prog or Meg reviews from me this month, let’s just say they are both on terrific form, but you probably know that already. Instead let’s turn to the lovely hardback which dropped into the sweaty hands of most 2000AD readers recently, John Wagner and Greg Staples’ lovingly crafted Dark Justice.

First and foremost is the look and the feel of the book which as most reviewers have already observed resembles a good old fashioned Christmas annual. It looks and feels wonderful with a stunning cover and the dramatic endpapers illustrating Staples’ glorious art. Just holding it brings back those wonderful feelings of when you got a top annual in your stocking. Jumpers for goalposts and all that. Marvellous.

Story wise it does read better as a single volume. It’s quite clear what its inspirations were and it plays out quite nicely in a fiends on a space plane fashion. There are a number of unanswered or half answered questions such as how Judge Death returned exactly, how fast the Justice department ship must have traveled to catch the Mayflower, and how far out of our solar system they are stranded at the end of the story. Anderson seems to survive a lethal attack from Death, Dredd is issued with a new Mark 3 Lawgiver whose only purpose is to jam at a crucial moment and leave Joe using farm implements and harsh language to defend himself. I’d also like to know how poor old Logan is getting on and, of course, what happened to P.J.Maybe, who surely must still be alive to return in a future story.

John Wagner is the heart and soul of 2000AD, the Goliath who has shaped Dredd’s universe from day one. He has produced some of the best comic writing ever in stories like America, Mandroid and Day of Chaos. Dark Justice doesn’t quite hit those heights and maybe John really is finished with the Dark Judges, but it’s still a very entertaining read.

Turning to the art and I’m going to run out of superlatives for the products of two year’s hard work by Greg Staples. On this lovely glossy paper in the beautiful hardback it all just pops. It’s stunning and clearly worth the price of admission alone. Hopefully the lucky so and so who bought all the original pages will exhibit them in a gallery somewhere so we can all go along and drool over them.

Tharg has also given us plenty of extras. It’s fascinating to read the exchange of emails between the creators as Greg persuades John to write a new Judge Death story. Then there are the covers in all their glory, Steve Green’s 3D designs for the new Lawgiver, Greg’s sketches and the intermediate stages on the way to the production of final pages. Plus there are a couple of images from the photo shoot which Greg used to plan some of the action scenes. And if you can tear your eyes away from the lovely Lauren Stables you might recognise Steve Green and Senior Street Judge Burdis hanging out with the cool kids again. That’s what we want, Mr Tharg, pages of extras that we can feast our eyes on.

Overall it may not be the best Judge Dredd story ever but it’s certainly one of the most beautifully illustrated, and presented in this excellent hardback format it’s a winner. There’s a lot of tugging on the purse strings of the avid 2000AD fan at the moment, and yes some of those new figures do look pretty great, but come on you have to have this back on your shelf. It’s pretty cheap on Amazon but they suck, buy it from the 2000AD shop instead, or better yet get it in your local comic shop if you are lucky enough to have such a thing, and let’s keep this Rebellion revival rolling along.

Dark Justice, clearly 10/10 and recommended to all. I’m now off to lovingly caress something hard and glossy again.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

2000AD Prog 1938 review

Cover by Neil Roberts presents a nicely dynamic shot of Dredd laying the smack down on the guy who spilled his pint. Plenty of action in a beautifully rendered image. Works for me, I even approve of Tharg's pun.

Inside we are promised the return of the Magnificent Seven as the Strontium Dogs ride again. At some point we'll have to discuss the medical botch job that led surgeons to remove McNulty's arm after he was shot in the shoulder but for now onwards.

Judge Dredd by Michael Carroll, Colin MacNeil, Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse.
An Irishman, a Scotsman and two (wherever Blythe and Parkhouse are from) walk into a bar and mayhem ensues. I thought it was strange that the assassins didn't shoot first and ask questions later but it turns out there was method in their madness and McGann was their intended target, not Dredd. Michael Carroll go do no wrong with this darker, grittier look at Murphyville. And MacNeil and Blythe make it all look fantastic with their signature gleaming visors the only hint at what's going on in Dredd's head. I'm not sure that Old Joe and Joyce could really shoot their way out of an airport and still board a plane but we'll see how that pans out next week. Wouldn't want to be the security guard who has to ask Dredd to take off his belt and boots though. Top stuff from the Celtic tiger creator team again this week.

Absalom by Gordon Rennie, Tiernen Trevallion,  and Simon Bowland
The Guvnor is a nasty bit of work and things must be bad for old Harry to spring him for this case. I love how he rejects DNA profiling for the more reliable blood tracking magic. Trevallion gets to turn up the steampunk features as some new bads enter the fray and this continues to be one of the best things in the prog week in, week out. Bloody Harry Absalom indeed.

Helium by Ian Edginton, D'Israeil and Ellie De Ville
The Prof explains what went wrong and what went right down below to put them all in their current pickle. Unfortunate his evidence is on a format that his hosts can't play, well we've all had that problem haven't we? If ever there was a case for cloud computing then a world based on airship technology would seem to be the perfect place for it.

D'Israeli delivers a masterclass in his use of colour in each issue and I love Edginton's steampunky world building so this is still rattling all my diodes nicely. I must ask D'Israeli if he has any prints of this stuff when I meet him at Brum ICE later this year.

Outlier by T.C.Eglington, Karl Richardson and Annie Parkhouse.
OK, so it's the Hurde not the Horde and they have added swarming nano clouds to their lethal cocktail of killing machines. The flickering lights on and off sequence works remarkably well even though it means four completely black panels. Personally I would have put the sound effects in those panels to heighten the fear factor but this team know what they are doing and it all ends horribly. 

I presume Carcer's black claws that appear in the bottom panel of this page are made of the nasty nanites as well. As far as I can tell the genie is out of the bottle and worse lies ahead. Pretty good episode this week which has pulled me back in.

Jaegir by Gordon Rennie, Simon Coleby, Len O'Grady and Ellie De Ville
It would be nice to perhaps have one Jaegir story that didn't rely on flashbacks but this one is particularly chilling as Atalia reflects on the war crime in her own past while hunting down the perpetrators of a more recent atrocity. The scene in the canteen seems very familiar to me from a host of military movies but it is used to good ends here when we realise what Jaegir is up to. Gordon Rennie currently has three separate strips running across the Prog and the Meg, Absalom is easily the best but I can't pick a second place between this and El Maldito, time will tell. On the art side Coleby and O'Grady get stuck with lots of uniforms this issue which is rather repetitive in terms of colours but they totally make up for it with a killer last panel.

Pick of the Prog is really difficult with all five strips having excellent installments this week, I'm going to give it to Michael Carroll, Colin MacNeil and Chris Blythe for Dredd again. Exciting stuff and a genuine thrill when it lands on my doormat.

Eamonn Clarke

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Hell is bits and pieces of other people

The final Hammer Frankenstein with Peter Cushing was Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, directed by Terence Fisher from a script by Anthony Hinds.

Baron Frankenstein has faked his death and is quietly carrying on his strange experiments posing as a prison medic called Doctor Victor (that old trick again). Unfortunately his hands have been badly scarred by fire, possibly at the end of Frankenstein must be Destroyed, and his surgical results are crude. Luckily a brash young surgeon is imprisoned for trying to copy Frankenstein's methods and soon they have teamed up to work on a new creature, ably assisted by another mute female assistant in the form of the lovely Madeline Smith. To round out the quartet Dave Prowse wears a rather ludicrous looking rubber monster suit which appears to have been covered in matted fur rescued from a barber's floor.

As ever Frankenstein stops at nothing to get the necessary spare parts for his creature, driving one inmate to suicide when he realises he has a suitable brain to slot into the monstrous body. The Baron is of course the most horrifying creature in all of the Hammer films, and Cushing becomes more villainous in each one. This was filmed just one year after the sad death of Cushing's wife and the toll that grief had taken on the actor is obvious from his first moments on screen. He still turns in a fine performance although he is further hampered by the dodgiest wig Hammer ever made him wear.

Madeline Smith is lovely to look at and almost steals the show even without using her most famous assets. In terms of the creature it's strange that Frankenstein has lost the ability to produce beautiful specimens as he did in Revenge and Frankenstein created Woman, but presumably that is down to his crippled hands. Meanwhile Prowse lumbers and grunts and is finally dispatched rather easily by two bullets and a bit of zombie entrail ripping that Romero would have been proud of.

And then it all just peters out and Hammer's light fades through the seventies. Their Frankenstein series did many interesting things, notably making the Baron the true monster at the heart of the stories. Christopher Lee's performance as the creature in the first film is still the best of the various scarred horrors, while the famous creation sequence in Evil of Frankenstein beats all the rest. I watched this film on a slightly shonky DVD from a Dutch box set and the difference in quality between the picture and the pin sharp Bluray of Evil was startling and the biggest advert I've yet seen for the power of Bluray. Two stars for the Monster from Hell but overall four stars for Cushing and the Hammer Frankensteins. Now where's a good Vampire hunter when you need one?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

2000AD Prog 98 retro review

Haven't done one of these for a while but here's a recent acquisition: Prog 98 from February 1979 with a Klegg-eclent Brian Bolland cover.

Inside Dredd is up first and this one has it all: Bolland sequentials, Dredd up to his shoulder in a Klegg's mouth, Chief Judge Cal doing his Stan Laurel impression, the full Klegg chorus line, Tom Frame's lettering, and Judge Fernandez going out in a blaze of glory, and looking remarkably like Carlos Ezquerra in the process. The only downside is Judge Giant's rather regrettable and stereotypical speech patterns but apart from that this is golden age stuff for Dredd as the epic hits keep on coming.

Next up is Angel by Chris Stevens and Carlos Pino and I have no recollection of this one at all. For anyone else in the same boat it's about a test pilot who survived a crash only to find that his plane's computer had melted into his body and given him super powers. Used to happen all the time in seventies comics but looks very formulaic now and the four pages fly past faster than you can say Mach 1, at least there is one circular Whittle panel to provide some compensation.

Future Shocks: The Four-Legged Man by Mike Cruden, Mike Dorey and Peter Knight is a page and a half of nonsense before we get to the cut-out and keep colour centre pages of the Flesh Files.

Which runs straight into Flesh book two by Geoffrey Miller, Carlos Pino and Steve Potter, and it looks like Claw Carver is making Bill Savage walk the plank over some genetically engineered Icthyosaurs who have fricking laser beams attached to their heads (or something like that). It's actually Peters not Savage but he just has the looks of a generic dark haired action hero from the comics of those halcyon days. Again Pino's art is pretty basic stuff but this time he slips in two Whittles.

After that the artwork jumps up several levels and Dave Gibbons even kicks off with a circular panel in Ro-Busters. Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein are absent but Gibbons more than makes up for it with the giant ship's pilot robot Charlie getting ready to fight it out with the Terra-Meks. His human figures and the background cross hatching are lovely but his giant robots are a revelation. Earlier this year I heard Dave speak at the London Super Comic-Con of his love for the Joe Simon and Jack Kirby space comics and here he produces work that echoes and even surpasses Kirby's mastery. It's just stunning black and white art for a kids' comic

The back page of the Prog is a Futuregraph of a Mars bound space shuttle by Bill Le Fevre. The total Whittle count is four and the Pick of the Prog is a stand up battle between Dredd and Ro-Busters with Gibbons' art just tipping the scales for the win. The rest of the comic is largely forgettable but those two stories stand out as examples of the best that British comics could produce back in the day.

2000AD Sci-Fi Special

Summer's here and the time is right for Sci-Fi in the street so Tharg delivers another special edition which brings some old favourites back to the pages of 2000AD.

Cover by Greg Staples.
A nice group shot that clearly tells us who to expect on the inside pages. Staples is a master at producing iconic images of Dredd and he stands out from the crowd. The other characters are good although I am not entirely convinced by the depiction of Sam Slade. However the whole cover does stand out on the shelves at Smiths and hopefully will entice some casuals readers as well as the rest of us hardcore fans. Tharg's tagline about movies of the mind is very appropriate for the multiple film references that are coming up.

Judge Dredd by Michael Carroll, Jake Lynch, John-Paul Bove and Annie Parkhouse.
The first of several movie themed stories clips along nicely with Dredd demonstrating his superior street skills. There's lot of good moments with the movie bad guys wearing classic monster masks, and some nice satire about Hollywood and the 2012 movie thrown in there. I was also interested to see Dredd trying to control the victim's bleeding instead of just taking out the shooter. As ever I like Michael Carroll's handling of old stoney face and I'll happily read all of his writing for the Galaxy's greatest comic. On the art side Jake Lynch produces some very accomplished stuff which seems to have moved on from his recent stint on Orlok. His handling of the masked bad guys is splendid and the nod to the movie costume with the back armour is fun. In some panels Lynch is clearly channeling Henry Flint which is no bad thing, I don't know how much of this improvement in Lynch's art is down to the colourist but it's great stuff. Tharg's use of the special editions as proving grounds for new talent is bearing fruit and I look forward to seeing more from the Lynch/Bove partnership in the pages of the regular Prog.

Robo Hunter by Alec Worley, Mark Simmons and Ellie De Ville
Another film parody and there's trouble in Brit Cit with its very own Iron Man. Worley handles the jokes with aplomb and once again Mark Simmons does a fine job with the black, white and greyscale artwork. His robots are particularly good and he nails Hoagy and Stogie perfectly. Great stuff.

Future Shocks: Dust by Gary Blatchford and John Higgins.
A brief but satisfying interlude that acts as a nice palate cleanser for the rest of the Prog. The problem with Future Shocks is that we're expecting a twist so we start looking for it from the first panel and this one is particularly easy to see coming. However to balance that out we have John Higgins apparently creating a whole new colour palate to depict an alien world with the skyscapes being especially notable.

Ace Trucking Co. by Eddie Robson, Nick Dyer and Annie Parkhouse.
More movie mayhem as Ace Garp gets embroiled with another Hollywood caper with plenty of comic support from GBH and Feek. It's difficult to compare anyone to the legendary Massimo Belardinelli but Dyer does a nice job with the weird aliens and also turns in a lovely depiction of the Speedo Ghost. There's a lot of detail in the panels and although the story flashes by pretty quickly but based on this I would like to see Robson and Dyer do another one.

Survival Geeks by Gordon Rennie, Emma Beeby, Neil Googe, Gary Caldwell and Ellie De Ville
This time the film reference is to Ringu which mainly acts to set up the next arc of this strip. It's beautifully illustrated and coloured but I still feel that it's too critical of geekdom to completely succeed. The artwork is sublime but the strip passed me by.

Rogue Trooper by Guy Adams, Darren Douglas and Simon Bowland.
And finally another film within a film as Rogue crashes through a piece of programmed propaganda. Another well told story that does the job nicely complemented by beautiful art by Douglas. There's no single stand out panel to match the action shot of Rogue firing towards the camera in last year's special but the use of colour and the depiction of the electric cage is brilliant. Maybe Rogue Trooper isn't going to return to the Prog but these one off stories are great.

Elsewhere in the Special there are images of the Robo Hunter action figure, another shot of that superb Greg Staples Dark Justice artwork, and a teaser for the return of Defoe later this year. I can hardly wait.

All round a very high quality summer special with Pick of the Prog going to the superlative teamwork of Carroll, Lynch and Bove on Dredd.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Paper Mache Monster Mash

The Evil Of Frankenstein from 1964 was directed by Freddie Francis from a script by Anthony Hinds.

Chronologically this fits between Revenge of Frankenstein and Frankenstein created Woman but story wise it seems to be in a completely different universe, or should that be Universal? Hammer reached a deal with Universal pictures to use the famous Karloff creature design, and the laboratory creation scenes. So professional wrestler Kiwi Kingston was covered in some ghastly paper mache makeup with an enormous boxy forehead held on with bootlace stitching, and he lumbered round the sets in the familiar gravel spreader platform boots. On the other hand the creation sequence, which is meant to be a flashback to Frankenstein's first laboratory, looks absolutely spectacular with fizzing sparklers, arcing electricity, glowing tubes and small explosions every time he throws a switch. Interesting that the designers went with blue light as the colour of advanced technology even back in the sixties, and now it's everywhere.

This is the first of the Hammer films that I have watched on Blu-ray and the difference is startling. It looks pin sharp, as if it was made in the last ten years instead of half a century ago. But while the laboratory special effects do very well in Blu-ray the makeup really suffers by comparison. Anyone who have cut up a cereal box and worn it on their head to play act the lumbering Frankenstein creature (just me then?) will find it very familiar and almost charming as a result.

The story is a bit all over the place with Frankenstein discovering his original creature frozen in one of those convenient blocks of ice and then recruiting a fairground hypnotist to try and control the shambling brute that he has unleashed. It all ends in a familiar burning building sequence with Peter Cushing leaping about in a fashion that looks quite unsafe. As it turns out from the making of documentary on this disc it was as dangerous as it looks and Cushing did indeed need treatment for burns. The things actors would do back in those days.

Peter Cushing is as commanding a screen presence as always and there are some touching moments with a mute beggar girl who can control the creature. Apart from that there are the usual pitchfork waving yokels, a few comedy authority figures, and at least one heaving bosom. It gets three stars for the spectacular creation sequence alone but apart from that it's all very middling. Just one more Hammer and Peter Cushing Frankenstein to go and it's time for everyone's favourite west country Sith lord to fill the monster's boots.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Snakes on a Mane

Another Hammer horror from 1964, The Gorgon directed by Terence Fisher from a script by John Gilling based on J.Llewellyn Devine's story.

Another attempt by Hammer to start a monster franchise of their very own by raiding Greek mythology and putting another horror in a derelict castle that terrorises the locals of a European village. And it brings Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee back together again which was apparently great fun for the two friends although they share very little screen time together. Cushing's local doctor is a bit of an oddity, he clearly knows what is going on but tries to keep it all covered up possibly because of his love for Barbara Shelley's character. This leaves Christopher Lee to turn up in the second half of the film as Professor Meister who takes on the Van Helsing role.

Along the way various unfortunates get completely or partially paralysed by the mythical Megaera but it does take a while to get to the castle climax that we've been headed for right from the opening shot. Part of the problem was that the Gorgon's snake wig didn't really work and they quite rightly chose to keep her in the shadows for most of the time. When she does step into the light the ballet dancer Prudence Hyman gives her a beautiful and sinuous movement which goes some way to distracting from the failings of the snakes in her hair which were worked by air pipes trailing from the back of her costume. Apparently Barbara Shelley had offered to play the part with real grass snakes in her headdress and it's a shame they didn't at least try that.

This is rather like The Reptile with another new monster who has to be hidden because the make up isn't great. But any film that opens with a title card reading Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee has got to be worth a look. Four out of five petrified thumbs up and Hammer time continues.

Friday, June 19, 2015

2000AD Prog 1935 vs Megazine 361 review

It's head to head time as the Prog drops at the same time as a jumping on issue of the Megazine, and there are some top thrills to compare.

Karl Richardson on Outlier vs Greg Staples' Dredd
Richardson supplies some creepy alien body horror in an arresting image. I like the use of the glowing green for the eyes and highlights instead of the standard alien blue that seems to be the colour of magic almost everywhere else these days. But when it comes to arresting nobody beats Dredd and there is no-one better at pulling together (sorry) a terrific cover than Staples. My only reservations would be the blue artex on the wall behind him which is a terrible decision by the decorator, and the rather chunky Planet Replicas gloves. Two smashing covers but Staples wins the point.

Result: 1-0 to the Megazine

Judge Dredd: Blood of Emeralds by Michael Carroll, Colin MacNeil, Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse vs El Maldito by Gordon Rennie, Carlos Ezquerra and Annie Parkhouse
I'm a bit confused by the opening pages in the Prog as Stonefish breaks free of his bonds requiring Dredd and Joyce to step in and shoot him, and then he's strapped back in the interrogation chair with a neat white plaster on his shoulder. It all seems to happen a bit fast and then Dredd is back on the street breaking heads with his suitable sardonic "Oh really?" to the knife wielder. However once they are on Irish soil the story runs much more smoothly and things are ramping up nicely. I trust Carroll's writing and look forward to next week's bar room punch up. Plus he gets his medical terminology correct, there really us a part of the brain called the Raphe nuclei. MacNeil and Blythe continue to deliver fantastic stuff, you really can't beat the way the lighting picks out Dredd's visor. Beautiful.

In the Megazine Gordon Rennie takes to a previously unexplored corner of the Dredd-verse but fortunately King Carlos is on hand to guide us with his trademark black jagged panel borders. There's also what may be his signature layout of a background figure firing at the camera or the bad guys immediately in front of it. Nobody can pull off this scene like Carlos and its a joy to see it crop up here. With regards to the story I'm intrigued enough to be looking forward to more although I almost wish they were able to use another senior Judge instead of Dredd who must be stretched pretty thin these days. But his name's in the comic title so he has to be in the first story and it's reassuring to see him sum up the situation in a few terse sentences.

Result: a tough call and I hate to vote against any story with Ezquerra art but I love Carroll and MacNeil's Irish adventure so the Prog gets the win and it's tied at 1-1

Absalom by Gordon Rennie, Tiernen Trevallion and Simon Bowland vs Demon Nic by Paul Grist and Phil Elliott
More of Rennie doing what he does best: putting sarky old Harry Absalom in the midst of a paranormal investigation and tapping up a few of his contacts to get the information he needs. Trevallion does lovely work with shadows and his panel layouts and it's charming to see that the holy terror assassin is a fan of the Dredd movie. Between them Rennie and Trevallion instantly plunge me into their dark and dreadful London and I can't fault this at all.

And talking of dark there's plenty of black space in the void around the characters of Demon Nic. Strangely I found the short lived character of the Priest far more interesting than the anti-hero of the piece who so far seems like a collection of weapons and kooky habits with the usual witty line in battling banter. I'm aware of Grist's previous work wothout having read any of it and it's certainly interesting but if the Priest had stayed around a bit longer I might have been more on board for this first chapter.

Result: an easy point for Absalom and it's 2-1 for the Prog

Slaine by Pat Mills, Simon Davis and Ellie De Ville vs Storm Warning by Leah Moore, John Reppion, Tom Foster, Kirsty Swan and Simon Bowland
The bad guy Sloughs his skin to become a Cyth lord while Darth Gort does the time warp as well. In between Slaine says his signature line and swings his mighty axe. Looks lovely but I'm still itching for next week's final episode.

Tom Foster and Kirsty Swan produce a lovely look for the first part of Storm Warning with some creepy images and fantastic lighting. Plus the title font recalls Bryan Talbot's Luther Arkwright comic and they also throw in a mighty "FOOOM" sound effect. The story of one Psi-Judge with a dodgy past being sent to recover a deadly artifact sounds familiar but I'm going to give this one some time because of the powerful artwork, and I'm also giving it the point over Slaine.

Result: 2-2

Outlier by T.C.Eglington, Karl Richardson and Annie Parkhouse vs Lawless by Dan Abnett, Phil Winslade and Ellie De Ville
Outlier gets right to it pulling Carcer off the PTSD ward and promising him a place on an investigation team heading for a captured Horde ship. It's a pretty good opener which promises quite a bit of the old ultra-violence and body horror for the coming story. Karl Richardson's muscular artwork looks terrific as well, and it's a convincing first episode.

There's promise of a bar room brawl in next week's Dredd but it's going to have to go some way to beat Winslade's fantastically detailed line work in Lawless. How long must it take him to produce these pages? OK, so the mild mannered accountant twist may have been done before but look at Lawson's knee length boots, her gloriously impractical hair, and just look at her bike. You can't go wrong with cowboys, or cowgirls, in space and this is absolutely splendid stuff from the Megazine.

Result: Winslade's art tips it in favour of the Meg, 3-2

Helium by Ian Edginton, D'Israeli and Ellie De Ville v Everything else in the Megazine put together.
And there was me thinking it was something else that turned your hair green. More details of the world below the cloud are revealed including some nasty looking Morlockian mutants while the Constable does that Rio Bravo thing of locking up the newcomer for his own protection and if I squint a bit I can almost see Walter Brennan playing Solace. The forum is divided as to whether this story is Ian Edginton retreading a familiar line or a wondrous new thrill for the Prog. It's perhaps not quite hitting the heady heights of Dredd and Absalom yet but it's still hugely entertaining, and it sure floats my boat (yes, I'm pleased with that one). Lovely to look at as well.

It's not fair to compare Helium to Finn which I don't like the look of and haven't read. The Meg's text pieces are OK but not fantastically interesting. Perhaps the best of the rest is the strange cut out reservation token to hand to your newsagent and reserve your copy. Nobody cuts up comics these days do they? Maybe Tharg just wants us to feel nostalgic for those halcyon days when we wouldn't dare speak to the seedy guy who ran the paper shop but might just pluck up the courage to poke our nose over the counter with a grubby slip of paper to secure a copy of the Galaxy's greatest comic. Still it is utterly charming and almost seals the win for the Meg but I'm going to give the point to Helium.

So it's another 3-3 tie and yes my scoring system sucks but it's a splendid day when these two land on my doormat. Top thrill is going to be Judge Dredd: Blood of Emeralds but Absalom and El Maldito both ran it close.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

2000AD Prog 1934 review

Cover by Simon Davis
It's warp time with a third Simon Davis Slaine cover in quick succession and my least favourite of the three. It may all depend on your history with Slaine and his warp spasms but I don't particularly like this image. The rest of this Prog is a pretty good jumping on point but the abstract picture wouldn't attract me to pick it up off the shelf at Smiths. The painting technique is stunning but the image and Tharg's obvious pun seem weak. This one won't be making my top five of the year.

Droid Life by Cat Sullivan
I love the cartoon drawings style in Droid Life but I wish it had better jokes. At least the strip has moved on from the repetitive countdown bomb gag but the laugh level hasn't risen. Still they are cute looking droids.

I don't understand this week's Damage Report. Does this mean that Pye Parr first freelance job is for 2000AD again?

Judge Dredd by Michael Carroll, Colin MacNeil, Chris Blythe and Annie Parkhouse
This has got it all: a story by Michael Carroll, the fabulous noir inflected art of MacNeil, and the splendid return of Judge Fintan Joyce. One of the things that occasionally bugs me is when the other Judges from Justice department appear incompetent so it's nice to see that Fintan has excellent instincts, reflexes and self defence skills. Obviously he is not up to the standard of Dredd or former Sov-Judge Pax but at least he is on the ball, even if the assassin is literally too hot to handle.

I enjoyed MacNeil's excellent work on the recent Mega-City Confidential story and here he provides more of his characteristic impassive reflections in the Judge visors and from the ever present video screens. A lot of this is down to the superb colouring and lighting by Chris Blythe but it's lovely stuff from the pair of them. There are also some nice little details such as the delivery droid company's name A2B. Clearly the contents of his father's safety deposit box are going to drag Joyce along with Dredd back to the auld Emerald isle, and hopefully Pax will tag along as well. Maybe young Joyce will be embarking upon some kind of odyssey and the story will bloom from there. Whatever way this goes it's a great opening episode that has something for regular and new readers alike.

Absalom by Gordon Rennie, Tienan Trevallion and Simon Bowland
The return of Rennie's best creation for 2000AD with a splendid two page opening of demonic parkour before Inspector Absalom arrives at another weird crime scene and begins to do his stuff. Trevallion's black and white art is joyous and the only problem is that it's over too soon. I wish Tharg could have squeezed in another five pages to allow new readers to catch up with one of the best characters to grace the pages of the Prog in the last few years but hey-ho it's a five page limit for everyone apart from Dredd and completely new strips. Anyway it's great stuff, hopefully we will learn a bit more about the fate of Harry Absalom's grandchildren in this story.

Slaine by Pat Mills, Simon Davis and Ellie De Ville
This seems like the weakest installment of Slaine for a while. We've seen all of the magnificent Davis art by now and the small images of warped Slaine doing his thing just looked like a sprite from some crappy video game, or a horrible Conan parody. I'm not sure what is happening on the last two pages at all so I guess you can put me down in the "some don't know and will never know" category but I'm ready for Slaine to go away for a while now. Hopefully this wraps up next week.

Helium by Ian Edginton, D'Israeli and Ellie De Ville
A new strip by the Scarlet Traces team gets ten pages to introduce a strange world and a new story line. I'm a big fan of both Edginton and D'Israeli, I've met them both and they have signed many a comic and book for me and they are both splendid chaps with a long history of sterling work for Tharg. Hopefully this is going to be as good as Scarlet Traces or Leviathan but time will tell. For me it was a thoroughly enjoyable opener and the introduction of another interesting pair of characters in Constable Hodge and the steampunk mechanical revenant, Solace. Interestingly Hodge's gender is not an issue and we are more interested in the question that Edginton raises about her origin as an "outsider" in this airborne community. A very promising start.

Pick of the Prog is Dredd but Absalom and Helium look very good as well and if the Prog had just been those three thrills I would have been quite happy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Future Shock

Here's another of my occasional short stories for the 2000AD forum competition. I quite like the creepy twist at the end which I confess I have borrowed from a short film I saw once. The names of the two housing blocks are nods to a famous comic book artist, Jose Ortiz, and to Mr Jim Moon who hosts the excellent Hypnobobs podcast about all manners of weird fiction.

“OK, Citizen Deets. Tell me again why you need rehousing. What exactly is wrong with your apartment?”

“I keep telling you. It’s haunted. Something terrible happened there.”

“Well we had Chaos day and the loss of nearly 60% of usable housing stock. Something terrible happened all over. You and your family were allocated a very desirable 2 bed con-apt in Jim Moon block. You should be happy to be here.”

“And I would be. I’d love to be happy here, but I get these haunting visions all the time. And it’s not just me, my wife and son know there’s something wrong as well. Jancis ain’t sleeping and Todd’s been having some behavioral issues. And it’s all to do with what happened in that apartment. You've got to move us.”

“These visions you've been getting. Talk me through them again.”

“It’s always the same. There’s this guy, He’s wearing one of those Mango computer store t-shirts and his badge says his name is Chip Mindy. He walks in through our front door. I can tell it’s our apartment, but the furniture is different. He lived there, he had keys, and I can see pictures of him and his family on his fridge. He sits down at his table with his head in his hands. Then he’s standing in the bedroom and there’s two little girls asleep in bunk beds. He’s got a bloody knife in his hand and there’s blood all over that blue t-shirt. He steps over to the sleeping girls and he ... you know.”

“He kills the two girls? Look Mr Deets. We've been through this already. We have complete records for this block and for your apartment in particular and there’s no Chaos day gaps or anything. No family named Mindy has ever lived here, not anywhere in this block. And Justice department have no crime file answering that description. You’re just having some very imaginative dreams.”

“They're not dreams, I’m awake when I see him, they’re ghosts or something. I’m telling you something horrible happened there and I won’t have my family in that place for one more night.”

“OK, Mr Deets. Let me chat with my supervisor. We’ll see what we can do and I’ll be right back.”

He rose from his seat and walked down the corridor to the housing manager’s office.

“Steven, how’s it going with that Deets guy from 14B? Has he calmed down yet?

“Afraid not, Boss. He’s been in here every day for two weeks. We’re going to have to move him.”

“Yeah, I thought it might come to that. Well this is his lucky day. We've had a transfer request from a family in Jose Ortiz block. The husband wants to be nearer to work. Looks like a straight swap. You start the paperwork for Deets, ship them over to Ortiz and I’ll speak to the guy there. Guess we've just made the Mindys' day.”

“Wait. Mindy? The new family is called Mindy?”

“Yeah. Why, do you know them?”

Sunday, June 7, 2015

2000AD Prog 1933

Richard Elson solves the problem of showing everyone's front view in a shoot out by giving us this unusual angle on Dredd. The anatomy is much better than on the current Megazine cover and although Dredd completely dominates one side of the cover and the title I find it pretty effective. Good job those wrist band guys are such rubbish shots though. Inside there's news of the latest merchandise from Rebellion for those who want to sit on Dredd's face, or slop beer on him which probably comes with some cube time.

Judge Dredd: Breaking Bud by John Wagner, Richard Elson and Annie Parkhouse
Wagmner and Elson wrap up the final part of the time travelling cops story with an illustration of how instinctively good Dredd is, and how the rest of the Justice department just can't quite cut it. Johnny Vegas makes his highly publicised appearance and it all wraps up with one wrist device still in the Mega-City. Wagner makes this all look as effortless as ever and Elson's use of colour, particularly in the flashback sequences is fantastic. I wondered if the time travel agents and the ridiculously powerful wrist bands might create another lie detector problem for Wagner but based on this story and the Dead Zone from the Megazine it would seem that the master can do no wrong. Another solid Dredd story and next week we have the return of Judge Joyce and some Colin MacNeil artwork to look forward to.

Slaine by Pat Mills, Simon Davis and Ellie De Ville
Gort communes with Guledigs while Slaine and Sinead head into trouble but there's the mother of all warp spasms coming. I'm a bit muddled by Mills' story but the painted artwork by Davis is just glorious. As comic fans we love the visuals and this is a treat for the eyes. I wonder how far in advance Simon has to start work on this in time for it to appear in the Prog. Lovely stuff although I do wish Sinead had time to change into a more practical outfit.

Future Shocks by INJ Culbard and Annie Parkhouse
I read a Neil Gaiman short story recently about a guy whose imaginary girlfriend started to contact him on Facebook and I thought Culbard might be onto something similar. Instead he goes with a Matrix style twist where our reality may be the result of the sabotage of a Retcon engine. It's pretty interesting stuff and Culbard's art is impressive although I'd rather see him creating the clockwork worlds of Brass Sun, or his monstrous adaptations of Lovecraft than just some guys in hoodies. However on the basis of this story I would be very happy for Tharg to give him another Future Shock soon.

Tharg's 3Rillers: Commercial Break by Eddie Robson, Mike Collins, Gary Caldwell and Ellie De Ville
On the other hand I don't really want to read any more stories about the Jennotech stickle bricks or whatever was going on in this one. It is a tricky task to capture our attention in a fifteen page story and this one didn't grab me. It's all neatly executed but the combination of story and art did nothing for me and I blinked past it. Sorry.

Strontium Dog by John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra and Simon Bowland.
Fortunately a Prog that started with two 2000AD masters finishes with a bang from the best combination in the history of the comic. Johnny Alpha completes the Stix job and there's plenty of action as all the loose ends get wrapped up. This final installment is topped and tailed by two superlative splash pages showing that Ezquerra can still produce the goods. Reading Wagner and Ezquerra is like watching Barcelona win the European cup except that I'd rather swap shirts with John or Carlos than Messi or Neymar. Hopefully completing this job has restored Johnny's moral compass and ended his suicidal urges. Now he just needs to get the old gang back together and we can have plenty more Strontium Dog stories before the Wagner /Ezquerra team finally reach that often talked about retirement.

Pick of the Prog by quite some way is the dynamic duo's work on Strontium Dog. A very strong issue this week, Mr Tharg.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Evil that Men do

Frankenstein must be Destroyed from 1969, directed by Terence Fisher and written by Bert Batt. And yes I am out of order with these Hammer Frankensteins.

I'm a bit confused by the basic plot to this one. Baron Frankenstein wants to learn the secrets of brain transplantation from his colleague Doctor Brandt. However Brandt is an inmate in an asylum with his brain slowly being destroyed by some disease or tumour. So in order to get the secret the Baron has to blackmail Simon Ward and Veronica Carlson to help him abduct Brandt and transplant his brain into Freddie Jones' body. Which leaves me wondering what piece of knowledge Frankenstein lacked because he seemed to do a pretty good job of the transplant by himself. He certainly doesn't carry out the procedure in order to help an old friend because by this stage the Baron is a thoroughly nasty and completely self centred piece of work.

Which brings me to the troublesome scene in the middle of this movie where he rapes Carlson. A scene that was not in the script and was added by the producers against the objections of Cushing, Carlson and director Fisher. Clearly there was a shortage of the trademark Hammer heaving bosoms and the producers wanted some titillation for the the American distributors. It's a nasty scene that has no relevance or comeback on the rest of the plot. It's never referred to again and all the characters carry on as if it never happened, which of course from a script point of view it hadn't. Watching recent episodes of Game of Thrones reminds me that the depiction of rape within popular culture is just as prevalent and troubling now as it was in the sixties. I can only imagine how much trouble and embarrassment this caused the kind and gentlemanly Peter Cushing, and what a horror it must have been to film for Veronica Carlson.

Frankenstein doesn't make his creatures any more and seems to be set on brain transplant as his main area of research. Perhaps this reflected public concern about organ transplant in the 1960s, the first successful heart transplant took place in 1967. Freddie Jones does get to lumber around with a neat scar around his scalp but it's disappointing that Hammer have replaced gruesome creature makeup with unpleasant sex scenes. Just one our of five surgical stitches for this offering. Let's hope for better from The Evil of Frankenstein.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

2000AD Prog 1931 vs Megazine 360

A double dose of thrill power brings me to the keyboard for some reviewing, hopefully without drifting into mere synopsis,

Covers. Ben Willsher on Strontium Dog Vs Glenn Fabry on Judge Dredd
Mr Willsher can do very little wrong in my eyes and this is a lovely composition which manages to fill the page with action and give us a good taste of the fishy business that's going on in the strip inside. Meanwhile I've never really been a fan of Fabry's work. Art is a peculiar thing and there is, as they say, no accounting for taste but this image leaves me cold. I don't like the body twist, the eagle, or the rather crude representation of the lawgiver. The background colours are rather lovely though and Dredd delivers the coup de grace to the title logo clearing the way for Pye Parr's parting gift to appear on the next issue. I appreciate the significance of that gesture but Willsher's action filled cover wins the day for me.
Result: 1-0 to the Prog.

Judge Dredd: Breaking Bud by John Wagner, Richard Elson and Annie Parkhouse vs The Cop by Al Ewing, Ben Willsher, Adam Brown and Simon Bowland.
Wagner's introduction of a new mythos to Dredd's world started in his Megazine story The Dead Zone and continues here with another of his well turned puns on a popular phenomenon and political satire about the differences between the haves and the have nots. Meanwhile Ewing's complex tale of corruption, an outsider in the Mega-City, and revenge continues to play out in the Meg with violent and gory consequences. Both of these Dredd stories have now finished and I write this with a sense of the whole stories in front of me. Two of he best Dredd writers both spinning a good yarn and difficult to tell them apart.

On the art front Elson smoothly switches from Kingdom to Dredd's world and produces beautiful pages but yet again Willsher is the deciding factor and switches sides to level the score for the Megazine.
Result: 1-1

Grey Area by Dan Abnett, Mark Harrrison and Annie Parkhouse vs Reaper Files by Pat Mills, Clint Langley and Annie Parkhouse.
Two straight science fiction stories go head to head. American Reaper is a much lambasted strip and I confess I always feel that I have missed out in not reading it from the beginning. One to look out for in the inevitable hardback collection perhaps? In Grey Area the transition of the ETC team to a whole new universe has given this story a transfusion of new meaning and excitement. I always thought the earth bound tales were just treading water, or providing simple one or done stories to fill the pages. But on a whole new world with a strange set of rules and a pressing sense of impending doom the story has really kicked off. And it sets up the potential for future Quantum Leap or Sliders type adventures as the ETC are thrown onto other stranger worlds. It's a neat trick by Abnett and Harrison and I'm fully onboard now.
Result: 2-1 to the Prog

Slaine by Pat Mills, Simon Davis and Ellie De Ville vs Tales from the Black Museum by Alec Worley, Paul Davidson and Annie Parkhouse.
I'm on much firmer ground with Pat Mills' current work on Slaine accompanied by Davis' beautiful painted images. Slaine's old friend Gort looks quite like to Russell Crow in Gladiator and the setup of the battle seems similar to the early scenes from that movie but it is splendid stuff to look at. I love a creepy black and white terror tale from the Black Museum and Worley and Davidson's arachnid horror is splendid stuff. It feels a bit strange to pick a black and white strip over the glorious colours of Slaine but it's a monochrome equaliser for the Meg.
Result: 2-2

Commercial Break by Eddie Robson, Mike Collins, Gary Caldwell and Ellie De Ville vs Anderson by Emma Beeby, Andrew Currie, Eva De La Cruz and Ellie De Ville.
Tharg's 3Rillers have a tough task in wrapping up a complete story in fifteen pages and doing enough to generate interest in a return of the characters with so far only the Survival Geeks managing to do enough to get a return fixture. This particular story about some mysterious alien light artifacts is momentarily intriguing but doesn't divert me for long.

On the other hand the psychic mindscape of Cassandra Anderson is always fascinating and the introduction of Cadet Flowers intrigues me. Leaving aside all the fuss about the writer's gender and its use as a marketing tool I would like to read more stories about Anderson and Flowers by Beeby. I would prefer it if Cass was drawn to look a little bit nearer her actual age though, unless some writer is going to come clean and announce that the image we see is her psychic projection of how she wants to be seen.
Result 2-3 to the Megazine

Strontium Dog by John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra and Simon Bowland vs Interceptor by Ian Edginton, Steve Pugh, Len O'Grady and Ellie De Ville
The world weary and suicidal Johnny Alpha appears to have shifted back into his business as usual mode with plenty of action and victories over impossible odds as the Stix Fix takes on all the trappings of a classic Strontium Dog tale. You can almost feel Wagner and Ezquerra pulling this on like a nice, comfy pair of slippers. And it's just and comforting and reassuring for us regular readers. Maybe it doesn't push the envelope in the way it threatened to at the start of the adventure but it's still fantastic stuff from two of Tharg's top performers of all time.

I normally gobble up anything written by Ian Edginton but I got about halfway through Interceptor and gave up on it. Somehow the search for another super powerful alien device that falls into the hands of a woman in her underwear didn't do it for me. Sorry.

Final result: it's a 3-3 draw and two top quality issues from the house of Tharg. Sure there are some ups and downs along the way but for just under £8 (or even less if you subscribe) that's the best value in comics at the moment as far as I'm concerned. Great British comics indeed.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

High Priestess Karate

Blood from the Mummy's Tomb from 1971, written by Christopher Wicking and directed by Seth Holt. Well there is blood and a tomb but no real mummy on show. However the film more than makes up for that deficit with the distinct charms of Valerie Leon, the woman who put the Hai in to Karate, and caused a funny feeling in the pants of many a teenage boy during the seventies.

Leon plays the traditional role of the Egyptian princess and her modern day counterpart. In this case it is the Princess who has the dark powers and who slowly possesses Leon and forces her into acts of evil. This is based on Bram Stoker's The Jewel of Seven Stars and it is rather clunky as a result. Notably because Andrew Keir's egyptologist discovers the perfectly preserved body of a millennia old princess who just happens to be the spitting image of his daughter, so of course he keeps the body in his cellar with no one taking any notice. Meanwhile the body count starts to mount up while Valerie Leon appears in a string of revealing nightgowns to give the audience what they came to see.

It has the required Hammer elements of heaving bosoms a'plenty and lots of brightly coloured gore but it's all a bit dull and lacks a central figure to focus upon, other than the obvious things that distract the male gaze. It's perhaps a mistake to have Andrew Keir be incapacitated for most of the movie and not driving the investigations forward. And Valerie Leon's boyfriend is a bit of a damp squib who looks very early seventies but does very little.

Not a great Hammer horror to be honest but it does have a unique selling point (or points), so they get two out of a possible seven stars. Now back to that dastardly Baron.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Best served cold

Revenge of Frankenstein from 1958, directed by Terence Fisher and written by the other half of that familiar team from early Hammer, Jimmy Sangster.

Hammer knew when they were on to a good thing and this sequel was knocked out just one year after the Curse of Frankenstein, and yes I am doing the Frankenstein movies out of order but I'm watching them as I get hold of them. In the same way as the Hammer Draculas had to find a new way to revive the Count for each successive film here they have to spirit Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein away from the guillotine so that he can set up shop in a new town and start practising medicine as the not at all suspicious sounding Dr Stein. While he is popular with both society ladies and the patients of the workhouse hospital, he also has his secret laboratory and has soon recruited Francis Matthews to assist him in bringing life to his new creation. 

Frankenstein skills have advanced and this time he has fashioned a perfect male body into which he transplants the brain of his deformed servant, Karl. At first all goes well but once the creature (Richard Wordsworth) has escaped and encountered a sympathetic society lady his body betrays him and starts to revert back to his deformed shape. The usual mayhem ensues and once again the mob is soon turning on the villainous Baron. Fortunately Francis Matthews is on hand to save the day and rescue Cushing who escapes to London to start again as Dr Victor Franck. Apparently Baron Frankenstein shares Count Dracula's belief that if you spell your last name slightly differently no one will notice. Works every time.

Peter Cushing makes Frankenstein a nastier person in each film and Richard Wordsworth gives us a very sympathetic creature. His slow degeneration recalls his iconic performance as the doomed astronaut Victor Carroon in the movie version of the Quatermass Experiment. Elsewhere Michael Ripper has again beaten everyone else to the punch in the Hammer Michael Ripper drinking game. Here he makes up one half of a comic pair of drunken gravediggers with Lionel Jeffries filling the other role. The gore of the first film is mostly missing and all the bosoms are well hidden with little or no heaving to be seen. Not a bad outing for the Hammer monster but maybe only three out of five twitching disembodied hands.

Through a Fog Darkly

Interrupting my Hammer-fest for some classic John Carpenter. The Fog from 1980, a film I haven't seen since the early days of VHS rentals, and there was the DVD in a cheap bin at the London Forbidden Planet on free comic book day. How could I resist?

Carpenter's first three movies were Dark Star, Assault on Precinct 13 and then Halloween which are all classics in their own rights. Following up the huge success of the night Michael Myers came home he turned to a creepy revenge ghost story with this tale of a strange fog enveloping a Californian coastal town and the return of the crew of a ship the townsfolk lured to its doom 100 years ago. Cult favourite actors Tom Atkins, Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis and Janet Leigh all find themselves trapped in tight spots with rotting, zombie sailors breaking through doors and windows.

There's plenty of slow build up as Carpenter develops the tension in what seems like a typical Stephen King version of small town America. Various bits and pieces go bump in the night before Adrienne Barbeau's disc jockey realises what is going on and starts to broadcast a warning about the fog. Meanwhile the rest of the cast retreat from the fog and the watery walkers and seek refuge in priest Hal Holbrook's church for the final reveal about what the sailors want and the battle to keep them out at all cost. Strangely the events of the final night all happen rather quickly and there aren't as many deliberate jumps and frights as in Halloween. This is a more atmospheric piece that recalls a classic ghost story in a tone that is set by veteran actor John Houseman's opening camp-site retelling of the legend of the lost ship.

It's all quite creepy and although it never hits the heights of his first three films it's not too bad and the special effects have stood up quite well over the last 35 years. Of course it has a nice piece of John Carpenter electronic music for the theme and the cast are all pretty good. It's nice to see Napoleon Wilson himself, Darwin Joston, showing up briefly as Dr Phibes (the name is another nice reference). Like all films from the 1980s it has been remade recently, I haven't seen it but the reports are not good. If the original shows up somewhere then check it out and if you treat it like a ghost story rather than a slasher horror then it will be pretty entertaining. Three dripping zombie stars.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Matter of Taste

No sooner has Dracula been impaled on a cross at the end of the the previous film than Roy Kinnear pops up to collect his fallen cloak and clasp, signet ring, and collect his dried blood in a test tube. This can't possible end well for the Antiques Roadshow. Taste the Blood of Dracula is the fourth of the Christopher Lee Hammer vampires. Released in 1970 and directed by Peter Sasdy.

Before long we're back in old London town where three jaded business men are looking for something a little different in the way of extreme experiences. Up pops a batty Ralph Bates to lure them to Kinnear's shop and then the scene is set for a bizarre regeneration in an old church, which is an odd place to choose for the Prince of Darkness to be reborn in. Having said that the dust covering Bates' body and then cracking open to reveal the reconstituted Count is well done. And the foaming blood in the goblets during the corrupted version of the communion service is also effective, although the presence of Peter Sallis as one of the three men did lead me to make various comments along the lines of "Nice brew, Gromit. Any biscuits? A bit of cheese perhaps?"

Once Dracula is on the loose it is fairly easy for him to hunt down the three business men and corrupt their children to carry out a bit of Patricide in a variety of gruesome ways. Michael Ripper arrives, this time as a police detective, and almost does his own version of the Hammer Ripper drinking game by heading straight for the decanter himself.

The problem is that once the three men are dispatched Dracula seems at a bit of a loss. The Hammer vampire films are obsessed with finding new ways to destroy and then resurrect the Count, but overall he doesn't seem to have a grand plan and is too easily distracted by a pretty neck. I always felt that the Stoker and Lugosi versions had some horrible intentions to spread their curse across the channel but Lee just looks menacing and does little more before he is dispatched once again.

Hammer moves into the 1970s so the sex quotient is increased with a bawdy bordello sequence but all in all the power of the Hammer Count seems to be waning as the films progress. Two and a half out of five foaming goblets for Taste the Blood. Now let's find out how Baron Frankenstein is getting on.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Frankenstein created Playboy

I've skipped a couple of the Hammer Frankensteins to get to Frankenstein Created Woman from 1967 with Terence Fisher back on board as director.

Baron Frankenstein is in a new town and quietly carrying on with his experiments. Meanwhile a trio of nasty toffs frame a young man for murder, and his execution leads his disfigured girlfriend to commit suicide. With two bodies on his hands Frankenstein creates the perfect woman and transplants her boyfriend's soul into her beautiful form. As soon as the bandages are off she becomes the ideal vehicle of revenge, luring each of the villains in turn to a bloody death.

The Playboy model Susan Denberg is surprisingly good as both incarnations of the tragic Christina, and Peter Cushing is as charismatic as ever. Out of the rest of the cast a young Derek Fowlds stands out as one of the bad guys, years before he would go on to Yes,Minister or Heartbeat, or even his stint as Basil Brush's straight guy.

It's a surprisingly bloodless Hammer film. There's no grisly surgical detail and the killings are mostly off camera. At least Denberg provides the heaving bosom to distract the bad guys from the sharp implements in her hands. Cushing does some athletic leaping about rooftops but for the rest of the movie he's fairly quiet and restrained and Hammer seemed to be hoping that Denberg's charms would win the audience over. A fairly enjoyable romp but not a classic, three out of five guillotine blades and onwards.

Predators - why bother?

Finishing off my Predator box set with Predators from 2010, directed by Nimrod Antal.

A mismatched bunch of killers find themselves parachuted on to an alien planet where they become the hunted prey of a trio of super Predators. Adrien Brody sets aside his art-house credentials to beef up and do that hoarse tough guy voice that Christian Bale's Batman is so fond of. There's loads of guns, the usual tricks and traps, and Brody even gets smeared in that all important mud. The Predators themselves are bigger, nastier and somehow less frightening than their predecessors and it is all rather dull.

The magic spark from the first film is still missing and while all the special effects are extremely competent and none of the performances are bad it all just falls flat. Plus there is the huge mystery at the centre of the film about what Laurence Fishburne has been surviving on.

It's not as terrible a film as the second in the franchise but it just washed over me without any real excitement. Two stars and time to put these extraterrestrial monsters away and concentrate on the home grown horrors of Hammer.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Making a grave error

Dracula has risen from the grave from 1968 is the third of the Hammer vampires that count. Freddie Francis took over as director and does some interesting things with colour filters whenever Christopher Lee is on screen.

A clumsy priest falls and cuts his head and soon the blood has dripped through the ice to the frozen Count who having completed his own version of the ice bucket challenge is up and about terrorising the roof tops of another non-specific European town. There are the statutory heaving bosoms, two of which are provided by the gorgeous Veronica Carlson, and of course Michael Ripper is on hand as a friendly baker and innkeeper.

Lee is given some lines to speak and more to do but I sense that Hammer are struggling to know what to do with him. Invading attractive women's bedrooms to ravage their necks is all very well but he doesn't seem to have any grander plan, and it's only a matter of time before the vampire hunters are on his trail for another desperate race against the sunrise as those familiar black horses carry him back to his castle. Which, incidentally, has had a bit of a facelift and been moved up into the mountains since we last saw it. Hammer had moved production from Bray to Pinewood studios so there are all new sets to play with.

As well as the weird colour filters Freddie Francis also gives us lots of close ups on Lee's bloodshot eyes which look very uncomfortable indeed and presumable involved some more hard contact lenses. Lee is as imposing as ever but the whole film seems to add little to the canon apart from a spectacular new way to kill the Count. It's  middling three out five fresh baked strudels for the third film and time to see with the Baron has been up to since his first outing.

Make mine zombie

Hammer cracked out The Plague of the Zombies using the same crew, the same sets, and some of the same cast as The Reptile as the two films were filmed side by side by John Gilling.

Once again there are two outsiders brought to a Cornish village because of a string of mysterious deaths and disappearing bodies. The locals are unfriendly to the new people even when one of them is a distinguished Professor of medicine whose former colleague, now the local GP, has summoned him. But the GP's wife, played by the equally doomed Jacqueline Pearce is not at all well and seems in thrall to the sinister local squire who lives in a rather familiar big house.

Possibly the greatest Professor Quatermass Andre Morell is brilliant as Professor Forbes who represents a mix of Quatermass, Doctor Who and Van Helsing all wrapped up into one. Michael Ripper trousers another pay cheque, this time as a sensible police sergeant who is soon acting as backup for Forbes. And yet again there's lot of grave robbing to bring up a succession of empty coffins and all filmed on exactly the same set as the Reptile. I'm sure they coordinated the diggings to fit both films,

But of course we want Zombies and before long they appear with their flaky grey face make-up, painful looking complete white contact lenses, and strange monk like sacking robes. Their appearance provokes many a scare and one notable dream sequence that pre-dates the Romero horrors to come one year later. However when we learn that evil Squire is killing off the locals, turning them into zombies, and then setting them to work in the tin mine beneath his house it does seem rather a waste of the potential horror of a new Hammer monster. Well it is a creative use of a wage-less workforce to create capital. Left unchecked the Squire would probably have gone on to a seat in the House of Commons or a job at a city bank. But despite his voodoo powers and his always on tap trio of tribal drummers he is doomed for a sticky end as his workforce turns on him in a zombie occupy movement against the 1%.

And the big house goes up in smoke again, or probably at the same time as in The Reptile. The presence of Andre Morell makes this a success along with the genuinely creepy zombies who would be much more effectively used by Romero, although interestingly Hammer had spotted their potential as a signifier of social injustice. Plenty of good bits in this film, four out of five uncomfortable zombie contact lenses. And next we'll find that fangs ain't what they used to be.