Saturday, January 24, 2015

Predator - Mud sticks

Time for a Predator marathon, three films on blu-ray for a fiver, I couldn't resist. It's 1987 and everybody is very buff indeed. We now think of Top Gun as the most homo-erotic 1980s movie but this runs it a strong second.

Things I'd forgotten include the arrival of the Predator's spaceship right at the start, and the rather dodgy heat vision of the big beastie. But it has to have poor vision otherwise smearing Arnold in mud wouldn't work. And Mr Schwarzenegger does get the crap beaten out of him in this film. It's clear that the Predator is more than a match for him, and for the rest of Dutch Schultz's muscle-bound rescue squad.

Quite how they managed to film all this stuff in the jungle is beyond me. I imagine this was a difficult and unpleasant shoot, especially for the guy in the monster suit who couldn't see what he was doing most of the time. Interestingly Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally set to play the Predator which would have made him quite a short alien who presumably would have done the splits at some point for no apparent reason.

It's classic Arnie from the 80s with guns, lots of guns. It wasn't a huge success on first release but over the years has firmly established itself as a fan favourite. 4 out of 5 Predator wrist computers from me and now to get to the chopper and then into a shower to get rid of all the mud.

Frankenstein - caught by the flash mob

Next out of the box set is James Whale's 1931 Frankenstein with another instantly iconic appearance by Boris Karloff as one of the most instantly recognisable movie creations of the 20th century.

And Karloff is indeed great, which is just as well as the rest of the cast are a bit theatrical and dramatic for modern tastes. Dwight Fyre stands out again as Fritz, and the man who plays the drowned girl's father is very impressive. The scene where he carries his child's body through the wedding festivities is moving and memorable.

Oddities that stand out on this viewing include the fact that the famous creation screen is witnessed by Dr Waldman and Frankenstein's friend Victor. Quite why the title character has swapped first names with his best friend is a mystery. There is also the strange mixture of upper class British society and the trappings of the Tyrolean village setting which places the film in that weird Hollywood uncanny geographical valley.

Jack Pierce's makeup and Karloff's creature are the clear stars of the show. Apart from that the film is strangely muted. The creature kills Fritz, and there is its horrifying mistake with the child by the water, but Elizabeth survives her attack. Apart from that it does very little other than wrestle with his creator on top of the mill as the torch carrying mob look on. Was this the very first sighting of a torch waving mob in the movies? No pitchforks on show but lots of sturdy sticks to beat the creature if they should come across it.

I'm going with 4 out of 5 neck bolts for this one and on to the next. I want my Mummy.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dracula the society vampire

What would Christmas be without a DVD box set? I asked for and received this lovely blu-ray set of the Universal monster movies. I know I have seen some or all of each film in the past but can't recall when I last watched any of them from start to finish, so here goes with another movie marathon. Eight films to see and first up is the one that started it all: Tod Browning's 1931 version of Dracula. The film that cemented the image of the nefarious Count that has stuck with us for over 80 years.

Bela Lugosi eats up his role with relish although interestingly we don't really see his teeth at any point. Certainly this is a very demure version of Stoker's novel with the camera cutting away whenever Lugosi nears a victim's neck. There is no blood at all apart from the moment when Dwight Fyre's Renfield pricks his thumb on a pesky paper clip much to Dracula's interest. And although there is plenty of discussion of puncture marks on necks we are never shown them. Even Van Helsing's staking of Dracula happens off camera while the insipid Jonathan Harker is reunited with his darling Mina.

It rattles along in a mere 75 minutes and the main action is nearly all over before we notice it. Along the way we have much more of Dracula walking about old London town than I remember. The surprisingly tall Lugosi in his top hat and cloak cutting quite the dash as he visits the theatre, and then the drawing room of Dr Seward. Which, of course, is where he first encounters Van Helsing with Edward Van Sloan trying to outdo Lugosi in the weird European accent stakes, and with other more wooden stakes as well.

The performances are of their era and are very theatrical which is fitting as this followed on from a successful stage play. Dwight Fyre is perhaps the most impressive and surprising turn as the demented and wretched Renfield. Most of the rest of the cast fade into insignificance compared with Lugosi, Van Sloan and Fyre. And there are a couple of odd moments of vampire lore which rapidly drop out of the canon, notably Dracula's ability to walk through spiders' webs with disturbing them (worst super-power ever), and the use of wolf's bane to repel the Count instead of the more familiar garlic. I wonder when that particular change happened?

Overall it is a fun 75 minutes although it doesn't really deliver many thrills for modern eyes. Of course with Dracula's easy access to bedrooms and sleeping beauties it is not hard to see why it had the impact it did at the time. Sex does indeed sell more than horror when it comes to this particular vampire tale. I'll rate it a middling 3 out of 5 black cloaks. Next up is the original mad scientist and his creation.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Daily Dredds Volume one

Now this is a hardback that an editorial team can be proud of. The first volume of Dredd strips originally published in the Daily Star newspaper from 1981 to 1986. Written by John Wagner and Alan Grant with most of the artwork by the legendary Ron Smith, although there is also work by Ian Gibson, Mike McMahon, Steve Dillon, Brett Ewins and John Higgins. Beautiful black and white strips, many of which have never been reprinted before, presented in a landscape format book with an excellent standard of reproduction throughout.

Several things stand out when reading this terrific collection. Firstly the lengths that graphic novels editor Keith Richardson went to in order to get good copies of all the published strips, which he details in his introduction. The story of how this book was produced is almost as interesting as the contents. It represents a triumph for Richardson and for the many fans (including our very own Orlok) who responded when the call went out to find the missing strips. I know Keith and Michael Molcher touched on this in their youtube review of recent releases but I would quite happily watch a further film all about the search, the fans' involvement, and the details of the reproduction and design of this lovely volume.

Then there is the sheer inventiveness of Wagner and Grant in being able to churn out these witty little strips on a daily basis. There are some great gags and a variety of fantastic stories that must have introduced that distinctive Mega-City madness to many an unsuspecting newspaper reader. Quite how they managed this as well as writing the weekly Prog is beyond me. The boundless energies of being young and paid per completed script must be the answer.

If the story of the creation of this book belongs to Keith Richardson and the fans then the book itself belongs to Ron Smith. Sitting there at his drawing board with his alarm clock set to remind him when it was time to put one page aside and move onto the next, all the while producing his trademark madcap depictions of Dredd's world. His artwork is just sublime and this book is a fitting tribute to one of 2000AD's "immortals".

Rebellion seem to be all about high quality hardbacks at the moment and this one will be a fantastic addition to any bookshelf. I imagine it turned up in many a 2000AD reader's Christmas stocking but if it wasn't in yours then it's time to cash in that postal order you got from Aunt Gladys and add this to your collection. It is available as a cheaper digital download from the 2000AD online store but you really want the hardback, it's gorgeous and well worth it. Congratulations to Mr Richardson and the rest of the Rebellion staff for producing this Star Stunner. Let's hope we hear more about its production at some point. A five star volume

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Big Finish - The Judgement of Sherlock Holmes

The Judgement of Sherlock Holmes, written by Jonathan Barnes and directed by Ken Bentley.

The third of three recent special releases from Big Finish. Dark Eyes 3 was terrific, Frankenstein was sublime, can Holmes possibly match their high standard? This box set goes some way to explaining what Holmes did in the gap years between the Reichenbach Falls and his return to London. It links Dr Watson, Mycroft Holmes, Inspector Lestrade and the Great Detective himself as their different adventures are revealed to be linked by the fight against a sinister secret society. The story shifts across the globe as the characters try and unravel the mystery that threatens to disrupt everything the British Empire holds dear.

It's a clever juggling act to have the well known double act of Holmes and Watson separated but somehow working on the same case. Barnes manages to keep all the plates spinning and still give us all of the cracking moments of action, adventure and criminal deduction that we want from a Sherlock Holmes story. There are some terrific battles of wills as our heroes clash with the villains and try and decide the fate of England with their verbal sparring. A radio play is the perfect setting for these philosophical debates between good and evil, and interestingly here the main battle takes us all the way back to the birth of philosophical study. Well done, Mr Barnes.

Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl are now firmly ensconced as my favourite incarnations of Holmes and Watson. They just sound perfect for the parts and deliver tremendous performances. They are ably supported by a great cast with Tim Bentinck and Jemma Churchill standing out as Mycroft Holmes and Helena Eidelmann respectively.

As ever the sound design and music are brilliant and it's all delivered with the usual high standard we expect from Big Finish. If I have any quibble it might be that the scene between Sherlock and Mycroft were they try to outdo each other with their deductive powers in a restaurant probably strayed over the line into improbability, but it wouldn't be a Homes story without some imposible feat of mental acuity.

Overall it's smashing package and my favourite of the three recent releases. Impossible to give it less than five stars.

Robbie Burns: Witch Hunter

After hearing the review on the ECBT2000AD podcast I was intrigued enough to pick up a digital copy of this through Comixology. The concept is initially a familiar one: take a famous historical figure, add a supernatural creature, and mix well, however there is more going on with this particular mash up. As our own Munkeh pointed out there was a lot of actual witch hunting going on in the 18th century and the paranormal theme fits in well with Burns’ famous poem Tam O’Shanter. Instead of the fictional Tam and his drunken encounter with a witches’ coven Rennie and Beeby have Burns himself stumbling into the midst of the action and needing to be rescued by a pair of experienced witch hunters.
It’s a neat fit and very well executed with Burns going on to learn the secrets of witch hunting from the fiery redhead Meg and an elderly curmudgeon called Mackay who sees young Robbie as his possible successor. Mackay is a great character, you’ve got to love a grouchy old Scottish expert of the occult, and it’s not too hard to imagine him as a ancestor of old Harry Absalom himself.
Trevallion’s artwork is as sublime as ever. His character work and story telling are fantastic and he fills in the background details with all manner of bogles, ghoulies, ghosties, long leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night. And of course it’s lovely to see his work in full colour. As far as DVD extras goes there are some character sketches by Trevallion and a short biography of Burns written by Jerry Brannigan. There are also some selected poems including the full version of Tam o’ Shanter.
I enjoyed this and came away knowing a lot more about Robbie Burns then I did before. The ending does make a sequel possible and I would certainly be on board for that. In the meantime if you’re missing your fix of Absalom in the prog then this book will fill the gap very nicely. Four out of five stars and recommended.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

IDW Judge Dredd The Complete Carlos Ezquerra volume 1

This collection from IDW has been out for some time but it was on special offer in Forbidden Planet so I caved in. Turns out there might be a good reason for the reduced price but I’ll get to that in a moment. This features stories written by John Wagner and Alan Grant that date all the way back to the Bank Raid story that was supposed to run in the first Progs. It goes on to include a number of classic stories including Fungus and Destiny’s Angels and some other stories from around the Apocalypse War.

Good stuff first: this is presented in the same large format hardback binding as the splendid IDW Apocalypse War reprint . The artwork is reprinted at a slightly larger side than in the original Progs, and of course the stories from that golden age of 2000AD are great, but that’s about it for the plus points.

Unlike the beautifully coloured Apocalpyse War collection this is a black and white book and there have clearly been some issues with the reproduction of some pages. This is most notable on the first two pages of each story chapter, the pages that usually got the full colour centre spread back then in the Prog. Here they appear in monochrome with large chunks of the pages just reduced to heavy blocks of black with no detailing visible. It looks exactly like the result you get if you run a coloured comic page through a slightly dodgy photocopier. Other pages are also spoiled by odd splashes of black that didn’t appear in the original comics.

Clearly there has been a problem with the reproduction. I don’t know if IDW were able to work from the original plates or if they just had scans of the Progs, but somehow this has been allowed to slip through without the editors knowing (or caring). And I don’t have a one off dodgy copy, the reviews on Amazon mention the same problems.

The last story in the book is The Man Who Knew too Much from 1985 and here IDW has dropped the ball again and managed to miss out the last two pages of the story completely. Extra features include some classic Carlos covers printed in black and white apart from a couple of more recent covers which are in colour.

This was a major disappointment from IDW. I know it was one of their earliest releases of collected 2000AD material and maybe they managed to sort out the reproduction issues by the time they got to the Apocalypse War. I note from other Amazon reviews that there are similar problems in the first Brian Bolland collection. Although Matt Smith and Keith Richardson are thanked in the book for their assistance I can’t believe they were involved in the final product. It doesn’t seem likely that anyone from the House of Tharg would allow such a shoddy product to go, especially when they have been producing such high quality hardbacks of their own in the last few years.

0 of 5 stars. Get your King Carlos fix elsewhere and avoid this mess of a book.