The occasion of All Hallows’ Eve saw yours truly sifting through the Amazon and Netflix listings for some macabre themed entertainment to wile away the evening, once the local gangs of trick or treaters had been bought off by with the stack of Haribo bought in for the occasion. Never get high on your own supply and all that.

With the pizza ordered and the evening stretching before me, it seemed rude not to have a double bill. First up was 1922, a recommendation thrown up by Netflix. Based on a Stephen King story from his anthology Full Dark, No Stars, it stars an unrecognisable Thomas Jane as Wilfred James, a down at heel farmer who plots to kill his wife Arlette over her wish to sell land that she has inherited and move to the city taking their son Henry with her.

Wilfred manipulates Henry into helping commit the murder using the boy’s budding romance with their neighbours daughter as a bargaining chip.

After almost bungling the killing, the pair hide Arlette’s body in the farm’s well, but this being a King adaptation, things begin to go south very quickly for Wilf and Henry from here on in.

At its heart, 1922 is an old fashioned morality tale, but although the protagonists end is never in doubt, there is enough narrative skill employed to keep the viewer hooked on what their ultimate fate might actually be.

Next I flipped to Amazon for Orphan, a glossy Hollywood evil kid/family in peril bit of highly polished schlock. I confess to having had half an eye on this one for a while, being a big fan of the evil child horror sub genre ever since scaring myself witless watching The Omen (1976) as a kid.

Scream Queen Vera Farmiga of The Conjuring fame takes the lead as Kate, a recovering alcoholic traumatised by the stillbirth of their third child. Deciding to adopt, Kate and hubby John come across mysterious 9 year old Russian girl Esther at the local orphanage. Soon enough, bad things begin to happen around Esther, and the demands of the plot see that John, a successful self made architect, sees fit to suspend his critical faculties with regards to his newly adopted daughter.

Orphan is trash, but it’s well made trash, with a decent cast and production values and a stand out performance from Isabelle Fuhrmann as the malevolent Esther. A decent twist too. Worth checking out if you’re a fan of psycho kid films.

As I’m sitting here spilling metaphorical keyboard ink, the joyous memory of the 80’s straight to video heavy metal horror classic Trick or Treat has popped into my head and I’m kicking myself for not thinking of it on Halloween itself. Better late than never, I shall scrape the Amazon barrel tonight, and get some kind of retrospective/review put on the blog. Watch this space.

Or should that be Marvel vs DC? It’s the question that divides geekdom, our version of the Elvis or the Beatles conundrum. Well the answer is of course, that it’s okay like both (I know, I know, it will come as a revelation to some. Make yourself a cuppa and have a sit down before you carry on reading if you need to).

In this post I’ll be deconstructing the rivalry between the two US comic book giants, and exploring the differences between their two superhero universes, with a bit of a potted history of the American comic scene as we go.

Regular visitors to this august blog will doubtless be aware of my love of the comic book  medium, both as a vehicle  for storytelling and for showcasing some great art (yes, art teachers, comics are art). Being first and foremost a fan of British comics, starting with the war comics popular in the 70’s and early 80’s before progressing on to the delights of 2000AD, I never had a particular preference between either of the American giants, having been exposed to only  a handful of imports stocked in my grandparents newsagents. It was mostly through film and TV that I got into the Marvel and DC stuff with the the fondly remembered Christopher Reeve Superman films (the first two at least) and a bit later on the early Marvel animations shown infrequently on British TV in the 80’s. I also have memories of the late 70’s live action Spiderman series starring Nicholas Hammond that showcased some hilariously inept blue screen work (and his webslingers shot out rope! ROPE!). I distinctly remember waiting for the Green Goblin to make an appearance. The first of many youthful disappointments.

Despite Marvel getting in the act of exploiting its intellectual property early by sending Stan Lee of to Hollywood in the early seventies, they were gazumped by Warner Brothers acquisition of DC. With some serious financial muscle behind them, DC’s heroes made the leap to the silver screen first with Richard Donner’s Superman (1978), followed swiftly by its sequel in 1980. Batman’s journey to the big screen was somewhat more tortuous, finally culminating in Tim Burton’s splendidly gothic noir vision in 1989 (still the best of the Dark Knight’s live action outings for my money, but still outclassed by the superlative early 90’s Bruce Timm animations – check out his Green Lantern series on Amazon Prime).

All of which left Marvel with its metaphorical pants around its ankles. Apart from the aforementioned Spiderman TV show, Lee had scored some success with syndicated animations and a hit with the live action Incredible Hulk show (’you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry’). But transferring the Marvel universe to the silver screen would prove elusive, particularly without the backing of a major Hollywood studio that allowed DC to steal a march on its rival. It’s true that to do justice to many of Marvel’s creations would have required a prohibitively expensive (at the time) effects budget, and truth be told, the technology probably just wasn’t there at the time. You only have to witness the abomination of Albert Pyun’s Captain America (1989) and the thankfully unreleased Roger Corman version of The Fantastic Four  to witness the cold hard truth of this. Not that money was enough to save any version of the Richard’s family’s adventures as it turns out. And why Marvel ever let an inept schlock peddler alike Pyun anywhere near any of its properties, one can only guess. Be careful with your intellectual property rights, creatives!  In any case it seemed that the famously short attention span of Tinseltown quickly moved on from adapting superheroes for the screen, and for the time being the exploits of costumed heroes and villains remained in the realm of four colour ink. Marvel continued to sell film rights off to different parties (later resulting in a decades long court battle over bringing Spiderman to the screen, with Sony retaining those along with the X-Men film rights, resulting in their non appearance in the MCU when it came around, Homecoming notwithstanding).

Which brings us right up to the present day, with Marvel Studios owned lock, stock by the Disney behemoth, pumping out noisy high definition exploits of its pantheon seemingly at ten to the dozen while DC plays catch up with a, so far, uneven clutch of films kicking of its ‘extended universe’ or DCEU. And it’s the differing approaches each studio has taken with their universes which highlights their contrasting natures. Marvel favours a very clean, bright look to the MCU, one film seemingly blending into the next installment to such an extent that it’s difficult to tell the difference between directors, no matter how talented or high profile. If this sausage factory approach has led to a very tight cohesion in look and feel, then the downside is that creativity is sometimes sacrificed in order to maintain the format. Amid all the CGI and explosions, it’s difficult to feel connected to any of the heroes (or villains), something that the first two of Sony’s X-Men films (unconnected to the MCU – those pesky rights issues again), skilfully managed to avoid.

And is it me or do some of these films seem to have an unnecessarily long running time? Overplotting seems to be becoming a recurrent problem for me with some of the Marvel pictures, I’m thinking of Age of Ultron and Thor: the Dark World in particular here. I remember starting to lose interest halfway through with these two, in a way that I didn’t with say, Iron Man.

DC on the other hand seem happy to let directors take more creative decisions, which has led to rather uneven results, perhaps best exemplified by the mish-mash of Dawn of Justice, and the triumph of the long gestating Wonder Woman project.. The DCEU certainly seems to spend more time on characterisation, and is noticeably darker in look and tone. In retrospect, it’s not a great surprise that DC made it to the movies first, regardless of being bought by Warners, as it’s most famous creations (Supes, the Bat, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Flash) all emerged during the Golden Age of the 30’s and 40’s and were well embedded in popular culture by the late 70’s. Even your mum could tell you what planet the son of Jor-El came from. Marvel’s glory years were predominantly in the Silver Age of the 60s-70’s when the golden duo of Stan Lee and Jack ‘King’ Kirby along with the now legendary Bullpen, virtually created the foundations of the Marvel Universe as we know it today. This meant that it had a way to go before gaining the sort of cultural traction enjoyed by DC.

The other major difference between the two is that Marvel’s Silver Age heroes were conceptualised as deliberately flawed human beings who just happened to have superpowers whether through accident, experiment or mutation. If anything these all too human flaws are magnified  by their acquisition of superpowers (‘with great power, comes great responsibility’) Their surroundings were self consciously contemporary, and grounded in the real world, being centred in and around New York City. In contrast DC’S pantheon inhabit imaginary stylised urban sprawls like Gotham and Metropolis or lands like Themyscira and Atlantis, giving the universe a semi-mythical ‘nowhere-time’ milieu. Sure Clark Kent and Diana Prince may appear flawed like you and I, but it’s all just an act, a mask to be discarded when the call to action inevitably comes. These contrasting approaches to the staple of American culture that is the superhero comic book, whether consciously planned or organic in execution (I suspect a bit of both) define the look and feel of the two most valuable and well known comic book universes today.

If I had to make a choice, I’d probably come down just on the side of DC, as I personally prefer the slightly darker feel, and I’m a big Batman fan. As with the DCEU, they seem to be more prepared to get creative, as exemplified in the ‘Elseworlds’ series. My all time favourite Superman book has to be Red Son, for instance, the self contained tale of a communist Superman arising from his spacecraft crashing on a collective farm in 1930’s Ukraine is one of the all time greats of the modern era in comics. If you haven’t read it, go do so. Immediately. Marvel’s recent questionable decision to out Captain America as a secret Hydra agent, just doesn’t cut it, and has only succeeded in dividing fandom. Perhaps if they’d done it as a stand alone alternative universe story?

On the other hand I’m really into Marvel’s Netflix originals series at the moment. Daredevil is another favourite character of mine, and the two series so far have been nothing short of excellent so far, with the showrunners riffing off Frank Miller’s 80’s and 90’s run on the character. Currently I’m bingeing on Jessica Jones, a lesser known character brilliantly brought to neurotic, cynical life by Krysten Ritter, that continues the dark look and themes of Daredevil. What stands out most in this series is that all the protagonists are actually really, really terrified of the baddie, an on form David Tennant, knocking it out of the park. When Hollywood needs a great baddie, always hire a Brit.

While the Netflix shows have gone for darker, more adult  themes than their cinematic cousins, they are still bound up in the wider MCU, with plenty of references to the films and characters to set geekdom all aquiver, unlike DC who have intentionally kept their TV and film universes separate from each other.

Back in the DCEU, the helmer of both Avengers flicks, Joss Whedon was hired in to finish the Justice League movie after Zack Snyder’s family tragedy, and word around the campfire is that Warners have retained his services for their planned Batgirl feature. Advance trailers for JL look promising, and it’ll be interesting to see what Whedon brings to the party.

A lot to look forward to then. DC have stand alone films slated all the way to 2020, with Aquaman, Flash, Cyborg and Green Lantern Corps (I liked the Ryan Reynolds movie. There. I’ve said it). And that’s before I’ve scratched the surface of reading any of the Rebirth stuff, in the comic universe’s latest reboot/universe/whatever – currently I’m ploughing through Aquaman: The Drowning, by the always reliable Dan Abnett..

On the Marvel side, there’s the mooted Punisher stand alone series, more Daredevil (yay!), Doctor Strange still to watch, the second book of Brian Michael Bendis’ Iron Man reboot comic series to read…

Really, it’s okay to like both.


And on an unrelated note, I’ll be taking a sabbatical from the Book of Face shortly, so if you’d like to continue reading my irregular missives, then may I suggest subscribing in order to receive them straight into your inbox? Any suggestions/comments/constructive criticisms are of course welcome in the comments, and if you like what you read, feel free, in the words of the ABC Warriors, to Spread the Word!


PS – for anyone interested in the history and background of American comics, I suggest picking up a copy of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe. It’s a fascinating read if you are at all interested in this corner of popular culture, and is also available as an audiobook on Audible.


See you on the other side.

My friend and colleague Alan Bligh passed away on Friday 26th May.

Obviously it is difficult to sit here and write these words, trying to marshal my thoughts as a blank screen stares back at me, willing me to type something, anything. It seems appropriate to begin when I first became acquainted with Alan, which as a lot of my friendships have done, came through my employment at Games Workshop.

In the summer of 2010 I began working as a Graphic Designer in Forge World, where the Dark Lord, as he was affectionately known from time to time, served as the lead writer on the Imperial Armour series of books. Being a tight knit team, I worked closely with him and struck up a rapport with him based on our mutual love of sci-fi/horror/fantasy b-movies, history, politics and general culture, both low, high and pop. In fact there was barely a rare factoid or piece of useless, but always interesting trivia that Alan couldn’t summon up from his vast well of esoteric knowledge.

We discovered that we both shared a great fondness for Nottingham’s Broadway arts cinema, due to its habit of occasionally showing our favourite genre pictures and hosting the annual Mayhem horror film festival, the various offerings of which spurred on several reviews on this very blog.

Alan was a man big in both spirit and generosity as well as intellect. He was always ready to give his time, his talent and his thoughts to anyone who had need of them whether in the office or outside of it. Our many long chats over countless cups of tea (always tea!) about films, literature and toy soldiers provided the major inspiration and impetus for me to start this blog, so in a small way I hope that its existence serves as a tribute to him.

There have already been several heartfelt, and doubtless more eloquent eulogies to Alan’s memory than what I have put down here, written by those who were closer to him than I. In particular those published on the blogs of messrs John French and Aaron Dembski-Bowden, both very close friends to Alan, give a true measure of his character in a way that my humble prose can in no way hope to evoke.

His passing leaves a gaping hole, not only in the lives of his family and friends, but also in the Games Workshop hobby that he loved so much, and the invaluable contribution that he made to its fictional lore through his prose.

For those who knew Alan well, and those who enjoyed only a cursory acquaintance with him, down to those countless individuals across the world who never had to chance to meet Alan, but continue to be immersed and fascinated by the work that he has left behind, the news of his passing has been met with obvious shock, sadness, but also many beautiful words. Which is more than fitting for a man who loved the written word so much.

I miss you already my friend.

Rest easy.


This one is going to be a bit longer than my usual posts, but it’s a subject I’ve been mulling over writing about for a while now, and I’ve built up a head of steam in anticipation of committing my thoughts to paper (sic). I refer to the oft maligned 1984 film adaptation of  Frank Herbert’s seminal science fiction novel Dune. Although fans of the novel remain divided over the film’s merits, personally I consider it to be the most successful attempt to capture the spirit of Herbert’s multi-layered universe on screen. And from the point of view of a film buff, I’m an unapologetic fan of Lynch’s version due to its sheer uniqueness in terms of its visual texture and otherworldly atmosphere.

First then a bit of background. It was either the fag end of 1984 or the beginning of ‘85 when I was taken to see Dune as an excitable sci-fi and fantasy obsessed nine year old. As I sat shrouded in the darkness of the ABC picture house in Leeds, what unfolded on the big screen was  the strangest big screen feature that I’d yet experienced. My vague and fragmentary memories of this time recall that the marketing of the film made it out to be the next Star Wars or Star Trek, so I’d been led to expect  a slew of the usual fast paced space battles and alien menageries. Although I remember feeling much disappointment when this turned out not to be the case, the film did leave a deep impression on me, perhaps because I found the narrative so incomprehensible, but also because the look and feel of the whole thing was so distinctive and esoteric. I’d never really seen anything quite like it, and the experience lodged itself firmly in my youthful memory.

Fast forward a few years, and age, along with several repeat screenings on late night Channel 4 (for any non British readers, this is the UK’s channel for more niche and left field material. Perfect for Dune then!) had caused me to reappraise the film. It’s disappointing box office and portentous tone had relegated it to bargain bin status and critical ridicule by the this point, and opinion among fans of the book still remained divided. Around this time, I got the urge to read the novel, in large part in order to try and fill in the gaps in the film. This happily connected all the dots and made the film adaptation a lot more comprehensible, while also having the fortuitous side effect of introducing me to the literary wonders of the Dune mythos. I’m guessing most readers of this blog are familiar with the novel; a sprawling science fiction epic encompassing themes of politics, religion, ecology and humanity’s evolutionary potential. If not,then a browse on Wikipedia will bring you up to speed, or better still grab a copy and enjoy. It’s the biggest selling science fiction novel ever for a reason (and it’s in my my top five favourite books of all time, but that’s for another blog).

I really did start to reappraise the film at this time and I still think that nothing like it has really been attempted before or since. Dune was a brave attempt to put a fictional universe of astonishing complexity on screen, and attempt to tell the story in just over two hours (Lynch’s original cut was just over three hours, but the studio demanded a shorter running time to make it more commercially viable). This was always going to be an unenviable task, and it’s a tribute to the skills of everyone involved in its production that it happened at all. So yes, Dune was a failure in many ways, but what a glorious failure! For anyone who has not yet seen it (cheap as chips on Amazon Prime), the most succinct way to describe it is as a historical epic set with science fiction trappings with a great dollop of drug induced mysticism thrown in. But given the complexity of the source material, how did the project get to the big screen at all?

The journey of Dune from page to screen was certainly a chequered one. The book’s author Frank Herbert had originally had it published in serial form in Analog magazine in the early sixties and had been turned down by numerous publishers before finally being picked up by Chilton, a publisher of car manuals, in 1965. Like Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings, Herbert’s novel  benefitted greatly from the advent of the sixties counter culture, whose adherents identified with the elements of mysticism, environmentalism and trippy space drugs prevalent in the story. Publishing rights in the UK were snapped up by the left wing publisher Gollancz, and Herbert’s achievement was recognised by his peers when Dune won the coveted Hugo award.

The novel’s success inevitably attracted Hollywood, and the rights were optioned by 20th Century Fox producer Arthur P. Jacobs, fresh from his success with Planet of the Apes (1968). The project was still in development by the time of Jacob’s untimely death in 1973, and Fox let the rights lapse.They were picked up by a French business consortium that proceeded to hire the avant garde Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky to  direct a feature length adaptation of Dune.

The saga of Jodorowsky’s attempt to bring his vision of Dune to the screen is worth a blog all of its own, and is covered in great detail in the excellent documentary film Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013). I highly recommend it, and also his later graphic novel series The Metabarons, for anyone searching for visual clues as to how this version might have looked.

After Jodorowsky’s project collapsed due to burgeoning costs, a few years elapsed before the project was handed to the British director Ridley Scott, then enjoying the success of his second feature Alien in 1979. The massive box office returns of Star Wars in 1977 had signalled to the studios that science fiction was a potential goldmine. Paramount studios had been encouraged to reignite its moribund Star Trek property, and the hunt was on for the next big thing. The Dune project was thus resurrected, however Frank Herbert was reportedly unhappy with Scott’s treatment of his novel (several major changes to the story in the script reportedly included an incestuous relationship between the central protagonist Paul Atreides and his mother the Lady Jessica) and Scott struggled to come up with a satisfying adaptation, quickly moving on to the project that would result in Blade Runner (1982).

By this time the rights  to Dune had been acquired by the Italian born movie mogul Dino De Laurentiis, a producer of several hits and just as many misses at the box office including a number of collaborations with the director auteur Federico Fellini. De Laurentiis and his daughter Rafaella chose the young American experimental filmmaker David Lynch to adapt a screenplay of Dune with Lynch also attached to direct.

Lynch had previously directed the surrealist nightmare Eraserhead (1977), and his first major studio feature The Elephant Man (1980) had gotten him noticed.  George Lucas had offered Lynch the opportunity to direct Return of the Jedi (1983), but the director had turned it down in favour of Dune. On December 14th 1984 Dune was released theatrically in the US. It’s budget was $40million, and the North American box office took $30million. The film was considered a massive flop, and Lynch, who had not had final cut stated that the experience nearly caused him to walk away from the film industry. Unsurprisingly Lynch rarely mentions Dune in interviews, but stated years afterwards –

I started selling out on Dune. Looking back, it’s no one’s fault but my own. I probably shouldn’t have done that picture, but I saw tons and tons of possibilities for things I loved, and this was the structure to do them in, there was so much room to create a world. But I got strong indications from [producers] Raffaella and Dino De Laurentiis of what kind of film they expected, and I knew I didn’t have final cut. And little by little – and this is the danger, because it doesn’t happen in chunks, it happens in the tiniest little shavings, little sandings – little by little every decision was always made with them in mind and their sort of film. Things I felt I could get away with within their framework. So it was destined to be a failure, to me.

Despite Lynch’s unhappy experience, I genuinely think that he managed to craft the best adaptation of Dune that was possible at the time, given the twin constraints of technology and interference from above. Frank Herbert was on record at the time as being generally happy with the film, with a few quibbles (the film implies that Paul has developed the powers of a god by the end, whereas in the novel, he is merely a man playing god, still at the mercy of events over which he has little or no control over). One gets the impression that Herbert was just happy to get a half decent version of his story on the silver screen given the amount of development wrangles it had been through since the early seventies, and who could have blamed him?

So why do I love Dune? I‘ve already stated that the film has a unique look to it, a visual texture that evokes the interplanetary feudal society and its fear of technology (specifically artificial intelligence, or ‘thinking machines’ as they are referred to in the narrative.) The production design by Anthony Masters (2001: A Space Odyssey) is superb, and does so much to immerse the viewer in the Dune universe. Whenever I read any of the Dune novels, the look of the setting in my mind’s eye is that of the 1984 film.

Likewise with the cast. Every actor and actress is perfectly suited to their role. Even the Harkonnen’s, who are transformed into true Lynchian grotesques in the film as opposed to their more one dimensional baddie personas in the novel don’t feel too out of place, given the sheer weird inventiveness of Lynch’s visuals in the rest of the film.

The synthesiser score by Toto perhaps dates the film for some people, but again, for me it just seems to suit the otherworldliness of the material so well, especially when accompanied by Brian Eno’s ‘Prophecy’ theme. Although Dune is a human-centric universe, these are humans with very different attitudes and outlooks to our own, so different in fact, that they may as well be aliens from another planet.

In our current world of Netflix and Amazon Originals along with sci-fi and fantasy extravaganzas like The Lord of The Rings and Hobbit trilogy’s, not the mention the penchant for ‘extended universe’ franchises, perhaps the tragedy of Lynch’s Dune is that it arrived way ahead of its time. In 2000, the Sci-Fi Channel produced a three part mini-series adaptation of Dune, which, while a fair effort, and also being a more faithful adaptation of Herbert’s novel, lacked the visual majesty and atmosphere displayed in Lynch’s version.

The mini-series was generally well received though, and at the time, was Sci-Fi’s most profitable production, spawning a sequel;  Children of Dune (2003), that adapted both Dune Messiah, and the eponymously titled story.

With modern audiences now a lot more sophisticated and arguably open to more challenging material, rumours of a Dune remake have been doing the rounds for years on the internet. The project seems to have been stuck in development hell (a familiar story!), but the word around the campfire is that Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival) is attached as director. Given that Villeneuve has helmed the upcoming Blade Runner 2049, this bodes well if the footage released of this film is anything to go by. Time will tell if the French Canadian director can deliver a version of Dune that can exceed David Lynch’s quirky eighties masterpiece.

Apologies for the lack of blogging over the last few months, all that boring ‘real life’ stuff keeps getting in the way! I’m resolved to start disciplining myself to trying to post at least one or two missives per month this year as I really feel the need to start exercising the writing muscles again.

What dark corners of the cinematic underbelly have I been visiting then? Well, I’m been on a bit of a horror binge lately, so I’ve been diving into Netflix and Amazon to see what delights are on offer.

First up was the Evil Dead remake, continuing the glut of new versions of classic 70’s and early 80’s stalk and slash splatter classics. The premise of the original stays largely intact, but with the interesting twist of the main female protagonist Mia (Jane Levy) being brought to the cabin in the woods by her friends who are planning to stage an intervention over her drug addiction. I was wondering whether the film would make any play with this, perhaps introducing an element of ambiguity (are the subsequent horrific events all in Mia’s tortured mind as she undergoes cold turkey?)

Alas, the writers aren’t brave enough to go down this route, and we end up with a stock splatter movie with added gloss due to a budget higher than the threepence that Raimi and Tapert funded the gloriously overblown original with, but minus the anarchic gross out comedic edge. Average.

Next was an interesting little found-footage flick called The Bay that popped up on Netflix. I’m inclined to think that the found-footage format has long run it course, but in this case it’s the right vessel for the film’s faintly ridiculous premise of hormone riddled chicken poop being pumped into Chesapeake Bay, wherein a species of tiny ocean parasite feed on it, infects the drinking water, and…you get the picture. Manifesting first as a viral outbreak, the film deftly portrays the sense of mounting panic, and doesn’t show its hand too soon when playing the reveal. Worth a couple of hours of your time.

A Good Marriage is based on the eponymous Stephen King short story featured in his collection Full Dark, No Stars. This is an interesting premise, (wife learns that husband of twenty five years is a serial killer), that feels like an episode of an anthology series rather than a full length feature. Still it’s lifted out of its tv movie feel by great performances from Joan Allen and Anthony LaPaglia as the two leads.

So far, horror feels like a moribund genre, awash with reimaginings made with more money than passion. Rob Zombie probably has a great film in him somewhere, if he can ever move past his influences. At this point, I’m still awaiting the great white hope to come along and lift the genre out of the doldrums. If anyone has any suggestions for scary flicks that they’d like me to review, let me know in the comments.

Away from the box, I’ve been reading a couple of the late Iain M. Banks Culture novels. Now I know that these books have a lot of ardent fans, and his fictional universe is definitely one of the greatest creations in science fiction, but to be honest I’ve found the books hard going. Although his world building is up there with the likes of Herbert et al, I find his characters pretty unlikable and the prose cold. Still, the adventures of a space borne post scarcity society run by benevolent AI’s called Minds feature loads of brilliant concepts (too many to list here, just pick up a couple of the books – Consider Phlebas and The Player of Games are probably the most accessible to my mind). Just one of these books would make a very intriguing Netflix or Amazon series if the material was handled correctly. I’d be interested to know if Banks ever sold the film or TV rights to his sci-fi stuff.

After ploughing through the first season of the The Man in the High Castle, I’ve picked up a couple of alternative history novels, one of which Dominion by C J Sansom, I’m on with at the moment. The point of divergence is Halifax gaining the premiership in 1940 rather than Churchill, in the aftermath of the Norwegian campaign. Fast forward to 1952, and Britain is a nominally independent satellite state of the Reich. Hitler is rumoured to be gravely ill and factions within the party, SS, and Wehrmacht are preparing for the coming power struggle when the Fuhrer pops his clogs. Meanwhile the Russian campaign is still raging with Germany controlling European Russia, but the soviets waging a vicious guerrilla war,against the Nazis, which is slowly bleeding the economy dry. If like me, you’re disappointed with the BBC adaptation of SS-GB, then you could do worse that pick this up.

That’s it, man. Game over, man. Game over! What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?’

With those words Bill Paxton seared himself into the collective consciousness of geekdom. His performance of the frit marine Hudson in James Cameron’s classic Aliens (1986) is full of endlessly quotable lines, much of it ad-libbed by the actor himself if Hollywood legend is to be believed.

I’m obviously writing this in the sad knowledge of Bill Paxton’s passing on Saturday at the far too young age of 61. To the children of the VHS generation he’ll be forever remembered as the aforementioned Hudson, as well as in roles in other iconic films of the era such as Kathryn Bigelow’s wonderfully downbeat vampire noir Near Dark (1987), as the sociopathic Severen, and the histrionic Predator sequel, as the wisecracking Detective Jerry Lambert.

For my money though, Paxton’s finest hour is in his criminally underrated directorial debut Frailty (2001), where he also stars as the widower dad of two young boys who may or may not have been tasked by ‘angels’ to slay ‘demons’ that, of course, only he can see. Well worth checking out as part of the Bill Paxton tribute filmathon that I’m sure many of you are planning, that’s if you haven’t done so already of course?

So long Mr Paxton, and thanks for all the movies. You will be missed.

I’m a bit late to the show with this review, what with the annoyance of real world responsibilities constantly throwing obstacles in the way of me actually being able to get to the laptop, but such is life. It’s been a few weeks since I parked my bum down the local fleapit for the latest spandex extravaganza, but I’m glad to say that the memories remain fresh enough for me to review the movie for your reading pleasure. Onwards! –

I love comics, and I think it’s fair to say that if you’re reading this blog then you’ve got more than a passing affinity with the medium. But here’s a confession: I’m not the biggest fan of superheroes. Maybe this is because being a Brit, the spandex clad dominant in the US market wasn’t the stuff I grew up with, and as I remember it, neither Marvel nor DC imports were that widely available in the UK during my formative years.

As a kid growing up in t’Grimm North in the early 80’s, comic books were mostly bog paper anthologies concerning WWII era derring do from the likes of Hurricane pilot Johnny Red and German Tiger ace Hellman of Hammer Force. The sort of schlocky pulp action beloved of small boys, whom it makes disappointed that they missed out on the fight against Adolf. But then along came the discovery of 2000AD, and the rest was, well, that’s for another blog…

My first real exposure to the American stuff was Richard Donner’s Superman (1978), starring the late, great Christopher Reeve as the Last Son of Krypton, and for my money still one of the most successful attempts to transfer the spirit and exuberance of the comic book form on the silver screen. At around the same time the Wonder Woman tv show starring Lynda Carter was still enjoying reruns on UK TV. Before the likes of The A-Team and Airwolf drew my attention, and in the pre-VHS era, this was pretty cool stuff. In contrast the Spider Man tv show was short –lived, and in my eyes suffered from the lack of the Green Goblin, whose lurid visage adorned my lunch box locked in mortal battle with Spidey. In the battle for my affections, DC inched it. They’d been first to market cinema and tv wise, and for the time their parent company Warner Bros certainly weren’t parsimonious with the budgets. In contrast, with the exception of The Incredible Hulk tv show, Marvel were the poor cousin on screen, and seemed confined to Saturday morning animated shorts.

Fast forward to now, and how times have changed. After a few faltering steps, Marvel Studios’ IP juggernaut has steamrollered through the box office with a series of competent, if increasingly generic superhero actioners that have at least done visual justice to Marvel’s universe. For a while, DC seemed to have been left in the dust, forever playing catch up (Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy aside). Crucially, Marvel replicated its joined up universe on the silver screen with each film either directly joining up with the next or at the very least referencing events in other films in the same stable. Even Netflix’s excellent Daredevil tv show ties in through oblique references to the climactic battle at the end of the first Avengers movie.

DC finally got its act together with 2013’s Man of Steel, I film I liked if not quite loved. Zack Snyder’s reboot of the Superman mythos certainly divided opinion, but also heralded the beginning of DC’s cinematic universe. Now, instead of a stand alone sequel for Supes, DC have kept faith with Snyder and served up a face-off movie bringing in not only Batman but also a certain Amazon warrior too. And the results are…interesting.

This is a huge, sprawling, incoherent, glorious, flawed over rich pudding of a movie. Visually it’s vintage Snyder: dark, desaturated and rich in the director’s trademark visual texture. Plot and structure wise, Dawn of Justice is all over the place, leaving the suspicious and distinctive whiff of heavy handed interference by the studio brass, leaving me me with the impression that a a awful lot of the movie ended up on the cutting room floor ( Snyder has already promised his own cut for the DVD release.) As ever with such farragos it’s the audience that suffers. The plot kicks off on a simple but flimsy pretext: Bruce Wayne, blaming Superman for the destruction and loss of life visited on Metropolis during the climactic battle in Man of Steel decides that Superman is a loose cannon who needs to be brought down a peg or two (other than dressing up in an armoured batsuit, we’re not quite sure how the Dark Knight is going to defeat Supes and what the consequences for Superman will be if he does). Then a supremely hammy Jesse Eisenberg turns up as Lex Luthor (somehow seeming to have lots of advance knowledge about Kal-El?) with a plan to bring Superman low using that pesky old green kryptonite. And then mixes his blood with the corpse of General Zod, which creates Doomsday, for no other reason that the plot demands a big gribbly for our heroes to have a big scrap with (he’s on screen for about ten minutes at the climax and completely wasted). Wonder Woman gets thrown into the increasingly opaque proceedings followed by several sledgehamer allusions to terrorism and 911 in particular. By this point I’d completely lost my admittedly tenuous grip on what little attempt at narrative there was, but still kept in my seat gazing at Snyder’s visual swirl and wondering how it was possible to make such a dog’s breakfast of such a paper thin plot.

Along the way there are lots of cameos and easter eggs for DC fanboys to get excited over, with sneek peeks at Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg. Henry Cavill cruises on through, and Ben Affleck makes an intriguing Batman, on the edge of being burnt out and walking along a moral tightrope that he looks unsure of staying balanced upon. The breakout star of this overcooked celluloid soup has to be Wonder Woman herself, played with enigmatic relish by Gal Gadot. To be honest she was the only thing that was keeping me watching towards the end, and I await next year’s stand alone movie with cautious anticipation.

Compared with Marvel Studio’s more consistent, but formulaic output, DC seem to be much open to taking creative risks with their properties, an approach which has the potential to produce perhaps some memorable movies in the future, but whose down side is a greater risk of producing an expensive misfire. Such is the result with Dawn of Justice. An interesting mess.


Kurt Russell? Check. Old West setting? Check. Cannibal troglodyte mountain men? Check.

Well, you had me at hello. A Sunday afternoon trip to favoured cinephile haunt the Broadway with my old partner in crime Alan saw pair of us spend an enjoyable couple of hours viewing this under the radar mash up of two of our favourite genres, namely the western and horror. As you might have guessed from my opener, I’m a bit of a sucker for anything with Kurt in (Overboard and Captain Ron are great films, and I’ll take issue with any man who says otherwise.) Apart from that other little Tarantino flick he’s just knocked out, the last film where The Russell has sported such impressive facial hair was the stone cold 90’s classic Tombstone. Clearly I was in for a treat.

I wasn’t disappointed. Okay, the film does have some flaws (a bit more tension in places wouldn’t have gone amiss, along with a ramping up of the grand guignol splatter element), but these are minor quibbles in what turns out to be a solid and respectable, if not quite a classic effort from director S. Craig Zyler.

The opening prologue sees a welcome cameo by genre stalwart Sid Haig, playing drifter Buddy, cutting throats and stealing from a bunch of napping cowhands along with his ne’er do well partner Purvis (a seedy David Arquette). Sure enough they soon stumble into a weird burial ground where natural justice is inevitably soon dispensed, with Buddy quickly dispatched with an arrow to the throat followed by disembowelling by a shadowy assailant, and the terrified Purvis making a desperate run for it.

Cut to the frontier town of Bright Hope where a drunken and nervy Purvis is confronted by Sherriff Hunt (Russell) and town troubleshooter and ladies man Brooder (Lost’s Matthew Fox). Shot in the leg trying to escape, Purvis is quickly thrown into jail where Hunt calls on the services of town doctor Samantha O’Dwyer (True Detective’s Lili Simmons) to patch up the miscreant.

Sure enough Buddy’s mysterious killers have followed Purvis to Bright Hope where they wreak some bloody mayhem before abducting Samantha, Purvis and Deputy Sheriff Nick (Evan Jonigkeit). Examining an arrow left behind by the attackers, token Native American Chief Ominous Exposition informs Hunt and Samantha’s distraught husband Arthur O’Dwyer (the excellent Patrick Wilson) that it belongs to a band of ‘trogodytes’, a tribe of devolved cannibal savages, who dwell in the ‘Valley of the Starving Men’ (how did the US Cavalry miss this lot?). Sheriff Hunt and O’Dwyer decide to form a posse with Brooder and back up deputy and comic relief Chicory (Richard Jenkins) to rescue the captives.

From this point the film enters into The Searchers meets The Hills Have Eyes territory where the macho men of the old west most definitely meet their match in the troglodytes (interestingly, their look evokes that of the cannibals in Ruggero Deodato’s infamous 1980 splatter Cannibal Holocaust and its many imitators) and the wilderness itself begins to take on an ever more threatening mileau.

As with a lot of horror flicks, the theme of masculinity in crisis looms large. Arthur O’Dwyer has been rendered lame, his leg broken in the course of a roof repair, and both Hunt and Brooder mine the classic western trope of violent men outliving their time (The Wild Bunch, The Shootist, Unforgiven.) While this serves to give their characters a certain mythic air, this is splendidly punctured later on when the captive Samantha berates Hunt and Chicory on the ‘stupidity of frontier life’ in them allowing her lame husband to accompany them on the rescue mission against a tribe of bloodthirsty cannibals. There’s just no helping some people. One scene of (literally) gut wrenching violence later, and it seems as if the posse’s emasculation is complete (where is Snake Plissken when you need him?).

I won’t give anything more away though, suffice to say it’s not for the squeamish (but then why ever would you come to this blog? Stumbled upon by accident you say? You’ll never leave…), but an interesting and solid attempt to marry together two iconic film genres.


Okay, I know it’s perhaps a bit mainstream for this blog, but to hell with it, the Star Wars movies are an indelible part of my cultural hinterland. Besides which every other Tom, Dick and Harry has thrown their two’pennorth in, and the Star Wars universe has cool spaceships, droids, lightsabres, walking carpets and oh god, will someone deliver us from the leaden prequels…

Well, say what you like about JJ Abrams, but the bloke knows how to spin a yarn, and on this showing he might just have saved the Star Wars IP from disappearing up the Trade Federation’s backside. There isn’t an inch of expository lard to be trimmed from the first outing since Disney paid the equivalent of Africa’s GDP to get their hands on the property. You can almost hear the sound of Mickey Mouse mopping his brow with relief.

I have to admit, I went in with low to zero expectations. Perhaps that helped, but my initial reaction is that the galaxy far, far away has got its mojo back. Perhaps the lack of blue screen helped, the deliberate scaling back, less is more approach to the CGI, Abrams decision to film in real locations, making the Star Wars universe feel like a real place again. All these factors edged me towards giving The Force Awakens a favourable nod, yet there is something intangible about Episode VII that makes it feel like a Star Wars movie, a spirit that the prequels failed to capture (although I should add that I think the Clone Wars animated series does).

It’s this impossible to put your finger on ‘x factor’ that swung the movie in a favourable direction for me. Inevitably it already has its detractors, but people my age just need to get over the fact that it’s not going to be like it was when you first watched A New Hope or Empire or Jedi when you were six or seven years old. The cruel world of death and taxes inevitably soils your sense of wonder to some degree. Such is life.

I won’t bother to blather on about the plot here, there are plenty places you can go to for a full throated review of the narrative, spoilers and all. What then does the movie have going for it, I hear you cry? First, the two leads; Daisy Ridley does a hugely impressive job of carrying the weight of the movie on young untested shoulders, with John Boyega putting in a grand turn as comic foil playing a deserting stormtrooper (specialisation – sanitation. Can’t they get droids the clean the traps?) Harrison Ford pretty much phones in his performance, but you get the sense that playing Solo again feels like putting on a comfy old jacket for him. His scenes with Carrie Fisher carry an emotional depth that betrays thirty years of their characters unseen travails with a glance and gesture almost sans dialogue, a masterpiece of small acting and ‘show, don’t tell’ direction. Abrams understands that stories are ultimately, all about characters.

New droid BB8 is endearing rather than irritating, and the already much maligned by fandom Kylo Ren is pitch perfect as the wannabe dark jedi with anger management issues. Yes you want to give him a hiding, but surely that’s a tribute to the Adam Driver’s portrayal of who Ren is as a character. A dislikable sulky little wretch who didn’t get enough cuddles off his mum and now wants to go round blowing up planets because of it.

Plenty of questions are raised along the way, neatly setting up the story arc for episodes VIII and IX, and the ending is a classic cliffhanger; Abrams knows to always leave ‘em wanting more. On this showing I await the next instalment with renewed excitement.

First of all, a very happy new year to all those souls that have stumbled across my humble well of interwebbery since it crept into cyberspace late last year!

With any luck and with time and finances permitting, one of my first projects for 2016 will be sprucing up the blog to make it a more aesthetically pleasing experience, with lots more visual elements added to complement my wonderful/wildly self indulgent adventures in prose.

There’s certainly no shortage of material to blog about. I’m pretty optimistic for getting plenty of film related posts out in 2016, with a fair few old faves from the VHS era popping up on YouTube and demanding a retrospective (Blood Beach and Timestalkers being two particular rough diamonds from a misspent youth in front of the box). On the mainstream front, Dawn of Justice has me cautiously excited, and I’m pretty certain there’ll be plenty of under the radar cinematic delicacies from the indie circuit that draw my attention.

Away from the underbelly of cinema, I hope to be posting semi-regular updates on my Warhammer 40,000 Astra Militarum army, having picked up the hobby baton again in the winter with renewed vigour. I’ll be posting pics and waffling on about all sorts of ephemera relating to my love of painting toy soldiers and gaming in the grim darkness of the 41st Millennium. Who knows, I might even get motivated to start planning and writing the long gestating campaign idea I have roaming around the old grey matter.

Last but not least I have a stack of genre related fiction on the kindle to start ploughing through, not least Bloodrush, the first part of an alternate history fantasy western by indie author Ben Galley (check out his Emaneska series). After that there is more First Law material promised from the great Joe Abercrombie to look forward to. Exciting times.

Onwards and upwards!