The “Circus Theory” of entertainment, Or why Marvel need more fire eaters

When I spent my spare time dressing in lycra and throwing other men around a squared circle I learnt a lot about how to organise a show to maximise the enjoyment of the audience. It’s a simple theory that my close friend and co-host Mike has quoted at me so many times – a show should always be like a circus. In itself it sounds a bit daft, so let me explain.

The Circus is a single show, you sit down and for an hour or more you are entertained. However, the key is that during that time you will experience so many different acts. It could be the acrobats swinging through the air, the Clowns tumbling, the stunt bikers or the fire eaters risking their lives, if you don’t like one you will like the next, or the next. There will be something that keeps you on the edge of your seat and you will go away thinking about.

We applied the same idea to a wrestling show. You would have a hard hitting match between two technical experts, a fast paced highflying stunt-fest, a dramatic tag team match, a comedy match and finish with a no holds barred hard-core match. They were all wrestling matches but we added in variety so that there was always a match that would stand out for everyone in the audience. 9 times out of 10 this worked perfectly (as long as the matches were good!).

In essence … variety is the spice of life.

So how does this apply to Marvel? I have read Marvel comics on and off for years and enjoyed quite a lot of what I have read. In the last few years however I would say that the majority of what they have to offer is stale and cookie cutter bland. It’s not for want of trying; they have introduced new characters and had some interesting and talented creators work for them. The problem is the majority of the output is a homogenous mass of superhero noise with a couple of outliers that try, sometime successfully, to break the mould (Jeff Lemire’s Moon Knight, Tom King’s Vision, Jason Aaron’s Mighty Thor). They are all slight variations of the simplest of acts; flashy crisis / event driven cartoons with snappy dialogue and humour. This sounds like a good comic, right? It would be but when it makes up 95% of the companies output it gets very boring.

Even when they start with a flair for something different, like Jason Aarons Doctor Strange run, they soon fall back into the standard fare. It’s like the “House Style” leaks into everything and eventually makes it all the same. They have the their “Fresh Start” coming in May 2018 which I am sure will be a loud and fabulous tidal wave of more of the same.

DC isn’t completely free of this but they keep it contained and seem to have found a way of using it. Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman, the stories often run in cycles and they will never push the boundaries too far. At least in the main run. They use it like a warm blanket, a patchwork quilt of continuity and nostalgia. The difference is that they are actually different characters. The Superman books always feel different from the Batman books which feel different from the Green Lantern books etc.

That wouldn’t be enough on its own, the house style does leak in. So what has kept them a step above? They acknowledge that variety is important. They have multiple worlds they dip into time and time again and use them to try something different; Earth 2 in the New 52 era was interesting for this. They have Else World stories, like the current “Batman: White Knight” story that is playing out an idea that could never be used in the main Batman book. In addition to that they have created imprints that have stretched the possibilities of comics and the superhero world. Swamp Thing, Constantine and Sandman all pushed the boundaries in ‘Vertigo’ during the 90s. More recently they have created the new Imprint ‘Young Animal’ which has allowed creators to push the boundaries of imagination with Shade the Changing Girl, Doom Patrol and Mother Panic, all of which can and do interact with the main DC continuity.

So what we have is two companies producing very similar products:

The first company producing a large quantity of similar products centred on a central style. They rely on customer good will and nostalgia or the love of specific characters that then appear in almost every book (Deadpool at the moment). The result is that customers start to drop off as they tire of not being challenged or being given something slightly different.

The second seems to have learnt a lesson. They also court the sense of nostalgia that exists for their top tier characters and have a habit of over saturation for hot property characters (Harley Quinn, we’re looking at you!). However they have also found a way to challenge those ideas and concepts. Moreover, they have created avenues for creators to really push the boundaries of imagination. A sandpit part of the universe that not only has Batman and Wonder Woman but also a snarky English magician con-man and a team of heroes that live on a teleporting transvestite street called Danny.

I will always want something fun and exciting from my nostalgia character superhero books. They are the bread and butter of the comic book industry and when done well can be great, we all love the acrobats. These are not always enough, for me at least, sometimes I want something different like a fire eater. Then I will look to the fringes and check out something like Doom Patrol or Hellblazer. That means my money is going to go the company that will provide me a Variety Show in their superhero offerings.

Does a hero stop being a hero when they kill?

When you’re a kid you are taught basic black and white rules of morality. Don’t steal, don’t lie and of course don’t kill. As you get older you start to understand that there are moral grey areas. Situations when these steadfast rules of right and wrong are called into question. When certain wrongs could be right. This can start an interesting debate about how best to react to a situation. What is the best moral stance?

Action movies often (if not always) throw these ethics out the window and hope that you, as viewer, are happy to just go along with the ride. You are given a protagonist who is thrown into a situation and must fight for their life or save someone. Simple.

Ok so let’s talk Die Hard. John McClane is trapped in a building with armed men, willing to kill to get what they want. They put him and others under threat. Throughout the film McClane responds with deadly force. In this situation we can accept that killing is inevitable and in this case acceptable, as it is his only way of survival.  

In both Rambo First Blood (1982) and Terminator 2 (1991) we get a direct response to the need to kill. In First Blood Rambo uses brutal but non-lethal methods to take down the police. Rambo is highly skilled and able to use those skills to prevent the killing and lets the Sheriff know that it could have been different. This is a change from the book and makes Rambo a smarter and more dangerous character. The holding back displays a humanity that I think is missing from some actions heroes.

In Terminator 2 it is established that the T800 has detailed files on human anatomy to make it a more efficient killer. However, when given a directive that it should not kill it is able to do so, again using non-lethal (if sill crippling) force.

We can take from this that being skilled in killing means that the hero should be less likely to kill. They need to demonstrate a restrain and have an ability to disarm and stop an attacker, rather than just kill them. Going back to John McClane, we can see that being a New York cop in a desperate situation and not a skilled one-man army the killing is an act of survival rather than attack. Morally, McClane is in a different situation.

You then have the satire of the situation. Robocop is programmed to be a skilled one-man army machine. It is demonstrated in the film that he can disarm a perp without killing when the woman is held at gun point. He has pinpoint accuracy. Plus, he is mostly bullet proof, which reduces the threat level. So, when he walks into a dug den and starts wantonly killing everyone in sight I have ask whether this is satire or if Robocop is failing as a hero.

Taking this to the extreme we get to Batman or as Tim Burton would have us see him, Murderman. In the 1989 Batman film he blows up a chemical factory that we have just seen is manned by goons and quite possibly unwitting factory workers. Not to mention the fact that he has just released god know what into the environment to affect anyone living in the area around the factory. Later he opens fire on a parade with a level of accuracy that would make a Storm Trooper proud. Bullets and shrapnel flying everywhere. Don’t tell me people weren’t hurt after that! In Batman Returns (1992) he has taken it to the next level when he just drops sticks of dynamite down some baddies trousers. This is supposed to be the most skilled martial artist in the world yet he can’t resist a bit of killing.

Ok, I know that Batman is more fantasy but the principle stands. If John Rambo and the Terminator can take the moral high ground over you, you’re in trouble. Spiderman has it right, with great power comes great responsibility. If you are skilled killer, then you should be skilled enough not to kill. I really do think that falling back on just killing in action films is a fault of the writers. The best and most interesting heroes are not just machines they know that lives matter.

I’m not saying I want the cheesy white bread characters of the early 20th century. What I am saying is that we have moved past the killing and destruction without consequence of the 80’s and 90’s. In this day and age, it is more important than ever before for the heroes that are being presented to the world to be shown to consider their actions and the consequences they will have.

Good sequels and Bad

I am really looking forward to seeing The Shape of Water when it released in Feb in the UK. It’s an original film from a fantastically creative film maker and it looks amazing. I must confess though, I am more excited for The Predator, Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War.

This year there are more than 30 sequels coming out at the cinema and I am sure that I will watch a good portion of them. Although, the way sequels are treated is funny. Fans and movie goers in general, myself included, lament the lack of original movies coming out but we love to see the on-going adventures of characters we know and love. The trick to making a sequel successful is to make it interesting and fresh while not affecting what has gone before or changing what is at the core of the character.

If we look at a couple of movie series that have multiple sequels we can see where some have succeeded and others have failed, at least in my opinion. Now I am going to discount any series based on books (Harry Potter, Hunger Games etc) as they have a template to work from.

To end on a positive note let’s start with two film series that I mostly enjoy but have followed a very similar path and as a result are at a low point. The Terminator and Alien.

They both start with a small sci-fi horror concept, one a haunted house the other a slasher film. Each gained attention and success by creating a complete world and just dropping the viewer in them. The follow ups take that concept and instead of treading the same ground, up the ante. Aliens and T2 are examples of perfect sequels being great movies in their own right, while building on what was established in the first films. James Cameron being the director and creative force behind each is a testament to his talent.

Unfortunately, after that is where its starts to fall apart. In both cases the third film in the franchise tries to do something new, without really respecting the characters that have been established. Both T3 and Alien 3 have uneven tones and do not feel like extensions of the stories that have already been told. In my opinion Alien 3 is a better film that T3. This could have just been a wobble overall but the issues continue.

The fourth instalments in each series (Terminator: Salvation and Alien: Resurrection) are jumps forward in time and force story telling conceits to keep certain characters in play. Both ignore key elements of the past films in favour of trying to standalone. They are shallow and forced. I would even go as far as to say that both have a negative effect on the films that have come before by taking characters in a poor direction.

In both cases this should have been the end. Profits and credibility were low but there was going to be more. In recent years, we have had Prometheus (and Covenant) and Terminator: Genysis which have both tried to rewrite the history of what has come before. I would suggest that that the result is mostly negative and in some ways insulting to fans of the series.

As I say, both are at a low point now but I am sure we will get some form of movie continuation at some point. The only thing I can hope for is that we get a sequel that is honest to what the heart of the franchise is about.

On the flip side is a series of films that have reinvented themselves to become one of the biggest money makers of recent years. Much like Alien and Terminator the Fast and Furious films start with a small and tight concept. It was nothing new but it was fun did better than expected, it was bound to get a sequel. The following two films try different approaches but always keep the core fun, if daft, elements in play … and fast cars, lots and lots of fast cars. The fourth film in the series is the most interesting for me, it goes back to the beginning but starts to grow the focus of the first three. They move from underground racers being involved in crime to crime stories centred on core characters that happen to be excellent race drivers.

This is taken to the next level in 5, with the addition of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. 5 through 8 are crazy crime action movies. They have massive set pieces and explosions, and they took a middling franchise into one of the most successful of the 21st century.

Another example of knowing your franchise but keeping it fresh is the Mission Impossible series. Each film since the first in 1996 has had a different director that has brought a different tone and feel but they have kept the similar sense of fun action and big stunts. Doing so they have gone from strength to strength, with the 6th instalment coming in 2018.

I know that these are very different beasts and that the F&F and MI series is are more pulp action nonsense overall. However, there is something very important that the Terminator and Alien franchise can learn from them. People want to see these characters do what they do. It’s why Bond has 25 films, why Rocky never started MMA, it’s also why people get so frustrated with the Hellraiser franchise (that’s a blog for another day).

As movie goers, we cry out for new and fresh concept and characters and stories. These will always excite and intrigue us. However, let’s be honest, as some studios have shown over the decades, if you put time, effort and money into a well thought out sequel you will satisfy fans and bring in new people as well as make a ton of cash.

Christmas Dinner Movie Menu

As we dance and prance towards Christmas day and the break from work and the usual rat race it provides, I know that many of you will be filling your hours with festive traditions. One of the more modern traditions that has taken hold is the watching of Christmas Movies, usually the same few that tap into family appreciation and nostalgia.

We’re no different in my household, I love Christmas movies. Every year my wife marks the start of the festive season by watching ‘Love Actually’. We watch ‘it’s a wonderful life’, ‘Four Christmases’ and ‘Home Alone’ 1 &2 together at some point in the first few weeks of December. My daughter is starting to find her own favourites in ‘Elf’ and ‘Frosty the Snowman’, which we sit and watch with her.

These are all sweet, fun and fill you with the warmth of happiness and the potential of the season. They are great but they all have a Ying to their Yang. I love the sweet but I love savoury as well, like ‘Gremlins’, ‘Batman Returns’ and

So, to celebrate the season I have created a Christmas Day menu of sweet and Savoury Movie treats.

Ladies and Gentleman, what would you like for Dinner?


~ Starters ~

Option 1: A small bowl of spicy Gremlins, accompanied by fresh A Nightmare Before Christmas

Option 2: A Home Alone melt with a New York style sequel for dipping

~ Main Meal ~

*Option 1: Several large slices of The Santa Clause, with roasted Grinch and a baked Bad Santa

*Option 2: Poached Krampus, with a cheeky portion of A Miracle on 34th street and matured National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

*both served with generous servings of It’s a wonderful life gravy.

~ Dessert ~

Option 1: A scoop of A Muppets Christmas Carol topped with lashings of Elf

Option 2: A slice of Scrooged drizzled with rich dark Batman Returns

~ Coffee ~

Option 1: A smooth cup of Die Hard with a sprinkling of Jingle all the way

Option 2: A hot pot of The Holiday with a choice of creamy computer generated Christmas Carol or a selection of Four Christmases

~ Wine ~

Red: A dark and full bodied Black Christmas

White: A fruity and light White Christmas

~ Beers & Ciders ~

Cider: A dry but fruity bottle of chilled Lethal Weapon

Beer: A Belgian import, a tall glass of In Bruges

My Top 5 Haunted House films

The haunted house has been a staple of cinema since the beginning. Cob webbed shadowy corridors and creaking doors used to varying effect to create that perfect spooky atmosphere. I love a good ghost story but so often I think it is done poorly. I really dislike the Insidious film series for their reliance on jump and noise scares rather than fear and tension … just my opinion. While I can find something to enjoy in the run of ghost film remakes like 13 Ghosts (2001), The House on Haunted Hill (1999) or The Haunting (1999), they don’t deliver the creepy horror I love in a good haunted house film.

Below is a list of my top 5 favourite Haunted House films:

1.       The changeling (1980) – After the death of his wife and daughter George C. Scott moves to a renovated mansion to focus on his music and work through his grief. His time in the house is soon interrupted by noises in the night and distant whispering voices. This opens up into a mystery that is preventing the unquiet spirit from moving on.  The Changeling uses its locations and sound brilliantly to unnerve the viewer. The film is laced with tragedy and lose, which makes the final reveal the more impactful and shocking.

As a side note, I should mention that the events of the film are loosely based on events that the screenwriter claimed happened to him when he lived in a town house in the mid-60s.

2.       Poltergeist (1982) – For years there have been tales of the production of Poltergeist and who was actually in charge on set, Producer Steven Spielberg or Director Tobe Hooper. Regardless of who actually ‘directed’ the film, the fact remains that this is one of my favourite horror films. It is the quintessential modern haunted house film, clearly influenced by the events of Amityville. 

The standard American family living in a good neighbourhood where the kids can play safely. It is template 80’s Americana. This is then be shattered by the ‘abduction’ of the youngest daughter, leading to the acceptance and handling of the supernatural presence. There are moments that stretch the suspension of disbelief (a tree attack!) but the overall film is a masterclass is quiet drama being punctuated with hard hitting scares. More so than The Amityville Horror (1979), this film helped move ghost stories from gothic mansions to modern suburban homes.

3.       The Others (2001) – As I mentioned in the opening, in the late 90’s, early 00’s Gothic horror was not in vogue. It was replaced by loud, more action orientated horror (13 Ghosts / The House on Haunted Hill / Ghosts of Mars). However, in 2001 Alejandro Amenabar wrote and directed the first Spanish entry on this list, the Spanish/American produced The Others. A magnificent gothic tale that plays like a novel.

The film lays interesting and believable constraints on its protagonists, as to why they cannot leave the haunted location. Trapping them in with the fear, unable to escape. This makes for great conflict as we watch Nicole Kidman’s lead start to unravel as she deals with events that she does not want to believe are real, while trying to protect her children. The tension and scares culminate is a successful twist and a satisfying ending that a lot of modern horror films lack.

4.       Paranormal Activity (2007) – Found footage films are the lowest budget films that can be made. This usually means they are a gateway into Hollywood for armature or up-coming film makers, but they are usually poor. Every now and then though a film comes up that understand how to use the format to great effect. For me, Paranormal Activity nailed it.

The film follows a couple that have moved into a new house and quickly start to experience strange goings on. The hand-held camera footage is given justification and I am pulled into the daily goings on of the couple and their friends. This is then used to great effect later to build tension and for the viewer. The Camera doesn’t always focus on the central point, so you are pushed to take in the whole screen to look for the scare. The tension builds in this films to an excellent open ended pay off, the way a found footage film should. 

5.       The orphanage (2007) – “Presented” by Guillermo Del Toro but the creation of Director J. A. Bayona. I will admit that this being a subtitled film meant that it took me a while to get around to watching it. I am so glad that I eventually did. A woman returns with her family to the orphanage in which she grew up to reopen it as a home for children. However, things take a tragic turn when her son goes missing. This one event starts to pull together strands for a mystery involving her past as well as that of ghosts trapped in the orphanage.

Oscar Faura’s cinematographer is beautiful throughout. He and Bayona use the central building and its cliff side local to create a sense of isolation and timelessness. This accentuates the fear and tension as the film grows to its tragic gut punch of a conclusion.

5 Haunting Horror films based on true stories (aside from Amityville Horror).

When I started researching this I was expecting to find a glut of films that would fit this category in the 70s and 80s. There were a couple but they were a bit tenuous (The Exorcist). It seemed more like a nugget of a real-life event was taken and then turned into something completely different. I suppose this way no one extra had to be paid. This changes in the early 2000’s and from 2005 onwards we have had a continual stream of Horror Movies based on ‘real events’. This has culminated in the Conjuring films, based on the accounts of the Warrens.

Below is a list of 5 films that are based on alleged real paranormal events:

1.       An American Haunting (2005)

Events: in 1817 the Bell family started to suffer an alleged haunting by a ghostly witch. It started when the head of the family, John Bell, came across a strange animal in his corn field. Shocked by the animal’s appearance he opened fire, the animal vanished. That night for the first time, the family were bombarded by a beating sound on the side of their home. From that point on the haunting got worse.

The noises continued. Sometimes outside the house, other times in the same room as members of the Bell family. Many people as well as the family reporting the sounds as well as seeing and feeling things within the house over several years.

Whatever the entity was that was haunting the family it made its final attack in 1820, when it allegedly poisoned and killed John Bell. Laughing loudly as he took his final breathes. It is said that the ghost returned in 1828 for a short time but was not heard of again after that.

This is regarded as one of the earliest and most wide spread hauntings in American History.

Film: The film has got an interesting cast with Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek and several up and coming actors at the time. It has an interesting modern wrap around mechanism as access into the period setting. It also maintains the actual, relative down beat, ending of the legend but condenses the haunting period of years to what feels like months. While the film maintains the haunted happenings the scares and tension never really amount to much, it was only a 12 (PG-13).

It was an interesting exercise in period drama horror, however I think this would have been better if it had either been more stylised (ala Sleepy Hollow) or tried for some harder edged scares and content (ala Annabelle Creation).

2.       The exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

Events: The film is based on the tragic events that lead to the death of German woman Anneliese Michel. She dies in 1976 suffering from malnourishment and dehydration after months of being subjected to exorcist practices.

After suffering a seizure at the age of 16 Anneliese began to suffer increasing periods of depression. These low points and neuroses began to become focused on religious artefacts. A huge concern for a girl that came from such a religiously devoted family. Soon both she and her family became convinced that she was possessed by something evil. After several attempts the family convinced two priests that she needed intervention.

This started the exorcisms that eventually led to her death. Following her death her parents and the two priests were prosecuted for murder. They were found guilty of negligent homicide. This also forced the Catholic church to distance itself from the case and change its stance to state that she had been mentally ill and not in fact possessed by an evil force.

Film: They take a leap with this film as the story is told in retrospect, dealing with the court case that follows the death of Emily Rose. This is not a film about whether they can save the possessed girl, we know the answer is no. The film spends more time dealing with the question of whether she was possessed at all. It’s an interesting conceit and that isn’t fully explored. If they had had the confidence in the audience, it would have been a better film. However, they never want to completely condemn the priest.

In a better film, he would have been played as a more unreliable narrator. There would have been more uncertainty about whether she was possessed or if the priest hadn’t been obsessed due to his religious zeal.

That said, the film is good fun and the core cast are mostly good. This is a solid possession horror film with an interesting concept. The frustration is that this had the potential to be something more and elevate the genre and story into a classic.

3.       The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)

Events: of all the ‘True Events’ on this list, this is the one that has the most holes. This is the first but not the last appearance of the Warrens on this list and their paws are all over this.  The haunting was alleged to have focused around the House and son of the Snedecker family, who was suffering from a form of Cancer. Minor events were reported but nothing of great note. That is when the Warrens got involved and the story became ‘clearer’.

The entity harassing the family was supposed to have been linked to the previous use of the house as a mortuary. It was stated that there were several employees of the mortuary that practiced necromancy and necrophilia. It was the spirits of these people that were returning at the heart of the events.

This did lead to several grander events. This included the son attacking his cousin and being held in a mental health ward for a period. However, following Ed Warren’s death in … several people linked with the investigation and the documenting of the events admitted that Ed told them to embellish what they knew in any way they could think of to make it scary.

The House is still occupied and the current occupants have frequently stated that they have never experienced any paranormal activity.

Film: The movie has a couple of well-placed scares and some moments of tension, however the overall film is very pedestrian. The facts from the true events are close enough regarding the house and its history. However, elements of the family are changed for safety. The focus on the main son having cancer is reduced.

There is little to say about this film really. It’s competently made, the acting is sufficient and its creepy at times but it just feels very run of the mill and safe for this genre. It’s a shame really because again, like the Exorcism of Emily Rose, this has the potential to add an element of ambiguity and tension with a just a few changes. Could the son’s illness have been at the root of the events? Could it be suggested in the film that this was a hoax to raise money to cover medical costs.

It’s worth checking out if you are a fan of the genre but there are better films on this list.

4.       The Conjuring (2013)

Events: Ah the Warrens. The couple that have now become synonymous with modern haunted house movies, thanks mostly to this film. As is usually the case, the story the Warren’s tell is very different from the truth the family have sated. The Perron family lived in the house at the heart of the story of a decade and the hauntings were spread over this while period.

The haunting was centred around the spirit of an alleged witch called Bathsheba Sherman who died in 1885. There is little evidence that she was in fact a witch, however it was alleged that she killed several infants as sacrifices to the devil. The haunting took on several aspects for the different inhabitants. Some saw apparitions, others were physically attacked but all the heard the noises and voices.

The haunting was never fully resolved. The case may have been closed by the Warren’s however after the Perron’s sold the house in 1980 there were further reports of ghostly activity. This is an event that I think deserves a more attention and possibly a closer adaptation of the story.

Film: Forgetting the alterations of the history this was a return to form for haunted house films. I really enjoyed the tone and feel of the film. It’s has an excellent sense of creepiness and uneasiness running through it. There are some incredibly well placed and paced scares that are incredibly effective.

The strength of the film is in the first two thirds. The build-up of the family dynamic and the relationship that grows with the Warrens. This investment in characters underlines the tension and scares. However, this is partially undone by a clichéd and overly dramatic finale. This will most likely be regarded as a milestone in horror history however it just falls shy of becoming a horror classic. I won’t even go into the dreadful sequel and Annabelle spin-offs. This Franchise has such potential but is being squandered on cheap jump scares and poorly written and preposterous characters.

5.       Deliver us form Evil (2014)

Events: The book ‘Deliver us from evil’ written by Lisa Collier Cool, chronicles the supernatural cases of former New York Police officer Ralph Sarchie. It is set up to be like the real life X-files. It covers a number of cases of possession and ghostly attacks that are alleged to be related to crimes that were left unsolved. Of course, they have been solved by Sarchie but the truth would not be accepted by the public.

Sarchie has appeared on several podcasts, radio and TV shows to promote the book and Film, telling his tales of the supernatural that lives in the Bronx. Demon neighbours, ghostly vengeful brides and the exorcisms that were carried out to save the people involved. Its sounds like he was a busy guy, maybe the Bronx is over a hell mouth and they would have been better off with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Film: Eric Bana is a New York cop that starts to uncover a conspiracy of soldiers possessed by demons from the middle east. The plot is a little daft and the direction is not subtle in anyway however this odd combination of horror and cop drama is fun if not scary. Bana is committed to the role and is sufficiently brooding and earnest about it all. It does all fall a part in the finale, as they usually do. If these events are alleged to have happened I am sure that someone in the media would have noticed.

A fun film for Halloween or with a few beers but not a solid recommend.

Dr Strange or: How I stopped worrying and learned to love the Mouse

Last night, while talking about the new Star Wars film a friend of mine mentioned that she hadn’t seen and wouldn’t watch The Force Awakens or the Last Jedi. I can understand this if her reasoning was that she wasn’t a fan of Star Wars or Sci-fi but when I asked why she stated “I hate Disney.” Now that is a pretty strong statement. To hate something, anything is a definitive position so I wanted to know more about how she had gotten to this point.

When I asked, she explained that Disney was a cynical money making machine that takes any property it can get its hands on an rape it for every penny. The properties she was most update about and used as examples were Winnie the Pooh and Robin Hood. Getting to the core of it she felt that Disney was responsible for taking elements of British Culture and repackaging it or Americanising it and then selling it back to the younger generation.

During the discussion, she asked, why can’t anything be kept sacred and just have the purest form be given to each generation? I have my own opinions on this and as I drove home I thought about it more and why I’m actually ok with Disney and how they treat properties. I am a fan of the Marvel movies and have enjoyed all of them, to varying degrees. However, despite some missteps one of the things that I think Disney has always been spot on is the characterisations and adaptations of the main characters. They have evolved the characters but kept their soul.

As I do with most things I broke it down into different elements, which I have highlighted below. These are probably commons sense but they are worth repeating.

Evolve or die, but keep the essence

When my friend mentioned the fact that Disney had ‘raped’ the Winnie the Pooh books and that the A.A. Milne estate should not have sold the books, something very important struck me. I haven’t read the Winnie the pooh books since I was a kid. Also, that I am more familiar with the Disney version than the original, not that I think they are that different. Is this a bad thing? No, the fact is that is if the Disney version did not exist then the original would probably be lost to time apart from the few that pass the stories or books down the generations. However, that would not last forever.

The fact that several generations have had newer, glossier versions has meant that they have been introduced to the characters old and new from Hundred-acre wood. Each iteration a slightly updated version, keeping it relevant. The Key however, and this is what Disney have cracked, is keeping the essence of the character. Pooh Bear is not the only character that has survived through evolution.

To provide an example of both sides of the coin let’s look at a couple of other characters. The best one I can think of in recent years is Sherlock Holmes. I don’t think any other character has benefitted from evolution. The original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are great and worth being read, more on that later, but a stuffy Victorian detective is not an easy sell to a modern audience. So over time you have had different versions, each providing something new to the mythos while bringing the old to a new audience. In the 80’s we had Spielberg’s ‘Young Sherlock Holmes’ and Disney’s ‘Basil the great mouse detective’, I’m a fan of each and it was the former that introduced me to the original stories.

However, the most successful evolution of the character has come more recently with the BBC series Sherlock. The essence of the character has been maintained but they have moved the setting to modern London. This has stood head and shoulders over the American versions (Sherlock Holmes movies and the Holmes TV series) not because its British but because it has better writing and acting. This version has reignited interest in the character and the concept of the great detective.

Let’s look at the other side of the coin and a character born in the same period, Tarzan. The film released in 2016, The Legend of Tarzan looked glossy and well-made but it was a flop. Having seen it I can understand why. While the special effects and acting were all good, the story was so A to B simple that it may have engrossed an audience in the 1930’s but something more needs to be done for a modern audience. I would even go so far as to state that the Disney version (1999) is a better version and story. So, the character of Tarzan is little known by younger people and if is at risk being considered an anachronism and being cast aside. This is tragic as the character and concept are fantastic and in the hands a good writer and director I can imagine a modern telling making an interesting social commentary on nature vs. nurture, what it is to have mixed heritage and / or how the modern social class structure treats people.

The point is, that without these modern versions the character of Sherlock Holmes would become irrelevant, just as Tarzan is at risk of being. In this fickle world if you’re not relevant then you get taken over by other characters that are. This means that some amazing parts of culture past get lost and forgotten. I could add in a list here of so many great characters that have fallen by the wayside because they either failed to adapt or evolve (think The Shadow vs Batman or Alan Quartermaine vs. Indiana Jones). 

Grant Morrison provided a Limbo world for such characters in the DC universe. Introduced in Animal Man #25 and then expanded upon in Final Crisis. This concept is further explored in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. These forgotten characters are all in there, waiting to be rediscovered and given a new glossy coat, ready for a brand-new audience.

Gateway drugs

With new iterations of characters not only do we get more relevant versions, more people are made aware of the original source material. The newer versions are a gateway and that is a good thing. In all cases the original and / or the best iterations of things do not go away, they are always there. However, if they are presented to you directly then you need to be given a map.

Consider Winnie the Pooh and Sherlock Holmes again. The original stories for each are really good and should be visited again and again by old and new audiences. Yet, do you think sales of the books of these stories would be as high-without BBC’s Sherlock or Disney’s Winnie the Pooh? Of course not.

As I mentioned above I was introduced to the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories after seeing ‘Young Sherlock Holmes’. I now have a wonderful Hardback collection that I dip into now and then. As a kid I don’t think I could have been sold on Sherlock and his detecting solely on someone telling me about them. In order for me to get through the older language and story structure I needed to already be invested in the character. My first taste was free, I had to work to get more and it was worth it.

The same can be said of Winnie the Pooh. The books are great but in the market of so many children’s books why pick up one book about a little bear over another? Well, if your child has seen the Disney version then they will choose Pooh Bear, probably the better choice. If they love those books then hopefully they will pass them on.

More than that it will hopefully open the doors to other literature that they may not have thought about otherwise, as they get older. A.A. Milne might lead to Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl. Or Conan Doyle might lead to Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming. I am willing to bet that more people reach these other authors and stories via modern films and comics than picking them up directly.

As a final note, regardless of what you think about the 2001 – 2003 Lord of the Rings films it cannot be denied that those films opened a door to both Tolkien and Fantasy Fiction for a whole new generation. Book sales soared and people got hooked. There is a knock-on effect. Without those films, we would not have ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘The Shannara Chronicles’. You can enjoy these both as books and TV shows.

Selective selection

A further point that my friend made was the absolute glut of merchandise that Disney produce to sell to kids. As well as all the half-hearted cash-in tie ins and spin-offs. Now as a comic book geek, I am very used to this mentality and how to deal with it. While I completely understand her point, there is a truth that must be accepted, Disney is a business and it is supposed to make money. It will produce whatever it can to make money it is up to us as consumers to vote with our money.

I know that I can go into almost any supermarket in the western world and buy some form of Disney merchandise. Does that mean that it’s all top quality and worth having? Not at all. It is therefore up to me to select what I buy and what I buy for my kids. Buy quality and what matters to you. If you want a bath towel with Cinderella or Yoda on, you can. If you don’t want to dilute your version of a character then simply walk on by.

There is no point getting upset about merchandise or add on products, they will always exist. However, you can use them to enhance your pleasure or ignore them. That is up to you.

Change is coming

Before we finish I want to acknowledge that I understand that not all versions of a character are very good or in some cases even appropriate. I have used English and Western characters for my examples because that is what I grew up with and relate to. However, I am very aware that Hollywood and Disney have butchered and converted characters form other cultures into western versions. This has been and still is a weakness of character evolution and adaption in almost all formats.

However, change is coming. There is a wave of young creators that understand that diversity is a part of adaptation and evolution. Several cases of white washing have occurred and been called out by audiences in the last few years. The loudest being for 2017’s adaptation of Ghost in the Shell. A weak adaptation was affected further by western casting over obvious Asian choices.

We live in a much more diverse and varied world and audiences have started to make their preference known. We are about to enter an era of new diverse characters or old characters evolving to remain relevant. The next version of Sherlock might not be your Dads Sherlock but that doesn’t mean either version is incorrect, just that they are part of an ongoing story of evolution.

The question is who will be at the forefront of this next era of diversity in character evolution or truer adaptation? Time will tell, but lets come back to Disney. In 2018 we have Black Panther (which I am so excited for) with a majority black cast and African setting. Not something we would have got even 10 years ago. Beyond that we have got the live action Aladdin which is casting Middle Eastern and Asian actors to tell this story of Arabian Nights. That’s not to say that we are there yet there is lots of work to be done and it needs to be handled with quality and sincere productions.

I hope for a world in which my 4-year-old daughter has access to the Winnie the Pooh books and the Holmes stories. Yet she also has exciting new characters and new iterations of old characters that have been evolved to meet the desires of future audiences and say something interesting about the world they now inhabit.


The great thing about fiction is that it’s like water. It can be poured into any container, mixed with other things, even change form to fit what you want it to do but you can always take it back to its essence. Disney have poured water into many different containers and diluted it with all kinds of things. In some cases it’s become something amazing other times a stodgy mess – but the pure water will always be there for anyone that wants to take a drink.

Fact or fiction in entertainment

In October, I spent a lot of time thinking about how we, as viewers, process scares in horror films and how they have evolved over time. This flows nicely into what I will be covering in November. Earlier this year I read the book, The Amityville Horror by Jay Ansen. It was a fun and at times unnerving horror novel, however the thing that kept resonating with me was the fact that this was supposed to be an account of a true event in people’s lives. Knowing that added an element of horror however as I read on it disturbed me more and more.

It highlighted something that happens again and again in entertainment, more so in films that books. The facts of the story are adjusted, amalgamated or even omitted. Sometimes the essence of the story survives other times it gets lost in the script rewrites and editing. What does that mean for the people that lived through the events? Do we get an accurate view of events?

I have learned over time that regardless of facts, perception is truth for most people. If a film or book states “Based on True Events” then some (most?) will take that to mean that this is the truth. So when it gets questioned or fault is found in the film this then gets mixed in with questioning the validity of the true events.

There is a Hollywood version of history in which every story follows a three act structure and, for the most part, reaches a satisfying ending. I am sure that anyone reading this will be able to attest to the fact that real life is not that simple.

In November I am going to take a look at The Amityville Horror. First as a historical event, the complicated mix of fact and fiction that has become the legend. I will then be looking at how this has been represented in the media. As a follow up I will also be investigating how this event, the novel and the first film changed the direction of Haunted House films.

Evolution of the horror movie scare

As usual, before I start I have admit that I am not an expert in Horror films (despite the many, many films I have watched). This blog, as with all of them, is just my opinion and I am happy to be challenged and on anything I propose. In fact, I welcome your comments and feedback. So, let’s get stuck in.

From the earliest days of cinema Horror has been a popular genre. With films like The Golem (1915), The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919) and Nosferatu (1922) people loved being scared. Over the course of the next century the genre evolved and changed to reflect the fears of society. Also, upping the ante again and again on what the films could show to elicit fear and scares. Each generation has films that they claim are the best in genre and are the peak of fear. The question is, who is right if any of them?

I am a big fan of horror movies and enjoy the varied sub-genres for different reasons, expecting different things from them. However, there is a core conceit, I should feel a sense of fear when watching the film. It’s how that fear is evoked that might change. For example, the tension built up in the first half of ‘Halloween’ (1978) creates a sense of fear that elevates the events of the second half of the film. While the notion of Freddy Krueger in the first Nightmare in Elm Street (1984), a killer you cannot escape, is scarier than many of the actual ‘scares’ in the film. The film plays for blood rather than tension.

Since these films were released the genre has altered several times. The 80’s were filled with slasher films and low budget high gore video nasties. There were entries into the genre in the mid to late 70s that can be considered ‘classic’ films. However, the genre has always been fuelled by B-movie fare. It was these movies that became much of the output in the 80’s. unfortunately this meant that the genre was at a low point going into the 90’s. It was pulled from the doldrums by Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson with Scream (1996).

The film was a huge success and made Horror a viable commercial prospect again. As is always the case, Scream was followed by a litany of poor imitators. It also opened the channels for the ante to be upped once again. As we had had the video nasties of the 80s in the early 2000’s we were introduced to torture porn with SAW (2004) and Hostel (2005). The popular films source of scares had shifted again, now to victims literally being tortured or under threat of torture. The mechanics of the torture device might be clever but the scare had become simple and base.

I’m not a fan of these films. In fact, I find them tedious and a slog to watch. In my opinion, the acceptance of these as milestones in modern horror is the moment that the craft of creating tension and paying off with a scare was dropped. However, they were not the only films that changed the course of the genre during this period. The Blair Witch Project (1999) introduced the low budget high tension scares of the found footage format to the mainstream. It also introduced the notion of moving the focus of a threat or scare from the films characters to the viewers. This combination of excessive gore and direct viewer threat has been the main thrust of horror films for the last decade.

Things have started to change in recent years. Directors like Adam Winguard and Ti West have started to reintroduce the slow burn horror movie (House of the Devil 2009, You’re Next 2011). Are we at the start of another shift in horror? Could films like ‘Get Out’, ‘IT’, ‘Annabelle: Creation’ or even ‘Split’ drive the shift into the next iteration of popular Horror?

All these shifts and varying films are filled with different types of scares but do some work better than others? I understand that different people are effected by different scares but I also think that the art of a well-structured scare has been lost. The majority of horror films of recent years have all made the same mistake, in my opinion. There is a belief that the scare needs to be directed at the audience. This has been done over and over with loud musical stings and jump scares. Don’t get me wrong, these can be effective when used in the right place and sparingly. However, they have become the standard go to shorthand for a movie scare. By the third time something jumps out at me with a thump of noise, I check out. The other issue is that by directing these scares at the audience more than the characters they take the audience out of the experience rather than bringing them in. why should we care about a character surviving if we as the audience are continually put in their place?

It should be remembered that Horror films, like all forms of entertainment must contain a variety of elements to work. Some jump scares are fine, as long as they are accompanied by the building of tension and some well-placed reveals. The other elements that are more important are characters that matter and the audience cares about. It should be these characters, that we grow to love, that are under threat and to which the scares are directed. Fearing for these characters, I believe, is more effective than an audience directed scare. The final element is the context of the scare within the story. A scene can be well constructed, look great and have excellent effects but if the story is poor or makes no sense then everything else is for nothing.

All those different types of horror films that have been popular and fallen out of favour. All those masters of horror that have brought something new. They’re all valid and all deliver something worth watching as both movies and examples of Horror history. However, for all the differences the things that remain constant are at the heart of all good films. A good story, filled with characters we care about that is filmed well. Within that a good writer and director can introduce any types of well-constructed scares and the audience will be terrified.

What are the examples you think of that manage to blend all of these elements to make a great Horror Film?

Spiritualism and Entertainment

The idea of a life after death has fascinated and enthralled cultures all over the world throughout history. From the Egyptian Pharaohs being buried with all their worldly possessions to take with them, to the Fox sisters starting the spiritualist movement in 1848. It’s a core part of what makes us Human, the curiosity about what happens ‘next’.

For so many centuries knowledge and teachings on the spiritual were the remit of religious leaders building up or preying on an ignorant populace. This moved from churches to village and concert halls with the spooky Victorians and the Fox sisters. Access to knowledge and demonstrations of the afterlife started to spread. As is usually the case it was quickly realised that this could be a source of entertainment and more importantly, wealth. So of course, spiritual meetings and séances moved to theatres where tickets could be sold. The seats filled with people all seeking something; entertainment, a better understanding or just maybe a message from a passed loved one.

Nothing exists without an opposite also being created as a reaction. So, as the popularity of these spiritualist faith meetings grew organisations started to pop up using scientific processes to prove that these mediums and spiritualists were real or frauds. The most notable organisation in Britain was and still is The Society for Psychical Research (SPR), founded in 1882.

From their own website (

“The first scientific organisation ever to examine claims of psychic and paranormal phenomena. We hold no corporate view about their existence or meaning; rather, our purpose is to gather information and foster understanding through research and education.”

This is not to say that they are cynical sceptics, far from it. Many are looking to validate an experience or belief with some scientific evidence. Others are believers desperate to experience something paranormal.

Over the decades though notable individuals have stood alone in their attempts to prove that most if not all of it is fraudulent activity. The most famous being Harry Houdini. Houdini sought solace in spiritualism following the death of his mother, only to prove each medium he visited to be a fraud using his knowledge of illusions. He became so set on his course that it ruined his friendship with Sir Author Conan Doyle.

Conan Doyle, a member of the society for psychical research, was a dedicated believer publicly speaking passionately on the subject. He went to the extent of supporting and vouching that the Cottingley Fairy photos were genuine. Seriously, go and google these photos and you will start to see why Conan Doyle’s reputation started to tarnish as he got older.

Obviously neither man concretely proved their case before their death, as the arguments still go on between believers and sceptics. However, interest in the subject started to wane during the second world war, only being the interest of dedicate followers and old women reading tea leaves.

It was not until several high-profile cases of supernatural activity (The Amityville Horror and the Enfield Haunting) erupted into the world media and pop culture in the 70’s that things changed again. This became kick started the ‘satanic panic’ and the paranormal came on to everyone’s radar once again. This resulted in paranormal celebrities springing up. In the UK we had Uri Gellar and in America there was Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Ghosts and ghost hunters had appeared on the silver screen since the earliest horror films. Movies were one thing but people were clamoring for evidence of the real thing. However, it would seem that no one was willing to take the final step and take the risk of putting the practices of the SPR or even the Warrens on mainstream television. Not until 1992 at least.

On October 31st 1992 the BBC broadcast Ghostwatch a TV drama designed to look like a live broadcast. It used known TV presenters, not actors and a ‘live’ on location broadcast from a family’s haunted house. The show caused controversy and has become a cult sensation in Britain when it was banned for 10 years. However, it has one more legacy that can’t be ignored.

It was the jumping off point from everything that had gone before. All that desire to see a ghost, proof of an afterlife or just a quick scare … but based on ‘scientific’ evidence was funnelled through the fictional drama of Ghostwatch to become every ghost hunting show that has come since. In the UK I would refer in particular to ‘Most Haunted’, which started in 2002.

Since the early 2000’s dozens of Ghost Hunting shows have started on channels all over the world. They’re cheap to make and fun to watch. I doubt these mediums, spiritualists or ghost hunters will go away any time soon. They will just find a new medium through which to present their case and make some money. However, the question remains, whether in a church, theatre or on TV have they proven the existence of ghosts?

Do you believe?

I will be going into a lot more detail on Ghostwatch in the next episode of 20th Century Geek, when I talk with the writer and creator Stephen Volk. After that I will be looking at the other side of the coin and talk to several close friends about their own supernatural experiences.

If you have any stories please send them in (20thcenturygeek@gmail of use the contact us page) or find me on Twitter (@20thcenturygeek).


If someone asked you to describe a Zombie I’m pretty sure you would detail a decaying corpse shambling along in tattered clothes, driven only by its need to eat human flesh. A creation of a virus, chemical mishap or just maybe there being no room left in Hell. That is the accepted modern take on a Zombie. How that came to be though is not completely clear.

The reanimated dead appear in literature dating back thousands of years in different interactions. The most common origin for the modern iteration comes from the Island of Haiti. In these traditions the Zombie is a person brought back from the dead using magic to act as a slave to whoever resurrected them. This very often gets lumped in with the generic understanding of Voodoo, although Zombies have no actual basis in the Voodoo belief system.

In fact the Haitian Zombie beliefs are a mixture of different belief systems brought over by enslaved Africans and incorporating belief systems that existed in the “New World”. These ideas and beliefs became a part of popular culture in the 1920s, when America occupied Haiti between 1915 and 1934. During this time stories emerged from soldiers on the island of Zombies and how they were created and used by the inhabitants. These garnered so much attention that a book was written on the subject in 1929, The Magic Island, by William Seabrook. Following this further research was done on and around the folklore and actual case studies form the island. The result was more books and articles being published, further raising awareness of the supernatural creature.

So that’s how the walking dead entered the American conscious, but they were still to evolve, or decay if you prefer. The first time a Zombie appeared in a film was “White Zombie” in 1932, which sticks with the Haitian traditions. In fact the distributors used the case studies that had been published in the films marketing, mixing real life fear with the Horror of the film.

In the following decades Zombies would appear in several films, but a closer representation of what we know as the modern Zombie would appear in the Horror comics of the 40s and 50s. These depicted decaying bodies returning from the grave, usually to exact revenge on someone. The design was there but these were not referred to as Zombies out right. Also, they usually had a level of conscious or intelligence that would soon be stripped away.

It is not until “Night of the Living Dead” in 1968 however that we get the first sight of a shambling flesh eater. Were these Zombies though? Romero didn’t think so to begin with. In the film and its marketing, they are never referred to as Zombies. They are called Ghouls, which is a different creature of myth altogether.

It was only after the film was released that the media started to use the term when reviewing or describing the film. This was then picked up by the film maker and his audience. By the time “Dawn of the Dead” in 1978 was released the term was accepted for what we know today.

This of course has evolved since then and the name Zombie is now synonymous with the undead flesh eating walking corpse. There have been several sub-interactions that have sprung up in the decades since Dawn of the Dead. In the 80s “Return of the living dead” (1985) brought us brain eating Zombies. More recently we have had the introduction of the running Zombie in films such as “28 days Later” (2002) and the “Dawn of the Dead” (2004) remake. The original Zombie form does occasionally pop up again though. Most notably in the 1988 Wes Craven film “The Serpent and the Rainbow”.

Whether in the fore or back ground of a story Zombies can be used to have an impact on an audience. They have become so popular for simple low budget gore horror films as an easy way to get some splatter on screen (too many to name!). They are also used as a satire of who we are as a society at our base level (Dawn of Dead – 1978). Or most recently and possibly the most popular vision is the Walking Dead in both its comic and TV format. Delving into what we would do after the Zombie Apocalypse and survive the inevitable collapse of society?

It would seem quite appropriate that as a creature of horror and storytelling, since they shambled into pop culture almost a hundred years ago, they just won’t die. So what are the Zombie films you need to check out? I have put a list of the top 10, in my opinion, below:

1.    White Zombie (1932)

2.    Night of the Living Dead (1968)

3.    Dawn of the dead (1978)

4.    Return of the Living Dead (1985)

5.    The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

6.    28 days later (2002)

7.    Shaun of the dead (2004)

8.    Dawn of the Dead (2004)

9.    Quarantine (2008)

10. Zombieland (2009)


Werewolves and Werewolf Movies

Stories of people changing into animals, especially wolves, have been a part of cultural mythos since ancient Greece. Those are the ones that have been written down; it is very likely that these stories go back even further. Some suggest that a story appearing in such similarity in such vastly different parts of the world can be taken as evidence that these creatures are real. However, I think it says more about the human condition than the existence of supernatural beings.

Wolves and bears were the apex predators in remote early civilisations. So it was no wonder that they were seen with such reverence and that people wanted to emulate or turn into that. In fact the word Berserker comes from the name given to crazed Norse warriors who wore Bear skins into battle. They were called Bear Shirts, taking the strength and viciousness of the animals into battle.

This idea of taking on the aspects of an animal have survived and been co-opted into other myths, such as the vampires. In addition to this the structure of the story started to take form and the monster went from being a figure to revere to one of fear. It stopped being something that people wanted to take on to become a curse that was laid on them, something that they could not control and would now manifest with the cycle of the moon.

In fact this linking with the lunar cycle became so embedded as an idea that is was accepted as reality at one point. You will have head the cliché of the crazies come out on a full moon, in fact the word Lunatic actually comes from this very idea.

So what changed in us for the story to change? Well, we grew up, become civilised and repressed our animal urges. The stories of the beast being unleashed had shifted from being one of warrior bravery to representing the release of violent sexual desire. This is the story structure that becomes standard with the birth of film. The person that became cursed is usually lusting after someone but cannot have them because the beast would be let loose. Finally they have to be put down or be sacrificed to prevent the beast from attacking again (The Wolf-man 1941)

It is only in the latter half of the 20th century that the animal side starts to be represented as something that could be embraced. The sexual awakening of the 60s and 70s made it ok to be more promiscuous, and so the beast becomes a sexual release to be revered once again (The howling). This is reclaimed in later films when not only the animal but the cyclical nature of the change is taken on by female werewolves in Ginger Snaps (2000).

Werewolves may not be as sexy as Vampires or as satirical as Zombies but they definitely have more to say about us as a society. What we want and how we are now more that civilised animals repressing primal animalistic urges that get released in different ways such violent or extreme sports, hunting, sexual perversions or even something as simple as loud music and sweaty dancing. After all, underneath art we all just a little bit of an animal.

To celebrate the first vs. battle (American Werewolf in London vs. The Howling) I have compiled my list of 10 werewolf movies you should check out.

1.       The Wolfman (1941)

2.       Curse of the wolfman (1961)

3.       American Werewolf in London (1981)

4.       The Howling (1981)

5.       Silver Bullet (1985)

6.       Monster Squad (1987)

7.       Wolf (1994)

8.       Ginger snaps (2000)

9.       Dog Soldiers (2002)

10.   The Wolfman (2010)

90s Cartoon theme Songs (by J-Man)

I grew up in the 90's. By the time my little eyes and ears could comprehend what they were being subjected to, the era of mad animation had already begun. The 1990's were a colourful time, from the acid induced dance music to the sugar and additive-laden neon sweets and drinks. Luckily the animated shows we were given were no different.
Accelerating from the successful franchises of the 80's, most of which made money from the toy and merchandise tie-ins, the animation of the 1990's seemed to blast full speed with style, irreverence and a no holds barred approach to the premise of new shows.

But no matter which show you loved the most (or simply just watched because you didn't have anything better to do while you eat refreshers and drank panda pop) the first and most resonating taste of a cartoon is its theme. And the 90's gave us some wonderful themes.

*Be warned, if you begin looking up some of these themes on youtube it's very likely you will succumb to the endless black hole of intro's. Just as Scott and I did.*

The list of catchy choruses, magical melodies and bouncing bass lines are endless. I have a special affinity for theme songs. There is something potent about the tiny snapshot of music purpose-built to set the tone of a show. Each one is like a 30 second score, encompassing the feel, the energy and often the premise of the show to come. Those of you who have stepped foot in Super Shakes will probably have noticed a handful of themes in the shop playlist (In between copious amounts of Seal). So if I took the time to go over every jingle that puts a smile on my face then this would be an incredibly long blog. [Though honourable mentions go to any theme without lyrics such as Doug, Rugrats, Ren and Stimpy; and to superstar composer Danny Elfman]
For the purpose of time and sanity I'll instead present to you 3 observations during my time in the infinite back-to-back session of intro videos. So if you are simply a curious party or are in the process of creating your own authentic sounding 90's theme song, keep these in mind.

Rule 01: 90's keep it brief

Apart from the quality of the animation and the steady decline of muscular He-Men, a new trend also occurred - swifter intros. Just as every comic is somebody's first, the same applies for cartoons with their self contained stories and repeatability. Because of this many 80's shows began with an intro that was in itself a prologue, as is the case of the hilarious and infectious opening to Ulysses 31. [Check it out here - ]
But once we past the invisible decade barrier, things start to get more straight to the point.
Maybe it was because the old style was beginning to feel tired, maybe it was to simply shave an extra minute and a half off the total run time. There is a good chance that it was because as we merged into the era of lunacy and (Ani)maniacs there was no story structure.
"Mama had a chicken! Mama had a cow! Dad was proud, and he didn't care how!"
Enough said.

Rule 02: Ducks have Soul

The musicianship behind theme tunes is often passed by. Since most of the themes are over and done with in 30 seconds, a lot of these gems and respective artists don't get to become as recognised as the 30 seconds (or less) of effort that goes in to most modern pop songs. And although there were many thematic changes to soundtracks as time progressed including Guitar riffs getting more fiery and saxophones (unfortunately) dissipating, one trend I did notice was that shows with ducks had a passionate theme that few competed with.
Lets begin with Duckula (Which began in the 80's but waddled into the Nine-zero's). Beginning with a dark and spooky backstory and blackened images, all is blasted away once the vocals burst in. I get the impression if the theme was a minute longer we would have some glass shattering vibrato on our hands. At several points there are moments when it is as if the microphone they used cant actually handle the singing. Kudos to the composers for making the very silly premise of this show get glossed over by the energetic theme.
From Duck vampires to Duck crusaders, namely DW - Darkwing Duck. This Noire-styled big-billed master of surprise had a hearty theme too. In order to even attempt to replicate the pipes on this performer you have to fill your lungs first. You can just hear the force in their voice as they repeat the title of the show, to the point where when the second verse comes in the whole song seems muted in comparison. But so do many things after you listen to this theme a few times, its hefty.
Then in 1996 as if there weren't enough rich vocals and duck centred animations; along comes The Mighty Ducks. Not the rousing live-action family comedy starring a handful of young actors (Including the future Foggy Nelson from Daredevil sporting virtually the same haircut). This is jacked up, colourful, anthropomorphic ducks playing hockey, and the theme is just as mighty. The entire song seems to be shouted and the eager singer can barely get the first sentence finished without adding some vocal flair. The incredible intensity of this theme leaves no doubt about the final statement "Ducks Rock!".

This correlation between bombastic birds and soulful songs doesn't end there. A post millennium show Duck Dodgers has a theme performed by none other than world renowned welshman Tom Jones. And if thats not enough, need I mention one of the the most catchy themes of all - a Tale of a rich Duck who famously dives into his vault of Gold coins? I'm sure you can hear it in your head already. [If not click here to develop a tick that makes you "Woo-Oo" impulsively anytime you hear the title of the show - ]

Rule 03: Repeat the title as many times as possible

It goes without saying that if you want someone to remember your brand, you need them to remember the name. It's quite possible this marketing tactic was discovered in the late 80's. Pick 5 cartoons that ran in the 90's, and sing the theme. (Feel free to do it in your head if you don't want to look like a Freakazoid at the coffee shop). I'd bet that you said the title of the show at least 3 times. Yes it's intended and yes it almost seems silly once highlighted (Try the theme game again with 5 HBO shows; it's very different. I'm betting on 0), but it also puts a recognisable time stamp on our cartoons, a loveable paradigm of silliness.
This may have most memorably begun with a group of adolescent-genetically irregular- Japanese covert martial arts practicing-amphibians. Yes Leo, Donnie, Mikey and Raph's unquestionable chant, which although formed in the late 80's ran deep into the hearts, minds, and dreams of 90's kids everywhere. Brought to life by the mastermind of mindless repetition Chuck Lorre (See Two and a Half Men & Big Bang Theory - J-Man), who may have unintentionally begun a more overt tradition for shows created afterwards. Notably Earthworm Jim, W.I.L.D Cats, Hey Arnold and Rocko's Modern Life all follow the formula that shouting the title is key to a good theme.
You can see this method working in the Spider-Man cartoon series (Theme co-written by Media Mogul and Power Rangers creator Haim Saban). The words are repeated to the point that the synthesised vocoder chanting goes askew into saying Spider-anything. It's almost as if the singer was exhausted or Joe Perry(Of Aerosmith)'s face melting guitar was tiring them out. I used to think that at one point he was saying Spider-Glider in reference to hobgoblin showing up on screen, but it works for any word you can cram into those syllables. Spider-pamphlet. Spider-burger. Spider-spleen. You get the point.
And as if to prove that the musicians and melody makers behind all of these knew what they were doing - See Exhibit B - Bucky O' Hare. The action packed, detailed crammed opening doesn't forget to add the secret sauce; the name Bucky O' Hare is mentioned various times as are most of the other characters. But as we reach the end there is a very self aware moment where after definitely screaming the name several times one vocalist asks the other "Did you say Bucky?" as if they have a quota to fill. Without a beat his colleague replies "I said Bucky." and they both harmonise for a final "Bucky O'Hare!". This not only adds another few name drops to the counter but is a wonderful little giggle at themselves and the absurdity of their job.

To sum up, Memory can be measured by recall, recognition and relearning. With the constant barrage of names and vivid images drilled into our heads several times over before we have even seen the show - our capability to recite, recognise and build on our knowledge may explain why 90's shows and their themes were so (literally) unforgettable.

- J-Man


When did the 20th Century truly end? (by Orie Enav)

I’m a 21st Century boy. Forgive me! At the tender age of only 28, the vast majority of my experience with popular culture happened after the Y2K bug reset civilization as we know it. Of course, I watched and enjoyed many films and TV shows prior to that calamity, but my teenage and university years were solidly based in the 21st Century. However, was the year 2000 really such a turning point that we should differentiate between what came before and after as significantly different? Or did other events serve as those defining watershed moments?

I’m not the first to point this out, and I’m sure I will not be the last, but the years we define “Centuries” as are pretty arbitrary. To say that the world of 1899 was materially different from that of 1900 is absurd, with exception that the latter had the devastating misfortune to end without Oscar Wilde living in it.  More likely, the 20th Century truly began, first incrementally with developments like the ubiquitous availability of motor cars and cinema, and then with a bang at the outset of the First World War. But we’re not here to talk about that.

My own experience is of the transition from last century to our current one, and despite how we all want to party like it’s 1999, nothing much happened then that affected our culture. For that, we must look to the major transitional events of our lifetimes.  Apologies to those too young to remember; luckily, movies are here to teach us about our own history.


The 20th century was forged, defined and consumed by war. As The War to End All Wars drew to a close and the next World War loomed, it became clear that we were in for a period of instability that was largely unprecedented. Following the German and Japanese surrender, old alliances melted away as the strongest allies squabbled over the spoils, and the Cold War Era began.

Propaganda methods developed in the first half of the century were never more evident than in popular culture. Forget about asking the people to buy T-Bonds, if you want to gain support (and funding) for your proxy wars in Asia and the Middle East, you need to win over the hearts and minds of the electorate. Superman and all his friends fought the Nazis; once that threat diminished, they were replaced by those damn Reds from Russia.

Indeed, 20th century American cinema is dominated by action flicks where the enemy is Russia. James Bond fought the Russians, Rocky fought the Russians, the Manchurian Candidate taught us to mistrust our neighbours more than Joseph McCarthy ever did.  Only pinko commie types like Gene Roddenberry was willing to even consider a benevolent Russian character for the small screen. However, in 1989, that all changed.


When the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Hollywood lost its easy target, an enemy we could all understand. The world rejoiced, as a new era of peace was ushered in. Our popular culture was suddenly dominated by some of the best romantic comedies ever made as people turned away from enmity to think more introspectively. Human stories dominated every genre: Superman battled American billionaires; the Friends gang had time for coffee and promiscuity; even the calls were coming from inside the house. Battlestar Galactica, a tale about the struggles of humanity to survive against a foreign alien race of murderous robots, concluded in 1980.

When discussing which Star Trek series is best, as Trek fans so often do, they usually omit the original series from consideration. It was a different time, they say, the effects and the budget were so limited that they could barely produce episodes. Of course the stories were often lame and lazy, they needed to sell accessible entertainment in an age where TV sci-fi was in its infancy! Well, while the former excuses the visual aspects, the latter does not. Obviously there are some standout episodes, but Star Trek hit its popular and qualitative stride from The Next Generation onwards, particularly in later seasons. The bulk of TNG’s best episodes take place after its second season, starting in 1990. The Star Trek we know and love, with challenging moral quandaries and thought experiments that only Science Fiction can provide, flourished in the years after the cold war ended, during a time of peace and prosperity, a time for self-reflection. This was when, culturally, the 20th century truly ended.


So when did the 21st Century begin? Of course, the answer is unquestionably 9/11. A period of relative peace prevailed for a glorious decade, particularly when the Yugoslav Wars concluded and Europe finally seemed unified. Then the planes hit and we awoke as if from a dream to find the world is as ugly beyond our borders as it has always been within.

The external threat narratives returned to our entertainment, only this time the enemy was different. Muslims, Arabs, and terrorists dominated Hollywood stories in a way they had never before. America, as a concept, returned to the forefront not just a political focal point but as a cultural touchstone. Our heroes fought bad guys, always foreign, scary, and brown.

Even our science fiction, intended to be above it all in the lofty heights of philosophy, radically changed. Battlestar Galactica relaunched, but now the story was prototypically post-9/11, in which a great calamity has befalling humanity and the enemy is hiding within. Before 2001, Star Trek embarked first into Deep Space Nine and a sweeping and nuanced wartime narrative, the ups and downs, the surges, victories, defeats, tertiary beneficiaries and tenuous alliances. After 9/11, Enterprise addressed what happens once Earth has been attacked, and a desperate struggle to root out an enemy in a dangerous and unfamiliar territory.

As history moves on and the wars around the world continue, the shock and awe in our entertainment has diminished. It is evident in the Marvel Cinematic Universe how the culture is shifting from clear heroes and villains to more sophisticated plots (even if they don’t always make much sense). For example, the First Avenger fights the Nazis: easy. Then the Avengers, once assembled, fight aliens: again, Easy. But then the Avengers fight themselves in Civil War, over questions of power and consequences.

I will discuss my observations on how the media we consume lags behind the zeitgeist in a separate article, perhaps on the DragonFruit blog. Suffice it to say that the watershed moments of our popular culture are excellent resources for determining the boundaries of our centuries, and nothing of interest whatsoever happened on January 1st, 2000 except for a lot of epic hangovers.

Horror Novels that still scare me

As I am writing this the sun is shining, it is a wonderful summers day, we have to treasure them in the UK, we don’t get many. Looking out the window as a wisp of cloud floats past on the midday breeze it doesn’t feel like a day of Horror … for most. I, like so many horror fans, love it all year round. The greatest horror novels don’t care whether it’s night or day, foggy or bright sun, Halloween or Summer Solstice they will take you somewhere horrific and make your skin crawl. That is what a good book can do and that is why I love them.

As I have gotten older and a little more world weary the affect these books have has changed. I no longer cower under my bed sheets, hoping that a thin piece of material will protect me from some unseen terror waiting in the shadows. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t put down a book and still have it sneak around in my brain, creating a feeling of unease. Over the years there have been several books that have affected me to the extent where they might have affected my sleep. In the light of day, it is ridiculous but there have been moments when my foot has fallen from the covers and a little voice in my head tells me to pull it in asap.

I had a think about which books have stayed with me the most over the years. After a while I landed on two books that have I enjoy and scare me in different ways now to when I was young. The first is Stephen King’s “The Shining” and the second is James Herbert’s “Haunted”.

When I first read The Shining, I was in my late teens and I read it as a haunted house story, which it is. The book is packed with a creeping and ever growing sense of dread expertly written by King. There are scenes in that book that give me physical shivers. I think Joey had the right idea to keep it in the freezer at night. Now that I am older, have a growing career and a family the book reads in a very different way. Where once I focused on the spooky inhabitants of the overlook I now see more fear and terror in the mental breakdown of Jack Torrance. A man desperate to prove that despite his faults and mistake he is a good man. His guilt and repressed frustration being manipulated by isolation as well as supernatural forces are the real backbone of this book.

This book is one of King’s best and is one of his most personal, his own struggles with drink and drugs are well known. His fears and struggles are clearly reflected in those of Jack. While I don’t have similar substance issues I can relate the frustrations and worries of wanting to do the best for a family. This great book speaks of the dark shadows that move in the night as well as those that cloud a man’s heart. This is one of the highest recommends I can make.

The second book I want to mention is James Herbert’s “Haunted”. I love this book so much that I have several copies of the book, including a signed limited edition. This is a slim novel but has so much to love. A gothic tale of a sceptic being invited to a house in a remote area that is supposed to be haunted. The story is simple and very well paced.

This was one of the first Herbert books I read when I was younger and much like with The Shining I focused on the spooky element of the story. I still really enjoy this part but again as I have gotten older I have noted that there is more to this book. The sceptic, Ash, so solid in his beliefs, being twisted not only to be made to believe but to be broken for what he believes. More and more we line in a world so twisted and manipulated by large forces that it is hard to hold on to any single belief or idea. The book explores the idea of faith and belief in an idea and yourself. The story of Ash continues in two sequels. The best of these is The Ghosts of Sleath, a story which continues the ideas of faith while maintaining the great spooky scares.

Both books are amazing ghost stories that will creep into your brain and unsettle and scare you. As the books are so well written that can be enough to enjoy. However, each of them have so much more to offer and so many more ways to keep you awake at night.

What Horror Novels do you love and you love being scared by?

The Horror writers that made me love Horror

Well it's July so what better way to celebrate the long sunny days than with a review of the Horror writers that got me hooked on to the genre as a kid. 

I am a big horror fan and I made a start on Horror novels when I was in my early teens. As soon as I started I started to try different writers. Below is a list of the writers that had the most influence on my tastes.

1.    Stephen King: Is it any surprise that ‘The King’ ended up on this list? I don’t think you can talk to anyone about horror writing without talking about Stephen King. A King novel was one of the first ‘grown up’ books I tried to read. I was trying to run before I could walk by taking on Pet Semetery and IT before I was out of ‘Point Horror’ (how good were they!). I failed to get through either and so took on Carrie. I loved it and wanted more King but after my failure to conquer the first two books I was a little intimidated. It was then that I found out there were several collections of short stories available, perfect. I got a copy of Night Shift and ploughed though it as quickly as I could. It was like being prepared for the bigger King books. Since then I have read a load of his books but it’s always good to know that there is more to read.

2.    James Herbert: My Mum introduced me to James Herbert when she read ‘Ghosts of Sleath’ when it was first released in paperback. She handed me the slightly worn paperback and suggested that it might be something I would enjoy. She wasn’t wrong and I read it in a week. It would be a year or two before I would get another Herbert book. This was the mid 90’s and the internet was not what it is now. I had to wait until I found another book in a shop or car boot sale. The second Herbert book I read was ’48. A totally different read but just as thrilling. Years later I have a complete collection of Herbert paperbacks and I am about 2/3 of the way through them. James Herbert was a great writer and a wonderful example of British Horror sensibilities. His books cover all aspects of horror and no matter your favour I am sure there is a book that you would like.

3.    Dean Koontz: Koontz is another one that I was introduced to by my Mum. This time however, I pinched a couple of the books from the shelves to take on a school trip. I took Midnight and Phantoms (Affleck was the Boom in Phantoms!) and of the two I loved Midnight. The stories were a bit pulpier, fast paced and filled with some great gory horror. I can’t say that Koontz is one of my favourite authors; however I enjoy most of his books. A few other that really stood out for me are Tick Tock and Demon Seed. The Odd series are also really good and worth reading.

4.    Clive Barker: Barker is a funny one; I was first introduced to his work via the Hellraiser film when I knew very little about how things worked. I just assumed he only made films. I was happy to find out how wrong I was in the late 90’s when I was given the paperback omnibus editions of the books of blood for Christmas. Wow was I in for a shock! This collection of wonderfully twisted and gory tales sucked me in. Barker’s imagination is vast, dark and compelling. His books vary from full on Horror to more fantasy but I enjoy them all, for the most part. While I enjoy his books you have to commit to them, they will challenge you and there are time when I am not sure if they are genius or in need of a more strict editor.

5.    Point Horror: I was too old to appreciate the Goosebumps books when I found out about them. Luckily a series of books existed for the early teen market, Point Horror. These books are written by a number of different authors, so it’s a bit of cheat but this series is still a milestone for me. They are predominantly based around urban legends horror tales and basic horror tropes but for the 12-year-old me they were perfect. These are a great entry point for younger readers, they are a horror enough that they aren’t for young kids but not overly complex or too violent or gruesome.

My top 10 Guilty Pleasure Movies

My top 10 ‘Guilty Pleasure’ movies

As I defined in the last Blog, a guilty pleasure movie is:

“A movie that I enjoy despite knowing that said movie is objectively not very good or is not held in high regard by most people.”

Having confirmed that, check out the below list of my top 10 Guilty Pleasure Movies and why I love them.

1.        Masters of the universe (1987) (IMDB – 5.3 / RT - 17%): This is a camp sci-fi classic produced by Cannon films and is a part of 80’s movie history. Why? That’s something I will cover someday. Anyway, I was a big fan of the toys and cartoon when I was a kid so to see some of the characters pulled up on to the big screen, I was pulled into this. Although, even as a kid I knew there was issues with parts of this film but I was down for the ride. I enjoy it in a different way now I am older but there is still part of me that gets a kick out of He-man and Skelator fighting. The film is well made but being released at the wrong time and laden with a few too many clichés it was never going to be a success. That does not mean that this shouldn’t be enjoyed as a B-movie sci-fi romp.

2.        The Shadow (1994) (IMDB – 6.0 / RT - 35%): Batman 1989 was a watershed moment for the superhero movie. Studios wanted to start making them, but keep them cheap. So instead of turning to the comic companies they turned to copyright free characters. So why not the character that partially inspired Batman? The Shadow is a much darker noir pulp character willing to kill and aggressively punish criminals. The film doesn’t reach those levels of darkness; it stays in the family film territory but it’s still great. The visual’s and effects on this film are so 90s, which is part of why this film stands out for me. Alec Baldwin is perfectly cast and the pulpy writing gets me really invested in this adventure romp. The character deserves a reboot on screen but more, this film needs to be found by more people.

3.        Rocky IV (1985) (IMDB – 6.8 / RT - 39%): In 1985 Rocky Balboa single headedly brought the Cold War to an end, or so Rocky 4 would make you think. The first 3 Rocky films are a trilogy of amazing sports dramas about achieving and holding onto success and what it can cost you. Rocky 4 is a propaganda film that includes a robot butler and the possibly the craziest and best work-out montage ever! EVER! The pacing, music and climax are so awesome that if you are not jumping up and down pumping your fists in the air, I would check your pulse.

4.        Child’s play 2 (1990) (IMDB – 5.7 / RT - 40%): The first Child’s Play film is good, but it’s not until 2 that the series gets into its full slasher / killer doll groove. The second film feels more confident by being more camp, and therefore more fun. This film has some excellent kills and has so much more fun with the concept. Also the final act in the toy factory is amazing. This is a film I watched at the right time, it may have even been the first Child’s Play film I saw. It is a definite milestone on my path to enjoying horror films.

5.        Ghostbusters 2 (1989) (IMDB – 6.5 / RT – 51%): This film gets a lot of hate because of how good the first film is. Now I love the first Ghostbusters; it would be in my personal top 5. However, this is the first Ghostbusters I got to see at the cinema. 1989 is a watershed year for me, it’s my first big summer of movies and this stands out to me. I should also say; I think this film is a lot better than people remember. The acting and comedy are solid and it has several scenes that I think are genuinely unnerving. Maybe not the strongest sequel ever made but I love every part of this film, from Ghostbusters being down on their luck to the finale and the odd painting at the end.

6.        Lord of Illusions (1995) (IMDB – 6.0 / RT - 61%): The Hellraiser franchise is what defines Clive Barker on screen. However, there are several other adaptations of his work that are really good (Midnight meat train and Nightbreed mostly notably). The one that ticks most the boxes for me is this adaptation of a short story from the Books of Blood and directed by Barker himself, Lord of Illusions. A horror, detective story about magic, cults and dames in distress. This is a brilliant horror noir that gets massively overlooked, Also Scott Backula is great in it.

7.        The Rocketeer (1991) (IMDB – 6.4 / RT – 62%): Like “The Shadow” this film came in the wake of the success of Batman. The Rocketeer however was not in public domain, as he was created in 1982 by Dave Stevens. However, not particularly well known the right weren’t very expensive. This is a proper old school adventure in the mould of 30’s serials, think Indiana Jones including fighting Nazis. Produced by Disney it is a family adventure with great characters and fun action. An early film for director Joe Johnston who would use his touch of fun and adventure in future films Honey I shrunk the kids, Jumanji, Jurassic Park 3 and Captain America the first Avenger (bringing back the 40’s serial nature).

8.        The Running Man (1987) (IMDB – 6.6 / RT - 63%): This film is the pinnacle of Arnold’s one liner actioners. Based on a much darker and grittier story by Stephen King the film is so 80’s from the costumes to the predicted technology. It’s not subtle in its message but it still has one as well as the great over the top action. I would say that this film would not only appear on this list but would be pretty high on my best of Arnie list as well.

9.        The Goonies (1985) (IMDB – 7.8 / RT - 70%): This is guilty less because the film is bad but more for the fact that at 35, I still want to be a Goonie. Goonies was one of the first films I can remember watching as a child. It fed my desire and love for adventure and the number of childhood adventures I attempted to go on. This holds up so well and I think should held up as a kid’s movie classic. Go back and check it out with your kids and see if they love it.

10.     Killer Klowns from outer space (1988) (IMDB – 6.1/ RT - 71%): This homage to 50’s sci-fi horror B-movies is nuts and relishes in its daft concept. The idea of vicious Alien clowns that travel through space in a ship that looks like a circus tent is brilliant. The acting is a bit wooden but everyone involved is giving their all and some of the scenes are cheesy joy. The practical special effects and makeup are wonderful and look great on the Blu-ray version. The best thing is that all of this is topped off by the tongue in cheek tone throughout. A perfect film to watch with a few beers and friends.

Guilty Pleasure Movies and why we love them

This month I have done commentaries for two films that I am a big fan off but I’m not sure I would admit that to everyone I know. Actually, I suppose putting the commentaries on a podcast and then writing about them shows that I would … so let’s get it out there. I really enjoy the Child’s Play Films and the 80s He-man movie, Masters of the universe. Wow, I feel better just saying it! The question is, why do I feel embarrassed for enjoying these films? Surely enjoyment of a medium such as film is subjective? One person’s flop is another person’s classic.

Before we dig into it more let’s start by being clear, I am talking about “Guilty Pleasure Movies” and so we are all on the same page let’s give that a definition:

“A movie that I enjoy despite knowing that said movie is objectively not very good or is not held in high regard by most people.”

I think that’s a fair starting point. Something else to acknowledge is that while enjoyment is subjective, film quality is most definitely objective. It is quite easy to identify parts of a film that are not good, whether its cheap special effects, bad acting or jerky editing. All of which can sink a film in an instant. So why then do so many people love bad movies? I want to give 3 suggestions that I can definitely relate to.

Ø  The ‘Fuzzies’: This comes down to a simple notion, watching said films makes you feel happy. If your bored, a little depressed or feeling ill there will be a film you will pull out that will make you feel a bit better. This is most likely going to be down to nostalgia. It might have been the first horror film you saw, or you saw it with your childhood best friend or it was given to you by someone important to you as a gift. Or it could be that you have an emotional connection to the source material the film is based on and this is the only movie version there is. Don’t underestimate the power of nostalgia, it can make the best of overlook some glaring issues in films.

Ø  Nod and wink humour: It’s said that no one wants to make a bad films, However when you have a really low budget you might not have a choice but to make a bad film. This can go one of three ways. The creators understand what limitations they have and use that for entertainment by leaning into the daftness of it (usually in horror), ignore it and try and be as straight as possible losing all credibility you have, or try and be as straight about it as possible and make something that is so bad its good. These are the films you watch with your mates. The best hope is that the creator embraced it and rolled with the situation. The film maker is bringing the viewer in on the joke and they are laughing together. For a lot of B-movie horror films this take the form of gore effects being quantity over quality. Yeah the decapitation looked a bit iffy but the buckets of ‘blood’ that coated everything looked awesome.

Ø  Your Imagination: It might just be that the film you love is just too weird for the mainstream but the concept, design and / or end product really tickles you fancy. It reaches into you and for some reason this film gets a positive reaction, when others are left scratching their heads. Let’s not be shy about it, we all have things that we enjoy that we might only share we a small group of people. There are also going to be films that for some reason or other fit into that category and tickle your fancy. These are probably the best guilty pleasures, the ones you want to show to people and explain why it’s so good, tell people what you see that they don’t and why seeing this film should change their world view. The likely hood is that it will remain that little film that you love having on your shelf but others will never quite get it. Love that film, it speaks to the real inner you.

So they are my 3 reasons why people love films that are considered guilty pleasures. I mean it doesn’t have to be just one of the above. I am sure, in fact I know, there are cases that are covered by two if not all three of the above.

Please let me know what you think. Can you relate to the above reasons or do you think there are more? Please let me know. In the next blog, I will provide a list of 10 movies that are my guilty pleasures.

My Secret Origin

Everyone has a story, an origin story if you will, about how they were first introduced to comics. It changes from generation to generation, country to country and person to person but they are always interesting. In Britain there are several comics that will almost always be mentioned, for the younger readers there is the Beano and the Dandy. They are filled with whacky Comedy anthologies containing looney toon level characters with very British twists.

I got these sporadically for years as a young kid and got an annual for each every Christmas. As far as I was concerned these were comics. I was aware of Batman and Superman but only in the sense of characters that were toys and appeared on other merchandise. It was not until years later that I would learn about them and their full and complex mythology.

So how did I bridge that gap between Dennis the Menace and the Dark Knight? My Nan took me and my sister on a lot of day trips in the summer holidays. She couldn’t drive so we travelled on coaches to the destinations. These journeys could be incredibly dull and I loved to read so what better way to pass the time than reading comics?

Before one of these journeys I was given some money to buy something to entertain myself with. So I trotted into the local newsagents, my money in my hand not knowing that on this occasion my life would change. I looked through the usual magazines and kids comics, not really interested in what I was looking at. That was until I noticed an orange cover sticking out from the back. Pulling it out I was confronted with a helmeted character astride a bike clad in guns and a large gold eagle. It was an issue of “The Complete Judge Dredd”.

I opened the pages and flicked through the black and white art. It contained several chapters of the classic Cursed Earth saga, Judge Dredd and a bunch of cohorts travelling across the radioactive cursed earth on a mercy mission. I was hooked!! But I wasn’t finished there. As I pulled out the issue of Complete Judge Dredd, I uncovered that week’s issue of 2000AD. I was noticed it because the same character, Judge Dredd was it. My chubby little hands grabbed it from the shelf and opened it up. I couldn’t believe it, these stories were in colour!

I purchased both comics and ploughed through them several times that day. However, the one thing that struck me hard was that neither of them contained the end of the stories. I had to get the next issues to see what was going to happen. I went back to the newsagent a few days later and asked when the next issues will be in. They told me and I was back week on week absorbing the mad beautiful sci-fi horror that was early 90’s 2000AD.

As is very obvious from my previous blogs and podcasts, I did not stop there. As the title of this blog states, 2000AD was my gateway drug into the comic world. It was and is such an amazing comic and a staple of British pop culture.

After a couple of years of the 2000AD world I came across a Forbidden Planet in my home town. Holy Shit!! There are shops dedicated to this and so many other wonderful comics!! It blew my tiny little mind. My obsession was about to go to the next level … but that is a story for another day.

I would be fascinated to hear your comic’s origin story, what was your first comic? Where did you see it and what did you feel about it? Please let me know.

List of 5 comics you may not have heard of that deserve a film adaptation

You will notice from the dates on the series below that I am breaking my own rules again but this is my blog so it’s ok every now and then. So, I am listing comics series that I think are underrated and would also translate the big screen awesomely.

1.    Elephantmen (2006):

In a future war a corporation has found a way to fuse Human and Animal DNA to create super-hybrid soldiers. They are programmed for war, violence and killing, the perfect soldiers for the future battle field. They fight for many years but when the war ends they are liberated, helped and rehabilitated to be useful members of society. They take on jobs and live their lives but to many they are dangerous genetic freaks, they are The Elephantmen.

EM pic.jpg

The series is noir sci-fi and primarily follows Hieronymus (Hip) Flask a Hippopotamus, who works for a law enforcement agency.  Using his natural and trained skills he takes on a series of mysteries that start to centre in on the other Elephantmen. As he interacts with them we find out more about the world, how they have managed to move on, or not.

As well as being a fantastic sci-fi series in the vain of Blade Runner it challenges the ideas of what former soldiers go through when they come back to society. It also highlights the theme of what makes us ‘Human’ and whether we are victims of our nature or if we can push against it and be more.

This series would make a fantastic film franchise, especially now that the special effects have reached a level that can make Hip and the other Elephantmen so real. This could be much more than a summer blockbuster; this could do what great sci-fi always does; say something about who and what we are, using something out of this world. This could be an awesome mix of story and visuals.

Elephantmen is written by Richard Starkings and individual volumes and a Mammoth collection are easily available on line.


2.  Blacksad (2000):

What if Disney animated an adult focused noir detective series populated by anthropomorphic animals living in 50s America? Well you would get Blacksad. Think Zootropolis written by Raymond Chandler.

The series centres on John Blacksad a private detective and black cat, as he falls into different pulp style detective stories. He is your stereotypical gum shoe, a hard-nosed detective with a heart of gold. He can’t refuse a beautiful dame or a victim in danger.

The first story is straight forward and a great homage to its many pulp sources. However the second and third stories make a shift to become more political statements. ‘Arctic Nation’ deals with the concept of racial segregation in a small town. The story doesn’t mess around and includes a racially motivated lynching near the beginning and gets even darker at times. The third story ‘Red Soul’ deals with the McCarthy era witch hunt for communists. This story has some heavy themes about how your politics and how you act on them can define you.

There have been several attempts to create an adult focused animated movie, very few of them have been successful. This series has so much potential to tell action packed important stories about who we are using Disney like characters. I am convinced in the right hands this could be amazing.

Blacksad is a Spanish comic written by Juan Diaz Canales and drawn by Juanjo Guarnido. English translations are easily available on line. 


3.    Skullkickers (2013):

I admit I haven’t played Dungeons and Dragons; however I have enjoyed a lot of fantasy novels and films so I am well aware of the tropes and clichés that the genre is populated with; the medieval environment, swords, sorcery, dwarves and elves on and on it goes. Keep those in place and make it a madcap action adventure series written by Jim Zub and you get a refreshing take on an old story. Two nameless warrior mercenaries wandering the land looking for money and adventure, a massive muscle bound barbarian (nicknamed Baldy) and a tough as nails dwarf (nicknamed Shorty); from there we start the story.

The great thing about this series is the fact that the majority of the fantasy elements are taken seriously. The threats are serious; it’s actually our heroes that provide the comedy in the midst of the action. They are living the life they want and they are having fun doing it. There is nothing deep or thematic in the book to read into. This is designed to be popcorn fun action and it succeeds. Think Guardians of the Galaxy mixed with Tolkien.


Also the art is perfect for the series; it’s simple and bold with great character designs and excellent imagination.

Skullkickers could be an amazing action adventure franchise, a balls to the wall summer tent pole blockbuster that would rival Lord of the Rings and out do World of Warcraft. I can see Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as Baldy, it would be awesome.

Individual volumes and oversized collections are available on line.


4.    Rogue Trooper (1981):

War is hell, but what if you were created for the sole purpose of existing and fighting in that hell? On the far off planet of Nu-Earth in the distant future a war has been raging for years between two armies, the Norts and the Southers. The war has lasted so long that the atmosphere of the planet is unbreathable with poison gas. To provide a more robust army the Southers create Genetic Infantry (GI) soldiers that can breathe the atmosphere. They’re stronger, faster and more resilient; they will bring the war to an end. However, in their first major engagement in the Quartz Zone they are almost all massacred. The Norts knew they were coming and ambushed them.

Of the deployed GIs only Friday survives, left to wonder the war torn landscape not fighting for any side, just trying to survive. He is not alone in this journey; he has three others with him. Each of them dead and their personalities replicated on a chip and installed on a piece of his equipment (Helm, gunner and Bagman – the names sort of explain themselves).


Rogue trooper and has been running for 35 years and has built up a fantastic sci-fi mythology. I wouldn’t even try and touch on it here for fear of missing something out. If you want to know more I strongly suggest you check it out on line.

There are so many story opportunities in this series and so many ways they could be told. My preference would be a gritty sci-fi war story, imagine a sci-fi take on Saving Private Ryan, Platoon or Black Hawk Down.

The complete stories are being collected in volumes and available on line.


5.    Half past Danger (2014):

The tag line for this 6 issue limited series says it all really – Dames, Dinosaurs and Danger! This is blockbuster comic making at its best. Written and drawn by Stephen Mooney, it homage’s pulp novels, serials and classic adventure tales. It wears its influences on its sleeve and parallels or comparisons can be made between characters in this book and so any others; Indiana Jones, Doc Savage and Steve Rogers.

Set during World War 2 the series follows Tommy ‘Irish’ Flynn as he is shanghaied into joining a small band of elite soldiers. Their mission is to stop the Nazi’s from capturing and weaponiseing Dinosaurs from a long lost Island.

HPD pic.jpg

Like I say, this isn’t particularly original but it is a whole lot of nostalgic fun with beautiful art and fun dialogue. The images could be used as story boards they are framed in such a cinematic way.

Harrison Ford it clearly too old for Indy (despite a new film being produced!). It’s time for a new adventure series to take the centre stage.

A great hardback edition is available on line.