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.

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 (www.spr.ac.uk):

“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).

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.

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.

Skullkickers13.jpg

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).

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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.

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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.

Can Sitcoms be catogoriesed?

The term ‘sitcom’ was created in the 1950’s to cover a new type of comedy. ‘I love Lucy’ is considered the first show to meet the full criteria but the first show considered to have created the format is ‘Pinwright’s progress’ which ran for 10 episodes in 1946 – 47.

Since the format has been created it has been used in so many different situations, work places, homes or places of leisure. They have all been covered but as I have been watching sitcoms over the years and more recently for these few shows, I have noticed that sitcoms primarily fall into one of seven categories. While they may contain elements of several categories they all fit into a primary category.

 

The Buffoon – These shows revolve around a single individual whose antics are the source of the comedy. These can be of two kinds, an individual who is aware of their foolishness or someone who is so convinced of their ability while everyone around them sees the foolishness. This is one of the most popular categories, some shows have even changed direction to fit into this character, it’s the Homer Simpson affect. These are a chance to laugh at the arrogant pompous prat that you know and can’t believe has gotten to a certain position in work or life. Examples are: The Brittas Empire, Keeping up appearances, Citizen Kahn, Some Mother’s do have them, Fawlty Towers

The sensible person – These shows are the counter to “The Buffoon” shows. In these the main character is the lone sensible individual stuck in a situation surrounded by idiots and trouble makers. The comedy coming from either the individual suffering through the antics of the idiots around them or getting out of trouble usually caused by said idiots. These shows reflect the frustration we have all felt at one time or another, when we have been exasperated by the incompetence of others, believing that we are trapped in a world in which only ‘I’ seem to know how to get things done. Examples are: Blackadder, Allo Allo, Porridge, The Vicar of Dibley

The grotesques – When shows move away from single main characters you have to consider the group. The first of these groups is the exaggerated and twisted versions of reality that are the grotesques. The comedy and jokes are created by the unbelievable and sometime vile antics of the group. These may push the bounds of reality and taste at time but they can also be incredibly funny, in a twisted and very British way. These are the shows that have a hyper stylised slap stick version of the world, almost ‘Looney Toon’ in the levels of violence and comedy. It’s easy to laugh at these but there is an underlying acknowledgement that the viewer knows someone, or a group of people, that are reflected in the grotesques of the show. Examples are: Bottom, Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie, The young ones, The league of Gentlemen

The Circus – A less exaggerated version of the group sitcoms are the circus. Shows that portray a group of people of differing statuses. The easy option for this category is a group of buffoons; this will either be all of them acting in their own interest or this group of Buffoons against the world. A more complex and in many cases a more satisfying version of this is having competent people at odds with one another while trying to manage the circus around them. The comedy comes from the group’s interactions and them dealing with the larger world. Examples are: Benidorm, Bread, The thin blue line, My Family, Yes Minister (Prime Minister)

The Underdogs – These are the down trodden and underrepresented. These are the shows that, when done well, usual have the most heart. These are the losers that we love to see make good but we are also happy to laugh when they fall on their arse. Examples are: Steptoe and Son, Red Dwarf, Inbetweeners, Only fools and Horses, Dad’s Army, Last of the Summer Wine.

Just us – The groups in the previous categories are usually thrown together in a situation and vary in size. This category could be considered an off shoot of the previous group categories but I think there are enough shows for it to get its own category. The shows in this category focus in small groups of 2 to 4 people. The comedy derives from the situations and the interactions within that small group. These smaller groups can be of varying status and success however the key to these shows is the sincerity of the relationship between the principle characters. Examples are: Just Good Friends, Men Behaving Badly, The likely lads, Waiting for God

Awkward! – This is a relatively new form of sitcom that has become popular in the last 10 years or so. These shows will have a focus on characters and the comedy comes from the reaction to an act or situation rather than the typical set up and punch line. It seems to me that these shows are aiming to make the viewer feel uncomfortable as well as laugh, I equal measure. Raising a question in the viewer of whether they should actually be finding this character or situation funny. Examples are: The Office, Gavin and Stacey

As I mentioned previously, the majority of sitcoms will cross two, maybe even three of the above categories. However, they will always fit into a primary category that forms the crux of the show. For Example, “Steptoe and Son” could easily be slotted into “Just Us” as the show focuses on the relationship between a Father and Son. However, I contend that while this relationship is important to the show, the bigger key to both the heart and comedy of the show is the fact they are ‘Rag and Bone men’ (add in link). They are at the bottom of the social ladder with aspirations and desires of doing better. Therefore the show fits primarily into the “Underdogs” category. If they were wealthy the relationship between the two would change and the source of comedy would have to change. The same case can be made for “Only Fools and Horses”.

The point I should make is that some shows will shift as they evolve. “Blackadder” series 1 is very firmly in the Buffoon category and actually suffers for it. The writers understood this pretty quickly and from series 2 onwards the character of “Blackadder” changed to become the ‘only sensible person’, thus changing the drive and comedy of the show. It also becomes a lot better.

Looking back at the categories above it is easy to apply them to British sitcoms. I am not so sure, however, that they could be applied to sitcoms from other countries. For example, where would Friends fit in? I would suggest it would most likely be “The Circus” but it is this its primary crux? It makes me wonder then, as with so many other art forms, can we see a fiction telling a greater truth? In this case what it means to be British. I am sure that everyone, at one point or another has said “my life could be a sitcom” but which category do you, or others, see your life in?

What do you think of the above categories? Do you agree or disagree with them? Do you think that there are different categories for American sitcoms? Let me know what you think via email or social media

A final blog for 2016

It is pretty much generally accepted that 2016 has been a crap year, for many reasons. 

We have lost some of the most influential pop culture icons of the 20th Century. The loss of these people is sad and is a great loss to the creative arts but while we have lost the person their great work is still there and can and should be celebrated. I want to mention something about just two of these great people; David Bowie and Alan Rickman.

In response to the death of David Bowie earlier in the year I went and listened to his entire discography. I didn’t think it was all great but it was really fun to listen to it all and experience his creativity and get a glimpse of his imagination. Bowie was a fascinating character that was not tied into any traditional rules of what could be done as a pop / rock star, breaking down barriers for so many other people to follow. while he may not have had a direct influence on my life, listening to his music is easy to see that has influenced so many musicians and artists that have had an influence on my tastes. 

Alan Rickman was an actor that appeared massively in my life. For me he was the perfect depiction of the bad guy. His appearances in Die Hard, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and later the Harry Potter series established him in that role for me. I know he has appeared in loads of other films and is great in all of them but to me he personified the perfect villain. Is that a bad place to be? Depends how you look at it. The fact is he was a great actor and he will be greatly missed.

The point of this is to consider the celebration of each of these great people. They are a loss to pop culture but if you are a fan let people know why. That is a big part of what the podcast is about, going back experiencing and celebrating the work and influence of some great pop culture icons. I am really looking forward to celebrating the work of some of these icons, Elvis Presley and The Beatles. 

In addition to this we have seen a massive shift in political belief and loss of common sense. I don’t want to get into a detailed political tirade hear, that’s not the point of this site but there are a few things worth mentioning. The rise of populist politics is cause and effect and just shows that we do not learn lessons from history. Globally we experienced a period of boom during which we all got very comfortable and complacent. When the bubble burst in 2008 the world looked for someone to blame. Don’t get me wrong, there was someone to blame but we all let it happen and we have suffered the consequences.

The period of depression that has followed has been difficult and impacted everyone at home. Decisions that were made behind closed doors in a shiny office building we have meant we have suffered. This has re-established the notion that so much of our lives is out of our control. Knowing this is scary and we want someone to tell us why this happens, who is to blame and reassure us they will do something about it. A protective charismatic leader who we believe has our best interests at heart. In this dark fearful place is where the right wing thrives and its control across the world is growing like a mould.

This of course has been made worse by an escalation in terrorist violence the world over. I am not a religious person and have no theological dog in this fight. However just as a person I understand that this is a fight of good against evil, the twisting of a belief system that is based on hope and love. However, I also understand that this twisting is caused by fear and hatred of a perceived loss of control.

In both cases people worried about the future and their own small world have looked for something secure and clear cut to cling on to. Something that they can say provides perspective and clarity of purpose to their world. That is not to say that the actions that have been taken are right in anyway shape or form. Only that people driven by hatred have used peoples fear as a launch pad to spread more fear and hatred.

Ok, this part has become a bit of a rant, sorry about that. The point I want to make is that we have been here before. There are many examples but you only need to understand the rise of Nazism in Germany to appreciate the possible futures we are now facing. However, there is something that we can do about it.

20th Century Geek has been a positive passion project and while this year has had its own challenges personally it has taught me something about making time to do what you love. It has provided a channel to share a passion with friends and meet a host of people that share my passion or have introduced me to their passion for other things.

The best I can advise is find your positive passion, the thing that makes you happy and smile. Then follow that passion, keep it to yourself, share it or find others that share that passion, just keep happy. The world can be a dark place and instead of looking for someone to share your fear find someone who shares your love. Easier said than done? Well give it a try in 2017 and if you can, let me know what it is and how it goes.

To finish lets talk about the podcast. The podcast has been an experiment, which has meant that the shows have all been a little different in style and content. Having tried a few things, some of which haven't even seen the light of day, I am starting to settle on a format. There will be a lot more of Mike and I chatting about films and other historical tidbits. The one thing that I will be introducing in the new year are a series of interviews with people actively involved in things that celebrate elements of 20th Century Pop Culture. I am really excited about meeting these people and sharing their passion. 

Anyway, time to wrap up so Merry Christmas and have a great 2017. please feel free to contact me either through email or social media, I would love to talk to you about what your passionate about.