Saturday, July 22, 2017

Romero's devil was always in the details



George Romero never really liked being pigeon-holed as a horror director, but he was asking for it, because he was just so very good at scaring the shit out of us. All modern horror films - and a large amount of crime, thriller and comedy movies - owe a debt to Romero.

He brought horror out of the gothic castles and into rural and urban America, using his movies as broad and biting allegories on the state of the world, and he didn't flinch from showing just how brutal things could be. Many of his films were pleasantly ambiguous about this world of ours, and some of them were bluntly pessimistic.

While the broad strokes of his metaphors were obvious, Romero really made an impact on viewers with the deft use of tiny details and little moments that made his stories sing with terror, and give his movies life.

There was the soft slipping of the sheet covering Roger as he comes back in Dawn of the Dead, and the nasty villain telling the ghouls to choke on his intestines at the end of the Day. The sheep in the field in The Crazies, running past a tiny massacre; Martin's inept clumsiness as his romantic delusions crash into real life; Ed Harris' smile as he rides on out of this world in Knightriders. A zombie on a horse in Survival of the Dead, the unsettling cleanliness of Creepshow and the Amish dude's chalkboard in Diary of the Dead. The meathook at the end of the Night, the belly button ring in the Land, and the detail that went into that fucking eye in The Dark Half.


One that always stuck in my mind as desperately horrific in its banal finality was a tiny bit at the end of the original Dawn of the Dead - a zombie crashes into a display cabinet in the cosmetics section of an overrun department store, and then an undead foot steps on it, splattering goo over the floor.

There is something in that extraordinarily small moment that enforces the reality that this really is the apocalypse, really is the end of the world. The inhabitants of the mall have kept it remarkably clean and tidy as they used it as their own giant bunker, but when the dead reclaim it, they trod over everything, and make a hell of a mess, and nobody is ever going to clean it up. That paste, splattered across the floor, will lie there for a thousand years, and nobody will ever wipe it away. This is the new world, where all that materialistic bullshit means nothing. Nothing at all.

As wide as his allusions to society got, Romero was an incredibly subtle filmmaker, and he managed to raise big questions about race relations, just through casting decisions, that didn't need him to spell anything out. And it was in the tiny moments that made Romero a genuinely great filmmaker.

I hope he wins all the posthumous accolades he can, and that everybody makes dumb jokes about his career living on past his death. He would always grit his teeth beneath those enormous glasses whenever people made jokes about that in front of him, but you could always tell George was digging it.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Hello, Doctor.



The new Doctor is always the best Doctor.

Soon after it was announced today that Jodie Whittaker would be taking on the lead role of Doctor Who - and becoming the first female actor to do so - my local newspaper had a story up on its website saying that the decision had divided fandom, with hordes of man-boys crying into their cornflakes over the move.

If there is one benefit to living in a bubble created by social media algorithms, it's that I didn't see a single person complaining about the change, they were all 100 percent positive about it, and so am I. Even the people who didn't give a shit about the show were grudgingly happy that it was trying something different. Even one of my very best mates, who has been decrying possible femininity in the TARDIS for years, is a big fan of Whittaker's work, and is now excited about the possibilities.

(Okay, I did see a shit tweet from Ian Levine, retweeted by a incredulous friend, but Ian Levine is a contender for being one of the very worst people in Doctor Who fandom ever, so who gives a damn what he thinks?)

Overall, by far, there was a positive reaction, probably because it's a fundamentally decent and right decision. Doctor Who has survived this long by changing for the times, and this change has come again, and not a moment too soon. A female Doctor opens up all sorts of new storytelling possibilities, is empowering for a significant part of its audience, and takes the show into unexpected territory. Why would anybody ever complain about that?

Even though the programme isn't going to fundamentally change - there will still be loads of bonkers adventures in space and time, with a central figure is never cruel or cowardly and is just as strong as she ever was - this is something new for the 54-year-old  show, and that is always, always welcome.

Doctor Who fandom has had a huge and welcome influx of girls and women over the past decade, and it's only right and proper that they get some proper representation on this silly show. The future belongs to those 10-year-old girls geeking the hell out on YouTube, and it's about time they got a decent role model like the 13th Doctor.

Of course, it would be nice if these kinds of announcements actually took place in a story, rather than an oppressive PR blitz, but the video announcement of the new Doctor was a powerful statement of intent, and the thrill of the new and different.

I'm delighted to stay along for the ride.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Is that the meaning of life up on the bookshelf, or just a really spunky hardback?


Any kind of decent magical instruction will include the need for a totem - an object or thing that can be raised to ultra-significance by time and effort. It could be anything, but if you push enough thought and love and memory into the thing, the more important and powerful it becomes. It might mean nothing to anybody else, but it can literally become your own holy grail or philosopher's stone.

I've tried it a couple of times over the years, but it never really takes off, usually because I always lose the bloody thing just as it really gains in significance. The lovely wife and I have a little travel Buddha that always goes on every big trip we take, and we always rub his big belly for luck, and we usually get it. We've almost lost him a couple of times too - he almost got left on the roof of a taxi in Dubai and left behind in a hotel room in Winnipeg - but he's hanging in there for now.

But what about that bookcase, filled with comics and books, standing guard over my living room like a living monolith? It's always there, and it's filled with fiction and emotions. Is this my familiar? Is this my totem? Am I really that fucking shallow?


Oh yeah. I'm that fucking shallow.


There are nine bookcases in our small flat, and they're all solidly packed out with the usual chills and thrills, but the large one in the living room is definitely the big daddy.

It's five tall shelves high, reasonably deep and solid as fuck. It cost us several hundred bucks, and it's worth every cent. It looms over our living room, and is a constant beautiful distraction, because all the best stuff goes on that one. It is, quite literally, a showcase into my tastes and inclinations.


It's 80 percent comic books, all the Love and Rockets, all the favourite graphic novels and trade paperbacks and all the Big Books. Big, thick and deeply gorgeous art books anchor the whole thing, and favourite digest-sized comics fill all the gaps.

It's a big fucking bookcase, and while some things have a permanent home, there is a constant recycling of books through it. It's always changing, or growing, or shrinking, as the things I want to display change.

It's full of all sorts of crap, but it's not really anything unusual. There is nothing really that unique about my big bookcase, you'll find such bookshelves all over the world, in all sorts of homes.


But this one is mine, and I've put a lot of work into it. That constant shuffling is necessary, to get the right mix, and I'll never be properly satisfied with what it is saying.

Still, it looks sexy as hell. There are stories of infinite scope and endless novelty in those pages. There are literally universes on those shelves, entire sagas taking up one tiny corner of a shelf.

I always judge other people by the bookcases they have in their homes, and I expect to be judged by others for my own efforts. There is a lot going on in this bookcase, and it reveals a lot about my perspectives on the world, with doses of great literature pressed up hard against unashamed genre trash. All these books, all these comics, they're me.


And there is meaning in each one - I can remember where I got most of the volumes up there, and some of them are gifts, given with the greatest of affection, and some of them are comics that I've bought in shops all over the world, from Iceland to Invercargill.

We've only had this bookcase for a couple of years, but it's already charged up with the memories of where, when and why I got the things inside, dating back decades. It's all significant. It's all important. Nobody else should give a shit, but it all means something to me.


Even the shelves themselves have meaning - the bookcase was a gift from the lovely wife, to celebrate my 40th birthday. It's a solid and immovable symbol for our time together, and of the great affection we have for each other.

Bookcases are the only piece of furniture I never get rid of, unless they literally fall apart. I still have the small three-shelver that was literally my only piece of furniture when I first moved out of home, and it's storing all my cheap and cheerful paperbacks in the corner of the spare room.

Other furniture will come and go, but that big arse bookcase will be here to the end.


In the chaos and fear of this vast, unblinking universe, the bookcase is solid, and special. It's my totem. It's a big fat metaphor for everything I care about, and a solid-as-shit chunk of the world, taken up with enough books and comics to legitimately crush me to death if it ever went over. (This is a fairly likely fate, but what a way to go.)

It's dripping with significance. I can't fit it into the pocket like the travel Buddha, but it's always there, always waiting back at home.

And it's storing and displaying most of the finest things I've ever read, and some of the most beautiful art I've ever seen. Stories that changed the chemicals in my brain, and art that is so achingly perfect it's hard to hold back the tears. That's all got to count for something.


The shelves are deep, and my affection for things on there is even deeper, and that might actually make me shallow as fuck, but that's fine by me.

I've got my totem, and it's nearly as tall as I am, and a shitload heavier. It's full of all the memory and emotion I've poured into it for most of a lifetime, and it just keeps giving back.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The bad boys of Crisis - Skin and The New Adventures of Hitler


There was a glorious surge in interest in 'mature readers' comics in the late eighties in the UK, with the phenomenal mainstream success of comics like Watchmen and Maus sending publishers scrambling to fill new titles with political and socially aware comic strips (that also happened to be full of blood and tits).

There were terrifically anarchic efforts like Tank Girl, and the scattered work by the wider Deadline crew, and there were high-profile attempts to tap into this thirst for grown up comics. This included Crisis, the bi-weekly comic from the publishers and creators of 2000ad, which tried so hard to be one of the most edgy comics of its age, and never quite got there, although it was politically volatile and nakedly ambitious.

An ambitious failure is always far more interesting than a dull success, and Crisis had its share of both, but always tried to find the limits of grown-up comic books.

Remarkably, it actually found those limits, and even as Crisis took on some stories that were too hot for other publications, they discovered that the line was drawn at story about a thalidomide baby who grew up to be a little shit of a skinhead.


Of course, the Crisis comic was far from the first comic to take on political issues, while chasing an adult audience. Comic creators had been heading out into those uncharted waters for decades, with various explosions of underground and alternative comix.

But you didn't have to go to the local head shop for this fix,  Crisis showed up on regular newsstands, shelved near issues of the Beano, with some surprisingly hardcore content filtering its way into mainstream retailing.

And not just in the terms of sex and violence - the comic kicked off with some hardcore political screeds and subversive storytelling ideas. Writer John Smith brought his usual brilliant fractured narrative techniques to grown-up superheroes in the New Statesman, while Pat Mills' immaculately researched Third World War unashamedly took to its soapbox to deliver harsh polemics on the injustice of third world debt levels (while still having loads of action and peril).

Things got a little freer in the comic after the initial stories reached the end of their runs, and there were some safely charming stories, and a couple of genuinely thoughtful early efforts from Garth Ennis. It was all getting a bit safe, but Crisis was always looking out for something to rile up the squares, and it wasn't really that hard to find it. Actually publishing it was another story.


Once Crisis had been established, and was really looked like it was running out of puff, the comic got a powerful shot in the arm from The New Adventures of Hitler, the rip-tickling adventures of a young Adolf Hitler hanging out with family in England before WW1.

Proactively ideologically unsound, the strip was written by angry young Grant Morrison and drawn by his frequent - and welcome - collaborator Steve Yeowell. It had some of the most vomit-inducing colours in a modern comic book, and was far goofier and sillier than its title suggested.


In fact, apart from the general concept of portraying Adolf fuckin' Hitler with anything remotely resembling sympathy, the comic was actually pretty safe, skating on a thin edge of easy surrealism - Morrisey is in Hitler's cupboard - and showing that Hitler was always a bit of a tool.

It certainly wasn't condoning Nazism, and happily took some cheap shots at the whole fascism things. The strip also took great delights in comparing Hitler's ideas to Thatcherism, which the UK was only just starting to shrug off at the time of the comic's publication.

It was a liberal-baiting title, but unthinking nationalism was the real target of this story. It's all literally farts from a flatulent bulldog, or shit in an overflowing toilet, disguised as the Holy Grail.


The New Adventures of Hitler was originally intended for another publication, but got turfed out of that magazine, purely on the politically dodgy nature of the whole idea, rather than the actual content. It didn't take long for Crisis to snap it up, and publish it. There was the usual reaction of mild outrage, but it wasn't really a huge deal.

Crisis needed to publish it, because it was in danger of losing that edgy image it had set out to conquer. Although it had run into some predictably religious strife with Ennis/Pleece's True Faith, the anthology comic had already blinked once, and nobody was going to take them seriously if they did it again.


That blink was the unnerving and unflinching Skin, another in a devastating run of good comics from the team of peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy, with their usual acerbic wit and ultra-trippy visuals.

The strip was advertised in the comic as a coming attraction, and was ready to go, but never showed, reportedly because the printers wanted nothing to do with it. After a short spell in limbo, it was eventually published by Tundra, and has been reprinted several times since.


It wasn't actually that much of a surprise that it caused such a fuss before publication, because Skin is genuinely disturbing, but also brilliant in its humanity - victims of medical malpractice are still people, and can still be completely dickheads, if they wanna be.

Martin Hatchet is a little shit. A victim of the appalling thalidomide cluster-fuck, born with tiny arms, who doesn't give a shit about your sympathy. As one of his mates notes, the poor bugger can't even reach far enough to have a wank, so you can't blame him for having some anger issues.

But Martin has his mates, and finds a community among the other skinheads, and they just treat him as one of the lads. Their white power ideology is awful and moronic, but they still find a place for him.

Martin does, admittedly, end up ripping off somebody else's arms and tying them to his own, in an orgy of grim violence, but as confronting as the story is, it's truly progressive in giving this type of person such an unpleasant voice.


While Crisis kept trying to freak out its readers, it ran out of energy and was gone within a couple of years. It remains little more than a footnote in the history of British comics, but it still influenced a new generation of comic creators, willing to take up the cause of saying something outrageously offensive.

It's hard to imagine either of these two particular strips being published these days, where the most superficial reading of a story can overwhelm any measured reaction, and it's nearly impossible to imagine it showing up on the shelves of the local newsagent.

But for a while, there was a genuine effort to get this type of material into the minds of as many people as possible. Skin and the New Adventures of Hitler didn't spark another wave of craziness, but shit. At least they tried.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

This lack of bookshop is bad for everybody


This is a city of more than 1.5 million people, and getting bigger every day, and there isn't a single bookshop on the main street in the centre of town.

There are a couple of excellent bookstores, just a few streets off the main road, and a record shop that has a brilliant selection of esoteric literature and funky non-fiction, but there isn't a single dedicated bookshop anywhere on the main street. No chain stores, no classy independent stores, no second-hand stores. Nothing.

This isn't good for me, and it isn't good for you. It isn't good for anybody.


The migration of the second hand trade to the online sphere has had an obviously massive effect on brick and mortar stores, and is slowly wiping them from the map. Again, this is a city with hundreds of thousands of people living, loving, sleeping and reading in it, and there are barely a dozen second-hand bookstores across this whole city.

I'm a fiend for the second hand bookstores, and used to spend entire days criss-crossing the city, looking for something new from the old shops. I once calculated that a town or city had, on average, about one decent second-hand bookstore for every 10,000 people, now you're lucky if there is one per 100,000.

Another really good second hand bookstore near me disappeared recently, with the owner shutting up shop, and moving out of town, driven out by high rents and futile returns. It got replaced by a low-end fashion outlet. They always get replaced by something boring like that.


You can't blame people for buying all their books through places like Amazon, because it's cheaper and so easy to get the most obscure publication dropped into your lap. No effort, all reward.

I've bought a couple of dozen books from Amazon in this century, and hundreds and hundreds from actual shops. Getting something online is sometimes the only option, especially with a lot of books never getting imported to this part of the world. Sometimes it's the only way.

But browsing can be a fucking chore in this e-market, a dull, aching journey down the bottom of a click-list, forced to rely on algorithms that are trying to pick my tastes but never give me anything unexpected, or follow the purchasing patterns of similar customers. It's no fun.

And another reason it's no fun, is that it's so easy. There is no hunting for that one last book in a series you need, no joy of discovery. It just comes in the post, like a proper party pooper.


But I know that, for some bizarre reason, people prefer cheaper prices and easy convenience, and the second hand market is no match for an online trading auction. The book store trade has been choking to death on this for ages, with both big chain stores and small outlets going down the tubes, and the sheer amount of bookstores is dropping off across the world.

And what replaces them? Blank stores full of expensive and fundamentally useless phone technology. Shoe stores, and clothes shops, and health food outlets. Sheer narcissism over intellect, nothing beyond self-reflection, and no chance to take on another different points of view in some chunky publication.

It's the symptom of the age, this painful and vainglorious self-involvement. When we go shopping, all the bookstores are gone, so nobody is asking 'what can I learn today?', because they're too busy wondering 'does my arse look big in this'?

It looks fucking humongous, if you're asking.


There are still some bloody great bookstores out there - the few that have survived have been the sturdiest and strongest, with good selections and knowledgeable staff, and they often seem to be packed with eager customers, who just want a good substantial read.

But rents in the city still creeping up, and a lot of their clientele are hooked on their fucking phones, and as the print trade passes away from the mass market to the niche thrill, it all gets more expensive, and it's a slow, inevitable spiral to something a lot smaller, and harder to find.

Books are a highly-evolved creature that, for many people, still beats the unreliability and pixelation of digital format, so there will always be a place for some print, but it's not going to be everywhere, like it once was.


I fucking miss them, and a little part of me despairs every time I see another one has gone. I have no interest in going to the local malls anymore, with their one, sad chain bookstore that is more of a kids' stationery shop than anything else, and there isn't much in the centre of town either.

Binging on a Netflix TV show is the modern equivalent of reading a decent novel, and we're all still looking for information, but it all comes for free, on screens and direct downloads. Why bother with something as big and unwieldy as a book, just because it has far more information and truth and thought than can ever fit in an online article.


I'm fully aware that I risk accusations of being a fucking luddite, scared of technology and hanging on to a past of bookstore nirvana that has long since passed.

But it's not a fear of the future, it's a dismay at the lack of interest in intellectual stimulation, replaced by the constant self-involved hunger for name-brand merchandise to make you look good.

Don't worry about the clothes and shoes you wear, worry about the brain shriveling from lack of use. That isn't healthy for you. it's not healthy for anybody.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Put it in the back pocket


For somebody who has been collecting the damn things for nearly 40 years now, I still treat my comics absolutely terribly. They're always getting ripped, or faded, or stained by food.

I've got thousands of the fuckers, and they're all stuffed into boxes or chucked on bookshelves or crammed into the cupboard. None of them are slabbed to preserve them for all time with an expert grading. Half of them aren't even in any kind of protective bag.

If you're not in it for the money, who cares what condition they are in? It's not the thing that matters, it's the story within, and in some cases, every crease and rip in the original object has its own tale to tell.


I've never, ever bought a comic as an investment. I once almost bought two copies of the Claremont/Lee X-Men #1 issue, but even as young and dumb as I was then, it just seemed like a waste of precious comic budget money.

I did use it as an excuse plenty of times as a kid, justifying the cost of new comics to the family by pointing out that these things could be worth serious coin one day - 'But Dad, Ghost Rider #1 is worth $30 now!' - and, to be honest, I still play that same card with the lovely wife, to justify more storage space for this stuff - 'But dear, my complete Preacher run could buy us a car!'.


I'm just not a gambler, and the whole investment thing is a side of comics I'm not interested in playing with. It's fascinating to watch - I used to be a voracious reader of price guides just to see what people thought these things were worth, and what that said about the state of the industry - but I ain't no player.


Comic books were always supposed to be a disposable - one read and you're done. What kind of mental defective would want to read it again? That's part of the reason why old comics, even though they had print runs of hundreds of thousands of copies, still command big prices these days, because they were thrown out, and just seen as trash.

The paper is a lot slicker now, but it's still that same format of floppy paper, dished out serially, with an industry that is all built around what's coming next. Investors have been insta-slabbing their collections for years now, with a lot of comics preserved without ever getting cracked open.

But I don't buy these things to keep safe and pretty in a vault, I just want to read the fuckers, which leads to general wear and tear, and I might as well abandon any attempts at keeping it pristine. They're not designed that way.

Even though I adore the physical object, I don't care if it's perfect. Nothing in life is perfect. 


Besides, I like comics that are a bit roughed up, and have a history to them. As long as they're not missing chunks out of them, I'll take a creased-up copy of some Silver Age nonsense any day, especially when they're a lot cheaper that way.

Comics have always been hideously expensive by the time they get to this part of the world, and there isn't the vast amounts on the market that you find in the US, which pushes up the back issue prices, and you can end up paying phenomenal amounts for the few mint copies of key historic issues that actually exist in the country. Drop it down a couple of grades, and you can buy multiple crappy copies for the price of one perfect example. It's simple economics.


This lacklustre attitude towards comic preservation and conservation means that I can literally read them to death, especially the ones I had as a kid.

I've still got comics that I had when I was 7, random issues of the X-Men and Action Comics, that haven't just lost their covers over the years, the first four and last four pages have also been shed over time and lost. I hold on to these ragged things for pure sentimentality - and because I can still feel that youthful obsession with all things superhero burned into the page - but there really isn't any value in these tattered comics.

Sometimes I get the chance to upgrade - a couple of months ago I could've swapped the Excalibur issues I read the hell out of in the 1980s, which are only held together by sellotape and good intentions, for almost totally mint copies, basically for free, and it wasn't even the tiniest bit tempting. I've put a lot of work into those Claremont/Davis comics, I'm not going to give up on them now.

Even comics like my beloved issues of the Invisibles are showing their age, with fading and binding completely breaking down over the past 20 years, probably not helped by all those Saturday afternoons spent reading them on the beach with a bottle of Scrumpy, looking for the meaning of life in Grant Morrison comic books. Doesn't matter, not when there is a bit of my younger self seared into the pages.


I'm not a total fool - I still take enough care of them these days to keep them readable, and alive for as long as possible.

While the first signs of wear and tear mean nothing to me, I still make sure they are stored in a dry, cool environment, and there are regular checks for any kind of mould infestation, because damp and fungus destroys everything. Mouldy comics are no use to anybody.


But still, sometimes, when I buy a new comic book from the fine local store, I take a pathetic and perverse delight in telling them not to bother with the bag, and stuffing the comic in my back pocket as I head out the door.

The shop people are rightly horrified - their whole business is built around taking care of these things, and getting some kind of future investment out of them. I reckon they should be glad there are still idiots like me, trashing their treasured issues, because that makes them rarer for all the rest.

I don't want to worry about the responsibility of keeping my comics safe and clean. I just want to read the bloody things.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Doctor Who: Death at tea-time


Doctor Who is a kids’ TV programme about a lovable old duffer, roaming around the universe in a blue box with pretty companions and getting up to all sorts of adventures.

It can also be surprisingly brutal sometimes, with astronomically high body counts racked up in seemingly innocuous stories. It’s all fun and games and banter until the death rays come out, and then it’s corpses by the truckload.

The show’s 54-year history is soaked in blood, and while you can pick any era for examples of just how cruel the carnage can get, there are some periods that are particularly bloodthirsty, loading up on the murder at tea-time.



After a literal lifetime as a Doctor Who fan, I’ve been slowly watching the whole series in a row for the first time ever, and it's taken a while to get through the black and white era, Especially when a lot of those episodes don't exist anymore, except as barely watchable reconstructions.

It's still been great going through the Hartnell and Troughton years, finding new appreciation for things like the Myth-Makers and the Macra Terror, but it's a relief to get into the seventies, where the episodes all still exist, even with an overdose of seven-part stories.

So I'm getting stuck into the Pertwee years now, watching some episodes I haven't seen since the eighties. The show has got nailed down to an earthly setting, and there is a lot more location work, and the whole TV show has never looked more earthy and real.

And while there is still a lot of silliness going on - the budget is still about five quid an episode, and Pertwee can never miss an opportunity to indulge in some unnecessary mugging and gurning - the 'real world' setting is taken to the logical conclusion, and clashes with alien intelligence lead to loads of innocent blokes getting killed.


In the first few episodes of Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor, there is a noticeable ramping up of the death and carnage. Sometimes it's bad guys meeting ironic fates, and sometimes it's UNIT soldiers being wiped out by creatures impervious to their rifle fire, and sometimes it's just some poor commuters standing at the bus stop.

There are people dying of a mega-plague launched by the original reptilian masters of the Earth that is only just cured before it wipes out all of humanity; shoppers and people going to work on a Tuesday morning are gunned down by living shop mannequins in the street; dazed alien lifeforms in astronaut suits kill anyone in their way with a touch; and a whole world gets wiped out by lava boiling up out of the earth's surface - it's okay, it's just a mean and nasty parallel world, but a few people still need to be throttled by green, panting caveman before the say is saved.

Soldiers, policemen, farmers' wives. Nobody was safe from death from above.


There was always a  lot of death in Doctor Who, right back to the first episodes in the early sixties. The final Troughton story alone featured all sorts of war-related brutality, and the Daleks had literally murdered billions of people before they ever appeared in colour on TV

But it isn't just the numbers that makes these killings just a bit more traumatic, it was that setting, and the blazing new colour of the new decade. These deaths weren't taking place on a wobbly set, these were taking place on city streets, in suburban homes, and in local forests. This wasn't the staged theatricality of set-bound filming, this was dirty, and rough, and clumsy, just like real life. Pertwee always had a good point about the Yeti in Tooting Bec - it really was more powerful to have these monsters crash into the real world, rather than on the third moon of Arrtaabarrga.

And it was all so casual, all these bodies lying around all over the place - it rarely seemed to be too traumatic for the characters as least. There would be the usual gritted teeth at some unfortunate casualty, but they would be back to cheap quips before the end credits. Life goes on, for most, anyway.


It's worth noting that the professional craftspeople and tradespeople working on this silly little television show at the time had all lived through the horrors of the second World War, and a fair few of them had fought in it.

They were used to body counts as a fact of life, and that casual acceptance of it jars with these days of health and safety. Don't make a fuss, keep calm and carry on, even as your neighbors house is bombed to bits. And if a spaceman shot your wife, it was just not worth dwelling on, old boy.


Some of the trauma inflicted the show's young audience by these early Pertwee adventures filtered through over the years, and would show up in the stories created by new generations.

One of the best was David Bishop's excellent Who Killed Kennedy, a spin-off from the New Adventures line from the nineties, where unabashed fanboys ran rampant over Who continuity, finding new depths in silly old stories.

And those depths were found in one of the main characters in Who Killed Kennedy,  a UNIT soldier, who is one of the faceless army men who were frequently used as cannon fodder, who has a total breakdown after seeing his mates murdered by little green men, going right over the edge when the actual devil appears in The Daemons.

The poor sod is, of course, turned into a brainwashed assassin, but who can blame him for losing his marbles, with all that slaughter and very human trauma, in the battles against interstellar evil.


More than four decades later, and Doctor Who still has an impressive body count, and while the current series does have admirable 'everybody lives!' moments, it's a rare episode that doesn't end with some kind of mortal sacrifice.

But it's still never quite as traumatic as those poor extras in seventies haircuts, collapsing in the street as an alien nightmare stalks the grey and wet city. As a show, Doctor Who took a big step forward with thw Pertwee years, it's just a shame so many people got squashed by the footprint.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Should've had a wank instead!






From Dicks, by Ennis and McCrea, the only comic my old mate Chris would ever read....

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Terror, gore and the best horror on the newstand


The magazine format had a good, long run as one of the world's premiere media formats, but they're just not the mass medium they once were. But some specialised, niche publications can still find an audience that can last a long time, and are, somewhat remarkably, still out there on a fairly regular basis.

It is with considerable happiness and no small admiration that I note that two of the nastiest, goriest magazines I've ever read are still out there, still educating new generations of horror fans, and still showing lurid pictures of some fucked-up film gore.


When I started working full-time and earning my own money in the early nineties, before I developed a crush on the Empire movie magazine that is still going on every month, my two favourite magazines in the world were, undoubtedly, Fangoria and The Dark Side. One from the US and one from Britain, and both devoted to all things horror.

They were addictive reads, especially since I'd been a total horror hound throughout the teenage years, watching dozens and dozens of movies on video tape, tracking down the most obscure shit, and staying up late on Sunday nights for a glimpse of something scary and new.

All that horror, and there were still some things I could never find - it took me forever to track down all the decent Hammer films, and it would literally be decades before I could track down some of the weirder, more esoteric stuff. There would be thrills in finally tracking down something as monumental as the original Last House On The Left, or even something as obvious as Driller Killer.

It's all on YouTube or easily downloadable these days, even some of the most obscure nonsense, even stuff that was massively controversial back in the day, but that just takes the fun of the hunt out of it, really.


But in those pre-internet days, when it came to reference books and general writing about horror films, pickings were slimmer than a desiccated, devoured corpse. There were a couple of big, glossy hardback books that I ate up, and would read and read over again, fascinated by details of German somnambulist nightmares of the silent era, or the strange shifts in tastes and tolerances over the decades, or the gruesome tiny details of modern slasher films.

As in-depth as these things could be - and they could go pretty fucking deep - they were still trying to cover a century of scary movies, and there were literally thousands and thousands of films in the genre. They couldn't get to them all, or would only have the most perfunctory information.

But monthly publications always had lots and lots of pages to fill, and while that kind of immediacy meant they were always bound to the whims of the latest news about forthcoming nightmares, they could also provide a long, dark look at all sorts of horror, from all sorts of eras.


Fangoria was, unsurprisingly, the slicker product, full of Hollywood madness and big budget make-up effects. But the best parts of the magazine were always when it took detours down the grimy, sleazier parts of the US film industry, covering movies with breathless enthusiasm that would never be heard of again, often not even good enough to get a DVD release.

And it could also, for a magazine available in respectable newsagents all over the world, be exceptionally gory, showing the gruesome fates of cinematic victims in wide-eyed glory. For close-ups of the sheer artistry of Tom Savini and his chums, you couldn't beat the Fango.

That devotion to the gruesome actually meant the magazine always had a wide net to cast, and it could cover things that weren't strictly horrific, like SFX-laden blockbusters and violent crime sagas - Fangoria was the first place I ever saw talking about John Woo films, in David J Schow's amazingly insightful Raving And Drooling columns.


Over on the other side of the Atlantic, The Dark Side was a bit grottier and grosser, with more of a love for Eurotrash filmakers like Jean Rollin, Jesus Franco and a horde of other dirty old pervs behind the camera.

Even better, while it had plenty of news and reviews of all the latest terrors, The Dark Side was more focused on history, with some long features on stuff that was amazingly obscure, and definite articles on super-nasty Italian zombie epics.

For a long, long time, it also had an invaluable A-Z review of every goddamn genre film ever made, which was incredibly comprehensive, issue after issue, taking months just to get through the 'C's.


It wasn't just these two magazines, they were just the biggest, and the most consistently entertaining and informative. There have, of course, been all sorts of other magazines and publications about horror films, long before these publications first came out, and even more in the years since. (Famous Minsters of Filmland is the most obvious example of this, and keeps getting resurrected more often than Dracula, but it was never my magazine of choice -  I just couldn't take the truly horrific puns.)
 
Some of them were more focused on the gore side of things, or were purely all about the VFX, and they could be good enough, but none of them ever had the charm or longevity of these two magazines. Most of them were wiped out as the audience migrated online, to discussion forums and Facebook groups, the community expanding far, far beyond the confines of the printed letter page.


You never really grow out of a love of horror films,  but you can get too old to be that obsessed about them, and I haven't bought Fangoria or the Dark Side regularly for 20 years now. But they're still out there, even in this mediapocalypse, even in this age of social media and apps and hot takes.

They might not be as regular as they once were, but they still show up in my local newsagents every few months, and I still get the odd issue, just to check in on the scene, and see some gross new thing I've never heard about anywhere else, or a new write-up on the secret lives of horror auteurs.

When it comes to movies designed to scare the shit out of you, or at least make you feel a bit queasy there is always something new to look forward to, and always something old to revisit. And one of the best places to find them is in the pages of the magazine.