Sunday, 25 June 2017

Witchfinder General.

Tigon Films, Witchfinder General
It's one of those strange ironies of life that many of the best Hammer Horror movies you've ever seen weren't made by Hammer.

Films like The Creeping Flesh and Horror Express manage to dutifully capture the Hammer lightning in their bottles while adding a whole new twist to them, despite being the product of totally unrelated companies.

Likewise, Tigon's Witchfinder General takes the Hammer feel and deftly fashions something memorable from it.

In it, Vincent Price's Matthew Hopkins stalks the villages of Civil War England, torturing and executing so-called witches in exchange for ample helpings of cash and nookie.

Vincent Price, Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General
Unfortunately for him, when he decides to kill an innocent priest (Rupert Davies) and make use of his kind-hearted niece (Hilary Dwyer), he arouses the vengeful wrath of her fiancé Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy) who vows to God that he'll hunt Hopkins down and send him to his maker.

The even worse news for Hopkins is that Marshall is a newly promoted officer in the Roundhead army and brings several of his friends with him.

When the film came out in 1968, it was either berated by critics for its brutality and general all-round nihilism or simply ignored by them but, just as Hopkins was to face justice, so it wasn't long after its release before justice started to arrive for the movie and people realised they had a classic on their hands.

Witchfinder General, witch drowning, Tigon FilmsThe film's remorselessly bleak, with its characters inhabiting a land torn apart by war, prejudice and stupidity. It's a land in which few seem to feel any concern at all for their fellow man and will eagerly betray and kill each other at the drop of a hat.

Likewise, the East Anglian countryside in which it's set is seen as both idyllic and sinister while clearly indifferent to the lives of the irrelevant and temporary beings who occupy it.

The film's completely dominated by the endlessly menacing presence of Price and it says everything about the power of his performance that he manages to stride around 17th Century England with an American accent and yet never feels in the slightest bit like he doesn't belong there. Likewise, Robert Russell as his assistant deserves praise for managing to make his own character a man you can't wait to see get a sword in the ribs.

Bizarrely, in America, the film was released as The Conqueror Worm, surely one of the worst titles for a horror film ever. Apparently, this was done in order to make it sound like it was an Edgar Allan Poe adaptation (Price being inextricably linked in the public mind, at the time, with Poe adaptations). Despite this madness, it did well at the US box office, even if the critics were as sniffy about it as British ones had originally been.

Witchfinder General, Tigon Films
I've seen it described as England's only ever Western which is, to my mind, a stretch. While its theme of a man on horseback seeking to avenge crimes against his loved ones in a lawless time has much in common with Westerns, its setting and mood are too different from that genre for it to be a comfortable fit.

Praise also has to go to its soundtrack, which sounds like something from those public information films we had to endure in my childhood. The ones that always boasted about the work of the National Trust and informed us of ancient battles involving swords, flintlocks and cannons.

Witchfinder General isn't a period horror film in the sense that people like me tend to think of period horror films, thanks to it possessing no supernatural menace. In a sense, it's the antithesis of such movies, establishing that there's no such threat as the supernatural and promoting a rationalist stance in the face of superstition. But it's still a horror film, just one that reminds us that the worst monsters are made of human flesh and don't need magical powers in order to spread their evil. Needless to say, the Steve Does Comics' Thumb-o-meter give it a thumbs up.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

June 22nd, 1977 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

For the whole of this week, much of the UK's been baking in a heatwave beyond human imagination.

But what of this week of forty years ago? Was it also enjoying the full power of the sun?

I don't have a clue. I kind of feel like it was but have no evidence at all to back up this claim.

Still, even if the weather wasn't any good, there was no reason to care, because we had warmth in our souls that only reading the output of our favourite comics company could instill.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #37, the Highwayman

Hooray! It's a Silver Jubilee epic, as the Highwayman makes his M1 bothering debut!

That's one hell of a bike he's riding, if it can smash a juggernaut in half. What the hell is it made of?

I do love his monocle though. It's amazing how few criminals wear monocles in real life. Clearly, they have no class at all.

But it's surprising how well I remember so many of the good Captain's foes, bearing in mind that none of them were exactly what you'd call stellar.

Meanwhile, the Fantastic Four are having trouble with Kala and the Mole Man, and Nick Fury's still mithering about who Scorpio is/was, while Spider-Man's teaming up with Captain America to tackle the Grey Gargoyle.

It has always intrigued me that Marvel has a tradition of spelling, "Grey," the British way when it comes to character names. They also spelled Jean Grey the same way. And isn't, "Grey Hulk," always spelt the British way? What can this signify? Is it some edict that was passed by Stan the Man and has been maintained ever since?

Super Spider-Man and the Titans #228, the Kingpin

Spidey's still having trouble with the Kingpin.

But what all this tells me is it's not going to be long before we start to get Spectacular Spider-Man reprints sharing the mag with the Amazing Spider-Man ones.

Marvel UK must have seen it as an absolute Godsend when that comic was launched, given the rate at which their Spidey reprints were catching up with the US originals.

Mighty World of Marvel #247, Dracula

Planet of the Apes disappears forever from the pages of Mighty World of Marvel, to be replaced by the lord of the undead himself.

This was a welcome turn for me, as I loved Dracula and had grown highly weary of the apes by this point.

Elsewhere, Jarella's taking an awful lot longer to pop her clogs than Gwen Stacy did.

Marvel UK, Fury #15

Nick Fury's still taking the fight to the Nazis.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

2000 AD - May 1979.

Blimey, this is going to be a terrible post. I'm back for my monthly look at what the galaxy's greatest comic was up to thirty one years and one month ago but have no memory at all of the covers featured below nor of the contents of the comics.

Even worse than that, nor can I unearth anything interesting that happened anywhere in the world in May 1979. Needless to say this gives me very little to talk about.

Therefore, all I can offer is the news that special investigator Rick Random makes his 2000 AD debut in Prog 113.

I would claim this is a momentous moment but I have to admit to having no memory at all of Rick Random nor of anything he got up to. I've done an image search for pages featuring him, in the belief that would jog my memory but none of them rings any bells at all.

Whoever he is, he was, apparently, created way back in the 1950s and was, for a while, written by Harry Harrison of Stainless Steel Rat fame. He would also appear to have hardback books dedicated to him, suggesting he's a man with a fanbase.

But, despite such longevity, Random seems to have totally bypassed my consciousness until now.

Other than that, I can pass no comment on the issues from this month. So, here they are.

2000 AD Prog 111, Judge Dredd

2000 AD Prog 112

2000 AD Prog 113, Judge Dredd

2000 AD Prog 114, Ro-Busters

Thursday, 15 June 2017

June 15th, 1977 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

On this night in 1977, BBC One was showing Carry On Screaming, which I'm fairly certain was the first time I ever saw that film. How I reeled at the sight of Oddbod's rampages and Harry H Corbett turning into a cross between a werewolf and Mr Hyde.

I do regard Screaming as being part of the series' golden quartet of movies, along with Cleo, Cowboy and Up The Khyber. Interesting that they were all made within four years of each other and that that period also included Spying and Follow That Camel. Truly 1964 to '68 was the golden age of the Carry On movie.

So, Carry On Screaming was all very comical.

But you know what wasn't comical?


Despite their name, comics were serious business in the hands of Marvel UK.

And that sounds like a cue for me to investigate just what titles I might have been reading in the week which led up to that watershed evening.

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #36

My razor-sharp intellect tells me this may be the issue in which our hero gets his Star Sceptre, which means he can now fly everywhere, instead of having to pole vault.

Despite this improvement in his crime-fighting abilities, I can't say it made him any more interesting to me.

In fact, upon consideration, I think it actually made him less interesting to me, as it made him even harder to relate to than before. First he owned a manor house,  then he had super-powers, now he had a sceptre. It wasn't exactly establishing him as a man of the people.

Mighty World of Marvel #246, The Hulk and Planet of the Apes

The Hulk is still having trouble with Psyklop - and the people of the Planet of the Apes are suddenly having trouble with the Terror Toads. I don't know what a Terror Toad is but it has to be even more nightmarish than a Frightening Frog.

Marvel UK, Fury #14

It says it all about me that when I first clapped eyes on this cover while preparing to compose this post, it immediately made me think, not of Nick Fury, but of that 1980s episode of Doctor Who where we see a Dalek fly up a flight of steps for the first time.

How dramatic that scene seemed at the time and how it convinced me that the show was finally back on the right track after what felt like years of self-inflicted awfulness.

Super Spider-Man and the Titans #227, the Kingpin

The Kingpin's devious plan to steal Spider-Man's life force and pump it into his own son continues apace.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Black Panther movie trailer.

By the chilling mists of Serpent Valley! Is there no end to how many super-hero movies we can take?

Seemingly not - because, hot on the heels of eighty five billion and one other comic book adaptations, we've now been blessed with a teaser trailer for Marvel's Black Panther.

Well, the last Marvel trailer I saw was the one for Thor: Ragnarok. Given that the Panther is noticeably more Earthbound than the thunder god, can this possibly hope to live up to that for thrills, chills and spills?

Here's were we find out...

Well, that was all every nice, wasn't it? It all looked suitably photogenic in the way you'd expect it to. Otherwise, it's hard to have an opinion really. As far as I can see, all we really learn from it is that the Black Panther is in it and Wakanda is in it. Call me psychic but I sort of took those two things for granted.

But what else is in it?

Is Killmonger in it?

Is Baron Macabre in it?

Is Monica Lynne in it?

Is that bloke who's in the chair, talking about Wakanda, Klaw before his transformation?

I have no idea.

All that apart, my main impression from watching the teaser is of a strange and annoying visual gloom. It has to depict the most underlit sequence of events I've seen since Aliens v Predator 2, a film that was so dark that we had to take their word for it that there were actually even any aliens and predators in it. I trust the entire movie won't be shot in such gloom and that the scenes where they remembered to turn the lights on simply failed to make it into the trailer.

Still, if the trailer doesn't really tell us anything, there's nothing in it that sets the alarm bells ringing. For instance, there's no sign of Jack Kirby's Black Musketeers or of King Solomon's Frog.

Then again, there's no sign of Hatch-22 or whatever he was called, who I would love to see show up in a Marvel movie.

But, good grief. I'm so stupid that I've only just realised that, "Hatch-22," is a pun on, "Catch-22."

Then again, it took me forty years to realise, "The Cod War," was a pun on, "The Cold War." How different the past seems when you suddenly realise these things.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Forty years ago today - June 1977.

June 1977 was the month ITV descended into madness when it broadcast the legendary documentary Alternative 3 which posited that, thanks to a secret base on the moon, America and Russia had achieved a joint landing on Mars in 1962 and covered it up.

"Why is no one doing anything about this?" we all demanded.

Well, we didn't really because ITV admitted all along that it was a spoof originally planned for broadcast on April the 1st but delayed by industrial action.

Regardless, the show became a legend in conspiracy circles and, to this day, there are those who swear blind it was all genuine and that it was the claim that it was a hoax that was in fact the hoax.

With all that sort of thing going on, it's no wonder we had to take refuge in comics.

Amazing Spider-Man #169

Hooray! It's more Clone Saga significance as it turns out someone's sent J Jonah Jameson photos of Peter Parker destroying his own duplicate in an incinerator.

I do remember Petey getting off the hook by doing some very unlikely photo compositing that'd require him to be as big a genius at photo manipulation as he is at science and costume design. Is there no end to his talents?

That's all well and good but did we ever find out who took the incriminating photos?

Spectacular Spider-Man #7

I'm sure I must have read this but I don't remember it. Is that Gloria Grant with Spidey or is it just some random woman?

X-Men #105, Firelord

Wasn't this issue some sort of fill-in tale, thanks to the dreaded deadline doom?

Was it the one that featured a flashback to the New X-Men fighting evil lookalikes of the Original X-Men in the Danger Room? I remember it being quite annoying, seeing as we were all waiting, with baited breath, for the next part of the Lilandra epic to arrive.

Then again, Firelord was always quite annoying too.

Avengers #160, Grim Reaper

The Grim Reaper's still having family problems.

Captain America and the Falcon #210, the Red Skull

I'm assuming that's a symbolic cover and the Red Skull's not really turned into some kind of murderous head octopus?

Conan the Barbarian #75

Conan's involved in trouble again.

Thor #260, the Executioner

I'm fairly sure I've never read this one.

I must confess I never found either the Enchantress or the Executioner overly interesting. Plus, they did have the air of being a total pair of losers about them.

Incredible Hulk #212

I believe this was the first time I ever encountered The Constrictor.

Come to think if it, I'm pretty sure it was the last time as well. Didn't he show his tactical genius by being electrocuted by a street lamp?

I have a feeling it's somewhere around this time that we first get to meet that magician whose name I forget. Was it The Great Kropotkin?

And didn't we also get to meet Bruce Banner's new landlady around this time?

And doesn't Betty Ross get a makeover sometime around this time?

It's clearly a significant time in the Hulk's history.

Fantastic Four #183, Annihilus

Isn't the big, green person, bottom right, one of the Mad Thinker's androids who's got stuck in the Negative Zone and somehow mutated into an unstoppable giant as a result?

Daredevil #146, Bullseye

I think I had this issue but I can't recall the contents.

Despite the versatility of his murderous methodologies, I must confess that Bullseye never really grabbed me any more than the Executioner and the Enchantress did.

Invincible Iron Man #99

Wonder Woman #205The Mandarin's causing trouble on a cover reminiscent of the front of Wonder Woman #205.

Of course, in that issue, the bad guy was Doctor Domino, possibly the most ludicrous super-villain I've ever encountered. There aren't many men who think that dressing as a stage hypnotist and having a giant domino where your head should be looks menacing.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

June 8th, 1977 - Marvel UK, 40 years ago this week.

We all know that the most annoying people on Earth are those lunatics who insist that human beings and dinosaurs never co-existed.

We all know full well they did co-exist because we've all seen the documentaries that prove it.

And perhaps the most famous of those documentaries is One Million Years BC, in which a beautiful blonde cavewoman in a designer bikini has a series of prehistoric misadventures while declaring, "Akita!" at every possible opportunity. How we gasped as she tried to survive onslaughts from allosauruses, pterodactyls, brontosauruses, giant turtles, giant lizards, giant spiders, apemen and Martine Beswick.

"That's all great," I hear you cry, "And highly educational but what does it have it do with the price of velociraptor eggs?"

What it has to do with it is that, on this night in 1977, BBC One was showing that very documentary. Oh yes, you can keep your Walking With Dinosaurs, Kenneth Branagh. We had much better stuff back in those days.

We also had great stuff to read as well - and top of that list of reading matter was the output of the venture the world knew as Marvel UK.

But just what was it up to in the comics that bore that epochal cover date?

Marvel UK, Captain Britain #35

Our hero showing the, "Never say die," spirit that made our nation great.

I do believe that, in this issue, we get John Buscema's retelling of the FF's origin and also Nick Fury trying to find out just who Scorpio is or was.

I'm confused. Was Scorpio Nick Fury's brother or was he just pretending to be?

Super Spider-Man and the Titans #226, the Kingpin

I'm not sure what's going on on that cover. Are they in a TV studio?

If so, why? I can't remember a TV studio featuring in the story and, as we all know, when it comes to comics, my memory is impeccable.

Mighty World of Marvel #245, Hulk v Psyklop

The Hulk retains his dignity by falling over and headbutting the floor.

Then again, I can't say I remember the Hulk ever acting in a manner that could be called dignified.

Anyway, does the return of Psyklop mean we're about to get the death of Jarella?

Elsewhere, the Planet of the Apes strip would appear to have turned into some sort of Atlas Comics style Conan knock-off. It's now clearly unrecognisable as a spin-off of the film series that spawned it.

Marvel UK, Fury #13

Just twelve more weeks go before I'm put out of my misery and can stop having to try and think of things to say about Fury.

I notice it's one pence cheaper than the other Marvel UK comics. That's an interesting talking point, I'm sure.

I do always wonder why the plural of, "Commando," is, "Commandos," and not, "Commandoes." I mean, the plural of, "Tornado," isn't, "Tornados."
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