Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Thing 2: A Sequel Frozen in the Lost Video Game Wasteland

Since I added The Thing prequel to my Blu-ray collection (read my review here), I've been on a bit of a Thing kick lately. I watched John Carpenter's 1982 movie again, and I've been looking through various Thing fan sites to see if I can learn anything new about this sporadically active franchise. While the poor box office performance of 2011's The Thing precludes another Thing movie any time soon, I was surprised to discover that there was yet another Thing project in the works even before anyone considered a prequel on the silver screen. The project was called The Thing 2, and it was designed by Computer Artworks as a sequel to their 2002 The Thing video game.

From what I've been able to piece together, development of The Thing 2 was discontinued after Computer Artworks shut down in 2004. I've found some conceptual artwork for this game online, which you can see in the picture gallery I've assembled below. Read on....

Monday, February 27, 2012

Manga Legend Osamu Tezuka--Live Onstage in Washington DC!

Attention, anime and manga fans who live in the Washington DC area: The play Astro Boy and the God of Comics, a tribute to the late manga maestro Osamu Tezuka, is currently being performed at Studio Theater. This production is scheduled to run until March 11, 2012.

Astro Boy and the God of Comics was written and staged by Natsu Onoda Power, a lifetime fan of Tezuka's work. In fact, Power earned her PhD at Northwestern University through a dissertation on Tezuka, which she later adapted into her book God of Comics: Osamu Tezuka and the Creation of Post World War II Manga.

Tezuka's Astro Boy, on the printed page... 

... And on the stage at Studio Theater.

Power's play weaves together certain aspects of Tezuka's real life with the fictional life of one of his most popular characters, Astro Boy. Even though Tezuka is known for his work in manga, Power uses a wide variety of art--cartooning, animation, video, drawing, illustration, and puppetry--as part of her play. By using an eclectic selection of visual expression while examining the life of Tezuka, Astro Boy and the God of Comics honors both Tezuka's legacy and the exuberant spirit that springs from all forms of artistic creation.

Click here for information about show times and tickets, as well as to read Peter Marks' review for The Washington Post. Click here and here to read additional reviews from the Washington City Paper and the We Love DC site.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Advanced Geek Photography and Kenner Star Wars Action Figures

When you hear the term "professional photography", certain things immediately come to mind--fashion modeling, photojournalism, art photography, and studios and freelancers who specialize in niche markets such as wedding photos, family photos, graduation photos and so on. Yet professional photographers can be employed to take pictures of just about anything, including cars, appliances, food, and toys ... including toys from a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Meet Pete, an avid collector of vintage Star Wars toys. Due to limited space within his own home that precludes a worthy display of his collection, he opted instead to take pictures of the action figures and vehicles so he could appreciate them on his computer. His photo collection of his toy collection eventually grew into his own blog, which is called Star Wars Action Figures Doing What They Do Best. As someone who grew up with Star Wars toys, the toys that introduced me to the joys of scale replicas and obsessive collecting, I'm amazed at how good these toy pictures are. I don't know if Pete is a professional photographer or not, but his inspired usage of lighting, focus, color and object placement in each photo reflects a talented eye for photography--a very impressive feat, considering that most of Pete's subjects are less than four inches high.

Click the link above to go to Pete's site to see all of his photos, and you can also click here to read an interview with him on the Galactic Awesome blog site. Pete also let me post a few of his pictures here (such as the above picture of Darth Vader); click below for a small gallery of some of his work, as well as a few thoughts about how Kenner used photography when it first launched its Star Wars action figure line.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Who Can Kill a Child? Movie Review

Killer kids rank as one of the most frequently used shock gimmicks in horror movies. Titles such as The Bad Seed, The Devil Times Five, The Omen, Children of the Corn and Orphan have milked this idea repeatedly, sometimes even basing an entire franchise on it. Yet very rarely do filmmakers use this plot device to make a larger point--such as how society is repeatedly failing its young in the face of modern, industrialized warfare. Such is the theme of Who Can Kill a Child? (a.k.a. Island of the Damned), a 1976 shocker that was written and directed by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador.

Serrador was no stranger to horror when he did Who Can Kill a Child?. Even though he has done much more work for television during the course of his career, he previously directed the gothic thriller The House That Screamed (read my review of that film here), which demonstrated his thorough understanding of the horror genre. With Who Can Kill a Child?, Serrador takes the plot device of homicidal children and places it in the context of the most brutal military conflicts, from World War II to the Vietnam war, thus creating a revenge story of sorts. In other words, Serrador uses his movie to speculate what would happen if children would one day rise up in unison to overthrow their greatest enemy: adults. The resulting film is very unsettling, leaving other killer kid movies look quite tame (if not outright hokey) by comparison. Read on for my complete review.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Classic Movie Monsters Terrorize Toy Fair 2012!

Well, the annual Toy Fair has come and gone yet again. There were many familiar licenses present at this year's event, including Star Wars, DC and Marvel superheroes, and revived 80s-era toy lines such as G.I. Joe, He-Man, Thundercats, Transformers and Voltron. Yet among these popular titles were a few faces from Hollywood's classic creature features, thanks to Diamond Select.

I've already posted about how Lego is including classic movie monsters as part of its kit sets, and I mentioned how Diamond Select was continuing its Retro Cloth Universal Monsters line as part of the ongoing legacy of the Mego Corporation. Yet when I was looking through the comprehensive Toy Fair 2012 photo galleries on the Cool Toy Review site, I was very pleased to see that Diamond Select has much more in store for classic movie monster lovers in 2012. Click below to learn more about why you should be saving your money for this fantastic new items, along with pictures that were provided courtesy of Cool Toy Review.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Nerd Rant: To See or Not To See The Phantom Menace in 3D

I sense a three dimensional disturbance in The Force.

I love 3D movies, I love Star Wars, and I love the special effects work done by George Lucas-backed companies such as Industrial Light and Magic. However, I have no desire to see the re-release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 3D. The reason is simple: Based on several reviews I've read, the converted Phantom Menace movie doesn't take full advantage of the new dimension it is supposed to have. It ranked fourth during its first weekend at the box office but I doubt that's enough to justify the cost of converting just one film to 3D, let alone six. Furthermore, if Phantom Menace falls off the top ten list this upcoming weekend, then the future of a complete Star Wars saga in 3D is more doomed than Alderaan.

What gives? This is George Lucas we're talking about here. If there's anyone in Hollywood who has easy and ready access to the latest special effects technology, it's him--and yet Phantom Menace didn't get a decent conversion to 3D? Really?

Naturally, I'm severely disappointed that the Star Wars 3D movie experience that was supposed to be probably won't happen at all. Yet the real reason why I am posting this rant is that deep, deep down inside of my little geeky heart, I'm hoping that someone will give the high-definition 3D treatment to one or more of the older anaglyph 3D classics, classics such as House of Wax and Dial M for Murder. Thus, I'm sure that the box office performance of re-released, 3D-converted titles such as Phantom Menace will have an impact on whether or not that happens. After carefully considering what has happened so far, I think that this could very well be the first time that Lucas' technological savvy has been trumped ... by Disney. Click below to learn about how the House of Mouse has beaten The Flanneled One to the 3D punch.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Many Faces of Mego at Toy Fair 2012 (UPDATED)

The Mego Corporation may be dead but its influence on the world of toy hobbyists and collectors lives on, courtesy of companies such as Bif Bang Pow!, Diamond Select, and EMCE Toys.

As I've noted before (see here and here), Mego's design of its 8-inch action figure was a work of pure genius in the amount of flexibility it could bring to any toy license. All the figure needed was a customized head sculpt and cloth suit, and it could be used as a soldier, or a superhero, or a monster, and so on. The design also allowed for hobbyists to make their own customized figures using affordable materials that can be purchased at a variety of stores. If the toys that are currently on display at Toy Fair 2012 in New York are any indication, Mego's spirit of adaptability is alive and well. Read on....

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Thing 2011 Prequel: Body Horror from Another World

When I first heard about Universal's production of a prequel to John Carpenter's classic The Thing (1982), I wasn't sure what to think. I loved Carpenter's movie, and I kept up with many of its unofficial sequels, such as the three Dark Horse Comics miniseries and the 2002 video game by VU Games. In fact, if you love horror/sci-fi stuff like I do, it's impossible not to notice the lasting influence of The Thing--both in terms of Carpenter's direction and Rob Bottin's innovative creature effects work--in other movies (Isolation, Splinter), TV shows (Something is Out There, Threshold) and video games (Resident Evil, Dead Space). With so many pseudo-Things scurrying around out there, I was disappointed that we Thing fans never got a big-screen return trip to the freezing Antarctic to see more of what cinema's most terrifying shape-shifter could do. Yet with Hollywood's recent tendency to remake and reboot all sorts of horror and sci-fi titles and franchises, I couldn't help but approach news of the prequel with some trepidation, that a new version of the inherently messy and bleak Thing would be dumbed-down and sanitized for a new audience.

Fortunately, the 2011 prequel to The Thing proved to be much better than what I had imagined it could be. Sure, it doesn't reach the same level of intense fatalism as Carpenter's movie (very few movies do), but it still works as a fitting prologue to the grim fate that later befalls the crew of Outpost 31. Considering the amount of studio interference that plagued this film, which features explicit displays of gloriously grotesque body horror, such an accomplishment is worthy of appreciation. Read on for my complete review and a few thoughts as to why both Thing movies are among the most feral and ferocious body horror films ever to hit the silver screen--which may be why they both flopped in the first place.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Brief History of 50s Horror Comics Exposed in The Horror! The Horror!: Comic Books the Government Didn't Want You to Read!

When I think of horror and sci-fi stuff from the 1950s, three things immediately come to mind: the rise of the "atomic mutant" subgenre of horror/sci-fi movies, the popularity of alien invasion stories, and Hammer Studio's early ventures into horror cinema. On the other hand, I never thought much about horror comics from that era. I knew that there were Senate hearings about the content of comic books in 1954, and that these hearings were prompted by the publication of Seduction of the Innocent, a book by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham. In his book, Wertham accused comic books of inciting juvenile delinquency on an epidemic level. By the end of the hearings, the comic book industry implemented a self-regulating Comics Code Authority (CCA) just so it could stay in business.

Fans of superhero comics (myself included) are well-versed in how the CCA Code sanitized the content of DC's superhero universe, and how also it set the stage for Marvel to introduce a new generation of innovative-yet-CCA-compliant superheroes. Yet in comparison to other genres, horror comics vanished from newsstands overnight because of the CCA. In his book The Horror! The Horror!: Comic Books the Government Didn't Want You to Read!, author Jim Trombetta recounts the hysteria surrounding horror comics during the mid-50s and the people who were involved--the critics, the publishers, and the artists. He also reprints many examples of artwork from these controversial comics, which he uses to critically analyze the comics' recurring imagery and themes. Click below to read my complete book review, and why Trombetta's work is a great addition to the short lists of books that chronicle the most successful act of government-sponsored censorship in the US.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Nine Horror Titles that Have Many Film Adaptations but Remain Sequel-Less

The Woman in Black, a ghost story that takes place during the Victorian era in England, made its debut in theaters across the US this weekend. While it's the first horror film from Hammer Films in decades, it's hardly a new tale. The Woman in Black started as a 1983 novel by Susan Hill, and it was later adapted for the theater, radio, and television.

With that in mind, I've assembled a list of nine horror stories that have three or more film adaptations under their belts. What these stories all have in common is that they started out on the printed page, either as books, novellas or play scripts. Yet unlike Dracula or Frankenstein--two of the most adapted horror novels in film history--none of the stories on this list ever got around to spawning a single film sequel or spinoff.

Click below to see these nine terror tales, which I've arranged according to the number of film adaptations that have been made for each title. Please note that some totals are estimated, because the more popular titles have been adapted so many times with varying degrees of faithfulness to the source material that it's difficult to determine which adaptations qualify as such. For example, the unpublished short story entitled "The Wax Works" by Charles Spencer Belden was adapted twice, once in 1933 and then in 3D in 1953. A third film in 2005 bears the same title as the 1953 version, House of Wax, but it is not based on the same source. Read on....

Friday, February 3, 2012

Star Wars’ IG-88 Arrives at Sideshow Collectibles

For a long time, one of the great mysteries for me about the Star Wars universe was the bounty hunter droid IG-88. Sure, he looks cool, he stood among Darth Vader’s lineup of ruthless bounty hunters in Empire Strikes Back, and the subsequent novels and comic books portrayed IG-88 and other IG series droids as the Terminators of the Star Wars franchise. Yet when I got the IG-88 action figure shortly after Empire hit the theaters in 1980, I couldn’t imagine this droid being very tough. He only had dainty little claws to hold his weapons, claws that were smaller than Ewok hands--hardly intimidating. He also lacked any visible knee joints; how could he walk, run or even climb stairs, let alone hunt anything for bounty?

Thankfully, Sideshow Collectibles has brought IG-88 into the world of multi-jointed scale replicas to clarify any misconceptions about what this droid is capable of doing. This new one-sixth scale IG-88 figure features over 20 points of articulation, battery-powered lights in the head, an assortment of weapons, and a deluxe illuminated display base. Judging from the pictures below, Sideshow Collectibles has really gone out of its way to add a new level of detail (as well as knees) to one of the lesser-known characters of the Star Wars universe. Click here to learn more about this fantastic figure and how you can add it to your Star Wars collection.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Build Your Favorite Classic Monsters with Lego

Even though the annual Toy Fair will arrive in New York in a few days, the recently held London Toy Fair generated quite a lot of buzz about what we'll be seeing when the so-to-be-release toys come across the Atlantic. Among the most exciting news comes from Lego. Not only will they release new toys under the licenses for DC, Marvel and the Lord of the Rings franchise, but they are also releasing a new line of toys called "Monster Fighters". This line of play sets, vehicles and minifigs will revolve around classic movie monster types such as vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, mummies and fish men, and it will feature the classic horror characters of Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster.

The relationship between classic monsters and toys goes way back. I remember when Remco, a subsidiary of Azrak Hamway International (AHI), released its own six figure set of Universal Monster figures during the early 80s. It had figures of Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Wolfman, the Mummy, the Creature from The Black Lagoon, and the Phantom of the Opera. Sadly, Remco's line was very limited. It had the same six characters in two different sizes (9 inches and 3 3/4 inch "Mini-Monsters") and in two different versions for the Mini-Monsters (non-glow and glow-in-the-dark versions). There also were only two accessories: a lab table-like "Monsterizer" for both figure sizes, and a cardboard and plastic castle play set/carrying case for the Mini-Monsters.

Remco's Mini-Monster Action Figures.

Even though the Remco toy line was skimpy in its selection, AHI's original line of monster figures that was released a few years prior to Remco's was even skimpier--that line only had five action figures in one size and no accessories at all. Diamond Select has recently released its own small line of classic Universal Monster figures but between their pricing and intricate features, they are much better suited for display than play.

I'm thrilled to see Lego introducing classic movie monsters to kids through toys with which they can play, and Lego's approach is much more fun and creative than most of their monster toy predecessors. Not only will the monsters have vehicles and play sets, but there will also be steampunk-looking monster hunter minifigs with whom they can fight. Earlier monster toys rarely had monster hunters or victims to go with the monsters, which sort of defeated the purpose of having monster toys in the first place. (Aurora tried to add a victim kit to their popular line of classic monster model kits back in 1971, but that didn't go over too well.) All I can hope for now is that kids will love the Monster Hunter line so much that we can finally get a classic monster-themed Lego video game.

A Lego-based zombie survival video game would be AWESOME!