“...His Wisdom Must Walk Hand In Hand With His Idiocy." INSANE RAMBLING! COMICS! Sometimes It’s Context Of The Planet Of The Apes!

Laydeez enn gennelmen! Please be seated for tonight’s presentation. Refreshments are available from the kiosk. Smoking is permitted in the auditorium because this is the 1970s and we are all going to live forever. Yes, your eyes do not deceive you, this is the 1970s. This is the Bronze Age. And this? This is the Preamble to The Planet of the Apes. (Again.)  photo CherapesB_zpse2a07346.jpg Cher on The Planet of the Apes. Yes, Really.

Anyway, this… 1. Being A Very Special And Very Personal Note From I, The Author, To You, the Reader (or Sorry, But There’s Nothing for You Here.)

Hello. The bulk of what follows was written in an attempt to write something. 2014 was a difficult year writing-wise, personally speaking, hence the large gaps between posts, the often stilted content, the unconvincing feints at seriousness and the occasional veer into fully fledged nonsense. No change there then! Oh, my! Looking back I don’t remember much of it but I remember having trouble doing it. Very much how I imagine I will feel about life when on my death-bed. Anyway, at one point things got so bad I wrote the following. I just started writing it to see what fell out. At worst, I figured, I’d use it as an entry in The Savage Critics annual Christmas tradition of my putting up a post about Planet of the Apes Weekly and then failing to follow through. (This failure to follow through would have been a lot handier in my drinking days, but there you go. That’s right, a joke about self-soiling – Happy New Year!) When I read it back I was not only surprised at its awfulness (I’ve edited it extensively since then; still awful, but hopefully less so) but also by the weird attempt I was apparently making to contextualise a certain time. I realise now why I was doing that but that reason was hidden from me back then. But, um, I don’t know, as I say, I’ve messed about with it and thrown it up. Largely because I think I need to lighten up about this whole writing about comics thing and I think putting up something this inane will help. I don’t know. I do know that “thrown it up” is pretty apt. So this one’s for me and, no, it doesn’t work; I’m particularly fond of the bit where I excoriate comedians for lazy stereotyping of the 1970s and then do the exact same thing in very short order. But in return for this I will write about Planet of the Apes Weekly. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but soon and for what will feel like the rest of my life.

2.What Went Before (or Previously on Middle Aged Public Nervous Breakdown Theatre):

In 2012 a bloke at work lent me his collection of Planet of the Apes Weeklies. I promised to get right on that and write about them for The Savage Critics. I patently failed to do so. The year is now 2015…

Now read on...

3. The 1970s (or “And I Only Am Escaped Alone To Tell Thee…”)

The 1970s! Space hoppers, Spangles and white dog shit! As only the most hatefully predictable stand-up comedian will tell you. Also, perhaps, other things. I don’t know about this bit, I don’t know if I need to tell you about the 1970s, or more specifically 1974, the year in which Planet of the Apes Weekly was launched. I did think maybe a few words of explication might be necessary because of a conversation I recently had with “Gil”, my under-10 spawn. Now, I realise most of you might have more of a grasp on the 1970s than a small child, so if you are au fait with the 1970s or could, frankly, not give a shit please do feel free to entertain yourselves in some other fashion. After all there is a rumour going around that this is a comics blog rather than my personal forum for tearful elderly reminiscences. On reflection then I’m not going to go on about the 1970s, nor 1974 in particular. You have The Internet as well, so you don’t need me to tell you that in 1974 the crew of Skylab returned to mother Earth, a WW2 Japanese soldier surrendered having missed the news about the war ending in 1945, Stephen King published Carrie and the Irish began their UK mainland bombing campaign. In 2015 space is full of junk, nobody surrenders anymore because the wars don’t end, Stephen King is a much wealthier writer and the Irish and the English are both mostly behaving in an adult fashion (at the time this went to press at least). So, a bit of a mixed bag progress wise. On balance Stephen King seems to have come out best from the last 40 or so years. So, well done there, Stephen King.

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4. Intermittent Television (or The Beast That Shouted “Crackerjack!” At The Heart of the Living Room!)

Anyway, back at the bit where I try and strike up some cheap emotional connection with you like it’s the back matter of an Image book: me and the kid are talking and I’m trying to explain to him how in the past not only would I not have been able to ‘freeze’ the ‘streaming’ SpongeBob episode while I went and did my ‘business’ , but if it had ended before I had returned (having flushed and then washed my hands; I place particular stress on that part to him) I would have been unable to watch the episode by selecting it from a ‘cache’ of ‘stored’ programmes via the use of a ‘handset’. I would have had to wait for the programme to be repeated at some uncertain point in the future, probably at teatime because children’s programming was on only at specific points in the schedule, rather than running 24/7 on an array of dedicated channels. As for that handset, well, since there were only three channels most of the buttons wouldn’t have been there, and, anyway, the handset itself in all likelihood wasn’t there; thus sadistically requiring people to actually get out of the chair, travel across the length of the room to the television itself and thereupon physically turn a dial or press a button set into the fascia of the crate sized behemoth; the bulk of which was not screen and the screen of which displayed only fuzzy pictures, allegedly in colour but certainly fond of lurching up and off the side of the screen like an aunt startled by a flasher. In the 1970s, I stress, all this was state of the art. However, I note that such picture quality is now used in movies as shorthand for the presence of a malefic supernatural force. Which is how I also like to think of the ‘70s. This Television then, the notional one I’m using as an example, would squat in a front room, a room heated by a real gas fire with real flames; the danger of which would also be real, and so it would likely have a kind of portable metal mesh screen set in front of it to avoid real children getting too close and receiving real burns. The room’s walls would be adorned with wallpaper the thickness of today’s carpets while the carpet would be thicker than a bear’s pelt . It would have been on just such an apparatus as that Television in just such a room as that just described that the Planet of the Apes TV show would have been aired by the commercial UK TV channel ITV on Sunday 13th October 1974. (I looked it up.)

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5. Second-Hand Treasures (or The Unfeasibly Long Half-Life of Comic Books)

It would be this very show it has taken me so very, very long to mention and its audience of thrilled children that the comic (can you remember back that far?) was aimed at. One such thrilled child would have been me, age 4. Now, as important as it is to me that you think I’m bloody super I am not going to pretend to have read Planet of the Apes Weekly when it came out. I doubt my reading skills at age 4 were all that, brah. I would have read it later and I would have read it from the second hand book shop in the market in the centre of town. This is where your Mum would get most of your comics because even back then your Mum was just doing the best with what she had, just trying to give her magical little boy the best she could despite paltry wages earned at exhaustive cost. And this magical little boy would grow up and repay her in the coin of resentment and ingratitude because, kids! (Did you enjoy the distancing language I unconsciously employed there?) Certainly when I was a child I thought like a child but when I became a man I kept all my childish things inside my head for later, because being a grown-up isn’t, surprisingly, all it is cracked up to be. And one of those things retained in my head is an abiding enjoyment of Planet of the Apes…and at that point I noticed…I was alone. At some point “Gil” had wandered off and was playing virtual murder on his X-Box360. Thinking back, the point of his prudent departure was probably where I seemed to start addressing an invisible audience of two bored people on The Internet. It may well be a bad thing to lose your audience but it is a worse thing not to know at which point it happened. Hello? Oh, I’ll go on.

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6. Thunder Underground (or “It was The Boogeyman.”)

What I’m saying is there wasn’t much television back then and what there was you made a date to catch because it wouldn’t wait for you and you’d never know if it it’d be back again. Also, brace yourselves, there was no Internet. In truth I think the lack of the latter was hardly felt as people were quite openly racist, misogynistic and homophobic right to each other’s faces; arguing about meaningless shit until violence erupted was no problem either since everyone drank booze like someone was going to snatch it away; pornography was everywhere anyway in the form of savaged jazz mags badly hidden in bushes and your uncle’s airing cupboard, so men of all ages were still able to achieve physical satisfaction while avoiding interacting with real women; in the 1970s life itself was the Internet. On the upside kids spent a lot more time outdoors but life loves balance so they also spent a lot more time never being seen again and dying in quarries. So much so that Donald “Death has come to your little town, Sheriff.” Pleasance was hired to scare them out of such activities. Of course there were worse things than those happening to kids out there in the 1970s but people didn’t like to talk about it much. Surprisingly, ignoring it and hoping it went away turned out to be a terrible idea of truly titanic proportions. Witness the last couple of years of our news sheepishly revealing the fact that both the light entertainment industry and the ruling elite have been treating the children of Britain as a big old Paedo pick’n’mix for the last four decades at least. Imagine a world where the very people entrusted with the entertainment and, yes, the very care of the most vulnerable in society just get stuck in like pigs; it’s easy if you try. Imagine a world in which David Peace’s Nineteen Seventy Four undersold the situation; don’t bother, you’re sat in it. Shit, that got dark quick. Look, I'm not angry; just disappointed (I am angry; I'm fucking livid).In 1974 had I written myself into a hole like that I'd have then had to exercise some serious literary muscles to get you all back on-side but it's 2015, and so with a wave of The Internet I instantly salve all wounds:

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7. News From The Future (or Invasion of the Format Snatchers)

In summation then: there weren’t many distractions for kids in the ‘70s but amongst their limited number we can count comics (!!!) and Television. One thing which combined both was Planet of the Apes Weekly. It’s unfortunate that while in the past there was no shortage of children there was a very definite shortage of distractions, and so the need for cheap entertainment for the sedation of offspring was at a premium. This is where comics came in. Cheap and plentiful they were back there, back then, in the 1970s. There were two kinds of comics: home-grown and imported. I lie; there were three kinds of comics: home-grown, imported and mongrels. Home-grown adventure comics were effectively black and white, gender segregated and sedately content to pimp the increasingly archaic values of the previous generation. (i.e. before Pat Mills et al. happened) Imported genre comics came from The Americas and were suffused with the glamour of bubble gum, nylons, gun crime, Howdy Doody and Television. Yes, that list is supposed to be a bit anachronistic. Like their star spangled land of origin the yank mags were more colourful and vibrant because America was where The Future was happening, and the comics which landed on our shores felt very much like vulgar intrusions from The Future. Yes, in the 1970s everyone in Britain knew America was where The Future was happening. Here in the science fictional year of 2015 of course those very comics look as fresh and progressive as a white man in a suit drunkenly pinching his secretary’s bum. And then there were the mongrels, of which Planet of the Apes Weekly was one. These curs of the comic book world took their content from American sources, reprinted it in black & white to avoid over stimulating the easily excited British audience and chopped it up so several “episodes” of different series could be bodged into one comic . This made a lot more sense than you might think. In Britain, see, comics were weekly, (mostly) B&W anthologies and someone in Marvel’s Mighty Marketing Department had obviously read their Jack Finney, so when they set out to infiltrate the British market they did it via imitation. (Also, it was flattering, I guess.)

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8. Nearly There (or The Secret Origin (Not Really) of the Direct Market.)

The American source in this case was the magazine format Planet of the Apes which was already B&W, so that worked out okay, but in America books were monthly which meant an inescapable content deficiency loomed over the project. Never more innovative than when cutting corners, Marvel hacked the yank stuff up into chunks, with only that chunk rather than the whole strip appearing in a single weekly issue. British kids then had their comics beefed up with behind the scenes articles (also from the American magazine) and backup strips. Once we get past the novelty of reading about the adaptations and the Mike Ploog brains-in-jars stuff these back-ups will be the most interesting thing about Planet of the Apes Weekly. Should you ever chance upon a physical copy of Planet of the Apes weekly, or indeed any 1970s British weekly comic, the chances are high that on the cover (front or back) in a top corner will be a surname in biro. This is where the newsagent would put your name were you to answer the call printed in every issue of your top weekly funny paper to place an order with your newsagent (“Never Miss An Issue!”). This was a kind of Palaeolithic version of having a pull list with a comics shop. True or not, I like to think that the 21st Century’s sexy rebels of Comics Retailing, like Brian “Two Shops” Hibbs, evolved directly from small men with brilliantined comb-overs and braised faces who could spin on a penny when the bell above their door tinkled announcing the entry of an all too likely larcenous child. And so, there in 1974 in a cramped den of cigarette packets and serried sweet jars somewhere in there, usually at ground level and braced between puzzle magazines and the sexy lure of Look-In, lurked Planet of the Apes Weekly. Let’s reach down now and take a look at issue 1…

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NEXT TIME: Cold dead hands, marabunta ants, and somewhere in there I'll probably say, “To be fair, George Tuska had his moments. But few of them are on these pages.” It’s all in the first real instalment of Planet of the COMICS!!! Yes, it is coming and I shit you not, kids!

“F*** it. I’ll Do It Meself.” MOVIES! Sometimes No Matter How Warm The Fire Is You Shouldn’t Sit With Your Back To The World!

In which an old man suckers you in by talking about a movie you might have seen recently and then bores your balls bald by chuntering on about a triple bill of flamboyantly and unrepentantly 1970s Vincent Price horror movies. Cardomon - it's the spice of life! No, wait, it's variety!  photo headerb_zps27dcb93c.jpg

Anyway, this…

THE GREY (Universal, 2011) Starring: Liam Neeson (Ottway) Frank Grillo (Diaz) Dermot Mulroney (Talget) Dallas Roberts (Henrick) Joe Anderson (Flannery) Nonso Anozie (Burke) James Badge Dale (Lewenden) Ben Bray (Hernandez) Anne Openshaw (Ottway’s Wife) Directed by Joe Carnahan Written by Joe Carnahan & Ian Mackenzie Jeffers Based on the short story Ghost Walker by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers Music by Marc Streitenfeld

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"Who do you love? Let them take you."

I wasn’t going to watch this one; I figured it was going to be some kind of dumb but entertaining Liam Neeson versus wolves thing (“I will find you and I will skin you.”) but my Lady of Infinite Patience assured me it was better than that. Turns out it’s one of those movies about a small group in a hostile environment being picked off one by one. Personally I’m all about that elegant narrative concoction so she was bang on. She was also right in that the film should have started when the cast of salty roughnecks boarded their ill-fated plane. If you hang on in through the overly explicatory first ten minutes then you’ll be rewarded with a really good time watching other people having a really bad time. There are some great jolts (the snow that suddenly isn’t there; the quiet pan revealing the silent feral shape), plenty of emotional punches to the solar plexus (“You’re dying.”; the wallet growing increasingly obese with the family snaps of the deceased); good performances (everyone; no exceptions), tight scripting (the sparse words worked like sled dogs); sound direction (good at action; good at inaction) and I swear there’s even a faint keening of Meaning. Sure, there are a couple of bum notes (Ottway is fucken terrible at his job) but it’s certainly far more thoughtful and successful a movie than I’d expect from something where a character jury rigs some brass knuckles by taping broken miniatures to his fists. GOOD!

THE ABOMINABLE DOCTOR PHIBES (AIP, 1971) Starring: Vincent Price (Dr. Anton Phibes) Joseph Cotton (Dr. Vesalius) Peter Jeffrey (Inspector Harry Trout) Virginia North (Vulnavia) Terry-Thomas (Dr Longstreet) Aubrey Woods (Goldsmith) Caroline Munro (Victoria Regina Phibes) Directed by Robert Fuest Written by James Whiton, William Goldstein & Robert Fuest Music by Basil Kirchin

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Doctors are dying and someone must be called to account. Inspector Harry Trout is on the case and soon finds not only that the murders homage the Plagues of Egypt but also that the finger of suspicion points to one Anton Phibes. Yes, Doctor Anton Phibes, the noted surgeon and accomplished organist whose wife died while under the ministrations of a rapidly attenuating list of physicians. Unfortunately Anton Phibes is himself deceased, having died in a car accident. What manner of deviltry is afoot and can the forces of law and order prevail before this diabolical masterplan reaches fruition?!

Nine killed her; nine shall die! Eight have died, soon to be nine! Nine eternities in doom! The organ plays till midnight!

This is one of those movies where some nutjob with a grudge picks off a bunch of character actors in a series of ridiculously convoluted but thematically linked scenarios of slaughter. There are two things this movie is immediately reminiscent of: an episode of The Avengers and a comic book. Obviously there I’m talking about John Steed Avengers (the best Avengers of all) on which Feust worked (1961,1968-9) just prior to this movie. No surprise then that this delightfully offbeat thing seems to take place in its own pocket universe and chooses to ramp up the artificiality of everything. It’s set in the 1920s Art Deco period but it’s Art Deco through a very ‘70s filter. The Abominable Dr Phibes isn’t really bothered about historical veracity (it’s set in 1925 and features a song written in 1943) but then it doesn’t actually take place in the real world (the song is played by a band of Frank Sidebottom looking automata; Dr Phibes is a surgeon and a world class organist; the whole film is basically to realism what salt is to slugs).Very much like The Avengers The Abominable Dr Phibes is utterly charming nonsense delivered with a strangely tongue-in-cheek solemnity; an approach quite often found in comics. It also uses a couple of narrative tricks (notably scene transitions bridged by a single line of dialogue pertinent to both) comics have nicked. That latter one’s a very 1980s Alan Moore move and with its disfigured nutter of a protagonist, his memorabilia laden lair and his elaborate murders there is lot of Doctor Phibes in V For Vendetta. (There’s also quite a lot in V For Vendetta which has nothing to do with Dr Phibes). The Abominable Doctor Phibes is a very comic book movie despite having nothing to do with comic books. That just struck me really strongly this time around.

All of which probably managed to eradicate any of the sense of vitality and joy which informs this odd duck of a movie. It’s a stylised gem of a thing filled with dark whimsy. A bizarre mix of visual delights and cheeky wit. It's a movie where the villain not only puts his face on like Mr Potatohead but amonst the face bits on his tray slumber a pair of sideburns. Who is in the details? The Devil himself! It was also nice to be reminded that just like many a 1970s teenage boy Dr. Phibes spends an unhealthy amount of time looking at pictures of Caroline Munro while playing his organ. (I forget; are we still permitted to make jokes like that?) There's a lot to love about The Abominable Doctor Phibes if you're built that way. And since I am built very much that wayThe Abominable Doctor Phibes is GOOD!

DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN (AIP,1972) Starring: Vincent Price (Dr. Anton Phibes) Robert Quarry (Darrus Biederbeck) Valli Kemp (Vulnavia) Peter Jeffrey (Inspecter Trout) Fiona Lewis (Diana Trowbridge) Hugh Griffith (Harry Ambrose) Peter Cushing (Captain) Beryl Reid (Miss Ambrose) Terry-Thomas (Lombardo) John Cater (Superintendent Waverley) Gerald Sim (Hackett) Lewis Fiander (Baker) John Thaw (Shavers) Keith Buckley (Stewart) Caroline Munro (Victoria Regina Phibes) Directed by Robert Fuest Written by Robert Fuest & Robert Blees Based upon characters created by James Whiton & William Goldstein Music by John Gale

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You cannot threaten the dead with death, my friend. Only with life, eternal life!

This is one of those movies where some nutjob with a grudge picks off a bunch of character actors in a series of ridiculously convoluted but thematically linked scenarios of slaughter. Again. However, it is my sad duty to report that this movie doesn’t work. Which is odd because it has everything the first movie had in Vincent Price (still Vincent Price, still can’t dance), The Frank Sidebottom Swingers and the old organ (nicely juxtaposed with an Egyptian tomb), ridiculous murders (clockwork snakes; man in bottle), witty dialogue (“Where do you think we are?”, “I don’t think! I know!”, “ I don’t think you know either.”), Terry Thomas (as a different character), brief glimpses of Caroline Munro (the one woman Kickstarter for 1970s male adolescence) and some very stylish sets. There’s even new stuff (Peter ”The Cush” Cushing (but just for a minute), Beryl Reid (the legendary), Egypt (well, some palm trees and sand). For all that though (and all that’s fun enough) there’s something missing you can’t quite put your finger on.

Whatever it is, its absence results in a disjointed mess even people inclined towards this stuff struggle with (a person not like me said it was “****ing ****”; honestly, she’s like a sailor sometimes!) I think the big thing missing is clarity. In Phibes everything was ridiculous but you knew why it was happening; it all made sense within the rules of the Phibes world. Here everything is ridiculous and you don’t know why it’s happening; it doesn’t even make sense in the Phibes’ world. It doesn’t help that there’s no one to root for. Cotton’s sympathetic doctor is replaced by Robert Quarry (as emotive as his surname) and he just seems like a big shit. So much so that you’d think they were maybe repositioning Phibes as a more sympathetic figure. Or you would if Phibes didn’t just seem to be killing people just because they’re around. For most of the movie he’s picking off an Egyptian expedition the members of whom he hasn’t even met before he gets stuck in. It’s just a shame. It isn’t a complete loss. I mean, Inspector Morse gets mauled by a hawk in a catacomb so, you know, there’s lots to enjoy. But damn if it just doesn’t work. If you loved Phibes you’ll merely like this but you’ll only merely like it because it’s EH!

THEATRE OF BLOOD (United Artists, 1973) Starring: Vincent Price (Edward Kendal Sheridan Lionheart) Diana Rigg (Edwina Lionheart) Ian Hendry (Peregrine Devlin) Milo O’Shea (Inspector Boot) Eric Sykes (Sgt Dogge) Harry Andrews (Trevor Dickman) Jack Hawkins (Solomon Psaltery) Diana Dors (Maisie Psaltery) Arthur Lowe (Horace Sprout) Michael Hordern (George William Maxwell) Robert Morley (Meredith Merridew) Dennis Price (Hector Snipe) Directed by Douglas Hickox Written by Anthony Greville-Bell from an idea by Stanley Mann & John Kohn (with contributions by a certain Mr. William Shakespeare Esq.) Music by Michael J. Lewis

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Critics are dying and someone must be called to account! Inspector Boot is on the case and soon finds not only that the murders homage the plays of William Shakespeare but also that the finger of suspicion points to one Edward Lionheart. Yes, Edward Kendal Sheridan Lionheart, the noted thespian and accomplished ham whose career died while under the ministrations of a rapidly attenuating list of critics. Unfortunately Edward Lionheart is himself deceased, having thrown himself off a balcony in a fit of pique. What manner of deviltry is afoot and can the forces of law and order prevail before this diabolical masterplan reaches fruition?!

Only Lionheart would have the temerity to rewrite Shakespeare!

This is one of those movies where some nutjob with a grudge picks off a bunch of character actors in a series of ridiculously convoluted but thematically linked scenarios of slaughter. If that sounds like it’s basically the same as The Abominable Dr Phibes then that’s intentional on my part. Maybe it was intentional on the part of the film makers too; there’s having certain similarities and then there’s straight up taking the piss. And there’s just no way Theatre of Blood isn’t absconding with industrial quantities of urine. With its adoption of the same basic template (and star) it’s highly likely Theatre of Blood is a wilfully raucous riposte to the earlier, more genteel movie. While Phibes’ nastiness is tempered by its campily weightless tone Theatre rubs its malice in your face like riverbed mud; at one point the beloved narrator of Paddington Bear is knocked off. Oh, it’s revolting stuff but it’s still campy and very, very funny; it’s just the humour is lip smartingly brackish so it reduces the horror not a jot. If anything it makes it worse. Location shooting makes Theatre feel more alive and grounded in reality than Phibes; the squalid goings on in Theatre are going on in a very squalid and very real world. This has the added bonus of an absolute beauty of a moment; in the background of a scene outside Meredith Merridew’s house a woman pauses midst rummage in her handbag upon noticing the commotion the film crew over the road are making. Due to the nature of the role Phibes could be said to have largely wasted Price under latex and afterdubbing but Theatre gives Price his druthers and allows him to belt out The Bard as he’d never been able to before (typecasting, darling; plays merry Hell with careers). Not only that but Price is given a ridiculousness of grotesques (groovy chef; camp hairdresser being the highlights) to portray which display both his range and utter lack of conceit. Some of these and the generally grubby demeanour of the movie itself might paddle in what modern viewers may believe is a very ‘70s kind of bad taste. In the film’s (and the decade's) defence I think Theatre draws its lewd and impudent tone from farther back; as far back in fact as the revenger’s tragedies it and Phibes’ basic plot echo so strongly. I’d say it was Jacobean but you’d think I was crackers.

Other than getting you to watch this movie, I think my point was that bad taste is eternal because we all enjoy a bit of it on the sly; we always have and we always will. While the casts of the Phibes movies are all good with a few standouts the whole cast of Theatre is great; each fruity thesp clearly revelling in ensuring his/her critic is as odious or foolish as possible. In fact they might be a bit too good because by the end you’re kind of starting to see Lionheart’s point. Luckily this veritable shit of critics counts amongst their number Ian Hendry and no one presented, as we are here, with the ineluctable allure of Ian Hendry in a too tight polo neck would ever wish harm on Ian Hendry’s head. Alcohol robbed cinema when it took Ian Hendry. As good as The Abominable Doctor Phibes is (and it is GOOD!) Theatre of Blood is better; it is VERY GOOD! it is also the only movie in the history of cinema with a 'Meths Drinkers Choreographer' in the credits. Probably (I didn’t check; I'm not made of Time).

So there you go. Watch ‘em or don’t just remember to read some – COMICS!!!

“They're Rewriting History. But They Forgot About Me.” VIDEO GAMES! Sometimes I Think After Manic Miner It Was All Downhill.

Geeze Louise, it's a regular content tailback you can see from space we got going on here. Below this is Brian "Two Shops" Hibbs' Shipping List and under that is Abhay Khosla's typically effervescent take on the TV pitch comic Fatale. Me, I let the side down and do a good impression of a middle aged man who doesn't understand what he is looking at or why it is doing those things. Yes! I played a video game and I didn't have to go to an Arcade to do it. It was in my own home. Food in pill form next. I'm tellin' ya! IT'S PEOPLE! photo WolfNOTitleB_zps57242c0f.jpg Oh, be warned; I have no idea how to get pictures off my XBox 360 so I just scanned in some images. What do you want, jam on it? Anyway, this... As age sets in I think it helps keep you fresh to find new things to fail at, so here’s my latest attempt to avoid staleness setting in. (Too late, John!) This one’s about a video game. Now, I am horrifically old (face wrinkled  like a bat’s anus; side parted nasal hair) so some of the terms I’ll use might be a bit out of date (modem; joystick; decency; socialism) but hopefully I’ll make myself understood plainly enough. Hey now, hey now, now, put down your Rubik’s Cubes and let’s slap that cassette into the tape player, adjust the volume infinitesimally and bask in a high pitched shrieking (not unlike I imagine a mass slaughter of ghosts might sound) because this thing is LOADING….LOADING….shit…let’s try that again…LOADING….LOADING….hang on…LOADING…LOADING…LOADING…

WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER Bethesda/Id/Machine Games (2014) XBox 360 £25.99 and up (shop around - it's what Capitalism wants!)

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Right, video games then; not got a lot of time for them these days, I fear. I do still get to go on them though but thanks to the child, “Gil”, I’m mostly limited to those (entertaining) LEGO©® games but sometimes, maybe once a year, I sneak a Bad Dad one in. This year I have chosen to indulge myself with WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER. Tediously, I do remember the original WOLFENSTEIN 3-D (1992) maze and Shoot ‘em In The Face game because in my first Real Job someone had installed it on the network. Being only human  I’d go in early and play it every week day before clocking on, except  Friday when I’d also finish early and stay and play it (while perhaps not being entirely rigorous about the whole clocking on and  off thing. That place is gone now so I doubt they care at this late date.)  I was never a big fan of work but I liked WOLFENSTEIN 3-D; I liked it a lot and I think that’s when I first got the taste for Shoot ‘Em In The Face games. QUAKE (1996) was a big moment for me (Shoot ‘Em In The Face AND Nine Inch Nails!) but QUAKE II (1997) was pretty much my Breakfast Club, my Back To The Future, my Weekend At Bernie’s, My Color of Night; it was a big deal for me that game. I think QUAKE III: ARENA went on-line multi-play which I didn’t follow it into because I have, quite rightly, always loathed human contact. I still don’t do the whole on line thing because human contact? Nope, still not a fan. I like you though; you have pretty teeth. I’m all about the single player campaign and so is WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER. It's a single player game and that's probably the end of any useful information in this tripe.

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It’s a Shoot ‘Em In The Face game and we all know how that works right? Everything’s experienced from your character’s viewpoint and they run about acquiring a ridiculously powerful array of armaments. Armaments which can turn people into blood fondue and bring down robots the size of Canary Wharf but still can’t open doors or break windows. There are usually some banal objectives (doors; levers; codes; Universal Health Care) but mostly it is tacitly understood that your main objective is to kill the enemy in such a way that your tinkler feels a bit sparkly and you giggle like a creepy freak. It’s basically murder as play, and there’s an interesting conversation to be had about whether that’s helpful or harmful. We won’t be having that conversation here, but I will say that I’ve played a lot of these games and I haven’t murdered anyone in real life. Anecdotal perhaps but it’s still true. All Shoot ‘Em In The Face games are basically this: playing at murder. Only two things set them apart from each other: some technological leap in graphics/gameplay or the setting. While WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER was a step up to me with its leaning around corners and neat graphics (last Bad Dad Game was Doom III BIG FRIENDLY GIANT EDITION (2012); fun but graphically dated at a rate of knots) For the hardened gamer it’s all probably all par for the course and I think the main selling point will be the setting. Because the setting lets you kill Nazis.

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According to the blurb it is 1960 and the Nazis have won World War II which, with the best will in the world, is just factually incorrect. What kind of schooling do kids get these days? It’s all very well and good being smart at programming or becoming a multi-millionaire before your testes descend but where is your basic grasp of history, pal. Oh wait; it’s an alternate timeline where the Nazis won. I take it all back. And it’s a nicely realised one at that. You don’t see all of the world but you see some of it. You do get around a bit and there’s a marked emphasis on concrete, grandeur of scale and durability; as one would imagine there might be in everything from the buildings to the cars had the Nazis won. Although to be fair I can’t think about what would have happened had the Nazis won for any length of time without falling into a proper slough of despond. I’m sorry, I just have these issues with Nazis; I’m sure it won’t take over the latter half of this piece to the extent that I look like a rubber room candidate. There are documents scattered throughout which you can read to find out all the history you missed (America? Folded like a jumper after a nuke) and there was a booklet with stuff in. One of the things in it was a map of the UK showing mainland Britain as "safe" but areas of resistance in Ireland and Scotland. Which I think is just blatant pandering to our Celtic cousins. Everyone plays at having roots in Oirland or Scootland but no one ever wants to be English, do they? Um, they've done a good job on the world-building front is what I'm getting at. But, yeah, having a coffee maker that looks like it could take RPG fire  seems quite Nazi and their loveable way with  rocket science would probably have sent them where you end up briefly (no spoilers). I think the designers do a good job on the Nazi-ness of it all, so good in fact that they even acknowledge the nastiness of it all. And this is what threw me; WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER is really nasty and not just for Nazis.

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We'll get to that but first, is it any cop gameplay wise? Well, bags don't come much more mixed than this, I think. There are some absolute crackers of levels; the absolute best of which can be completed either by stealth and shivving or via brutish full automatic fire-ageddon. Your choice; which is nice. Visually there's quite a bit of variation and there's logic in the way your environments are limited. Unfortunately there are a couple of levels which are real momentum killers. There's one in the sewers where I swear nothing happened at all that I noticed , but the absolute worst offenders are the couple of occasions where you have to search for items in the Resistance HQ. It seems like a complete waste of all this technology and programming brain power to put it to use in flawlessly recreating the experience of '90s me in my shared student house hunting fruitlessly and increasingly sweatily for an unsmoked fag. The rule of thumb, I guess, is that if shooting is involved then the levels are pretty good, and most of the time shooting's on the cards so mostly it's a fun time. The AI ain't too shabby neither, but it's hardly likely to be turning on humanity and turning us into batteries while we sleep. The Nazis duck, seek cover, roll and even lunge from side to side. This was all quite marvellous to me and I had a few cool fire fights complete with concrete decaying in front of my face as I leaned out and popped back in trying to take some luckless bastard's head off. Good times. But then I am a bit shit at games so you may be a little less impressed. People like to know about the range of weapons don't they? There's a spread, but not a wild one. Knives are good muck and lead to some repellent takedowns which are even more gooshy if you double wield the knives. Because, yes, double wielding is a thing here. It's a bit Liberace for realistic warfare but still fun. Succumbing to the temptation to double-wield means you will, however, go through ammo like piss through a horse's urethra. Most weapons have a dual mode as well; your SMG can fire rockets, your pistol has a silencer and your knife can slice cheese if you stumble into a soiree etc.. The big thing weapons wise, I guess, is the laser cutter which gains mods as you go along but it can only be used on certain things, which, honestly, I don't think is how a laser cutter with mods would work. The anti-gravity-throw-stuff-back-in-their-face thing in DOOM BFG was more entertaining, to be honest.

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There were a goodly amount but not an amazing amount of levels. When you open the case there are four disks and your malignant little heart skips a beat at the hours of fun ahead. Turns out one disc is an installation disk and the rest are mostly occupied by cut scenes. (Are they still called "cut scenes"? Eye Captchas?) These are kind of weird. It took a while to sink in because I was skipping them (because my playing time was limited) but after a bit I realised something; I realised the game was supposed to be serious. Now, early on you see some awful stuff but I thought this was just outrage bait or something. Nope. Now, I don’t know why you play video games (I’m not entirely sure I know why I do) but I’m fairly sure that feeling as cheerful as if you’d just woken up to find you’d strangled your cat is probably pretty low on the list. Early on there are ashes, an emaciated corpse, mental patients being permanently discharged via pillow and pistol, and (a real crowd pleaser this) you have to make a kind of Sophie’s Choice. And all that’s just horrific hor d’oeuvres for what's to come. By the end of the game when the screen finally goes black you’ll wish you’d had the foresight to ask someone to stand by to rub balloons in your face and sing show tunes. It's a game about killing people but it's like they don't want you to enjoy it or something. It's like they don’t want you to have your cake and eat it but rather; you can have your cake but only if you remember that we all die alone. Fun.

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I can see their point though. I mean, now I can. Initially I was just bummed out and wished I'd gone for one of those drive'n'rape games; something a bit more upbeat. But looking at this thing while I was playing it over again (it has replay value; that's what people like to hear, right? That and, you'll find someone someday), I can see now that maybe these games have got to the point where they are a little too realistic for comfort. It's not just a case of blowing away a bunch of pixels you're humouring in its belief that it resembles a real person; now it looks quite a lot like you just stabbed some guy through both ears with your adroitly wielded daggers. As a form of compensation or pleasure penance then everything's really downbeat in presentation; people sacrifice themselves but they do it like they are adjusting their tie; the people you kill have conversations about their kids interrupted by you lasering their arms off; no one's happy; the people in charge are all mad as a bag of cats; Britt Eckland has let herself go and everything's turning to shit and that's the good news; the only rays of sunshine are the hilariously ill-judged sex scenes (think Team America) and the fact that the Scots dude has to have subtitles throughout. There are Nazis in this game who don't get subtitles but the Scots dude always does. And quite right too; you have no idea how much technical jiggery pokery Jeff Lester has to submit Graeme McMillan's voice to every week before anyone can understand it. Lesser men than Jeff would weep.

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Or maybe, maybe, this snatching of laughter away from the recreational charnel pit has another purpose. Because I know you're out there thinking, "Christ, John, again with the Nazis. It was a long time ago, man. Let it go. It's all over.  Enjoy the smile of your child." And I know this also: you are wrong. Now hear my song:

"...in the Baltic states, where SS veterans are hailed as "freedom fighters" against the Russians and are allowed to parade unhindered through the streets of Tallinn. In this view, the war fought by the western allies against Nazi Germany was a gigantic mistake; all it achieved was the enslavement of eastern Europe under the Soviet yoke." (Richard J Evans, The Guardian, 6 August 2014)

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We were fighting the wrong enemy! Who had that ticket in the raffle? How many of you would ever have thought there could ever have been any doubt that the Nazis were the bad guys? Humanity is many things but it is always full of surprises! Look, no one (i.e. I'm not) is suggesting for one second that Stalin was not a monster whose actions shame history but I think we can all agree (Nazis excluded, natch)  that this is taking The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend a bit far. If the Enemy of your Enemy Is a Nazi I'd suggest you get used to your own company. WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER does a few things wrong, or just plain weirdly, but the thing it never stops doing is reminding you that there's just no excuse for Nazism; no excuse at all. Sure, it may be confused and straining under the weight of its inherent contradictions but I enjoyed it and I couldn't work out why until I finally nailed what WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER resembled more than anything else. As ever a whole load of time, money and effort has been spent trying to capture that feeling of being in an interactive movie but really what WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER reminded me of with its odd blend of adventure and dour solemnity was a bunch of old comics. The old comics specifically brought to mind being the magnificent  Gerry Talaoc & David Michelinie 1970s issues of STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES Featuring THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER. So, yeah, I don't know what a young whippersnapper would make of this game but this elderly gent thought it was VERY GOOD! Just a word of advice though; next time if seriousness is on the agenda it might be an idea not to have a main character called B. J. Blazkowicz.

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So in the end we learned nothing except I like video games, but not as much as I like - COMICS!!!

All comic panels taken from various battered copies of STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES FEATURING THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER (DC Comics, 1970s). All art by Gerry Talaoc All words by David Michelinie

"If This Was Dinner...I Can't Wait For The Cabaret!" MOVIES! Sometimes...The Year Must Die!

So, I didn't get near any comics this Holiday but I am always writing nevertheless. In my head mostly. So, although I haven't got anything about comics I have got a head full of dumb words about some Peter Cushing films I watched this year. Usually I just dump this head written stuff into the ether but I felt like posting something and this was all I had. So I dumped it on you. Attractive, non? Anway; an old man, some old movies and a spatter of tired old jokes. What better way to see the New Year in. Have a drink, it'll read better that way. Everything's better when you're insensate with drink. That's what it's for. Oh yeah, Happy New Year everybody!

Oh yeah, none of these are Oscar(C) winners in waiting but they are all fun so they are all GOOD!

All images taken from Wikipedia.

TWINS OF EVIL Directed by John Hough Screenplay by Tudor Gates (Based on characters created by Sheridan Le Fanu(?!?)) Music by Harry Robertson (Hammer, 1971)

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Yes, there is a joke there isn’t there? One about breasts; but I won’t be making it. Knock yourselves out though by all means. Then try and look your mother in the eyes, pal. In this movie, the quality of which is indicated early by the choice of Hot Electric Pink for the titles, Peter Cushing plays Gustav Veil whose surname is not only an anagram of “evil” but is pronounced “vile” and that’s about as restrained as this one gets. Seriously, there’s a bit where a lady is enjoying the physical attentions of a gentleman and the camera zooms in to show her hand lightly gliding up and down the shaft of a candle. Y’know, like a penis. Keep up. Anyway, Peter Cushing, equipped with a buckled hat, blithely classes this silly exercise up in his role as a Puritan who roams about at night with his Puritan pals burning single young women as witches. Cush & Co. average one a night which suggests that there is a preternaturally large population of single young women in and around his village or someone is bussing them in so Cush’n’chums can have their fiery fun. It’s testament to Cushing’s performance that when someone says Vile “means well” despite there being nothing in the script which indicates he is anything other than a murderous misogynist you do actually think, oh, maybe he’s just a tad, a smidgen perhaps, overzealous. So anyway, his twin nieces, or what have you, come to stay and one’s a bit of a scamp and is lured into depravity by the sleazy Lord of the manor who has been en-vamped. Unfortunately he’s played in a way that’s about as threatening as a doily. After a few creepy scenes of young women leading old men on (“What would your Uncle say?” Urrrggghhhh. No thanks, 1970s.) and flashes of flesh it’s all boiled down to The Cush vs the fanged doily man for the souls of his flock! There’s some mileage in that; the bloke who was seeing Evil everywhere where there was none now has to deal with real Evil right in his own home. But, basically, this movie prefers to find excuses to chuck some knockers up on the screen.

THE BEAST MUST DIE Directed by Paul Annett Screenplay by Michael Winder (From the short story by James Blish) Music by Douglas Gamley (Amicus,1974)

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This mangy but loveable cur of a movie has a spectacularly inappropriate theme tune. Oh, It’s really good, don’t get me wrong but it’s the kind of swinging up-tempo floor shaker more suited to a title sequence in which Oliver Reed checks out ‘birds’ from his Union Jack mini as he tootles down Carnaby Street. Here it sits oddly atop a movie about a bunch of weird people lured to an island retreat by a big game hunter who believes one of them to be a werewolf. The most dangerous game of all just got dangerouserererer! I can’t lie; it’s a bit dull beyond the campiness but it does perk up whenever Peter Cushing uses his fantastic accent, someone dies or when everyone has to fondle a silver bullet in a game of Pass The Death Sentence. Oh, and there’s an exciting bit where our superfly hero hounds the werewolf in his helicopter and tries to machine gun it. Mind you, that last bit now looks like nothing more than a man shooting at a very large German Shepherd and inadvertently ruining someone’s potting shed in the process; I can assure you that was very thrilling when you were 10. But then so is hopscotch. Near the end a ticking clock fills the screen and you have to guess who the werewolf is. I don’t know how the movie knows what you’ve guessed but every time I watch it it’s (SPOILER!). I’m not saying the movie struggles to fill its screen time but it will find a favourable reaction amongst people fond of watching Michael Gambon driving about in a jeep.

AND FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN Directed by Terence Fisher Screenplay by John Elder (Anthony Hinds) Music by James Bernard (Hammer, 1967)

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In which Frankenstein doesn’t but what he does do is trap the soul of a wrongly executed man in the body of the guy’s disfigured girlfriend; she having drowned herself on seeing his execution. Together with Thorley Walters (played by Eddie Izzard) Peter “The Cush” Cushing as Baron Frankenstein fixes her face (and her hair; Blonde Contretemps by Boots) and everything turns out just dandy, thanks. No, no it doesn’t, you fool! See, the soul of her boyfriend makes her hunt down the three fops who not only teased her about her face but , worse even, murdered her father and left her beau to take the rap. Some people probably say that the scenes where a man in a woman’s body seduces then murders his/her victims are ripe with trans gender subtext. Well, they might if they weren’t distracted by the fact that the victims are all dressed like Willly fucking Wonka. Anyway, if The Baron had fixed her face in the first place all that unpleasantness could have been avoided. So, basically, it’s a movie about getting your priorities right.

FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL Directed by Terence Fisher Screenplay by John Elder Music by James Bernard (Hammer, 1974)

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This is the one in which Peter Cushing plays Baron Frankenstein one final time. It isn’t the best send-off but Peter Cushing doesn’t flag and nor does he falter. So, The Baron is now covertly running an asylum he’s supposed to be banged up in because he’s got the goods on the pervy dude in charge. He’s landed on his feet but his hands are giving him grief. His burned mitts are hampering his quest to stitch together the mentally unhygienic into a perfect man. Good thing then that Shane Briant (played by Twiggy) gets locked up in his gaff. And it is lucky because not only is Shane a surgeon in training he is also The Baron’s biggest fan. What are the odds? They are good, my friend. Anyway these two knock up a makeshift man who looks like a shaved ape and has a penchant for sticking broken glass in people’s faces. Shane Briant is also feeling moral pangs about The Baron passive aggressively badgering the inmates into committing suicide so he can play pick’n’mix with their parts. Oh, Madeline Smith wafts about the place as well giving the place a woman’s touch and some pathos; a bit anyway. Anyway, everything goes tits up pretty quickly. It’s possible to read the film as an indictment of the parlous state of the care of the vulnerable and how, without regulation, the gaolers become worse than the gaoled; but, basically, it’s a movie about how if you’ve got Peter Cushing in a top hat you’re sorted for 80 minutes and change. Cush Fact: the feathery wig sported by the great man himself is the exact same toupee which adorned his magnificent bonce in And Now The Screaming Starts… which, ah, here it is now…

AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS..! Directed by Roy Ward Baker Screenplay by Roger Marshall (David Case) Music by Douglas Gamley (Amicus,1973)

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For about 40 minutes this enjoyable but not exactly good period set horror film consists of scenes of Ian "The Saint" Ogilvy and Stephanie “Powders” Beacham reacting badly to odd events in a stately home. A severed hand, a slashed portrait, something going bump in Stephanie Beacham’s night, a Richard Harris impersonator and hushed references to something terrible bad in the past combined to leave me clawing for clarity and wondering if I was suffering another dry drunk or what. Thankfully at that point Peter Cushing sauntered into the movie and delivered a performance which managed to make the whole thing watchable at least, and this is despite his sporting the aforementioned alarmingly feathery wig. Actually I spent a lot of time looking at this unsettling hairpiece so I could have missed some nuance or subtlety in what followed. It’s doubtful though as what followed not only had Patrick Magee pretending to be strangled by an invisible severed hand but also featured Herbert Lom as a not entirely convincing example of the landed English gentry who lets things get out of hand; sparking all the unpleasantness off with a poorly considered decision to reinstall the droit de seigneur tradition. From then on Cushing attempts to combat superstition and supernatural vengeance with the new-fangled Science Of The Mind! It ends badly for everyone involved. Where is your science now, Peter Cushing!?!

THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR Directed by Vernon Sewell Screenplay by Peter Bryan (Trigon, 1968)

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This is the one with the lady who seduces men, turns into a big moth and kills ‘em. I see no subtext. Probably because there isn’t one; the script has it all on trying to make sense. Which it doesn’t but when did that ever matter; just entertain me, you mad fools! Peter Cushing is on record as claiming this is the worst film he ever made. Steady on, old boy; that’s a bit harsh. I mean even I haven’t seen every film Peter Cushing ever made but I think maybe the proximity of filming to his wife’s death coloured his judgement. Don’t get me wrong it’s quite, quite terrible but it is not without its charms. There’s Roy Hudd popping up to give the 1970s version of an amusing cameo(i.e. it isn’t; amusing that is); Cushing’s fellow plod is played by Dave the barman from Minder; some good performances convincingly delivered in spite of everything; an electrifyingly perfunctory climax in which Peter Cushing and Dave from Minder set fire to some piled up leaves, which the moth cannot resist and so meets its fiery end. And then the credits whizz up the screen. One of the things I never noticed about these movies until this re-watch is how tight they all are with film. No sooner has the final line slipped into silence than BANG! THE END! CREDITS ROLL! They might as well have someone shout "That’s yer lot! Ain’t ya got homes to go to! Fawk off home! G’wan! Whaddya want, Jam on it? Home! Now! Go!"

Speaking of which…THE END.

Happy New Year!