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Hey Mummyboon, why you no post?

Well, I got married! And between all the planning and a full time job that is basically writing things for the internet my urge to blog has not been high.

But I know what my fans want and that’s Kit-Kats.

Take it away Toffee Treat

Toffee Treat Kit-Kat

Okay so, the latest U.K. Kit-Kat variant is Toffee Treat. They have done toffee Kit-Kat’s before so this isn’t terribly exciting but let’s give it a shot.

So the packaging is… dull; basically a standard Kit-Kat wrapper but with a quarter given over to a light brown box showing us the name and the individual kat. It’s… fine. The main thing I like about it is the off register font for ‘Toffee Treat’ which promises wackiness.

Flavour wise it’s, it’s toffee. Quite nice, caramelly, and…

Can I be honest with you guys?

I’m just not feeling it.

It’s a toffee flavoured Kit-Kat. They’ve done these before. Growing up we had Caramac Kit-Kat’s which were the bee’s knees, legs, shins and entire lower half. This is fine but I don’t know what to say about it.

Basically I’m not that excited to talk about Kit-Kat’s today.

That’s because I want to write about Oreos instead.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Oreo Red Velvet Oreo S'mores Oreos

So at my wedding the lovely, beautiful and generally great person Liz Anistranski gave me some limited edition Oreos as a wedding present.

Liz knows me very well it seems because I am super excited about these. They’re just as creative and bizarre as the best Japanese Kit-Kats but they’re also All-American and so represent an exotic diversion for me.

I am possibly too excited about limited edition biscuit flavours, sorry, sandwich cookie flavours.

Oreos don’t have the same cultural impact over here as they do in the states. Up until about a decade ago they weren’t even available in U.K. supermarkets and even now we only have the standard versions. They’re nice but they’re not the ubiquitous childhood classic Americans think of them as. That honour probably goes to Kit-Kats. As such they’re seen as very, very American to British people and Nabisco have enhanced that reputation by combining them with 3 equally quintessentially American things. Red Velvet Cake, S’mores and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

The packaging for all 3 is very similar but that’s okay because I think it works great. Basically a big Oreo logo with a picture of the object they’re flavoured for in the background and a picture of what the individual Oreo cookie looks like in the bottom right. It’s a well-designed and expertly comped image that makes sense, isn’t over cluttered and looks attractive. Looking at them standing there on a table how could you resist their charms?

There are some little American touches that make me laugh like the enormous bit of copy saying “ARTIFICIALLY FLAVOURED,” in all caps no less. It takes up the same real estate on the packet as “limited edition” or the name of the flavour, both of which are actually USPs. It’s like they’re proud to be artificially flavoured. I assume the size and the fact that they have to include this information is mandated by law but in the U.K. we’d still try not to draw attention to that whereas in America they’re all; “fuck that pansy shit, none of your natural girly bullshit in these cookies just good old fashioned American ingenuity.”

Oreo Warning

I also love to pieces the little instruction on the side telling me how to open them properly. That’s just adorable. I could make the typical Americans are dumb comment here about how Americans need to be told how to open a packet of biscuits but frankly I want more food to feature cute little stop signs on the side.

Red Velvet

Red Velvet Oreo

Red Velvet is red, white and blue, the true colours of France, the U.K., The Netherlands, etc. Seriously why are Americans so proud of their flag colours? Nearly everyone has a red, white and blue flag. It isn’t that special guys.

Anyway the cake on the packet is somewhat off putting with its violent shade of red but all that delicious cream cheese frosting sure is pretty. I also love the little place name stand telling us that the crème is cream cheese flavoured. They could have just added the copy directly but the little stand immediately conjures up backyard parties, weddings and the 4th of July (I assume, different culture and all I have no idea if people ever have place names on the 4th of July but dammit that’s what it made me think of). This packet is practically singing “Stars and Stripes Forever” as it encourages you to eat cake.

The actual cookies are closer in colour to actual red velvet, thankfully and the cream cheese crème might be artificial but it 100% captures cream cheese frosting as a flavour. Initially I wasn’t a huge fan of these as the cream cheese has a faintly sour quality which is, whilst accurate, unexpected in a cookie. They’ve grown on me though and despite being an artificially flavoured American cookie they’re not too sweet, something I was worried about. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to eat more than 1 or 2 in one go but I was worried that one bite would put me into a diabetic coma, so I’m pleased they’re not as sweet as I was anticipating.

My big complaint is that the crème feels weirdly gritty. It’s okay with the crunchy biscuit to hide it somewhat but on its own the crème feels like toothpaste, not nice. Really nice biscuit though. Oreos have always had a little bit of salt in them which lifts the super sweet crème and makes them kind of moreish (well for kids, as I say, too sweet for an adult). These have that slight saltiness and with the sour crème it’s a surprisingly complex flavour profile.

S’mores

S'mores Oreos

Of the 3, these are my absolute favourite and it’s all about the biscuit. They could have just made regular chocolate Oreos with marshmallow filling and called them s’mores and it would have worked. But they went for graham cracker biscuits. Not only do the pale golden cookies look nicer but they look more like a s’more and having that visual similarity really helps sell that these are s’more flavoured.

I should probably explain for Brits what a s’more is. It’s toasted marshmallows sandwiched between 2 graham crackers and with a piece of chocolate included. The heat from the marshmallows melts the chocolate and you have a gooey, crispy treat that’s a delightful combination of flavours and textures.

Americans are probably shocked right now. “You don’t know what s’mores are?” No, we don’t. See, we don’t have graham crackers and without graham crackers you don’t have s’mores. Graham crackers are big biscuits that come in flat layers like crackers. They’re probably most similar to the biscuit you get on a custard cream except lightly spiced with cinnamon. And guys, I love me some cinnamon. The nutty cinnamon flavour really meshes with the sweet marshmallow and rich chocolate to make an amazing treat. I was introduced to s’mores by American friends in Japan and have wept ever since for my wasted childhood and the lack of graham crackers in the U.K.

So from what I can remember, these taste astonishingly like s’mores. The biscuit is doing most of the hard work. It looks, tastes and has the texture of a graham cracker. But it’s not all biscuit. Chocolate crème is no big deal but whatever wizards managed to capture the taste of marshmallow in crème form have powerful arcane abilities indeed. They need to be on a list in case they use their magic for evil. I didn’t even realise marshmallows had a distinctive flavour beyond generically sweet until I ate these. They’re almost marshmallowier than a marshmallow.

Incidentally, my spellchecker recognises “marshmallowier” which is delightful.

One final bit, again they could have just written “Graham flavored cookie” but the little wooden board helps sell the idea of camping and making s’mores by the fire. It’s a nice touch.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Oreo

This variety doesn’t get a cute little sign telling you what flavour it is instead just opting for the Reese’s logo for understandable but disappointing reasons.

It does have an image showing you that these are 2-toned crèmes with half chocolate and half peanut butter. Which is cool…but if the biscuit is chocolate flavoured why don’t we just have all peanut butter crème?

So unlike Oreos, Reese’s products have definitely made a splash in the U.K. Peanut butter wasn’t really a thing when I was a child. It came in jars; odd people had it on toast instead of the more socially acceptable jam or Marmite and sometimes foreign people made satay with it.

Now it’s huge. Peanut versions of chocolate bar favourites, peanut butter ice-cream, peanut butter crisps and snacks, there are even peanut butter Kit-Kats.

And Reese’s led the way. From peanut butter cups being a niche product they’ve spearheaded the peanut butter revolution into U.K. supermarkets and their curious blend of salty/sweet peanut butter (that’s been dried and made oddly paste like) with decidedly not great chocolate that still somehow contrives to be OMG YUM! is now everywhere.

As such I know what a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup tastes like.

This tastes like one, almost exactly. But even more so it smells like one. If you were blindfolded you would definitely think you were about to eat a peanut butter cup, and then the crunchy biscuit would shock you.

It’s no surprise that cookies and peanut butter work well together nor that peanut butter and chocolate is a great combo, so unsurprisingly these are great. And with the slightly salty peanut butter and slightly salty Oreo biscuit they’re verging on savoury. Okay, that might be overstating it as they’re still incredibly sweet but the salty flavour profile makes them a bit moreish and balances the ultra-sweetness.

A brief google reveals that Nabisco has whole heartedly embraced the limited edition world with cookie dough, banana split (bleurgh), cotton candy, key lime pie and even birthday cake all hitting shelves in recent months. I might just have a new hobby on my hands.

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Devil Story (1985)

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Directed by Bernard Launois

A little known French horror film that the only extant English version of is a badly scanned copy on youtube with subtitles in Greek. Why am I watching this?

Well for starters because Braineater drew my attention to it but mostly because, well, look at that poster.

Zombies in SS uniforms, ghost ships, a Mummy (!) a man on fire…what on earth is this thing about?

Having seen it, I am still asking myself that question.

So Devil Story starts with some kind of mutant in an SS uniform (unexplained element number 1) running around the French countryside killing people and very quickly a few things about Devil Story become obvious.

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  1. This film was shot for no money whatsoever. The biggest clue to this being the blood ‘effects’ achieved by squeezing a hand pump full of red water onto an actor.
  2. Boring things like motivations, narrative, dialogue and sense will not be troubling the audience today.
  3. The cinematographer doesn’t actually know how to use a camera. One of the great things about bad movies is the way they, by making mistakes, reveal all the talent in good movies you’d never notice. Devil Story features such joys as a guy picking the camera up, stand and all, and walking backwards away from the subject of the shot complete with shaking and the noise of the camera operator grunting. Plus one of the most bafflingly terrible cinematography decisions ever, but I’ll get to that later.
  4. At some point somebody who did know what they were doing adjusted the exposure of the cameras. This allowed the cameras to film at night pretty effectively for such a low budget film. However, they neglected to adjust the exposure again for the scenes shot during the day. As such every scene shot during the day is painfully washed out to the point of being nearly invisible. It’s a white screen with coloured blurs moving on it.
  5. This film was scored by somebody who bought a Casio 2 days ago and now thinks they’re Goblin.

Like, 2 minutes into this stinker you know you have stumbled upon bad movie gold.

So our mutant murders some campers for oooh, a good 15 minutes at least. We have no idea who these people are, their names, why the mutant is killing them, etc. It’s just murder, cut to blood, murder, cut to blood in an endless repetition. Then the mutant pounces upon a couple with a flat tire. Then we cut to an entirely different couple with car troubles whom our mutant does not trouble. Instead, as the man (no name is given as far as I could tell) tries to fix the car our heroine (Veronique Renaud)* wanders off into a quarry to be menaced by a cat (unexplained element number 2).

Just, an ordinary cat, whose evilness is generated by shooting it from a low angle, playing scary music and having our heroine stare at it with a frightened expression.

Then it jumps on her, or rather, is thrown on her from off screen by a grip. Poor kitty.

So after ooh, approximately 4 days of looking at the adorable  evil cat our couple drives to a nearby inn run by exposition woman and some old French guy who keeps an enormous hunting knife in his sock and loads and unloads a shotgun for fun.  And by nearby inn I mean the Palais Bénédictine in Normandy a structure so gothic and intimidating it is accompanied by Tocata in Fugue in D Minor when we first see it. Don’t know the music? Here, let me jog your memory.

Yup, it’s that music. Aka the most stereotypically ‘scary’ noise imaginable.

Anyway, exposition couple start to regale boring couple with the story of the local legend.

Some time in the past lived a family of wreckers. Wreckers are people who would light fires to lure ships onto rocks to shipwreck them, then loot whatever washed ashore. One night the family lured the wrong ship ashore though as they’ve targeted a clipper coming from Cairo carrying all sorts of Egyptian artefacts.

The ship does wreck, but then the cliffs themselves come alive, eating the family and the ship. The only one spared was the youngest sister who grew up to become a powerful witch and now lives alone with her son nearby, and that son is the mutant we saw earlier. Oh and a daughter whom nobody has ever seen.

Having been told this tale, boring couple decides to go to sleep. The husband promptly disappears from the film entirely but the wife is awoken by the sound of an evil horse (unexplained element number 3). How do we know its evil? It’s black and runs up and down in front of the inn repeatedly. And boy, do I mean repeatedly. Shots of that horse running or rearing comprise, what must be 50% of this film’s running time?

Having been startled by this horse our heroine decides, for some reason, to drive away from the creepy inn whilst wearing her nightie. I’m not sure what her thought process was here since the horse seems fairly incapable or getting past the gates, through the doors, up the stairs and to her bedroom. I guess bitches be crazy? (unexplained element 4?)

Of course, this being a horror film, her car won’t start so she takes the eminently sensible option of running off into the woods!

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French survivalist dude also decides he’s had just about enough of this evil horse and goes out to kill it. The horse runs away into a field where the Frenchman chases him and begins shooting at him. This effect achieved by watching the man spin round firing wildly intercut with shots of the horse rearing. This footage of the guy spinning and shooting makes up the other 50% of this film’s running time.  Yes I know that adds up to 100% and yet I’m describing other scenes. It doesn’t make sense does it!

Welcome to my nightmare!

So whilst the epic battle of man versus horse continues the scene shifts to the mutant and the witch burying the young girl. Said young girl is also played by Veronique Renaud so when she shows up in their graveyard the old woman and the mutant are somewhat surprised and, I think, assume that she’s the daughter come back to life and that they need to bury her again. The mutant gets distracted from his burying duties by the evil horse then suddenly the evil horse is at a cliff and, in a scene I think is stolen from another film entirely, the cliff splits apart and the ghostly clipper from Cairo emerges from the cliff in the form of a toy boat. (unexplained…ah fuck it.)

We scarcely have a chance to process this development when we cut to a massive sarcophagus standing on the beach. The lid swings open to reveal, yes a mummy. Ancient Egypt, when will you leave us alone!!

It also reveals that the sarcophagus isn’t, it’s just a lid, without a back. So it was less the mummy emerging from his sarcophagus than it was the mummy standing behind a door waiting for the camera to look at him so he can make a dramatic entrance.

Back to the mutant, the girl and the devil horse. The mutant is prevented from burying the girl by the horse and so begins a fight between SS Nazi Mutant and Demonic Horse (not quite up to the standards of zombie vs shark but what is). This fight goes about as well for the mutant as can be expected and after a headache inducing fight scene the girl suddenly has a chance to escape.

Then the mummy shows up.

Fortunately he seems more interested in raising the daughter from her grave than the living Veronique. So she hides behind a gravestone whilst the mummy commands the dead to live. However, when she sees her lookalike she lets out a startled cry that alerts the mummy to her presence.

Now, I don’t know why the mummy  decides to try and kill her at this point, let’s just chalk it up to the inscrutable evil of Ancient Egypt. But he does and our heroine (*snort , snicker*) fights him off by clawing his face off. This reveals a rotten face that vomits a clear white liquid for oooh 4 hours? What’s that, this film’s only 72 minutes long? Well I can’t explain it folks but suffice to say this badly realised gore effect lasts way, way, waaaay too long.

The girl runs away, the mutant gets up and chases her and the mummy decides to wander away with his new zombie girlfriend into a sequel with infinitely more promise than this pile of rubbish.

Then comes what may be the worst shot I’ve ever seen.

We’re back to daytime by this point so everything has been turned back into a white featureless void with shapes that might conceivably be trees. The camera is pointed at these trees and it begins to pan left,

And keeps panning

And keeps panning

And keeps panning as the road comes into view

Suddenly mummy!

il-etait-une-fois-le-diable-devil-story-003

Then it keeps panning

And keeps panning

And keeps panning

And keeps panning

And cut.

…what!

What!!!?

If for nothing else watch Devil Story for this shot. In fact, helpfully, the whole thing is available on youtube so you have no excuse.  This shot is the most baffling choice in a film consisting entirely of baffling choices. I can kind of see why the first part of the shot works. Panning across the landscape to suddenly reveal something is a time honoured trick and a good way to pair the shock of the jump scare with the tension created by anticipation. Basically if you pan across a featureless landscape in a horror film the audience knows something bad is going to happen but they don’t know when, and that is a great way to scare them.

But there is absolutely no goddamn reason in the entire world why you would keep panning after the reveal. It achieves precisely fuck all effectiveness. It’s so inherently wrong that it’s straight up comedy gold.

So, morning now and our heroine still has to get away. She makes it back to her car pursued by the mutant and this time it starts. He does the standard splay himself on the windscreen and roar menacingly thing and she, in what is to give this film some credit quite a well shot sequence, smashes him into a lamp post. The mutant begins coughing blood over her windscreen and she does something I have never seen a final girl do before, she turns the windscreen wipers on!

Then she reverses away leaving the pretty badly mauled mutant lying collapsed on the ground.

Now, most final girls at this point would just drive away but Veronique Renaud has had one terrible fucking night and is having none of that shit. She gets a canister of petrol from her car and douses the mutant in it whilst he lies bloody and bleeding, then, retreats to a safe distance and lights him on fire!

It’s a strategy with pros and cons. Pro, that mutant is definitely dead now. Con, as she drives away (completely ignoring her disappearing husband) her car runs out of petrol. Oh irony, thy name is Devil Story.  This wouldn’t be so bad except as Veronique scans the horizon she sees, lurching towards her the mummy again.

Cut to.

Veronique waking up the next morning after her nightmare and driving off with her husband as the mutant looks on.

Oh hell no.

An it was all a dream ending? Yup, they went there. The most hackneyed, cliché and downright terrible way you could possibly think of to end a horror film  and Devil Story does it. They even have the goddamn cheek to add a ‘but was it?’ coda. If nothing else you have to admire the sheer ballsiness of the filmmakers here. Actually scratch that if, you should admire nothing else.

Not the real poster but the best summary of this film imaginable.

Not the real poster but the best summary of this film imaginable.

This summary makes Devil Story sound 1000x more coherent than the experience of watching it is. Basically most of this film is shots of a horse rearing and a Frenchman spinning in circles with a shotgun intercut with insanity. Nobody has any names, characters do things for no adequately explained reason and characters move from location to location without any sense of transition. And yet, it gives itself an out with the stupid “it was all a dream” ending. Of course it’s incoherent and weird. Of course people do things for no reason. Of course a Frenchman can have an infinite supply of shotgun shells it’s all a dream!

That doesn’t make it good though. You can do dreamlike horror but it is, if anything, harder to do than horror where the subject matter is explicitly real in the text. The makers of Devil Story are not up to the task nor are they up to the task of, really anything to do with making a film.  Rarely have I seen anything quite so incompetent and if it weren’t for one fairly major problem I’d be recommending this as a forgotten bad movie classic.

That problem? It’s kind of boring. Despite the insanity too much of the running time is repetitious and tedious. It’s short enough and weird enough that I would recommend it but only for the dedicated bad movie buff.

*Imdb doesn’t have the character’s name and damned if I picked it up whilst watching this turd. That’s a sign of a quality movie right there folks.

Night of the Dead 2014

Night of the Dead XIV

A Leeds institution; Night of the Dead is a horror movie marathon that runs through the night, ending in the middle of the next morning and featuring a mix of horror films, shorts, games and banter. It is one of the highlights of my year and like previous years I’m going to talk a little about the movies that were screened there.

Before that though, a brief word about the event itself. This year had a lot of changes for Night of the Dead, some good, some not so good. The event started almost 2 hours earlier than normal (and still overran! The event organisers summed it up neatly right at the start. “We won’t be on time because we thought ABC’s of Death 2 was 90 minutes long and when we got the film it was 2 hours and 5 minutes so that’s thrown the schedule right out.”) and was held on a Friday, both of which I felt were good ideas.

Less good was that it was held later in the festival causing it to clash with Thought Bubble, Leeds’ massive comic book convention which I also normally attend. Also in the loss column was the lack of Gip, one of the two regular presenters and a charismatic shouty Irish man beloved by all. He also attends Thought Bubble and chose it over NOTD this year. He was replaced, for some of the night, by Dom Brunt better known by most as Paddy from Emmerdale. A Leeds resident and massive horror film fan (he’s even directed and starred in a former Day of the Dead entry, Before Dawn) Dom was a fine choice but lacks the easy charm of Gip. Also he had to leave at 3 in the morning. In fairness to the man he was going on holiday the next day and had already delayed joining his wife on holiday for 3 days because he got the dates for the event wrong but still, less banter and fun than previous years.

This was the first year sponsored by Shameless Cinema, a small press distributor specialising in rare exploitation and B-movie films. They supplied a ton of prizes for the presenters to give away. So many in fact that by the end of the night they just resorted to giving everybody who was left a prize. I walked away with about £50 worth of DVD’s so I probably made a £25 profit on the event.

The biggest change though was in the style and content of the films chosen. Leeds International Film Festival asks audiences to rate the films shown and the offerings at Night of the Dead routinely end up in the bottom 10. In fairness this is because the offerings at NOTD are usually fucking terrible but then that is something I love about it. As a massive fan of shit schlock NOTD provides me with a chance to see some really obscure shit schlock. In previous years the hosts have pleaded with us to be nicer to the films but asking for sympathy from the NOTD crowd is guaranteed to backfire. However, I think they’ve started to worry about their bad reputation since attendance has been down and so this year they’ve decided to butter us up. There is usually one horror comedy and it is usually the best film of the night so this year they decided, fuck it, all horror comedies. And so 4 out of the 5 films we saw were horror comedies.

As a fan of horror comedies I did enjoy the films more this year but I kind of miss the shitiness of previous years. NOTD is a really unique experience, equal parts great and awful, like all good bad things it is hard to do intentionally and I would hate for NOTD to lose their special qualities by chasing the audience.

 

ABCs of Death 2

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I haven’t seen the first ABC’s of Death yet but since this isn’t a film in the conventional sense that doesn’t matter. Boz from The Little Pod of Horrors has seen both and assures me that the sequel is better than the original by a country mile.

For those who don’t know the high concept here is that this is a series of 26 shorts, one for each letter of the alphabet, each directed by a different director and with each director given full creative freedom to do whatever they want except that they must include their letter and they must feature a death.

As you can imagine this is an extremely difficult film to talk about. Almost all the shorts rely on some kind of twist and they’re all less than 5 minutes long so talking about the plot even briefly tends to spoil the short. Even worse, the titles come at the end of the short and they’re usually some kind of last twist or final gag revealing a new layer on the short you just watched so you can’t even use the titles most of the time.

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Nonetheless I will do my best.

Despite being nominally a horror film almost none of the shorts try for tension or scares. There is lots of gore and traditional horror subject matter but most of the films are blackly comic. Of the shorts that did try for horror I would say K is the most successful with a genuinely creepy moment in the middle that I haven’t seen before. S also works as a tense piece with a really nice twist.

Of the more humorous shorts though it becomes really hard to pick a favourite, almost all of them are funny and in different ways to each other. A, B, E, O, P, T and Y all made me laugh. Special mention though has to go to G, M and W. G is just, amazingly bonkers. The kind of thing where you watch it, have no idea what you saw but are glad you saw it. It represents possibly the most surreal 5 minutes of cinema I have ever seen. W is a parody of He-Man that doesn’t go where you are expecting it to but is full of great little observations. M, M is just gleeful. M was this year’s wildcard so it was open to any film maker to try and come up with a short and I can confirm that they made the right choice.

 

On the bad side, a couple of shorts are just kind of there, not overtly creative, not funny and not scary. N, V and Q in particular. F is probably the worst short in the film, it thinks it is profound and clever despite being mostly dull and uninteresting. Finally special mention has to go to L a short in which I have only the vaguest of ideas as to what actually happened.

Housebound

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The best film I saw this year. A clever little horror comedy from New Zealand,  Housebound tells the tale of Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly). Kylie is a young tearaway with drug and alcohol problems. We’re introduced to her trying and failing to crack open an ATM with dynamite and a sledgehammer. After being arrested she is sentenced to house arrest at her Mum’s house, something neither she nor her Mum are entirely happy about.

Kylie is a horrible little shit. Rude, lazy and openly hostile to everyone and everything she has pretty much no redeeming qualities but her Mum still loves her and wants to help her turn her life around. Kylie, however, seems more interested in figuring out some of the mysteries in her Mum’s old house, especially once she finds out it used to be an insane asylum and becomes convinced that it is haunted.

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Talking much more about the plot would do Housebound a disservice because one of the strengths of this film is that it continually surprises you. At several points the film totally upends both the kind of film it is and the story you thought it was telling. And not only are the twists unexpected and surprising but they all make perfect sense and play fair with the audience. Also some of the turns the plot takes are really funny, particularly when one character suddenly reveals that they know a hell of a lot more about ghosts then they’re letting on.  You need to see Housebound, it is just that good.

Every other aspect of the film just works. The acting is uniformly superb, the jokes are funny and the scares are effective. And that in particular is rare. Most horror comedies are really just black comedies, or comedies with gore. It is rare that a film tries for scares and gags and rarer still that it succeeds but Housebound unequivocally does. This is even more surprising when you consider that its director Gerard Johnstone’s first film. Based on this he has a successful career ahead of him. He has an unobtrusive style but as a storyteller he gets every single thing that needs to work, working.

And its even more of a success when you consider that Housebound has an unlikeable protagonist. Unlikeable protagonists are somewhat in fashion and whilst they can be done well they are really hard to pull off. But Kylie is in enough danger and has enough charisma to work as a protagonist even as she acts like a shit to everyone she knows.

Housebound is simply a must see, the best horror comedy I’ve seen since Evil Dead 2 and probably the best horror film I’ve seen all year.

Dead Short Competition

In another change to previous years, rather than the shorts being spread out throughout the night this time they were all shown as a chunk. The reasoning behind this decision was that that for the first time we were invited to vote on our favourite short.

Normally the shorts are easily the best part of NOTD but this year they felt a little lacklustre. It might be because we watched ABC’s of Death earlier but nothing in the shorts measured up to the insane fun of G or M from that movie nor was there anything a tenth as good as Fist of Jesus.

And yes I have brought that short up just to have an excuse to link to it again. I love it that much.

That said none of these shorts were bad either and most had something to recommend them.

waterborne

Waterborne gives us what I think is a cinema first, zombie kangaroos, and not much else.

How To Make A Nightmare was the only truly terrible short. It was pretentious, dull, over long and confused.

Slut, a 1970’s period retelling of little red riding hood, was well shot and acted and evoked the period beautifully. It ends wonderfully too.

Invasion from Moustache on Vimeo.

Invasion told a very slight story and was mostly just an excuse to show off the rotoscoped animation of Hugo Ramirez and Olivier Patté. It does look very cool though.

EXTREME PINOCCHIO Trailer (English ST.) from Alcibal Productions on Vimeo.

Extreme Pinnocchio basically transports the entire Pinnochio myth to an inner city in France complete with midgets, transvestites, paedophiles, drugs and a garbage truck/whale. It has a wonderfully lived in grimy feel, some good gags and some memorable visuals but it is faaaaaar too long at 23 minutes and drags in places.

MIsForMobileWeb

M is for Mobile was a failed entry in the ABC’s of death open slot. I suspect it was rejected for being too short but it is very funny with a great twist.

BonAppetitWeb

Bon Appetit doesn’t have any new ideas but it does have style.

SequenceOfDeathWeb

Sequence of Death was “mind blowing” – that’s a pun.

LiquidWeb

Liquid is a Takashi Miike style Japanese psycho-sexual body horror that basically exists because the word liquid, when said in a Japanese accent, sounds a lot like re-kid. It has a nice central idea but isn’t scary or particularly stylish and its amazing how quickly a short can wear out its welcome.

This was the sole film for which we had the director present this year who came all the way from Tokyo to see his movie premiere at 3 in the morning. Fair play to him for dedication but it’s a shame for him to come so far and not win. I did get a chance to talk to him and learned that interestingly one of the actresses in his film is a famous porn star, but not the one who is naked for almost the entire running time.

The three really good shorts were Mouse X, Cannibals and Carpet fitters and Safari Heat.

Mouse X was one of the only shorts to try for overt scares rather than black comedy. It is inexplicable. A man wakes up in a chair with a bible, he sees a mouse on the floor, sees  a hole that lets him escape to another room and quickly realises he is in some kind of time recursion interacting with himself at different points in time. The film is amazing at creating a sense of almost existential dread by refusing to answer any of the many questions it poses. It’s also stylish and has a great soundtrack which very subtly and effectively ramps up the tension to a spine chilling climax.

In contrast Cannibals and Carpet Fitters isn’t especially clever but it is charming. The tale of a battle between some cannibals and two ordinary carpet fitters in the west country of England has a sly deadpan sense of humour and stacks of likeability. It won the contest and I’m not surprised. In fact I kind of want it to be turned into a TV series where every week two ordinary blokes in the West Country battle supernatural horror.

Safari Heat

What should have won though is Safari Heat, which defies explanation. Telling you anything about it will spoil the experience except to say it is a parody of Miami Heat, done in Claymation and set in Cape Town. However it quickly transforms into easily one of the most bizarre and amazing things I have ever seen. Sadly, I couldn’t find any version of it online to show it to you.

 

Wolf Cop

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It was a testament to how good the offerings were this year that Wolf Cop wasn’t the best movie. In year’s past it would have easily been the best thing they screened but this year both Housebound, ABC’s of Death and, in a weird way Street Trash, delivered better results. Still, Wolf Cop wasn’t a bad film so much as a painfully average one.

With a title like Wolf Cop guess what this is about? Yes, it is about a werewolf cop. Specifically it is about a werewolf deputy who has to clean up his small rural town from the twin threats of organised crime and satanic shape shifters. Oh and he’s like Popeye but with booze instead of spinach.

That sounds fun doesn’t it? It sounds like Teen Wolf but with gore and dirty jokes. It sounds like it’ll be over the top silly, campy fun in the style of Troma, Sam Raimi or even Family Guy.

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And to be fair to the movie there is a stretch lasting about 20 minutes in the middle where it delivers exactly on that promise. Our titular lupine cop (Lou Garou, because this movie thinks it is far cleverer than it is) starts tooling around town in a modified wolf mobile, ripping the faces off crooks, stealing liquor and making puns (“who are you?” “The fuzz!”) and it is glorious.

Unfortunately it takes a long time to get to that point and the build up to the payoff is just, not very interesting. I understand you need to have highs and lows, you can’t just do balls to the wall gore and gags from start to finish (although counterpoint, Evil Dead 2) but that doesn’t excuse the build up being boring. Wolf Cop lacks likeable or funny characters so all the character establishing stuff in the beginning is just a chore to sit through. Then it delivers what it promised us, and then far too quickly that part is over and we get a predictable and tension free climax or various people running around the woods.

I will give it credit for this though. I cannot remember seeing a penis metamorphosis in a live action film before, so kudos to wolf cop for that.

Street Trash

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Street Trash defies a conventional critical approach because it is singularly unconcerned with mundane things like plot, characters or motivations, not when it can be shocking you instead. This isn’t a film, it’s an assault. Street Trash hates you, the viewer, and does everything in its power to provoke you to either getting up and walking out or giving in and laughing at it. If it were a sound it would be a child saying every swear word it knows until you either slapped it or couldn’t help it and giggled.

You certainly can’t call it a good film but a bad film? Bad by what standards? It isn’t telling a story, it isn’t trying to scare you, it isn’t trying to move you or connect on an emotional level. Street Trash has one ambition, to make you go, “what the fuck am I watching?” And it achieves this. It really successfully achieves this.

Describing the plot is a little bit like describing a particularly grimy fever dream you once had. Street Trash doesn’t really tell a story from beginning to end so much as it presents a series of vignettes of what life was like in New York in the 1980’s if you were scum. Among the various vignettes we have: 2 brothers living on the streets to escape their abusive ‘nam vet dad and their arguments with each other, a black guy stealing from a supermarket, another ’nam vet who has flashbacks and rules a junkyard like a kingdom, the gang rape of a mob boss’ girlfriend, a sweet junkyard employee who seems to care for one of the 2 brothers and is sexually harassed by her boss and a cop with anger management issues trying to sort out all the mess. Some of these plots will intertwine and resolve but mostly what happens in this film is pointless meandering that (the filmmaker) thinks is either gross or funny or both.

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The main plot in terms of memorability, if not running time, has to do with viper. Viper is a drink that causes anyone who drinks it to melt.

Yup, melt.

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A liquor store owner finds it behind a loose board in his basement and deduces it must have been there since prohibition. Well, bums will drink it at a dollar a bottle and he’ll have made a profit so why not? He has no idea it will make people melt of course, and neither does anyone else until Mike Lackey, who is sort of our protagonist, has a lucky escape from drinking a bottle himself. He then uses it to get revenge on anyone who did anything bad to him for the preceding 80 minutes.

Viper is set up early in the film and for the first 15 minutes reoccurs periodically to remind us it exists and to get some of the “plots” (biggest fucking scare quotes you can imagine around plots there people) moving. Then it disappears from the film entirely until Street Trash decides it needs an ending and sets about melting all the bad guys. Nearly every plot thread is unresolved , no ultimate point was made and no sense of closure is given.

Street Trash is a fucking terrible film and yet, I can’t say I’m sorry I watched it. And not because it’s so bad its good either, it’s too slow and in all of its technical respects, weirdly, too good to qualify as a bad movie. You get the sense that if James M Muro wanted to tell a decent story, he could. He just has absolutely no interest in doing so.

No, the reason I liked Street Trash is because I got to see some things I have genuinely never seen before. I haven’t seen a bum melt into a toilet and I’ve got to say here, the melting effects were really well done. No realistic but certainly evocative. I’ve never seen a gang rape played for laughs. I’ve never seen a game of penis keepaway.

Street Trash Meltdown Edition 10

My favourite part of the whole film was a minor character who worked for the Mob Boss. He was some punk kid that clearly hated the menial job he was doing and hated the Mob Boss, so he let’s bums gang rape the Mob Boss’ girlfriend. There’s an amazing scene where the Mob Boss and the Kid are sitting in the police station arguing. The Boss is threatening to kill the kid and the kid is insulting the boss. The angry cop sees this and pulls the kid to one side asking why he is insulting a man who can have him killed. The kid says it’ll be okay because the cop can put him witness protection and as the cop slowly shakes his head the dawning look of realisation the kid’s face as he puts together just quite how badly he fucked up is priceless.

I think, ultimately, I have to recommend Street Trash. You won’t like it, buy you won’t forget it either.

Oh and as an aside, we got to see this movie on film! A rare treat and the scratches and grime on the print really added to the atmosphere of early 1980’s urban decay. If you are going to watch this then watching a print version at 6 in the morning in a theatre full of horrible people is definitely the way to do it.

Septic Man

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So let’s get the obvious joke out of the way. What a load of shit!

Here’s how Septic Man was sold to us. This was the mystery film at this year’s screening and it was described thus. A guy falls into a massive septic tank and starts to slowly mutate. Sounds like Toxic Avenger right, only with pooh? You think that that’s the first act and then this shit monster is going to go out and get revenge against the people who put him in the septic tank?

Here is what actually happens in Septic Man.

There is a city, it has a disease, a plumber is asked by a shady cabal to fix the sewer system (by himself for some bizarre reason!) whilst the city is evacuated. He does so but then gets trapped in a septic tank with some dead bodies. As he is stuck there he slowly starts to mutate. Lou Ferigno and his insane brother live at the water treatment site and won’t rescue him. Then Septic Man’s wife shows up and mercy kills him.

After Act 1 when he eventually gets stuck NOTHING FUCKING HAPPENS!

NOTHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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You can do films where the protagonist is trapped in one location. 127 Hours, Buried, Phone Booth hell Saw is basically this. It’s an idea that’s more appealing in the abstract (writers love high concept writing challenges like this because writers find restrictions to actually be freeing) than it is normally well executed. Phone Booth sounds like a great idea for a drama but getting 90 minutes out of it is tricky.

That said you can do it. The trick is to find something to fill up the time with. Flashbacks to how the hero got here, cutaways to the outside world as they try and track down our hero, watching our hero as he tries every clever and desperate method to escape his situation. You can even have a person there for them to talk to and write dialogue that reveals their character. If you’re particularly lazy you can throw in some dream sequences to fake out the audience.

But you have to do something.

Septic Man vaguely flirts with the idea of doing all of these things  but it quickly decides it can’t actually manage to pull them off, gives up and defaults back to what it likes to do best; shadowy shots of an ugly man, in an ugly room, sitting.

Fully 50% of this film’s running time consists of looking at a dude being sad.

If that sounds like something you’d enjoy then Septic Man should be right up your alley but I despised this film. It ranks amongst the worst films I have ever seen. Not because it is technically bad but because there is nothing there. It’s a blank space where a film should be. It’s the cinematic equivalent of staring at a toilet wall. It’s like a bowel movement that lasts 83 minutes where you don’t have anything to read, boring and excruciating.

I literally have nothing nice to say about this utter turd of a film.

So that was NOTD 2014. 2 good films, 1 meh film, 1 film that was certainly memorable and 1 of the worst cinematic experiences of my entire life. That’s a marked improvement on last year which, as I said earlier, is kind of a mixed bag. I strongly recommend Housebound though, you will not regret it.

Night of the Lepus (1972) Directed by William F. Claxton

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Bad movies are bad for all sorts of reasons but mostly they are bad for technical reasons. Bad acting, bad direction, cheap sets, lousy dialogue, laughable effects, plot holes, etc. Rarely is a film bad because of a bad concept. Oh bad ideas are common, but they’re usually part of a concept that would have broadly worked. Plan 9 from Outer Space is predicated on a secret alien invasion using our own dead against us, that’s kind of neat. It’s just every single thing that follows on from that premise that Ed wood and company get wrong.

No, the collaborative nature of film and the high cost of production means that most truly bad concepts die before they manage to jump through the many hoops needed to get a film financed, produced and distributed.

Which is what makes Night of the Lepus such a rare treat. This is a film, ladies and gentleman, predicated upon the high concept of giant mutant killer bunny rabbits.

Giant, mutant, killer bunny rabbits.

Let that sink in for a bit.

Multiple people heard that idea and thought, yup, that’ll work. There are 57 people credited with working on this film and at least 4 of those (the director, producer and two screenwriters, yes two of them!) are personally responsible for the thought process.

“Giant, mutant, killer, bunny rabbits. Why not?”

The mind, it boggles.

Now some of you bad movie aficionados are probably squirming uncomfortably now thinking, hang on Adam, this must be a piss take right? This is like 8 Legged Freaks or Slugs or something else patently ridiculous where it really is a satire or at least a parody of monster movies?

I don’t blame you for thinking that. In my experience when you come across a truly bad idea usually the creators know it and have done it on purpose. Also bolstering this argument is the fact that the novel it is based on is a satire with an anti-war message.

But if this is a joke then it is a work of deadpan genius to rival Andy Kauffman. Every single thing in this movie is played 100% down the line straight. Even better it is portrayed with a seriousness and gravitas unique to 70’s “message” films. This isn’t just a film about giant mutant killer bunny rabbits that takes itself seriously, this is a film about giant mutant killer bunny rabbits that thinks it is important!

Our film starts with Rory Calhoun (yes, that guy who is always walking and talking) murdering a horse.

Okay, in fairness it actually starts with Rory Calhoun riding a horse, the horse tripping on a rabbit hole and Calhoun euthanizing him with a rifle. I suspect this is intended to make us hate the rabbits because they caused the death of a horse but it doesn’t. It makes me think Rory Calhoun is some kind of emotionless human robot who kills horses without being even slightly broken up about having to do it.

And actually in further fairness I skipped the prologue which features news footage of people exterminating rabbits, mostly in Australia. The footage of hundreds of rabbits running panicked against rabbit proof fences being chased by men with sticks and guns is accompanied by frightening music and a voice over intoning how devastating ecologically rabbits have been in parts of the world.

Now intellectually I know this to be true and I have no moral opposition to the culling of rabbits to protect farmland. Hell I eat rabbits. But watching adorable little bunnies running for their fucking lives while giant, half-glimpsed human forms lunge at them with sticks menacingly does not make me scared of the rabbits.

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Which is a problem the film never solves. They try, they try really hard. Over the course of this movie we get every horror trick in the book. We shoot rabbits from low angles, in the dark, with menacing strings. They even shoot close ups of the rabbits impressive front teeth that they’ve smeared with tomato ketchup. And all I can think is.

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D’awwww, look at his widdle nose twitch.

So, human robot Rory Calhoun (sporting the full denim tuxedo) is upset that his farm is full of rabbits, as well he should be. He decides to exterminate them but not for human robot Rory Calhoun the ways of his father, just drop loads of cyanide down all over the place. No, human robot Rory Calhoun is going to try and do this in a more sensitive ecologically friendly manner. He calls in De Forrest Kelly (alright folks, everyone get your dammit I’m a doctor not a [blank] jokes ready) who hooks him up with Stuart Whitman, another old western star playing a scientist.

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When we meet Whitman he continues this film’s trend of all of its heroes being bastards to animals by shaking a box full of bats. Why is he shaking a box full of bats? Well apparently he has isolated the noise bats make when distressed and he hopes to be able to use it to corral them away from crops and livestock using sound. Now the canny among you might be thinking; “A ha! This is clearly exposition for the thingy that will stop the giant mutant killer bunnys in the film’s climax.”

Nope, no this scene serves no purpose except to set up that Whitman is a man who will casually just shake a box of bats for the express purpose of pissing them off.

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Our heroes ladies and gentlemen.

So Whitman sets about trying to come up with a solution to the rabbit problem. His idea is to breed a rabbit that is singularly uninterested in sex then introduce them to the native rabbit population where they will breed with the natives and pass on the gene for not wanting to breed.

You don’t have to be an expert in biology to spot the somewhat massive flaw in Whitman’s plan there.

However Whitman’s plan swiftly becomes irrelevant. Having not much luck with his asexual rabbits he decides to inject one of the rabbits with a mysterious vial of liquid. How mysterious is it? Well apparently even Whitman has no idea what it will do.

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So the mechanics of how our mutant bunny escapes into the wild are thus (somewhat paraphrased)

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Little girl who is not adorable: Daddy don’t inject that bunny with the mysterious liquid. He’s my favourite.

Bat torturer: Uh huh. (ignores his annoying daughter)

Little girl who is not adorable: *pouts*

Little girl who is not adorable: Mommy, can I have a rabbit?

Janet Leigh (yes, Janet Leigh who regrets being in this turd and boy can you tell from her performance. In the fine tradition of Famke Jannsen Leigh only agreed to star in this because it was near her house.

Anyway)

Janet Leigh: Bat torturer, can our annoying little girl have a rabbit?

Bat Torturer: Sure, just don’t take the one I injected with a mysterious liquid.

Little girl who is not adorable: Okay.

Little girl who is not adorable: *proceeds to take the injected rabbit, then take a random rabbit from elsewhere and put it in the cage marked, mysterious liquid rabbit*

THE VERY NEXT SCENE

Little girl who is not adorable: Whoops! (drops rabbit)

So then boring shit happens so we can build tension (giggle snort) until the giant mutant killer bunny reveal. Boring shit is interspersed with our first rabbit attack which is amazing in its lack of subtlety.

Here is my recreation. (again, somewhat paraphrased)

Truck driver: (stops truck, gets out) Boy I need to stop this truck right here in the middle of the desert. Yesiree bob, its time to stretch my legs. Whoooo. That feels nice. Well, I guess I better check that my cargo of carrots and cabbages is still all there (opens door of truck) Yup, all the carrots and cabbages are still in place. That’s right, boy I’d be in trouble if anything ever happened to my carrots and cabaaaaaaaaagh.

(man is eaten by rabbits)

End scene.

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So more boring shit happens and the next brilliant scene is where Bat torturer for some reason is attending the autopsy of the truck driver. (Or it might be a prospector, frankly I couldn’t give a shit). Said medical examiner is, refreshingly, black. Thus making him the only black person in the movie as well as the only person aged between 10 and 50. He is also the only actor who clearly realises this is a terrible idea and has decided to ham it up and have some fun. A particular highlight is his delivery of the line that he can’t rule out the possibility of a vampire attack!

More boring shit and then Bat torturer, human robot Rory Calhoun and Deforrest Kelly (dammit Jim, he’s a doctor not a rodent exterminator) set out to end the rabbit menace. Their plan is to find the cave they’ve been living in, collapse the cave entrance with dynamite and then go get some beers.

The plan is jeapordised a bit when Bat torturer decides he wants to have a look at the monsters before they go extinct and nearly gets himself eaten for his trouble. This gives us our first good luck at the rabbits and along with the special effects achieved by just shooting real rabbits that have been smothered in tomato sauce from a low angle we also learn that this film will feature men in bunny suits!

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Sometimes the bad movie gods see fit to reward me.

So other than Bat torturer being kind of an idiot (although, yeah I’d be curious too) the plan goes off without a hitch.

The problem with the plan is that it didn’t really account for the fact that rabbits can burrow

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Dun dun dunnnnn!

And at this point, about an hour into the film just turn it off. You have seen everything this movie has to offer both from an ironic “oh my god how dumb is this” aspect and from the perspective of the story itself. For the next half hour all we are treated to is endless slow motion footage of bunnies running around miniature sets interspersed with boring human robots reciting bland dialogue at each other. There is zero tension, zero movement in the plot, zero character development just rabbits, rabbits and more rabbits.

This footage is hilarious at first, the combination of old skool cheapo special effects with the just terrible idea to make cute rabbits scary is absurd. But the joke dies a swift death and yet the rabbits cavorting just keeps…on…happening.

Mercifully the film finally ends when the heroes concoct a plan to chase all the rabbits towards an electrified train track and shock them all to death. This happens in glorious close up for a loooong time during which every viewer is made supremely uncomfortable about how unhappy those bunnies appear and start wondering if a “no animals were harmed disclaimer” is going to appear.

It does not, which is the only scary thing about this abomination.

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Gatchaman-Crowds-

I’m not a huge fan of Gatchaman having only seen a few episodes of the original series (although I have somehow managed to watch all 3 dubs accidentally) but the show had a transformative influence on me. Gatchaman is the first anime I ever saw and even as a dumb kid I recognised at once that the animation, storytelling and character development were leagues beyond anything I was watching from western animation at the time.

I was therefore very enthusiastic about Gatchaman Crowds. An update of the Gatchaman concept of teenagers in bird themed costumes fighting aliens, done with modern day animation and storytelling conventions and a cool social media gimmick? Sign me up, that sounds great.

Gatchaman Crowds starts off by delivering pretty much exactly what I wanted from it. The first episode introduces the team, the concept and the villain. Hajime Ichinose is a high school girl obsessed with stationery, art and craft. When we first meet her she is having a serious geek out moment over a new notepad she has bought.

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Hajime is relentlessly genki (a Japanese word meaning cheerful and energetic) almost to the point of obnoxiousness but she’s sweet, kind and enthusiastic. All positive traits that draw a mysterious figure named JJ (played by Katsuji Mori the original Gatchaman leader Ken the Eagle) who meets her in a dreamlike state and pulls a notebook from her body.

Hajime accidentally sees one of her classmates Sugane Tachibana transform into a Gatchaman, a super hero with a bird like costume, as he fights an alien that has disguised itself as a human. Sugane has an ability to wipe the minds of people that see his Gatchaman form but now that Hajime has a notebook it doesn’t work on her. Sugane realises that this means Hajime is also a Gatchaman so he takes her to their base to meet the other team members and reveal their mission.

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JJ is a kind of godlike being who creates Gatchaman on planets all over the universe. The Gatchaman are civil servants who protect the people on their planets from extra-terrestrial threats but must do so in secret. On Earth this team has been fighting MESS, an alien intelligence that abducts humans.

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Okay so, set up is basic but very functional. Secret team, wise mentor, super powers; all in service of fighting bad guys. It isn’t the most original idea in the world but hey, it provides a neat framework to hang a fight scene on every week and lots of opportunities to tell good stories. And it works as an update of the old series concept.

That set up lasts until the beginning of episode 2!

That is how uninterested the creators are in telling a by the numbers shonen anime story. All of your expectations, boom, thrown out the window my friends.

What happens at the start of episode 2 (well the end of episode 1 but it finishes at the start of episode 2) is that Hajime transforms into a Gatchaman against Sugane’s orders. Sugane is fighting a huge MESS and getting his ass kicked by it but Hajime hasn’t transformed to help him in the fight but instead to talk to the MESS. Something that everyone else thinks is impossible. However the moment she touches it with her scissor weapon she establishes a way to communicate with it, and when the MESS realises it has been harming humans it stops. See the MESS was only abducting us as a way to try and communicate in the first place, and now it can. Mission accomplished.

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Well, that’s totally overthrown all the set-up, now what do we do? New alien threat? Well kind of. What Gatchaman Crowds is actually concerned with from episode 2 onwards is answering the questions:

What is the point of Super Heroes?

How can we make the world a better place?

What are the different ways in which different groups of people can make the world a better place?

On the question of Super Heroes Gatchaman Crowds represents one of the most radical reinventions of the Super Hero concept I have ever seen. I have now written an entirely separate post to discuss this but basically to be a Super Hero story your story needs to conform to the following criteria.

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  1. Super Heroes have some kind of alternate identity, usually signified by a code name.
  2. Super Heroes have a distinctive appearance that separates them from normal people.
  3. Super Heroes possess the ability to do something beyond those of normal people.
  4. Utilising their abilities beyond those of a normal person and either by their direct actions or the consequences thereof the Super Hero acts to saves lives or improve the quality of lives for others in direct conflict to the intentions of a Super villain antagonist.

Gatchaman Crowds conforms perfectly to all 4 criteria…in episode 1 and then begins dismantling them all to point out why the Super Hero idea is flawed but how it can be re-purposed.

So starting with point 4. The shortened version of this, in Super Hero stories you usually end with the hero punching the bad guy. And so does episode one of Gatchaman Crowds where Sugane uses his sword to defeat some MESS. Genre conventions  thus conformed to, Gatchaman establishes itself as a Super Hero story. But that is the last time that punching will ever be a solution in this series because in episode 2 Hajime tries talking to the MESS and it is immediately shown to be a superior strategy. The G-team has been fighting MESS for 5 years without winning. Hajime talks to them for one day and the problem is solved.

The message is quite simple, communication is better than punching when it comes to solving problems.

Now Gatchaman Crowds is not the first Super Hero work to make this message or to question the usefulness of the Super Hero to solve real world problems. Watchmen, Miracle Man, Squadron Supreme, The Authority, “what’s so funny about truth, justice and the American way?” I could keep going.  The two main conclusions most of these stories fall into is either a) the power a Super Hero has can literally remake the world into a better place and so the hero proceeds to do that (Watchmen, Miracle Man, The Authority) or b) the power of a single man is limited and ultimately being a Super Hero can’t make the world better only maintain a status quo or deal with small threats (any Superman story in which he fails to save someone, almost all Daredevil stories, The Sentry).

You would think with its message of punching is worse than communication that Gatchaman Crowds falls into the b group but really it takes a third path. It’s arguing quite firmly that Super Heroes can change the world but not because they’re super-heroes, just because anyone can.*

This leads us to the second big plot point of Gatchaman Crowds the existence of GALAX and CROWDS.

Gatchaman Crowds GALAX

GALAX is a social media app that, in true visual media tradition, doesn’t work by using words, lists and pictures but instead inefficiently populates a virtual world with virtual avatars that interact within it (see also Oz in Summer Wars). Its main purpose is twofold. Firstly it works to make the world a better place by connecting people based on their skillset and their location. For example, when one character is hit by a car their friend uses GALAX to describe the situation and GALAX alerts a nearby nurse that she should go and help.

GALAX then represents an argument that the world is better when people are doing what they do best for no reason other than doing what they do best benefits all. That is explicitly a Communist idea and like Communism it runs up against a major practical problem. Who decides what your job should be that best benefits society?

Gatchaman Crowds LOAD

Gatchaman side steps the issue somewhat by having the entity in charge of all the decision making be an objective super-intelligent A.I. named X. But that A.I. still had to be invented by someone who created it to reflect their values, and that person is Rui Ninomiya aka LOAD aka the super genius boy who invented X, GALAX, CROWDS and tried to use his intelligence to make the world a better place. And the fact that GALAX isn’t objective but works to reflect the dictatorship of LOAD is not something the series will shy away from.

The other issue Communism and by extension GALAX runs into is how to motivate people to work. Sure some people will help for the sake of helping but not the majority, and not if the job is dangerous or difficult. Capitalism fixes this issue by use of currency as a motivator and GALAX does something similar through the use of gamification. See when that Nurse helped that kid, she got a higher score in her game of GALAX.

Gamification, the idea of turning real world activities into the equivalent of a video game with scores and rewards is sometimes posited as a real alternative economy for the future. The argument goes that when automisation eventually replaces the need for people to work the only way to get them to do the minimal jobs required by full automisation will be to turn work into a game with status and rewards for those who do well at it. Gamification is not some Sci-Fi future though, apps that give you points and badges for working out, organising your life or assisting in charity exist right now and in Gatchaman Crowds they’re the engine that runs GALAX and we see it spring into action when GALAX organises a group of school kids to stop a shipment of tainted milk (???) and they do it for the mix of helping and for the adventure of playing the game.

Gatchaman-Crowds the hundreds

GALAX gives the power to improve the world to the people, not to Super Heroes and it goes one step further. LOAD has picked 100 special high scoring GALAX users and given them the power of CROWDS. A variation on the Gatchaman’s own powers CROWDS is a kind of faceless avatar for each GALAX user that inhabits the real world. Huge, strong and indestructible these weird monsters assist in clearing road accidents and rescuing people from a damaged cable car.

The Gatchaman then aren’t the only people with extraordinary power in this universe, anyone can be a Super Hero if they play enough GALAX i.e. if they help enough people.

Point 3 of my definition then, Super Heroes possess the ability to do something beyond those of normal people, is gone.

So what about point 1? Super Heroes have some kind of alternate identity, usually signified by a code name? Again this is initially true of The Gatchaman and is then discarded. They start out as secret heroes with secret identities but one of the first things Hajime does when CROWDS starts to become a threat rather than an asset is to take The Gatchaman public. She starts a PR campaign harnessing the power of the media (both traditional and newer forms like social and GALAX) to turn the public against the threat of CROWDS and unite people to help. When they were 5 people working in secret The Gatchaman had no chance to stop CROWDS, the only way to stop them is to enlist the aid of others and in doing that their fame and public profile are more useful than Sugane’s sword or Joe’s guns. Again, communication is more useful to fight a threat than punching.

It’s also not a coincidence that Hajime starts her PR campaign at an elementary school. Kids are the easiest hearts and minds to convince but also the most important. The beliefs we hold as children rarely stay with us into adulthood but those that do stand the test of time become our most strongly held principles. Inspiring children is an important part of making the world better and it is as inspirational figures that Super Heroes work, better than as warriors. Especially because kids respond to good vs evil Super Hero stories better than to complicated tales with multiple shades of morality. In both our real world and in the metafiction of Gatchaman Crowds the power of the Super Hero is in inspiring children to do good.

Point 1 is also shredded in Gatchaman Crowds by the fact that EVERYONE has a secret identity. Of course The Gatchaman do but Rui is a boy whereas his alter ego LOAD is a girl. Every user of GALAX has an online avatar, a second identity they can customise and which they show to the world. Even on a more mundane level Joe wears a suit and tie at work and has his hair tied up neatly in a ponytail as he plays the role of civil servant but then when he gets home he slips on cool clothes, lets his hair down, puts a cigarette in his mouth and goes out to the bar. Everyone has multiple identities and roles.

This might be a peculiarly Japanese thing since they have always strongly drawn the distinction between honne and tatemae, home and public, the face you show to the world and the face you only show to yourself. The principle is not alien to the West where we do understand the concept of politeness and not doing things in public you would in private but we’ve also told people to be themselves, express their emotions and be honest whereas in Japan the cultural norms have always been about putting on a false face for the benefit of others. The end result though is the concept of an alternate identity is not exclusive to the Super Hero, it’s an everyday thing for the Japanese. And as social media becomes increasingly the mainstream culture the difference between our real self and a cultivated public identity is becoming an issue we in the West also need to struggle with. What used to be an issue for celebrities and public figures now affects us all.

That just leaves point number 2, Super Heroes have a distinctive appearance that separates them from normal people, and whilst this is never subverted in Gatchaman Crowds in that The Gatchaman always have their costumes there are plenty of characters with outlandish appearances outside of costume from LOAD’s bunny ears, to the GALAX avatars to PaiPai (literally a talking toy Panda, and the leader of the Gatchaman).

So having completely upended the concept of a Super-Hero the series goes on to ask the question “How can we make the world a better place and what is stopping us?”

Let’s start with the characters who are failing to make the world a better place, the original Gatchaman, the 4 heroes who have been failing to save the world for 5 years until Hajime shows up and fixes everything.

Gatchaman-Crowds-Joe Hibiki

Joe is the only direct carry over from the original Gatchaman. In that series Joe was the cocky bad boy rebel but one of the more competent and deadly team members. He was the Wolverine to use a TV Tropes comparison. Here he seems set up to be similar, he’s older than most team members, he goes to bars, he smokes and he often shows up late for meetings. He also has one of the more destructive sets of super powers, flight, guns and fire manipulation abilities.

Joe represents wasted potential. With all his powers Joe should be able to defeat the villain easily but he thinks he can’t, and because he thinks he can’t then he doesn’t try to.  He has a lack of confidence and bemoans his lack of ability when the irony is, dude is a Super Hero! Joe stands in for every person who has ever said “I would make the world a better place if I had x power.” Where x = money, time, intelligence, etc. The irony with Joe is that he has the power and still makes the same argument and this should be read as a direct statement to every person who has ever made Joe’s argument. You do have the power to make the world a better place and wishing for more power will not help.

The defining moment for him as a character is in episode 2 where he is practicing darts. We see him hit the bull with three darts in a row and his friend suggests he should compete but Joe dismisses it out of hand, saying he isn’t as a good as people that compete. This kind of attitude, this feeling like you lack the ability to make the world better is a reason people don’t make the world better.

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Sugane is the most straight forwardly heroic of the Gatchaman. He’s competent in the use of his powers able to easily take down the MESS in episode 1 and he’ll be the main character to transform and take on problems throughout the series. He’s also a good student, he’s always on time to meetings, he does what he’s told and he’s just generally a nice guy if a little bit stiff and little bit of a stickler for the rules. The problem with Sugane is he lacks creativity, ambition and crucially the ability to make decisions for himself. Sugane is always looking to others to tell him what to do, normally PaiPai as the official leader of the team but he also looks up to Joe, JJ and eventually Hajime. Sugane is a soldier basically, he is fully committed to making the world a better place but he wants orders, he wants somebody higher up to have made the decisions and to tell him what to do. He’s probably best summed up by his weapon, a sword. It’s a tool that does one thing and that thing is destroy. Unlike Hajime’s scissors which can destroy or create Sugane only knows how to do one thing and his lack of imagination is why he can’t make the world better.

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PaiPai is a talking miniature Panda because….merchandise? He’s also the leader of the team and often an active coward. He’s like Sugane but even worse. Like Sugane he craves orders but whereas Sugane at least goes out of the base and does stuff PaiPai spends most of his time at home drinking and bemoaning the fact that he’s a coward and a terrible leader. As leader he should be giving orders but as another soldier he needs orders from someone else. And so he looks to JJ, the god of this Universe. PaiPai then represents religious people, who want God to make the world better either directly or at least by giving them instructions on what to do. And like Gods in our world JJ doesn’t talk to PaiPai so he has no new instructions, as such he has to make do with the old instructions even if they fail to take into account the changing situation. PaiPai is everyone who looks to religious authority to make the world better and why that won’t work.

Gatchaman Crowds Pai Pai

He also has a nice parallel with the Prime Minister of Japan, another character who is too scared to make leadership decisions. Both are people in charge and how many times have you said to yourself, If only I were in charge I’d fix everything. However, now they’re in charge they both feel powerless to make decisions and instead look to the people/god for answers about what they should do. It’s another example of how power ultimately doesn’t make it any easier to make a difference.

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Utsutsu and OD are very similar characters hence why they’re paired together often. Utsutsu is a very shy, almost to the point of mental illness, girl with long green hair who hangs out in her underpants because…perverts? OD is a flamboyantly gay man in appearance but is actually some kind of alien. OD is kind of awesome, although his voice is hella grating to begin with (I have no problem with people being camp but that doesn’t mean I have to like camp performers) he tones it down a bit when the voice actor settles into the character and OD is consistently one of the more measured, optimistic and pleasant people in this show. In contrast Utsutsu starts the show practically catatonic able to only say utsutsuhimasu (which can be read as I’m gloomy or I’m sleepy depending on the kanji used). She does grow as a character though gaining confidence in her desire to help others.

Gatchaman Crowds Utsutsu

Utsutsu has numerous super powers. She possesses the ability to make multiple versions of herself and I’m honestly not sure what the symbolism behind that is. Easier to decode though is her other power, with one hand she can drain life, and with the other she can give it allowing her to kill or heal with a touch. To heal though requires her to use up energy. So to heal someone requires her either to kill something else or even risk killing herself. Utsutsu represents apathy, a feeling that nothing you can do will make anything better because it could end up worse for others or yourself, so why even try. This apathy extends to every aspect of her character initially but as she matures in confidence she decides to risk doing harm or even risk her life to help. Apathy is probably the thing preventing most people from making the world a better place I’d wager, a feeling that giving of one’s self to help is a waste of time at best and potentially harmful to you and Utsutsu’s arc comes in realising that the apathy disengages her from the world and risk is necessary to experience joy.

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OD also has powers with a drawback, namely that he is easily the team’s most powerful member and easily capable of defeating the villain Berg Katse. And this is true, in the final episode OD transforms for the first time in the series and kicks Berg Katse’s ass. The issue is that OD is too powerful, when he transforms he risks destroying half the city. OD is a kind of personification of a nuclear option; something we know would be effective but cannot do because there are too many real and important consequences if we did. OD not using his powers is the equivalent of you not quitting that job you hate or leaving a person you don’t love. It is simple to do and undeniably effective but there are good reasons you aren’t doing it.

OD’s arc resolves itself in two ways. Firstly, he uses his powers and everything is fine. The city doesn’t blow up. It’s all good. Sometimes the nuclear option doesn’t have as bad a consequence as you might fear. Like Utsutsu OD allows his fear of consequences to prevent him from doing something and like Utsutsu he learns you get nothing good without risk.

The second way is that it turns out OD transforming and fighting Katse was completely unnecessary to saving the day. He didn’t need to do it. Sometimes the easy but risky way is unnecessary and the safer but more difficult way is better.

Gatchaman Crowds Hajime

This brings us to Hajime. Hajime is pretty much perfect. She’s cute, she’s optimistic, she relentlessly energetic, she’s constantly saying or doing something every moment she’s on screen, people like her and she likes everyone, willing to see the best even in Berg Katse. There is a whole episode of the series where every other character basically tells her how amazing she is.

What an annoying Mary Sue right?

Well, she could be and god knows enough people who have watched Gatchaman Crowds interpreted her that way. Hajime is a real Marmite of a character. If you can’t at least tolerate her by the time episode 2 wraps up then you will not enjoy the rest of this show. But the thing for me that makes Hajime not a Mary Sue is that she ultimately isn’t the one to save the world. That role falls to the ordinary people of the world. What Hajime does do though is bring out the best in others. It is Hajime who convinces Rui to give the power of CROWDS to the common people and then convinces the common people to help. It’s Hajime who convinces the other Gatchaman that they do have the power to save the world. Hajime has only one power as an individual, the power to inspire, but in that power she gets others to collectively save the world.

The defining characteristic of Hajime is that she’s an artist. When we first meet she is massively geeking out over stationery and every moment we see her at home she is making something. Her Gatchaman forms with its scissors and brushes makes this clear, our heroine symbolises art. Gatchaman Crowds is pretty clear in its thesis that communication is what will save the day and what is art but just another kind of communication?

It’s also all very Meta. Super Heroes aren’t real of course so hoping for the power to be one (like Joe) or hoping one will show up to save the world for you (like Sugane and PaiPai) is pointless. It isn’t going to happen. But Super Hero stories are real and the power they have to inspire, particularly children, is as real and as effective at making the world better in the real world as it is in Gatchaman Crowds.

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The Gatchaman are all a small part of a larger group of characters in the story we can loosely class as civil servants. This is made clear by the fact that Joe actually is a civil servant. The Gatchaman are anointed their power by another authority and have to abide by the rules. In this sense they’re like cops, soldiers, firemen and even politicians. They derive power from a system to serve that system. And being part of that system means they are limited in what they can do. The Mayor, the soldier lady and the cop lady all have power, ostensibly more power than Rui, a civilian, do but they can use that power only to maintain the safe running of the status quo. Being granted power by a system means you can’t change that system.

But all these civil servant characters are part of Hajime’s art club, a group that meets up to do literally whatever they want (in an artistic context) with the idea that their free expression will make the world better if only in a small way (decorating areas damaged by an earthquake). The message couldn’t be clearer, all of these servants are more effective at improving the world as people than as their roles, and their roles can only maintain the world.

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This brings us to Rui/LOAD. Ultra genius boy wonder transvestite whom is going to level up the world. Unlike the Gatchaman (Hajime excepted) Rui doesn’t have anything stopping him from trying to make the world a better place. He’s already doing it, and doing it quite successfully. With GALAX Rui has created an entirely voluntary system that makes the world better, teaming up the best of people so their individual strengths can be harnessed for the good of all.

It’s a good plan and its working but it isn’t working fast enough. For Rui the main problem is that people still need an outside authority to tell them what to do. They still worship heroes and leaders rather than recognising that the strength lies within them to change the world. And GALAX in its present form is limited in what it can accomplish. Sure he can get a nurse to help with first aid but what can he do to stop a cable car disaster?

So he accepts a shortcut, CROWDS, giant strong avatars given to him by Berg Katse.

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With CROWDS Rui can achieve much more, he has real physical power to save more people. He could even go further, he could tear down the government building and declare anarchy, murder criminals, do any of a million things with the power at his disposal. And he fears all that power being under the control of one person. So, ironically, he sets up a series of rules and guidelines to use it. The users of CROWDS, The Hundreds, are handpicked by LOAD to exacting specifications and they can only use their powers when he expressly okays it. This means Rui is now a leader, a dictator in fact with unlimited power that he doles out as he sees fit. He has the best of intentions but he has nonetheless turned into a leader, the very thing he wants to create a world without.

The Hundreds quickly tire of Rui’s self-prevaricating bullshit and when given the first opportunity to rebel, do so, using their powers to destroy the Diet building (where the government of Japan sits) and generally going on an anarchic rampage to try and trigger a revolution in Japan.

Rui/LOAD is another leader character but whereas Rui has the courage and the intelligence to lead he doesn’t want the power and authority that comes with it because he implicitly realises that power corrupts. Rui is an ideas person, he is at his best when coming up with plans and strategies to make the world better but he can’t be the one to accept the responsibility for putting those plans into action. His arc follows that of many revolutionaries. At an ideas stage Rui is full of good plans to improve the world and he quickly attracts followers (a crowd if you will) who agree with him. These followers give him the power to put his ideas into practice and he now has a choice. He can let his ideas go, to be used by others and risk seeing them perverted into something he doesn’t agree with or he can take the mantle of leadership and risk becoming corrupted himself, another authority or status quo he railed against to begin with. Neither solution is ideal and which decision the show ultimately favours brings us to Berg Katse.

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Berg Katse is the villain and like all good Super Villains Berg Katse is symbolic of a larger real world problem that the heroes can solve symbolically by punching. Except you can’t defeat Berg Katse by punching him because Berg Katse isn’t an external force, Berg Katse is us. Berg Katse is androgynous and faceless. Berg Katse can literally wear the face of any person in the show and when Berg Katse uses their transformation ability they become invisible, a complete non-entity. Berg Katse represents the dark impulse in every human being, the impulse to strike out suddenly, to stab someone or push them over. An impulse we may have but which we normally ignore. Barge Katse can bring this impulse out and they do it most effectively with The Hundreds. Anonymous figures protected from the consequences of their actions by invulnerable avatars it isn’t a stretch to read The Hundreds as the faceless hordes of internet trolls mindlessly tearing down the art that others create. They may even think they do so in the name of a good cause but they’re misguided at best and malicious at worst as they destroy the world around them. Berg Katse manipulated The Hundreds into doing that because Berg Katse is nothing more and nothing else than the impulse in human beings to destroy, to not make the world a better place but a worse one.

You can’t defeat Berg Katse. OD fights him and takes his physical form down but even then he is regenerating. You can fight the symptoms of Berg Katse, undo the damage they have wrought but at the end he is still there, inside Hajime’s heart, trapped and repressed but still existing and still capable of manipulating someone again.

Berg Katse, the dark human impulse, is the reason all of Rui’s good ideas were perverted but even though his CROWDS became a problem they were defeated. And what were they defeated by……..?

Us, people, you and me, the common man, mankind.

Gatchaman Crowds is ultimately pretty clear in its philosophy. When asking how different groups of people can make the world a better place it firmly establishes that no individual can make the world better. No matter how much power they have, no matter how many followers they have, no matter how smart they are, no matter how much they want to, no individual can change the world.

The best an individual can do is inspire others to be better (Hajime) through their actions, through their art or through communication. Or maybe they can come up with something very clever that helps others to make the world better (Rui), a strategy, a plan, a new tool. Individuals can contribute to improving the world but the ultimate responsibility and the ultimate power to affect change lies with us.

So Gatchaman CROWDS ends with Rui’s Hundreds taken away from him by Berg Katse, manipulated into causing wanton destruction throughout Japan. And Rui saves the day by giving the power of CROWDS to everyone, creating a system where no one has power that someone else doesn’t have also and inspired by the actions of the Gatchaman and the words of the Prime Minister ordinary people band together to stop the threat.

But it doesn’t end there. Having stopped the threat people now use the power of CROWDS to repair the damage, make lunches for people, make new art, etc. Rui feared giving out the power would have bad consequences, and it did, but giving people that power also had good consequences he never imagined.

Gatchaman Crowds is quite simply a master piece. I have rarely seen a work in the Super Hero genre that so thoroughly interrogated the purpose of the Super Hero both within the fictional context and within the meta-context of why we as readers turn to Super Hero narratives. It was an almost life changing experience for me, causing me to rethink my own assumptions and actually question what I do with my life and how I am contributing to improving the world, or more often how I make excuses not to.

It is far from perfect, as a narrative and as a piece of animation it has technical and structural issues that often makes it a difficult watch. However, as a symbolic work of art this might just be the most important work in the Super Hero genre since Watchmen.

*Also most examples of super-hero stories that question the need for super-heroes to fight foes try to have their cake and eat it too by ending the story with a big fight sequence where the heroes win. This is because you can’t fight genre conventions. Your audience wants to see punching and if you deny them punching they will not like your story. Gatchaman Crowds nearly manages to deny the audience any Super Hero action for its entire run time but it capitulates towards the end. Even so all the scenes of the Gatchaman using their powers are heavily symbolically implied to be a failure on the character’s part that is not helping them achieve their goals.

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Guardians of the Galaxy 2014

Directed by James Gunn

Since the general consensus amongst critics seems to be that Guardians of the Galaxy is absolutely amazing (as I write this it has a 92% on rotten tomatoes) I thought I’d take the unusual approach of listing all the flaws I thought it had.

It has weak villains

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This is becoming a major problem for Marvel Studios films. Although I have yet to come across a Marvel Studios film I don’t like, the lack of interesting villains is starting to become a noticeable theme. You’ve got Loki (who is amazing), various greasy arms/corporate guys in the Iron Man films and lots of big bad evil with a capital E ranting guys who want to destroy things (Malekith, Red Skull). Ronan the Accuser falls into the latter group and spends the majority of his screen time delivering overwrought dialogue that feels very super villainy but which doesn’t advance his motivation, pose an interesting ethical dilemma or even convey much personality. You can replace everything actor Lee Pace says with “I am evil” and get much the same effect.

It’s even worse in the case of Ronan since the comic’s version is a very good villain. Ronan is driven by very strong ideals of justice and obedience to the law, I’s just that the law he follows is inherently corrupt so he ends up on the side opposed to our heroes more often than not. He’s basically Javier in space with a hammer. Yet like all good villains he is the hero of his own story and like every Marvel villain ever who was written well enough he’s fallen on the side of angels a few times too.

Movie Ronan though, big evil dude with a hammer. The most character he gets is when Thanos says he’s pouty and my fiancé and I both laughed out loud because yeah, dude is really pouty.

Thanos seems awesome at this stage btw but is barely in the film. Yondu was okay but more of a side character than an antagonist and Nebula was just kind of there. The film gave her enough back story for a potentially interesting relationship with Thanos and Gamora but not enough screen time to explore it. I suspect we’ll see more of Nebula when we finally get to the Infinity Gauntlet.

Its action is underwhelming

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In an action film you expect the action set pieces to be inventive, exciting and memorable. In Guardians they are largely not. They’re functional. Action happens in all the places you expect it to in the story and no action scene feels bad but equally none of them stand out for me as much as the Nightcrawler scene in X-Men 2, the battle for New York in Avengers (and the amazing shot that joins all the characters) or the Winter Soldier’s attack on the bridge. Guardians absolutely works as a comedy and the moments that stand out in the film are the gags and character beats but as an action film the action should be special too.*

Gamora is kind of dull

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Gamora’s character arc happens off-screen. She goes from being a universally renowned assassin working for some of the most dangerous villains in the galaxy to a good guy trying to save it between her first appearance and her second. That’s a big swing for a character and the actual character progression she has on screen during the film, going from having a stick up her ass to having it slightly less far up her ass, is not quite as compelling.

Worse still, because of the way the character dynamics are set up in this film Gamora ends up being the member of the team that is most noble, most concerned with helping others and saving the day. She fulfils a very necessary narrative function because without her the other fuck ups that form the Guardians would not be properly motivated to engage in the plot. It’s just a shame that they gave that function to Gamora who, in the comics, is one of the colder, less emotional, less noble and more badass characters. It leaves Gamora kind of bland since everything about her comic’s version is gone and the movie doesn’t invent very much to replace it with.

Having said that, this might only be a problem for people familiar with comic Gamora. I know plenty of people who loved her character and thought she made a refreshing change from female characters in other super hero films so maybe she only comes across as white bread compared to her more robust comic counterpart.**

It was thematically weak

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This sort of comes back to the villain thing. The way super hero stories deal with theme most of the time is quite ingenious, you literalise it. You turn the thing you’re talking about into a person or object that your hero can interact with. Want to say that racism is bad? Make a super-villain called racist-man, give him racist themed super powers and have the X-Men punch him. Unsubtle and not very nuanced but awesome, and that’s one of the reasons I love super-hero stories.

When you have villains who are just evil for the sake of evil though you can’t do that. That doesn’t mean you can’t have thematic weight but you’ve sort of missed the point of super hero stories as far as I’m concerned. If you’re using Ronan your story normally is about the role of authority, that was not a factor in GOTG.

What theme’s Guardians does have are shallow and clichéd. The idea of making a surrogate family out of your friends is fine but it has been done to death and better in other sci-fi fare (most notably Firefly and Farscape which GOTG is heavily influenced by). The character’s do have arcs but the arcs don’t form a cohesive theme, Quill’s arc about learning to take responsibility has nothing to do with Gamora’s arc about being less stiff or Drax;s arc about coming to terms wit the loss of his family.

The plot was bobbins

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This is a flaw in basically every super-hero film except Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The plot can be a big part of the appeal of a story. Who wants what, why and how? What will happen next and where? Will our heroes live or die and what will the consequences of their actions be? You watch something like The Bourne films and the appeal is all in the plot. Same with a lot of TV, cliff-hangers, plot twists and developments in the story are exciting for the audience.

In most comic book movies though, the plot is merely a framework to get from one action set piece to another. Nobody gives two shits what Loki is doing in Avengers of why, they come for the character interaction and the fight scenes, they come for the awesome. Ditto GOTG, the story is very basic and largely devoid of much tension or enigma. However it provides a framework for great comedic and action set pieces.

That scene with Gamora and Star-Lord in space is bullshit

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It is and you know it.

So wait, you ask. You didn’t like the plot, the themes or some of the characters. Does that mean you didn’t like Guardians of the Galaxy?

Guys.

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I absolutely adored it. It is awesome!

I can’t recall which critic said it but their review of Avengers was basically that it defied conventional critical analysis because the plot, themes and other things critics normally talk about were irrelevant to the success of the film. Avengers was about being awesome, and it delivered the awesome. Ditto GOTG except GOTG is more focused on being funny.

Another thing Avengers and GOTG have in common? Great writing, great acting and great direction. Those three things will cover a multitude of sins. Your movie can be an empty hollow nothing with a mess of a plot that’s got holes you can fly a space ship through but if you deliver interesting characters with charisma that I like hanging out with, have them throwing out dialogue which had me crying with laughter and it put them in a setting which is inventive and imaginative then you win. Worked for GOTG, worked for Star Wars, worked for Indiana Jones, worked for Clerks, worked for James Bond for 40 years and it’ll work again.

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Just as final note, Rocket and Groot are he stand out character undoubtedly but they’re also my favourite characters from the comics. What impressed me more was Drax, a fairly dull guy in the comics but hilarious on screen. Drax has been both a smart character and a dumb one in the comics over the years but the idea to make him of normal intelligence but completely literal is both hilarious and adds many layers to his character. Bautista’s performance was a revelation too, he has great comic timing and I’m hoping for big things from him in the future.

*The only action set-pieces people bring up are Yondu’s arrow and Groot smashing a row of villains both of which are really visual gags.

**on the topic of Gamora I just want to mention briefly that this film barely squeaks by the Bechdel Test since most of her interactions with Nebula revolve around the topic of Thanos or Ronan. They do have some dialogue about each other directly though so it passes. Next time I’d like to see Phyla-Vell, Moondragon or Mantis on the team to beef out the female character count a bit. Or even Star-Hawk in the both a man and woman incarnation of the character.

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Plot Synopsis

The issue starts with the rather emphatically named Deathstroke the Terminator being called before some mysterious guys in purple hoods who go by H.I.V.E. (The Hierarchy of International Vengeance and Eliminations) And as an aside right from the start can I point out that Deathstroke’s real name is Slade Wilson. This guy is seriously called Slade Wilson aka Deathstroke, the Terminator! One of those names would be sufficient for most mercenary bad asses but Slade’s sheer testicular fortitude cannot be contained by a mere one name.

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Deathstroke cuts right to business asking H.I.V.E. “Who do you want me to kill?”

It turns out they want him to kill the Teen Titans. Why? *shrug* I guess when you’re called The Hierarchy of International Vengeance and Eliminations you need to kill somebody.

They turn out to be surprisingly cheap mysterious guys in purples robes though because when Slade asks for the money up front they refuse. Slade calls the deal off and tries to leave but H.I.V.E. aren’t happy with his attitude and deploy their HR department in the form of some machine guns.

Slade escapes, in the process showing off his acrobatic abilities, grenades and bad attitudes and writes the meeting off as a waste of time. However H.I.V.E. were secretly recording Slade’s actions and taking DNA samples and they think they can recreate his powers to make a Terminator of their own.

Cut to Grant Wilson (and yes he is Slade Wilson’s son but, shush, that’s the big reveal) incredible dead beat loser and jerk arguing with his girlfriend. Grant is about to go full on Lifetime special on Carol when his abuse is interrupted by Starfire blasting him onto his ass with starbolts.

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Why are the Titans at Carol’s apartment? Well it turns out that after destroying her old one they felt obliged to set her up with a new one. Not sure how they managed that or why they feel they then have the right to just walk into her flat whenever they like but , hey, creep got star bolted so it’s all good.

Starfire, Wonder Girl and Kid Flash get summoned from Carol’s place to the docks where its time for a fight with hot pink robots!

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This scene exists to do things. Firstly it shows off our characters powers and code names again and secondly it prompts Starfire to finally learn English. Robin chews her out over not obeying orders and then laments that she can’t actually understand him. So Starfire kisses him and demonstrates that she has the power to learn languages by kissing people.

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This then prompts Changeling to continue to be a massive creep.

Look, I loved Beast Boy on the cartoon but Beast Boy was funny. Changeling all your ‘jokes’ are basically just you being a creep to women. Cut it out, right now.

So while all this has been going on Grant Wilson has donned an orange hospital gown (???) and is undergoing a procedure that will grant him 100% use of his brain!!

Sigh, oh comic book science.

In case you don’t know the little nugget that human beings only use 10% of their brain power is completely false. We use the full 100%. Now admittedly we don’t use the full 100% at any one time but that is for very good reasons. Different parts of your brain do different things and parts of it activate in sequence in order to trigger certain effects in your body or consciousness. We have a name for when these parts trigger out of sequence or when too many trigger at once. It’s called a seizure. So really Deathstroke’s real power is that he can function normally despite having seizure’s nearly constantly.

And whilst that is going down Raven is standing on an evil rock pleading with some eyes in the sky for forgiveness. Forgiveness that the eyes will not grant!

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The next day two things happen at once. First of all we go to Changeling’s mansion where…

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Oh fuck you Gar!

*ahem*

Anyway Changeling is having a pool party where we get to ogle Wonder Girl in a bikini and we learn that Starfire can’t go back to see her parents ever again.

At the same time Cyborg is in his dad’s lab arguing and we learn that Cyborg’s dad is dying. Cyborg doesn’t learn this yet though as he gets attacked by Grant Wilson, newly super powered and going by Ravager.

Ravager gets his ass handed to him by Cyborg but Deathstroke interrupts the fight, rescuing Ravager and telling him that his powers are killing him and if he uses them he’s going to die. Ravager ignores this and makes his way to the pool party to kill the Titans. Deathstroke joins him too and a battle royale begins.

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It’s a pretty great fight with Ravager and Deathstroke dodging and weaving between the 7 titans and both sides seem to be pretty evenly matched. That is until Ravager keels over. Yeah, turns out Deathstroke was right and Ravager’s powers have been artificially ageing him. He now looks like a mummy and is about to die. Before he does pass on though Raven plants an illusion in his mind of his greatest desire, the area strewn with the bodies of the deceased Titans. Satisfied his revenge has been sated Ravager dies with a smile on his lips.

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Deathstroke though blames the Titans and as he carries his son’s body away swears revenge against them. The Titans let him go though, showing compassion for their foe.

The issues ends with the H.I.V.E. again revealing that they have been manipulating all the events, pulling strings so that they can set Deathstroke up against the Titans without paying his extortionate price.

Issue 2 sets up an awful lot of plot elements that will come back to be more relevant in the book later on. The H.I.V.E. will be recurring antagonists and despite being dead we haven’t heard the name Ravager for the last time. Most significantly though this issue introduces Deathstroke the Terminator. The X-Men have Magneto, the Fantastic Four have Doctor Doom, the Titan’s have Deathstroke.

And fittingly he’s a character whose motivation ties into their theme. Deathstroke is basically a grieving parent, one who wants to lash out at the kids that were a bad influence on his own son and lead to his ultimate demise. Unfortunately his motivations don’t make a huge amount of sense, he really should be going after the H.I.V.E. and the fact that he blames the Titans is more of a plot contrivance than anything else.

In time Deathstroke will grow to be one of the most complicated and sympathetic antagonists in D.C. comics but here his motivations and personality are sketched in at best. That said he does come across as confident and effective right from the beginning. Slade is able to take on basically the entire Titan’s team single handed, and without super powers. He’s athletic, agile and armed with swords, sticks and guns. He’s sort of an evil Batman and again, considering this team is led by Robin, that makes him a perfect foil for them.

As for our main cast? Well the issue gives each team member roughly a page to spotlight their character and remind us what their deal is. Kid  Flash doesn’t get any actual development to his angst and the only extra thing we learn about Raven is that the big threat she’s preparing the team for has eyes. In contrast we see Cyborg’s antipathy to his father first hand and it is ugly. We also learn that Cy’s father is dying and is trying to reconnect with his son and apologise before he finally passes away.

The Titan that gets the most development in this issue though is Starfire. Appropriate considering she was the least developed of the newbies in the first issue. Kory is your typical free spirit, she thinks nothing of kissing Robin, she doesn’t understand why human beings need to wear clothes and she’s also naive about humanity in general.  She’s also got a dark side though. She doesn’t understand the concept of compassion for your enemy and thinks nothing of blasting pink robots to pieces even before she knows they’re robots.

I find it hardest to get a bead on Kory as a character out of all the Titans at this stage. She’s something of a stereotypical male fantasy, the uninhibited exotic princess who is eager to learn our ways and naïve about how the world works. Basically if Starfire were Asian she would be a very problematic stereotype but as an actual alien she just about scrapes past my politically correct sensor.

On the art side of things can we start with this cover.

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God damn I love that cover.

I really miss covers that had a sense of narrative to them and told you what was happening in the book you were going to buy. This cover really sells this issue. No reader can possibly think  that the entire team would be killed off in the second issue but covers didn’t really lie to the audience back then so you assumed there would be something like that scene appearing in the book. You therefore had to buy this issue to find out just what was happening! It’s a classic use of the enigma in marketing and I love it.

What I love significantly less is Ravager’s costume. Assymetric, weird ear things, little skulls on giant thigh high boots on a guy, random arm discs. Ravager is a mess of a character. This is unsurprising because George Perez, as good as he is an artist, is a terrible costume designer. How else would we have gotten HOT PINK ROBOTS!!!

I will just take a moment to briefly described the characters looks. Robin, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl and Changeling all have existing costumes. I’ve never liked Robin’s outfit and the older the character is drawn the sillier it looks. Changeling’s look is pretty bland but considering he turns into animals and has the visually interesting bright green animal thing going on it’s kind of irrelevant. Wonder Girl and Kid Flash though have brilliant costumes. For both, the colours match the hero they’re a sidekick to but with a different heirarchy, Kid flash is primarily yellow with red highlights in reverse of the Flash. His loose hair conveys youth too in a subtle way and he just looks good on the page. Wonder Girl’s outfit has similar strengths helped by the fact that Perez draws a very beautiful Donna Troy and his great body language for her which always has her standing confidently.

For our newbies I’ll discuss Starfire a bit more when we get to her back story. Raven looks great. I love how her silhouette makes a bird shape using only a hood and a cape. The temptation would be to give her a mask of some sort to create the beak but the pointed hood pulls off the effect and has the bonus of feeling more mystical than traditionally super-heroic.

Cyborg is not the greatest design being mostly a guy who looks like he’s covered in bits of metal than a guy who is integrated with the metal but I have always liked his face mask. Nothing says cyborg better than half human face, half robot face.

Then we get to Deathstroke. hoo boy Deathstroke.

Deathtroke’s design is mixed. Like Cyborg I can forgive Perez’s fetish for assymtery because Slade is missing an eye and the half mask only showing one eye is mysterious and distinctive. I also get why he’s festooned in pouches, guns, sticks and swords since he is a skilled mercenary who uses all these weapons over the course of the issue.

But chain mail…on an acrobatic character? It didn’t make sense for Captain America and it doesn’t make sense for you either. Buccaneer boots? a massive dangling bandanna knot that anyone can yank? And worst of all the orange and blue colour scheme. It doesn’t look villainous or threatening it looks like he’s advertising Irn Bru.

In terms of his storytelling the main strength for Perez at this stage continues to be his figures, in particularly their body language. I mentioned Wonder Girl already but this approach applies to other characters too. Deathstroke always seems posed like he just landed or is just about to move again, he’s never still but constantly moving, ducking and weaving and for a character whose gimmick is supposed to be quick thinking it really sells him as a threat. Starfire is exuberant in her body language flinging her arms wide and always smiling, emphasising the character’s passion and Raven seems still and posed emphasising her restraint.

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Panel to panel wise Perez is using a grid but  shifts the number of panels in the grid, the layout and the proportions to best fit the needs of the scene. I particularly like the page where Ravager first attacks cyborg where the grid uses lots of different shapes and sizes as if emphasising the chaos of the attack in the layout of the page.

New Teen Titans Issue 2 is a nice follow up to the first issue. It goes over much of the same territory in re-establishing our main character’s personalities but adds a lot, 2 new villains, moves Kory’s arc along and has a nice fight scene t boot.

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