After the Fall of Good Taste

It is 20 years after a devastating nuclear war between the Pan-American Confederacy and the Euracs, an alliance of European, African and Asian forces. Massive contamination from radiation has largely sterilised humanity; no new human beings have been born for 20 years. The Euracs have occupied Noo Yoik and are scouring it for survivors, on whom they conduct intensely painful and invasive medical tests in the hope of finding anyone capable of producing children.

Meanwhile, the defeated Pan-American Confederacy has regrouped in Alaska (or an amusingly poor model thereof), where their leaders have discovered through old census records the existence of a woman in New York who could viably become pregnant. (How records largely compiled before the downfall of civilisation that caused mass sterilisation can indicate this is, shall we say, one of several plot points which are glossed over due to not making a lick of sense. (It actually makes sense in the end, but it seems like Parsifal is caused an awful lot of problems by the fact that the Confederacy leaders don’t bother giving full details to him.)

Parsifal (Michael Sopkiw), a badass road warrior who has a troubled history with the Confederation, is recruited by them to go on a mission into Eurac-occupied New York to retrieve the woman in question, so her eggs can be surgically harvested and used to make a viable new population on a colony mission to Alpha Centauri. Along the way he’ll have to tangle not only with various local ragamuffins and Eurac soldiers, but also the animalistic gang led by Big Ape (George Eastman), who dress in old-timey costumes and for some reason include a bunch of Neanderthal-types and full-blown Planet of the Apes-esque talking apes.

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Earth vs. the Flying Addicts

Margaret (Anne Carlisle) and Jimmy (also Anne Carlisle) are in-demand models and regulars on the Noo Yoik new romantic club scene, and gosh do they love themselves some heroin. Cold, ruthless Jimmy prowls around, getting money and drugs where he can and caring only for his own personal gratification. Margaret lives in the dingiest penthouse apartment in New York, which comes with a lovely view of the Empire State Building, Margaret’s abusive drug dealer/avant-garde musician/Beat poet girlfriend Adrian (Paula E. Sheppard), and a UFO on the roof, about the size of a dozen crate of beer.

The inhabitant of the UFO is also quite into heroin – but the absolute best high, so far as the alien is concerned, is the endorphins produced by the human brain during orgasm. Margaret is cursed with a string of shitty hangers-on who don’t give two shits about consent, ranging from her hypocritical, disapproving college professor Owen (Bob Brady) who likes to cajole and emotionally manipulate her into sex to dudes who are happy to just drug and violently assault her for the shit of it. Whenever they orgasm in close enough proximity to the alien, it shoots a crystal into their brain to extract those sweet, juicy endorphins. (If you want to interpret this as an AIDS metaphor, you absolutely can – this came out in 1982, the year that AIDS officially picked up that name once the awful GRIDS acronym got retired.)

In an apartment across the street belonging to Sylvia (Susan Doukas), Jimmy’s mum, visiting UFO researcher Johann Hoffman (Otto von Wernherr) observes proceedings, having followed the UFO-heroin connection this far. With Margaret, who’s been pushed about and abused by far too many people in her life, suddenly given the power of life and death, what will she do with it, and what will she do once the enormity of what she’s done caught up with her?

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A New Strategy For Battlefield: Earth

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

In the grim darkness of the far future there’s only slavery – humanity having been enslaved by the evil economically-driven Psychlos, tall aliens who wear big stompy boots and dreadlocks. One day, Terl (John Travolta) – the Psychlo in charge of the security of their operations on Earth – decides to see if humans can be trained to mine gold, and he picks recently-captured chump Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper) as his first test subject and begins subjecting him to vastly accelerated speed learning. This, of course, allows Tyler to realise humanity’s old accomplishments and hatch a plan to lead a daring revolution to overthrow the alien oppressors. It involves using that speed-learning tech to allow him and his pals to use some remarkably well-preserved fighter aircraft…

Battlefield Earth is a legendarily bad movie spawned from a legendarily bad book by L. Ron Hubbard, penned after he’d grown tired of cranking out Scientology material and decided to turn his hand to a bit of old school science fiction. I don’t really need to break down the deficiencies of the movie – that road’s been well-trod. For this article, I’d like to instead try out a little thought experiment: could there have been a route which would have led to the movie, if not actually being good, at least being entertainingly watchable?

Let’s put some restrictions on our thought experiment to make it interesting. Let’s say that we can’t just pirate the material – thus, like the actual filmmakers, we must still report back to David Miscavige, current God-Emperor of Scientology, and justify any changes to him. On the other hand, Miscavige is a weird tyrant, so let’s give ourselves a little advantage: let’s pretend we have an expert Miscavige-wrangler on hand who’s great at pitching ideas to him so that he will accept them, provided that some sound fiscal or doctrinal basis can be found.

Likewise, let’s assume that we have to stick to the actual story as penned by Hubbard; we are allowed to abridge and cut parts – the issued movie did, after all – but we can’t just abandon it completely.

With these restrictions in place, here’s what I reckon you could do.

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The Sega Mascot History Tour

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

People have given a lot of stick to AtGames’ recent Sega Mega Drive Flashback HD model. AtGames have produced emulation-driven handheld and TV-hookup consoles under licence from Sega for a while now, and the most recent Flashback which hooks up to your TV with an HDMI cable to allow for mild upscaling to 720p quality has come in for a barrage of criticism. AtGames claimed that the bad early reviewers were down to a bad production batch and the issues were corrected in the retail version; since the product is pretty cheap and cheerful I decided to give it a go and I’m actually inclined to believe them. I can spot small but important distinctions between the menu presentation on mine and in the reviews, for instance, which suggests that these got an urgent firmware update.

Yes, there’s a bunch of shovelware non-Mega Drive games on here which AtGames could have happily left off without complaints from everyone, and yes the main menu system is a bit off – but Sonic the Hedgehog feels like it plays like it always did for me, and the controller feels close enough to my recollections of the Mega Drive controller that I have no complaints there (though I didn’t have a Mega Drive myself – ours was a SNES house, I only occasionally got to play with friends’ Sega consoles). I hadn’t noticed either the wireless controller lag or the emulation issues others have flagged, and I suspect part of the enduring animosity towards the product hails from the fact that emulation geeks can get incredibly fussy about stuff like dropped frames which no human being would actually notice by themselves unless you drew attention to them or analysed the output from the emulator.

In general, the box feels like it accomplishes what these retro consoles are supposed to accomplish – giving you the experience of playing a cross-section of classic games from the console in question, in something which feels like the original hardware without taking up a bunch of space with a stack of cartridges. (That said, a nice touch is the inclusion of a cartridge slot, which means that many – but not all – Mega Drive cartridges can work on the system.)

One of the nice things about Sega was that they were a bit friendlier about backwards compatibility – one of the first peripherals they put out for the Mega Drive (and perhaps one of the few which actually constituted a good idea) was an adapter that let you play Master System games on it, and because the Game Gear shared enough of its guts with the Master System that it could run its games, some Game Gear titles are included here too. That’s a really nice touch – in particular, it’s nice to have a collection with all four of the original Phantasy Star games in the first place. (Though Sega have put out numerous compilations of their games over the years, many irritatingly don’t include the full run of Phantasy Star I to IV.)

There’s some frankly odd gaps in the collection – why include Sonic & Knuckles without also including Sonic 3? Why leave out Alex Kidd In Shinobi World when it was considered to be one of the better Alex Kidd games? Still, there’s enough here that you can actually use the flashback to explore a fascinating cross-section of Sega’s history – and in particular, their multiple attempts at producing a corporate mascot who could compete with a certain rotund plumber who was drawing lots of dimes for Nintendo at the time.

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Alan Moore’s Yuggoth Pastiches

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

So, now that we’ve taken a look at The Starry Wisdom and its Alan Moore-flavoured inclusion, the short prose story The Courtyard, we can now put Moore’s latter-day forays into Mythos fiction under the microscope. These have largely taken place with the aid and encouragement of Avatar Press; first there was the limited series Alan Moore’s Yuggoth Cultures, collected into a trade paperback of the same name, which covered a mixture of archival Mythos and non-Mythos works by Moore, as well as some work not by Moore at all thrown in for the sake of the ride; then there was a comic book adaptation of The Courtyard, then a graphic novel sequel (Neonomicon), until finally and most recently Moore has treated us to a three-act graphic novel sequence collected in three trade paperbacks, entitled Providence. Over the course of these he develops a range of ideas about the Mythos – but does he really manage to grow beyond the kernel of a concept offered in The Courtyard’s original appearance? Well… let’s see.

Alan Moore’s Yuggoth Cultures

The title of this implies far more conceptual unity than it actually possesses. Yuggoth Cultures and Other Growths was originally conceived by Moore as a full collection of Cthulhu Mythos works, but Moore lost most of the manuscript in a London taxi. The most substantial of the surviving pieces was The Courtyard, originally intended for being adapted here until it was spun out into its own adaptation, whilst the other scraps – Zaman’s Hill and Recognition – were brief poems.

What you get here, then, is not Yuggoth Cultures as originally envisioned by Moore, not least because he never envisioned it as a comic in the first place. Instead, it’s a mixture of long-lost odds and ends from Moore’s back catalogue, a range of interviews, essays, and supporting pieces, adaptations by Antony Johnston of non-comic works by Moore (including the two non-Courtyard bits of Yuggoth Cultures that survive and a couple of songs), and Yuggoth Creatures, a big fat slab of Antony Johnston’s own comics-format Mythos pastiches.

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A Few Non-Spoilery Things I Can Tell You About Solo (and One Minor Spoiler)

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Doing a review of Solo this early after it comes out is a minefield. On the one hand, you don’t want to spoiler people. On the other hand, a good deal of what you want to say about a project boils down to how it ties in with the wider Star Wars saga, the particular direction Disney is presently taking with it, the expectations you have going in and so on.

In particular, as a prequel it spoilers itself in some respects. We know that by the beginning of the original Star Wars trilogy Han Solo is going to be buddies with Chewbacca, somewhat more long-distance buddies with Lando, in possession of the Millennium Falcon and working on the wrong side of the law. (In some editions, he also has sufficient smarts to shoot Greedo before Greedo shoots at him.)

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Cronenberg’s Cathode-Ray Puzzle Boxes

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Videodrome is far and away one of my favourite horror movies, not least because I am fairly sure that the movie is smarter than I am and I don’t feel equal to the task of giving it a really full, in-depth breakdown of it that doesn’t get bogged down into obsessive and unintelligible clucking over its nested layers of realities.

Luckily, for the purposes of providing a chunky Ferretbrain article, Arrow Video recently rereleased Videodrome in a big fat boxed set that also includes an accompanying collection of short films by Cronenberg – his 2000 piece Camera, two film school shorts, and two of his absolute earliest movies – Stereo and Crimes of the Future. (These and the film school shorts have since had a solo release as David Cronenberg’s Early Works, with Camera accompanying Videodrome on a single-disc release too.) One could go very, very deep into any of these waters, but for these purposes I’d prefer to give just a few brief impressions of each of them rather than claiming to fully understand any of these, since between them they amount to Cronenberg’s most enigmatic works.

Videodrome

Max Renn (James Woods) is the boss of Civic TV, a sleazy cable TV station dedicated to beaming gourmet transgressive trash into the living rooms of its subscribers. Always on the hunt for fresh, new, shocking material to excite a jaded audience, Renn hustles for new shows like a drug kingpin tracking down a new heroin supply. I’m not coming over all William Burroughs there; an early scene in which Renn meets up with some Japanese distributors of a low-budget pornographic TV serial in a dingy, out-of-the-way apartment makes the whole process look exactly like a drug deal.

As part of this process, Renn sponsors electronics whiz Harlan (Peter Dvorsky) to monitor transmissions of both legal and extralegal origins to try and track down juicy leads. One day, Harlan shows him something truly shocking – Videodrome a torture porn show, apparently broadcast out of Malaysia, in which two sinister figures brutalise and murder a helpless victim in a strange, red room – and Max can’t look away. As he sets his various aides to track it down, Max also begins a relationship with Nicki Brand (Debbie Harry), a radio psychiatrist who finds Videodrome a decidedly handy accompaniment to her own enjoyment of a little cutting, piercing, and branding in her sex life.

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