Ginger Nuts of Horror
I'm endlessly fascinated by that work which likely should have struck a chord during the era it occurred, but for reasons outside of my understanding, never did.
The toyline Skeleton Warriors hit toy shelves during the mid to lte 1990s, during an era when boy's toys were highly inventive but also competing with the likes of video games consoles for shelf space and market attention.
From the film franchises of the 1980s and 1990s that children probably shouldn't have watched (but which we did. Often over and over again.) to video games that children probably shouldn't have played (though we did. Over and over again.):
It's somewhat difficult to talk about Resident Evil without descending into cliché; so much has been written and said concerning this franchise; it has been dissected down to the finest molecules, its atoms separated one by one and dispersed on the taciturn gales of media criticism....
Monsters and mythology were significant in the child culture of late 1980s UK. Though the likes of Dungeons and Dragons never became quite the cultural phenomenon it was in its parent US, a recent resurgence in J.R.R Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, not to mention the swathe of swords and sorcery, RPG and action video games on systems such as the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore Amiga, meant that mtyhological and fantastical subjects were our bread and butter; an entire generation raised on Ray Harryhausen special effects extravaganzas and monster circuses such as Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans, The Seven Voyages of Sinbad etc.
So, then. 2016...
You know what? Let's not. There are going to be entire books written about this dumpster fire of a year, which seems to have been ground zero for every terrible idea of history and crass coincidence, and I have no desire to depress myself or you further.
Especially because this here is supposed to be a celebration: a reflection on all the great material I've read this year, a chance to take stock and say 'here's what was good'.
And it turns out, a lot was very good indeed. So, the normal rules apply; these are the best things I read this year, even if they didn't come out this year. I appreciate that makes things a little idiosyncratic, but a) there's plenty of 'proper' 2016 lists out there, so feel free to fill yer boots and b) this is my damn list. Also, it won't all be horror – I read pretty widely.
Also also, this isn't a 'best of'' list – this is a 'Kit's favorites' list. I don't claim to have a powerful subjective measure for discerning the quality of a story – I just know what I like and why. With that in mind, here are the works I enjoyed reading the most in 2016. The line between my favorites and the honorable mentions is both thin and wobbly – if you like the sound of any of the below, my strong advice is to check it out. It wouldn't be here if I didn't love it.
Let's talk about the good stuff.
A children's toy line based on a comic whose back mythology involves a Faustian pact with a demon from Hell, political corruption, questions on the morality of military service and the notion of moral violence, serial killers, a sub-plot involving a child abuser and murderer of children, a demonic clown that has more than a hint of John Wayne Gacey about him...
Given the existence of toy lines inspired by films such as Alien, Terminator, Robocop and even the “video nasty,” Mary Whitehouse-baiting Evil Dead, it was perhaps inevitable that Predator would inspire likewise.
In many respects, the sister franchise to the previously explored Alien range, there is a degree of overlap between the two, with “Xenomorph Hunter” Predators featuring largely, as well as various offshoots and permutations distinct to the range.
As was toy manufacturer Kenner's wont, the Predator toys are exquisitely detailed and imaginatively conceived; every effort made to infuse the line with a degree of variety; to build upon or extrapolate from cues in the original Predator design or throw-away references in the films.
“The evil that lies within!” So proclaims the tag line of this fairly obscure but fondly remembered toy line of the mid to late 1980s.
Like Transformers, MASK, Visionaries and numerous other lines of the era, Inhumanoids was a franchise that experienced a media blitzkrieg during the era of its release, the original toys inspiring everything from a (remarkably atmospheric) cartoon to a short lived comic series that served as a secondary, “back up” strip in the latter day issues of the UK Transformers comic.
How can any self-respecting child of the 1980s not have fallen in love with these gruesome, revolting little globs of ugliness?
In a culture dominated by a sudden ready access to all manner of media (from video tapes of films and TV shows to the then barely born video game market), it's little surprise that toys in general began to reflect tastes and aesthetics informed by horror, which was, at the time, insanely popular in almost all mediums and formats.
The Madballs are nothing particularly special in technical terms or even as playable items; barring some rather macabre and brilliantly gross sub-lines of the franchise, they have no gimmicks or moving parts; they do not shoot missiles or spray water or transform or metamorphose or any other of the hundred and one things toys of the era claimed to do.
The self-styled “Free-Range Bio-Exorcist,” “Ghost with the Most's” debut feature is hardly what you might call a child friendly affair. With its close focus on death, its surreal and morbid imagery and subject matter, its distinctly adult jokes and tone, Beetlejuice sits uncomfortably in that bracket of being a beloved childhood favourite that was never intended for children.
Being a child of the '80s, I was perfectly positioned to be one of the film's many, many, many child converts, hardly anyone I knew as a boy not having seen or owning the film on VHS; a fact which various interests knew and were keen to exploit.
As such, it wasn't like before Beetlejuice was adapted into comics, cartoons and, indeed, a short lived but highly inventive toy line.
You'd be surprised how many toy franchises aimed squarely at children's markets have an overt horror motif, especially during the 1980s-1990s, when toy manufacturers were far less concerned with being taken to court or garnering negative press from certain moral-minded quarters for their products.
With that in mind, it's my pleasure to explore some of the most imaginative and inspiring examples thereof in the run up to Christmas, starting with one of my personal childhood favourites: