Watch this film twice and you’ll get two very different experiences.

See it the first time as a casual viewer and you’ll behold a low-budget movie with wobbly sets, cheap costumes, dodgy FX and hammy performances.

Watch it a second time having read up on it – or, better still, having seen Marty Langford and Mark Sikes’ excellent documentary Doomed! – and you’ll enjoy an heroic effort by a dedicated cast and crew to bring a beloved comic book to life on a pitiful budget and against an impossible deadline.

This is the legend that is the unreleased Roger Corman production of Marvel Comics’ The Fantastic Four, and it’s one of those rare movies in which the story that unfolded off the screen is even more bizarre and fantastical than the one that occurs on it.

In the mid-1980s the movie rights to Marvel’s Fantastic Four property were bought by Neue Constantin Film. Fast forward to the early-90s and there was still no sign of production commencing – and the clock was ticking. If Neue Constantin didn’t begin principal photography within ten years, the rights would revert to Marvel and they could auction them off again.

Enter legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman’s Concorde Pictures.

If anyone in Hollywood could turn a SFX movie around on a tight budget and in limited time, it was him. With the now unbelievably paltry sum of $2 million to play with, he assembled a cast and crew and got to work.

The movie was completed in 1994 but was never released. And, unbeknown by the aforementioned cast and crew, it was never intended to be.

We view superhero movies now through the prism of mega-budget Marvel Studios productions – epic running times, huge casts, vast concepts, astounding FX – which makes watching this version of the Fantastic Four a bit of an eye-popping experience.

The sets are small and claustrophobic, the FX basic and seen sparingly, the tone lurches uncomfortably from dramatic to just plain silly. At one point, my girlfriend asked me if we were watching a Mel Brooks movie. Jay Underwood, as the hot-headed Johnny Storm/Human Torch overdoes it so much he actually comes across as being a bit demented. Dr Doom spends so much time with his hands up in the air that you begin to suspect his gloves are too big and will fall off if he lowers them. In the all-action finale, Johnny Storm shouts “Flame on!” and basically turns into a cartoon. He then has a fist fight with a laser beam in a scene that I swear they cribbed from one of those old Max Fleischer Superman animations.

But after learning how the cast and crew, faced with producing a superhero spectacular with almost no money, put their hearts and souls into the production in order to make the very best movie possible, one can’t help but admire the end result.

In its favour, this is the only Fantastic Four adaption that even attempts to remain true to its comic book origins. We get to see vile villain Dr Doom ranting and raving in the throne room of his Latverian castle. We see the Fantasti-Car taking off from the roof of the Baxter Building. We see Rebecca Staab in her Invisible Girl costume. In all fairness, Ms Staab does bear a remarkable resemblance to the original comic book character.

Also, the matte paintings may be unconvincing but they are undoubtedly spectacular. The musical score is great. Alex Hyde-White is stoic and heroic as team leader Mr Fantastic. But best of all, the undisputed star of the show, is the team’s rocky mascot, The Thing. The costume guys, even with their tiny budget, did a great job on bringing him to life. His face is expressive enough for the actor behind the mask to give a nuanced performance, and as viewers we can’t help but punch a fist in the air every time he growls, “It’s clobberin’ time!”

But despite all it had going for it the movie was shelved and that was that. No one toiling away on it had any inkling that this was its intended fate all along. Neue Constantin Film were basically pulling a fast one so they could hang onto the movie rights a little longer and put out a big budget version further on down the line, when they were ready.

So the cast and crew were shafted good and proper, with nothing to show for all their hard work and tireless efforts. It’s not rare for Hollywood to throw out movies that come with shady behind-the-scenes tales of double dealing and underhandedness, but rarely are they as tragic and, yes, as downright nasty as this one.

In the documentary Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four, a chap involved in the making of the film expresses his joy that someone somewhere managed to sneak a copy of it out, so that it could find its way into the hands of the very fans it was intended for. I too feel a debt of gratitude to that mysterious hero, because I love this movie, and without him or her I never would have got to see it. So, thank you, whoever you are.

NB. For further reading, I can heartily recommend tracking down a copy of the October 1993 issue of Film Threat magazine, which treats us to a behind-the-scenes peak at the movie in production, when the cast and crew were still under the impression they were making a film that would be seen in theatres. As I said, tragic.


By the end of the 1930s, Russian leader Joseph Stalin, in his ever blackening state of paranoia, had imprisoned over twelve million people in his notorious “corrective-labour camps”. A vast majority of these people were, of course, completely innocent. When the war ended, these numbers were swollen further when he imprisoned all returning Soviet POWs. Their crime? Coming into contact with foreigners.

In 1956, Stalin’s successor, Nikita Kruschev, began the process that would see eight million of these prisoners released. A consequence of this was that a vast number of prison guards suddenly found themselves unemployed, and so did their guard dogs.

The Ruslan of the title of this book is one such guard dog. Instead of being shot by his master, which was the fate that befell most of the retiring dogs, he is left to fend for himself, convinced that it is only a matter of time before normality is resumed and he is called back into service.

Georgi Vladimov completed this book, considered to be his masterpiece, in 1974. When this particular edition was published in 1981 it was still banned in his homeland. However, a manuscript was smuggled out of the Soviet Union and published in West Germany in 1975. It is told from the point of view of the hound in question, with the human characters rarely even named. Instead they are labelled; The Master, The Shabby Man, The Instructor. But Disney this ain’t, as this is a brutal, uncompromising and tragic story.

Ruslan’s years of training and service have left him incapable of adjusting to life beyond the prison fences and watchtowers. Taught never to accept food from anyone but his master, he is forced to hunt in the nearby forests, despite being lucky enough to stumble upon a new home. But even here he finds no peace as he views the owner of said home as a prisoner who requires guarding.

Also, every day he makes a pilgrimage to the local train station to await the arrival of a trainload of new prisoners. This train, of course, never comes.

Days after finishing Faithful Ruslan, it is still on my mind. Vladimov’s writing is impeccable, and he succeeds in communicating the pain and heartache of our lost hero without ever resorting to sentimentality. Ruslan never suffers, he simply endures. It’s a deeply affecting work and is probably one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. I don’t think I’ll ever look at a dog the same way again.


I don’t usually put horror movies in my basket when shopping in my local Sainsburys, but on this particular occasion I felt compelled to make an exception. The reason for this is that Margam Castle is just a few miles up the road from where I live. I’ve been there many times and I know it well, so I was intrigued.

But before we proceed, be warned, this review contains spoilers.

Margam Castle is a magnificent and imposing building built between 1830 and 1840 in Port Talbot, south Wales. It has a reputation for being haunted and was featured in the TV series Most Haunted. Ghost hunts are regularly held there, although I’ve never attended one.

The boast on the DVD cover read, “Based on a true story.” Needless to say, I was somewhat sceptical, and as it turned out my scepticism was entirely justified. I’m pretty sure that if a team of American parapsychologists had died horribly in Margam Castle, it might have warranted a mention in the local news.

I watched it with my girlfriend and the next day she confessed that it had given her nightmares. I only wish I could say the same as it really wasn’t very good. Despite having a location to die for (see what I did there?) it all fell a bit flat. There was not much of a story to speak of, most of the characters were rather uninteresting and pretty much all the horror movie tropes were crammed in there…

Superstitious locals? Check.

Messages in the bathroom mirror? Check.

Creepy little girl? Check.

As the film progressed it sank into silliness and there were moments where we were just laughing at it. Researcher being dragged into a computer monitor, anyone? Also, many of the performances were very wobbly to say the least. However, it wasn’t all bad. There was just enough creepy atmos, a few effective jump scares and a certain trashy enjoyability. Also, there were a few cast members worthy of mention.

As historian Hugh Morgan, veteran actor Derren Nesbitt was excellent. His presence alone actually elevated the quality of the whole film, in my opinion. And there were some notable cameos too. First up was Garrick Hagon, best known for his role as Bigg in the original Star Wars. Also present were Jane Merrow, Judy Matheson and Caroline Munro, all of whom previously appeared in Hammer horror movies. The appearance of Bond Girl Munro was also notable for another reason. A few years ago I was lucky enough to meet her at a geek convention that took place at…Margam Castle.

But the real star of the film is the location itself. Margam Castle simply oozes creepiness, and in all fairness it is beautifully shot. The cinematographer does a great job of capturing the scale and eeriness of it. For this reason it worked better for me as an interesting curio rather than as a horror movie, so I’ll be hanging onto this DVD and very possibly watching it again in the near future.


Following on from my stint on Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, I remained on the books of Casting Collective, an agency that supplies extras for movies. I never expected to hear from them again, but I did, and they were giving nothing away about whatever production it was they wanted me for.

As I am over 6′ tall, they said they wanted me to play a soldier. I knew that Steven Spielberg was shooting War Horse in the UK at the time, so I did wonder if it might be that. However, a friend of mine went to have his costume fitting a few days ahead of me, and he dropped me a line to say that it was in fact…CAPTAIN AMERICA!

I nearly fainted. I’m a pretty big Marvel nerd so the thought of playing an (admittedly tiny) part in the burgeoning Marvel Cinematic Universe was mind blowing. As it transpired, the part turned out to be even tinier than I imagined.

When I went for the costume fitting I discovered that I was going to be filling the boots of a Hydra Infantryman, one of the bad guys. The good thing about this was that the uniform I’d be wearing was amazing. The bad thing about it was that my face would not be visible. But you know what? I didn’t care. I was going to be in Captain America! Playing one of the Hydra Infantry! That was enough for me.

They originally told me to clear my diary for two weeks. That then became a week. In the end, they only used me for one night. But I spent that one night in the company of a bunch of guys playing Hydra soldiers (some of whom I knew), a bunch of guys playing prisoners of war (who I’d get to push around) and none other that director Joe Johnston and star Chris Evans!

If you’re a Star Wars fan, the name Joe Johnston carries some weight. That dude did incredible concept art for the original trilogy. Dude, he designed Slave 1, Boba Fett’s spaceship, so I was excited just to be breathing the same air as him! Chris Evans I was only familiar with from the Fantastic Four movies, but I thought he aced his role as Johnny Storm and I could easily see him nailing the part of Steve Rogers/Captain America.

Filming was taking place in an old MOD base in Monmouthshire, Wales, which was standing in for a WWII POW camp. The night before, they had filmed a big action sequence with lots of explosions etc. I was gutted to have missed out on that. On the night I was there they were filming the sequence where Cap is sneaking into the camp to bust out the prisoners.

Despite the fact that all I did was stand around carrying a huge gun, or pace up and down with a huge gun, it was still hard going. The uniform was uncomfortable, my boots were too small and the gun was very very heavy. I had a retro-futuristic belt fastened around my waist with an ammo belt running from that to the gun. Everything was screwed together so I couldn’t put the gun down all night. But still, I didn’t care. I was on the Captain America film set!

So, I spent a cold and drizzly night guarding a POW camp as groups of prisoners were marched in and out, and as Chris Evans snuck past me time after time after time. I will say this though, the catering was excellent!

I saw the movie with my parents when it was released. One of the very few times in the last twenty years they’d been to the cinema. We all enjoyed it, despite not being able to spot me as my face was obscured by the costume.

But the important thing here is not that I spent just one night with Captain America, it’s that I was there at all. Full stop. It’s that I was standing in front of the camera when Joe Johnston yelled “Action!”. It’s that I saw Chris Evans in his special chair marked ‘Chris Evans’. It’s that I actually am a tiny, microscopically small, completely unidentifiable part of the MCU.

And the best part? Hasbro released a Hydra Armored Soldier action figure, so I now have an action of figure of myself! Okay, so there were lots of us strapping six-footers playing Hydra soldiers, but nobody’s gonna steal my thunder here. I have an action figure of myself!

How many people get to say that after a one-night stand?


Before there was any such thing as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or CGI, or Tobey Maguire, there was the Spider-Man live action TV series which ran from 1977 to 1979.

The pilot episode was released theatrically in Europe so I was lucky enough to see it on the big screen at the formative age of six. It was only my second ever visit to the cinema. My first was to see Star Wars.

The live action Spider-Man blew my mind. My 49 year old self was not so impressed.

The dual roles of Peter Parker/Spider-Man are taken by Nicholas Hammond (aka Freidrich from The Sound of Music and Sam Wanamaker in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood). Here, Peter is a grad student/science enthusiast/amateur photographer who people keep addressing as “kid” even though he’s clearly pushing 30. He also spends a great deal of his screen time sneezing.

The plot concerns some sort of ‘life coach’ guy who’s taken control of the minds of his followers and is getting them to carry out robberies. It’s all part of a wider plan to extort money from the city ($50 million, to be exact). But he didn’t reckon on some “kid” getting bitten by a radioactive spider and stumbling upon his nefarious scheme.

It’s a real clunker of a story. Gone is the zippy, sparky creative energy and snappy dialogue of the original 60s comic books by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and instead we get a dry retelling with little or no humour and some very dodgy fight scenes. Spider-Man himself doesn’t do a lot of web-slinging or swinging, preferring to scamper about on rooftops without ever standing up straight. That said, there is a memorable moment when a stuntman in Spidey costume really does swing from one building to another. However, it might just be memorable because they used the same shot in every episode of the series.

There was a famous scene which sadly doesn’t feature in the pilot in which a stuntman, again in full Spidey regalia, was winched up the side of the Empire State Building, bringing New York City to a standstill. Now THAT was impressive.

It’s also with sadness that I must report that none of Spidey’s comic book villains ever made it into the series. Obviously, budgets were never going to allow for an airborne duel with the Green Goblin or a punch-up with Doc Ock, but an appearance by the Kingpin would have been nice.

Despite all of this, I couldn’t look away. This film has a strange fascination all its own. It’s almost as if there is actually a good film in there somewhere, desperately trying to break out, so you keep on watching in the hope that it does. Mind you, it’s worth sticking with just for the enormous collars and the funky soundtrack.

Stan Lee dismissed this series, which ran for two seasons before being cancelled, as a “nightmare” and “juvenile”. You can see his point, but watching it again through the prism of a 43-year gap, it becomes a kind of historical curio, and one not without charm.

It was directed by TV stalwart EW Swackhamer (surely a name which could also lend itself to a porn star or a Confederate general). To date there has been no DVD release, but there are vintage VHS copies floating around out there and it’s available on YouTube (obvs).


Trick or Treat, released in 1986, is billed as a horror movie but it isn’t really. It didn’t horrify me anyway, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t devilishly entertaining.

Eddie is a high school loner, picked on by the jocks for being a metalhead, laughed at by the girls. One fateful day, he sees on the TV news that his idol, heavy metal star Sammi Curr has died in a hotel fire. Stricken by grief and convinced that no one but Sammi ever understood him (adolescents, eh?), he turns to a local rock DJ for solace. This DJ ‘gets it’ because he’s played by none other than Gene Simmons from off of Kiss, and he presents our hero with a super-rare Sammi demo record.

When Eddie plays this backwards, as you do, he discovers that he can communicate with his deceased hero, and Sammi Curr, hideously scarred and back from the dead, starts exacting bloody revenge on all the scumbags who made his no.1 fan’s life a misery.

Eddie is a bit of a non-entity, to be honest. He just seems to bumble around not saying much of anything, even when things start going shit-shaped. In contrast, Tony Fields has more than enough rock star charisma to play the demonic Sammi Curr, back for his encore. Trick or Treat only hits the high notes when he turns up to off someone in some ghastly manner.

Apparently, Blackie Lawless from off of WASP was approached to play the Sammi role (which would have been AWESOME!), but he backed out when he discovered that Fastway had already been signed up to provide the soundtrack.

Speaking of which, the soundtrack is also worth checking out. Fastway was the post-Motorhead band founded by guitarist Fast Eddie Clarke, and while it may stick to that tried n trusted corporate, mid tempo 80s metal formula, there are more than enough fist-in-the-air choruses to satisfy even the most demanding headbanger.

Incidentally, I was lucky enough to catch Fastway live a few years ago, not too long before Fast Eddie sadly passed away.

Trick or Treat was the directorial debut of Charles Martin Smith (from off of American Graffiti and Starman) who also makes a cameo appearance in the movie. Smith also directed Dolphin Tale, Dolphin Tale 2, A Dog’s Way Home and the forthcoming A Christmas Gift from Bob. When it comes to cutesie animal movies, Smith has a good pedigree.

See what I did there?

Trick or Treat is most certainly of its time, but it’s a perfect movie for Halloween, especially if you invite all your chums around for sugary treats and a bit of heckling. It’s worth seeing for the Ozzy Osbourne cameo alone. He plays a moralising clergyman hell bent on bringing metal down. Such delicious irony!


Orobas, a powerful demon estimated to be tens of thousands of years old, has been possessed by the spirit of a teenage girl, according to doctors.

The demon, who has the head of a horse and is also known as the Great Prince of Hell, now believes himself to be a fifteen year old girl called Karlie who has 134 Instagram followers. Since falling victim to the possession he has also set up accounts on TikTok and the streaming service Twitch.

“It’s an incredibly sad case,” said Dr Hans Orff who is overseeing the demon’s treatment. “A week ago this being had twenty legions of lesser-demons under his control, but now he can only communicate by text. Oh, and also by rolling his eyes and issuing the occasional derisory snort.”

Despite this, doctors at Ysbyty Gwynedd hospital in Bangor where Orobas is being treated are hopeful he can be returned to his former diabolical glory. “There’s definitely progress,” Dr Orff explained. “When he was brought in he was doing dance challenges on TikTok and streaming himself playing video games, but now he’s starting to get back to his old self again. He’s already ripped the heads off several porters and spat down their necks, and attempted to burn down the hospital. He’s not out of the woods just yet, but once that vile, evil presence has been banished from him completely, he’ll be able to return to being a productive member of demonic society.”


In my debut horror novel DEEP LEVEL published by darkstroke books, four friends set out to explore a network of forgotten train tunnels beneath the streets of London.

The network in my story was built in secret to serve the superrich of Victorian society, but the Low Level Station in Glasgow was no secret and was constructed to serve a population of millions.

Situated beneath Glasgow Station, the Low Level was opened in 1896 and kept running until 1964. Described by the poet C Hamilton Ellis as “Sombre, sulphurous and Plutonian”, it was rife with crime and thick with grime. As well as being a working rail network, it also housed vast coal and grain stores and was utilised as a mortuary during World War 1.

Needless to say, there have been reports of supernatural phenomena throughout the years, with accounts of poltergeist activity and sightings of a grey lady and, most disturbingly of all, a supposed demon-child.

However, it seems that Glasgow’s Low Level Station may well be about to rise from the grave as it is being transformed into a heritage museum. I for one am looking forward to exploring this mysterious site for myself, but if I don’t see any ghosts I’ll be asking for my money back.


If you like your thrillers brutal and uncompromising as well as tense and exciting, welcome to the world of Nick Sullivan.

Nick is a high-flying banker with a beautiful wife, big house, nice car and a boat. Yes, he has it all, until he and his best friend stumble into the path of three psychos hell bent on inflicting carnage across England. In a matter of hours, Nick has lost everything and is Britain’s most wanted man.

Karla Forbes really knows how to turn the screw, cranking up the tension with every turn of the page, and we readers get dragged right through the wringer alongside the hero. We’re with him for every punch, every setback, every kick in the guts, and from start to finish there’s no let-up. How does this guy keep going, you’ll find yourself asking. But keep going Nick does, and we along with him.   Fallout is an exhilarating read, full of twists, turns, curveballs, tragedies and life-lessons. One warning though, you’re going to feel bruised by the end of it, but don’t let that put you off.

Enjoy the ride!


People often ask what attracts me to the extreme metal scene. Quite simply, it’s because that’s where all the innovation is, and a fine case in point would be Enslaved.

Enslaved’s entire career in music has been a journey, beginning in the frosty, twilit Norwegian Black Metal scene of the early 90s and culminating here and now with Utgard, their 15th studio album.

Utgard is a magnificent album and a worthy successor to their previous release, E. From the opening chants of Fires in the Dark to the lush, soundscape of closer Distant Seasons, it is in itself a journey. Via the icy, brutal riffs and vocals of Jettegryta, we are led through an atmospheric spoken word track Ütgardr and the surprising and soaring Urjotun. Surprising because the intro wouldn’t sound out of place on Queen’s Flash Gordon soundtrack. En route, there are psychedelic hints of Hawkwind and discordant traces of Voivod, but we never forget who’s at the wheel.

This is Enslaved at their experimental, proggy best, and a genuine contender for metal album of the year. So, if you’ve never checked out Enslaved before, hop aboard because you’re in for one hell of a trip.