The Best of 2022

Happy New Year! And here we go, full throttle into 2023!

2022 was not an easy year for your old pal, Platinum Al. But the Virtual Hot Tub soldiered on regardless, never giving up despite the odds. NEVER SAY DIE. And in the end, the year 2022 was a successful one for this blog, with site views up approx. 2% on the year before.

Not a massive improvement, I’ll grant you – but I’ll take all the good news I can get. I certainly didn’t expect to finish the year with those stats, just the opposite.

So what were the most successful blog posts on the Virtual Hot tub in 2022? What articles brought in the hordes of avid readers? What did YOU want to read?

Here’s the traditional review of the Top 10 blog posts by number of views. In reverse order, countdown style, of course…

10. Hawarden Classic Car Show

Events started to return in 2022, and this local classic car show was a great example of the fun to be had as restrictions were lifted. Some nice pics.

9. New Skateboard 2022 – Death Benson

I like to chronicle my skateboards (or at least just the deck) for posterity, and just for myself. Despite my doubts, this rad set up made the Top 10.

8. Pentre Fest 2022

My beloved Pentre Fest was BACK in 22, with two more days of metal bands at high volume. Not long till the 2023 event!

7. Liverpool Comic Con 2022

A family trip out to Liverpool for a great con and a load of cosplay photos.

6. Scars of Halloween Horror Fest

My annual horror movie fest provided this blog, which was by far the most popular this year as it featured a Hammer classic.

5. Star Wars Figures- Empire Strikes Back Part 2

I’m happy to see the second part of my blog focussing on my Star Wars figures from The Empire Strikes Back feature in the Top 10!

4. Subskate Summer Fun!

An in depth investigation into the merits (and failings) of a pool toy that never quite made it.

3. Star Wars Figures – The Empire Strikes Back

The first part of my feature concerning my original Star Wars figures from Empire. Good to see this was popular!

2. Return of Wales Comic Con

More Comic Con and cosplay fun, with a visit to Wrexham and Wales Comic Con back on home ground.

So what was the number one blog post of 2022? It was…

  1. Chester Comic Con 2022

In the number one spot, a visit to Chester’s Comic Con! A summer afternoon, loads of merch and dozens of cool cosplayers made this article the most successful of the year!

Events back on the menu has, unsurprisingly, dominated the results this year. They were all great fun, and well worth the visit. In contrast to the results from last year, where events were (understandably) under represented.

It’s also gratifying to see some skateboards and toys being appreciated, too.

This year, we look to return to a “new normal” in our post pandemic world. But with a Cost of Living Crisis, Brexit still unleashing it’s mayhem, and the same gang of inept cowards and liars in charge, we still have plenty of obstacles ahead.

Never the less, we at Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub remain vigilant – bringing you the best entertainment. Thanks for being with us in 2022. Stay tuned for ever more greatness in 2023!

Liverpool Comic Con 2022

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Exhibition Centre, Liverpool

Sunday 20th November 2022

OK here we go – a family trip out to Liverpool Comic Con! And boy, this convention was BIG. I made the journey to this con last year and had a fairly damn good experience, so it was exciting to return. A wet and chilly day was on the cards, but there’s always a warm welcome in good ol’ Liverpool. And we’d be inside all day, anyway.

Last time around, the queueing situation was a proper nightmare. This time, I made the wiser decision of not having “early bird” tickets and arriving at 9am. I didn’t even bother to get to the event for our allotted time (11am) – we strolled along at 12.30pm and pretty much avoided any queueing whatsoever.

That’s the way to do it. There’s no point in standing in a line, outside, in November.

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t even aware that there was a time we were supposed to go in. I hadn’t looked that closely at the ticket, we were just late. But as they were still letting the last of the 11am people in when we arrived much later, I think this result was a winner.

Anyone who attended this convention (on either day, Saturday or Sunday, from what I’ve heard) had a hard time with the sheer amount of people there. It was rammed. But it seems like Sunday was the better of the two days, so again a stroke of luck. The Exhibition Centre was very busy, but just about manageable.

Several interesting guests were present, but no one I was too concerned about. Meeting guests isn’t that big a deal to me (unless they’re Hammer Horror related!). And the prices were not cheap. It was an impressive bunch of celebs, though, with Stranger Things featuring highly.

Instead, I had my fun perusing the fabulous stalls, buying merch and taking photos of the wonderful Cosplay crowd.

There seemed to be fewer people in costume at this event, but that could be down to the weather (can’t have been fun for some of those who did dare); and the sheer numbers of people there, hiding the view.

What Cosplayers I did encounter, however, were superbly talented and spectacular, as always. And lovely people too! Thanks to all of you who let me take your photo, it’s very much appreciated.

Merch wise, my crew and I went a bit crazy – but Christmas is looming on the horizon, so to hell with the cost of living crisis. I picked up a couple of Star Wars figures and a few Marvel comic books, so was happy. There was a distinct lack of action figures across the board though – a result of the clash with the event in London? Not enough Star Wars, MOTU or ReAction figures to be found.

The retailer we were most excited to see again was Cult Locations Ink, who create intricately detailed, framed art prints of film and TV locations. A couple more were added for our new collection, including my favourite, the Munsters’ House.

We’d been on our feet for hours, when finally the time came for us to wander off home. Yes, it was a busy day, but still good fun and a good atmosphere. I’ll be back.

The Liverpool Comic Con website is here.

Check out Cult Locations Ink here.

House of Halloween Horror Fest 2022

It’s now November, and while Halloween is a distant memory for some, here it still lingers. Halloween Horror Fest was a blast, but it’s not quite dead and buried yet. There are a couple of spooky movies still to review for you lucky people. Gather round, ghouls – it’s time for…

House of Frankenstein (1944)

You just can’t beat the old Universal monster movies – I love ’em! Ideal easy viewing for Halloween – or any time, really!

In this picture, legendary horror master Boris Karloff plays Dr Niemann, a Mad Scientist if ever there was one, who escapes from prison with his hunchback accomplice. Together, they join a travelling horror side show curated by Professor Lampini, before eventually knocking him off. The remains of Count Dracula (John Carradine) are part of the show, and Niemann revives the vampire to help him wreak revenge on those responsible for his incarceration.

Revenge complete, the nefarious doctor abandons Dracula and makes his way to locate the records of Frankenstein. There, Niemann stumbles across both the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange) and the Wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr), frozen in ice from their previous encounter in Frankenstein meets the Wolfman. With the Wolfman revived and his human counterpart, Larry Talbot, eager to receive aid from Dr Niemann, a rivalry between Talbot and the hunchback for the affection of a gypsy girl threatens to thwart all their plans.

It wouldn’t be Halloween without the monochrome delights of Universal monster movies, and this one is great fun. The only way to improve a monster movie is to cram in as many more monsters as possible, and House of Frankenstein does exactly that. Karloff and Chaney are wonderful, and though Carradine is no Lugosi, he has a charm of his own. It’s just a shame Drac isn’t utilised more fully here. That’s really my only complaint, other than the short running time.

The shared universe of the Marvel superheroes is a huge accomplishment nowadays; though it could be argued that Universal did it first: combining a bunch of their main horror characters into one movie. House of Frankenstein was certainly entertaining, a film I’ll revisit many times.

9/10

1408 (2007)

Based on a Stephen King short story I’ve never read, 1408 stars John Cusack as Mike Enslin, a professional paranormal investigator and writer. Enslin is somewhat jaded and definitely sceptical concerning his investigations of allegedly haunted houses.

When Enslin decides to investigate the infamous Room 1408 in a New York City hotel, he expects the usual non event – despite the manager (Samuel L Jackson) attempting to dissuade him from entering the room altogether. No one, the writer is warned, lasts longer than an hour in Room 1408.

Enslin enters the room, and slowly things start to happen. From witnessing ghosts of the room’s previous occupants to facing his own guilt and loss, Mike is increasingly trapped and tormented inside the hotel room.

It’s largely a one man show for Cusack, who does a solid job in his role as cynical writer turned haunted prisoner. The film has plenty of creepy, jumpy moments and unexpected twists. I’ve said enough, I don’t want to give anymore away – but I will say I was more impressed by 1408 than I expected to be.

7/10

There we go folks, Halloween Horror Fest is all over for another year. See you next time. Unpleasant dreams!

Scars of Halloween Horror Fest

Scars of Dracula (1970)

At last, some Hammer! My favourite horror film studio, Hammer Films are at their best telling a gothic tale, which is exactly what we get with Scars of Dracula. Some may find them dated, old fashioned, campy – I love these movies and the wonderful fantasy atmospheres they create.

In Scars of Dracula, we meet Paul (Christopher Matthews). Paul is a bit of a lad – he ends up bailing out of a young ladies boudoir and through a series of misadventures, finds his way to Dracula’s castle. The Count (Christopher Lee, of course) has been resurrected yet again, and together with his faithful assistant Klove (Patrick Trouighton) and vampire bride (Anouska Hempel), Paul’s over night stay becomes permanent.

But have no fear, Pauls brother Simon (the legendary Dennis Waterman) and his fiancée Sarah (lovely Jenny Hanley) decide to find Paul. It’s not long before they encounter the same spooky castle, with it’s creepy servant and menacing Count…

This chapter of Hammer’s Dracula series feels a little disjointed from the previous movies. It was obviously intended as a reboot, though despite some nods to the original source material it feels like a re-tread of all the old clichés. That said, the performances are good (Lee actually gets some dialogue here) and there’s plenty of Hammer atmosphere.

I haven’t watched Scars of Dracula for quite a few years, but I enjoyed more than I thought. There’s more to enjoy than I remembered.

8.5/10

The Werewolf (1956)

A great 50’s creature feature, The Werewolf follows the story of an American community threatened by a savage beast. We meet a lone man with no memory, who transforms into a monster when he’s attacked. The local law enforcement lock down the town and hunt for the creature, whilst those responsible – two scientists who are conducting wild experiments – want to erase the evidence.

This old B&W movie was lots of fun and despite a low budget, it’s well made. My only criticism is that the werewolf in question is a scientific creation, rather than supernatural – but that plays into the script well enough. The Werewolf was surprisingly good and an ideal Halloween watch for a lazy afternoon!

7.5/10

Halloween Horror Fest By Night

Eloise (2016)

Eloise is a haunted asylum movie, with some time travel bumpf thrown in. The reason I wanted to see it, is because my daughter’s name is Eloise. The DVD case had stared up at me on more occasions than I can remember, and eventually I could resist no more. The film didn’t look great, but the title amused me far more than it should do.

There’s this dude – The Deep from The Boys – who stands to inherit millions, but he needs to sneak into a spooky mental hospital to get some info to help his cause. He recruits an old pal, plus Eliza Dushku and her autisitic brother to help him. Oh, and T1000 used to run the place. High jinks ensue.

To be fair, the Cert 15 should have warned me way-the-fuck-off this escapade. Eloise would have been better as a Scooby Doo straight-to-DVD movie – all they needed to do, was add a dog to The Deep’s gang. Lazy, stereotyped characters (in particular the black best friend and the autistic guy) are just insulting.

The DVD nearly went on the charity shop donation pile. The only reason I’ve kept it, is because if my daughter is naughty, I’ll threaten that she’s going to be made to watch it. Cruel.

4/10

Werewolf By Night (2022)

Technically, Werewolf By Night isn’t a movie – at 53 minutes, it’s a TV Special. But I just had to chuck it in for Halloween Horror Fest anyway.

Way back when I started reading comic books – around 1980 – Werewolf By Night was one of the first issues I ever picked up. Superheroes were great, but they had monster comics too? Take my money!

This latest reiteration of WBN stars the Jack Russell character (ha ha, yeah) mixing with a bunch of monster hunters to determine who will become the next chief monster hunter. Except two things: Jack is actually trying to help the hunted creature, and Jack is a monster himself – the werewolf of the title.

Shot for the most part in Universal style black & white, Werewolf By Night is a great mix of moody, visceral horror action and fanboy Easter Eggs. It might help if viewers are familiar with this corner of the Marvel Universe, but if not, it’s still a stylish thriller. I loved it and relish the potential of exploring the more macabre world of Marvel comics on screen.

9/10

Halloween Horror Fest 2022

Greetings, friends! Welcome to my abode. Don’t be afraid, open the door wide and step inside. It’s cold outside, the rain is lashing down and the wind is howling – come sit by my fire and warm your chilled bones. Pour a drink and relax. I have many stories to tell you this Halloween. Listen closely…

Here we go again with Platinum Al’s traditional Halloween Horror Fest, where I’ll be watching spooky movies and sharing my fetid thoughts on my viewing. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. Here are the first of this year’s celluloid nightmares…

Driller Killer (1979)

Starting off, something different from my usual preferences – an infamous “video nasty”. Here we meet Reno, a troubled artist, struggling to create a masterpiece whilst living in poverty. As the stresses pile up in his everyday life, he resorts to viciously murdering local vagrants as his mental health suffers.

I’m no fan of “slasher” movies, and didn’t expect much from this film – other than being able to tick it off the list. It’s low budget and dated, but rather than a predictable slasher fest, the movie takes it’s time to develop the main character and examine his descent into murderous madness. This slow burn at least demonstrates the film makers grander ambitions, though on the other hand it does slow the movie down.

A surprising approach then, but this art house wannabe doesn’t really achieve much more. “Driller Killer” is worth a watch to – well, yeah – tick it off the list.

5/10

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)

One hundred undead years old this year, FW Murnau’s Dracula “homage” should need no introduction. Certainly, the appearance of Count Orlok – this film’s Drac substitute – has been magnificently influential, not to mention the many other magical innovations on screen.

The plot is almost directly cloned from Stoker’s novel (indeed my copy even uses the original character names) – a problem which led to the writer’s heirs suing over the unauthorised adaptation. As a result, all copies were to be destroyed. Thankfully, not all prints were extinguished.

Here, our Jonathon Harker (or Hutter) travels to meet Count Orlok (Dracula, obvs) in order to procure property for the nobleman. Orlok is of course a vampire, and after sidestepping Harker/Hutter, travels back to the hero’s home town via a pleasant cruise on a ship called the Demeter.

You don’t really need to know any more. Put it this way, if you’ve never seen this film – you need to watch it. Yes, it’s a silent movie and obviously that dates the picture considerably, but there’s still so much to enjoy. Cinematic vampire lore is being built before our eyes, as well as the language of cinema being explored and developed. These experiments don’t always work, but it’s always fascinating.

Max Schreck as Orlok is still one of the creepiest sights in movies, ever. The rat-like visage, the menacing shadow climbing the stairs – still truly ghastly, all these years later. I doubt this vampire will ever die.

10/10

Return of Wales Comic Con

Wales Comic Con

Sunday 21st August 2022

Glyndwr University, Wrexham

At long last, Wales Comic Con made a triumphant return to it’s home at Glyndwr University in Wrexham, North Wales. Recent events had moved to Telford, which isn’t even in Wales. The thing about staging the convention in Wrexham is, on a personal level, it’s much closer to home and thus makes a great family day out. Telford, not so much.

On a slightly smaller scale, but with a great sense of good natured fun, Wales Comic Con returned to the sports halls of Glyndwr Uni. And of course there was all the usual special guests (always impressive), stalls selling merch, and cosplay enthusiasts.

This year, Stranger Things was the buzz at the Con. Not surprising at all, and neither was the number of folks dressed as Eddie Munson. Eddie is easily the best character in the show, so it was nice to see so many people pay tribute to the lovable metal head by dressing up as him.

In previous years (and at various cons), Harley Quinn has been the most popular choice of outfit for convention goers. This year, Eddie and other Stranger Things characters were number one, by far.

Grace Van Dien, who played Chrissy on the show, was a very popular guest. My daughter queued for ages to meet her, along with dozens of other fans. I’m happy to report that Grace was charming, cheerful and very nice indeed.

I was able to meet and chat with the very lovely Tabitha Lyons, super talented cosplayer and model – and her dad Nic Samiotis, prop builder extraordinaire. Two very skilled and very cool people who were a delight to meet. Photos of Tabitha have appeared in previous blogs of mine, there’s another below, where the lucky lady is pictured with yours truly. I nearly didn’t post it – I need to go on a diet, quick fast!

My merch buying plans didn’t quite do so well on the day. I did pick up a Star Wars figure (naturally), but despite there being a number of stalls, there was a distinct lack of comic books for sale. I’d been hoping to add to my Bronze Age Marvel collection, but never mind.

Welcome back, Wales Comic Con. We had a memorable day out, looking forward to more!

Check out Wales Comic Con here.

Chester Comic Con 2022

Chester Comic Con

Chester Racecourse

19 June 2022

Chester Comic Con was held recently, on a mild summer Sunday afternoon at Chester Racecourse. It was Father’s Day, and I made sure that my personal choice for the day was to attend this event for a fun filled afternoon.

I’ve not been to a comic con in Chester for a couple of years, due to the pandemic and all that kinda shiz. As previous, the racecourse hosted the event and it made for a good venue, with plenty of open outdoor space. Indoors was a bit more compact, but there were enough trader tables to fill the place without getting too manic.

There were also a few showbiz and comic book guests in attendance, though my main aim was to plunder as much action figures and comic books as possible. But have no fear, I also had my camera with me, to take some photos and hopefully provide an idea of what it was like to be there.

Here you’ll see some photos of the excellent Cosplayers, who were all very friendly and gallantly agreed to pose for pic. Thank you all.

Despite the smaller scale of Chester Comic Con – in comparison to some of the bigger events at Liverpool or the NEC for example – it’s a fantastic convention with a good family atmosphere. I had an excellent time, and bought a load of old 70s Marvel comics. Very happy indeed.

The website for Chester Comic Con is here.

Liverpool Comic Con 2021

Exhibition Centre, Liverpool

13/14 November 2021

How long is it since the last time I went to a Comic Con? Any Comic Con? It must be pretty much exactly two years. The pandemic ruled out mass gatherings of this type completely over that time. Now, we’re back – a long overdue visit to the wonderful city of Liverpool and it’s excellent convention.

Our only initial bad luck was arriving to find massive queues snaking back for what seemed like miles. We had purchased early bird tickets for a 9am start, however arriving on schedule at nine left us in a long line with hundreds of other punters. It took an hour before we were finally inside the exhibition centre, which wasn’t a great start.

This was a case of Queue Hard, with several sequels including Queue Hard 2: Queue Harder – and finally, Queue Hard with a Vengeance.

When we were in the building, however, all was swiftly forgiven. I think we can accept some teething troubles in getting this event back up and running. It was great to finally be indoors at a Comic Con, and we gleefully threw ourselves into the experience with enthusiasm.

There were many guests signing on the day, but none that were of particular interest to myself. So, I braved the throngs of convention goers to view the treasures on sale at the stalls, purveying all type of nerdy goodness. As always at Comic Cons, there was far too much merch for me to buy it all – though I made some fine purchases, there were oodles more a timely lottery win would’ve made mine.

I picked up a couple of Star Wars The Vintage Collection figures that I needed, and a Mego Wolfman action figure that I couldn’t resist. Plus, the Christmas shopping commenced with some unusual items I wouldn’t have been able to pick up elsewhere. The only disappointment was a total lack of ReAction figures.

Of course, the main highlight of the day was the varied and spectacular costumes worn the attendees. Cosplay was alive and well, which was great to see. Hopefully these photos will give you some idea of the skill and splendour that was on show.

Despite a dodgy start, Liverpool Comic Con was a great day out. We came, we saw, we took photos and bought tat – a fine time was had by all. I’d recommend this convention as one to visit, and I’ll definitely be back.

Have a look at the Liverpool Comic Con webnet here.

The Plague of Halloween Horror Fest

Halloween may be over, but Platinum Al’s still got a couple of movie reviews for ya! Well, I didn’t get time to write ’em up before bed time on the 31st – so here they are!

The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

In a small, remote village in Cornwall, a series of deaths from a strange disease has baffled local doctor Peter Thompson (Brook Williams). He requests assistance from his mentor, Sir James Forbes (Andre Morell), who is accompanied on his journey by his daughter Sylvia (Diane Clare).

When exhuming the plague victims graves reveals a lack of bodies, the doctors are stumped even further. Adding further complication is the tragic and mysterious death of Peter’s wife, Alice (Jacqueline Pearce). Soon, it becomes clear that the local Squire Hamilton (John Carson) – and his band of hedonistic goons – are mixed up in proceedings; with a mixture of voodoo and black magic…

Fans of the Walking Dead, or other modern zombie movies, may find this Hammer production somewhat tame by today’s standards, but there’s a lot to enjoy. The Plague of the Zombies takes a more traditional path with its tale rooted in voodoo, with a clever script that veers away from the usual Gothic creatures employed by Hammer.

Neither Lee or Cushing make an appearance, sadly – but the acting is particularly good never the less, with Andre Morell shining. The Plague of the Zombies is successful entertainment and shows Hammer trying to be innovative with it’s output.

8/10

The Crow (1994)

Our final film for this year’s Halloween Horror Fest is a 1990s classic that made a massive impression on me, when I first viewed it in the cinema.

In a city overrun with crime, musician Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) and his fiancée are ruthlessly murdered by a criminal gang. One year later, Eric is revived through the spirit magic of a crow, to enact revenge on the killers. One by one, the perpetrators meet brutal ends, but the complicated web of crime continuously unravels, leading Eric to the gangster overlord, Top Dollar (Michael Wincott).

The Crow is a magnificently macabre, dark tale – a violent, action-packed revenge story with gothic supernatural elements. It may not be pure horror, but this twisted superhero drama is definitely pure Halloween. Brandon Lee is the soul of the movie, he’s both prefect and unforgettable in the role of Eric. Sadly, his accidental death during filming adds a haunting tone to the film. Even so, The Crow is a fine testament to Lee.

Visually stunning on the screen, the soundtrack is also fantastic: one of the greatest soundtrack albums ever compiled, it’s a classic of it’s time.

The Crow still has an incredible emotional impact. It’s a simple, moralistic fable wrapped up in a bloody revenge movie – with a sympathetic anti-hero and melancholic tone. Absolute class.

R.I.P. Brandon Lee

10/10