This year on Saturdays The 2023 PopCult Gift Guide will revisit picks from previous years so that you don’t have to scroll back through eighteen years worth of Gift Guide posts looking for cool ideas for your holiday shopping. Today we recommend cheap toys, cool movies and a little neo-gothic erotica for you.
Tomorrow The 2024 PopCult Gift Guide will spotlight a variety of online retailers, so you can find all sorts of cool gift ideas, instead of just the ones I’m including here.
Final Faction Action Figures
Two years ago a line of action figures showed up for the cheapskates among us. This is a great gift idea for kids who love 4-inch sci-fi and supehero figures, or adult collectors who might have their minds blown when they find out where you got these.
Final Faction is a line of Science-Fiction, alien-fighting action figures in the popular 1/18 (roughly four-inches tall) scale. Most of the figures have five points of articulation. Most come with at least one accessory. The paint detail is above-average. There is a backstory and accompanying nine-minute CGI cartoon on YouTube, and most importantly…they only cost $1.25 each! These are Dollar Tree exclusives.
For a mere buck and a quarter, you get a hell of a lot. Quality-wise, the figures are just a notch below ReAction’s line of licensed five-point figures, but those sell for fifteen to twenty times as much. If you are a 1/18 scale hobbyist, these figures are great customizing fodder. At this price you can try all sorts of things–from total repaints to attempting to add joints.
The backing cards are printed in full color on both sides and include Power Ratings and a bio for each character, along with this intro to the series…
In the year 2050, a large asteroid collided with our moon. Among the debris, we discovered a hibernating alien mothership. Now, the Kharn are awake and they want to plunder our precious natural resources. So, we recruited teams of special operatives to defend Earth from their alien threat.
They are the…
There you go: A cool space-opera premise with well-sculpted figures that sport decent (if limited) paint detail, and a computer-animated short. And they cost a buck apiece. You can collect the entire first series of figures for eight bucks (fourteen dollars if you buy all six extra accessory packs). For less than the price of one ReAction figure, you can own the entire line (if you can find them–in some stores the first series has long been sold out). These are great stocking stuffers, for the toy collector on your shopping list.
Since we wrote this, there have been a couple dozen new figures added to the line, along with vehicles and a comic book. They’ve even done repaints of the early figures as “Elite” and “Venom” editions. The comic book includes a checklist of the entire line (with the exception of the new repaints), so you can see what you still need.
Almost every Dollar Tree still has some of these figures, and you can still order a few of them online, but if you do that now, you have buy them in bulk, which isn’t too bad a deal when you consider how cheap these are.
The Works of Anna Biller
Reaching back to The 2017 PopCult Gift Guide we have the work of a creative genius. Anna Biller is a filmmakier who specializes in exquisitely art-directed movies that mimic the look and style of earlier movies while delivering a completely fresh and unexpected twist on them. Her most recent film, The Love Witch, is such a masterpiece of art direction that I was almost certain that I was watching a lost classic from the early 1970s when a friend showed it to me. She shoots on 35mm real film and has the lighting, props, costume and hairstyles of the era down perfectly.
Lately Biller has taken her talents to th eliterary world, with a new novel, Bluebeard’s Castle.
Bluebeard gets a feminist Gothic makeover in this subversive take on the famous French fairy tale — from the acclaimed director of The Love Witch, and for fans of Jane Eyre.
When the successful British mystery writer Judith Moore meets Gavin, a handsome and charming baron, at a birthday party on the Cornish coast, his love transforms her from a bitter, lonely young woman into a romance heroine overnight. After a whirlwind honeymoon in Paris, he whisks her away to a secluded Gothic castle. But soon she finds herself trapped in a nightmare, as her husband’s mysterious nature and his alternation between charm and violence become increasingly frightening.
As Judith battles both internal and external demons, including sexual ambivalence, psychological self-torture, gaslighting, family neglect, alcoholism, and domestic abuse, she becomes increasingly addicted to her wild beast of a husband. Why do women stay in abusive relationships? The answer can be found in the tortured mind of the protagonist, whose richly layered fantasy life parallels that of the female Gothic romance reader. Filled with dark humor and evocative imagery, Bluebeard’s Castle is a subversive take on modern romance and Gothic erotica.
Abut her films, Biller herself says…
In my work I try to combine pure cinema with authentic experience. When I say authentic experience, I mean that I try to directly translate my experience of living in the world into form. My specific concerns are with the lived day-to-day experience of the female. Years ago when I was first starting out as a filmmaker, I became interested in trying to create a cinema based on visual pleasure for women.
In the interest of pure cinema or “proper art” (which James Joyce defines as art which elicits a state of aesthetic arrest), I try to control everything that goes into the film frame. Thus in my work I am trying to do something most unusual: to create “proper” art films masquerading as popular films. So while I am quoting genres, I am using them not as pastiche, but to create a sense of aesthetic arrest and to insert a female point of view.
Her work is immaculate. Using the styles and even the acting techniques of earlier years, she manages to avoid producing simple parody or homage and creates exciting new works that transport the viewer to another era. I am recommending her horror movie, The Love Witch, and her earlier sexploitation flick, Viva and other short films. You can find her movies, along with posters, stickers and more cool stuff at her website, where you will also find links to where you can purchase her book.
This is great stuff for the jaded cult film fanatic on your holiday shopping list.
Caveman (multi-format disc)
Our final pick is a bit of a ringer…or a Ringo-er, as it were. Originally recommended in 2021, I had to give it another shot because, as you may have read, I got to see Ringo Starr perform live in my hometown last month.
Caveman, the 1981 prehistoric comedy starring former Beatle, Ringo Starr, along with Barbara Bach, Shelly Long and Dennis Quaid, is not an historically accurate depiction of our ancestors, who did not actually co-exist with dinosaurs.
However, this movie is chock-full-o primo stop-motion animated dinosaurs, courtesy of an uncredited Jim Danforth, and it’s loads of slapstick fun for kids and adults.
It also has a musical sequence that will stick with you for at least forty years (speaking from experience) and the actors do not speak English (except for a couple of lines), instead speaking in a language invented specifically for the movie. They did the same thing in the movie, Quest For Fire, which came out the same year, but nobody remembers that movie because it didn’t have Ringo, animated dinosaurs or fart jokes.
Caveman was directed by Carl Gottlieb, who co-wrote the movie, Jaws, but is probably more famous for his portrayal of Iron Balls McGinty in the movie, The Jerk.
This is the movie where Ringo met Barbara Bach, who would become (and still is) his wife, and it’s a fun gift for Beatles fans, fans of dinosaurs, fans of slapstick comedy, and anyone who doesn’t take prehistory too seriously. Available from Amazon and other video retailers.