Thursday, October 31, 2013

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31 - Bonus

Thanks to everyone who visited this month for the Halloween Countdown as I guided you through dozens of monsters and over 70 movies. For those of you needing even more Halloween goodness tonight and through the days of head, here are some offerings for you.

The illustration above is a 3-D cut paper piece that I created for Underneath the Juniper Tree as the cover for the Fall 2013 issue. Each issue is filled with creepy stories and chilling art, and you can read them for free. Great for under the blankets on a windy Halloween night. 

The Grim Gallery is my other blog where I've been sharing some of the thousands of horror related images I've accrued through the years at the rate of one a day 365 days a year. It doesn't sound like much, but it's been running for three and a half years now with 900 images so far. 

Available now at a comic book store or book seller near you is X-Files Classics Volume 2 from IDW. This hardcover (despite what it says on Amazon) collects issues 10-19 of the X-Files comic book series which ran concurrently with the television show. It includes the first three issues I wrote. There is a link to order it at the bottom of this post. 

X-Files Classics Volume 3 collects issues 20 - 29, most of which were written by me. This won't be available until January 21, 2014, but you can pre-order it now using the link at the bottom of this post.

Finally, be sure to visit The Countdown to Halloween where you will find links to 232 dedicated blogs which have been sharing their love of Halloween all month long.

I'll be counting down to Halloween once again next year. In the meantime I'll have more stuff to share all year long starting next Monday when you can Ask Me Anything.


31 Days of Halloween - Day 31 - Movie 2

Five years after the tomb of Imhotep is discovered, and the mummy is accidentally brought back to life, Imhotep, in the guise of Ardath Bey, directs a team of archeologists to the tomb of his beloved Ankh-es-en-amon. Now that Ankh-es-en-amon's mummified body is within his reach, Ardath Bey encounters Helen Grosvener, who he is certain is the reincarnation of Ankh-es-en-amaon, and he intends to make her his bride.

I was surprised to see that I hadn't watched The Mummy (1932) as part of my Halloween countdown in the past. The Mummy has always been one of my favorite Universal monsters, but my feelings towards the movie itself have been all over the place over the years. There were periods where I found it dull and long, but for at least the past decade I've found it to be a marvelous movie and much more suspenseful than Dracula (1931) which The Mummy is essentially a remake of. Boris Karloff is fantastic as the ancient Ardath Bey, giving him a regal presence while simultaneously suggesting how incredibly fragile he must be physically. His character is also incredibly menacing and determined, and the supernatural aspects of his abilities are well presented even though it's through not much more than illuminating his eyes. Zita Johann as Helen, is also magnetic to watch with her exotic beauty as she wrestles with possibly being two women inhabiting one body and the draw that Ardath Bey has on her. David Manners plays the leading man and is only slightly less boring than usual. This was the perfect movie to close the month with.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31 - Movie 1

A renowned physician is summoned to a remote country by his former love who is now married to the cruel and mysterious Baron Sardonicus. Sardonicus, who has all of the locals living in terror, wants the doctor to fix his face which has been paralyzed into a horrible rictus grin by a shock he received when violating the grave of his father.

Mr. Sardonicus (1961) is filled with gothic trappings and except for being in black and white has a very similar feel to it as the Roger Corman Poe movies from that same time period. This is one of William Castles most accomplished movies, and builds nicely, taking its time before revealing Sardonicus' condition. This is a really good choice for Halloween viewing.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31

Monster: The Wendigo

Appearance: "Light of the Wicked" Xombi Hanukkah Special #1. 1996. Unpublished.

"Be Prepared" The X-Files #25 and #26, January & February 1997. 

Guy Davis: Artist, Noelle Giddings: Painted Color, Agnes Pinaha: Letterer, Dwayne McDuffie & Jacqueline Ching: Editors

Gordon Purcell: Penciller, Josef Rubinstein: Inker, John Workman: Letterer, Lisa Slykerman: Color Design, Digital Chameleos: Color Rendering, Jim Salicrup & Dwight Jon Zimmerman: Editors, Miran Kim: Cover Artist

The wendigo, windigo, witigo, or other various spellings, was something of a giant cannibal spirit in the folklore of the Algonquin tribes along the northeastern United States and Canada. There are various descriptions and forms it can take, but it's often said to appear as a skeletal, emaciated person with gray skin and deep set eyes, somewhat like a resurrected corpse, whose appetite could never be sated, and whose diet was human beings. The wendigo could also be transformed from a human being who had eaten human flesh, making the creature a cautionary tale against cannibalism. I could spend a lot of time describing all of the varying attributes, but the real purpose here is to discuss how the wendigo became part of my own stories. 

The wendigo has long been one of my favorite monsters of folklore. I don't remember when I first encountered it, but I've been fascinated with it ever since. 

In the Xombi Hanukkah Special, the characters David Kim and Rabbi Sinnowitz are trapped in a car after crashing off the road during a blizzard (if David Kim looks a bit fat compared to what you are used to it's because the nanites in his body did that to him to insulate him against the cold) on their way to Midnight, Massachusetts. 

Guy Davis decided to depict the wendigos as something like a monstrous cross between a bear and a human. As you can see, they are intelligent, capable of speech, wear moccasins and belt pouches which they've crafted themselves. We even see them providing medicinal plants and speaking Ojibway. Like the monsters in Midnight, Mass., I wanted the wendigos to be depicted as a people with their own culture and not simply mindless monsters. Of course, for all of their ability to reason and discuss, they are predators and people are their food of choice, which makes David Kim and rabbi Sinnowitz menu items and not friends, so the sense of the wendigoes being a constant threat is there from even before their first appearance and you never forget for a moment that they are indeed monsters. 

The X-Files also featured a wendigo. Because of the structural needs of telling an X-Files story there was a supernatural possibility for what was going on as well as a rational real world explanation. The story here centers on a Boy Scout troop winter camping. One of the scout masters is attacked by some kind of creature and may be preying on the boys in his troop as well as park rangers and so on. 

The wendigo which appears in this story (perhaps as an illusion, perhaps real) was given a more animal like appearance. It was humanoid with animal-like features including an elongated snout, claws and fur as well as a wild mane of hair. This would have been the kind of wendigo that is a spirit creature that is capable of transforming a human being into a cannibal. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30 - Movie 2

A U.S. Bomber carrying an H-bomb crashes after being engulfed by a swarm of insects. The Pacific island where the crash occurs is also the test site where poisonous insects are being bred by a badly damaged survivor of the Nazi death camps, but the insects seem to have an agenda of their own and that's to wipe humankind off the face of the earth.

Konchu daisenso/Genocide (1968) is much more of an anti war movie than an environmental cautionary tale. The film is filled with interpersonal and cold war political intrigue pitted within a story of deadly insects bent on exterminating the human race. The problem with any insect related horror movie that I've ever seen is that unless bugs are your particular phobia, it's hard to make the little creatures into a source of terror, no matter how many there are and how many awful stings/bites they inflict on their victims. This is an okay movie that's a bit heavy handed with its message and gets bogged down in a few places with some tedious story elements. Genocide also has an incredibly abrupt ending that's in no way uplifting.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30 - Movie 1

An EPA inspector and his wife travel to the remote Maine wilderness to try and settle a dispute between a local Native American population and a lumber company by investigating the mills impact on the environment. Enormous salmon and tadpoles are nothing compared to the political tension between the rival groups heated further by a series of grisly murders, which turn out to be the work of an enormous mutant bear.

Prophecy (1979) belongs to that popular subgenre of horror from the 1970s, the environmental horror movie. There's nothing wrong with using horror as a springboard for cautionary tales about the negative effects on the environment that humans are responsible, but Prophecy really beats the audience over the head with its message, with characters going on about it in almost every scene. Further driving home the point, for those who may still not have caught on, are repeated scenes of the wife worrying about what the effects will be on her own unborn child after she's eaten contaminated fish from this polluted ecosystem. The mutant bear and her cubs are pretty unsettling looking, and the plaintive cries of the the cubs is really harsh, but the scenes of the bear in action diminish any effectiveness that the visual of the suit might have. There's a scene of a kid in a sleeping bag being slapped across the camp site by the bear which is unintentionally very funny. Robert Foxworth as the investigating scientist gives a very angry performance of such volume that he overwhelms the rest of the cast who are trying to give subtle performances.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30

Monster: Carnivore Clouds

Appearance: "Silent Cathedrals - Part 4: Revelations" Xombi vol.1 no. 4. September, 1994. 

J. J. Birch: Artist, Noelle C. Giddings: Painted Color, Agnes Pinaha: Letterer, Dwayne McDuffie: Editor

Everything you need to know about the carnivore clouds can be found in the page above. It was never my intention to give them literal mouths. That was something J. J. Birch did on his own, and I suppose it gave the clouds more personality, or at least something to look at to distinguish them from regular clouds. I saw them more as a corrosive cloud shape that would engulf its prey and digest them, and because they are intangible, the bones of their meals would just drop out of them, like a grisly rain. 

And, yes, they can be stopped with Mr. Bubble. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29 - Movie 2

Two bumbling vampire hunters (Jack MacGowran, Roman Polanski) find themselves in over their heads when they set off to rescue a beautiful innkeeper's daughter (Sharon Tate) from the castle of Count von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne).

Not only is The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck (1967) a truly fun movie, but it's an absolutely beautiful one. The compositions and lighting are gorgeous, especially the night time scenes set on the snow covered landscape. The whole film has a real fairy tale quality to it. I highly recommend it


31 Days of Halloween - Day 29 - Movie 1

A bunch of young women are suddenly dropping dead of old age, the victims of a life force draining vampire. To the rescue comes dashing Captain Kronos (Horst Janson) with his assistants John Cater and Caroline Munro, professional vampire hunters.

I've long been fond of Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter (1974). This was a very different, swashbuckling, vampire hunter, and even the vampires here were not the typical Hammer vampires, draining their victims of their youth instead of blood, though it's made clear here that there are many different species of vampire in existence. Sadly, this never became a franchise. The movie does have some flaws to it, including scenes, such as the bar fight, that don't serve enough purpose for the amount of screen time devoted to them, and our heroes spend too much time preparing to face the vampires and narrowly missing encountering them, which makes this more of an inaction movie than the action movie it's meant to be. Still there's a lot of fun to be found here, and some interesting procedural vampire detecting scenes.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29

Monsters: Fearsome Critters

Appearance: "Velma's Monsters of the World: Fearsome Critters" Scooby-Doo #134. September 2008.

Karen Matchette: Artist, Heroic Age: Colorist, Travis Lanham: Letterer, Jeanine Schaefer: Editor

There's an entire bestiary of oddball creatures that grew out of the tall tales and folklore of North American lumberjacks.  Every year, as part of my Halloween Countdown, I've included a comic book story that I wrote. This year's tale is an educational piece on the fearsome critters. Take it away Velma. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28 - Movie 3

After departing from Mars with the sole survivor of a previous mission, the crew of a spaceship finds they have left with another passenger. This one is a super strong, deadly, seemingly unstoppable alien terror who kills off the crew one by one.

If the plot of It! - The Terror From Beyond Space (1958) seems familiar it's because it did have an influence on the movie Alien (1979). It! is a taught, briskly paced movie that doesn't waste any time getting down to business, and builds suspense as every effort of the crew to stop the creature, or contain it fails, diminishing their numbers and forcing them to retreat into a smaller and smaller section of the rocket as the alien breaks through their defenses. There's not a lot of room for character building here, but each crew member is sketched out distinctly enough to make them individuals and not simply fodder.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28 - Movie 2

After a flying saucer lands near lovers lane, a couple of teens have a deadly encounter with one of the space creatures but can't get any adults to believe them, leaving it up to them and their friends to confront the menace from space on their own.

Great aliens. Not so great film. I hadn't seen Invasion of the Saucer-Men (1957) in a long time, and didn't remember it being as dull as it was this viewing. Not very much happens in this movie. There's an entire secondary plot involving the air force dealing with the landed saucer that doesn't really contribute to the story except contribute padding of soldiers raking dirt around several times. The movie also inconsistently skirts back and forth on whether it wants to have a humorous tone (which doesn't really work) or not. Again, the Saucer-Men are great creations of Paul Blaisdell, and were also given a otherworldly speech which was really effective, but they aren't on screen too much, and when they are they are mostly sneaking around and hiding in the bushes and not doing anything terribly menacing. It makes you wonder if this really was an invasion, or simply space creatures picking the wrong planet to land on.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28 - Movie 1

Beverly Garland plays a nurse who begins working for a mysterious man (Paul Birch) who turns out to be a sort of space vampire who has come to earth in order to determine if humans will make a suitable blood source for his dying race.

Not of This Earth (1957) is a low budget Roger Corman movie elevated by its inventive screenplay by Charles B. Griffith and Mark Hanna and it's cast of skilled actors. Paul Birch is a standout here. With his just odd enough physical manner, unidentifiable accent, and social rudeness, he comes off as someone not only uncomfortable in the culture he's surrounded by, but in his own skin. This makes him a particularly effective, and dislikable alien. There's a gorgeous opening credits sequence and a terrific score by Ronald Stein as well.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28

Monsters: The monster council of elders

Appearance: "The Edge of Civilization - Part 2", Midnight, Mass. #3, August, 2002. "Here There Be Monsters - Part 2: Orion" Midnight, Mass. - Here There Be Monsters #2, April, 2004. "Here There Be Monsters - Part 3: Abraham" Midnight, Mass. - Here There Be Monsters #3,  May,  2004. "Here There Be Monsters - Part 6: Magellan" Midnight, Mass. - Here There Be Monsters #6, August, 2004. 

Jesus Saiz: Penciller, Jimmy Palmiotti: Inker, Ken Bruzeniak: Letterer, Noelle Giddings: Colorist, Digital Chameleon: Seperations, Tomer Hanuka: Cover Artist, Zachary Rau: Assistant Editor, Heidi MacDonald: Editor. 

Paul Lee: Artist, Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh: Colorist, Janice Chiang: Letterer, Tomer Hanuka: Cover Artist, Zachary Rau & Joan Hilty: Editors.

Just as Magellan was the leader of the rebel monsters bent on taking for their own a portion of human civilization's trappings, I wanted the general populace of monsters, okay with their existing place in the world,  to have representation. Most of the rebel monsters tended to be young, so it made sense to go in the other direction with the Council of Elders, though among its representatives are young clerks and bodyguards. 

The absolute leader of the Council is Abraham, who I wanted to be something like the Creature from the Black Lagoon as elder statesman. He was given the name Abraham, because of its connection with leadership in the bible, and in U.S. History. It didn't occur to me until much later that Hellboy also featured a fishman named Abraham, although they are very different characters. 

The Abraham of Midnight, Mass. is uptight, stodgy, and not always polite, or patient. Above is my original sketch. Below you can see him along with Stagyrites, Baby Doll, and Mizra. 

Stagyrites, with her face pulled back to a knot on the top of her head, wired to knife blades, is more bodyguard than council member, though she's not afraid to chime in her opinions. 

Babydoll was meant to be an unexplained presence whose visual look begged for an origin story. 

Dulcarnon was a somewhat childlike clerk of the Council, but his anatomy was supposed to imply a fast predatory creature, that like Arturo, belied his pleasant nature. 

The full story of the Council remains to be seen, but their departure, seen above, is one of my favorite visuals from the series. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27 - Movie 3

Pierce Brosnan plays bestselling novelist, Mike Noonan, who following the death of his wife heads to their lakeside retreat in order to come to terms with her death and to begin his new novel. Once there he finds himself troubled by terrifying nightmares and ghostly visitations. One of the spirits present appears to be his wife, Jo. But the other one is someone who is very angry and threatens his own safety and the lives of some of the towns people he's come into contact with, unearthing a terrible secret that haunts the entire town.

Based on Stephen King's novel, Bag of Bones (2011) was a two part mini-series directed by Mick Garris, who has adapted many King novels for television in the past. It's a decent adaptation with a strong cast and some disturbing imagery, but something about Bag of Bones, and many of the tv adaptations by Mick Garris, feels too sanitized to be a truly effective horror story. Like reading ghost stories on a sunny beach, something feels very safe about it. It's been years since I've read the novel, but I remember the villains (played here by William Schallert and Deborah Grover) as being really nasty threats. Here they seem to come and go very quickly. And while their impact has major consequences, it never feels like the constant dark shadow it should be. Instead there are far too many lengthy scenes of Noonan struggling with getting something on the page, jogging, wandering the house, listening to music, and having vivid dreams which transport him to 1939. This isn't to say that material isn't necessary, or important, but it could have been scaled back, unless the intent was to craft a more romantic ghost story than a chilling one.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27 - Movie 2

Frank H. Woodward's documentary, Men In Suits (2012) is a love letter to all of the actors who have performed in the roles of suited monsters over the years. Interspersed with interviews with suit actors such as Doug Jones, Brian Steele, Haruo Nakajima, Bob Burns, and Van Snowden, are historical looks at monster suit roles of the past and interviews with directors and historians. If you have a love for monster movies with practical, no CGI, monsters, then you definitely should take a look at this movie about what goes into performing these roles. This is a very enjoyable movie.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27 - Movie 1

A group of college students head off to spend time in a cabin in the woods where they fall into archetypal horror movie character roles and are stalked and killed, one by one, by a family of crazy hillbilly zombies. One of the students discovers that they're behavior and situation is being manipulated by an outside agency serving a far darker purpose, and master, than they know.

I've finally gotten around to watching The Cabin in the Woods (2011) and it was as satisfying and fun as I'd been led to expect it would be. The cast was enjoyable, the premise of the movie was clever, and the way it embraced and played against established, cliché horror movie tropes was fulfilling. Oh yeah, and the monsters, and the vast variety of monsters was great. My two favorites were the ballerina and phantom that pulled the ghost out of the soldier. I only have two complaints about the movie. I would have loved to have seen more of these monsters and for longer than we were given, and out of all of the possibilities for what could have been terrorizing the students at the cabin, I wish it had been something other than zombies. I already look forward to watching this again.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27

Monster: Maranatha

Appearance: "The Ninth Stronghold - Part Two: The Green House" Xombi vol. 2 no. 2, June 2011.  "The Ninth Stronghold - Part Three: Exit Strategies" Xombi vol. 2 no. 3, July 2011. 

Frazer Irving: Artist, Dave Sharpe: Letterer, Rickey Purdin: Assistant Editor, Harvey Richards: Associate Editor, Rachel Gluckstern: Editor.

Maranatha means "The Lord will come" or "Our Lord cometh" in the role of punisher or avenger. There are some traditions who call the angel who appears to guide Michael as Maranatha. It was also this angel, Maranatha who is said to have introduced the sword to the Israelites. 

The idea of making Maranatha a physical manifestation of God's wrath appears in my earliest notebooks for Xombi, but he'd not been assigned a story. He seemed like the perfect secret weapon to be hidden away inside the body of James Church, the story's Jekyll/Hyde character. 

For Maranatha's appearance I went and looked at some Assyrian lion sculptures for inspiration, because I wanted something ancient, and something that people of ancient times would view as a personification of strength and anger. I didn't want him to be a literal living statue so I decided to give him a flesh and blood body with a head and mane made of stone. This merging of elements also gives him a supernatural origin since he is alive with a head made of material that should not be alive. 

I also decided that to give him an even older look that rather than go with a modern lion's body that I would give Maranatha the body of a sabretooth tiger and bulked up the size into something powerful and intimidating without getting into gigantism.

Frazer Irving gave Maranatha the oven inferno with his mouth, and the glowing mane growing out from his stone one. I think he turned out to be a pretty impressive creature and personification of God's wrath. He also fit really well into the story's themes of displaced people and objects either trying to find their place in the world, or to get home. After centuries of imprisonment, he's diminished and unleashed in a modern world that he doesn't understand, nor command the same awe and fear he once did.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26 - Movie 2

In order to punish a disobedient noble, King James has the man's son disfigured. The boy, Gwynplaine, cast out into the world saves a blind infant, Dea,  before finding shelter for them both with a traveling showman. The boy grows up to become incredibly popular as "the Laughing Man," but is tormented by the love he feels for Dea, fearing she can't truly love him back because of how he looks. Meanwhile,  the aristocrats discover that Gwynplaine is the rightful heir to a fortune and title, and much scheming transpires in an attempt to control it, and Gwynplaine. When the plans fall apart, the decision to destroy Gwynplaine is made and soon the Laughing Man is fleeing for his life and the woman he loves.

In my previous entry I questioned the inclusion (and later removal) of Quasimodo and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) as a cornerstone of the Universal Horror films and monsters. Amazingly, The Man Who Laughs (1928) has never been listed (as far as I know) as one of the important Universal Horrors, and Gwynplaine has never been considered as one of the Universal Monsters. While being more of a historical melodrama (based on a novel by Victor Hugo, as was The Hunchback of Notre Dame) it certainly contains much more horror imagery and content than Hunchback. The idea of a group of people who surgically disfigure children for entertainment purposes is horrible enough, but there are also bodies swinging from gallows, a frozen woman, crows feeding on bodies, clowns, and other horrors, and while Gwynplaine is entirely sympathetic, likable, and deserving of pity, his disfigured visage surely ranks alongside the disfigured Phantom of the Opera. While the Phantom became a true monster, murdering, terrorizing and kidnapping, Gwynplaine is simply a tormented victim of circumstance and not a malevolent human. That perpetually smiling face of his is so iconic though. There's no way that anyone watching this movie can fail to recognize Gwynplaine as the inspiration for Batman's nemesis, the Joker, which may be part of the reason why Universal failed to push him as one of their own icons of horror.

At any rate this movie is fantastic. I think it is a much more solid film than either Phantom of the Opera (1925) or The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and deserves to be considered one of Universal's classic horror films. Conrad Veidt is riveting as Gwynplaine. The tormented facial expressions which dominate the upper half of his face while his mouth is perpetually grinning really gets across his interior anguish.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26 - Movie 1

Various intrigues form against the backdrop of 15th century Paris where the peasants are preparing to revolt against the aristocracy. Caught up in all of this are Quasimodo (Lon Chaney), a horribly disfigured bell ringer, and Esmerelda (Patsy Ruth Miller), the beautiful gypsy girl whose kindness to him earns his fierce loyalty and protection.

Quasimodo was for a long time one of the central and essential Universal monsters, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) was considered one of its horror classics. Not so much these days. There's no denying the film's classic status. Filmed on a lavish scale with impressive sets, a sweeping storyline, and star Lon Chaney wearing one of his most iconic make-ups, the film is an impressive achievement in silent cinema.

But is it a horror movie, and is Quasimodo a monster? If you look at it for its display of humanity's horrific treatment of other people, then yes this movie could be a horror movie, as could many other historical fictions, but aside from the gothic majesty of Notre Dame cathedral, you'd be hard pressed to find any true horror trappings here. As for Quasimodo, technically, because his deformities veer him from normal human appearance, he's a monster, but these are physical birth defects, and this is no doubt why his face and form have quietly vacated the line-up of Universal's monsters over the past few decades. It's just not pc to consider someone physically handicapped a monster. However, much like the Frankenstein monster, Quasimodo is a pitiful character with whom the audience sympathizes. He's treated terribly by everyone else except Esmerelda and the priest he serves. This leads him to understandable rage at the end where he gleefully throws huge stone blocks, and pours boiling lead down onto the revolting peasants in the street below. Even though his motivations are understandable, his actions remove any sympathetic feelings for him as he commits these acts, not just from the viewer, but Esmerelda, too. So, whether or not he's a monster I leave to you to decide.