Monday, October 31, 2011

2nd Annual Spookey Month: Hoppy Halloween!

Some stories just stick with you.  Take "Hopping Down the Bunny Trail" from DC's Unexpected #202 (1980), for example.  I read this in a supermarket in Brevard, North Carolina, while visiting my grandparents.  On Easter, three ordinary kids die at the fangs of human-sized, talking rabbit they mistake for the Easter Bunny, their only crimes gleefully biting the heads off chocolate bunnies and being slightly dim-witted.  It gave me the creeps in broad daylight, and while I didn't buy the comic, it never completely left my thoughts.  Through the years, I'd occasionally remember it, slightly altered over time thanks to the transformative power of an imperfect mind.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who found it impressive, because someone made it into neat little .pdf with a short analysis.  Finally, after 30 years, I was able to read it again.  It's still a nasty little tale that should have wider acclaim. 

Some horror tales-- especially the ones in those old EC comics, the early Creepy and Eerie magazines and most of DC's titles-- rely on an ironic twist where some jerky moron gets his or her comeuppance.  The philandering murderer can't get rid of the betrayed spouse, even in rotted corpse form; the abusive parent suffers a more horrific version of the abuse heaped on the child; the greedy boss hoists himself by his own petard, usually fatally; the blowhard suffers blowback; the foolhardy self-appointed expert destroys himself and those who foolishly believe in him.  No matter what gruesomeness occurs, we're usually reassured in some way that cosmic justice has been served, scales have been balanced and the underlying order has been reaffirmed.  We get a kick out of what happens at least partially because these stories play into our sense of moral superiority.

But in this Michael Uslan-scripted story, the worst you can say about the characters is they're all a little dim-witted and unimaginative. The parents fail in their responsibility to protect their children because they just assume the city's somehow behind the Easter egg hunt that's been completely unpublicized until colorful signs appear overnight. Sure, it's at the local haunted house, which is probably firetrap or at the very least a tetanus shot and a lawsuit just waiting to happen. Send the kids!

These jokers are pretty blase, aren't they? This was the era before the ominously narrated news stories intended to stoke every parent's more morbid prescient fantasies, before 9/11, the anthrax letters, terror alerts and Dateline NBC and Inside Edition. This was two years before the Chicago Tylenol poisonings. And yet as we've seen so many times, even today's supposedly hyper-vigilant adults slip up. They leave kids locked in daycare vans in the middle of summer, fail to recognize or simply ignore the warnings signs before school massacres, leave the gate to the backyard swimming pool unlocked. Even if they're frequently driven to complete paranoia by stories about Internet perverts, Satanic cults and poisoned candy, they-- just like the parents in this story-- can be lulled into complacency by the promise of colorful eggs and treats for the kids.  After all, nothing bad ever happens on holidays!

The kids are pretty dull themselves. They walk right up to the "Old Krieger Place" despite Tenny Henson's having drawn storm clouds looming over it menacingly. I suppose their imaginations have been dulled by too much mediocre television and brain-rotting Saturday morning cartoons. Here's a human-sized talking rabbit and rather than recognize something completely bizarre and even threatening about it-- shoot, some kids bawl at the sight of Santa Claus-- these little chocolate lovers just assume it's Old Man Snyder in a costume. That's some costume! To sweeten the deal, the Easter Bunny offers toys and candy. If that isn't a tip-off, I don't know what is. But these numbskull kids take the offer at face value.

They only start to wise up when the other kids vanish and they find themselves all alone in a perfectly creepy house. And then only a little. They're so confident that everything's fine, that they're going to grow up and go to college and get married and have kids just like themselves one day.  And should something bad happen, Mom and Dad will be right there to save them.  Right?

Well, the universe doesn't really work that way.  Not only to bad things happen to good people, horrors beyond horrors happen to them.  Cars and planes crash, nuclear plants leak, cancers strike, young dudes accept odd jobs from John Wayne Gacy.  In the face of the ongoing tragedy we call living, we'd love to believe someone benevolent is in charge, that there's some underlying order to it.  Certainly there are natural laws and forces at work.  We can calculate the orbit of the earth around the sun with precision because we've figured the most obvious of them out.  But they also guide bombs onto blameless schools and hospitals and bullets into innocent spines.

Some horror stories offer a glimpse of a universe of limitless chaos where we are all in immediate danger.  They tell us order is an illusion, that good intentions invite catastrophe.  People are punished far out of proportion to their wrongs, or become victims of circumstance.  You bite the head off a chocolate rabbit.

A demonic rabbit bites off your head.  Note the complete lack of gore.  Just a transition from the brightly colored world of a sunny Easter Sunday to a dark and stormy place where wicked things happen to kids because they and their parents are careless and sort of dumb.  When I was 12, I could easily imagine myself as one of these dopey kids.  I was a dopey kid.  "Hopping Down the Bunny Trail" lifted the lid off the field and revealed something much better hidden.  And that was terrifying.

Now close the comic and try to sleep.  Happy Halloween!

No! I can't leave you on a downbeat note like that. Here's Spookey to cheer you up again and reassure you the world's a loving place!

2nd Annual Spookey Month: Happy Halloween!

I've got one more horror comic post in the pipe, but I haven't had time to finish it yet. Later this afternoon! In the meantime, here are a few more of those delightful Tales of Terror videos. First up: a spooky sleep-over!

Looks like another of those ubiquitous school trips. Japanese students go on these excursions each year. Some stay within Japan, like these unfortunate girls, and others go abroad. Do you think this experience will cure Yuki of her school trip insomnia?

Here's yet another school trip.

Most school trips are meant to be educational experiences. From this one, I learned that if I leave my lip cream in the bathroom, I should just wait until morning to retrieve it.

Of course, terror doesn't confine itself to creepy old ryokan in the middle of the night. Sometimes it sneaks up on you around lunchtime in ordinary city apartments.

That was a lovely little flat. Didn't the sister decorate it nicely? Love the dot motif, but it's too bad about the visitor problem.

Well, there are dozens of those Tales of Terror on YouTube. But there are very few Spookey ones. Here's a favorite of mine:

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

2nd Annual Spookey Month: Bernie Wrightson takes on H.P. Lovecraft

H.P. Lovecraft is strange case. His influence in horror literature is undeniable and yet he was a pretty lousy writer. When you hear one of his stories described or read a synopsis, it sounds exciting, weird and even a little frightening. Malevolent elder gods from beyond Pluto manipulating scholars into plumbing the depths of forbidden knowledge, whispering aliens hiding in the dark forested hills of Lovecraft's native New England states, a city where the inhabitants are devolving into amphibians. Then you actually read it and the experience is like tediously climbing a steep hill made up of adjectives, exclamation marks and racism. And still they fascinate me.

Comic book adaptations of his works are bit easier to take. Skilled writers eliminate the excesses and hone in on the things Lovecraft did well, and when the artist is Richard Corben or Bernie Wrightson-- someone with real imagination and the rendering chops to provide appropriately chilling visuals-- the results often transcend the source material. "Cool Air" is one of Lovecraft's shorter works and heavily derivative of Edgar Allen Poe, but those are two points in its favor. Two points in favor of the comic book version are the script and art by Wrightson, whose vision meshes so well with Lovecraft's he produces a horror fan's delight. A true classic.

It's not one of Lovecraft's mythological tales. There is no Cthulhu and no Yog-Sothoth, just a simple situation that plays itself out to its logical-- but unfortunately predictable-- conclusion. And while it's not scary by any means, Wrightson's expert adaptation make it worthwhile anyway. Lovecraft allows his rather gentlemanly prose to become a bit vague during the final scene, despite his narrator's insistance that "[b]lack terror, however, preceded me" and his use of florid adjectives like "hellish" and "nauseous," characteristic of his writing when he's really straining for effect. Wrightson just shows us, creating a shock Lovecraft might have appreciated while deploring its directness.

This story first appeared in Eerie #62 (1975), and you can see Cousin Eerie's apparently decapitated head serving as a candlestick holder there on the title page. These color images are from Berni Wrightson: Master of the Macabre #2 (1983), which is where I first read it. That comic also contains the infamous "Jenifer," which frightened me so badly I didn't sleep for two nights. You can't ask much more from a comic book than a sleepless night or two. I'm sure H.P. Lovecraft would agree.  Dark Horse just published a volume collecting Wrightson's Warren work and it includes both of those stories.  I don't own it yet, but be assured I will.  Oh yes, I will!

I wonder what Lovecraft would have thought of this:

Saturday, October 29, 2011

2nd Annual Spookey Month: What does Halloween have to do with the Banana Splits?

And comic books for that matter? Nothing, really. But since I go on a Spookey kick every Halloween, I thought you might enjoy comparing their cover of "The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)," the theme song to The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, to the original and the versions by the Dickies and Liz Phair. Here's the original:

And here's the circa 1979 cover by the Dickies. They upped the tempo a bit for that punk rock feel:

Liz Phair and Material Issue covered it in 1995 and this was the result:

And here's a live performance by Spookey:

I wish that video had better sound quality. Their rendition of the song from their Shakin Pop 'n' Roll album sounds a lot better. Not really surprising, considering the whole "recorded in a studio" versus the "recorded onto some person's digital camera" thing, right?  Their take owes a great deal to the Dickies's version, especially with the nearly incomprehensible verse sections. The studio cut is especially hilarious because you can actually hear them not really give a damn about what they're singing. They make the barest effort to enunciate, instead putting all of their energy into simply having fun with a ridiculous song.

Yes, I know the Dickies version was used in the movie Kick-Ass.  While researching this little article I forced myself to watch that particular scene-- you can find it on YouTube if you haven't already seen it.  While using this song was an inspired choice, the overall effect was lost on me.  I didn't find the crude language or the over-the-top violence offensive; it just struck me as a dumbed-down version of much cooler fare.  Voice courtesy Dirty Harry Callahan, cursing from your junior high locker room, setting from Pulp Fiction, fight choreography and editing nicked from Hong Kong cinema, gore from Kill Bill Vol. 1.  Watching it made me feel like I'd stepped on a soiled diaper with my bare foot and did nothing to convince me to read the comic or watch the rest of the movie.  I'd rather just listen to Spookey-- their cover predates the movie-- or watch this:

Didn't see that coming, did you? Hey, I'll shoot straight with you-- neither did I!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

2nd Annual Spookey Month: Disney's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"

Ah! Now that's some good Halloween-ing. The mellow voice of Bing Crosby, the delightful prose of Washington Irving and some of Disney's finest scene designs and animation. The autumnal backgrounds are also quite lovely to look at-- Mary Blair did some of the color styling on this film, and they look very similar to her work.  This short was originally the second part of the 1949 anthology film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, but I don't think I've ever seen it in that format. In fact, I doubt I've ever seen the Mr. Toad part of the film at all, although I once did go on the Disney World ride based on it.

Some nice cartoony slapstick business that doesn't interfere too much with Irving's comedically formal prose.  And I love Crosby's droll delivery.

The climactic chase is a masterpiece of design, rising tension and animated action. They pull out all the stops to create suspense. Credits for Ichabod and Mr. Toad list three directors: Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronomi and James Algar. That makes it difficult for an animation neophyte like myself to praise the efforts of any one person. And don't forget the actual animators, layout artists and background painters responsible for these eerily effective and yet still hilarious visuals.  They're too numerous to list, but the supremely talented Blair contributed some amazing conceptual paintings and Disney greats Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston (they were best friends, which warms my heart to no end), John Lounsbery and Wolfgang Rietherman supervised or else actually did the animation for this sequence; they're listed as directors of animation for these characters.  Reitherman's Headless Horseman is especially impressive.  What a menacing character throughout!

I've tried to be as thorough in my ignorance of this stuff-- I like to watch 'em, I don't make 'em-- as I could, but some super scholar or animation pedagogue to rival Ichabod himself may feel free to set me straight on this if I've gotten any of it wrong. Even if I react much like Brom Bones.

The sound design matches the imagery for impressive creativity (so much so Tim Burton later referenced it in his own Sleepy Hollow), while Crosby's narration is brilliant in the way he drops the vocal twinkle employed in the earlier, purely comedic sequences and becomes mournfully atmospheric; it's almost as if a beloved uncle-- well-known for his masterful storytelling-- is relating Ichabod's fate, employing every vocal tool at his disposal. Disney's take on Irving's story is the finest version of this often-adapted tale, the one all others attempt to measure up to and fall short by varying degrees. What doesn't fall short of anything, anywhere, is this Halloween-themed performance video featuring Spookey, inspiration of my annual Spookey Month. I know I've posted this one before but it's sooooooo good!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

2nd Annual Spookey Month: Disney's The Great Cat Family

Look familiar? It's a 1956 Disney short illustrating the history of cats, introduced by Uncle Walt himself from the comfortable confines of a studio set made to look like a handsome book-filled study. Like all good Halloween stories, it begins in Ancient Egypt. But the most memorable part takes place in Europe at a somewhat later date. Watch...

You may remember an excerpt from the second video as part of A Disney Halloween, a TV special that aired in the 1980s and 1990s. I used to look forward to it every year in October in no small part because of this mysterious scene.  I had no idea what movie or cartoon it came from and I researched it on and off for years, until some nice person at a message board devoted to obscure Disney animation finally clued me in and ended my torment.

The Disney artists did a knock out job with this one-- it features some gorgeous animation with lots of creepy mood, and a wonderfully melodramatic narration. I'll never forget the dark, hand-like clouds clutching at the full moon on a stormy, wind-swept night, the shadowy traveler making his way through the cobblestone streets of a medieval town in the rain and the look of sheer terror on the old woman's face when her cat freaks out: "For night was the time of evil spirits."

In lieu of Spookey, please accept this offering of more Toy Missile as a musical Halloween treat.  This performance took place just behind Shinjuku Station.  And I was there!  Sadly, their official website seems to have vanished... which leads me to believe they exist now only in my memories.  And a few YouTube videos.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

2nd Annual Spookey Month: Enjoy some Japanese horror shorts because I don't feel like writing some long, involved post about Halloween today!

That's a pretty lousy elevator. I don't think I'd enjoy riding that one, either. I rode some creepy elevators during my time in Japan, but I was lucky in that I never had that poor girl's experience. Nice job with those English subtitles by "montecristo73returns," though. What else can we find? How about this one?

Lesson learned? Cram school sucks! Again, great job on the subtitles. But if you stay out of elevators and cram schools, you're completely safe, right?

Yikes! That looks a lot like my old apartment! Nice job, KuljeetChauhan. I have no idea where these short films come from. Shown on television? From a DVD? They're pretty cool and there seem to be dozens of them. Now... here's a movie I made. You may have seen it before!

Monday, October 24, 2011

2nd Annual Spookey Month: Tomie Unlimited Introduces Tsukiko into the film series!

While we're on the subject of Japanese horror, the Tomie film series is apparently as unkillable as their eponymous villain. Tomie Unlimited is the newest offering from Toei Company, LTD. and it seems to be at least loosely based on the "Tsukiko" stories from Junji Ito's manga. This makes me happy, because I'm a big fan of those particular Tomie stories and of the character Tsukiko, the cheerfully amoral purveyor of candid photos of cute guys she sells to the girls who have crushes on them.

While the movie Tsukiko eschews her comic book counterpart's pixie cut and happy-go-lucky capitalist demeanor, Miu Nakamura makes quite a convincing Tomie.  Several of the scenes from the trailer look astoundingly like panels from Ito's stories.  It would be too much to ask for a completely faithful adaptation-- here, Tsukiko is Tomie's little sister rather than simply a classmate.  However, the publicity materials promising a Tomie who "reveals her true face only when she is with Tsukiko" make this the most intriguing series entry in quite some time.

In the comic, Tsukiko makes a fun and vivacious enemy for Tomie, and Tomie's position as the head of her school's Public Morality Committee provides a bit of ironic counterpoint to Tsukiko's scheme.  Just as Tsukiko abuses the privileges that come with being a member of the photography club-- access to a dark room and materials to make her illicit yet lucrative prints-- Tomie soon has her own club lackeys pursuing her unfortunate enemy.  And it becomes apparent that Tsukiko's crimes pale in the face of Tomie's monstrous true self and the bloody murders she causes during their personal war.

The stories also benefit from a unity of setting, unlike the other Tomie tales which are only loosely connected.  The idea of a beautiful yet thoroughly evil young woman who drives her lovers to madness and murder-- and yet cannot be killed herself, no matter how hard everyone tries-- is good for a few chills here and there, and benefit from Ito's trademark gross out scenes.  But by grounding her in a specific locale and taking some time to develop her victims Ito creates a cycle of stories that have no problem standing alone.  If character development is Ito's weak point as a writer, with the introduction of Tsukiko he solves this problem, and it helps bring Tomie herself into focus.

Even if you probably won't want to see what develops as a result.  Isn't that right, Tsukiko?  Tsukiko?  Oh yeah, the school officials suspended her.  Oh well.  That gives her plenty of time to get to know her new best friend, Tomie.  Here's Toy Missile, one of my favorite Japanese bands!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

2nd Annual Spookey Month: Chiaki Kuriyama in an early horror role!

Okay, okay. It's not a comic book, although Miki Rinno later did a manga adaptation-- published in the US by Dark Horse Comics. It's a scene from the original direct-to-video Ju-on (2000) that spawned the movie series, the American remake and its sequels.  I have no idea about the Ju-on mythology or back story, but I do know the American release of the first theatrical movie has a redundant title, and the Japanese release of the American version has a silly one.

While we tend to like our ghost stories set in the fall during Halloween season, Japanese culture favors the late summer during Obon time.  This scene establishes mood early with the oppressive cicada static in the background; that's the soundtrack of summer there in Japan.  They still ring in my ears and the I last experienced Japanese summer two years ago.  The school bell briefly heard brings back a lot of memories for me as well.  The cellphone is a neat plot device-- a more modern conduit for mysterious messages and voices from the other side, but its size and simplicity instantly date this movie.  It's a period piece.

The message with the repeating 4s may not seem particularly chilling to Americans like myself, but the Japanese word for 4 is "shi," which also means death, so this is a pun commonly used in J-horror.  Come to think of it, it might not be all that frightening even for a Japanese audience, because it's probably cliche by now.  Remind me to ask!

Still, four is just not an auspicious number; I used to go get check-ups at a local hospital that had examining rooms numbered 3 and 5, but not 4.  But it must be Kuriyama's lucky number, because she also appeared in a movie called Shikoku, the name of one of Japan's main islands (which uses its more benign meaning), but can also mean "land of the dead."

At least in that one, she gets to play the ghost rather than its victim.

Chiaki Kuriyama is one of the coolest people on earth.  Unfortunately, I don't find the little kid ghost anywhere near as creepy as Sadako from the Ringu series, or even Tomie. Heeeeeeeeerrrrrrre's Sadako:

Friday, October 21, 2011

2nd Annual Spookey Month: Bernie Wrightson!

How about that, eh? It's Cain, poling his little boat through a swamp-- a haunted swamp, no doubt.  Or basement.  Haunted basement.  Well, wherever it takes place, it's a very nice splash page drawing by Bernie Wrightson, published in House of Mystery #205.  Wrightson's career began at DC the same year I was born so I've had a lifetime to associate him with the finest in horror comics illustration.  Over that time, I've dug many artists who've excelled at horror:  Richard Corben, Nestor Redondo, Umezu Kazuo, Ito Junji, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Joe Orlando, Jack Davis, John Bolton to name a very few.  All those EC cats who worked for Warren Publications.  Then there are all those Italian guys who drew those bizarre and erotic comics where characters are often naked or rotten or both covered (so to speak) over at The Goovy Age of Horror.

You can find horror artists better at anatomy and with slicker finishes, but few who match Wrightson's ability to concoct instantly iconographic horror images, with gobs of chilling atmosphere and sinister mood to spare.  Throughout, Wrightson has used varying approaches to his finishes-- from feathering and modeling in ink resembling the classic works of Graham "Ghastly" Ingels and Frank Frazetta, to etching-like fine lined hatching to rich ink washes.  Whatever his approach, Wrightson kills.  Figuratively.

My first encounter with Wrightson was his work on Swamp Thing, no doubt in some house ad or other.  I didn't read that comic until DC released the second volume when I was a teen.  By then, I'd seen this choice Wrightson image:

EEP!!  The worst tricks or treats ever!  And it's the kind of thing that sticks with you when you're an imaginative and impressionable young doofus looking for the latest Hulk and Spider-Man stories.  Now I think what a good thing for that axe murderer he's so beefy-- he's wearing about 40 pounds worth of human heads.  He's going to need those powerful leg muscles if he ever hopes to add those two kids' noggins to his collection.

That came out about the time I read Creepshow.  Soon after that I contaminated my brain with the issue of Bernie Wrightson:  Master of the Macabre containing the infamous "Jenifer," one of the sickest stories I've ever read.  It affected me so badly I had to give the comic away the same afternoon I read it to a less-squeamish friend, and yet I still lost sleep over it that night.  Of course, its hold on my imagination proved too strong over the years.  Every so often, I'd get the urge to draw Jenifer's twisted face in the margin of my notebook page, and I'm pretty sure I drunkenly described the story to various people whenever we started talking about things that frightened us as kids.  I finally tracked it down again and it proved every bit as disturbing as I remembered.  When a story does that to you, someone, somewhere, has done his or her job!

In this case, that person is Bernie Wrightson. Well, Wrightson and writer Bruce Jones.

Here's another wicked Wrightson splash:

Much like Jones's tales, Bill DuBay's scripts gave Wrightson the opportunity to make our nightmares come to life on the magazine page.  "Nightfall" first appeared in Creepy #60 (1974), and features a kid bedeviled by sinister goblins who come into his room at night, only to retreat whenever his increasingly exasperated parents come in to check on him.  DuBay's script accurately captures the way a child's imagination transforms shadows into malicious monsters, and the impossibility of getting this across to well-meaning but lunk-headed adults who just want a peaceful night's sleep.  Wrightson's creatures cavort and caper in the moonlit bedroom in a way that's dreamlike yet completely convincing.

Reminds me a lot of those nights I grew up experiencing thanks to Bernie Wrightson's art!  And speaking of disturbing, here's Hanatarashi's legendary 1985 "Bulldozer Gig" in slideshow form:

Eye, that's what I call music!

Monday, October 17, 2011

2nd Annual Spookey Month: Get this guy some Halloween candy... fast!

On second thought, never mind. Candy goes right through him. DC's old timey horror comics are pretty cool. Obviously, my first love is The Witching Hour, because Mildred, Mordred and Cynthia are the hosts with the most personality and endlessly entertaining byplay. But Cain of House of Mystery and Abel of House of Secrets are pretty nifty, too. Of those perpetually battling siblings, Cain is my favorite because he's the dominant one. Abel is a lovable soul, but he's a little on the soft side. Cain has the gleeful, almost manic, demeanor befitting a horror comic host. I prefer the active over the passive. The Unexpected has some fantastic stories, but I'm just not that into the Mad Mod Witch.

House of Mystery #207 not only features this macabre (is there any other kind?) Bernie Wrightson cover-- not quite as gory or as frightening as some of his other work-- but has a strange little story by Sheldon Mayer of Sugar and Spike fame.

It's called "This Evil Demon Loves People," and it stars Geoffrey, an adorable little tow-headed lad who delights in sing-song rhyme and shrinking humans down and imprisoning them in bottles as if they were insects. His father's most annoying employee goes first, followed by the babysitter. Mayer, a master plotter, doesn't allow Geoffrey to stop there, as his singular talent escalates from the mildly amusing to the bizarrely apocalyptic.  The somewhat banal art works in the way a dead-on parody of a 1960s family sitcom might, if the producers got all the little details of a living room set just right and then Gidget or Laura Petrie suddenly started chopping up their friends and family with axes.

Comic book horror stories work best when they don't cop out, and Mayer's story is no exception, despite a complete lack of the usual violence or gore.   What makes it fun how Geoffrey, with a childish lack of any sense of proportion, passes judgement and metes out a completely unfair punishment on everyone, everywhere.  The protagonist in "Last Ritual Last Rites" deserves his fate.  A cheating husband poisons his wife, meets a gruesome demise; it even has the usual EC-style twist at the end, complete with a rotting corpse.  What elevates it beyond cliche is the gorgeous art by Bill Payne is a style that favors heavy black-spotting giving way to psychedelic linear freak-outs.

Who is Bill Payne?  According to the Who's Who of American Comic Books, he was a cartoonist sporadically active with DC, Charlton and in Heavy Metal magazine during the 1970s and early 1980s, but I can't seem to find anything else on him beyond people on message boards asking, "Who is Bill Payne?"

New Spookey videos are even more elusive than the mysterious Mr. Payne, so how about some 5678s instead?  Here goes:

Friday, October 14, 2011

2nd Annual Spookey Month: Uzumaki... spiral into... Halloween!

Ito Junji's disturbing horror manga Uzumaki was made into a film back in 2000. While the comic ended on a Lovecraftian note, the movie keeps the horror on a more personal level. Possibly because the budget for a more faithful adaptation would have been enormous. Uzumaki the movie is also pretty campy, sometimes substituting goofy comedy for the truly nauseating terror of the original. It's lots of good fun if you can stream it or Netflix it or whatever it is you youngsters do nowadays. But if you haven't read the comic, you really need to.

Unless you have a weak stomach. It made me feel queasy, but I couldn't stop myself from turning each page.  Still, I would feel terrible if I became responsible for cookies being tossed, lost lunches or even a chuck being upped.

The middle chapters are a bit formulaic, but what a formula! Ito creates the perfect atmosphere of growing dread by setting up each vignette and letting them lead to each inexorable conclusion. When Shuichi's father kills himself under the spiral's spell, his mother grows to fear and loathe the shape to the point of injuring herself to rid her body of it. At one point, Shuichi consults with a doctor and in a moment of horror, realizes there are spirals just inside our ears. At that point, he'll do anything to prevent his mother from learning of this... The beautiful girl with the crescent-moon scar on her forehead. The classmate of Kirie's with the gorgeous, curly hair. The boy who likes to spring out at people and scare them. A slow-moving classmate during snail season. Pregnancy. A typhoon. It just gets worse and worse until only Shuichi and Kirie are left to escape, or failing that-- to confront the spiral where it's most powerful.

When I lived in Japan, I had a collection of delightfully disgusting Ito stories.  I have no idea what the title was; it was all in Japanese.  I bought it simply because I recognized his art on the cover.  Inside were stories about teens with pimples, a bully who grew up into the worst mother ever, a particularly nasty circus and the absolute lousiest way to lose weight ever invented.  Because I couldn't read it, a friend of mine translated it fairly loosely for me.  It was also her first encounter with Ito's work and it cracked her up.  Or maybe she was laughing at me for liking it so much.

I don't have a new (or even an old) Spookey clip for you today, but here's something you might enjoy:

Friday, October 7, 2011

2nd Annual Spookey Month: DC's Witching Hour trio

I'm not sure if EC started the tradition of having horror anthology books hosted by recurring characters but by the late 60s and early 70s, it was a pretty well established trope.  The Crypt-Keeper is perhaps the most famous of all, immortalized by HBO's Tales from the Crypt series.  The EC original looked somewhat more human, but the TV version had that crazy cackle, a warm, infectious laugh, as gleeful as a Christmas morn.  In the comics, the Crypt-Keeper and his fellow hosts the Vault-Keeper and the Old Witch directly address readers and are playful rivals, sometimes more interesting than the stories they introduce.  Warren Publications had as their presenters Uncle Creepy and Cousin Eerie.  They queasily look like the results of several generations of inbreeding within some old money family sliding into decadence and disrepute; the Crypt-Keeper and friends seemed positively savory next to those two geeks.  Gold Key had caricatures of real people for their comics; Rod Serling appeared in comics based on his Twilight Zone TV show while Boris Karloff headlined his own title, Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery.

EC and Warren alumnus Joe Orlando outdid them all as an editor with DC, teaming up with Dick Giordano, Bill Draut and Gerry Conway among many others to give horror fans such memorable hosts as Cain and Abel, the ultimate pair of sibling rivals, and their books House of Mystery and House of Secrets, Eve from Secrets of Sinister House... and... Lucien the Librarian.  My favorites, however, are from the Giordano-edited The Witching Hour:  the three witches, Mordred, Mildred and Cynthia.  I'm not sure who gets credit for creating them.  Possibly William Shakespeare, although his three "weird sisters" are uniformly hideous, described in Macbeth as "withered," "wild in their attire," and, most alarmingly:

You should be women,
And yet your beards forbid me to interpret
That you are so.

Mordred and Mildred come closest to the Shakespearian example.  They're fairly standard witches, complete with a pointy hat and a hooded cloak, stringy hair and appropriately old school ideas about what constitutes a horror tale.  Cynthia, however, gives the Bard a middle-finger salute.  She's the very model of a modern major witch, a little Samantha Stevens and a whole lotta love.  With the pouty face of a Bridget Bardot-- albeit with slitted cat-pupils-- and the voluptuous figure of a Sophia Lauren, Cynthia slinks around in a skin-tight black dress, a skull-shaped brooch at her throat.  She speaks in groovy 60s slang-- she'd probably call each issue of The Witching Hour a "scare-in"-- and her bag is telling far out, contemporary stories that swing like a pendulum do.

The Witching Hour host segments have a distinct narrative flair all their own, each issue opening with some comedic vignette.  Cynthia taunts the older witches, they respond in kind.  Cynthia usually comes off best, with an Addams Family-esque joie de mourir.  She's just more likable than her companions, too.  While Mildred and Mordred gnash their teeth and verbally abuse the help, Cynthia poses vivaciously for the readers, a smile on her fleshy lips.  Given the choice between two witches who seem constantly pissed and one who's on a cool trip, daddy-o, which would you choose?  I'm turning on, tuning in and dropping dead with Cynthia.

Alex Toth's Cynthia has a strange widow's peak that appears to have consumed her pointy eyebrows, huge feline eyes, lashes heavy with mascara, bee-stung lips and a square-ish jaw with a pronounced chin dimple.  Here's a splash page from The Witching Hour #8 (1970) where Toth has her introduce a story in a novel way:

I love her cheeky, playful pose.  Lots of personality in that drawing!  The page layout is innovative for the time, Cynthia providing a visual frame for the first three panels and black gutters instead of the traditional white.  It may be technologically dated now, but even the computer-style typeface was a little ahead of its time.  The story is credited to Toth, but the DC Showcase reprint lists none other than Sergio Aragones as the writer.  Maybe Toth plotted and Aragones scripted.  If you're a Toth fan, the early issues of The Witching Hour are a treasure trove of his work, which makes the DC Showcase volume indispensable.

 This is from Neal Adams's framing sequence for the same issue, also written by Aragones-- who was apparently on fire that month:

Adams makes his Witches look uncannily like Toth's.  That's one of Adams's most amazing artistic abilities-- mimickry.  You probably read the Batman story guest-starring Enemy Ace where Adams made the pilot look exactly as if Joe Kubert himself had drawn him.

Gray Morrow's Cynthia from #10 (1970) is more naturalistic than Toth's, but no less alluring:

 Morrow is rare among The Witching Hour artists in that he gets Cynthia out of her long Morticia dress and into a mod mini-dress, patterned tights and go-go boots.  In a later issue, she sports a purple bodysuit, but Morrow was there first, drawing inspiration from the psychedelic fashions of the time.  He interprets her eyebrows as separate entities from her hairline, too.

  Other artists interpret her in various shades of sinister beauty, but Mildred and Mordred look pretty much the same throughout.  Like the other horror titles, The Witching Hour distinguished itself as the gorgeously appointed home of a number of DC's Filipino artists.  Guys like Tony DeZuniga, Alex Nino, Alfredo Alcala, Nestor Redondo and others made their way to the United States where they flooded DC's horror titles with incredibly rendered work.

Here's a nice Alcala Mordred from #27:

Very atmospheric and Halloween-appropriate.  The buckle-shoed witch, a creepy nightscape, even a skull and the number 13.

And a Gerry Talaoc Cynthia from #28:

She looks a little surprised.  Probably because she's talking about Santa Claus in my Halloween-themed blog entry.

From the same issue, another holiday image, this time with Mildred courtesy of Ruben Yandoc:

It's strange to think these three once headlined their own book and had their own little adventures.  Once these horror anthologies ran their course, Mordred, Mildred and Cynthia spent some time with Cain and Abel and then fell into the clutches of Neil Gaiman, who worked them into the supporting cast of his The Sandman series.  I have to give him credit for keeping them alive.  Gaiman didn't do just that; he also added a lot of symbolism and mythology to the trio-- Erinyes, the Furies, maiden, mother, crone, the Kindly Ones and all that clever, clever stuff that probably didn't occur even to Shakespeare when he was writing his play.  I'm only familiar with any of it from the tidbits of Greek mythology my art history professor offered when she desperately tried to fill my head with knowledge of amphora and statuary.

This is more my speed:

But why should these three play supporting roles when they're such powerful female characters, so fascinating unto themselves?  All that literary and folkloric synthesis is interesting, but it seems more an exercise in author self-aggrandizement-- I should know since I'm the ruler of that junk-- rather than a true continuation of their narrative.  I prefer the witches as stars of their own book, telling their quirky stories rather than as members of the background ensemble within some other character's story, no matter how dazzlingly the author enfolds them with the plot.

I'd love to see them headlining another anthology book, mocking each other, talking directly to the readers and demanding our attention.  Cynthia could be updated for the current generation, a little auto-tuned to the post-modern vibe, destroying hipsters and Facebook moguls.  Mordred might draw inspiration from Japanese horror comics and movies-- just like Hollywood!-- while keeping up her interest in ghosts and phantoms.  She could probably teach all these ghost hunting fool on cable TV a thing or three.  And Mildred might find some common ground with tech-savvy forever up-to-date Cynthia by coming up with stories about possessed iPods and Blackberries.

Or not.  And now... more Japanese rock from Spookey! Yes, I've posted this one before, but it's directly related to Halloween and it's awesome:

Thursday, October 6, 2011

2nd Annual Spookey Month: Swamp Thing tells you what comes with fall

Whenever I read Swamp Thing, I think of chocolate chip cookies, thanks to Mad Libs.  I had a monster-themed Mad Libs book that featured some Swamp Thing art by Bernie Wrightson, only Swampy was made out to be some kind of chocolate chip-based life form.  I also think of how incredible Alan Moore's work on the series in the 1980s was.  Early in his run, Moore wrote a three-part story guest-starring the Demon that is one of the two comic books to scare me after I got into the double digits in age.  The other is Ito Junji's Uzumaki, the scariest and most disturbing comic ever published by mainstream companies.

The fun starts in Swamp Thing #25 (1984).  A mysterious guy (who looks a lot like the long-lost sibling of actors Joseph Campanella and Robert Lansing  or maybe just Roy Thinnes) shows up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and starts talking in riddles-- which probably drives everyone around him batty.  I know he's Jason Blood, but Moore inserts him into the story with some cutesy moments where he blows people's minds by hinting at things a stranger couldn't possibly know.  Like who's going to jail for manslaughter, things like that.  Somewhere in the nearby swamp, Swamp Thing and his friend Abby Cable share some fun together.

One thing Moore has always excelled at is taking other people's characters and taking them apart, only to put them together again in fascinating new ways based on all their original implications.  While most writers had been content to write Swamp Thing as a guy who turned into a plant, Moore decided he was actually a plant that mistook itself for a man.  Once Swampy got over that shock, he found himself becoming more attuned to nature and capable of more than anyone had ever thought possible.  In fact, he was another in a long line of "plant elementals," protector of the "Green," a kind of collective soul-region for all of earth's flora.

Still in a naive state Swamp Thing starts discovering some exciting new abilities.  Moore keeps it light and amusing, allowing the readers to react through Abby.  Abby, in the meantime, is also coming into her own, having taken a job helping disturbed children while her husband, Matt Cable, sinks into alcoholism and despair.  Cable also has this sick ability to conjure up all kinds of bugs and ugly little critters-- sick in that he seems to get off on it.  You know what I'm saying, right?

It turns out Riddlin' Roy Thinnes and Abby have some business together-- protecting the children from a demon monkey that came from a misused Ouija board.  Moore allows the horror to seep into the story gradually, as he plays with time sequences to build suspense.  But what makes this story so appropriate for Halloween is how Moore uses Swamp Thing to examine the essence of horror itself.  Horror is autumnal, both a way of dealing with death and a celebrating it.  Through horror, we take something incomprehensible and make it into something we can deal with.  It's fun to be scared in the dark.  Halloween is a festival of frights, held during the time of year when the wind blows colder and the trees become skeletons.

For Swamp Thing, the season cycle isn't merely symbolic; he is now part of it, as he senses-- although his consciousness at this time is still very much over-printed with humanity.  Moore and artists Steve Bissette and John Totleben showcase this in a gorgeous double-page spread, complete with a call-back to Swamp Thing's origin.  I also have to point out how lovely Tatjana Wood's coloring is here; her work complements and enhances the art in a few colorists can match.  Wood was just outstanding throughout this series.

The thing that comes with fall isn't merely fear.  Fear is just its symptom, a rational reaction to the idea of non-existence.  Because what really comes is death.  Or in this case, little spiky monkeys that feed on your worst nightmares.  As Abby and Swamp Thing realize this, they run through the night towards the children's home.  The quote from James Agee's screenplay for Night of the Hunter is evocative, but no more so than the amazing aspect-to-aspect sequence that opens Swamp Thing #26.  Here, Moore, Bissette, Totleben, Rick Veitch, and Wood fully realize the cinematic possibilities of the comic book page.

Well, it functions both as aspect-to-aspect and action-to-action.  With these horizontal panels, there's not much room for the artists to do more than give us fragments of the action in what's almost a collage.  The racoon's appearance is an aspect, but it flees, its final, truncated appearance giving way to a close-up of Swamp Thing's running feet.  The quick cut to Swamp Thing and Abby's hands gives us yet another aspect of the chase, a hint of the attraction growing between them and the desperation of their race.  I love aspect-to-aspect storytelling.  

While it isn't always appropriate-- I'm not sure Superman needs mood as much as he does grandeur-- there just isn't enough of it in mainstream comics.  Action-to-action if fine, but all too often that means punch punch kick.  Actually, with the advent of photorealism and the au courant long horizontal panel (similar to these, but poorly used to frame entire actions), there's not much storytelling of any kind in superhero comics these days, just lovingly rendered static poses, like photographs bereft of context.  Moore is famous for writing massive scripts detailing everything he wants to see in each panel.   When he's on his game, Moore is as close to a film director as you'll find in comics, as attentive to the visuals as he is the story, plot, characterization and dialogue.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Total Moore butt-kissing, right?  Wrong!  You're out of order, the whole system's out of order!  My Al Pacino impression is atrocious and inappropriate here!  Moore can't quite maintain the high level he set for himself during the slow-burning first and second acts.  The let-down comes in the third when Etrigan bursts in and the story turns into a fight scene cliche.  Moore's rhyming dialogue for Etrigan is impressive, but the plot ends anti-climatically.  Hey, you're not so scary after all, you scummy monkey!  It's abrupt and doesn't quite pay off Moore's elaborate set-up.  Etrigan's method of disposing of the monkey is good for a laugh, though.

Moore does redeem #27 with an ominous postscript.  After fighting with Abby, Cable smashes himself to bits in a drunk driving accident, then saves himself-- he thinks-- by making a deal with a talking fly.  It's a gross-out sequence, Cable having knocked out all of his teeth and crushed himself in the mangled steel of his wrecked car.  It's eerie when he appears apparently no worse for wear and we watch him drive Abby into the distance of the last frame, Etrigan's closing narration fraught with foreshadowing.  Swamp Thing and Abby may have re-established order, but it's merely a truce.  It gives them some breathing room-- not that Swamp Thing needs to breath anymore-- before the horrors to come.

We're almost 30 years past this story now, and in all that time, few releases from the major publishers have brought all true possibilities of comics to bear.  Not that there haven't been some great stories, and some fun ones.  It's just that with Swamp Thing, Moore's prose is novelistic, the visuals are vivid, the storytelling all encompassing.  Although it's ultimately something of a let-down, considered as an artifact of it's time, it's amazing Moore and company got away with doing all of this.  There wasn't a contemporary comic at either DC or Marvel that could touch it, not The Uncanny X-Men or the New Teen Titans.  Sure, it's pretentious at times (almost as pretentious as my writing right here in this very entry), and overwrought on occasion, but as you read it, you realize there's still something unprecedented going on-- a creative team juiced on its own brilliance, telling stories that aren't simple rehashes of old comic book ideas, but genuine literary statements unto themselves.  A writer with something to say, artists who can match his vision.

In literature and cinema, you expect these kinds of things, but with a comics, you're left wondering why all of them can't be this good.  And lately, it's a shame people are satisfied with what the big companies dole out, most of which seem a huge step backwards in craft and voice.  Batman still contends with Catwoman, but showing them actually having the sex that used to be merely hinted at isn't some great accomplishment when the story itself is just as tired and familiar and as blandly told as any that have come before it.  The same stakes, the same solutions.  Comics based on other comics, comics as marketing tools for multi-media campaigns, with nothing more to say than, "Look who's hitting whom this month!"

Maybe that's also what comes with fall-- the death of creativity.  That and lots of chocolate candy and caramel corn.  Plus amazing Japanese bubblegum-garage-power-pop-punk like Spookey!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dracula: Marvel's Merriest Misanthrope (2nd Annual Spookey Month)

My favorite Marvel monster by far is Dracula, Lord of Vampires.  Not because of his redeeming qualities; he doesn't have any.  Dracula is far too hateful to identify with, or to like as a person.  Every so often, writer Marv Wolfman attempted to establish a little sympathy for Dracula.

Dracula loses his powers, he eviscerates himself in his blog, he drinks too much and cries at a sad clown movie. Then you remember he also murdered his wife, alienated his daughter and son, drove a young woman to suicide through emotional abuse, bullies anyone he perceives as weaker than himself-- nearly everyone-- and murders without remorse in order to feed his vampiric blood-thirst.  And that's in between long monologues where he tells you how great he used to be when he was alive, and how awesome he is even now that he's dead.   But he does exude charisma as star of his own comic.  He's sickly fascinating, like the snake that kills you or a YouTube video of a car crash.  You can't take your eyes off him, even while you deplore his very existence.

In Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula is the antagonist and what we learn of him comes second-hand from various diaries and letters; for Marvel's Tomb of Dracula series, Wolfman cleverly reversed the formula and Marvel ended up with a comic that exhaustively examined the sociopathic tendencies of its lead character, a completely reprehensible killer whose egotism buries the needle on the ego-ometer, easily topping 10,000 kilo-Trumps.  Imagine a Fantastic Four where they not only fight Dr. Doom every single issue, but the writers seem more interested in him than in the good guys.

At least Victor von Doom has a kind of tragic nobility resulting from his being more misguided than actively evil.  Despite his protests to the contrary, Dracula's nobility drizzled away with his blood the moment he died, only to have a kind of nihilism replace it.  But just like Dr. Doom as infamously written by Brian Michael Bendis, Dracula loves to put people down.  Let's look at some of Dracula's insults, shall we?  And then we'll cleanse ourselves through the healing power of music.

Dracula's hate is universal, but there is no one among the masses he hates more than Frank Drake, his descendent.  Drake's very existence is an insult to Dracula, so he repays the poor schlub at every opportunity.  It starts as early as Tomb of Dracula #1 (1972).

Dracula relies heavily on old favorites such as "fool" and "idiot."  "Scum" seems to be his favorite epithet, though.  All through the series, it's "scum this" and "scum that."  While he's not shy about expressing his displeasure with humanity, he's also something of a culinary critic, a skill he displays in #9 (1973).

It's amazing a guy who died hundreds of years before the invention of indoor plumbing knows enough to dump stew into a sink.  On the other hand, depending on how greasy or oily it was, that might not have been the best idea.  What am I saying?  Of course Dracula would want to clog your pipes!

Occasionally, Dracula gets a little more clever with his insults.  After charming a group of hoity-toity ship passengers, he suddenly shows his true colors in this scene from #10 (1973).

Well, he does call them fools before working a bit more baroque than usual.  If you want a torrent of angry verbiage from Dracula, few topics get him worked up like religion.  As a foul undead creature aligned with Satan, Dracula-- as you might imagine-- isn't too keen on God, as we see in this tender, sensitive moment from #27 (1974).

Even after months of hanging out among us mortals, he's not shy about expressing his dislike for people.  In #29 (1975), he really lets his feelings show.

Comparing us to vegetables is kind of odd, since Dracula is a hardcore carnivore who love nothing better than reducing all of humanity to docile food stock.  Dracula never orders salads in restaurants.  He's also not content to decry food, deities and people.  In #60 (1977), we also learn that Dracula has it in for inanimate objects.

Yes, even chairs aren't safe from Dracula's wrath.  But given his towering ego, Dracula must reserve praise for himself, right?  He has to be a narcissist-- the kind of guy who would gaze lovingly into a mirror and practice his various smiles, if he still had a reflection.  Yeah, I thought so too, until I read #66 (1978).

Well, this is after he's had a huge argument with none other than Satan (later determined to be lame-o wannabe Mephisto, which is a major cop-out on Marvel's part), who removed Dracula's powers and reverted him to mortality but left him with his snazzy cape.  Later, however, we learn there are few things Dracula despises more than his fellow vampires.  Check out this heartwarming moment from #70 (1979).

Tomb of Dracula #70 was a double-sized issue abruptly ending with his death, and so Dracula disappeared from the Marvel universe for a year or two.  Like his Hammer Studios counterpart, the comic book vampire kept returning from each seemingly final destruction.  While Wolfman and company wisely kept Dracula's involvement with Marvel's costumed heroes to a minimum-- with genre-appropriate appearances from Brother Voodoo, Dr. Strange and Werewolf by Night-- other writers would try to fold the character into the mainstream superhero continuity.  This resulted in incredibly silly moments such as Dracula trying to vampirize Storm of the X-Men.

Possibly sensing the ridiculous nature of such tales, the powers-that-be at Marvel had Dr. Strange eliminate all vampires via something called the Montesi Formula.  No more vampires.  Just mutants and spider-people, please, and metallic guys who fly around on surfboards.  But Dracula was and remains too good a public domain villain not to use even if you're just going to have him battle super-people in their colorful underwear and/or BDSM outfits.  In 1991, Wolfman and original series artist Gene Colan teamed up with inker Al Williamson for Tomb of Dracula:  Day of Blood!  Night of Redemption! which sees Dracula returning from the grave and ignoring all that X-Men nonsense between the final issue of his own series and the first of the new.

And he's no happier with humanity, although he has learned to express himself with a bit more eloquence.  Gone are the generic references to "scum" and "cretins," replaced by a more definitive explanation of Dracula's misanthropy.

Well, that's what Dracula gets for hanging out in a seedy strip club.  Of course you're going to learn cynicism when you choose only to see the worst society has to offer.  Dracula responds by tearing off a security guard's face-- Colan and Williamson make it look like a rubber Halloween mask trailing red streamers-- then slaughtering the club's dancers.  See those cops in the last panel?  They come upon a crime scene so horrifying it affects even their jaded sensibilities.  One of them vomits.  But what about the hoi-poloi?  I'm sure Dracula, having been ruler of Transylvania in his younger days, would find the upper crust more suitable company.

 Guess not.  Once again, he doesn't just offer a tongue lashing.  When one young woman makes a pass at him, Dracula responds by casually murdering her and throwing her body off an ocean-side cliff where she goes SPLAT! on the rocks below.

One of the worst things you can do is try to use Dracula for your own means, even if it helps him in the short term.  Here he mocks Dr. Smirnoff, a college professor whose dalliance with the supernatural has resulted in his torso becoming transparent.  Smirnoff wants Dracula to turn him into a vampire so he can avoid a Lovecraftian doom, but Dracula prefers to string him along and humiliate him at every opportunity.

I'm not sure when Dracula gave up his suit and tie for this pro wrestler's attire, but he's apparently won the Intercontinental Tag-Team Championship, if I'm recognizing that belt buckle.  Later, Dracula adds injury to insult when he pokes out Smirnoff's eyes and rips off his head.

At least Dracula's finally learned to loosen up and enjoy himself.  Let's do the same!  Once again, it's Hamamatsu's completely awesome Spookey!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Kinging Off Our Second Annual Spookey Month: Here's Looking at You, Creepshow!

Ah, Creepshow.  Former EC artist Jack Kamen just kills on that cover, doesn't he?  I love it.  The under-lighting on the kid, the ghoulish personification of horror lurking just outside his window, the full moon through the trees.  His rendering style certainly did change over the years, and with this cover, he fixed the notion in my mind that EC had a staff of the best artists ever featured in American comic books, at any time, of any era.  One could make the same argument about those delightful Warren Publications magazines in the 1960s, but those artists were all EC alumni.

When the movie came out in 1982, I'd only heard rumors of EC Comics and I'd built them up into something so huge in my imagination I had recurring nightmares where I'd find myself reading the most realistically-drawn and vividly-colored horror comics, turning page after page, unable to stop myself.  Lurid illustrations of scaly lizard-creatures feasting on hapless victims, bright red splashes of gore, with worse yet to come-- and then I'd wake up, my heart still pounding and those images flickering in my mind.  By morning, in the sunlight, they'd be faded, stripped of power.  But awake in the darkness, I could still see them.

EC Comics were a fable. A legend.  A cautionary tale.  So dangerous and scary the government banned them?  The reason for that stupid Comics Code stamp that held no meaning for us and no one paid any attention to anyway?  EC possessed the lure of the forbidden... rumors... myth... a mystery.

Then George A. Romero and Stephen King teamed up to make their loving tribute to EC.  Well, the movie is mostly silly.  Too many of the characters were either harsh and unpleasant or else complete morons, so it's hard to care how many corpses kill them or cockroaches come out of their mouths.  But it's still cheesy good fun, with lots of gore and the requisite twist endings.  King himself with an embarrassingly amateurish turn as a dim-witted rube who becomes an alien plant-creature, Leslie Nielsen buried up to his neck in the sand, cackling about how he can hold his breath a lonnnnnng time as the tide rolls in.

Today we think of Nielsen as the deadpan comedian from Airplane and as the dimwitted Frank Drebin.  But with his steely hair and patriarchal good looks, he really had a handle on playing cold-hearted bastards.  There's a bit of the familiar Nielsen-esque tongue in cheek quality to his performance here, but enough straightly-played jerkishness he really sells it.  The perfect bastard.  My favorite segment, by far.  The always awesome Adrienne Barbeau sinks her teeth into a relatively minor role as the harridan to end all harridans-- just call her Billie.  I was going to take a little time to discuss the misogyny that runs through EC comics and, by extension, this film, but then I remembered there are practically no sympathetic characters in Creepshow.  Maybe the ill-fated Ted Danson and Gaylen Ross, but we only really get to know them as bloated corpses.  Why single out Barbeau's character, especially when Barbeau herself has earned a lifetime of goodwill?

Obviously, I couldn't see the movie at the theater at the time because it was rated R, but I could-- and did-- sneakily read the Bernie Wrightson-illustrated comic book adaptation in Waldenbooks when my mom and I went to the local mall for pizza and shopping on Friday night.  My hard-workin' dad was off driving the local high school teams to out of town games and there just wasn't much else to do in my hometown besides go to the mall.

And, baby, let me tell you-- peeping at Creepshow was always a mistake.  What was fine in Waldenbooks after playing a few quarters-worth of Tron and Space Race would come back to haunt me in my bedroom as I tried to sleep in the wee post-SCTV hours of the night.  A month or so later, and I'd do it again.  It impressed me so much, I dressed as the skeletal host one year for Halloween and handed out candy.  Made some kids cry, too.  Oops...  I even drew my own comic adaptation of "The Monkey's Paw" in a crude approximation of Wrightson's drawing style for my English class.  Two pages of full-color artwork, hand-lettered by me.  It took me all night; speed-demon Alfredo Alcala I'm not.  I even ripped off the "Here's looking at you, kiddies!  Heh heh heh!" ending from the Creepshow book.

Strangely enough, out of all the gruesome darkly-humored things contained within the book, the sequence that really made my heart pound was the one where Hal Holbrook, a henpecked college teacher, and this doofus janitor start messing around with an old crate sent to the university by an arctic expedition.  Well, let's let Wrightson show us what happens next:

Yikes!  And the janitor was one of the few relatively nice characters in any of the stories!  Although in deleted scenes, he probably beats his dog.

And now... rocking straight at you from "Music City," Hamamatsu, Japan... SPOOKEY!