I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis or knows me personally that I love a good scare (as long as its in book, comic or movie form, not real life). Since I don’t currently write for a site with a horror focus, that means I save up a lot of my best ideas for October. Luckily, I had a lot of ones that my editors also thought were good, which means I’ve been busily reading, watching and writing scary things since September. Now that Halloween’s hitting tomorrow, it’s time to toss out all the links for wider consumption!
My biggest project this fall by far was a series of posts at Marvel.com called Marvel Spooklights. Last year I did four of these shout outs leading up to Halloween. This year, I did 22, one for each weekday of the month. It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun and I got to check out a lot of books I hadn’t read before. Particular favorites include the Juan Doe-drawn Legion Of Monsters mini, Steve Gerber’s last Man-Thing story and the surprisingly good Journey Into Mystery #1. I read them all on Marvel Unlimited, which is an awesome Netflix-like service for comics.
In other reading news, I went way back to my earliest days with the genre and did a list for Geek.com about the best stories from the three Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark books that I got a few months before from my parents’ house. The stories themselves are fairly simple, but those damn drawings still made me wince every now and then when I turned the page.
I also pitched a few lists for The Robot’s Voice that got approved. First, I tackled The 10 Best Stories From The Early Days of Eerie, a companion piece to the one I did about Creepy not too long ago. Reading these books is always a treat, I’d like to get them all. I also watched all the Nightmare On Elm Street movies and did a list of the scariest nightmares perpetrated by Mr. Krueger. Aside from Dream Warriors, I wasn’t much of a NOES fan going into this re-watch, but I actually really enjoyed the franchise for reasons I’ll get into in a separate post probably next week.
Finally, I tried focusing much of my post-NOES movie watching on newer horror movies so I could do a few lists for Spinoff. One focused on new takes on familiar genres, while the other was about the subgenre du jour these days, supernatural flicks. I’m planning on doing a movie roundup post that will get into this in more detail, but Babadook shook me to my core, What We Do In The Shadows reminded me of my all-time favorite show the UK Office and It Follows is problematic…depending on what you want from your horror movies.
And now, with all that out of the way and a super busy month behind me, I’m going to collapse into a little ball and watch scary movies until my kids come home.
I didn’t think much of the announcement that Scream would continue as an MTV series. I’m not as big a fan of the first movie as I thought I was and even if I was I could always go back and watch that. I’m not the kind of person who gets bent out of shape about the mere existence of remakes and reboots.
But, I was curious to see if this new version of Scream was any good, so I watched the first episode on On Demand a few episodes into the season and was instantly hooked. This wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking entertainment, but it had plenty of mystery, surprisingly gory kills and a cast of characters I actually found myself liking (partially because many of them reminded me of older actors I already like).
The basic plot of the show is that high school student Emma finds herself in the middle of a series of murders that lead to plenty of discovers about her friends and family members. Like any good slasher, you’re not quite sure who to trust because the show is packed with shifty characters with something to hide. As the 10 episodes progress, names start falling off the suspect list — mostly because they get killed — but you’re still not quite sure who it could be or why (though I did figure it out about three episodes before the finale or so).
One of the more interesting aspects of the show is that it unfolds fairly naturally. Instead of front-loading everything with the kind of information you don’t necessarily need right off the bat (like that Brooke and Jake actually have an interesting and complicated relationship that goes back years), those details are revealed as needed. In a world where horror movies feel the need to info dump like crazy in the first 20 minutes, this was a nice change. Relationships and their intricacies should be revealed over time, not all at once for the audience’s absorption.
I should probably note at this point that the only horror shows I’ve ever watched with any consistency are Tales From The Crypt as a kid and Dexter. Overall, I enjoyed the experience and, even though I agreed with the kid who looks like a Topher Grace clone that a slasher probably couldn’t sustain a show, I was impressed with the engine driving the series.
So, what about the finale reveal of the killer’s identity? I have to say that I called it a few episodes out from the end. Let’s call this SPOILER TERRITORY, though I won’t say specifically who was involved. Based on what I’d seen, I was fairly certain that none of the kids were slicing up the townspeople because of what we’d seen and the way they acted (unless the writers decided to cheat the ending, which I was a bit worried about). Because of that, I assumed the bad guy was probably one of the older characters, but even that list continued getting narrowed down.
Want to hear some of the more outlandish theories that popped into my head? At one point I wondered if the sheriff was actually Brandon James. At another, I wondered if the mom was actually testing Emma to see if she was worthy of their weird family. There was also one about the roguish, often-disappearing Kieran, maybe that he was also the son of Brandon James, but that would have made everything with Emma ultra weird.
All in all I’ve had a great time watching this new take on Scream. I liked the films when they first came out, but never fell hard for them like I did earlier franchises or even Final Destination, but there’s plenty of building blocks to work with (masked killer, voice changer, unknown killer(s?), teen antics) to play with and make something brand new. I’m not sure if I want to fill my viewing time up with horror shows — it can be a lot watching hours and hours of murders/investigations/scares instead of just 90 minutes — but I enjoyed this experience and will be back next season to see what happens.
I actually wrote most of this post last fall, but stopped after hearing that The Bloodcast hosts would be going their separate ways and the show would be put on indefinite hiatus. But, since we’re in the throws of Halloween time, I figured it couldn’t hurt to dust this one off and let people know about a great horror podcast that can just as easily be listened to now as it was when new episodes came out.
Anyway, after discovering Killer P.O.V. I started looking around for new podcasts to check out and didn’t have to look much further than KPOV distributors Geek Nation. They had another show on the network called The Bloodcast hosted by Ryan Turek and Clarke Wolfe from episodes 44 to 97. While P.O.V. tends to feature a guest to go along with the topic, The Bloodcast focused more on the hosts discussing various topics from current films to reviews of franchises and director filmographies.
As with all of the podcasts I listen to, the real hook for me here boils down to the hosts. The dynamic between Turek and Wolfe was fantastic. Both have a love and academic appreciation for the genre, but also have realistic views on what’s going on. Yes, they’re fans, but they’re not the kinds of fans you might see talking garbage about horror movies on internet message boards.
The most unique aspect of the their show, though, came from their different perspectives which at least partially come from a difference in age. Turek, like me, is in his 30s while Wolfe is in her mid-20s. So, while he’s super steeped in the old school slasher franchises of the 80s, she was more raised on the supernatural films of the 90s.
I also personally find it really interesting listening to Wolfe talk about horror as a younger person. I often look at this sprawling genre I love and wonder what movies the upcoming generations will seek out. There were cannon-like movies I was super excited to check off my must see list, but I wondered if they were the same movies for the most part. Hearing Wolfe talk is heartening because it does sound like the classics are still winning over younger viewers.
While listening to the new episodes as they came out, I also went back and gave all of the Turek-Wolfe episodes a listen. A few highlights I recommend checking out are the episodes about Wes Craven, the Phantasm series and the George Romero showcase. I was disappointed to hear about the show being put on hiatus because I liked the dynamic so much, but I’m also glad that the show existed for as long as it did and can still be listened to now.
Over the past few months I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my real entrance into horror. For years I said it came around the age of 14 or 15 and our Family Video membership, but that was when I got into horror movies. Years before that I found myself seduced by the mind-numbingly spooky drawings and tales in Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark which eventually lead to novels by the likes of Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine. I don’t remember exactly how that transition was made or who facilitated it, but I do distinctly remember talking to my friend John’s older sister Sharon about Pike books.
Curious to see how some of those formative books held up, I figured out a way to get paid to read the Scary Stories books (link to come when it goes live), but also wanted to dive back in to the world of Pike’s books, starting with Weekend from 1986 (I had no idea it was that “old” when I read it probably 10 years later). My memories from early adolescence are far from clear, but it seems like this might have been one of my early entrants into his oeuvre.
From what I remember, Weekend is a pretty representative offering from the author. There’s a deadly mystery revolving around a bunch of high school students with hints at supernatural elements in the works and nods to other horror genres with an ultimately happy ending. In this case, a group of friends heads to the Mexican mansion of two adoptive sisters Robin and Lena. They expect to be joined by their fellow classmates for a big party later in the weekend, but no one else shows up, which is just as well because they’re plagued by snakes, explosions, weird ravens, snakes and at least one traitor in their midst. Why would anyone go to all that trouble for this particular group of kids? Well, someone made Robin drink poison at a party and someone else wants to figure out who!
Much to my surprise I actually remembered the big twist at the end of this book, but I kind of think it would have been obvious to me even if I hadn’t. It’s not that it’s dumb or obvious, just that you go into a young adult book like this with a certain set of expectations and those get met pretty consistently.
Still, I enjoyed taking this little trip back in time, though I didn’t find it that dated. The relationships feel true and honest and if you changed a few pop culture references and added in a line about them not getting any cell phone reception, this could easily translate into a modern young adult thriller. Or, better yet, a kind of anthology series based on Pike’s books on a channel like The CW or MTV.
I was also surprised to discover that this was Pike’s second novel after Slumber Party which I also remember reading. Sure there’s plenty of teen melodrama and an extended metaphor that can come off as a little clunky, but this is a strong second effort for an author working in this particular genre.
While these early books remained more grounded in reality, he eventually dove headfirst into supernatural elements and even sci-fi later on down the line, all of which I ate up with a spoon. Actually, I enjoyed going back and checking out this scary story from my past that I’m seriously thinking of turning the whole idea into a podcast where a guest and I read or watch something that spooked one of us when we were kids and revisiting them now. I’m short on time these days, but hope to get the ball rolling on that pretty soon!
Coffin Hill Vol. 1: Forest of the Night (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Caitlin Kittredge, drawn by Inaki Miranda
Collects Coffin Hill #1-7
It might not seem like it thanks to the lack of posts on the blog, but I’ve been fully into the Halloween spirit going back to September. The main reason I haven’t been writing about my horror reading and watching experiences here on the blog is two fold: first, time keeps slipping away each day and, two, I’m being paid to write about most of them elsewhere. However, I’m still trying to check out comics, books and movies for pleasure and not just for profit this October as well.
The first Coffin Hill volume was one such dalliance. I honestly can’t remember why I requested this book from the library aside from the fact that it’s a recent Vertigo book that sounded horror-y so I wanted to give it a read. I actually had a really good time with this comic that reads a bit like a well-layered television show.
Kittredge and Miranda have crafted a quality story about Eve Coffin, a hell-raising heiress who decided to be a cop in Boston before leaving the force and returning home to help find some kids lost in the woods. Oh, she’s also a witch from a long line of witches who accidentally released something evil in the woods around town a decade ago. That thing took one of her friends and turned the other into a vegetable, but still roams around looking for magically inclined people to eat.
There’s a whole lot going on in this book and I like that. We see scenes of Eve as a cop, hear that she accidentally stumbled upon a serial killer and also those scenes with her friends in the woods several years ago. There’s also a great deal of witch and supernatural mythology worked in to the point where I was satisfying by what I got in this first volume, but am also intrigued to see where it all goes in the future.
This might sound odd, but I’m most interested in finding out about a doll that we first see in an asylum and then again in a flashback involving Eve’s mom. It’s fairly subtle, but definitely there and now I can’t wait for my library to get the second volume in stock!
One of my favorite things about comics is when companies allow their characters to be experimented with in wild and different ways. It worked really well with Afterlife With Archie and was also a huge staple of DC’s Vertigo books for a while. Concepts like Sandman, Black Orchid and even Prez received more serious looks thanks to the imprint.
And so did the Phantom Stranger in this one shot, called Vertigo Visions – Phantom Strange written by one-time Vertigo editor Alisa Kwitney and drawn by Sandman Mystery Theatre and B.P.R.D. artist Guy Davis. I knew nothing about it, but Davis’ involvement was enough for me to spend a quarter on it.
As it turns out, this one-shot is worth far more than that. The story follows a woman named Naomi Walker who’s on her first day working in an asylum called Paradise Gardens. The more she gets used to the surroundings on her first night, however, the sooner she realizes that something is very wrong with the situation. As you and Naomi ease into the story, you know something is wrong, you just don’t know how wrong it really is until things pick up.
While Naomi is definitely the main character of this tale, it all revolves around the Phantom Stranger, or at least the two parts of him featured in the story. She’s the one who brings us into the mystifying action and is also the one who is truly in danger from the supernatural demonic threats hidden in Paradise Gardens.
I won’t go too much further into details, but really appreciated how this story takes your basic creepy asylum tale and then just goes nuts with it. At first it feels like something Vincent Price could have starred in but it turns into something more akin to Clive Barker’s dark and twisted worlds. Kwitney does more than impress as the story transforms into something horrendous and Naomi strives to survive it all and Davis’ artwork actually made my skin crawl a few times during my read through.
I will definitely keep this issue in my collection, most likely throwing it in a bag and board for easy storage on my trade shelves. It also reminded me that I have the VV issue starring Doctor Occult somewhere around here and will try to dig it out by the end of the month. If you see this issue around and like monstrous horror, grab it and give it a read.
I find myself continually fascinated by the 1980s trend of selling scary things to children. I missed a lot of that, but even as a kid I loved Gremlins which begat movies like Ghoulies, Critters and the Troll films. The Mattel-distributed Boglins toys are also part of that mini-monster lineage. The toys themselves were creepy puppets that allowed you to manipulated their mouths and eyes. From the looks of this amazing commercial, they were ready for the big screen and probably looked better than some of the Gremlins clones out in the world around this time.
I don’t specifically remember Boglins from my childhood, but do remember walking into the research office when I worked at Wizard and seeing one of them lying on a makeshift end table created from piles of longboxes next to my boss’s desk. The ToyFare guys were doing a retro toy feature on the line and this was the one being shot for art purposes. I bet I have that issue sitting around somewhere in my garage. If I ever find it, I’ll scan it and post it here on the blog!