Thursday, November 25, 2010

The First Horror Movie

It's short, not quite thirteen minutes.  It's stagy and melodramatic.  The effects are crude, though surprisingly effective and the film stock is very degraded.

But put yourself in the mind of somebody in 1910.  Maybe you've seen a couple of the new short silent film reels, maybe you've never seen moving pictures at all.

You're ushered into a dark room and watch in horror as a grotesque monster is born out of a steaming cauldron.  A backwards immolation as the figure forms out of burned meat.  And then a shaggy monstrous creature, not even remotely human stalks its appalled creator.

It must have seemed apocalyptic.

Edison Frankenstein - 1910:

Some history.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ingrid Pitt RIP

Ingrid Pit died at age 73 in her South London home.  The actress, a concentration camp survivor and horror movie scream queen of the 60's was best know for such shockingly sexy Hammer Horror epics as Countess DraculaThe Vampire Lovers, the subversive horror classic The Wicker Man and a couple serials of the classic Doctor Who series, most notably as the Queen of Atlantis in 'The Time Monster'.

Unlike some scream queens who've voiced discomfort with their horror movie infamy, Pitt quite enjoyed her sexy, predatory image and liked playing the baddies.

Pick up and put on The Vampire Lovers some time and raise a glass of the red stuff to one of the premiere scream queens.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Grandville Mon Amour

Grandville Mon Amour
by Bryan Talbot
Dark Horse Books

This one I picked up because I saw the promotion.  I've always liked Bryan Talbot's stuff, going back to a DC deluxe painted miniseries called The Nazz.  A fevered story of ancient Hindu meditation techniques and superpowers.  Then there's Luther Arkwright, an SF adventure with dirigibles and alternate universes inspired by Moorecock's Eternal Champion cycle and my favorite One Bad Rat, a thoughtful story about child abuse filtered through the imagery of Beatrix Potter.  I already mentioned his geographical history Alice in Sunderland yesterday.

Grandville Mon Amour is the second volume in Talbot's Steampunk, anthropomorphic animals, Holmesian mystery adventure series.  Yes, walking talking  'funny animals' but in a serious and dramatic adventure story.  Eventually you just roll with it and go with the story - and then in one scene there are suddenly two human characters, two petty criminals derisively referred to as dough-boys and then never mentioned again.  Its a vertiginous moment that had the effect of making me focus in on the whole different animals playing different characters thing again.  The 'dough-faces' were introduced in Grandville, the first book in the series as a rare type of hairless chimp treated as second class citizens by all the other talking animals.

An artist as skilled and experienced as Bryan Talbot doesn't create effects and reactions like that in his readers by accident, which made me think about the anthropomorphic style itself.  The most well known examples are the comics we read as little kids.  Donal Duck and Mickey Mouse, comics based on animation characters but expanding their lives into houses and histories.  Comics that encompassed a range from short simple humour stories to movie serial style high adventure, the best and best known by master story-teller Carl Barks.

Bringing a more adult take to funny animal universes allows an artist to capture the childhood resonance the style brings to then subvert that resonance to more adult aims.  Robert Crumb explored our darkest sexual impulses and neuroses through the intercession of cheerfully stylized funny animal strips, In Maus, Art Spiegleman illustrated the Holocaust and his own tortured relationship with his death camp survivor father with the Jews presented as mice and the Nazis as cats.

Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics discussed how a very simple, cartoony design, particularly of faces encourages identification with the reader because its the same way our brains are wired to perceive our own faces.  When juxtaposed with a very detailed and hyper-realistic external world a lot of perceptual buttons get pushed whether the reader realizes they are or not.

By suddenly dropping human characters into an anthropomorphic animal story with no fanfare or explanation Talbot subverts a style already designed to subvert our expectations.   Always nice when that happens.
But I might have missed this book if I hadn't seen the sneak peek published in British comics magazine Comic Heroes in their regular Sidekicks compilation and the clever promotional trailer created for the book available on Youtube.  I suspect we will see more and more of these, as done well they're an excellent way to highlight the tone and feel of a book to the audience its meant for.


Saturday, November 20, 2010


From Bryan Talbot, who just released the second chapter of his Steampunk, 'funny animal', Holmesian mystery adventure 'Grandville Mon Amour', which I'll be reviewing soon.

This delightful interpretation of Jabberwocky by Lewis Carrol comes from Alice in Sunderland, a compulsively fascinating work of geographical history merged with fiction much like Alan Moore's experiments in From Hell and Voice of Fire to create a four dimensional architecture to a sense of place.  Moore did it in From Hell to London and with his home town of Northampton in Voice of Fire, Talbot does it for his hometown of Sunderland with a special emphasis on Sunderland native son Lewis Carrol.

And here's Terry Gilliam's take, a grittier, more medieval interpretation.  It's long, but try to stick with it to the introduction of the Jabberwocky himself, the giant puppetry prototypes of the practical effect monstrosities of Gilliam's dystopian classic Brazil.  I know that by every objective standard the flashy CGI Jabberwocky of Tim Burton's Alice is more impressive but this creaky giant puppet made of wood and fabric fills me with joy.

The Wolf with the Red Roses

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Top 100 Horror Movies

Top 100 Horror Movies
IDW/Fantastic Press
Written by Gary Gerani
Introduction by Roger Corman

I approached this one with caution and skepticism.  Invariably these kind of 'best of' books are so subjective as to be one step up from vanity projects, overly weighted to recent movies and suffering from unforgivable exclusions.

But Gerani has created a list that had me nodding my head at almost every page.  Almost every pick and its ranking made sense.  These aren't necessarily the 100 best horror films, but Gerani makes a good argument for them being the most important ones.

OK, no true genre fan could pick up a book like this without at least a couple fierce nit-picks.   The author justifies the absence of John Carpenter's The Thing because it will be in his planned follow up Top 100 Science Fiction Movies.  I would quibble that while yes, Romero's original Night of the Living Dead certainly belongs on the list, the original Dawn of the Dead does too.  It's the platonic ideal and all time classic of the zombie genre and any list of great horror movies has to include it.

Plus if you're going with a Tim Burton film, I would pick the Hammer Horror worshiping Sleepy Hollow, a more artistically successful and quintessential horror film than the entertainingly gory but overly stylized musical Sweeney Todd.

The production is excellent and while the art selected will be familiar to any fan of Famous Monsters of Film Land or indeed any genre productions its an atmospheric graphic collection nonetheless.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Batman in Turnabout Intruder

For some reason Batman The Brave and the Bold decided to adapt the last, and what most people consider the weakest episode of classic Star Trek, Turnabout Intruder except they called it The Criss Cross Conspiracy.

Batman's decidedly effeminate, not to put too fine a point on it flaming demeanor makes Batgirl and Nightwing wonder what's up with that?

What's up is that failed thrill seeking super heroine Batwoman, forced out of the crime fighting business by having her identity exposed by the Riddler, seeks revenge on the world by using black magic to swap bodies with Batman.  There's a lot of twisted sexual politics in the story as she believes that there is a double standard for male and female crime-fighters and only in Batman's body can she have the freedom of power and male authority.  Which brings us to Turnabout Intruder...

Same idea.  One of the many embittered former conquests of Captain Kirk possesses his body in order to get the power and freedom of a male star-ship captain.  Misogyny is implicit in the script and explicit in Shatner's campy, over the top ranting and prancing performance.  All hysteria, all the time.

Ultimately Brave and the Bold makes this story work, sort of,  in a way that Trek doesn't.  Maybe it says something that this story only works as a half hour cartoon rather than a live action drama.

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