Saturday, October 31, 2009 Halloween Treats: Black Sabbath

One last post tonight before I'm off to a friend's party. I still have to do some finishing touches on my costume - the third one I'm wearing this season - before I go.

Black Sabbath is a classic 1963 horror film helmed by famed director Mario Bava and hosted by the legendary Boris Karloff. It's comprised of three tales; "The Telephone", a proto-giallo featuring a stalker terrorizing a call girl, "The Drop of Water", a creepy little ghost story, and "The Wurdalak", about a vampire plaguing a family in old Russia. All three are spooky and atmospheric, great viewing for a windy October night. And yes, it is where Ozzy and friends got the name from.

The copy I've linked to is the version released by American International in the US. It's dubbed for all of you subtitle haters out there, and the sequence of stories is different from the original Italian version. It's hosted on Hulu, so watch while you still can for free.

But first, a cartoon before the main feature!

Doctor Vincent - er, Stephen Strange

Since this year's Countdown had a bit of a Vincent Price theme, I thought I'd share some images that had been sitting on my hard drive for a couple of years. These are character sketches prepared by Marcos Martin for his work on Doctor Strange: The Oath . The miniseries was written by Brian K. Vaughn, author of Runaways, Pride of Baghdad, Ex Machina, and Y: the Last Man. While I wouldn't rate it as high as Vaughn's other works, The Oath is still a darn good read and worth picking up if you are a Dr. Strange fan.

As you can see, Martin has very clearly modeled Strange's likeness on that of Vincent Price. Some have speculated that Price's role in Roger Corman's The Raven was a major inspiration for Dikto and Lee when they created the good doctor back in 1963. Whether or not that's true, I think these images show that the spooky yet avuncular Price would have been perfectly cast as the Sorcerer Supreme.

Like every other Marvel property this side of Forbush Man, Doctor Strange is under development as a major motion picture. I really can't think of any contemporary actor I'd like to see play Strange. I guess I don't watch enough television. Let's just hope the producers don't go the Twilight route and hire some infant from the CW to play the part.

Halloween Treats: More Marvel Horror

That's the cover to Werewolf By Night #36, one of the scariest comics I read as a kid.

Once in a while, an uncle of ours would drop off these huge brown paper grocery bags full of comics. He got them from a co-worker at the steel mill whose son had supposedly outgrown them. It maybe only happened two or three times, but my brother and I still vividly recall the rush of pouring through the bags to see what treasures were contained therein. It was a total crapshoot as to what we got, as these were books chosen by some other kid. There were lots of cool superhero titles, but there was also good stuff we would have never picked up on our own, like Our Army at War and Weird Western Tales. Then there were the books that our mom probably wouldn't have let us buy, like Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf By Night.

So Werewolf by Night #36 fell into my lap utterly by random. I hadn't read the issues that preceded it, so I didn't really know what was going on beyond the fact that Jack Russel and his friends were trapped inside a haunted house. Except it wasn't your typical haunted house like you'd find in Scooby-Doo or Caspar. This was a house of pure evil, and it was trying its very best to drive the heroes insane. Being dropped into the middle of things just added to the nightmarish feel of the story. The comic is full of images of sadism, death, betrayal, and demonic possession. But the one panel that really resonated with me was this one:

I still remember hanging out at my grade school library the next day, just fixating on the creepiness of the final two pages of the comic, wondering what happens next. I wouldn't get a chance to read the issues that followed until a decade later, so that cliffhanger haunted me for years.

Looking back, the story is an obvious riff on The Legend of Hell House, the 1973 film version of Richard Matheson's 1971 novel, Hell House (which was itself a take on Shirley Jackson's classic The Haunting of Hill House). Even the name of the villain, Belaric Marcosa, is a variation on that of Matheson's specter, Emeric Belasco. Writer Doug Monech doesn't put much of his own spin on things beyond dropping a werewolf into the mix, but he doesn't really need to; Matheson and Jackson have already done all the heavy lifting.

It probably doesn't hold up well today, but the Marcosa House "epic" is a fond childhood memory. For some reason, I get more nostalgic at Halloween than I do at Christmas, so it's been on my mind these last couple of weeks. I really want to go into further detail about the story and what I like about it, but I don't want to ruin things for anyone who hasn't read it yet.

The entire run of Werewolf By Night is available in Essential format, but I'm sharing the issues comprising the Marcosa House story in color here today.


I'm also dropping the complete run of Vampire Tales into your trick or treat bag. While the Satana tales made it into one of the Essential Marvel Horror trades, the rest of the series has yet to be collected. Expect the usual mix of new stories and Atlas/Timely reprints.

Happy Halloween

Have a safe and fun holiday!

Friday, October 30, 2009 Spookshow

So what are you doing tonight?

Coyotes 1, Folk Singers 0

From yesterday's Guardian:
Canadian folk singer dies after coyote attack

Taylor Mitchell had been hiking alone in Nova Scotia national park when animals attacked her

An up-and-coming folk singer has died after being attacked by coyotes in a national park in eastern Canada.

Taylor Mitchell, a 19-year-old Toronto singer-songwriter, was hiking alone in the Cape Breton Highlands national park, Nova Scotia, on Tuesday when the attack occurred.

Brigdit Leger, a Royal Canadian Mounted police spokeswoman, said other hikers heard Mitchell's screams and called for help. "The coyotes were extremely aggressive," Leger told the Toronto Star.

Officers reached the scene quickly and shot one of the animals, but Mitchell had suffered multiple bite wounds, the emergency health services said. She was airlifted to a Halifax hospital in a critical condition and died yesterday.

Bob Bancroft, a retired biologist with the Nova Scotia department of natural resources, said coyote attacks were rare because the animals were usually shy. "It's very unusual and is not likely to be repeated," he said.

Officials blocked the entrance to the trail where Mitchell was attacked and hung signs in English and French warning of coyotes. Park rangers were looking out for the animals to determine what had prompted such an unusual attack. The last known coyote attack in the park was in 2003, when a teenager was bitten.

"There have been some reports of aggressive animals, so it's not unknown," said Helene Robichaud, the park's superintendent. "But we certainly never have had anything so dramatic and tragic."

Mitchell had just earned her driving licence and embarked on a tour of the east coast to promote her new album. On her MySpace page, Mitchell said her influences were "constantly evolving" but included Van Morrison, the Eagles and Neil Young.

Her manager, Lisa Weitz, described Mitchell, who was nominated for a 2009 Canadian folk music award in the young performer of the year category, as a "sweet, compassionate, vibrant, and phenomenally talented young woman". She added: "She was just exhilarated to be on the road and performing. We are all devastated."
To parrot those quoted in the article, it is very unusual for coyotes to attack humans. They are predators, however, and will go after dogs and smaller animals with little hesitation. I guess these particular animals were either very hungry or provoked in some way. Or they were lycanthropes. There. I said it.

The lessons here are a) never go hiking alone, and b) coyotes are not cute li'l doggies that need to be petted and kissed.

Halloween Countdown: Alfred Hitchcock's Monster Museum

I was in the second or third grade when I received a copy of Alfred Hitchcock's Monster Museum as a gift. The anthology, ghost-edited by Robert Arthur, contained such classics as Stephen Vincent Benet's "King of the Cats" and Ray Bradbury's "Homecoming". It was also my introduction to Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John tales. But the stories weren't the scariest thing about the tome. The illustrations were.

The pictures were pure nightmare fuel, repulsively terrifying and yet horribly fascinating to my kid brother and me. They're almost too scary for a book aimed at tweens, and I'm certain they would never be used as such today. I guess we were just tougher back then. I don't know what ever happened to the book - it probably disintegrated from sheer use - but the illustrations haunted through the years.

Thirty years later, I'm standing in a used bookstore in Bangalore, looking for something to relieve the long weeks of tedium. This particular shop was an Aladdin's cave, three floors of books from all over the English-reading world. On every trip I'd find some oddity, some rarity that would cause me to wonder just how it ended up on that quiet little side street in India. And on that particular trip, I fond a copy of Monster Museum. The edges were yellow and spotted, but otherwise the book was in great shape. I had to buy it, of course. But I didn't dare look at the pictures until I was safe back home again.

The pictures from Monster Museum were the work of Earl Mayan, a prolific American illustrator and educator. They are atypical of his work, being photo-collages as opposed to the "hyper-realist" paintings he was known for. You can read a brief biography of Mayan here and see examples of his illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post and other "slicks" here.

As for the book itself, you can find used copies on-line for as little as five dollars. It makes a great gift for the little Wednesdays and Pugsleys in your life.

Thursday, October 29, 2009 Halloween Countdown: Blood Diner

I learned about Blood Diner when I saw its trailer at a midnight showing of Street Trash at the Music Box Theater. The sharp tagline and goofy sense of humor on display pulled me in (plus, the trailer had zombies in it), but I had to wait for the movie to hit home video before I could catch up with it. No zombies, I'm afraid, but Blood Diner became one of my favorite trashy flicks.

The film is a sequel-cum-remake of Herschell Gordon Lewis' "classic" Blood Feast. Two brothers attempt to complete their crazed uncle's life work, the resurrection of an ancient Middle Eastern goddess via a "blood buffet", complete with virgin sacrifice. First, however, the boys must prepare a host body for their goddess, loving stitched out of various body parts taken from immoral women. Cannibalism, gratuitous nudity, lame jokes, and graphic if unconvincing violence ensue.

Okay, at this point, you already know whether or not you want to see this film. It's a prime example of a genre that flourished during the 80's video boom, the low-budget horror-comedy. Companies like Troma and Full Moon built their fortunes on such releases, but I've always preferred the smaller, even more indie flicks like this, the aforementioned Street Trash, and Psychos in Love. If you're in to that sort of cinema, then you're sure to get a kick out of Blood Diner.

The avi of Blood Diner I'm sharing today appears to be sourced from the German DVD, the only release the film has gotten as of this writing. I'm pretty sure it's better looking than the original VHS pre-record, and it's letterboxed to boot.

A comment from the film's entry in the Maltin guide has always stuck with me -
"Directed by Jackie Kong (a woman - who should know better!)"
Whatever, man.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009 Halloween Countdown: And Now, the Werewolf Break...

An American Werewolf in London is one of my all-time favorite horror films since I first saw it in 1981. It's got some genuine scares, a great sense of humor, and one of the most astonishing werewolf transformations ever shown on the silver screen. And oh, yeah, Jenny Agutter.

In 1997, BBC radio aired an adaptation of the film that expanded upon the original story while still hewing closely to it. Agutter, Brian Glover, and John Woodvine all reprise their roles from the original film. Unfortunately, it's produced by Dirk Maggs

Maggs is a British radio director and producer with a long list of credits. He appears to be a genre fan, as he has worked on versions of Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, and the SF film Independance Day for the radio, as well as the continuation of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's series. However, I find his attempts at creating "audio movies" to be quite loud and abrasive and often obnoxious. Which means the radio version of American Werewolf is a less like this:

and a lot more like this:

Still, the series itself should be of interest to any fans of the film, and there are some good bits in there. And oh, yeah, Jenny Agutter.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 Halloween Countdown: Supernatural

No, not that show about Bo & Luke Duke hunting monsters. It's a film you've likely never seen before, a 1933 thriller from the makers of White Zombie.

Supernatural opens with the story of Ruth Rogen, an avant-garde artist on death row for strangling three of her lovers. At the prison, a famous psychologist petitions the warden for Rogen's body after her execution. He believes that the ghosts of murderers can possess the bodies of the living in order to commit more killings, and that he might be able to capture Rogen's spirit before it can do so. Meanwhile, a wealthy socialite (played by a luminous Carole Lombard) is still grieving over the death of her twin brother, leaving her open to the predations of con men such as Paul Bavian, Rogen's still-surviving true love.

While its not particularly scary, the film just oozes atmosphere. Fans of The Black Cat's crazy art deco design will love the wealthy parapsychologist's apartment-cum-lab. And check out that long take that introduces Bavian and his landlady, on what is the most authentic-looking tenement set I've seen from that era. In fact, that entire scene is fantastic; as others have pointed out, Beryl Mercer as the besotted landlady practically walks away with the entire movie.

And it's obvious that this film was made before the Hays Code grew teeth. It's the little things, like the roach-infested apartment, the idea of experimenting on human corpses (after tricking the owners into giving consent of course), the landlady's final fate, and the details of Rogen's sordid life:

I've always wanted to live in a sensuous apartment. Not in Greenwich, though

Supernatural is offered here as a 750mb avi file that appears to have been sourced from the VHS release. Blah blah blah Rapidshare blah blah blah.

Monday, October 26, 2009 Graveyard Jamboree with Mysterious Mose

An amazing animated short by Screen Novelties, who would go on to work on Robot Chicken, Moral Orel, and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack.

Halloween Countdown: Cool Ghouls

Today's feature is Cool Ghouls - a Halloween collection of retro rock and roll. Doo-wop, rockabilly, surf - it's all horrifically here, pulled from various compilations and the dark corners of the internet. I've even chucked in a few sound bites and movie trailer soundtracks ripped from my DVD collection.
01 - Horror Horn (from Chamber of Horrors)
02 - Jackie Morningstar - Rockin' in the Graveyard
03 - Claudine Clark - Walkin' Through a Cemetary
04 - Mack Allen Smith - The Skeleton Fight
05 - The Revels - Dead Man's Stroll
06 - The Nu-Trends - Spooksville
07 - I Walked with a Zombie (trailer)
08 - The Del Vikings - The Voodoo Man
09 - The Souvenirs - Voodoo Love
10 - The Magics - Zombie Walk
11 - LaVern Baker - Voodoo Voodoo
12 - The Voodoos - The Voodoo Walk
13 - The Crewnecks - Rockin' Zombie
14 - The Werewolf Break (from The Beast Must Die)
15 - Gary Warren - Werewolf
16 - The Frantics - Werewolf
17 - The Ventures - Fear
18 - I Married a Monster From Outer Space (trailer)
19 - Sonny Day - Creature From Outer Space
20 - Billy Ray Riley - Flying Saucers Rock n' Roll
21 - The Invasion - The Invasion is Coming
22 - The Big Bopper - Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor
23 - Screamin' Jay Hawkins - Little Demon
24 - The Mummy (trailer)
25 - The Verdicts - Mummy's Ball
26 - Swinging Phillies, the - Frankenstein's Party
27 - Hollywood Flames, the - Frankenstein's Den
28 - Tarantula Ghoul & the Gravediggers - Graveyard Rock
Simply click on the Rapidshare link below, then open the completed download with WinRar or a similar program.

Sunday, October 25, 2009 We Don't Serve Your Kind Here

From today's Iowa City Press-Citzen:

Police look for suspect in 'zombie' assault

The Press-Citizen
October 25, 2009

Iowa City Police are looking for a man who assaulted another at a restaurant -- claiming the victim was a "zombie."

According to a police news release, officers arrived at Panchero's, 965 S. Riverside Drive, about 1:17 a.m. after getting a report of the assault.

Police said in the release that the victim was in the process or ordering food when a man came up to him, accused the victim of being a zombie, then punched the victim in the eye.

When the victim attempted to use his cell phone to call police, the assailant hit him again, this time breaking the victim's nose. The assailant then fled out the back door of the restaurant.

The suspect is described as a dark-complected white male with short brown hair, about 20 years old, between six feet and six feet, two inches tall and weighing between 200 and 230 pounds. He was wearing a brown coat and blue jeans.

The victim was transported by ambulance to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for treatment. The incident remains under investigation.

While this is still an ongoing story, I am appalled at the lack of details. There's absolutely no indication as to whether or not the victim actually was a zombie. Did the police do due diligence here? Or are they after the wrong party?

Also, for the youngsters out there, I want to make it clear that punching suspected zombies is wrong and you should never, ever do such a thing. It doesn't kill the zombie and there's always a danger of your fist ending up in its mouth. Use a blunt instrument instead.

Halloween Countdown: Aliens in the Mind

More Vincent Price! Today it's Aliens in the Mind, a 1977 BBC sci-fi serial teaming Price with my favorite horror icon, Peter Cushing!

Respected surgeon John Cornelius and Professor Curtis Lark (of the New York Institute of Paranormal Phenomenon) are brought to a remote Scottish isle for the funeral of an old friend. They soon discover that their friend's death was no accident, as he was investigating a race of telepathic mutants that has developed on the island. Cornelius and Lark must escape to the mainland and find a way to prevent the mutants from expanding their mental domination to the rest of the world.

Aliens in the Mind was originally developed as a Doctor Who serial by fan-favorite Robert Holmes. For whatever reason, it was never produced for television but ended up as a BBC Radio 4 commission instead. Holmes was too busy with his duties as script editor for Who to write the radio series, so the task fell to a Rene Bascilico. However, the finished product still bears Holmes' touch and certainly feels like a long-lost Who story.

Cushing and Price are both excellent in this. I don't know how close they were in real life, but they certainly come across as good friends here. Though the two are credited in several films together they rarely shared significant screen time, so it's a real treat to hear them reveling in the two-handed banter that was a hallmark of Holmes' work.

You can download Aliens in the Mind in mp3 format by clicking on the Rapidshare link below. These files were taken from a recent BBC 7 re-broadcast of the series. Thanks to the original ripper!