Tag Archives: macabre

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Issue #5

Sabrina_05

It’s been nine long months since the last installment in this series. I had pretty much given up on it. But lo and behold, on my last visit to Comic Envy, there was a new Sabrina issue in my folder. It felt like Halloween came early.

It was worth the wait! Sabrina is so dark, so well written and illustrated, so steeped in the occult, there is really nothing that compares to it.

In this installment, Sabrina is placed on trial for alleged sins against the Satanic Church of Night. The trial is presided over by none other than Aleister Crowley. Sabrina is forced to undergo cruel tests to prove her innocence, reminiscent of Puritanical tests administered during the colonial witch trials.

After Sabrina’s “innocence” is established, she undertakes the dark rite of necromancy to raise her dead boyfriend, Harvey. The scenes of the rite are visually chilling and the text is as dark as the imagery.

The witches set about their grim task. First, a symbol representing the gateway between life and death is grooved into the dirt with a snapped-off branch. The branch is symbolic of the Tree of Life, as well as the pole Charon, ferryman of Death, uses to cross the River Styx. Next, a set of the dead person’s clothes is laid out on the ground, over the symbol. So that when the revenant comes back, they may cover their nakedness. Then five candles are lit and positioned around the clothes, so that there is light guiding the dead back to this plane of existence. Then, Sabrina is given the dread Demonomicon, and she recites the diabolical incantation: “…corpus levitas, diablo daminium, mondo viciim…” (The Demonomicon being a sister-book of the unholy Necronomicon.) The infernal dance comes next, and the chanting… “…for you who sleep in stone and clay, heed the call, rise up and obey, pass on through the mortal door, assemble flesh and walk once more…”

The spell works, but there is a very dark twist. Sorry, no spoilers here. You will have to purchase a copy and read it yourself.

One last thing I want to say about this issue. Superimposed over the main story is the enactment of Macbeth by the high school. It works spectacularly! I cannot emphasize enough how well the corresponding scenes connect to and add depth to the overarching storyline. It’s nothing short of brilliance in the genre of graphic horror.

“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.”

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Issue #4

Sabrina_04

Black mass, cannibalism, necromancy, bullying: this is without question one of the darkest comics I’ve ever read. But it is not just shock for shock’s sake; it is truly a well-crafted story with layers of complexity. Reading this is like rending open the darkest regions of your psyche and confronting those aspects of humanity that we all want to avoid.

Having witnessed Sabrina’s participation in a Satanic ritual, Sabrina’s boyfriend Harvey is horrifically killed and blame is placed on some neighborhood youths. Sabrina begins the process of trying to deal with the psychological torment that plagues her, knowing she is at least in part responsible for what happened, and having to lie to protect herself.

I think we have all done things which haunted us, which is why this comic is so damn visceral. It’s not the events; it’s the emotion that one relates to when reading this. And it’s not a comfortable emotion. But it is important to face your demons and experience the catharsis that results from doing so. This comic will challenge you emotionally and psychologically. You’ve been duly warned.

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Wytches: Issue 4

Wytches_04

This comic continues to deliver quality psychological horror. In this issue, as Sailor’s parents continue searching for her, it seems like their grip on sanity is beginning to slip. The creative team does something that works really well. They splice together fragments of storyline to instill a sense of confusion. As I read through this, I felt like Sailor, trapped in a dark space surrounded by macabre images, struggling to get out, but unable to. All the while, unable to shake the feeling of fear and dread.

I feel like I should be writing more about this issue, but frankly, I am at a loss for words. Probably because, for me, the issue is more about creating a sense of fear as opposed to telling a narrative tale, so while the story is progressing, for me, the story is overshadowed by the feeling that the images and structure of the comic evoke. For me, that’s the real artistry in this graphic series.

If you are following this tale, I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Alice Cooper: Issue #4

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This may be my favorite issue so far in this series. Alice travels into the realm of nightmares along with Bart the bully in search of Robbie. As with most bullies, Bart is cocky and arrogant, pretending not to have any fear; but as Alice points out, everyone has fears, and it is when you are asleep that your deep, dark fears surface from your subconscious.

You don’t know the first thing about fear. Not the deep, burrowing kind that give rise to nightmares, anyway. You make somebody afraid enough, you build up a balance in that account. You make them start to contemplate things… It happens unconsciously, at first. They start to fantasize alone, when you’re finished making them afraid. That’s when you realize…that the true power in what someone’s afraid of…is how they use it. You’re a tough kid, Bart. But everybody sleeps. Everybody dreams. And everybody is afraid of something. Which means we all have our own, private… nightmares.

The issue continues by exploring the psychology of fear and how fear manifests in nightmares, all done in conjunction with darkly rich and macabre illustrations. It also touches on bullying and how the victims of bullying can turn to the dark side.

Reading this had a cathartic effect. I was bullied as a kid and I could relate to those feelings of fear, which turn to resentment and anger. I’m also no stranger to nightmares and have had some intense ones over the years. But there is something exhilarating about nightmares. When you awaken, sweating and shaking, you also feel stronger for having stared your deepest fears in the face.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep on reading!

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Alice Cooper: Issue #3

AliceCooperComic_03

Last night I watched “Good to See You Again, Alice Cooper” at a friend’s house. The film documents the infamous 1973 Billion Dollar Babies tour and is interspersed with comedic shorts. Since I had issue 3 in my stack of things to be read, I couldn’t resist bumping it to the top of the pile.

The comic opens with scenes from a concert at the Philadelphia Spectrum in 1975, which stirred memories of going to concerts in the 70’s, a much more Dionysian era.

In times past, this was your scene, your church, your glory. You drove a crowd into a frenzy, nightly. Then called them back to do it again and again. All carefully designed and planned, a delicate mix of the macabre and the theatrical… the dark, and the delightful… all while walking a line between what was real, and what was show… and what was both to a delicate, deliberate degree.

For me, this perfectly captures the experience of an Alice Cooper performance and what defines stage performance as art. It is the blending of the real and the imagined. You have actual individuals on a stage, and we then project our hopes and fears onto them based upon their actions (act being the root of the word). The fact that real people are before us allows us to suspend belief in a way that film can never quite accomplish. It’s why a Shakespeare play is always better than a film adaptation.

So far, I am enjoying this series. The Alice Cooper persona lends itself well to the graphic novel genre. As a bonus, here’s a clip from the film I watched last night. If you’re an Alice Cooper fan, you should check out the film. Rock on!

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Wytches: Issue 2

Wytches_02

Visually, this comic is disturbing. The artwork is something right out of a surrealist nightmare. I don’t know what it is about the colors, the superimposed images, the collage of shapes, but reading it feels like I am in a macabre dream from which I cannot wake up.

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The storyline is working well for me also. It has a basic thread which it is following—the young girl Sailor is pursued by some evil entities that dwell within ancient trees and are connected to a “pledge” which has not yet been clarified. But the story weaves and twists, just as I would expect in a dream. So while the events are basically linear, the story feels disjointed and this is heightened by flashbacks in the characters’ memories.

I don’t want to give away too much of the story. Suffice to say it is excellent and if you are a fan of surrealist horror, you will love this. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Cheers!

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Alice Cooper: Issue #2

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Since I was a kid, Alice Cooper has been the soundtrack to my October nights, filling the air with the dark sounds of the macabre and the gothic. Tomorrow night, I will see him once again in concert, and to say I’m excited is quite the understatement. So to get myself in the proper state of mind, I decided to read the latest installment in the Alice Cooper graphic series.

The truth be told, I’m such a huge Alice fan that even if this series sucked I would still read it and like it, and while this new comic is not on par with Neil Gaiman’s Alice Cooper comic series, it is still good.

In this issue, Alice, the Nightmare Lord, strikes a deal with the bullied kid Robbie. Robbie, who had inadvertently bound the dark lord, promises to release Alice if he assists in getting back at the bully who torments him. While all this is transpiring, Lucius Black’s brother, Andronicus, is scheming to recapture the Nightmare Lord. Near the end of the issue, the threads of the tale begin to entwine together and we are left with a nice cliffhanger.

My favorite part of this issue is when Alice manifests to the bully. The surprised teen asks who Alice is, and Alice responds with the following.

Once upon a time, I could live rent free in that mind of yours, stealing your potential… rotting your brain with my special, signature raison d’etat… I stuck a stick of dynamite up rock n’ roll’s ass and pushed the art of the stage show out of the juke joints and the back rooms with morbid theatricality… along with macabre panache! I made the nightmares happen, and I thought it’d last forever.

Tomorrow night, I will once again experience the morbid theatricality and macabre panache which is an Alice Cooper concert. Thanks for stopping by, and may your Halloween be filled with thrills and chills!

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Eerie: Issue #1

Eerie_01

As a youth, I was obsessed with horror and sci-fi comics. I devoured them and while it caused some slight concern with my parents, it ultimately planted the seeds which grew into a love of reading. One of the comics I remember distinctly was Eerie. As all good thing from the past somehow seem to come back, it doesn’t surprise me that Dark Horse Comics has resurrected the Eerie publication. I figured since it is October, it would be the perfect time of the year to pick up an issue and see if it is as good as the ones I remember from my childhood.

This was definitely a step into my past. The issue is hosted by Cousin Eerie, a somewhat jolly, plump creature with a twisted sense of humor. He’s almost like a macabre Falstaff. The issue is comprised of four short vignettes which fall into the sci-fi/horror genre.

The first one, “A Robot for Your Thoughts,” is all about artificial intelligence and robots taking over the world. A man suspects that his family has been replaced by robots, so it’s somewhat reminiscent of The Stepford Wives, but with a nice twist at the end.

The next tale, “Life Species,” is about a team of space explores searching extinct planets for the remains of previous life forms, then examining them to try and understand what happened to them and why the species declined. It reminded me of an old Twilight Zone episode, but with a humorous ending. This was probably my favorite story in the issue.

The third tale, “Beta-Eden,” is clearly inspired by the Alien films. It has space explorers encountering an alien race that lays their eggs inside the human host. The spawn then feed on the host. This was probably my least favorite story. It just felt hackneyed and the artwork was not so great.

The last story, “Child,” is a reworking of the Frankenstein archetype. A bereaved scientist decides to construct a child out of parts of the dead. Upon reanimation, he is initially horrified at his creation, but then forms paternal connection which turns to love. What I liked the most about this particular tale was the writing. It was written almost as an epistle, where the father is speaking directly to the child. It works very well and I liked the way the story unfolds.

Overall, I enjoyed this. It was $2.99 well spent and I think the writers capture the campiness of the original publication. I would certainly read more of these.

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“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

TellTaleHeartThis is probably the quintessential short story by Edgar Allan Poe and the perfect conclusion to my macabre month of blog posts (I will be indulging in Halloween festivities tomorrow and hence will not post). Although this is a very, very short story, it packs a hell of a wallop and it never gets stale. The story pulls you in from the very first word—in fact; I am going to be as bold as to assert that this is arguably the best opening paragraph in all of literature.

True!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease that sharpened my senses—not destroyed—not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

There is a lot going on in this paragraph and it sets the tone for entire story. First, there is a frenzied rhythm to the text. When you read this aloud, paying attention to the punctuation, it is psychosis perfectly expressed. Reading this, one actually feels the tension and anxiety expressed by the protagonist. The paragraph also establishes the tension of opposites that permeates the story and builds to a climax at the end. The speaker describes himself as both nervous and calm in the same paragraph. This type of juxtaposition continues throughout the tale; for example, when he claims to have thrust his head into the old man’s room, and then immediately states how he slowly put his head through and that it took him nearly an hour to do so.

There are a couple other things worth noting about the opening paragraph. This tale for me symbolizes a struggle between the senses, a struggle between the auditory and the visual—the auditory represented by the speaker and the visual by the old man. When your senses battle each other and one triumphs, the result can be insanity. The second thing to point out is that the speaker claims he hears all things “in the earth,” not on the earth. This is a key distinction, because the things in the earth are dead. Our narrator is already haunted by a psychosis that causes him to believe he is hearing the dead as they lie beneath the ground.

Something that stood out for me on this reading was the concept of time. Time seems to morph in this tale, either speeding up or slowing down in conjunction with the beating of the heart, which is described in clock-like terms. I thought about how our emotional state affects our perception of time. The old adages of “Time flies when you’re having fun” and “Time seems to drag on while you are waiting” certainly come into play here. When the protagonist is excited, time seems to speed up, but when he is waiting, time seems to slow. Here’s an example of how time shifts, increasing with the narrator’s emotional state.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eve. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment!do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized methe sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man’s hour had come!

I never tire of this story. It is truly a masterpiece and no matter how many times I read it—and I have lost count over the years—it never ceases to thrill me.

I hope you enjoyed this month of creepy tales and poems, and may your Halloween be filled with chills and fright!!

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Masonic and Number Symbolism in “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe

CaskAmontilladoIt’s October, so I’ve decided to dedicate this month to reading and writing about works that fall into the genre of horror. I’ve always been fascinated by horror films and stories, not so much the slasher stuff that dominates the genre today, but art that forces us to face our inner darkness and fear. Also, I love horror that is symbolic and addresses more profound social and psychological issues. That said, I figured I’d begin with one of my favorite short horror stories: Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado.

It had been many, many years since I read this. Of course, I remembered the general story: the protagonist, Montresor, lures unsuspecting Fortunato into the catacombs by telling him he purchased some rare wine, then chains him up and bricks him into the wall alive. I had always looked at this as a dark tale of obsession, Montresor obsessed with seeking his revenge on Fortunato for some unstated wrong and Fortunato allowing himself to become trapped as a result of blindly following his obsession, which is wine. But something struck me on this reading that I had not caught before, and that is the symbolism of the number 11 and the association with Freemasonry.

MasonicTrowelThe first clue appears about halfway through the story, when they are in the catacombs:

I broke and reached him a flagon of De Grave. He emptied it at a breath. His eyes flashed with a fierce light. He laughed and threw the bottle upwards with a gesticulation I did not understand.

I looked at him in surprise. He repeated the movement — a grotesque one.

“You do not comprehend?” he said.

“Not I,” I replied.

“Then you are not of the brotherhood.”

“How?”

“You are not of the masons.”

“Yes, yes,” I said “yes! yes.”

“You? Impossible! A mason?”

“A mason,” I replied.

“A sign,” he said.

“It is this,” I answered, producing a trowel from beneath the folds of my roquelaire.

Clearly, Fortunato is a mason, and he thinks his guide into the catacombs is one of a lesser degree, which would explain why he failed to understand the gesture. At this point I began to view the descent into the vault as symbolic of the passage one takes in the masonic rites, going deeper and deeper into the shrouded mysteries. In fact, the paragraph that follows shortly after supports this idea.

“Be it so,” I said, replacing the tool beneath the cloak, and again offering him my arm. He leaned upon it heavily. We continued our route in search of the Amontillado. We passed through a range of low arches, descended, passed on, and descending again, arrived at a deep crypt, in which the foulness of the air caused our flambeaux rather to glow than flame.

It is worth noting that the opening quote in that paragraph is very similar to the occult phrase: “So mote it be.” I strongly suspect that this was intentional and that Poe was cleverly adding more occult references.

The number 11 becomes a key component to the story as Fortunato is being bricked into the wall. Montresor lays 11 tiers of brick to seal Fortunato into the wall.

It was now midnight, and my task was drawing to a close. I had completed the eighth, the ninth, and the tenth tier. I had finished a portion of the last and the eleventh; there remained but a single stone to be fitted and plastered in.

In Freemasonry, there are a total of 33 degrees of initiation, bringing the mason through the 3 stages: Apprentice, Fellow/Intermediate, and Master. So 33 divided by 3 gives us the 11. So as the last brick is put in place in the story, I couldn’t help thinking that it was symbolic of the completion of one of the masonic stages.

There is also another interesting association with the number 11 that may be relevant to the story, which has to do with Christianity. There were originally 12 disciples, but after Judas, there were only The Eleven. I couldn’t help wondering if Fortunato was also a symbol for Judas. After he is sealed into the wall, Montresor hears “only a jingling of the bells.” This conjured an image of the jingling of coins associated with Judas’s betrayal of Christ.

This tale is not only macabre and downright creepy, but there is some deep symbolism woven in. I recommend sitting down tonight and reading this story again. It’s a masterpiece on so many levels. Enjoy, and we will explore more tales from the dark side soon.

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