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Haunted Horror #35

For those of you who are not familiar with Haunted Horror, it’s a cool publication that reprints graphic horror comics from the 1950s, usually centered around a general theme, which in the case of this issue is “love.”

My little shriveling worms, welcome to these rotten pages I have the disgrace to host. You are here for an unlikely lesson in the revolting feeling many call “love.”

Significant others: Sometimes you want to let rats eat them, some others you worship their decaying corpses. Love is strange, indeed?

The stories within are my horrible homage to you. I sincerely hope that one day you will find the omega to your alpha, the nadir to your zenith, the zombie to your graveyard robber.

Enjoy!

In total, the publication includes eight twisted tales:

  • Date with a Corpse—originally published in The Unseen #15, July 1954
  • Death Writes the Horoscope—originally published in The Beyond #26, April 1954
  • The Hand of Glory—originally published in Chilling Tales #13, December 1952
  • Horror Blown in Glass—originally published in The Beyond #9, March 1952
  • Kiss and Kill—originally published in Witches Tales #20, August 1952
  • Mark of Violence—originally published in The Thing #10, September 1953
  • The Rat Man—originally published in The Unseen #9, March 1953
  • The House—originally published in Chamber of Chills Magazine #18, July 1953

I really enjoyed reading this, because it brought back memories of when I was a kid. Growing up, I loved horror comics and magazines, and would regularly read stuff like Creepy, Eerie, Weird Worlds, Vampirella, and Famous Monsters of Filmland. While these publications were not high literature by any stretch, they did foster a love of reading which has lasted my entire life.

There is a local comic convention here in town in November. I think I may have to see if there are any of the vintage horror mags that I grew up reading. I’ll let you know if I find any. Happy reading!

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Haunted Horror: #20

I’ve read several of these collections, and I always enjoy them. Basically, they are collections of old horror tales reprinted on the same type of non-gloss pulp paper used in the original publications. All the comics in this collection (there are six yarns in this issue) were all originally published in the 1950’s. Below the title page of each story, the original publication information is displayed.

What I find so interesting about these old comics are the moral issues that they address. Each of them has some issue woven in, and it seems that these were the types of issues that society was facing at the time: infidelity, greed, envy, loneliness, prejudice, etc. And while society is still grappling with these issues today, in the 50’s, society did its best to whitewash over them. But just as the decayed wood eventually starts to show through the white painted picket fence, so these issues began to show themselves in society. So graphic horror became a vehicle for society to safely examine these issues.

Just a quick mention about the writing and the artwork. They are both very much in the 50’s style. The colors and style of many of the drawings reminded me of the old Dick Tracy comics. And the language! I found myself chuckling internally at phrases like “’Good Grief” and “Great Scott.” But that is part of the nostalgia.

Hope you are enjoying the Halloween season! Cheers.

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Haunted Horror Tribute #22

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I picked this up recently, figuring it would be fun to read and get me in the Halloween mood. It looked like something that was inspired by the old horror comics I read as a kid, but I was surprised to discover that it is actually a compilation of vignettes scanned and reprinted from the classic 1950’s horror comics. So this is NOT just an attempt to recapture the essence of the genre, this contains actual reprints of the original 1950’s tales. It’s all here—the vintage artwork, the cheesy narration, everything that I remember about these publications.

The collection is a nice size, containing eight tales of terror.

  • Robot Woman: The opening tale reminded me of “The Stepford Wives.” It explores the dark side of our culture’s obsession with physical beauty, while at the same time offering a critique of the 1950’s view of what a “perfect woman” is supposed to be.
  • Chef’s Delight: This is a story that addresses domestic violence, an issue that sadly still plagues our society today. In the end, though, the wife gets her revenge on her abusive husband.
  • Shadows of the Tomb: This is a story about a man who murders his wife to claim her inheritance. But in a twist reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, the wife is not really dead and exacts her revenge.
  • Guest of the Ghouls: This tale uses ghouls as a metaphor for individuals who violate the dead, who are like vultures feeding off the losses of the deceased. There is a great quote that warrants sharing: “We unburied the dead while we were living and stole what we wanted! You have robbed the dead of their only identity after death — their tombstones!”
  • I Killed Mary: Interesting vignette about a nerdy, dorky outcast. There was a scene about what was considered to be appropriate dinner table talk which I found to be a critique of the overly structured family life of the 50’s.
  • The Haunter: A piece about a greedy man who tries to scare his uncle to death in order to get his money.
  • The Choker: Probably my favorite in the collection. This is a very creative tale about a con job where a woman marries a man to get his money, then she and her lover kill the husband and stage it as a suicide. The brilliance of this piece is that it is written from the perspective of a necklace that the husband had given to the wife.
  • Night of Terror: The final story is about a man who stages a scenario intended to scare his wife so that he can prove himself to be brave in the face of danger, but as you can imagine, things go awry.

I really enjoyed this collection, and I am seriously considering getting more issues in the future. It is more than just a nostalgia piece; it’s a preservation of an artistic and literary genre that was a reflection of the anxiety, fear, and growing social tension that would later erupt into revolution in the 1960s. Highly recommended, even if you are not a horror buff.

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Neil Gaiman on the Importance of Darkness

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It’s no surprise that Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite writers. There is no one who taps into the darker realms of the subconscious quite like he does. For this reason, I was mesmerized when I read an article from Brain Pickings talking about Gaiman’s reimagining of Hansel and Gretel. It is a dark tale, to say the least, and in the video clip that is embedded into the post (which I encourage you to watch), Gaiman points out that reading the story as a kid was the first time he realized that people are meat and that some people could eat you. It was a terrifying realization which I believe influenced his artistic direction.

Gaiman points out that being exposed to the darkness is important for young people, because ultimately it will empower them to face the darker aspects of life when confronted by them.

I think if you are protected from dark things then you have no protection of, knowledge of, or understanding of dark things when they show up. I think it is really important to show dark things to kids — and, in the showing, to also show that dark things can be beaten, that you have power. Tell them you can fight back, tell them you can win. Because you can — but you have to know that.

I recently watched “Alien” with my daughter, and while she was scared, she saw that people can be resourceful when confronted with something terrifying, and if they remain calm and keep their wits, they can overcome that which terrifies them. It is an important lesson. My wife questioned why we would watch something that was so scary. Gaiman answers the question much more eloquently than I ever could.

I encourage you to read the article on Brain Pickings. It is short and also includes stunning illustrations from the book, done by Italian graphic artist Lorenzo Mattotti. Also watch the short video that is near the end of the article, which has Gaiman and Art Spiegleman discussing the importance of dark tales.

My reading list just got one book longer!

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Afterlife with Archie: Issue #1

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Yesterday I went with my daughter to the Halloween ComicFest at our local comic store. They advertised free comics and treats, so we couldn’t pass it up. We were each allowed to choose three free comics from a table of available issue. One of the ones I selected was this Afterlife with Archie comic. WHOA!! This is nothing like the Archie comics I remember from when I was a kid.

This is some pretty dark stuff. Basically, Reggie hit’s Jughead’s dog, Hot Dog, while driving and kills it. Jughead, in distress, takes Hot Dog to Sabrina and her aunts to see if they can use magick to bring the dog back. The aunts say that since the animal’s spirit has passed to the next realm, there is nothing that they can do. Sabrina decides to use the Necronomicon to bring Hot Dog back from the dead. But bringing back the dead has negative consequences and the story turns very dark and graphic.

I have to say that I have always viewed Archie as kind of fluffy, mainstream stuff. This is anything but. It draws on the horror genre from film, books, and comics. It also makes references to the darker occult practices and beliefs which are pretty accurate. And the illustrations, all in black and white, are about as nightmarish as they come. In fact, I found this to be more graphic and scary than other horror comics I’ve read recently, such as Creepy and Eerie. In fact, this is so well-done and scary, I’m seriously considering reading the rest of this series. I’m not sure how many will be in the series, but I am going to look into it.

If you are into graphic horror, you should give this a read. I say without hesitation that, with the exception of Wytches, it is the best horror comic I have read in a long time.

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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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Wytches: Issue 1

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I have been waiting for a while for this. I had read about it and it sounded intriguing. Then my wife pointed out an article in USA Today talking about the scariest comics for October and this was the top of the list. The next day, issue 1 hit the shelves and I purchased a copy. Often, when you have expectations for something, you end up disappointed. That was certainly not the case with this graphic tale. It was all I had hoped for, and more.

First off, this is very graphic and disturbing, both visually and psychologically. While it is only the first installment, I can see that it is starting down some dark paths. The opening sequence is set in 1919, where a woman is trapped within a hollow tree, peering out from a hole. The surrounding woods are dark and mysterious, and bring forth memories of being in the northern woods as a kid. The woman is terrified and calling for help. Her young son finds her and she tells him she has been pledged and he needs to help her. Instead, he smashes her face with a large stone, just before some ancient clawed hands grasp her and pull her deeper into the tree. This all occurs in the first four pages.

I starting considering the symbolism associated with the tree. Obviously, there is a reference to the mythology concerning deities existing within trees and the archetype of the tree as a symbol of rebirth and regeneration. But it also reminded me of something I read in The Way of the Shaman by Michael Harner. A hole in a tree serves as a portal to other realms. Using visualization, the shaman is able to project himself through the hole and into the other realm. Whenever I go hiking in the woods and come across a hollow tree with a hole in it, I cannot help seeing this as an opening into a hidden dimension.

The main story takes place in the current day and focuses on a teenage girl, Sailor Rook, who has recently moved to New Hampshire with her family. The parents are very concerned about her, particularly her dad. It is revealed that she was being brutally bullied where they previously lived and that the girl who was her tormentor was pulled into the hollow tree and killed. As a result, there were rumors that Sailor may have killed the bully. Sailor feels guilty because she had “wished” that her tormentor would be gone.

All this hit close to home for me. As a kid, I was bullied and I know the pain that one feels when they are the target of senseless hate and abuse. As a parent, I can also relate to the anguish and concern that the father feels. Protecting his daughter is the most important thing in his life. I know that I would also do anything to protect my kids.

The issue ends on a real cliffhanger. I am not going to give details, because I hate spoilers. I will say that if you are like me, by the time you get to the end of the issue, you will be hooked.

There is a postscript that was very interesting. The writer, Scott Snyder, tells about how he was inspired to write the book and provides some details regarding the mythology. I found it really interesting and I could totally relate to his experiences exploring the woods with his friend as a kid. When I was growing up, I spent most of my time in the woods. I was particularly drawn to darker areas of the woods, like swamps and such.

Snyder tells how he went back to the woods as an adult and experienced a scare tied to his childhood which was the inspiration for writing the story. He thought he saw a “witch” which turned out to be a tree. His recounting of the experience is worth including here.

Later that night, I found myself haunted by the image of the witch, peeking out from behind the tree. I knew what had really frightened me wasn’t the “witch” in the trees – sure, the sight scared me – but what had really gotten me spooked was the idea that this witch had ALWAYS been there. That all the years in between were nothing to it. Because it knew… it knew one day I’d come back and it would be waiting. And why had it waited? What did it want?

For hours that night, I kept on with these questions. I knew that there was a story there for me. Something more than scary, something personal, something terrifying in that special way that gets at the deeper fears, the fears below.

Personally, I cannot wait for the next issue. I’m tempted to read this one again. If you’ve read this, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. Feel free to post a comment. Cheers, and have an eerily inspired October.

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