Sunday, November 27, 2022

THE POWER OF A GRUDGE


From the fallow fields of Japan's horror film industry sprung a terrifying new wave of shockers. Initiated by RINGU (THE RING) in 1998, suddenly "J-Horror" movies sprouted like shiitake mushrooms. Despite mostly negative reviews in the U.S., Japanese horror films continued to proliferate by the second wave in 2000 with THE GRUDGE franchise. Boasting over a dozen sequels, the storyline has endured through 2020 with the Sam Raimi-produced remake.

This "Timewarp" retrospective from SCIFI NOW (February, 2020) covers the history of this chilling series.







Saturday, November 26, 2022

HAPPINESS IS BEING IRISH


In the 1950's, numerous TV shows were developed that featured characters from radio, comic books and other popular sources. Luckily enough for young boys just coming of age, one of them was Fiction House comics' SHEENA, QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE. The star was a statuesque blonde by the name of Irish McCalla with a 39 1/2-24-37 figure. A virtual female version of Tarzan, Sheena fought man and beast through 26 episodes of the show until it was cancelled. It went on into heavy syndication for years. I remember watching these as a kid, mesmerized by the leopard skin-wearing beauty, always ending each story with a laugh at Chim the Chimpanzee doing something humorous.

Before Ms. McCalla was Sheena, she was a popular post-war pin-up model and appeared on the cover and in the pages of many under-the-counter men's magazines of the day. However, she never posed nude except once, at the behest of the great Peruvian artist Alberto Vargas, who wanted the shots to use as reference photos for her picture that would end up on calendars and playing cards.

In this article from PLAYBOY (February, 2008) by famous film critic Leonard Maltin the story of Irish McCalla and Sheena are revealed. The nude photos that are included are the first time that they were ever published. Following is Sheena's first appearance in a comic book.











Here's Sheena's first appearance in a comic book, JUMBO COMICS #1 (September, 1938). The script is by W. Morgan Stanley with art by Mort Meskin.






More Irish HERE.

Friday, November 25, 2022

R.L. STEIN'S 'SAFE SCARES'


I was well into adulthood when author R.L. Stine launched his remarkable series of horror novels for young adults. Even when I was younger, I always sought out the "real deal" for my spooky books, so it's hard to tell if I would have taken the bait on these. Still, Stine's tales have enthralled generations of young readers looking for what he calls "safe scares", those that offer chills and thrills without overly-terrifying content.

In this interview in a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal, Stein takes a look back at his successful career scaring the pants off kids (and maybe a few adults, too).

Writer R.L. Stine Is a Master of ‘Safe Scares’
For 30 years, his bestselling Goosebumps novels have offered ‘rollercoaster’ thrills for readers under 12

By Emily Bobrow | Oct. 28, 2022 12:27 | wsj.com

Robert Lawrence Stine always knew he was a writer. He was nine years old when he dragged his family’s typewriter into his room, where he spent most afternoons banging away at stories and jokes. “My parents were kind of horrified,” he recalls over video from his home in Manhattan. “My father would say, ‘What’s wrong with you? Go outside and play! Stop typing!’ It was the worst advice I ever got.”

As one of the bestselling children’s authors in the world, Mr. Stine has had the last laugh—or ghoulish cackle. His scary stories for young readers—including the Goosebumps series, which turned 30 this year—have sold nearly 500 million copies in 24 languages and spawned many adaptations for the big and small screen, including a Disney+ Goosebumps series that started filming this month. At 79, he still publishes several books a year: “Stinetinglers,” a collection of spooky short stories, appeared in August, followed by the novel “Slappy, Beware!” in September.

Scaring kids is actually a second act for Mr. Stine, who spent the first two decades of his career writing joke books and a humor magazine.

“I don’t know why I still enjoy it so much,” Mr. Stine says of his indefatigable productivity. “I just came from three days at New York’s Comic Con, and there were all these people coming up to me saying, ‘I wouldn’t be a librarian today or a writer today if it wasn’t for you.’ It’s so touching.”

Scaring kids is actually a second act for Mr. Stine, who spent the first two decades of his career writing joke books and a humor magazine, under the name Jovial Bob Stine. His first young-adult horror novel, “Blind Date,” topped bestseller lists in 1986, and he never looked back. “The success was so exhilarating. I thought, forget the funny stuff, I’m going to be scary now,” he says.


He adds that it is a little easier to write scary because “everyone has a different sense of humor, but we all have the same fears. Kids are all afraid of the dark, afraid of being lost, afraid of being in a new place. Those fears never change.” He speaks from experience: “I was just scared of everything.” Growing up by the railroad tracks on the edge of a fancy suburb of Columbus, Ohio, he always imagined something was lurking in wait in the closet or garage: “It’s not a good way to be a kid, but remembering that feeling sure came in handy later.”

The adults in Mr. Stine’s novels tend to be oblivious or unhelpful. “Either they don’t believe the kids, or they’re not there, which makes it scarier because the kids are on their own,” he observes. Here, too, he says he is writing from what he knew. His father unloaded trucks in a warehouse and “never read a word I wrote,” Mr. Stine says. His mother “was one of those people who say, ‘Don’t climb that tree or you’ll break your leg, don’t go swimming or you’ll drown. Some of that sticks with you,” he says. “I was in junior high when I realized I was the adult, which was kind of liberating.”

Mr. Stine’s first love was comic books. “‘Tales from the Crypt,’ ‘Vault of Horror,’ those comics really influenced my writing,” he says. “The stories were gruesome, and they always had a funny twist ending, which is what I try to do.” A librarian nudged him toward the work of Ray Bradbury, “which turned me into a reader,” he says. “I went on to read science fiction and fantasy books. It was world-broadening.”

Years later, he got the chance to meet Bradbury at a book festival. “I was so nervous, I was shaking. I said, ‘Mr. Bradbury, you’re my hero.’ He turned around, shook my hand and said, ‘You’re a hero to a lot of people.’ You know how some moments are too nice? That was a too-nice moment. I was thrown.”

The first person in his family to go to college, Mr. Stine lived at home while studying English at Ohio State University, where he edited the humor magazine. He graduated in 1965 and moved to New York with dreams of writing comic novels for adults—“but of course no adult wants a humorous novel,” he says. At a party in Brooklyn he met his wife Jane, an editor and writer; they have been married for more than 50 years and have a son and two grandchildren. Mr. Stine says he still loves the city as much as he did when he first arrived: “When I take my dog for a walk, I see more people than anyone else sees in a month. As my wife always says, ‘In New York, the show is free.’”

To pay rent, Mr. Stine took any kind of writing job he could get, from inventing interviews for celebrity slicks to covering “flip-top cans and new syrups” at Soft Drink Industry magazine. In 1969 he answered a classified ad for a post at Scholastic Inc., where he spent the next 16 years writing and editing magazines, and ran a “very crazy” humor magazine for teenagers called “Bananas” for a decade until it folded. He also wrote adventure books and Bazooka Gum jokes and helped create the Nickelodeon children’s television series “Eureeka’s Castle,” which ran from 1989-91.

“I was at a point in my career where I didn’t say no to anything,” he says, which is how he found himself writing his first young-adult horror book at the request of a Scholastic publisher. At 43, Mr. Stine hadn’t read many scary books: “Don’t print this or anything, but I’m not really into horror,” he admits with a laugh. With some research, however, he sensed he could carve out a niche by making his books “simpler, cleaner and easier to read.”

Although his novels for teen readers contain plenty of blood—“people love it when you kill off teenagers,” he quips—they avoid real-world terrors like school shootings and divorce. For his Goosebumps novels, which are meant for readers under 12, he drops the body count to nil. The goal for these books is to create what Mr. Stine calls “safe scares”: “It’s like a roller coaster. Kids get on and know there will be thrills, but it’s going to let them off OK.” He once experimented with an unhappy ending, but “the mail was unbelievable,” he says. “So many kids wrote, ‘Dear R.L. Stine, you idiot! You moron! How could you write that?’ It haunted me, so I had to write a sequel to finish it.”

Hundreds of books into his horror-writing career, Mr. Stine still arrives at his desk at 10 a.m. most mornings and doesn’t get up until he has written 1,500 words. “It’s like factory work,” he insists. “I really enjoy it.” He notes that the real world is often a scary and complicated place, so his hours at his desk are often the best part of his day. The hardest part, he says, is coming up with cliffhanger chapter endings to keep the kids reading: “They have to read one more chapter, one more chapter. It’s a cheap gimmick, but it really works.”

Thursday, November 24, 2022

HAPPY THANKSGRAVING!


Make sure you eat your bird before it eats you.


Be welcoming of your weird relatives.


Don't leave your leftovers out too long.


No fighting with relatives.


And don't drink too much!

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

THE CREATURE FEATURED


For me, the Creature From the Black Lagoon is hands down my favorite monster of the 1950's (Godzilla notwithstanding). A wholly unique costume designed by Milicent Patrick and executed by Jack Kevan that was not in the least bit ridiculous as a parcel of others were, a great score by Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter and Herman Stein, and the addition of the lovely Julie Adams as the apple of the Creature's eye, all made for an exciting romp in the Amazon guiding by the skilled directorship of Jack Arnold.

This article from STARBURST (December, 2018) takes a look at the Gill Man's career. Following is another article that features twenty-five underwater horror and fantasy films. So, put on your wet-suit and dive in.







Tuesday, November 22, 2022

STILL SCARY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS


Two monster movies worthy of Blu-ray editions were released in October -- DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE (1931) and MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935). This article from the Wall Street Journal further promotes them as prime examples of classic 1930's Hollywood horror.

Halloween Movies: Still Scary After All These Years
By David Mermelstein | Oct. 26, 2022 | wsj.com


One happy byproduct of the oversaturation of things ghoulish and garish that comes our way this time every year is the reliable arrival on home video of films at least tangentially related to Halloween. And so it is that Warner Archive has just bestowed on fright lovers two horror classics: “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1931) and “Mark of the Vampire” (1935)—each glowingly restored in 4K and available on Blu-ray.

Though no longer as famous as some counterparts from Universal (namely “Frankenstein,” “Dracula” and “The Mummy”), both were quite well known in their day. And each was directed by a Hollywood eminence, though at opposite ends of their careers: Paramount’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Rouben Mamoulian, who would achieve even greater fame in musicals and melodramas; and MGM’s “Mark of the Vampire” by Tod Browning, whose credits by then included 10 Lon Chaney silents, as well as “Dracula” and the singular “Freaks.”

A loose remake of “London After Midnight,” a Browning-Chaney silent from 1927 now presumed lost, “Mark of the Vampire” would prove Browning’s last major credit. (He directed his final film in 1939, though he continued to live in Southern California until his death in 1962.) It also happens to have among the most confusing and harebrained plots ever filmed—though its surprise denouement will surely delight first-time viewers. The movie benefits from a first-class cast that includes a crusty Lionel Barrymore; Bela Lugosi, essentially reprising the role that made him a household name; a typically doctrinaire Lionel Atwill; and Jean Hersholt (for whom the Motion Picture Academy’s esteemed humanitarian award is named) playing a sweetly stern Mitteleuropean minor noble—along with the little-remembered but appealing Elizabeth Allan as the vampire’s well-mannered prey.

The movie also offers an enveloping mise-en-scène, rife with every trope now linked to genteel 1930s horror: the derelict castle, the moonlit graveyard, flickering candles, servants either hysterical or stoic (but never anything else), and someone, somewhere, playing an organ. Credit must also be given to Warren Newcombe and his then-cutting-edge special effects—most notably the seamless metamorphosis he achieved turning a bat into a miniature version of the vampiress Luna. But the picture’s visual cohesion rests with the celebrated cinematographer James Wong Howe, who was later nominated for nine Oscars, winning two (“The Rose Tattoo” and “Hud”). Here, he shades faces in artful black-and-white chiaroscuro and often shoots the action through windows, screens and curtains, lending Browning’s enterprise a sinister voyeuristic quality.

“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Robert Louis Stevenson’s macabre tale of good gone evil, was embraced early and often by Hollywood, though most screen versions owe more fealty to Richard Mansfield’s once-celebrated stage adaptation than to the original novella. Initially, Paramount hoped to entice John Barrymore to reprise with sound the dual role he made famous in a 1920 silent still hailed today. But after the great actor took a pass, Mamoulian set his sights on one he preferred, Fredric March, a rising star many likened to a young Barrymore. The director’s instincts were validated the following year, when March won the Oscar for best actor (sharing it with Wallace Beery), the first time a performer in a horror film would be so honored—and the last for 60 years, until Anthony Hopkins won the same prize for “The Silence of the Lambs.”

Mamoulian’s pre-code production is lavish and audacious, and his securing the Oscar-winning Karl Struss (“Sunrise”) to shoot it ensured that the movie’s visual elements would register as boldly as its acting and story did. Struss’s manipulation of shadow and light, daring use of close-ups, and eye for the right ambient detail earned the film much praise. But nothing stuck in the collective imagination more than the unprecedented manner in which he captured Dr. Jekyll’s transformation into a simian-like Hyde (and vice versa). A fiercely held trade secret for decades, the technique required specially colored makeup for March, courtesy of Wally Westmore, and various photosensitive lenses for Struss’s cameras.

The combination of Westmore’s and Struss’s innovations and March’s fearless performance remains both unnerving and unforgettable. Less well remembered is Miriam Hopkins’s turn as the brash barmaid Ivy, who is ultimately destroyed by Hyde. Hopkins was once a star on a par with Bette Davis, and in this role, thanks to a portrayal of uncommon vulnerability and heartbreak, she is any actress’s equal.

Some film lovers may better recall Spencer Tracy’s 1941 remake, directed by Victor Fleming for MGM, with Ingrid Bergman as Ivy (also tremendously effective). Tracy plays Hyde as a sadist, rather than id personified à la March. Also recently restored in 4K, it was issued on Blu-ray by Warner Archive in May. Watching both versions in quick succession would be a fine way to spend Oct. 31—or, frankly, just about any other day.

Monday, November 21, 2022

MASTERS OF HELL!


The Black Plague was the scourge of Europe in the 1300's. While people died horribly in numbers too many to count, in Italy it was up to the Monatti, many released from prison, who did the dirty work of collecting the bodies. In the meantime, with nothing to lose, they took advantage of their situation and embarked on a rampage of plunder, rape and depravity . . . at least that's what this story from BATTLE CRY (February, 1954) suggests . . .






Sunday, November 20, 2022

NEW HPL FILM LOOKS PROMISING


The enduring popularity of H.P. Lovecraft is evident today more than ever. After weathering the fusillade fired against him from the prensentist press, his works instead have brought on more attention and activity from writers and filmmakers. One example is this movie from Dark Temple Motion Pictures, FREEZE, which looks like a version of the Innsmouth story set in the Antarctic (view trailer below).


From bloody-disgusting.com:

Headed our way this winter is the next horror movie from director Charlie Steeds (The Barge People), the Lovecraftian creature feature Freeze from Dark Temple Motion Pictures.

The arctic horror movie won the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival’s Best Film Award 2022, which gives it some legit Lovecraft cred. You can watch the official trailer for Freeze below.

“On a rescue mission to the North Pole to retrieve an old friend and his lost expedition crew, Captain Mortimer gets more than he bargained for when his ship is frozen into the ice sheet and set upon by bloodthirsty fish-creatures. Mortimer and his surviving crew flee the ship, beginning a treacherous journey to find safety in a frozen desolate wilderness.

“Suffering from starvation, frostbite and a slow madness, they find shelter inside a snowy mountain, but are they as safe as they think, or have they entered the heart of the creatures lair.”

Johnny Vivash, David Lenik, Beatrice Barrila, Rory Wilton, Jake Watkins, Ricardo Freitas, Sam Lane, Jaime Seal, Jay O’Connell, Simon Pengelly, Elliot Hadley and Tim Cartwright star.


This article discusses the possibility of a new "universe" centered around Cthulhu:


Why the Cthulhu Mythos Is Primed as the Next Big Horror Universe
Horror is going through a renaissance, and the Cthulhu Mythos could take the genre to new universes with darker beings and horrific creatures.

By Reece Taylor | August 29, 2022 | cbr.com
The horror genre is going through a golden age. Films like Hereditary and Get Out have shown mass audiences that horror can be thought-provoking and artistic. Both critics and box office numbers agree that thematic concepts and powerful stories are a welcome addition to Hollywood. In combination with this, no genre is known for sequels more than horror, but what about its potential for a cinematic universe?

Though The Conjuring Universe and the Universal Monsters are two of the most well-known, they present the good vs. evil dynamic that is already familiar. As audiences open up to more narrative-driven tales of the macabre, this form of storytelling must adapt. One well-known author has a series that challenges the notion of good vs. evil and takes terror to new dimensions: H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos.

Created by Lovecraft in the early 20th century, the Cthulhu Mythos presents horror as an existential threat as opposed to a purely malevolent threat. Though characters like Joseph Curwen and the great Cthulhu represent a tangible fear that horror is known for, Lovecraftian horror represents an existential fear and horrors beyond comprehension. The beings that exist within this universe aren't inherently evil, but their existence is more than what humans can understand, and their motives and appearance are completely alien, which makes Lovecraft difficult to adapt. Now that film companies have the budget and imagination to display them onscreen, these ideas can be interpreted visually.

2019's The Color Out of Space, starring Nicolas Cage, is an adaptation of Lovecraft's Mythos that shows how these concepts can be imagined. The film portrays a family affected by a living form of radiation energy that can only be conceptualized as "the Color."Landing on a farm, the Color emerged from a meteorite and attached itself to every living thing and drained the life from them. The humans in the film slowly descend into madness as the Color gains more influence over them and the environment around them transforms. Though the story was modernized from its late-1800s setting in the story, the themes and alienation of the book stayed true and terrifying.

The film takes the idea of the Color and portrayed it as a Technicolor energy using the color magenta. Using a color that doesn't occur naturally gives the audience an uncanny visual and is a clever way to present the being. The Color itself is the antagonist but isn't traditionally evil, as it's in a world alien to itself. It's a being that happened to land on Earth and interact with its surroundings, which is horrifying in the sense that it's far more powerful than humans and lacks a clear motive or reason. The characters in The Color Out of Space are victims of cosmic forces that just happened to come across them. As an adaptation, it understands what Lovecraftian horror represents.

The Color is on the lower end of the power spectrum in the Cthulhu Mythos. Lovecraftian horror is full of infinitely powerful beings whose sheer presence would drive people mad. In the Lovecraftian universe, beings called the Great Old ones -- of which Cthulhu is a member of -- are in the middle of the scale. The most powerful beings are the Outer Gods. The characters in the Mythos have had limited contact with them, outside of one, which could tie the universe together. In an expanded film, Outer Gods like Yog-Sothoth present a being of infinite knowledge, which is locked out of the physical universe, the all-powerful Azathoth, whose dreams people exist in, and one of the few outright malicious beings in the universe, the Crawling Chaos, Nyarlathotep.

Though Cthulhu is the namesake of the universe, Nyarlathotep is one of the most prominent characters and one that would be a central villain in a cinematic universe. Though most of the entities in the mythos are apathetic to human existence, Nyarlathotep has taken an interest in humans and has malicious intent. Within the mythos, he's devious, smart, and delights in the suffering of others along with nearly infinite power. Nyarlathotep is arguably the most powerful non-Azathoth entity and often lives with humans. One of his most prominent powers is transformation and communication, which means he can turn into any form and speak any language. This allows him to actively influence people and drive them to unspeakable acts. This is particularly dangerous since he has the power to bring the Outer Gods into reality. Through films, he could take on any appearance and lead people astray or to other cosmic horrors for his own delight. Nyarlathotep's ability can even take place in a series of loosely connected films to form the cinematic universe.

Still, the humans within the universe can be just as frightening, as they're willing to do horrific things to gain access to forbidden knowledge and everlasting life. Among notable humans in the Cthulhu Mythos, Joseph Curwen in "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" was a man who gained ability by doing spells with Yog-Sothoth and committed nefarious acts. Characters with complex arcs exist all throughout the Mythos and are ripe for potential stories.

In creating a Cthulhu Mythos universe onscreen, there are numerous tales that are connected through setting, beings, and artifacts. Set in coastal New England, films could take place in similar areas without actively drawing central characters near each other, allowing for their tales to remain contained. Artifacts like the Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead, can float freely through films and allow connections to be more anecdotal. Themes of forbidden knowledge work better in this sense if few have lived to interact with the objects. These themes have already been introduced in Lovecraftian films such as Aliens and Annihilation, both of which combined stunning visuals with strong stories.

Audiences looking toward horror more favorably in recent years helped open the door for The Color Out of Space and a Cthulhu Universe, but with the source material, there are already directions for the franchise to continue. "The Dunwich Horror" gives a mix of forbidden knowledge with a physical being of the titular horror. "At the Mountains of Madness" is waiting to be made by Guillermo del Toro and could potentially open the franchise further. An adaptation of "The Dreams in the Witch House" would introduce Nyarlathotep to the series and expand the universe into the formless and expanding Dreamlands. "The Call of Cthulhu" is a must for arguably the most iconic figure in the franchise.

The Cthulhu Mythos is interesting in that the most well-known figure isn't a large part of the franchise, and the themes and stories could expand without the need to create an Avengers universe. With horror being the central genre, it allows for darker themes and imagery that audiences and filmmakers accept as being artistic and intelligent. The Cthulhu Mythos is a horror that forces audiences to accept that they are not the center of the universe, and power and motives are relative. The Mythos will arrive onscreen in a matter of time, and the darker ideologies presented will take film by storm.