"Run-of-the-mill" seems like a modestly accurate way to describe myself in terms of horror fandom. In certain respects I find that valuable, since ideally I can make an appeal to those like myself, to those who may be testing the waters, and hopefully to the hardcore horror fans as well. (And I sincerely encourage feedback, especially from the latter.) It wasn't until several years ago, the present time of this writing being December of '09 to give perspective, that the genre genuinely appealed to me and I owe all that to the film adaptation of Stephen King's 'IT'. After that, it was a slow and steady progression that grew into watching more Stephen King film adaptations, then into watching general horror films. In more recent years it's branched from solely films into different mediums, namely: comics (comic books, manga, graphic novels, webcomics, etc.), purely written literature, and different games.

But let's get to the point, shall we? The Darkley Niche is something I've constructed after the comic-in-progress that a friend and myself plan on self-publishing, an anthology of short horror stories much in the same vein as 'Tales from the Crypt' and similar titles. The series centers around a faceless persona we've affectionately dubbed Alan Darkley, the Niche's namesake, and a cast of storytellers whose tales fall within particular subgenres and sister genres of horror. This site is the drawing board, if you will, where everything posted is either a form of research or a roughing out of ideas. It's all relevant in some fashion. By exploring these different horror stories and their mediums a better understanding and influence of the genre, as well as inspiration, can be put into the comic. Even if you have no personal interest in the project, perhaps you can glean something from the reviews and the like. And if nothing else, the Niche will work to serve my own purposes.

Be sure to browse over the column of banners below if you're looking for posts on a particular topic. (And at the very bottom of the blog, if you would like to consult the complete listing of post labels.) Otherwise, scroll down past them to get to the most recent articles. Likewise, refer to the right side for our latest tweets.

Meet The Darkley Storytellers

Meet The Darkley Storytellers

About Myself

My photo
Well, here's yours truly. The name's Drew, in case you were wondering. The Niche is my personal site, while the comic-in-progress is a partnered effort with Don, a lifelong friend of mine. We collaborate on the stories, but my partner's the writer in the outfit while I am the illustrator. This is currently little more than a side project, but we hope to make something of it.

artwork by yours truly

artwork and artist features

movies, short films, TV, webisodes, etc.

frightful films for your year-round festivities

book reviews: consult the niche's necronomicon

comic-related news and reviews

zed in the head randomness

Thursday, December 31, 2009

IA! IA! Cthulhu Christmas

Christmas has come and gone, but not so long ago that the holiday is still green in our minds. Enjoy this selection of six Lovecraftian carols, all of which were composed by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society on their album 'A Very Scary Solstice'.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Better Know A Stephen: Stephen King

If you look closely, you'll notice a little Shaun from 'Shaun of the Dead'.

Back in December 16th's episode of 'The Colbert Report', Colbert began a new segment entitled "Better Know A Stephen" and started off with none other than horror writer Stephen King. Granted, this episode aired a couple of weeks ago, but being a Stephen King fan myself I felt that it deserved a place in the Niche. Currently you can go to the Colbert Nation website and watch the segment, but for posterity's sake you can read the Stephen King interview here.


"Nation, I have never been a fan of spelling. Where does 'C' get off telling me to put 'E' before 'I'? But there is one place that spelling is crucial: my name. It is Stephen with a 'PH', not Steven with a 'V'. Stevens who are spelled with a 'V' are jerks. [photograph of Steve Carell appears] I love you buddy. Great seeing you in Chicago. So, I'm going to introduce the Nation to the good 'PH' Step-hens in my new me-plus-a-bunch-more part series 'Better Know A Stephen'. Tonight, Stephen King, the fightin' frightenin'!

"Stephen King has written over forty novels, starting with 1974's 'Carrie', in which a tormented high school girl uses her telekinetic powers to destroy her school's prom. The book firmly established Stephen King as a master of horror who had no friends in high school. Many of his books are set in his home state of Maine, which is no surprise considering Maine's terrifying inhabitants like Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, who voted in support of health care reform, enraging her fellow Republican, Mitch McConnell.

"After being hit by a van and seriously injured in 1999, King announced his retirement. He has disappeared from the public eye ever since, publishing only fifteen novels, one nonfiction book, thirteen short stories, three comic book series, and a regular column in Entertainment Weekly. Come back Stephen, we miss you! I recently sat down with Stephen King in my studio crypt."


Colbert: "Mr. King, thank you for talking to me today."

King: "Absolutely." [They shake hands as Colbert parodies having a psychic vision like Johnny Smith in 'The Dead Zone', the vision itself being a parody of Francis Ford Coppola's film adaptation of King's 'The Shining'.]

Colbert: [Colbert returns from the vision] "First question. Millions of people have read your books, people look to you for entertainment, but America is facing a depressing time right now. Why do we need stories about a clown with razor sharp teeth? Why not a clown with razor sharp wit?"

King: "No, actually I think what we need are the scariest, most grizzly, gross stories that you could possibly imagine, because that way people feel better about their own lives."

Colbert: "Why do you think you turned to horror? Did it have anything to do with growing up with your father, Larry King? Being raised by a half man, half reptile must have been terrifying."

King: [King laughs at the joke] "My father was actually not Larry King"

Colbert: "Not Larry King?"

King: "No."

Colbert: "Okay. Moving on, your book 'Cell' has a gay protagonist. Is that your attempt to show people how terrifying gay people are?"

King: "No. The main character meets up with a guy who is a gay guy, but it doesn't play a big part in the plot."

Colbert: "Is he a murderer?"

King: "No, he's not a murderer. He's a nice guy."

Colbert: "Is he gay marrying people?"

King: "No, he's actually helping people along their way. And he's got--"

Colbert: "And when he helps them they have to feel better about gay people and that terrifies them."

King: "They do have to feel better about gay people, but he's also, I think, a fine American who just happens to be gay--"

Colbert: "Terrifyingly gay."

King: "Gay American--"

Colbert: "Terrorist."

King: "Terrorist?"

Colbert: "Terrorist."

King: "No, no. I think you're going to find that most of your terrorists are actually straight men."

Colbert: "Alright, let's count it prejudice, just blanketly say straight men are terrorists."

King: "Maybe a few gay terrorists."

Colbert: "You said that Hell is doing the same thing over and over again. In a related question, you've written two books a year for thirty-five years. Are you in Hell?"

King: [King laughs at the joke] "No, I don't think so. I really like what I do and the real important part about it is every one of those books is different."

Colbert: "Name one difference between 'The Stand' and 'Stand By Me'. They both have 'stand' in them."

King: "They both do have 'stand' in them, but one of them's about the super flu, it's about a flu virus that takes over the entire world and 'Stand By Me' is about kids that are looking for a dead body."

Colbert: "I'll take your word for it, I haven't read any of your work."

King: "What do you read?"

Colbert: "Bazooka Joe bubblegum."

King: "I didn't know they still made them."

Colbert: "Oh, absolutely! Oh, things are not going well for Mort."

King: "I'm sorry to hear that."

Colbert: "Um, your new book 'Under The Dome' has just been released. Let's just show you the ad in the New York Times. [Colbert pulls out said ad] 'His biggest book since The Stand'."

King: "Yeah."

Colbert: "Uh, here's the book. [Colbert pulls out said book] This would make a great murder weapon."

King: "It would."

Colbert: "No one would suspect that someone was bludgeoned to death with the latest blockbuster from Stephen King."

King: "There's a story in that."

Colbert: "Actually I guess everybody would kind of suspect that. [King laughs at the joke] Mr. King, thanks again for talking with me today."

King: "It's a pleasure." [they shake hands and parody the vision again]

"Goodbye, Stephen."

Colbert: [Colbert returns from the vision] "That wasn't so bad."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


As is sometimes a part of our occasional outings, last Monday Don and myself ordered some Jet's Pizza and passed the wait by browsing through CJ Videos' selection, taking advantage of their weekly three movies for five dollars deal. Among our choices, Don was particularly keen to give 'Dolls' (directed by Stuart Gordon, who did 'Re-Animator' the previous year) a try, though I don't recall offhand exactly why. It looked interesting enough, so we both agreed and rented it. And as I'd later find out, 'Dolls' preceded 'Child's Play' by about a year, making its mark before Chucky was even around. The same holds true for 'Puppet Master', which came about two years after. (WARNING: spoilers ahead)

On their way to take a vacation trip, the Bower family becomes stranded on a remote countryside road, just when a thunderstorm suddenly forms. Anything but loving, David Bower (Ian Williams) is an angry and verbally abusive father who has recently remarried Rosemary (Carolyn Gordon), a wealthy and frigid woman. Having divorced his first wife it's apparent that David remarried for money, which is why he cows to her constant bitching, if you'll pardon my French. But it's David's daughter Judy (Carry Loraine, 'Poltergeist II'), perhaps a little overimaginative but nonetheless a sweet girl, that takes the brunt of their distemperment. Really, when stuck in such a miserable position, imagination is all a kid has. And daydreaming that a giant teddy bear mauls and maims the incompetent parents, though dark but still humorous, is as close as Judy can get to venting without getting into trouble.

Spotting a large estate nearby, the family take refuge by entering inside via a basement doorway but are promptly discovered by the owners, the elderly Hartwicke couple. Sympathetic to their plight, they take the family in for the night. Gabriel Hartwicke (Guy Rolfe, 'Puppet Master' 3-5 & 7), a doll maker, explains that the storms always seem to take travelers by surprise around here, as Hilary (Hilary Mason, 'Don't Look Now') agrees and serves the guests some warm soup. Not long after, three strangers appear, barging in without so much as a knock: Isabel (Bunty Bailey) and Enid (Cassie Stuart), a pair of punk rock hitchhickers, and Ralph (Stephen Lee), a nice but somewhat dim guy.

Mr. Hartwicke lends Judy his good friend Mr. Punch to keep her company while Teddy is away.

After showing Judy's parents and the hitchhiker girls to their respective rooms, Gabriel gives Ralph and Judy a tour of his doll workshop in the basement. Ralph reminisces about how his father would say that toys would come to life at night and play. As they talk, we learn that his father died when he was nine, so many of his fondest memories relate to childhood toys. Gabriel listens and agrees, adding, "And they remember you, Ralph. Toys are very loyal." This proves very true later as the night moves on.

Taking advantage of the Hartwickes' hospitality, the hitchhiker girls, Isabel specifically, decide to steal some of the household antiques (Otherwise known as "anticues" or "antikis", as Isabel calls them. Never finished school, did we love?) in the cover of night. As you may imagine, the dolls don't take too kindly to this. While Enid's conscience keeps her from partaking, and thus remains in her bedroom, Isabel is alone and finds herself at the mercy of the dolls, who show the thief none. Unfortunately Judy, who was wandering the halls to get a glass of water, had to witness a bloodied Isabel being dragged away. Ah yes, nothing like a little childhood trauma to build character.

Of course when Judy rushes into her parents' bedroom, adamant that Isabel was taken away by elves, well, to say they're skeptical would be an understatement. The alcohol sitting in their room, which they were quite pleased to help themselves to, loosens the lips of an already verbally abusive David Bower. And if it weren't for the stepmother intervening, Judy would have been struck with a solid backhand, and perhaps more than that. As much as you'd like to think that perhaps Rosemary has a shred of goodness in her, it's only in the interest of saving money on child support that she stays David's hand.

With no one else to turn to, Judy goes to Ralph for help, who is skeptical at first until he notices the bloodstains on her animal slippers. Following the trail of blood, th e two head upstairs into the attic to investigate. Unable to find Isabel, they leave without noticing the girl right behind them in the shadows, bound to a chair and silenced by a doll mask.

Waking Judy's parents and Enid, afraid that perhaps Gabriel is responsible, Ralph and Judy try to warn them. However, this backfires and they accuse Ralph of murdering the hitchhiker girl. Nothing is done to Ralph, but the guests shut themselves up to keep away from him. Intending to keep Judy with them for safe measure, she runs away from her father. When he's unable to find her, David tries to force her out of hiding by threatening to harm the Mr. Punch doll. David tries to make good on his threat, but finds he cannot tear Mr. Punch apart or really hurt the doll. And while his attention is focused elsewhere, David finds after that Mr. Punch has vanished.

Ralph goes to Gabriel, who explains that it was simply spilt paint that they found in the hallway and gently laughs off the fairies story that Judy came to him with. Elsewhere, just across the hall from one another, the dolls start to move against Rosemary and Enid. Rosemary, however, is assaulted en masse and in an attempt to escape somehow misjudges her jump and goes flying through a window, presumably falling to her death. How she ever managed to do something so stupid, I'll never know.

While most of the dolls attack with makeshift weapons, this doll makes use of its fangs.

Elsewhere during all of this, Enid carefully walks the halls in search of Isabel. Upon hearing someone approach, she snuffs out her candle and hides around a hall corner. Peeking from her hiding place, she watches as Hilary pushes along a baby carriage, softly singing "Hush A Bye Baby". Turning into an adjacent hall, Enid is close enough to spy that it's a doll inside, not a child. Not any real surprise to us, but still creepy nonetheless.

When the coast is clear, Enid resumes her search which takes her to the attic. Discovering the chair that Isabel was bound to earlier, it's empty but has blood on the arms. Shortly after she finds her hitchhiking friend sitting still in the darkness, telling Enid in a weak voice, "Go back... Please..." Bringing her light closer she sees that Isabel's face, who appeared to be wearing a mask, has actually turned into that of a doll's, complete with false eyes which fall out of their sockets. Horrified, Enid backs away but is promptly attacked by a group of dolls. Realizing that Judy was right, she breaks some of the dolls in during her defense, discovering what appear to be tiny corpses inside masquerading as dolls. Unfortunately, her escape from the attic is all in vain as she's greeted downstairs by a band of armed toy soldiers that open fire on her.

Accompanying Judy to the storage room, Ralph and the little Bower girl go inside to see about these "little people", certain that she heard them there earlier. After stumbling further in Ralph literally bumps into a light, which reveals dolls from wall to wall. And in a classic horror movie moment where the kid reveals an all too important detail too late, Ralph learns that the dolls are Judy's "little people". Surrounded, the dolls apparently do not want either of them to leave. Rather unexpectedly, Ralph takes the offensive and charges the toys, breaking several in the attempt. But hopelessly outnumbered, he is overtaken in the confined space by these living toys. Judy pleads for them not to hurt Ralph, which, surprisingly, actually works. The dolls deliberate the matter amongst themselves and decide that Ralph is alright, apparently a child at heart, and let the two go.

Meanwhile, having returned unsuccessful in retrieving Judy, David has showered and gets into bed. Beneath the covers lies the still form of Rosemary, whom David simply assumes is sleeping. Unnoticeable to him, a red spot where Rosemary's head rests slowly bleeds into the sheets. But it's only after David makes an advance on his second wife that he uncovers her broken and bloodied head. After the initial shock wears off, David can only assume that Ralph is responsible. Breaking apart a bedroom chair, he runs out yelling like a maniac with a makeshift chair leg club.

There's a real mood killer for you -- literally.

In the basement, where they exit the storage room, Ralph and Judy are startled by her raving father, who accuses Ralph of murdering Rosemary and attacks. Unable to reason with him, Ralph defends himself as best he can but rather poorly. Knocking Ralph unconscious to the floor, David is interrupted by Judy. Completely uninhibited, he pushes his daughter forcefully aside. Ready to deliver the death blow to Ralph, he is saved in time by the Mr. Punch doll. Whilst occupied by Mr. Punch's intervention, the dolls drag Ralph and Judy away to safety elsewhere.

Tearing apart the shelves with a nearby sledgehammer, David gets the upper hand and crushes Mr. Punch's head with an exclamation, "F**k you, Clownie!". It is then that Mr. and Mrs. Hartwicke appear, where it's revealed that the elderly couple are in fact practitioners of witchcraft. Demanding his daughter back, who he exclaims will go straight into a juvenile home, is rebuked by Gabriel, "Being a parent is a privilege, David, not a right." As Gabriel continues to talk, David's form cracks and contorts gradually into that of the Mr. Punch doll.

The next morning, Ralph and Judy awake comfortably with little recollection of the night's events. The Hartwickes give a reasonable series of explanations, including the absence of the hitchhikers and Judy's parents. Reading a note "written" by David, it apologizes on his behalf for being such a poor father and that Rosemary and himself have gone away to another country, where they will change their names and never be heard from again, conveniently. Included with the letter is a plane ticket to fly Judy back to Boston to her mother, as well as money for Ralph to purchase one and instructions to see Judy back home. But after finishing the note, the Hartwickes offer their home to the two, having "grown quite fond" of them. Judy politely declines, much to Ralph's relief, but assures them that she'll come visit next summer. Just after Judy and Ralph leave, another car driving along gets stuck nearby the doll makers' manor.

David and Rosemary Bower, Enid, and Isabel, now trapped as dolls.

Much to my pleasure, 'Dolls' exceeded my initial expectations. The stop-motion animation and puppetry used with the dolls was quite well done, and some of the dolls were legitimately creepy in of themselves. Having grown up with a sister and shared a room with her and her small collection of dolls, I know firsthand how unnerving they can be. Despite being hokey at times, it made the film more endearing than a hinderance. Much better than 'Puppet Master' and on par with, if not perhaps above, 'Child's Play' I give it four out of five Mr. Punch dolls.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield

As I've mentioned before, sometimes my video browsing takes me through online sites. 'Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield' has been featured for a while now on Hulu, but its expiration is very near. So now seemed as good a time as any to watch this film. My expectations weren't very high, but having horror film icons Kane Hodder (Jason Voorhees, 'Friday the 13th' VII-X) and Michael Berryman (Pluto, 'The Hills Have Eyes' 1977) was incentive enough. It should be noted that I'm unfamiliar with Ed Gein's personal history, so this review is completely at face value. In some instances such a perspective can be preferable, but I digress.

'Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield' is based on real life murderer and grave robber Ed Gein, taking place, from what I can assess, sometime in November of 1957, when the actual Gein was suspected and arrested, in the small town of Plainfield, Wisconsin. It begins with a captured teenage girl, who attempts escape, twice, but is stopped and soon after killed by Gein (Kane Hodder). We realize she isn't the first victim, as the barn she awakes in has a collection of various human body parts. How many were from living victims or previously deceased is not made known.

Recently promoted Deputy Bobby Mason (Shawn Hoffman) discovers the teenager's car stranded on the side of the road with blood splattered on the inside of the passenger window. The possible homicide is called in and a search is begun, though they cannot judge if the Jane Doe is missing or dead. This doesn't sit well with Bobby, but is consoled and encouraged by his girlfriend Erica (Adrienne Frantz) and mother (Priscilla Barnes, 'The Devil's Rejects'), though the latter worries him with what's likely the onset of early dementia. Elsewhere, Gein exhumes a corpse with the help of his friend Jack (Michael Berryman), though he is anxious about the whole affair and states that he will have no more in this. Big mistake. Bludgeoning Jake to death with a shovel (making a rather disappointingly short cameo of Berryman), Gein drags the body along a length of chain with his truck, passing by Deputy Mason's police car in plain sight. Why isn't he arrested right then and there? Because Bobby and Erica were too preoccupied making out. Way to be ever diligent, Bobby.

Like Jason Voorhees, Kane Hodder plays a similar role as a man with maternal issues. Having died some time ago, along with his brother, Gein lives alone and is disturbed by the memories and images of his mother. This problem becomes especially compromising when his hallucinations cause him to strangle friendly bartender Sue in broad daylight. A couple notice the murder, but at their angle mistake it for making out. Obviously Sue doesn't come home that evening, so her husband reports her missing the next day. Bobby assures the husband, but with the teenager still missing his confidence is still uneasy. And well it should be, as Gein starts to eerily eye Mason's mother. Listen to your son and lock your doors, lady!

Concerned for his girlfriend as well, Deputy Mason decides to drive over and pick her up, but is asked to investigate the tavern on his way out. The Sheriff also reminds Bobby to learn how to use the police car radio. You can already tell that this is going to come back and bite Bobby in the ass later. Meanwhile, Gein enters the hardware store where Ms. Vera Mason works, apparently letting himself in thru the "unlocked" backdoor, to procure some supplies: baling wire, rope, and a pick ax. Building a fence, Mr. Gein? Not likely. And when he starts hallucinating again, it doesn't bode well. At least this time he snapped out of his delusions before killing another woman.

At the tavern, Bobby and Erica talk about the case. The missing teenager was identified as Becky and suspect, after talking with her father, that she may have been shot by her boyfriend. But their focus is soon lost as they start to make out.

Erica: "I thought we were on official business."
Bobby: "Oh, uh, I'm just... checking you for weapons."

Smooth operating there, Bobby. Just when we start to doubt the deputy's skills he notices a bottle with a dirty hand print on it, just like the steering wheel of Becky's car, which was also dirty. It's a stretch, but at least Deputy Mason's intuition is accurate in this instance and the police's first real lead. And with the drink itself, a caramel pop, not so common it should prove useful. Unfortunately this won't be of any use to Sue, who, elsewhere, is decapitated alive by Gein with a handsaw.

In the next county over, on business to put out a notice for the missing women, Bobby and Erica are called back when his mother goes missing. (Meanwhile at Gein's home, we get a rather disturbing scene with him wearing pieces of flesh sewn together into a second skin, complete with breasts and, I'm assuming, a vagina as well. I could've looked closer, but I honestly didn't want to.) Fearing the worst, Deputy Mason speeds dangerously back towards Plainfield, but accidentally loses control of the car on the road and crashes. Disoriented, Bobby climbs out of the wreck and finds Erica close by, half of her face and knee torn up but still alive. With the radio broken, Bobby is forced to leave Erica along the roadside to get help, after she squeaks out an "I love you" (though I imagine she would really have used a different choice of words, since she was pleading with him to slow down).

As luck would have it, while Bobby manages to hail down a couple driving a truck for help, Erica is found and taken away by Gein to his home. Rather naive, Erica thinks that her "rescuer" is a doctor, despite being taken to a barn instead of a hospital and brandishing a saw. Strangely though, Gein resets her broken leg instead of sawing it off, as most would have expected. Oh, and remember that clue about the dirty hand print, the connection Bobby made earlier between the tavern and the missing girl's car? Thrown completely out the window. A local yahoo at the gas station reports to the Plainfield police about spying a woman's foot sticking out of Gein's truck.

So the entire police department, Bobby excluded, arrives at Gein's darkened house with guns ready. Aware of the authorities, Gein carried Erica into the woods to someplace private and because "The barn's not for your type. Too pretty." Not long after, Bobby catches up with the rest of the police and after informing the sheriff that Erica, who turns out to be her father, has gone missing they break into Gein's house. Upstairs they discover Sue's skin, stretched out taught in a macabre display. In the barn they find Ms. Mason's body, hung up in an equally gruesome fashion. After taking a moment to say goodbye to his mother, Bobby searches with the rest of the police for his girlfriend, finding Gein with a little help from Erica.

The climax gets a little pointless as Erica argues morality with Gein before Bobby jumps him, and then again when Erica and the other officers tell Bobby he cannot be judge and jury by killing Gein, who ultimately decides not to with the cliché "you're not worth it" retort. On a final note, before the credits role, the film informs its watchers that Ed Gein was tried for ten murders but found guilty of two, declared mentally unfit, and instead of a death sentence spent the rest of his days living in mental institutions. However, likely expecting that this would not be satisfying, it's added that Gein succumbed to cancer and died in his cell.

More or less, 'Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield' was what I expected: a low quality horror film with an emphasis on the gore and less on the plot. While the film has Kane Hodder and Michael Berryman to give it appeal, Berryman's role is so brief that he's nearly forgotten as soon as his cameo is over. And as for Hodder, we aren't given the chance to really delve into his thoughts to learn what events warped Gein into committing murder and mutilation. We're given a few hints but nothing of real substance, which is a real shame since Hodder gives us a good performance. The film revolves too much around Deputy Mason's personal life, losing perspective on the character we're more interested in. Yes, we can be involved with the story's protagonist, like Clarice in 'Silence of the Lambs', but it doesn't lose sight of its key player, in this instance Hannibal. With that, I give it one out of five meat cleavers.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Cryptmas

It's Christmas Eve, so to leave you with something a little festive at the Niche here's the Crypt Keeper. If you haven't heard his holiday album 'Have Yourself A Scary Little Christmas', I suggest that you might give it a listen. I've just learned about this rotten little goody myself (via Rhonny Reaper of the Dollar Bin Horror), so I know I will. From myself to you, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good fright.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Howling II

Sometimes it's funny how coincidences happen. Recently I acquired all seven of 'The Howling' films, the first being directed by Joe Dante, who, as it so happens, also directed 'Gremlins'. Well, last Sunday evening was spent with my good friend Don as we watched the first of its sequels. It's been a while since having seen the original, so my memory's a little hazy on the particulars. Perhaps I'll rewatch it when the mood strikes me. Anyway, as does happen with some sequels, this was a far cry from its forebearer.

The beginning was promising as it opened with horror film icon Christopher Lee ('The Wicker Man', Hammer Horror's 'Dracula' films, 'Corpse Bride', and many others) reciting a passage from Revelation, specifically 17: 2-5, though it's not from any translation that I'm familiar with and seems more abridged than anything else:
"For it is written, the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with her blood. And I saw her sit upon a hairy beast and she held forth a golden chalice, full of the filthiness of her fornication. And upon her forehead was written, 'Behold! I am the great mother of harlots and all abominations of the earth'."
It's a good intro thus far, until it brings up the title 'Howling II ...Your Sister is a Werewolf' and cues the hokey, techno-rock eighties music. Looking at each other, Don and myself had the same "oh, boy..." reaction. Would this be a cheesy horror flick? Oh, yes. Yes, indeed. And this uneasy sense didn't lessen any as the introductory montage continued, showing walls painted with imagery found in works by Francisco Goya (ex: Saturn Devouring His Son and Los Caprichos: ¡Linda maestra!), including what are obviously werewolves, meant to mimic his style. Granted, I'll give it some credit for incorporating master artwork into the film. But the inappropriate style of music killed any possible sense of dread.

Next, the scene transitions to Los Angeles, "The City of Angels" as the movie tacks on, to a funeral church service for Karen White, the protagonist of the first film. Having seen Stephen King's 'The Silver Bullet', I half hoped that the congregation would turn into werewolves, but sadly no such luck. Among the attendees at the funeral is Ben White (Reb Brown), the late Karen's brother, Jenny Templeton (Annie McEnroe, 'The Hand' 1981), a journalist colleague of Karen's, and standing in the very back of the congregation is Stephan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee), an occult investigator and werewolf expert. After the service, there are a couple of suspicious characters lingering around who, to no surprise, turn out to be werewolves.

These kids will never suspect that Crosscoe is a
man in his sixties if he wears cool shades... Right?

And of course what self-respecting eighties movie would it be if there wasn't a club scene? Keeping tabs on one of the aforementioned werewolves, Mariana (Marsha Hunt), Crosscoe watches at a distance across the collective of clubbers moshing to live music. She picks out a couple of losers and leads them, with a few tagalongs, to an empty warehouse where they become food. What strikes me rather odd is that the werewolves change during the daylight in this particular scene. It should have been a tip off that more inconsistencies would follow.

Jenny and Ben (who we dubbed Jean from this point onward, since his wardrobe is mostly blue denim) visit the occult investigator, who explains that the late Karen cannot be laid to rest, since the silver bullets that killed her were removed during the autopsy. Still incredulous, Crosscoe tries to help persuade him by playing a "missing" video cassette of Karen's last news broadcast, where she turned into a werewolf live on camera. Continuing his explanation, Crosscoe relates to them that the other werewolves won't allow one of their own to remain on consecrated ground and that among them, namely Mariana, there is a more dangerous species of werewolf that cannot be killed with silver. Alright, so what kills a werewolf that's immune to silver, you ask? Titanium. That's right, titanium. And there's also the matter of Stirba (Sybil Danning, 'Werewolf Women of the SS' faux trailer), the leader of all werewolves, whose tenth millennial birthday will be marked by the next full moon and the revealing of all werewolves around the world.

But before they contend with the end of the world, there's the business of laying Karen to rest. To do that, Stephen must drive a metal steak through the body's heart. (As you'll notice, the werewolf mythology becomes more and more muddled with the vampires'.) Ben, not so keen about having his sister's remains violated, tries to stop it from happening. If anyone is going to nail his dead sister, it's going to be him. ... Alright, just kidding about that last part. But after witnessing Karen's remains transforming and werewolves jumping out from behind gravestones and church pillars, well, that sort of thing tends to convert one. Though, quite frankly, I would've mistaken them for sasquatches. Clips of werewolf transformations with complete animal heads are inserted throughout parts of the film, but we never see any actual werewolves like that. All the werewolf actors in costume and make-up look just appear feral, clawed, and covered in hair.

"Yes, a tiny net is a death sentence. It's a net and it's tiny!"
Forgive the 'Kung Pow: Enter The Fist' quote. I couldn't resist.
Wounding and trapping one of the fleeing werewolves, they learn that Stirba is in "dark country", i.e. Transylvania. To make sure that what happened to his sister never happens again, Ben, as well as Jenny, accompany Crosscoe on his mission to find and stop Stirba. As it so happens, Mariana also journeys across the Atlantic to meet Stirba, who is anxious to see her. While Mariana gets a personal escort from her arrival by train, our heroes arrive in a small, rustic village to begin their search (after enduring Jenny's directionless driving, and a couple of rather pointless werewolf encounters to impede them). If you note the "Transylvanian" village and scenery, it's actually Czechoslovakia. The large, astronomical clock is particularly recognizable, being from the city of Prague. It's commendable that they went to film 'The Howling II' in Europe, but would've been better if they actually got the right country.

Meanwhile at Stirba's castle in Vlklava, "the place where wolves live", the elderly werewolf matriarch rejuvenates herself by inhaling the life essence of a young, sacrificial girl. Around her, a court of werewolves chanting ritualistically. But there's no real rhyme or reason to the werewolves' outfits, most of whom dress like rejects from a bad bondage flick. (That, or from the movie 'Catwoman'. ZING!) As for Stirba, well... just take a look for yourselves. But I would rather that they had worn that for the whole length of the film, just to remove the disturbing werewolf threesome scene that Zirba, her mate Vlad (Judd Omen), and Mariana have. So hairy... So hairy... *shudders* Too bad you can't scrub your mind's eye with bleach afterwards.

Stirba, matriarch of the werewolves -- not how I would have envisioned her

After Ben and Jenny check in to a local hotel, it's pretty apparent that there's something not quite right with this village. If the weird pair of gentlemen staring and smiling at them isn't obvious enough, then getting room number 666 should be. "This hotel doesn't look like it has six floors," says Ben, to which the front desk clerk replies, "I know... Funny, isn't it?" and laughs. But the two get over it quickly, having some passionate sex in their hotel room. (And after watching the werewolf sex previously, this is a rather welcome sight.) Afterward, a midget waiting outside the hotel motions to the couple to follow him, leading them to a church where they reunite with Crosscoe and are introduced to a team of men ready to join their mission, having lost loved ones themselves to werewolves.

As Crosscoe and the men make preparations, Ben and Jenny act as tourists, enjoying the village festival that is in celebration of the approaching full moon. Unfortunately for Jenny, she gets left behind by Ben, who finds his way to the castle by evening with the midget, Vasile (Jiri Krytinar), and is captured by the werewolves. Nice work, Ben. But Vasile actually proves himself quite useful, until he's killed by Stirba's dark magic and brought back as an eyeless effigy. Personally, I would've prefer ed it if he had been turned into a werewolf. This movie was already ridiculous, so why not a midget werewolf?

examples of ridiculousness:

glowing cape

finger lightning

Finding his way back to Crosscoe, Ben arrives just in time to save him from the effigy Vasile. At the church, they meet with the other men and review their arsenal of werewolf weapons, including: "Chrism, a sacred oil. Wax from the sacred candles, to protect our ears. A dagger, forged from titanium. And a chalice, which held the sacred blood of Christ..." So as they -- wait, what? Back that up. They have the Holy Grail, the most revered of relics in Christendom, and it gets downplayed as if it were nothing more than bread and butter on their grocery shopping list? And it seems like it gets lost in the woods later when they trek towards the castle as some of the men are picked off by werewolves. Nice going. Meanwhile at the castle, the werewolves are having some kind of weird orgy, in human form, much to our relief, as earlier clips of the club band playing are interjected for no apparent reason.

Eventually the surviving party comes to the castle itself, followed by more casualties on both sides. Ben splits off and rescues Jenny, though how he knew she was captured by the werewolves we'll never know. And as for Crosscoe, it comes down to a final confrontation between him and Stirba, who have a romantic history together. In an act of self-sacrifice, Crosscoe is able to resist Stirba's hypnotic power enough to stab her with a titanium dagger, causing the two to catch fire, as well as the castle, and are consumed by the flames.

Ben and Jenny manage to escape the fiery inferno and fly back to California, happy living together and having closure with Karen's death. The ending could have left well enough alone here, but they throw in this bit with a mysterious trick-or-treater, who makes us wonder if he was a werewolf or just dressed as one for Halloween. And as the credits role it's just one long stream of clips spliced together, but in particular Stirba's shirt ripping scene, which is repeated at least a dozen times, and the club band playing.

Was it bad? Yes. Was it funny? Also yes, but not intentionally. 'The Howling II' was one of those films that was so awful that you can't help but laugh. And having Christopher Lee in the cast was basically the only other redeemable trait of this movie. Tying this back in with 'Gremlins', Christopher Lee, who later worked with Joe Dante in 'Gremlins 2: The New Batch', actually apologized to the director for being in 'The Howling II'. Ouch... That's pretty bad when you're apologizing for acting in a movie. At any rate, I give it one-and-a-half out of five mace-wielding Vasiles.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


To my recollection it seems like I watched this movie years ago with my good friend, and Darkley comic co-conspirator, Don, back when VHS was the only option. That's right, kids, we didn't have any fancy menu options, subtitles, or scene selection. *gasp!* Scary, isn't it? Well, his family always had a large collection of videotapes, and sometimes we'd wait until everyone in the household had gone to bed to watch a movie to fall asleep to. I'm certain that we did this at least once to 'Gremlins'.

A 1984 horror comedy directed by Joe Dante, though Spielberg seems to overshadow this, 'Gremlins' is about the Peltzer family and the trouble that ensues from taking a cute, furry little critter called a "mogwai" (translates from Cantonese as "monster") into their home. Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton), an amateur inventor looking for clients to purchase his often defective devices, is guided to a small shop tucked away in Manhattan's Chinatown. Here he meets a mysterious, elderly gentleman who is the guide's grandfather and shopkeeper. It's during his visit that Randall notices and becomes fascinated by the mogwai, which he wants to buy as a present for his son, Billy. However, Mr. Wing the shopkeeper (Keye Luke) refuses to sell, stating that "Mogwai is much responsibility. I cannot sell, for any price."

Behind his grandfather's back, the boy (John Louie) sells the mogwai to Randall, knowing how desperately the family and shop needs the money. But before letting Mr. Peltzer leave, he states three strict rules to follow: keep the mogwai away from bright light, especially sunlight, which will kill it; keep it away from water, even for drinking or bathing; and the most important rule of all, no matter how much it begs, never feed it after midnight. After giving the mogwai to his son as an early Christmas present, naming it Gizmo, Randall relates the three rules to Billy (Zach Galligan, 'Waxwork') and his wife (Frances Lee McCain, 'Scream') as well. Of course we know that the rules will be broken, sooner or later.

The Peltzer family manages to get by, but they aren't very well off financially. With his father having no luck thus far marketing inventions and his mother being a homemaker, Billy shoulders the responsibility of bringing in a steady paycheck by working at the bank in their hometown, Kingston Falls. Unfortunately, he's constantly harassed by Mrs. Deagle, a mean-spirited woman wielding significant influence and pull at the bank, who has a personal vendetta against the Peltzer family dog, Barney. (This is very reminiscent of Almira Gulch and Toto in 'The Wizard of Oz' and probably intentional.) Despite the less than ideal circumstances, Billy manages with the help of Kate Beringer (Phoebe Cates), Billy's co-worker and love interest.

Later, Billy's younger friend Pete (Corey Feldman, 'The Lost Boys') stops by the Peltzer's place to deliver their Christmas tree. Up in Billy's bedroom, Pete meets Gizmo and sees how the little mogwai can do tricks and sing. But when a jar of water is accidentally knocked over and spilt on Gizmo, it starts to scream in agony and little balls of fur pop out of its back like kernels of popcorn. At a rather startling speed, these lumps of flesh soon grow into a group of five new mogwai. Billy is absolutely amazed, though Pete loses interest almost immediately after, making you wonder just how dense this kid is.

It doesn't take long to notice that the five mogwai act differently than Gizmo, who is very gentle and friendly by nature. Following the lead of Stripe, a mogwai distinguished by his white mohawk and hostile behavior, the five form a rowdy pack with a mischievous streak. When separated from Stripe, as one mogwai is when Billy takes it to Pete's science teacher for study and examination, they appear to act docile and lovable like Gizmo. Regardless, Stripe or no, all but Gizmo eat after midnight when the opportunity presents itself: the pack at home tricking Billy by sabotaging his clock and the mogwai at school taking the teacher's leftover sandwich. Apparently aware of the transformation that would result, Gizmo refuses to partake of the food.

These cocoons seem to be inspired by the pods in
Invasion of the Body Snatchers'
(1956), which is
seen playing at one point on Billy's bedroom TV.

Personally, they look more reminiscent of the
seen in the
'Alien' films (below).

Next day, the mogwai are gone, but in their stead are a batch of slimy, fleshy cocoons. As the science teacher Mr. Hanson (Glynn Turman, 'Freddy's Nightmares' TV series) explains to the boys, the mogwai have entered a pupa stage, though "putrid stage", as Pete misspeaks, is a pretty accurate assessment. Changes are happening inside, and soon it's quite evidently not for the better. Towards early evening the cocoons hatch and what happens next is brilliantly played out. Using just shadows and traces of the emerged creatures it steadily builds the suspense, both for Mrs. Peltzer and Mr. Hanson, who are in separate locations but still alone with the creatures, and anticipating a first look of the transformation. Both scenes are done very well, but my personal favorite has to be with Mrs. Peltzer, which I can only describe as what would happen if Ridley Scott ('Alien') and Alfred Hitchcock ('Psycho') made a movie set in the mid-eighties suburbs.

Alone in a dark classroom with a film playing in
the background, projecting a live and beating heart
on the wall. It's the perfect setup for a scare.
There's something both comical and eerie about this scene,
when Billy's mother stops making gingerbread men
and picks up the kitchen knife before investigating.
Unfortunately, Mr. Hanson does not fare so well in his encounter with the metamorphosed mogwai, now a gremlin, as is the trend for black men in horror films. Billy's mother, however, dispatches three gremlins in a rather surprising (and amusing, to those of us with a dark sense of humor) turn of events before needing the rescue of her son. With Stripe left and fleeing the house, Billy and Gizmo pursue the gremlin to a YMCA center in town. After toying a bit with the two, Stripe plunges into the swimming pool. Well, you don't need someone like Mr. Hanson to explain that staying would be a very, very bad idea, so Billy and Gizmo make a run for it as the gremlins begin to multiply exponentially.

What ensues is pure and utter pandemonium in the once peaceful town of Kingston Falls. The gremlins have their fun running amok, doing everything from rewiring traffic lights to commandeering vehicles to harassing Kate at Dorry' Tavern, where she moonlights as a bartender. These critters are party animals in every sense of the word. They can be frightening, sure, but they're also hilarious in their imitations. Keep them entertained and aside from the massive property damage, they're relatively harmless.

gremlin Christmas carolers -- priceless

Fortunately for Kate, Billy arrives in his clunker of a car (and no, it's not an AMC Gremlin) to help make her escape from the tavern. Holing up in the closed bank, we see a legitimate outbreak survivor scene, somewhat akin to a zombie apocalypse film. This seems especially true when they leave the shelter of the bank, wandering down the deserted town main street. With a rather somber rendition of "Silent Night" playing in the background, it really accents this scene quite masterfully. Actually, the entire musical score of the film fits just perfectly and I really couldn't imagine it any other way.

After wandering around Kingston Falls for a while, they find that the horde of gremlins have amassed in the town's movie theater and watch Disney's 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs', comically singing along to the song "Heigh-Ho". Billy takes advantage of the present situation by creating a gas leak and arranging a lit cloth as a fuse. When one of the film reels ends, the gremlins spot the survivors whose shadows are cast on the movie screen. The gremlins hot on their heels, they manage to barricade the escape and get some distance just before the theater explodes in flames. But again, as luck would have it, Stripe had been gathering snacks from a nearby town store and thus inadvertently avoided the trap.

Ready to end this once and for all, the three pursue Stripe into the department store. As Kate searches for the light controls, knowing that it will give them an advantage, it comes down to Billy against Stripe in a game of cat and mouse. Taking advantage of the store's merchandise, Stripe implements various items as weapons and means of escape in a series of tactical hits and retreats, gradually wearing Billy down.

Hmmm. We have four key words, here:
puppet, tricycle, saws, and Billy.
Does this all seem a bit familiar?
tricycle-riding puppet "Billy" from the 'SAW' films

At the final confrontation, Stripe has made it to a water fountain to restart the mayhem, but it's Gizmo, speeding around the store in a toy car, who saves the day. Hastily opening a pair of window blinds, Stripe is caught in the bright sunlight, which causes the gremlin to melt away as Billy, Kate, Gizmo, and a late-arriving Mr. Peltzer witness. Later, back at the Peltzer home, news reports from outside Kingston Falls cover the night of mayhem as simply a localized instance of mass hysteria. Interrupting the telecast viewing, the Chinese shopkeeper appears before Mrs. Peltzer, having located the family to reclaim the "sold" mogwai. Chastising the family as he collects Gizmo, he retorts, "You do with mogwai what your society has done with all of nature's gifts! You do not understand... You are not ready." But before leaving, adds on a lighter note to Billy that perhaps one day he will be ready and, until then, the mogwai would be waiting.

As I said before, 'Gremlins' is a great holiday horror classic. It would later go on to be made into a sequel, though I can't say that it does as much justice for the original. Perhaps I'll have to rewatch and review it. At any rate, it's a great story and told in an equally great way. There's plenty of warm, lighthearted humor throughout the film, but several legitimately grim moments that give it a dark side. I give it five out of five Santa hat Gizmos.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Gremlins: sketch

Here's a little 'Gremlins' fan art that I sketched of the Chinatown shopkeeper, after rewatching this holiday horror classic. A review of the film is soon to follow.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Grüß Vom Krampus

Or as the English would say, "Greetings from Krampus!" This traditional season's greetings can be found on many vintage Christmas postcards, these kind being particularly popular around the turn of the 19th century 'til World War I, which feature a figure of notoriety known especially to children in Austria.

example of a vintage Krampus postcard

Saint Nicholas, the model for our American Santa Claus, is said to deliver gifts to children in Europe on December the 6th. While Santa deals with the good and the bad accordingly, giving each child their appropriate comeuppance, Nicholas leaves the dirty work to another, namely Krampus. On the eve of St. Nicholas Day, known as Krampusnacht ("Krampus Night"), Krampus goes about scaring children (and sometimes women), flogging with rusty chains and whipping with a birch switch those who are naughty, and carrying off the worst in a basket to never be seen again. Krampus is traditionally depicted as a monstrous devil or beast of sorts, covered in shaggy fur, cloven hooves, clawed fingers, horns, and a long, red tongue lolling out of his mouth.

Krampus by MissMonster -- She's currently selling
Krampus postcards and t-shirts, but for a limited time,
so if you're interested take a look.
I'm a little ashamed to admit that I hadn't even heard of Krampus until this very month, and by way of Stephen Colbert on his television show 'The Colbert Report', no less. (No disrespect towards him, as I thoroughly enjoy his program.) As Colbert himself said, we need to bring Krampus to America. As far as I can tell, the closest we have to a figure like Krampus in our Christmas culture is Dr. Seuss' children's book character, the Grinch. And by all accounts, I wouldn't be surprised if Krampus was the original inspiration for the furry, green fellow.

Dr. Seuss' 'How The Grinch Stole Christmas!', directed by
Chuck Jones -- A similar resemblence to Krampus, wouldn't you agree?
Also voiced by horror film legend Boris Karloff ('Frankenstein', 1931).

Fortunately, others have seen the need to rectify this situation. There appears to be a horror film underway that will cast Krampus, the movie's namesake, as its subject theme. I'll try to post more on that when it draws nearer to release. But until then, there's more Christmastime horror to come here at the Darkley Niche. Speilberg's 'Gremlins' and Burton's 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' are next on the Niche's viewing agenda, so stay tuned for special features on these two holiday classics.