"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.

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Meet The Darkley Storytellers

Meet The Darkley Storytellers

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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.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009


If you're anything like myself, sometimes you browse through a collection of videos and mark down ones that get your attention for whatever reason, be they popular mainstream or essentially unheard of. On occasion I do that when I visit a video rental store, a generic store that sells DVDs, or online sites where you can watch TV shows and movies. In this case it was the latter. Hulu has some pretty mainstream material, but more than its fair share of unknowns, which brings me to my next horror movie review. (WARNING: major spoilers ahead)

I'm rather glad I didn't see the cover, otherwise I probably wouldn't have given it a chance. Any time I see a chainsaw on the cover of a horror movie, my mind instantly jumps to 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre', which I'm not knocking, but I would be hard-pressed to watch a knockoff of said film. Especially when you read the quotation beneath: "Hostel meets The Silence of the Lambs". Definitely sounds like a crappy knockoff then when comparing it to other horror films in such a way. Fortunately I saw the screenshot instead used by Hulu first, along with a synopsis that gave me appropriate expectations, which were "cheap, low-budget thriller flick, but with a potentially worthwhile story". So after reading the description I decide that, alright, I'll bite. And with the video expiration date coming up soon, I figured now was the time to watch.

"When the remains of several dismembered corpses are discovered, a sheriff and his beautiful, young deputy begin a frantic search for the murderer. The deputy uncovers a methodical pattern used by the killer - only to discover she's next on his list."
Enter Blackwater Valley, a rustic town protected by Sheriff Jimmy Fleck and his young deputy, Zoe Adams. It's quickly evident that the two are carrying on an affair, the sheriff being a married, family man, but they've managed to keep it under wraps. And aside from the recent string of animal mutilations, which folks assume are being perpetrated by some teenagers for kicks, it's a pretty quiet town. That is, of course, until the first victim in a series of murders to come is found.

Now yes, there is gore in this flick. Not tons of it, but still there is some. Personally I'm not a big fan of gore, with the exception of it in zombie films, but that's just how I am. So I'm just putting that out in the open, in case any readers may be particularly repulsed by that subject matter. But there is a legitimate purpose to the killings, so it's not a film with gore for the sake of gore.

Moving on, most of the victims, with the exception of the second target's boyfriend, are women. (And technically speaking, the boyfriend wasn't even a victim of the killer. He O.D.s after taking a large handful of her dad's little blue pills, which induces some kind of heart attack afterwards. Call it dark, but I found death by viagra rather funny.) Each body is left with a different type of flower, as a sort of calling card of the killer. The first is an iris, the second pair an impatiens, the third a cosmos, and the fourth pair some daisies. If you make the connection right now, color me impressed. Deputy Zoe's theory is the most credible, though ultimately incomplete, believing that the flowers were left according to the street name where the victim lived. So the first woman was left an iris because she lived on Iris Road and so on with the following victims. But as the sheriff points out, nearly every street in Blackwater Valley is named after a flower, making that particular detail essentially moot.

We see the killer from the very first murder, face and all, though it isn't until later that we start to pick up the pieces of his exact identity. And aside from his M.O. of female victims and flowers left at the scene, he uses a pair of hedge shears, for the most part, as the murder weapon. Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but I suppose farm and gardening tools fit into a plant theme with the flowers. As far as that goes, the exact motivation of the murders is unclear until the end. You simply assume he's killing women who are sexually immoral and harbors some sort of deep grudge against them because of it. That would make sense, as he gets rather hostile when advanced sexually by any of the women. And flowers are strong, sexual symbols in of themselves. Georgia O' Keefe, you can argue all you want, but a flower is still vaginal. But it's the last detail, the missing hearts of the murder victims (including the drug-overdosed boyfriend), that makes the killer's motivation more unclear.

Meanwhile, the stress of the murders only exasperates the underlying turmoil of the sheriff's and deputy's affair, as well as Rick, a rather stereotypical reporter, who is adamant about winning Zoe's affection. The more aggravated Sheriff Fleck gets, the more he throws his weight around, which causes Zoe to do some personal investigation into the case. This leads to Leroy Calhoun, an owner and trainer of bloodhounds who's something of a joke with the town yokels since he's mentally handicapped, apparently afflicted by something like autism according to Blackwater Valley's animal veterinarian. (Speaking of the vet, I found it amusing that he discusses Oprah during a visit to the Sheriff's department. Who talks about Oprah in a horror film, especially a guy no less?) It's never really explained exactly what Leroy has, except for an obsessive-compulsive need to open doors thirty-four times before entering a house, car, etcetera (going outside, however, is alright). After a little coaxing, Zoe is able to get Leroy's assistance as well as his hounds, especially when he learns that the animal mutilations might be connected.

Actually, it wasn't until the appearance of Leroy's character that I discovered a couple of horror cult icons in 'Brutal', namely Michael Berryman (Pluto, 'The Hills Have Eyes' 1977), the actor playing Leroy, and Jeffrey Combs (Herbert West, 'Re-Animator' trilogy) as Sheriff Fleck. Combs was much less recognizable than Berryman, donning a cowboy hat, mustache, and Southern accent for the part. So while their roles in 'Brutal' weren't particularly impressive, the actors themselves give the film a degree of appreciation for their contribution.

Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West in 'Re-Animator'

Michael Berryman as Pluto in 'The Hills Have Eyes' (1977)

Later, the killer meditates on the next murder as he sits in what is apparently the only bar in Blackwater Valley, watching a pair of women make out. By this point it's obvious he's not watching for the same reasons as the other bar patrons. It's when the waitress sits and talks with the killer that we get some insight into his mind. As it turns out, he's a middle school science teacher named Mr. Millbrook, who also happens to teach her son's class. This scene actually illustrates the movie quite well: intended female victims who fit the sexual immorality profile, disgruntled yokels who give a presence of the townsfolk, and the discussion between Millbrook and the waitress about flowers and their cycle of life and death. The students, who are growing their own flowers as a science project, reveals to us where the killer is getting his flowers. Of course the discussion doesn't last for long and, after following the two girls (who I'm more inclined to label exhibitionists than lesbians, since they get their kicks from pissing off the yokels), murders them in the middle of something cliche and stupid, just like all the preceding victims.

Elsewhere, with their illicit relationship growing ever uneasy, Sheriff Fleck tries to break off the affair and keep it quiet. With re-election coming up, he wants to save face. But of course this doesn't go over so well with Zoe, and fearing public scandal the sheriff sees a loose end to be taken care of. As luck would have it, there happens to be a serial killer in Blackwater Valley that targets women. With the killer as an ideal scapegoat, the sheriff contracts an ex-prisoner to do the dirty deed. But in an unexpected twist of events, not only does Zoe survive the attempted murder, she's saved by none other than Millbrook. Zoe regains her bearings, though not before Millbrook leaves, and quickly puts together who wanted her dead. It's during an explosive confrontation at the sheriff's house that Zoe notices a pot of flowers that belong to his son, a science project from middle school, and it clicks.

At the middle school, Zoe and Leroy put the pattern together, realizing that the flowers aren't just related to the street names that the victims lived on, as Zoe theorized, but are also relevant to the number of petals. Leroy, whose obsessive-compulsive behavior is apparently more numeric in nature, deduces that the flowers were used in a specific order that follow the Fibonacci Sequence. Confused? No shame in that, I was too. Let me break it down for you. Irises have three petals, impatiens have five, cosmos have eight, and daisies have thirteen. Not only was the killer using the Fibonacci Sequence to choose what flowers to use, and thus what street name his intended victims would be chosen from, but also using that respective number for the street address, which was the final determining factor.

Putting together the address of the next victim, 22 Aster, it predictably turns out to be Deputy Zoe's residence. And continuing the predictability, Millbrook arrives on the scene to dispose of her, but not before revealing his motives as he toys with the deputy. It all comes down to math, nature, and his inspiration, 17th century mathematician and scientist René Descartes. Descartes performed vivisections, dissections on living animals, which Millbrook remarks and gives creedence that he was behind the animal mutilations mentioned earlier. Also, according to Millbrook, Descartes had "proven" that animals have no souls. So, as his chain of logic follows, if humans are composed of the same physical material as animals, then humans have no souls, and without souls there is no sin, which seems to be his justification for the killings. Well, after a failed rescue attempt by Leroy, Rick arrives in time to shoot Millbrook. (Another dark humor moment, the blood sprays across a classroom marker board, which makes for a very easy clean up.)

All in all, while it was a rather cheaply done film, the story itself was not half bad. The only thing I find too coincidental is that all the victims happened to be women that fit into a similar archetype. Using the Fibonacci Sequence and flowers as the killer did to choose his victims, I'd say the odds of that actually happening is unbelievable. Putting that aside, 'Brutal' met my low expectations and then some. I give it two out of five Georgia O' Keefe irises.
Watch the trailer on YouTube, as well as the film itself.

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