"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

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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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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.

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