"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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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.

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