"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 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.

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