"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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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.

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