"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

About Myself

My photo
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.

artwork by yours truly

artwork and artist features

movies, short films, TV, webisodes, etc.

frightful films for your year-round festivities

book reviews: consult the niche's necronomicon

comic-related news and reviews

zed in the head randomness

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Night Gallery: Pickman's Model

It wasn't until recently that I had heard of the NBC '70-'73 television series 'Night Gallery', hosted by 'The Twilight Zone's own Rob Sterling, and even more recently that I watched an episode. Actually, it was during a search for artwork inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's "Pickman's Model" that I accidentally learned of the dark fantasy anthology serial. Episode eleven of the second season adapts this particular Lovecraft story, including two other stories, though not H.P.L.'s. And as fortune would have it, a limited selection of 'Night Gallery' episodes from its three seasons are available at Hulu for your viewing pleasure. Moving along, since "Pickman's Model" was what drew me to the series, this is the episode that I began with.

Night Gallery host Rob Sterling beside "Ghoul Preparing to Dine", a Pickman painting

After Sterling's introduction into the episode, it begins with Bostonians Eliot Blackman (Joshua Bryant, 'Salem's Lot' 1979) and Larry Rand (Jock Livingston, 'The Devil's Daughter' 1973) discussing the possible authenticity of a painting (above) discovered by Eliot in the cheap, North End studio that he had started rented. As the men speculate, they start to suspect that this may also be the very apartment that was used by the painter in question, Richard Upton Pickman (Bradford Dillman, 'Piranha' 1978). Cue the flashback, we're taken to a classroom where Pickman teaches a still life session to his current pupils, daughters from well-to-do families. One young lady in particular has her eye on the professor, charmed by a combination of Pickman's dark mood and handsome looks. Yes, unfortunately, this adaptation adds a romantic air where none should be found. Still, this is the only particular point that dramatically diverges from the original.

an early form of what we commonly call the "obsessive fan girl"

During the lecture, Pickman not only catches Miss Goldsmith (Louise Sorel, 'The Curse of Dracula' 1979) sketching the artificial flowers in their still life as wilted, but also himself. It's quite obvious that she is infatuated with him, though his half of the conversation is cold as he draws over the partial portrait, changing it into a bestial face. "Beware of self-portraits, ladies. At the least you may lose an ear [like Van Gogh], while at the worst you run the danger of revealing... your soul," warns Pickman as he finishes discussing his own self-discovery, which drastically changed the subject matter of his artwork and ultimately resulted in his expulsion from the Boston Art Institute. To keep afloat Pickman had taken on pupils. But a lady from the Institute, which funds these lessons and supplies the students, arrives after the session to inform him that his services are no longer required due to parental disapproval.

Pickman's improvisation on Miss Goldsmith's portrait of himself

Miss Goldsmith overhears the conversation and follows Pickman to a pub in Canbury Lane, a less than genteel part of Boston, and confronts him again. Brashly she sits down at the table with Pickman, despite his disapproval, and gleans that the rumors are true, that he is infact working on a sequence of horrifying paintings. Eagerly she presses him for more about it. Defeated by Miss Goldsmith's enthusiasm, he describes the inspiration, a legend "that tells of an eldritch race more foul and loathsome than the putrid slime that clings to the walls of Hell. Twisted creatures... half men, half beast. They move with the rostering sound of predatory rats, carrying with them the stench of the charnel house. Wretched mutations that live deep beneath the earth in dark tunnels, surfacing in the dead of night and returning before dawn. Practice their unspeakable acts... breed their filthy spawn... until the day arrives when their swollen numbers will finally emerge and ravish the earth like a noxious plague."

After this haunting telling, which has chilled even her normally sunny demeanor, Miss Goldsmith insists on accompanying Pickman to his studio and seeing his work. Even a confession of love, which does take him somewhat off guard, is not enough to to sway Pickman and promptly leaves the pub. However, in his haste Pickman accidentally leaves behind his painting "Ghoul Preparing to Dine". Back home, Miss Goldsmith talks with her Uncle George (Donald Moffat, 'The Thing' 1982), who relates a near century old myth circulating around about North End, about an alleged breed of creatures that had tunneled beneath that part of Boston, linking them with the burial grounds and the sea from whence they came. "To some," Uncle George adds, "it became a fanatical obsession [to prove that these creatures existed], particularly to those whose womenfolk had disappeared in the dead of night. It was believed that these creatures had carried them off to their subterranean dwellings for purposes of... erm, procreation." Traps failed as did attempts to smoke them out. In desperation, they sealed off every underground opening that they could find.

Using the painting depicting North End that Miss Goldsmith had purchased, she deduces that it is from the vantage point of Pickman's studio and tracks it down. Meaning to return his other painting, she calls and knocks at the dilapidated building's door only to receive no answer. Inside though, a clawed hand gently pulls a curtain aside to view Miss Goldsmith, unnoticed. Something in the shadows quickly scurries up the stairs when Miss Goldsmith enters, again eluding her detection. A little frightened when the gas lights inside snuff out, she hastens herself upstairs, still calling for Richard to no avail as a pair of red eyes watch from the dark. Miss Goldsmith rushes into a room and closes the door behind. There she finds Pickman's ghastly drawings with both incomplete and completed paintings of these "ghouls".

In timely fashion, Pickman arrives at his studio apartment and is surprised to find Miss Goldsmith in it. Despite her protests, Richard pleads with her to leave immediately and never to return. However their argument is interrupted when a scratching sound is heard coming from outside. "Oh my God, it's too late..." Richard gasps breathlessly, then retreats to the back of his studio to fetch an iron poker. "Wait here. Do not leave this room..." he instructs, then adds when Miss Goldsmith persists, "Did you not hear me when I said I had no need of human company?! And could you not understand why?!" Shut in the room, Miss Goldsmith glances down at the painting (above) in her hand, the truth finally dawning on her as a guttural growl is heard beyond the door. She finds another painting (below) and props it up on an easel, the words her uncle spoke about these beasts breeding with human women echoing in her head as she looks in horror.

Pickman's painting, likely of a mother and her son

behind the boy, whose facial features are slightly feral, is a ghoul -- this implies
that the boy is their combined offspring, and possibly a portrait of Pickman himself

Only Richard's cry draws her from the terrible reverie, his voice commanding some unseen thing back down to the cellar. A crash from the hallway, the studio gas light goes out, then the door slowly creaks open, revealing a clawed hand. Miss Goldsmith runs in terror from the ghoul that chases her through the small studio, faints, and is carried out. Richard, though wounded, leaps to her rescue and struggles with the ghoul as a revived Miss Goldsmith watches, frozen in fear. Amidst the fight, Richard's glove is removed, exposing a clawed, grayed hand similar to the ghoul's. Pickman is revealed to be an offspring of human and ghoul breeding.

The fight grows so violent that Richard and the ghoul both fall over the railing along the second floor, landing hard on the first. Knocked unconscious, Richard is carried down into the cellar as Miss Goldsmith flees North End. Later, dressed in mourning, Miss Goldsmith returns to the studio with her uncle to collect Richard's work. Remarking that Pickman must have been mad as they leave, she corrects her uncle, saying, "No... He painted what he saw... and what he was."

the ghoul

Fading back to the present time, Larry asks if they might look around, hoping to unearth another lost Pickman painting. Their search leads Eliot and Larry down into the cellar where they find a large, cylindrical object protruding from the floor. Possibly a large sewer pipe from their guess with a brick covering. Eliot expresses a lighthearted concern that something might be down there, but Larry encourages him. After all, there might be more paintings sealed away. Using a nearby pickax, Eliot chips away at the brickwork. As the sound of the pickax reverberates, a pair of red eyes glimmer in the gloom beneath.

Maybe it's just my own affinity for art, but I found this to be a remarkable episode. You can rest assured that I will watch more of the 'Night Gallery' series. Even the romantic spiel, which I am generally disdainful of, was done well and did not conflict with the overall macabre theme. As I understand it, there are a handful of other "Pickman's Model" film adaptations. But I will be surprised if any of these are executed nearly as well as this one was. I give it four-and-a-half out of five painted ghouls.
On a side note, if anyone can tell me the name of the artist who painted these, I would be grateful. Most likely these were done by Tom Wright, the series artist, but I'm not certain. But more than that, I would be very, very grateful if someone was able to help me ascertain either information about the original's owner, acquiring a physical print, or at the very least a high-resolution digital image of the last painting (mother, son, and ghoul portrait). I would love to feature it in the Darkley comic as part of storyteller Damien's collection.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Goosebumps: Monster Blood

Done with Stay Out of the Basement last Sunday, I've recently moved on to the next novella in the Goosebumps series and have finished it as well. Presenting the third, on-going installment of the Niche's R.L. Stine series reviews, here's Monster Blood. (WARNING: spoilers ahead)

It was pleasant that brother and sister trend was broken, this time centering on twelve-year-old Evan Ross, who, along with his pet cocker spaniel, Trigger, are left with his deaf and robust Great-aunt Kathryn as his parents go house hunting in Atlanta. For a woman in her eighties, Kathryn is quite lively with her loud laughter, striking black hair, and steely blue eyes. However, she's also quite stubborn. Deaf for twenty years, Kathryn has learned neither sign language nor how to read lips, so she can more or less get her own way. This only exacerbates the situation, which Evan detests. Staying in his great-aunt's study, a musty room with dust-covered books and the smell of mothballs, Evan sleeps on a cot while his indoors dog stays outside in a pen, due to Kathryn's black cat, Sarabeth.

So of course Evan spends as much time outside as he's able. While walking around the neighborhood during the early part of his stay, Evan is met by Andy, a colorful tomboy with a similar sense of humor, resulting in the two becoming fast friends. Giving Evan the town tour, Andy leads them to a clapboard building with a hand-painted sign in the window, reading "Wagner's Novelties and Sundries". Old and dimly-lit, the inside is lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves jammed with aged, dusty toys jumbled together in no discernible order. While Andy rummages through the clutter in search of a birthday present for her cousin, Evan finds a small backroom that's even darker and dustier than the rest of the store. The toys inside are even more worn and broken than the others. But before he leaves a blue can catches Evan's eye, which reads across the faded label "Monster Blood: surprising miracle substance".

The grouchy, elderly storekeeper catches Evan in the back room, telling him that it's not for sale, then adding that it's likely too old and no good. But eventually the man relents and sells it. Teasing Andy a little, who also wants the toy, but can't, agrees to share it for a while over at Kathryn's house. Noticing the two, then the can, Kathryn appears to scrutinize the can intensely before giving it back to Evan, saying in a low whisper, "Be careful." Moving up to Evan's makeshift bedroom, Andy jokes about his great-aunt being a witch before the lid accidentally pops off of the can. Peering inside, the Monster Blood is a cold, green gel that bounces, stretches and flattens, glows in the dark, but appears to be nothing special that Evan hasn't seen already. Realizing that it can stain, the children take it outside to continue their play, tossing a glob back and forth.

Accidentally throwing the glob too far at one point, the ball lands the nearby Trigger, who, disobeying Evan's urgent commands, promptly chews and swallows the Monster Blood. Though Evan worries that it might be poisonous, the cocker spaniel seems fine, even a few days after. If anything, the only noticeable change is that Trigger sleeps more. Because of this, Evan walks to Andy's house alone only to be interrupted partway as he's cornered by Rick and Tony Beymer, twin brothers and the neighborhood bullies. Andy happens to come along to his aid, but gets knocked over and her bike is stolen. Downplaying it, she heads back home and Evan likewise does the same. However, when he approaches his Great-aunt Kathryn's he sees Trigger violently choking. Realizing that the collar is the cause, Evan manages to pull it away after a desperate struggle. The only explanation seems to be that Trigger had grown, but Evan doesn't give it much thought.

Trigger, as it turns out, isn't the only thing that's growing. During another visit, Evan and Andy discover that the Monster Blood has expanded. Not only that, but it's also grown warm, won't bounce anymore, nor does it glow in the dark like it used to. And it's sticky; real sticky. Still, the children play with the Monster Blood 'til it grows late. While cleaning up, they hear Trigger barking and look outside through the study's window. To their astonishment, Trigger has grown to twice his original size. This probably explains the nightmare that Evan has later that night, which entails Trigger chasing after the Beymer twins, then turning into a horrifying monster. Strangely enough the dream becomes a premonition as the nightmare's scenario unfolds, at least in part. After paying a visit to the vet, who assures that the dog is healthy, the gruesome twosome appear to hassle Evan, inadvertently provoking the cocker spaniel and chases them. But to Evan's relief, eventually catching up to Trigger, there is no monstrous transformation.

Moving things along, Andy and Evan put two and two together, deducing that the Monster Blood is the reason for Trigger's growth. The Monster Blood itself starts to become problematic as it continues to expand at an alarming rate, outgrowing the containers Evan and Andy find themselves having to fill with the green gel. To compound matters further, Rick and Tony Beymer reappear to avenge their wounded pride by beating up Evan. Despite a bruised eye and sore stomach, Kathryn shows little sympathy for her great-nephew. And to top it all off, Mr. and Mrs. Ross have little luck with the house hunting, so their stay in Atlanta is extended, thus extending Evan's stay at Great-aunt Kathryn's. Perfect.

In the later hours of the night, Evan creeps down to the cellar in search of a container to pour the already overflowing Monster Blood in. Fortunately, there is a tub that fits the bill. However, after pouring the contents of the bucket inside, Evan is startled by Kathryn's cat, Sarabeth, and falls into the tub. If the Monster Blood has any malicious intent, it starts to manifest here as pulls the boy down into itself. It doesn't just pull, it also grows, enveloping his shoulders and bubbling up to his neck. After a vicious struggle, Evan manages to free himself from its gooey grip. Understanding how close he came to death, Evan urgently writes his deaf great-aunt for help. Kathryn loudly laughs it off as a joke, but whispers in a serious tone, "I warned you. I warned you to be careful."

Finally, Andy comes up with an answer so painfully obvious that it eluded them both. Just return it. So, distributing the green gel into two large garbage bags, the children strain to carry the cumbersome Monster Blood into town, back to the toy store. When they arrive, however, the clapboard building is boarded up with a sign tacked to the door of Wagner's Novelties and Sundries. It reads "out of business". By this point Evan and Andy are grasping at straws, only finding temporary solutions to their dilemma. Pointing out an aluminum trash can by Kathryn's garage, Andy suggests storing the Monster Blood inside and together empty the garbage bags into it, securely clamping down the lid. Unfortunately Trigger, now the size of a pony, gallops in haste out of the pen gate and down the street. Evan stumbles, accidentally knocking over the trash can, and the Monster Blood spills out all over the driveway.

Then, with a life of its own, the Monster Blood gathers itself together, "like a newly born creature... stretching, looking around," and bounds after them. Andy screams, "It's alive! Oh, my god -- it's alive!" As they flee in terror the Beymer twins approach, only to be caught off guard by the Monster Blood and are pulled inside the sickening green mass. Still, this does not seem to satisfy the Blood as it soon after continues its pursuit. Following them to Kathryn's house, the Monster Blood goes after Evan's great-aunt and, like the living gel, the truth spills out. Kathryn indeed cursed the Monster Blood, but not by her own will. In a strange twist it's revealed that Sarabeth, suspected as nothing more than an ordinary cat or, at the very most a witch's familiar, turns out to be the one pulling the strings.

The cat transforms into a young woman with brilliant red hair and gleaming yellow eyes. Sarabeth had been holding Kathryn prisoner in her own home as a slave, cursing her with deafness and keeping Kathryn from learning sign language or lip reading to further impede her. "Kill the children!" Sarabeth commands the Monster Blood with a cry. But as a gesture of poetic justice, the cat-woman Sarabeth is done in by the dog. Trigger gallops into the house and knocks her into the green glob, disappearing inside. The gigantic growth of the cocker spaniel reverses (as does the Monster Blood), the Beymer twins are freed from the Monster Blood unharmed, and Great-aunt Kathryn is released from Sarabeth's curse. All goes back to normal and Evan's parents find a home, so they will soon return for him. Aside from leaving Andy behind, who assure each other by agreeing to write and call, it's a happy ending. The only question that lingers is the Monster Blood, which mysteriously disappears.

Not sure how I felt about the ending. I was anticipating that the storekeeper would be more involved, so it was a little disappointing. Still, the turn 'Monster Blood' took with Sarabeth was straight out of left field, so I can commend it for that. The same for using an only child staying with a great-aunt instead of the four-person family setup (father, mother, sister, brother) seen in the first two novellas. I give it three-and-a-half out of five Goosebumps Gs.

memorial: Zelda Rubinstein (May 1933 - Jan 2010)

Zelda Rubinstein as Tangina Barrons ('Poltergeist')

It was brought to my attention that actress Zelda Rubinstein, best known for her role as medium Tangina Barrons in the 'Poltergeist' films, as well as guest appearances in the 'Poltergeist: The Legacy' television series that followed as seer Christina, passed away yesterday at age seventy-six at Los Angeles' Barlow Respiratory Hospital. 'Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon' (2006) was the last film that she appeared in, meaning that from her earliest film debut, 'Poltergeist' (1982) being preceded by 'Under the Rainbow' (1981), her acting career spanned twenty-five years that began in her late forties and continued into her early seventies. That's impressive by my standards. Aside from her contribution to the AIDS/HIV public awareness campaign during the 1980s, which could have jeopardized her career, Rubinstein is commendable for her lifelong effort to help little people like herself. A woman whose height was overshadowed by an ample heart, Zelda Rubinstein will be missed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cthulhu Claus

It's late January, but after stumbling across this bit of artwork, I couldn't keep myself from featuring it here at the Niche. Illustrated by Scott Brundage, you can purchase Christmas greeting cards (even baby tees) featuring this art at the digital store. Even though this post is rather late in the winter season, keep it in mind when Christmas comes around again. Give the little tikes another reason to be good for Claus!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement

Getting back into a reading habit tends to have a slow start, but I'm picking up some momentum, now. With the end of Welcome To Dead House, it was time to move on to the next Goosebumps novella. Presenting the second, on-going installment of the Niche's R.L. Stine series reviews, here's Stay Out of the Basement. (WARNING: spoilers ahead)

This is a book cover! What great artwork.

The setup is somewhat familiar to that of Welcome To Dead House, featuring a family of four with two children, one of each gender, with the daughter as the primary protagonist. My hunch predicts this will be a common trend in most of Stine's series. That aside, the similarities in stories ends there.

Hailing originally from Michigan (my home state, so it gets some brownie points for that), Margaret and Casey's family live in the warm, sunny state of California, though the state of the family itself is overcast. Their father, botanical scientist Dr. Brewer, had been laid off from his position at PolyTech and has, since then, been holing himself up in the basement working on a personal project. The neglect, though unintentional, still takes its toll on the children and likely their mother as well, but the story reads from their perspective. Noticing the basement door left slightly ajar, Margaret and Casey attempt their first excursion down. They only make it a few steps down before their father, hand bleeding, sternly yells the warning from which this book gets its name.

To shorten the summary, it develops into a pattern of the children, usually Margaret, noticing Dr. Brewer growing stranger. Not just in behavior, but quite literally. Leaves grow from his head and, on separate occassions, Margaret spies her father eatting plant food and green blood seeping from his wound. Adding to the pattern, the Brewer children find several opportunities to sneak back down into the basement, trying to learn what their father's experiments entail and the reason for his transformation. Between seldom being around and giving vague, often suspicious explanations, Margaret and Casey need to find the answers for themselves. A half-truth, Dr. Bower relates to the children that his experiment entails growing plants that are spliced with animal genes. The plants are fleshier, move slightly on their own accord, some with tendrils that can grasp, and apparently breathe. But it doesn't explain their father's condition, which he sidesteps as "just a side effect", or the desperate banging noise.

By now you've likely deduced the truth, as I had. In a final excursion down into the basement, the Brewer children break open a boarded-up supply closet door, the source of the sound. A collection of plant-human aberrations, subject rejects, spill out onto the floor and further inside is Dr. Brewer, bound and gagged. Cue the appearance of other Dr. Brewer, it turns into a climactic confrontation of the doubles. Unfortunately both appear physically identical, right down to the wounded hand and leaves growing from the scalp. Margaret, defensively holding onto an axe, is pressured to choose as both men vie for the weapon. However, she deduces a way to solve this dilemma by cutting the previously imprisoned Dr. Brewer's arm. Bleeding red from the gash, this is evidence enough to convince the children that this is their real father. This is further proven after Dr. Brewer chops the doppelganger in two, the fatal wound revealing a stalk without human bones or organs.

Later, Dr. Brewer details that during his experiments, which was splicing just plants in an attempt to create a type of super plant, he accidentally mixed his own blood from an open cut. A result was his hair falling out and replaced by the leafy growths, but more importantly to the botanist, he had stumbled upon a method of splicing human genes with plants. Too involved, too excited, Dr. Brewer kept experimenting without regard for his failed specimens, which he discarded in the closet. This finally caught up with Dr. Brewer when he made a specimen that was nearly identical in almost every way, even in thought and memory. Gaining the advantage, the plant-man overpowered the doctor and imprisoned him in the closet, taking his place and continuing the experiments.

Mr. Martinez, Dr. Brewer's previous boss, who was also kidnapped partway in the story and imprisoned alongside, asks Dr. Brewer to return to work at PolyTech and the doctor has the plants in the basement destroyed. Everything seems to be right again... But alone in their garden one weekend, Margaret hears a whisper at her feet. A small, yellow flower nudges her ankle, whispering, "Margaret, help me. Please -- help me. I'm your father. Really! I'm your real father!"

Stay Out of the Basement ends on this cliffhanger, but the story leads myself at least to believe that the plant-man Dr. Brewer had no ill intent towards the family. I'd venture to guess that it legitimately cared for them and believed that it was, in fact, their real father. Sometimes the duplicate believes it's the original, which is not an uncommon plot element. As for the flower in the garden, it's possible that the plant-man Dr. Brewer planted seeds in the garden before it was killed. There was an earlier scene where the children found him standing by their garden's rose trellis, examining the flowers. Again, these are my own conjectures. Although a bit predictable, Stay Out of the Basement is a good story all in all. If you like 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers', you'll probably enjoy this read. I give it four out of five Goosebumps Gs.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Goosebumps: Welcome To Dead House

After finishing Goosebumps Graphix 2: Terror Tales, I've started reading the original series by R.L. Stine. I remarked in an earlier review of the aforementioned graphic novel that what really caught my curiosity as a kid was One Day At Horrorland. However, as tempted as I have been to begin with this particular book, it seemed best to follow the series in order. Over the past few nights I've been reading several chapters at a time, and having finished last night I can share my thoughts on Stine's first Goosebumps novella, Welcome To Dead House. (WARNING: spoilers ahead)

The story begins simple enough. Amanda and Josh Benson are apprehensive about their family's move to a new neighborhood, as most children would be. But when Mr. Benson inherited the large, old house in Dark Falls from his late, Great-Uncle Charles it was more or less decided. Rather odd, considering that neither Mr. or Mrs. Benson can recall this particular relative. Regardless, the inheritance seems like a godsend and Mr. Benson leaves his mundane office job to pursue his dream of being a writer. (I find this device a little cliché when the author self-injects themselves into the story, albeit indirectly.) Amanda has a tearful farewell with her best friend Katherine and Josh, an annoyingly obstinate boy, whines during the entire move. At least their dog, Petey, helps as a distraction. However, like most animals in horror stories, the normally friendly family dog seems to have a sixth sense. He's leery of the old house and especially hostile towards Mr. Compton Dawes, the real estate agent. It's not long after that Amanda begins witnessing strange things that give credence to the dog's behavior.

Being twelve years old, and already aggravated by Josh's persistence to act like an infant, the Benson parents brush off anything that Amanda brings to their attention. The strange girl in their house is simply a pile of clothes in the hallway, the billowing curtains of a closed window is just a hidden air leak in her bedroom. Typical excuses are found for each sight, up to the point where Amanda becomes half-convinced herself that these are only figments of the imagination. Maybe Amanda would be more inclined to accept her parents' explanations if it were not for the neighborhood or the children, both of which are equally unsettling. Every house in Dark Falls is overshadowed by trees, blanketing the town in a constant darkness, save for the road and town schoolyard. The neighborhood is all too still with no signs of life, save for the circle of kids they become acquainted with. As for the town children, they seem friendly enough, but occasionally Amanda catches hints of an of inside joke and moments of malice. Then again, it could just be her imagination.

During an afternoon playing with the local kids, Amanda and Josh notice that Petey has gone missing. Strange, since Josh could swear that he tied the dog's leash tight to the schoolyard fence. This was a necessary precaution, since the dog barks and bites at these kids, too. So the two siblings spend the rest of the day searching, but to no avail, and return home before their parents leave for a neighborhood potluck that evening. Putting themselves to bed, Amanda lies awake with worry until Josh enters with an idea to search the Dark Falls cemetery. During their first visit, Josh had chased after the dog and followed Petey there. It seems very likely that the dog returned there. Unable to deter her brother, Amanda comes along, guided by Josh's flashlight since there are no streetlights in town.

It's no surprise that Ray, one of the younger town's children, accidentally startles them at such a dark and late hour. Apparently allowed to wander when unable to sleep, Ray warns them to stay away from the cemetery, but to no avail. Hastening their search, the children find Petey, but the dog acts eerily distant and unfamiliar. It's while Josh chases after it that Amanda discovers the gravestones of their new "friends", including Ray. The dead boy explains to a terrified Amanda that animls have the sense to recognize the living dead, so they have to go first, alluding that Petey was killed by the kids. It was his task to keep the town's secret hidden from the Benson children until the time was right to bring their family into the fold, that Dark Falls is a town of the undead. Fortunately for Amanda, Josh returns in the nick of time, shining his flashlight on the two of them. Light, as it turns out, is the weakness of these undead and Ray decays to bone.

Now knowing this horrible truth the Benson children run back home to find their parents and flee Dark Falls. However, their parents have not yet returned and it dawns on them that they may have been taken captive. It's then that the other Dark Falls children appear from the shadows, explaining that this is the "dead house" and every year a living family is lured in to give the town's inhabitants new lifeblood. Each of them, it turns out, used to live in this house. As the dead close in on them, Mr. Dawes comes to their rescue. Having escaped the potluck with their parents, he drives Amanda and Josh back to the cemetery, claiming that it is where they are hiding and meeting up. Of course it's soon discovered that Mr. Dawes is dead as well. Building on Ray and the dead children's earlier explanations, Mr. Dawes adds that Dark Falls fell victim to a yellow gas leaked from its plastics factory that killed everyone. However, the inhabitants didn't remain dead and returned from the grave, becoming a all too literal ghost town.

As dawn breaks, Mr. Dawes is forced to draw back into the shadows of the cemetery, as do the rest of the townsfolk, which the siblings witness from their hiding spot. Discreetly they trail behind and are led to an amphitheater at the end of the cemetery, likely constructed by the citizens sometime after their resurrection. It serves as a town meeting place and is where their parents are being held. Very ideal, the amphitheater is enveloped in the shade of a large tree, much like the houses of Dark Falls. However, this tree leans so far over that the Benson children use this to their advantage, forcing the tree to topple over and destroy the undead in one fell swoop. The Bensons are reunited, the living dead eliminated. All's well that ends well, right? Later, after the Benson family is packed and ready to leave Dark Falls permanently, Amanda sees a new family moving into the house and welcomed by someone who appears to be Mr. Dawes. But it couldn't be him... right?

All in all, Welcome To Dead House is a good read and is easy to see why the books caught on with children. Even as a twenty-four-year-old, I can appreciate it. Change the storytelling enough and it could very well be adapted into a horror novel for adults. I'll wager the same could be said for many of the other Goosebumps novellas. The detailed bits definitely draw you in. Personally, I would like to have read more about the history of Dark Falls and the strange cemetery amphitheater. And the yellow gas from the plastics factory, though obviously unrelated, couldn't help but make me think of 'Return of the Living Dead'. I give it four out of five Goosebumps Gs.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Halloween II - Dear Sister

After watching Rob Zombie's 'Halloween II' last Monday with Don, this came to mind. Enjoy this little video put together by yours truly. A film review will follow later on. (WARNING: spoiler alert)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

double dud feature: Don't Look Down and New Year's Evil

Still playing catch-up on the film reviews, as mentioned in the triple haunted feature post. So once again the Niche presents a multiple film feature, affectionately dubbed the "double dud". Don and myself have seen our fair share of failure horror films, but try to glean what pearls we can from the grime. Every film, however horrible it may be, has at least one grain that is or could be made worthwhile. Finding that hidden potential can serve our own stories in the Darkley comic, as well as marking what mistakes to avoid.

Like the last multiple film feature, we'll keep the synopses shorter and leave out the important spoilers.

When you have to scan the DVD cover because there
aren't any decent images online, that doesn't bode well.

A made for television film, 'Don't Look Down' seems like a far cry from the stories associated with horror adept Wes Craven, who produced it. Especially when it feels like a Lifetime Channel program. It begins with an excursion to some woodland cliffs for a photo shoot when a loose rail gives (just as she strikes a 'Titantic' pose and says, "Ohhh! I feel like I'm flyiiiiing!" -- priceless), resulting in Rachel (Tara Spencer-Nairn, 'Wishmaster 4') plummeting to her death. Carla Engel (Megan Ward, 'Amityville: It's About Time'), deeply ridden with guilt for being unable to save her younger sister, develops a case of acrophobia, thoughts of suicide, and hallucinations of Rachel. Her husband Mark (Billy Burke), the photographer, can only watch as the effects wear her thin.

The remainder of the movie is spent with Carla involved in an experimental therapy group for acrophobics, but members begin to die one by one, falling to their deaths. Is Dr. Sardowski (Terry Kinney, 'Body Snatchers' 1993) killing his patients with his extreme methods? Is Carla scizophrenic like her mother and murdering her group mates? Or perhaps it is Rachel's vengeful spirit, pushing Carla to the breaking point? The only time in which 'Don't Look Down' actually becomes entertaining is near the end. It's meant to be serious, and likely scary, but for viewers with a sense of dark humor it comes off as just funny. Certainly the story has potential, but it's just done so boringly. If you want a good thriller about acrophobia, save yourself the trouble and watch Hitchcock's 'Vertigo' instead. I give it one-and-a-half out of five "flyiiiiing" Rachels.

The blame falls to FEARnet for watching this one, and being January we couldn't pass on this. How many horror movies are there that take place on New Year's Eve, after all? The premise itself seemed sound for a decent '80s slasher flick: a killer calling himself "Evil" (Kip Niven) telephones in on a live, New Year's rock celebration show and tells host Diane "Blaze" Sullivan (Roz Kelly, 'Full Moon High') that he will commit murders at midnight. Yet they still manage to drop the ball on this film. And yes, pun most definitely intended.

"This... is... Eeeviiil!" -- overly exaggerated
tongue curl and all, using a voice distorter

Is a woman in her near-forties really the sex symbol
that would appeal to a teenage demographic?

First, there's the number of plot holes, the biggest being the most obvious. Somehow the murderer manages to drive across four time zones, allotting enough leeway for a killing in each. Just as an example, the shortest distance from Texas (Central) to California (Pacific) would still take approximately eight hours to drive. But our boy begins much further out in the Eastern Time Zone and makes his way to California. Please explain how that would work.

Putting logic aside for the time being, Evil's first target is a nurse working the late shift at the Crawford Sanitarium. Disguising himself as a newly transferred orderly, it's apparent that this was all planned out ahead. Waiting until the midnight countdown before delivering the deathblow to his victim, he records the murder on cassette tape and replays the slaying on air when he telephones in to Diane again. Likewise, Evil uses a similar tactic of donning a disguise and cover story to pick up a pair of women at a bar, whom he records, slays, and replays to the rock show host.

Meanwhile Diane's son, Derek (Grant Cramar, 'Santa Claws'),
exhibits mommy issues as he watches the show from her hotel room.
Why don't you love me, Mommy? Why???

ZOMBIES! SHOOT THEM IN THE HEAD! -- Oh, wait, those are
just ravers. Still... better to be safe. (for real zombie raver action,
watch 'Return of the Living Dead: Rave from the Grave'.)

Disguised as a priest and likely on his way to a third target, a nun whose photograph is seen nearby, Evil accidentally angers a gang of bikers and ensues in a chase. Abandoning his car at a drive-in cinema (playing trailers for 'Blood Feast' and 'Blood Bath'), he steals another with a young woman in the backseat. She, however, manages to escape and the murderer hitches a ride to the hotel where the New Year's rock celebration is being televised. Despite police protection, Evil manages to enter and enact part of his revenge on Diane, which involves her chained to the bottom of a moving elevator. Without revealing too much, we learn that the serial killer has a deeply-rooted grudge against women, explaining the M.O. of female victims. Diane herself is the pinpoint of his personal vendetta and has been appropriately saved for last.

"Please... I'll do anything you want. We can even get it on if you
want to. I won't make any kind of fuss..." -- Is that really the best
thing to say in this situation? Encouraging a potential rape?

Wearing what appears to be a Stan Laurel mask,
it's never explained why Evil dons this near the end.

Unlike most horror/slasher films, however, the police actually prove to be pretty competent. Officers interrupt Evil before he can kill the woman kidnapped in the stolen car and the same happens with Diane. A chase ensues with gunfire exchanged between Evil and the police, leading to the rooftop of the hotel. Cornered, the murderer quotes one of the more famous lines from Shakespeare's Hamlet and jumps to his death. There is more involved with the ending, but that ties in with the spoiler. Needless to say, this isn't the end of Evil. A sequel was never filmed, however, so in reality this would prove to be the end. Probably for the best.

I must admit that I was rather critical of 'New Year's Evil', but having re-watched segments to refresh my memory I found that there were some redeemable qualities. The music, while typical 80's rock performed by bands that would have been forgotten otherwise, was rather catchy. Much, much better than 'The Howling II'. And I swear that Diane's musical introduction to the celebration special sounds like Puscifier's "The Mission". Listen and compare for yourselves if you won't take my word for it. And on a similar note, 'New Year's Evil' occasionally uses a whisper-like "shh-shh-hah-hah" audio string in the background, very similar to the one made famous in the 'Friday the 13th' films. That earns itself a couple brownie points in my book.

All in all, 'New Year's Evil' is a cheesy '80s slasher very typical of the time. It's not great by any means, but it's good for a laugh. And unlike 'Don't Look Down', this won't bore you to tears. I give it two out of five ball drop globes.

Benton's Illustrated History and Goosebumps Graphix 2

While films are the more customary subject of the Niche, be they television, indie short films, movies, or the like, our first love is comics. After all, this is the ultimate purpose of the Niche: to be a wellspring of inspiration for the Darkley horror anthology comic that yours truly and lifelong friend Don are shaping together. So it only makes sense that we occassionally dedicate a share of the Niche to the medium of comics. Here are a couple more recent reads that were rather interesting.


First, a thanks to The Horrors of it All for recommending this read.

Mike Benton's Horror Comics: The Illustrated History begins with the birth of American horror comics, touching on the predecessors that would lead to their creation (namely pulp magazines, horror movies, and mystery radio shows of the 1930s and 40s). Chronicling the rise in the horror comic's popularity, we witness its trials and controversy (much of which is owed to Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent), ultimately leading to the creation of the Comics Magazine Association of America (CMAA) and its suppression. Still, horror comics would manage to survive underground, like a malnourished ghoul picking at scraps. But as social prejudices ebbed over the years, the genre would rise once more from the grave. Quite appropriate, actually. Leading up to the 1990s with a brief chapter, Benton's book finishes with guidelines for comic care and preservation, as well as a list of notable horror comics spanning over fifty years.

Informative and with artwork on almost every page, Horror Comics: The Illustrated History is a handy guide to those interested in the general history of the genre. I give it four-and-a-half out of five Vault-Keepers.


A thanks as well to Rhonny Reaper, whose Goosebumps article reminded me of the children's horror book series and ultimately led to my stumbling upon this read.

Goosebumps Graphix 2: Terror Trips is the second in a compilation of R.L. Stine stories adapted to comics. I have yet to read the first volume yet, namely because I was too eager to read "One Day At Horrorland". Growing up, I wasn't allowed to read the Goosebumps books or watch the inspired television series, but it circulated around elementary school enough to make one a tad envious of those that were. I distinctly remember the cover of One Day At Horrorland, longing in that way kids do for something forbidden to them. So now the time has come to do some serious catching-up for my inner child, and after reading this book I have to say it felt good.

Jill Thompson (Scary Godmother series) illustrates "One Day At Horrorland" in a superbly sketchy and expressive style. Definitely my favorite of the three, I personally would've loved it if the rest of the stories were adapted by her. However, Jamie Tolagson's adaptation of the second story, "A Shocker on Shocker Street", is certainly on the same par, doing a remarkable job on dramatic lighting and shadow play. My only complaint is the last, "Deep Trouble", but that's simply a personal criticism of the artist's style, Amy Kim Ganter. But it is cute, especially her mermaid, so I can't be too harsh on her. I give Goosebumps Graphix 2: Terror Trips four out of five Horrorland horrors.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Taylorem and Dill: The Wicker Man (2006)

In my last review, I made a passing remark about 'The Wicker Man' 2006 remake starring Nicholas Cage. Now, it's only fair to make a disclaimer and state that I have not actually seen this film for myself. The original 1973 film with Christopher Lee, yes, but not the remake. Putting aside the reception of poor reviews from movie critics, horror fans, and personal friends alike, I was still curious and tempted to watch for myself. However, I didn't want to waste my personal time proving to myself that I would be disillusioned. I've done that once already, much to my regret, by spending an afternoon watching all 'The Children of the Corn' sequels... I want those stolen hours of my life back. So, the solution? "Taylorem & Dill at the Movies" review of 'The Wicker Man' ('06). Whether you have or have not seen the film, I recommend their review for laughs.

Annnnd, just for further amusement...

triple haunted feature: The Echo, The Uninvited, and The Dark

Afraid I'm falling behind on the film reviews, no pun intended. More recently Don, friend and Darkley comic co-conspirator, and myself have splurged on the movie rentals in the past few weeks. So to help catch up, the Niche presents a special feature reviewing three movies about hauntings. Actually, one of these is not a haunting, but I'll let you learn for yourselves which it is. We'll keep the synopses shorter and leave out the important spoilers, so have at it.

An American remake of Fillipino horror film 'Sigaw' (which neither of us have seen and only learned that it was a remake after the fact), 'The Echo' follows recently released ex-con Bobby Reynolds (Jesse Bradford) who moves into the apartment of his late mother. The circumstances surrounding his mother's death are vague and appears to have gone senile, shutting herself up in the apartment in the remaining weeks of her life. The apartment building supervisor, having replaced the prior super not so long ago, is less than helpful on the details. Bobby is left to find unsettling pieces of the puzzle: piano keys stained with blood and whole fingernails inside the piano itself, a closet with cans of cat food and locks on the inside, and a hole in the wall caused by some sort of hard impact, just to name a few.

To make matters worse, Bobby is put in a precarious predicament by the evidence of abuse going on next door, which only he seems to take notice of. Several times the victimized mother (Iza Calzado) and daughter (Jamie Bloch, 'Diary of the Dead') reach out to Bobby, each in their own way. But when it's the word of an ex-con against a police officer (Kevin Durand), and a rather large man at that, who menacingly tells Bobby to mind his own business, who would they believe? However, it's not long after that we learn the apartment next door is abandoned and that there is no family. At least no living family. Following the pattern of horror films like 'Ju-on', the spirits of 'The Echo' are trapped in a violent cycle that extends its reach to any who make contact, apparently those who visit or live on that particular floor. Oh, and there's also an old girlfriend (Amelia Warner, 'Nine Lives') that gets caught up in this mess, but who really cares, right?

While maintaining an ominous atmosphere and some legitimately creepy elements, there is relatively little that 'The Echo' offers that makes it original from other American remakes or the Asian horror films that they're based on. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad movie by any means, just average. I give it three out of five blood-stained piano keys.

While the title of 'The Uninvited' (2009) would lead you to presume that it's referring to a haunting spirit or such, it's actually a flesh and blood woman. Meet Anna Ivers (Emily Browning, 'Ghost Ship'), a teenage girl recovering from the traumatic death of her mother, which lead to her stay and rehabilitation in a mental institution. Anna has reoccurring nightmares of the night her mother died in the boat house from an unexplained fire, but has blocked out the incident from her conscious memories. Having worked through a suicidal phase, Anna's psychiatrist deems her ready to go home and in parting says, in the hopes that her memories will gradually return, "finish what you started".

But as they say, you can never go home. Anna returns with her father (David Strathairn) to their seaside house, but it is not the home that she left before. Anna's sister, Alex (Arielle Kebbel, 'Freakdog'/'Red Mist') is resentful, initially, of her sister leaving and has developed a bit of a drinking problem. Aside from Anna's absence and their mother's death, what has driven Alex to further drinking is Rachel Summers (Elizabeth Banks, 'Slither'), their mother's former nurse and stepmother-to-be. It's apparent at this point that Rachel is the "uninvited" person in the house. Hoping to make a good impression on Anna, Rachel puts on a friendly, if somewhat pushy, facade for the girl.

But when the frightful apparition of Anna's mother (Maya Massar) starts appearing to her, making accusation of murder in a manner almost reminiscent of 'Hamlet', she begins to suspect that Rachel may have had a hand in her death. Together with her sister, Anna tries to solve the mystery of Rachel Summers' past, the circumstances of the boat house fire, and three murdered children whom Anna sees in visions.

'The Uninvited', like 'The Echo', is also an American remake of an Asian horror film, South Korea's 'A Tale of Two Sisters'. And likewise, Don and myself learned this only after the fact. It does deserve credit for not feeling like a typical remake, since neither of us suspected. A decent story with a few well done twists at the end, I give it three-and-a-half out of five pearl necklaces. (It'll make sense when you watch the film.)

Based on the novel 'Sheep' by Simon Magin (which I haven't read -- by now you've likely noticed my trend of unfamiliarity with the original sources of most films), 'The Dark' (2005) takes us to the gorgeous countryside of Wales. Visiting her estranged husband James (Sean Bean, 'Silent Hill'), Adele (Maria Bello, 'Secret Window') hopes that this time together will help bridge the gap growing between her resentful teenage daughter Sarah (Sophie Stuckey) and herself. However, all is not peaceful as the grassy pastures by the coast would appear. A stone monument inscribed with the word "Annwyn" stands erect on a cliffside, memorializing the suicides of a small congregation who fell into the sea. This is explained by Dafydd (Maurice Roëves, 'The Nightmare Man' series), an older local and friend of James', who further elaborates that Annwyn is the land of the dead in Welsh mythology.

After Sarah disappears while exploring the shore, a strange girl later appears in her place named Ebrill (Abigail Stone). As Adele unravels the mystery of Ebrill and the history of the monument she learns that the two are connected to a figure called "the Shepherd", Ebrill's father and a local pastor. Losing his daughter to illness fifty years ago, Ebrill's father (Richard Elfyn) convinced his congregation to commit mass suicide as a path to Paradise. Believing the Welsh legends, he lied and sacrificed them to bring Ebrill back from the underworld. She did return, however she brought an evil over with her. Attempting to bleed out the darkness with trepanning, this backfired and led to his untimely death. Afterward, Ebrill went to the sea, back to Annwyn, but has come back after all these years for what she wished most for: a loving father. Eventually this leads up to a climatic conclusion as Adele crosses over with Ebrill into Annwyn to bring her daughter back.

While the plot unfortunately starts to fall apart towards the end, the concepts of the story itself were quite good. And the cinematography was absolutely beautiful, no question of that. If I may be so bold to compare films, 'The Dark' reminds me slightly of 'The Wicker Man' (1973, not the 2006 perversion) and 'Silent Hill', appropriate since Sean Bean starred in the latter. After weighing the pros and cons, I have to give it three out of five ghost sheep.
~movie trailers~

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

randomness: Sketch of the Dead

A funny comedy skit that I thank The Vault of Horror for posting, as I would not have seen it otherwise, here's "Sketch of the Dead" starring Paul F. Tompkins and Rich Sommer.

Sketch Of The Dead

Monday, January 4, 2010

Cuento de Navidad: The Christmas Tale

Part of the Spanish series 'Películas Para No Dormir' ("Films To Keep You Awake"), this episode was featured on FEARnet along with several other Yuletide horror films. Granted it is January, but like any holiday there's always leftovers. So make some room as we sink our teeth into Paco Plaza's ('REC') "Cuento de Navidad", also known as "The Christmas Tale", here at the Niche. (WARNING: spoilers ahead)

"Zombie Invasion"

Beginning with what appears to be an unrelated snippet from "Zombie Invasion", a fake horror film with a grind house feel, an archetype antihero rescues his damsel in distress from a zombie by stabbing it thru the left eye until a black liquid seeps out. Ending the clip, the episode transitions to Cubelles, Costa Daurada during the winter school break in 1985 as the boys Koldo (Christian Casas), Peti (Roger Babia), and Eugenio (Daniel Casadella) join each other is succession on their bikes and ride over to their friend Tito's. Tito, obsessed with 'The Karate Kid' and always sporting a karate headband, watches the movie on video with three until they are interrupted by an emergency call from Moni (Ivana Baquero, 'Pan's Labyrinth') on a walkie-talkie.

This would be a rather traumatic sight for anyone who believed in Santa Claus.

Riding out to the woods, they see that Moni has discovered a woman lying unconscious at the bottom of a dry, dilapidated well. (And no, her name isn't Samara Morgan.) Curiouser still, she's wearing a Santa Claus suit. Determining that she is still alive after pouring a soda on her head, Koldo and Peti bicycle back into town to get help from the local sheriff. As they wait, Koldo notices a wanted poster printing off of the police's fax, recognizing that it is the same woman in the well. Meanwhile, the remaining three children find a rope to help her climb out. Quickly they hurry back and Koldo chucks a rock at the Santa's head, thusly knocking her back down the well.

Back at the clubhouse, a trailer outside of Tito's home, the kids debate what to do with the trapped criminal whose name is Rebeca Expósito (Maru Valdivielso). While Moni is insistent that they go to the police, Peti brings up the incident of the thrown rock, using it as an excuse to keep her detained, as does Eugenio, who adds that there may be a reward for the woman. As we'll see, this is the beginning of a sinister nature underlying the two boys. Consenting to Peti and Eugenio's argument, the group decides to keep her secret for the time being. After settling the matter, as well as choosing alias names to use around the fugitive, they return to the well and toss down candy for her to eat. (Should have been cookies, since she's a Santa.) Covering the well with branches, just for precaution, they gather in a circle and swear an oath to never reveal what happens here.

It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again! Er, oops... wrong movie.

It doesn't appear that the children are being intentionally cruel to Rebeca initially, but neglectful, certainly. With a badly injured leg and leaving her to get drenched by the rain that evening, you would think that they could be a little more compassionate, criminal or not. But as the episode progresses, neglect gradually turns to cruelty. Accidentally discovering that Rebeca is a bank robber whilst spying on his neighbor lady, who does morning exercises in the nude while watching the news, Koldo informs the others about the two million pesetas that she stole. Giving their greed further incentive, Peti and Eugenio become even more adamant to not report Rebeca to the authorities, deciding to extort her. But as Rebeca proves uncooperative they decide to starve the woman until she is willing talk.

Not agreeing with their inhumane methods, Moni tries to sneak Rebeca food, only to have it taken and eaten right in front of her by Peti and Eugenio. Then, as a final slap in the face, Peti intentionally yells out Moni's real name to the criminal. Leaving the poor girl in tears, Rebeca tries to console Moni and appeals to her kind nature. Obviously Rebeca has an agenda and wants Moni's aid to get out of the well, but her empathy seems fairly genuine, regardless. Unfortunately, Tito comes along and ruins Rebeca's chance for escape. Alone again, Rebeca looks at the now empty candy wrappers, breaks into a defeated laugh, and sobs.

I... I wanted cookies... *sob*

If you weren't convinced that there was something wrong with those two boys, the events that unfold on Christmas Eve night ought to. After watching "Zombie Invasion" together, Peti and Eugenio decide to return to the well and reenact the zombie voodoo ritual from the movie, which includes numerous candles, incantations (albeit in the background), and the slaughter of a live chicken. Yeah... We're moving into some real 'Lord of the Flies' territory here. If children slaughtering chickens on Christmas Eve isn't f**ked up, then I don't know what is. And putting aside for the moment that this is all within a movie, don't use the old scapegoat of blaming the horror movies for their behavior. They already had problems. Also, there's scarcely any parents to be seen throughout "Cuento de Navidad" (the exception being a man seen with Tito, who we're assuming is his father), so if blame is to be alotted accordingly they have it coming.

Peti, about to sacrifice a chicken for the zombie ritual

Santa's bag of goodies, or belly, rather

Frustrated that Rebeca has yet to crack, they rub the proverbial salt in her wound by talking about food in tantalizing detail. It's the the final straw and she can stand no more. Opening up her Santa costume, Rebeca reveals that her paunch is made of the stolen money. As they count the pesetas, Peti and Eugenio bully the other children to renege on their agreement to let Rebeca out of the well. Moni and Koldo, however, are against it and break into a brisk fight with Peti getting a bloodied nose. Winning the skirmish, Koldo leads the others back to the woods to let Rebeca out. Unfortunately they return to the well too late, finding her face down in the dirt, apparently dead. Emphasis on "apparently", since it's not long after that they return to the well with the sheriff and find no corpse.

Once the officer has left, Peti and Eugenio confess to the others that they performed the voodoo ritual from "Zombie Invasion" and fear that she has returned from the dead for revenge. Confused and scared, the children can only speculate whether Rebeca managed to escape alive in her frail condition or if she has been resurrected as a zombie. Both seem just as unlikely, yet equally plausible. Moni breaks the tension by assuring the others that they're safe: Rebeca doesn't know their names, where they live, nothing. (Although that's not entirely true. Rebeca does know Moni's real name.) Then, as if to prove Moni wrong, they hear the bell of their clubhouse. Returning to investigate, it appear vacant, even after Peti pops in for a look, however Rebeca eerily emerges from within and chases after the children.


Then like something out of 'Home Alone 2', the kids run to a closed amusement park where they hastily devise a defensive plan against Rebeca, involving luring her into lethal traps. All the while Rebeca drags an ax and remains uncommunicative, save for a few bellowing yells, leaving us to wonder the children's argument: is she alive or undead? Regardless of what the case may be, they aren't taking any chances. With each attempt the plan is to go for the left eye and penetrate the brain. Even Moni is scared enough at this point to concede, because alive or undead, the fact remains that Rebeca is trying to murder them.

Don't run, kids! She just wants to ax you a question.

After a failed attempt with a spring-loaded trap, Tito accidentally catches her attention and frantically runs away. But with Tito's obsession with 'The Karate Kid', we knew this would come into practical use sooner or later, which it does. After leading her to the top of a water slide, Tito assumes the famous crane kick stance and delivers a foot to the face.

"Boot to the head!" -The Frantics

Screaming all the way down the slide, very unzombie-like, Rebeca flies off the end and falls headfirst onto an exposed steel rod, which conveniently impales her right through the left eye. But with a closer look at the wound it seems to bleed normally, not a black liquid like in the movie. After arguing what to do (and Moni calling Peti "Freddy Krueger", a nice little pop horror reference), they decide to dump the body back down the well and swear, this time with a blood oath, once more to never reveal what has happened.

the chicken carcass from Peti and Eugene's previous ritual

However, "Cuento de Navidad" does not end here. Referring back to a scene from "Zombie Invasion", we learn that if the ritual is performed on a living person, "the undead would turn against that person, with indescribable force and not rest until that person is dead that is responsible for what it became. And then it's... revenge would be... terrible." I guess Peti and Eugene left to perform their little voodoo in the woods before watching that rather crucial part. Moving back away from a television set, we see that a terrified Tito is watching and is promptly startled by the clubhouse bell, which suddenly rings.

The next day, Moni tries to get ahold of the others by walkie-talkie, but receives no response. Even the clubhouse is completely deserted, so Moni walks back to the well in search of the missing four. Unattentively, she treads over Tito's headband, lying discarded on the dirt, and past the glimmer of wet blood on leaves. As Moni draws nearer, a black chicken that resembles the previously sacrificed bird too closely for coincidence scratches and pecks around the well. Moni looks down the well, horrified, and turns around to see Rebeca shamble towards her, a clotted hole in her left socket. Kneeling before Moni, she quietly repeats the last words of the blood oath the children swore: "To nobody. Nothing. Never. Neither of this, nor from me, nor from anybody else here." Then as mysteriously as she appeared the revenant disappears, leaving Moni as petrified as any tree in the woods.

You better watch out, you better not cry.

Aside from the eighties style kid antics, "Cuento de Navidad" was a legitimately dark yarn. While the concept of Rebeca's return from the grave to enact revenge is not a particularly original plot line, the way that Plaza keeps us guessing whether she is actually alive or undead was well done. And instead of focusing the horror on the obvious, the walking dead, the real horror was centered on the children, their greed, and their cruelty towards Rebeca. Now whenever someone argues that children are innocent by nature, you can add "Cuento de Navidad" to your rebuttal's repertoire, right alongside 'Lord of the Flies'. I give it three-and-a-half out of five zombie Santas.