"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

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment