"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

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Plants vs. Zombies

I've heard some talk around the horror blogosphere about this game and while I'm not a big gamer, I still enjoy them on occasion. Created by PopCap Games, you can download the demo and play for free. Let me just say this: I downloaded 'Plants vs. Zombies' after midnight tonight, played for over two hours straight, and was too excited that I couldn't keep from writing about it, just to share it with someone. It's that good. And keep in mind this is just the demo. As I mentioned before, you get well over two hours of game-play, which is pretty generous. Probably because the creators know exactly how addictive it is. I'm seriously tempted to shell out for the complete game, which is something that I rarely do. For twenty dollars, it's awfully tempting.

So what is the game about, you ask? Well, the title is pretty self-explanatory. Known as a "tower defense" video game, you play as an unseen homeowner during a zombie invasion trying to defend your property. The objective is to keep the zombies from entering the house, else they eat your brains and it's game over. So the first line of defense is your front yard (and backyard, later on). The plants essentially are your army. Sounds silly, doesn't it? Yes, actually, it is. But it's done so brilliantly.

By collecting light from a combination of the sun, sunflowers, and a type of mushroom specifically during the night campaigns, players utilize this energy to earn enough points to grow different plants, ranging from offensive to defensive types. Peashooters (ranged attack with peas), wall-nuts (defensive barrier), cherry bombs (ranged, one-time explosive), potato mines (stationary, one-time explosive), and snow peas (same as peashooters, but with "slow" effect) are just several in your plant arsenal against the undead. Not to mention that the zombies are just as varied as the vegetation, so there is a modest amount of quick-time strategy involved. I won't list them, save for one example, which I can summarize in three words: Jackson "Thriller" zombies. To be fair, the game was released before Michael Jackson's passing, so try not to take offense fans.

While I haven't played the complete game, 'Plants vs. Zombies' seems like an absolute winner. If I do, I'll be sure to expand on this in a second game review. For now, I give it five out of five garden-variety zombies.

randomness: zombie cat


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Goosebumps: Night of the Living Dummy

Presenting the seventh, on-going installment of the Niche's R.L. Stine series reviews, here's 'Night of the Living Dummy'. (WARNING: spoilers ahead)

Lindy and Kris Powell are twin girls with a competitive streak a mile wide, one always trying to trump the other. The best way to tell the two apart, aside from their haircuts, Lindy's blond hair kept long while Kris' is trimmed short, is their hobbies. Lindy prefers to keep her paperbacks company and Kris takes pride in her junk jewelry collection. However, as the girls survey the new house that is being built across the street, Lindy discovers a ventriloquist dummy in the nearby dumpster. The wooden puppet has bright red lips and brown hair painted on, blue eyes that move from side to side, and dressed in a gray double-breasted suit with brown leather shoes. Aside from being a little dusty and a chip in the lower lip, the dummy is in decent condition. She decides to keep the dummy, naming "himself" Slappy. Why Slappy? Lindy answers through the him, "Come over here and I'll slap you!" It all seems innocent enough, but even this subtly aggressive remark hints at an ugly, underlying hostility that gradually manifests itself.

Not long after Lindy salvages the puppet, a couple of younger neighborhood children happen by and are drawn in almost immediately by her amateur ventriloquist act. The Marshall kids laugh enthusiastically at Slappy's comical performance, arousing Kris' jealousy. Seeing that getting such attention rubs her sister the wrong way, Lindy decides to keep the dummy out of spite, if for no other reason. The spotlight only grows as Lindy is requested to perform at Amy Marshall's birthday party. And for a tidy little sum of twenty dollars, much to Kris' chagrin. However, as she watches her sister succeed in school with Slappy's sketches, the cogs begin to turn in Kris' head. As Lindy's popularity grew, so would her profits. Word would spread and quite likely Lindy would perform at other parties, earning more and more money. Being a ventriloquist seemed to be a very lucrative business. Why not cash in as well?

Waiting for a private performance in the Powell residence that evening, Kris and her parents sit together downstairs as Lindy prepares. Not expecting to, Kris finds herself asking if she could have a dummy, too. But Lindy catches the conversation and the twins get into a heated argument. It only exasperates the situation when Mr. and Mrs. Powell interrupt to mention that a good puppet can be pricey, so the twins should share. Neither girl is happy with the situation, but Kris seems to settle with this compromise. When she quietly asks to hold Slappy, the dummy suddenly snarls at her, "Beat it, Kris! Get lost, you stupid moron!" and hits her hard across the face. Everyone is startled by this, apparently even Lindy, who claims innocence. Regardless, Lindy forces out an apology at the behest of her dad. Why can't I have something that belongs just to me, Lindy thinks angrily to herself. But she would get even later that night, grabbing Kris' wrist as if the dummy had for a cheap scare.

Perhaps things would have worked themselves out had it stayed like this. However, returning home the following afternoon from Monday's chorus rehearsal, Kris finds another dummy seated next to Slappy. As it turns out, Mr. Powell glimpsed this puppet in a pawnshop window and purchased him for cheap. "I think the pawnbroker was glad to get rid of him," he adds. If we've learned anything from 'Monster Blood', it's that you ought to be wary of questionable wares from shady stores. Though it resembles Lindy's dummy, this one has bright red hair with blue denim jeans, a red-and-green flannel shirt, and white high-top sneakers. Excited, she shows everyone at home her new gift and names him Mr. Wood. Albeit not the most original name, but she is twelve after all. This, however, does not go over well with Lindy, who screams, "Copycat! Copycat!"

Next afternoon, Kris invites a friend, Cody Matthews, over to watch and critique her practice run with Mr. Wood. Unfortunately, Kris doesn't seem to have the knack for jokes like her sister. It only rubs salt in the wound when Lindy later relates that she performed for Alice, her best friend, and several others that evening and received generous laughter with Slappy. Kris tells a white lie to not lose face. As they prepare for bed, Lindy asks about a Betsey Johnson skirt and silk blouse that is laid out. It's for a student teacher's farewell party tomorrow, Kris explains, so she wants to dress up. When Kris awakes the following morning, though, she finds Mr. Wood wearing her dress clothes and angrily accuses her sister. Lindy claims ignorance in the matter. Effectively wrinkling her outfit, Kris rushes to get ready and has to make do with something less formal for class.

Saturday, the day of Amy Marshall's birthday party, Lindy offers less than positive criticism as her sister practices again with Mr. Wood. This time with Cody and Amy also present. Having a paying job under her belt, she remarks as someone with an air of superiority does with an aspiring amateur. Bear in mind that it's only been about a week since Lindy salvaged Slappy. Between the remarks, Lindy keeps fidgeting with her watch, anxious to get going. When asked why she isn't rehearsing, she replies, "No need. I've got my act down. I don't want to over rehearse." Cocky to boot, too. Lindy grabs Mr. Wood from Kris' hands to give some pointers before she can speak, having just about enough of her sister's ego. Reaching to take the dummy back, Mr. Wood suddenly rasps, "You're a jerk!" in a throaty growl to Kris' face. A torrent of insults ensue. "Stupid moron! Get lost! Get lost, stupid jerk!" Once more, Lindy balks at the obvious conclusion that she is to blame. She argues that the dummy is talking on its own. But apparently it wasn't worth sticking around to resolve, since Lindy drops everything to dash over to the party.

Lindy returns home from the party later and seeks out Kris, who is sitting on one of the backyard swings. Despite being a little hurt still from earlier, Kris commends her sister when she hears that the party was a big success. The afterglow fizzles when Lindy learns that Kris, in the meantime, was asked to perform at the spring concert as master of ceremonies with Mr. Wood. Lindy doesn't even feign a smile or pretend to be happy for her. Dryly she remarks, "Well, good luck. With that weird dummy of yours, you'll need it." But the sibling competition is momentarily put aside that evening when the sisters find Mr. Wood sprawled on top of a disheveled Slappy, hands around his throat. It's as if the puppets had been fighting, then froze right in place. Unnerved by what they see, Kris and Lindy go to their parent's bedroom. Mr. Powell is away on business so it's only their mother, who is already on edge from reading a Stephen King novel. (Nice touch, Stine.) Of course she doesn't believe the girls and sends them back to bed. Unsure what to do, Kris decides to try keeping Mr. Wood in the closet for the night. However, Kris awakens the following morning to find Mr. Wood sitting next to Slappy, almost mockingly.

For the next two days, the girls are free from any strange happenings with the dummies. Much to Kris' relief, as she practices in front of the mirror with Mr. Wood. It's still fair to say that Lindy is in the lead as far as this sibling rivalry goes. However, this lead jumps again when Lindy interrupts Kris' practice with some exciting news. Mrs. Petrie was at Amy Marshall's birthday party and works at the Channel Three television station. Impressed with her performance on Saturday with Slappy, she offered Lindy the opportunity to appear on their weekly show Talent Search. An appearance on TV. Kris can hardly believe it. After Lindy leaves the room, Kris throws Mr. Wood hard to the floor in frustration. She regrets the rash action and picks up the dummy, even cradling and apologizing to the puppet. But to her, Mr. Wood's eyes still seem cold and unforgiving.

Late that night, Kris accidentally awakens her sister when she gets up to fetch a drink. Lindy lies back down to resume her rest. Suddenly, she hears a shrill shriek from downstairs. Lindy finds her sister standing horrified at the scene in the kitchen. The glow of the open refridgerator reveals itself to be empty and, looking closer, that its contents have been dumped onto the floor. Then adding insult to the situation, Kris' jewelry has been strewn about the mess, looking like "some kind of bizarre salad". And in the middle of it all sits Mr. Wood, bedecked in beads and earrings with a platter of chicken on his lap. (I'm starting to get the impression that Mr. Wood is a cross-dresser.) Of course Kris' cry didn't reach just her sister. Their mother comes downstairs and sees the kitchen in chaos, the final straw that breaks the camel's back. When Lindy and Kris try to explain, she screams, "Stop it! Stop! I've had enough. This is just sick. Sick!" The sisters are able to keep their dummies by cleaning up the mess. However, if either so much as breathes a word about the dummies to her again, it will be revoked.

By the time the girls get back to bed from cleaning it is past 3 AM, neither sister speaking a word to the other. Taking a last look at Mr. Wood before shutting him in the closet, Kris thinks, I'm beginning to hate this dummy -- fear him and hate him. Kris had just about fallen asleep when she hears a muffled cry from the closet, demanding to be let out. She wakes up Lindy, so frightened that tears stream down her face. Then, in a whisper, Lindy tells her that she knows who has been behind all of this. Who? "I have," she answers, closing her eyes and laughing. Lindy reveals that she was behind everything, including what happened that night. Wow. I wouldn't normally say this, but what a little b*tch. And the thing is that she's so damn remorseless about the whole thing, arguing that it was just a joke. "No. It was too mean to be just a joke. I'm never speaking to you again," insists Kris, angrily.

"Never" only lasts for less than a couple days. As Cody walks home with Kris after school, she replies that there has been some conversation between the two. Forgiveness, however, is another matter entirely. Home alone, Kris brings out Mr. Wood for practice when she notices a yellow slip inside the dummy's pocket. Unfolding the slip reveals a single, intelligible sentence handwritten on the parchment, which she tries to read aloud: "Karru marri odonna loma molonu karrano". Letting out a small gasp, Kris thinks that she saw Mr. Wood blink. But Kris reasons that it is only her imagination and resumes her practice. Later that evening, an elderly couple of neighbors come by the Powell homestead to pay them a visit. Hearing about their ventriloquist acts, the parents call down their girls to give a sample performance. Lindy's goes without a hitch, but when it comes to Kris' turn, the dummy rips into the poor couple with hurtful jokes. Mortified, Kris screams out an apology and runs upstairs crying.

Personally, it would have made sense for Kris to assume that Lindy was somehow to blame. After all, she proved that she could effectively throw her voice. But Kris doesn't come to that conclusion, simply confounded by what had happened. Whether Lindy did it or not, she claims ignorance and asks why Kris would do such a mean thing. She even goes so far as to say that it is just a poor joke on Kris' part. "Very good crying," remarks Lindy sarcastically, adding snidely, "But it doesn't fool me, either. And it won't fool Mom and Dad." With that, she takes Slappy and leaves Kris to practice -- but not before reveling in the possibility that Kris might be kept from the concert as punishment. Like I said before, what a little b*tch. Unfortunately for Kris, things only continue to get worse. She does perform at the concert with Mr. Wood, but the puppet suddenly starts insulting Mrs. Berman, the music teacher, on stage. Then it vomits a rancid green liquid at the audience in the front rows, 'The Exorcist' style. Needless to say, Kris is forcibly removed from the stage and threatened with suspension, possibly expulsion.

While it's possible that Lindy rigged up the puppet to spew like that, it seems very unlikely. Very early the next morning, just after 1:20 AM, Kris awakens from her vivid nightmare of reliving last night's performance. The rumbling of a truck outside is heard, but so is something else. Gentle footsteps. Footsteps inside the girls' bedroom, leaving the closet and out to the hall. Kris follows the shadow and sees that it is none other than Mr. Wood, walking all on his own. Finally, what we've been waiting for. So Kris chases after the dummy downstairs, waking Lindy. Lindy fetches their parents at Kris' pleading, but when they come the dummy plays -- well, dumb. But as soon as they leave, the dummy springs back and the girls struggle to overpower him. All the while, Mr. Wood snarls that Kris brought him to life with "the ancient words" and that they are now his slaves.

Kris repeats the written words, but they prove ineffective, as do their efforts to hurt the dummy. Between this point and when they bury Mr. Wood in a suitcase outside, you'll hear him declare "You are my slaves!" and "I have powers!" repeatedly to the point of annoying. It seems like the best solution for the time being. Except Mr. Wood reappears the next morning when the girls come downstairs for breakfast, the soiled puppet seated at the counter "lifelessly" with their mother present. As long as their parents are around, they should be alright and have time to think of another solution. But what would be entertaining about that? Mr. and Mrs. Powell promptly leave their daughters alone to go on an errand in town. As soon as they are alone, Mr. Wood doesn't play possum any longer. "I have to punish you. I have to prove to you that I am serious," Mr. Wood rasps.

Mr. Wood proceeds to make his point by strangling the family dog, Barky. But the girls manage to force him off before hurting the pet seriously. Struggling outside into the rain, the girls see that construction men next door are operating steamrollers. The plan is simple: crush Mr. Wood. Barky unintentionally throws a proverbial monkey wrench into the works when the dog escapes the house and runs toward the steamrollers. So of course the girls let go of the dummy and nab the little black terrier before it's harmed. "I'm free!" cries Mr. Wood, "Now you shall pay!" Famous last words. A second steamroller runs over the dummy in timely fashion, crushing the wooden body into splinters and releasing a foul green gas (Uh, oh. Hope it's not like 'Return of the Living Dead'.) that disappears like a fart in the wind. The steamroller operator, of course, is given quite a scare but is relieved that it wasn't a kid. Kris and Lindy, along with Barky, go back inside. The threat is over. Well, one that is. In the girls' bedroom, Kris' arm is grabbed suddenly by Slappy. "Hey, slave -- is that other guy gone? I thought he'd never leave!" remarks the dummy.

While the sibling rivalry was annoying at times, Stine really pushed it further into something rather dark. I came to legitimately hate Lindy, which impressed me. Since I've started the 'Goosebumps' series, I haven't felt strong emotions towards any of Stine's characters until this novella. Kudos for achieving that effect, as well as that tip of the hat to Stephen King. The same goes for the Regan MacNeil moment with Mr. Wood. Nice visual. My only complaint is not seeing more of the living dummies. I am aware that they do make a return in the series, so the next time Slappy appears in 'Goosebumps' it should hopefully satisfy this want. Lay off the "slave" and "power" rants and it should be good. I give it four out of five 'Goosebumps' Gs.
On a side note, maybe it's just me, but I can't help thinking of Billy the ventriloquist dummy from 'Dead Silence'. The flat brown hair, red lips, green eyes (Slappy has blue eyes in the novella, however his eyes are green in the cover art), red bow ties, and suits. Coincidence? Perhaps.

Slappy (left) and Billy (right) from 'Goosebumps' and 'Dead Silence', respectively

Film Review Index

Welcome, Darkley Niche patrons. This, here, is the Niche's index of film reviews and synopses. These are organized into movies, short films, television and webisodes, with each film then listed respectively in alphabetical order. It's something a little more specific, rather than rummaging through all the posts tagged with the "film review" label.

(theatrical release, straight to VHS/DVD, made for television, independent, etc.)

Cuento de Navidad: The Christmas Tale
The Dark
Don't Look Down
The Echo
Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield

The Howling II

My Bloody Valentine (1981)
New Year's Evil

The Uninvited
The Rats



Chainsaw Maid/Chainsaw Maid 2
Late Bloomer


Fear Clinic
Gravity Falls (se.1, ep.12), "Summerween"
Night Gallery, "Pickman's Model"
Rotting Hills
Supernatural (se.2, ep.4), "Children shouldn't play with Dead Things"


The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Midnight Tea Party webcomic

This afternoon I learned of a very young webcomic called The Midnight Tea Party, which "centers around a group of elegant lolitas gathered to socialize over sweets and to share their scariest stories". Personally, I'm not so inclined to the lolita scene, but their first story, "The Witch's Scissors", was quite clever in its theory about ghosts and photographs. I won't reveal any more than that, but like I said, it's quite clever. Not to mention the artwork was very pleasing in its simplicity of composition and use of color, paying attention to the soft glow of a computer monitor and how the light plays in an otherwise darkened room. This was provided by artist Alana Yuena. The anthology in progress will make use of a variety of other artists, who will lend their talents to the project. Ashley Cope is in line for the next Midnight Tea Party Tale tale. Be sure that I will be reading along.

"The Witch's Scissors" lobby card

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cthulhu Tales vol. 1: "Quality Time"

Recently I came across Cthulhu Tales vol. 1, a graphic novel published by BOOM! Studios containing an anthology of short, Lovecraft-inspired stories. There were three in particular that I liked, specifically "Quality Time", "The Art of Noises", and "Witch Hunter", which isn't to say that the others weren't interesting. Visit BOOM! Studios' site to read the collection in its entirety for free. To give you a taste, the Niche presents "Quality Time". Just the concept alone of a children's play performing "The King in Yellow" makes it deserving. (WARNING: some of the following imagery is slightly graphic)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

randomness: Friday the 12th

A simple design, but quite clever. If you like this, head on over to Snorg Tees to purchase the shirt. For hardcore 'Friday the 13th' fans I imagine that this is a must have. Too bad that I didn't find this sooner, since last Friday actually did fall on the twelfth.

There there, Jason. Just wait until August.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

In the previous Valentine's Day post, I posed the question of which 'My Bloody Valentine' movie would Don and myself watch. It's likely not a real surprise that we opted for the original (1981) first, though we did get partway into the remake (2009) afterward. Perhaps we'll pick up on that later. We have, however, seen several other films since the last review in January, the "double dud" feature. I've simply fallen behind. Expect to see some multiple film features down the road. In the meantime, we're giving this one a solo since it's been so long. (WARNING: spoilers ahead and some gruesome screenshots)

The back story that follows bellow isn't actually revealed until a bit further into the film. However, this seems like a more effective way to write out the review by doing it chronologically, rather than interrupting the flow with flashbacks.

In Valentine's Bluff, the holiday from which the small, rural town gets its namesake has dark undercurrents in the midst of an otherwise cheerful celebration. The Valentine's Day Dance is a hundred-year-old tradition that is anticipated by all the townsfolk. Or at least it was, until the tragedy that took place twenty years ago. Aside from the annual dance, the town's lifeblood is in its coal mines. As it happened, it was the evening of the Valentine's Day Dance when five miners were trapped underground due to a methane gas explosion. The accident was, in fact, negligence on the part of the two supervisors on duty, who had left early before seeing the men safely out or checking the gas levels.

Harry Warden, traumatized

After six weeks of digging, a rescue crew unearthed only one survivor, Harry Warden (Peter Cowper), who managed to stay alive by eating his dead comrades. Needless to say, the trauma drove Warden mad and spent the next year in the state mental hospital. Exactly one year after the mining tragedy, Warden returned to Valentine's Bluff to enact revenge on the supervisors. Their hearts were found at the town union hall, where the dance is held, in a pair of Valentine candy boxes along with a written warning: never hold another Valentine's Day Dance, ever. Since then, Valentine's Bluff has done just that, until now.

supervisors' hearts left at the union hall

Flash forward twenty years later. Two miners separate themselves from the crew down an empty shaft. Alone, one of them is revealed to be a young blond woman after stripping halfway down, exposing her bra and a heart-shaped tattoo on her left breast. The other figure, who we'll refer to as the Miner, remains in full uniform, leaving the mask on as she playfully strokes the breathing tube suggestively. After she guides the Miner's hand to her left breast his hand starts to shake, apparently now just noticing the tattoo. His whole body quakes, grabbing onto her arms, and violently thrusts her against a pickax protruding from the wall behind her, effectively impaling her just above the inked-in heart.

The scene changes, though how much time has lapsed is not revealed, to a crew of miners returning topside as a caption reads that it is Thursday, February 12th. As the men shower we learn that T.J. Hanniger (Paul Kelman, 'Black Roses'), one of the men present, has returned after a long absence from the town and that his old girlfriend, Sarah (Lori Hallier, 'Friday the 13th: the series'), is in a relationship with T.J.'s friend Axel Palmer (Neil Affleck, 'Scanners'). Awkward, to say the least. Regardless, things seem to be "okay" on the surface. Finishing their showers and getting dressed, the men hurry out to drive on over to the union hall, banjo music accompaniment enhancing the haste (as well as hick feeling). Over at the hall, the men meet up with their sweethearts, who are helping to decorate for the upcoming dance.

"Git 'er dun!" or in this case, "Git 'em up!" -- ah, hicks

Meanwhile, Mabel Osborne (Patricia Hamilton, 'Friday the 13th: the series') and Mayor Hanniger (Larry Reynolds, 'Friday the 13th: the series'), T.J.'s father, discuss the reinstatement of Valentine's Bluff's festivities. Mabel, a kindly lady who runs the launderette, is excited about the dance, but Mr. Hanniger is more cautious. Asking that Mabel avoid mentioning that it's been twenty years since the last, you can tell that he's trying to keep the memory of Harry Warden and the murders under wraps. "My thoughts, exactly," she replies, abruptly followed by Howard Landers (Alf Humphreys, 'Final Destination 2'), one of the miners and annoying goofball, scaring the living daylights out of the poor woman with a fake, bloody gash on his head. Way to be a d**k, Howard. But at least he helps Mabel pick up the box that she dropped and its contents. Don pointed out that Howard was reminiscent of lame prankster Shelly from 'Friday the 13th part III', which I had to agree.

Shortly after, Chief Jake Newby (Don Francks, 'Goosebumps' series) also swings by the union hall to check up on the decorating progress, but more specifically to see Mayor Hanniger about a meeting. Before the two get to the chief's truck, Howard catches up to deliver a heart-shaped candy box to Mr. Hanniger. It was already there at the hall before anyone arrived to decorate, but it was addressed to the mayor. Neither Mabel nor Chief Newby confess to leaving the gift when asked, but he is happy to have it, saying, "If there's one thing I like better than Christmas candy, it's Valentine's candy!" But as the mayor and chief drive toward the aforementioned meeting, delight turns to dread when Mr. Hanniger reads aloud the note included with the gift: "From the heart comes a warning filled with bloody good cheer. Remember what happened as the fourteenth draws near." Horrified, Mr. Hanniger looks inside, revealing a human heart lying within.

the mayor's "bloody valentine" -- I would insert a 'Forest Gump' reference, but it seems too hokey

Later, the guys and gals enjoy themselves at a bar called "The Cage", drinking, playing pool, and five-finger fillet. But it's not long before someone decides to rain on their parade. The bartender Happy (Jack Van Evera, 'Black Christmas' 1974), who apparently has a penchant for retelling the tale, describes the Valentine's Day mining tragedy in gruesome detail. As it turns out the bartender had a firsthand experience, relating that it was he himself who had found Harry Warden in the rubble. Perhaps feeling responsible for the murders to follow, it would explain why he seems so bitter (ironic, with a name like "Happy"). Ending the tale, he sternly warns the young miners and women to forget about the party.

With 'Friday the 13th' already in my mind, this doomsayer seemed rather akin to the character of Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney). Maybe it's just the curse talk.

"You going to Camp Blood, ain't ya? -- It's got a death curse!"

"I'm tellin' ya now! This town is accursed!"

Of course they disregard his warning, adding insult to the bartender when Howard pops up from below the bar and blows a raspberry, causing the patrons to break into a roar of laughter. "Laugh now," rebukes Happy, "but you'll be sorry you didn't listen to me." But they pay him no heed, convinced that Harry Warden is just a "stupid legend" and resume their merrymaking. After singing a rather lewd song about the bar waitress, Sarah exchanges a few words with her ex-boyfriend T.J., which causes him to leave in a huff. Later, T.J. and Axel would meet up again at the town junkyard, another hangout for the young miners, to have a short-lived p***ing contest. Nothing is really resolved, but Axel tells him to stay away from Sandy.

Elsewhere that evening, Mayor Hanniger and Chief Newby exchange some words of their own. Calling the Eastfield Institute, the administrative office is closed and the nurse on duty can't tell them whether or not Henry Warden is in their custody. Soon after the phone call, a coroner enters the room and relates to them that it is, in fact, a human heart; specifically that of a woman in her thirties. This more or less confirms that it belonged to the murdered blond woman from earlier. While they can't say with any certainty, it would seem that Warden has returned to Valentine's Bluff.

Also elsewhere that evening, Mabel happily adds a few more decorations to her launderette and takes care of some leftover laundry, alone. Outside, an ominous figure watches from the windows, breathing heavily with an unnatural sound to it. As Mabel steps into a back room, the figure enters quietly, leaving a heart-shaped box of chocolates on a nearby table, and moves out of view to wait. Mabel walks back in and notices the box lying out in the open. Cheerfully, she opens the gift, not suspecting what it actually means. Like the mayor's there is a card inside, reading: "Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, One is Dead, And so are You!" Right on cue, the lights switch off and Mabel turns to see the murderous Miner, who chases her into a corner and kills with a pickax. Poor Mabel. I honestly felt sorry for her, which is really saying something for a victim in a slasher flick. As far as stupid teenagers and twenty-to-thirty-somethings go, I have no particular sympathy for them, but a sweet lady like Mabel is another matter.

the Miner with pickax raised

The next morning, Friday, Mayor Hanniger and Chief Newby make less headway on the whereabouts of Harry Warden. A lady in administration at Eastfield Institute tells the chief over the phone that there are no records of Warden, meaning that he has either been released, transferred, or "on the slab". This, of course, is unacceptable to the chief. However, she adds that she can check the microfilms, but it will take several days to check them. With this uncertainty about what happened to Harry, Mr. Hanniger seriously considers canceling the Valentine's Day Dance. What puts the nail in the coffin is Mabel's murder, her body having been discovered in one of the launderette driers by Chief Newby after he notices heart decorations turned upside-down and a fowl smell.

Mabel Osborne's scorched corpse with the heart removed

After being notified, Mayor Hanniger suggests that they call in help from Granville, but Chief Newby, ironically, is the one who is more concerned about what the panic would do to Valentine's Bluff. He has the ambulance team go around back to take Mabel's corpse behind the launderette in private and pressures those present to a cover story, that Mabel died from a heart attack. Before letting them leave, Newby notices a heart-shaped card inside the otherwise empty cavity in Mabel's chest and slips it out. Reading it aloud to Hanniger, the Miner warns: "It happened once, it happened twice. Cancel the dance or it happens thrice." Weighing the words seriously, the Mayor instructs Newby to have all the town decorations taken down, as well as enforce a ban on any sort of parties on Valentine's night. (Meanwhile, the turmoil between T.J. and Axel continues to escalate and Sarah's feelings between the two are torn.)

Well, this simply won't do with the young miners and girls. Gathered around a table at The Cage, the friends decide that with the town on party lockdown, the only place to have one would be in the mines. Yeah, great idea guys. Apparently those gas masks weren't sealed on so tight. At least I'd like to think that's why they're all so stupid. And not the brightest thing to talk about in public, especially when the bartender is right within earshot. At least be discreet about your illegal plans. Although I have to say it was rather amusing when he insults Howard right to his face.

Random Friend: "Yeah, in the mine! Where people get killed and eaten."
Howard: "Beware of Harry Warden! ... Woooooo!"
Hollis: "Shut the f**k up!" [directed at Howard]
Happy: "Beware of what you make fun of, you little a**hole."
Howard: "Who?"
Happy: "YOU!"

It was good for a laugh, at least. But even Happy the bartender ignores his sound advice. Deciding rather than tip off Chief Newby about the party, he goes alone to the mines that evening to rig up a dummy dressed as Harry Warden to scare them away. A little inebriated, he plays around with the dummy, which swings a pickax when the lunch room door is opened. On the third time, however, the dummy doesn't swing the pickax. Still, Happy laughs and starts to walk away. Should've kept on walking. However, he is not drunk enough to dismiss it, instead turning around and opens the door again. This time out comes the actual Miner, who swings his pickax upward into the bartender's jaw.

most definitely an "Oh, sh**!" moment

Saturday arrives, bringing along Valentine's Day with it. The day passes by quietly as a few lonely, discarded decorations linger on the deserted streets. As night draws near, the circle of friends drive over to the mines and begin bringing in certain party essentials to the recreation room and kitchen. The festivities kick off as someone puts on some music while others decorate, prepare the food, play a little pool, and, of course, drink beer. Meanwhile at the police station, Chief Newby is given a start when a heart-shaped candy box is left anonymously for him. To his relief, the box only contains ordinary Valentine's chocolates. But it's a bittersweet moment when he reads the card inside, signed by Mabel.

Back at the party, a lesser character, Dave (Carl Marotte, 'Skinwalkers' -- Funny, really, because Chief Newby is on Dave's case and in 'Skinwalkers' Marotte plays as a sheriff.), is murdered in the kitchen by the Miner. How, exactly? By drowning him in a pot of hot dogs and water. As if drowning wasn't bad enough, he has to choke on hot dog water. Moving on, Chief Newby has the sense to drive over to the mines, just as a precaution. Before he leaves the station, however, his attention is diverted to the sound of dogs growling and barking. Outside, Newby finds a few strays circling and lapping at something lying on the sidewalk, a Valentine's candy box with blood pooled around it. Reaching down, the chief picks up a card which states that he did not stop the party. Angered and confused, Newby looks around and yells, "Stop the party... What damn party?!" As for the valentine itself, we can safely assume that there is a heart inside. I would venture to guess that it belonged to the bartender, Happy.

Wait! You said we were just bobbing for hot dogs! *gurgle*

What was only inevitable, T.J. and Axel's rivalry explodes into a brawl between the two. Hollis (Keith Knight, 'Whispers') handles the situation and breaks up the fight, but Axel, hurt more by Sarah's fluctuating feelings, storms out of the room. Likewise, the Miner's blood lust escalates, murdering another twenty-something, Sylvia (Helen Udy, 'Sweet Murder'), but not before frightening her with Happy's corpse hanging from a hook. John (Rob Stein), who was away fetching more beer for his girlfriend, returns to the secluded spot to find Sylvia with her head impaled on a shower nozzle, water and blood flowing intermingled from her mouth. If the friends could use the local authorities, it's now. Unfortunately, just as he pulls up to the entrance gates of the mine, Chief Newby gets radioed in by the police station, learning that the lady from Eastwood is on the phone with urgent news. Making a u-turn, Chief Newby unwittingly leaves the Miner to resume his work.

fetching beer, John completely misses Dave's concealed corpse

Happy's corpse drops in front of Sylvia, dangling on a hook

Worried about Sarah and her man troubles, Patty (Cynthia Dale, 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents') asks her boyfriend Hollis to take them down into the mines for fun. A few others chime in and Hollis, though initially hesitant, lets them convince him. T.J. notices Hollis and five others, including Sarah, leaving. Learning their intentions he tries to stop them, since it is against the rules to take women down. It would make more sense to have a rule set in place for employees only, if you ask me. Hollis, the only miner in the smaller group, assures him that they will only ride the rail carts down and return right back up to the surface. Riiiiight. After all that drinking, can we honestly expect that will happen? On a side note, the music accompaniment that plays while the carts go down into the mines adds a nice touch to the overall atmosphere.

Reaching the bottom, one of the girls points out a tunnel, asking where it leads. Hollis answers that it's an abandoned part of the mine, which they don't go down anymore. Way to set yourself up, Hollis. So of course they want a tour of the tunnel and, same as earlier, Hollis lets them convince him. But it's not too far along their tour that one of the young couples, Mike (Thomas Kovacs) and Harriet (Terry Waterland), decide to split from the small group to have a little private fun of their own. Meanwhile, back topside, Dave's body has been discovered by one of the girls and John soon after stumbles in, stuttering out his own find. Everyone present starts to panic, so Axel ushers them out while T.J. dials for the police. Unfortunately, the lines are down. After everyone else has left, T.J. tells Axel that there are a few others down in the mines. Putting aside their rivalry, the two men hastily don their mining apparel and head underground to rescue them, Sarah specifically.

Down below, Hollis, Slyvia, Patty, and Howard walk back towards the main shaft. Joking about why Mike and Harriet haven't returned yet, they hear the shattering of glass behind them. It startles them slightly, but they pay it no mind. As it so happens, it is the Miner some ways back in the very same tunnel, breaking the electric bulbs that light the pathway. A little later, T.J. catches up and relates to them the murders that have happened topside. However, instead of searching for Mike and Harriet together, T.J. and Hollis split off down opposite directions of the tunnel while Howard waits with the girls. Typical slasher film mistake. Hollis enters the old engine room to find the young couple impaled together by a large drill bit. The Miner emerges from the shadows and plugs a pair of nails into Hollis' head with a nail gun. Hollis, though mortally wounded, manages to stumble out of the engine room and back to the other three before collapsing, dead.

impaled together by a large drill bit

Hollis, murdered -- Doesn't he look an awful lot like Teddy Roosevelt?

In timely fashion, the Miner walks down the tunnel towards the three, effectively scaring off Howard who flees. "Howard, you bastard!" cries Sarah, "You can't leave us like this!" But her plea goes unheeded and leaves Sarah in an awful predicament, prying Patty away from her dead boyfriend all by herself. As the Miner draws closer, however, he cuts off down a side passage. Even with the Miner gone for the moment, Sarah knows that they are still in imminent danger. Patty, understandably, is still in shock and it takes a slap from Sarah to put some sense into her. Axel comes across the two girls and guides them towards the main shaft, dragging along a sobbing Patty most of the way. Nearing a tunnel crossing, Axel spies a spotlight coming from the parallel passage. He swings a piece of lumber at the approaching figure, thinking that it is Harry Warden. Fortunately it is only T.J., who is no worse for the wear.

Earlier, a few friends that fled had found Chief Newby to tell him of the party and murders, so by this time he has now driven back to the mines. Police assistance is on the way, but unfortunately Newby is the only officer on the scene. The rail carts are already underground, as are the elevators, which the chief can't bring back up. Approaching the the elevators at the bottom we see that the control panel has been smashed, likely by the Miner. Instead, they take to the ladder rungs in the elevator shaft and climb upward. Axel takes the lead and during a slip he accidentally pulls a rope, which falls down with Howard, either unconscious or already dead, attached at the end by a noose. A sudden stop in the fall causes the body to decapitate, spraying blood on Patty and Sarah before tumbling again to the bottom.

blood "money shot"

The friends climb down in lieu of continuing their ascent up the ladder to find another way out of the mines. Fortunately, Axel knows of a shortcut to the rail carts. Enclosed in a tight passageway with water up to their knees, Axel waits behind until T.J. gives him the all clear. When T.J. calls, however, his response is a painful grunt, a crack, and a splash. The three hurry back, finding the boarding around a sixty-foot well broken inward and Axel's helmet light sinking down into the cold depths. Knowing that there's nothing that can be done, the three push onward. The girls get separated from T.J. and around a tunnel corner the Miner lunges out, plunging his pickax deep into Patty's abdomen. Sarah retreats and finds a place to hide where she is found by T.J., who was given a crack on the head, earlier.

Above ground, reinforcements have arrived and head into the mines with Chief Newby at the lead. As the police make their way downward, T.J. and Sarah make it to the rail carts with the Miner hot on their heels. The carts start their ascent and the two hop on, but not before the Miner manages to hitch himself onto the last cart. T.J. and Sarah move forward, climbing cart over cart, as the murderer follows and gets within reach. T.J. fends the Miner off with a shovel, then tackles the assailant when his makeshift shield is lost. Sarah jumps off the rail cart after them to give T.J. the shovel and a fighting chance. Forcing them back down the main shaft, T.J. and Sarah duck into a side passage, a ventilation shaft, with a board across the entrance, labeled: "DANGER KEEP OUT". That can't be good. Regardless, the Miner pursues them in.

the Miner closes in on Sarah and T.J.

Haphazardly swinging his pickax around, the Miner lodges his weapon of choice into the passage wall and unsheathes a knife to finish off T.J. Desperate, Sarah reaches for the Miner's mask and pulls it away, revealing not Harry Warden but Axel. The exposure temporarily causes Axel to pause as T.J. can only ask why. In a flashback we learn that Axel's father was one of the two supervisors that Harry Warden had murdered, witnessing the brutal act himself as a boy twenty years ago. The moment of reverie provides T.J. with the opportunity to knock back Axel into a couple of weakened supports, causing the condemned ventilation shaft to cave in. Sarah and T.J. escape through the entrance, but Axel does not follow.

Moments later, Chief Newby and the reinforcements catch up, along with Mayor Hanniger. T.J. tells them that the Miner was not Harry Warden, which the chief confirms. The call that came from Eastwood earlier revealed that Warden had died five years ago. Learning that it was Axel, Newby and Hanniger turn their attention to the ventilation shaft. The men search through the rubble and unearth Axel's moving arm. One of the miners declares loudly that he's still alive, which reaches Sarah. Despite his murderous rampage, she still has an emotional attachment to Axel and hurries back to see. Through a hole in the pile of debris those present witness Axel on the other side, one of his arms severed. It would appear that Axel deliberately hacked off the limb and as he escapes into the darkness, he angrily shouts, "Hanniger! I'll be waiting in Hell for you! [gasps, and cries desperately] Harry! Harry, I'm coming! [resumes shouting] This whole f**king town is going to die! I'm coming back, you bastards! [laughs maniacally] Sarah, be my bloody valentine..."

ah, nothing like a little childhood trauma to build character

"Harry! Harry, I'm coming!"

Well, I can certainly see why 'My Bloody Valentine' is such a slasher classic. The Miner definitely deserves a place among the likes of Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger. Especially the former, since both are so closely tied to their respective holidays. Frankly, I'm rather surprised that it didn't go on as a franchise like these other slashers. The ending certainly sets itself up for a possible sequel. In the long run, though, it's probably for the best that it didn't. If we've learned anything from the slasher sequels it's that they tend to go downhill. Anyway, the story was great, as were the Miner and his murders. I give it five out of five bloody valentines.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Goosebumps: Let's Get Invisible!

Presenting the sixth, on-going installment of the Niche's R.L. Stine series reviews, here's 'Let's Get Invisible!' (WARNING: spoilers ahead)

It's a special day today for two different reasons. For one, it is Max's twelfth birthday. The second? It's also the first day that he turns invisible. The story begins with Max, a rather conscientious boy, combing his hair which he claims is his best personal feature. His younger brother Noah, who goes commonly by "Lefty" since he is left-handed, is your typical annoying sibling and pesters Max until the guests come. First arrives Zack, Max's best friend, sporting a new haircut with the left side partially shaved and a gift of old comics. Next arrive Erin and April, completing the circle of friends. Unfortunately the rain has canceled the planned barbecue and outdoor activities. Passing the time with Twister and the first half of 'Terminator', the party dwindles down. Zack takes his leave and the girls remain, waiting for Erin's mother to pick them up.

In the meantime, the children decide to go upstairs to Max's bedroom (if they were older, I could see some shenanigans going on). But after a cheap scare from Lefty, who waited in the linen closet to jump out, Erin takes notice of the attic. Erin, a rather cute girl with short blond hair and a mousy voice, becomes very interesting in exploring the old attic. Max has a small crush on her, so concedes with her rather odd request. Along with the four is Whitey the family dog, who, as it turns out, is actually all black. Sniffing around the attic, Whitey paws at an otherwise unnoticed door. Curious, the children force the obstinate hinges and find a tall mirror inside the small, dark room. The only apparent source of illumination is a lamp light looming at the top of the mirror frame. Noticing a chain dangling down, Max gives it a pull. A sudden flash nearly blinds him for a moment, then dims to a more comfortable brightness. Erin, April, and Lefty look afraid, much to Max's confusion, then explain that they cannot see him.

Annoyed by this apparent practical joke and aggravated by the light, which has begun to be painful, Max pulls the chain again to turn it off. The other three are startled, but very relieved that Max has returned. But Max remains skeptical and tells Erin to prove it, to turn invisible herself, but before she can her mother arrives. The girls leave and the matter goes untouched until a couple of days later. Unable to shake what the others said, Max goes up to the attic alone one night to get some peace of mind. While he's examining the mirror, Lefty comes up from behind and gives him another cheap scare. Bothered by his little brother, but afraid of waking his parents, Max relents and together decide to test the mirror at the same time. After pulling the chain, the lamp light flashes on and they both turn invisible simultaneously. Fooling around for a few minutes, they turn the light off. However, it takes a few minutes for them to turn visible again. It seems that the longer a person stays invisible, the longer it takes for them to return.

Next Saturday, Zack comes over to visit. Having left earlier when the birthday party ended, Zack is still unaware of the mirror. Max and Lefty take advantage of this and decide to have some fun with him. In the attic, Max savors the suspense it overtakes him and then uses the mirror to turn invisible before Zack's eyes. Skeptical at first, then frightened, and finally amazed, Zack wants to try when Max returns. However Max is hesitant. During his disappearance, Max has begun to realize the gravity of the situation. Nobody knew where the mirror came from or how it even worked. Who was to say returning was guaranteed? And while in a state of invisibility, Max has noticed a strange, unsettling feeling that grows stronger the longer he's gone. First a painful sensitivity to the light, then a lightheaded sensation, followed by a rather scary feeling of floating away and losing your grip on the physical world. Of course Max keeps most of this to himself, not wanting to appear afraid. So when Erin and April pop up into the attic soon afterward, things gradually get out of Max's control.

A rather dangerous game develops: who can stay invisible the longest? First Zack, next Erin, then Max again, despite his hesitance. Going on four minutes and counting, Max feels the light enveloping him like ocean waves, pulling him away from the shore of reality as the people around him grow distant. Max desperately pleads for someone to pull the chain. His faint voice manages to carry over and Zack hurries to turn off the light, but to their horror the chain breaks. Fortunately, Erin scrounges around inside the lamp and finds just enough of the chain left to grip. Several minutes later Max returns, but even this scare isn't enough to deter the others from competing. April however, who has been resistant to the entire thing, gets worked up enough to speak out against it. "None of you are listening to me!" she cries, adding, "Answer my question. What if one of you is invisible and the light won't go out?" But their argument is interrupted when grandparents Poppy and Grammy arrive. So the friends leave, but Erin and Zack remain determined to beat the new record of five minutes, forty-eight seconds.

After seeing his friends out, Max comes to the dinner table to greet his grandparents and take a seat. Except something, or rather someone, is amiss. Like an idiot, Lefty has turned himself invisible and picks up his soup bowl from the table in a juvenile attempt to be funny. Max notices before anyone else at the table does and manages to get Lefty to follow him back upstairs to the attic and turn visible. Max is furious but Lefty is too stoked being the new record holder to care, annoyingly repeating, "I win! I win!" Despite being invisible for nearly ten minutes, Lefty claims that he felt fine the entire time. Since everyone else has been downplaying what they've felt, it's hard to say with any certainty if he's telling the truth. His testimony is even more questionable after Max makes him swear to not use the mirror by himself again, but crosses his fingers on both hands. Later that night, Max sneaks back to the mirror alone and stares at it for the longest time until he hears a whisper coming from the mirror, quietly calling his name. This frightens him enough to hurry downstairs and into bed, praying that the whisper would not follow.

The next morning, Max wakes early to get ready with the rest of the family for their visit to Springfield to see relatives. As he gets ready, Max's attention is caught by the hovering red t-shirt that comes out of his bedroom closet. Angry that Left had broken his promise, Max demands that he march right back up to the attic and turn visible again. However, Max's anger soon turns to worry when Lefty suddenly drops a pair of jeans that he was moving across the room. He calls for his younger brother, but receives no answer. He hurries up to the attic, frantically searching for Lefty. To Max's relief he answers this time and reappears, however something seems a little off with Lefty. Unable to put his finger on it, though, Max puts it out of his mind and goes back to getting himself around. Deciding to call his friends and cancel the competition once they've reached Springfield, Max feels reassured as he finishes dressing. No more mirror, no more turning invisible. But of course we know better, now don't we?

Wednesday morning, Zack, Erin, and April appear at Max's front door. Lefty, who isn't there that morning, called each of them, saying that Max had changed his mind about the competition. (Hmmm. Now why would Lefty do this, I wonder?) This puts Max in a predicament, of course, since he had not and he easily buckles to his friends. Even April, who was previously adamantly against it, has come around and wants to give the mirror a try. So the children head to the attic to continue the competition. After accidentally turning Whitey invisible with April, her turn is cut short. Next goes Erin, who remains invisible for over twelve minutes and was returned when she stopped answering. The others seem alright with continuing, but Max isn't relieved. Something seems different about Erin. Zack takes his turn and, like Erin, is brought back after thirteen minutes when he doesn't answer. (But not before he has some fun juggling tomatoes in front of a neighbor.) Also like Erin, something is not right with him. Max notices that his hair is styled the other way, but Zack denies it, saying it's simply Max's imagination.

Now it comes to Max's turn. At least this time he has the sense to refuse, content to let Zack remain the new champion. But Erin and Zack are having none of that. Rather forcefully, they move him towards the mirror and turn on the light. Invisible now, he seems to settle with it and waits until the uneasy feelings start to creep up on him. Unfortunately, as the uneasiness grows stronger and he tells them to turn off the light, Max's mother comes upstairs into the attic before it can be done. At this point, no one hears his voice and Max floats into the mirror against his will, into "the center of an undulating, rolling world of twisting lights and colors". Deeper inside still, the colors change to shades of gray and black, which gradually fade 'til everything around Max is white. And in this white void Max meets none other than his own reflection, cold and sinister. Inside the void are dozens of distorted, tormented "fun house mirror" faces, among them include Erin and Zack.

As it turns out, Erin and Zack have been switched by doppelgangers of the dastardly sort and this reflection means to do the same to Max. But through sheer willpower and fear Max strains through the incoherent colors and shimmer, crossing back over to the other side. When the other Erin and Zack see that he is not one of them, however, they force Max back to the mirror and turn the light on, turning him invisible again. Max's reflection, unlike before, remained in the mirror this time, palms pressed against the glass, assuring Max, "In a few minutes, you'll join me in here." Meanwhile Max's mother had gone back downstairs and poor April is scared half out of her wits. Then, out of nowhere, Lefty comes upstairs and throws the ball at the mirror, apparently thinking that it is Max, shouting, "Think fast!" The glass shatters, Max becomes visible, the evil reflections of Erin and Zack are pulled into the shards, and the real pair of friends return. Everything's back to normal... right? Maybe not. As Max and his brother toss a baseball back and forth between them later, he notices that Lefty is throwing right-handed.

I was pleasantly pleased with the story in 'Let's Turn Invisible!', which I wasn't expecting. Personally, I couldn't imagine how turning invisible would be scary, even if the condition became permanent. Turns out that it was all just a lure used by the mirror. The world within the mirror and the reflection doppelgangers is what made the book, even if it was near the end. Point is, it went in a creative direction. At the most I suspected that the children might turn into ghosts, the way they described sensations of feeling light and turning ethereal. Glad that it wasn't so predictable. I give it four out of five Goosebumps Gs.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

Wishing you all a very happy Valentine's Day, on behalf of Allen Darkley and the storytellers. Planning on paying my good friend Don a visit tonight and watching 'My Bloody Valentine', a first for both of us. Although which version we watch is another question. If there's enough time, we'll watch the original 1981 slasher and the more recent 2009 remake. I've acquired both, just for this occasion.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Black History Month, part II

This February, the Niche looks at some of the talented black men and women in horror, who are not only noteworthy actors, but also dignified in their parts. In commemoration of Black History Month, here is part II of our honorary mentions. (To read part I, select here.)


To action enthusiasts, he is Detective Roger Murtaugh from the 'Lethal Weapon' franchise; to Disney lovers, he is baseball manager George Knox from 'Angels in the Outfield' (1994). To those in the sci-fi community, however, he is Lt. Mike Harrigan from 'Predator 2' (1990) and even more recently to fans of horror/thriller films as a detective in 'Saw' (2004) and the conductor in 'Night Train' (2009). Talk about a diverse acting career, and the thing is that he's good in each situation. I'll be sure to elaborate more on Glover in a review of 'Night Train' that I've been neglecting.


I can't speak on the behalf of Romero's 'Dead' franchise fans, but 'Day of the Dead' (1985) seemed a bit off the mark. But what the third film did have going for it was Bub, the zombie that gradually learns. 'Land of the Dead' (2005) expanded on this concept, casting Clark as the zombie dubbed "Big Daddy", who leads a revolution as well as exhibits camaraderie and empathy with other zombies. The difficulty of portraying those characteristics as a zombie while remaining believable shouldn't be underestimated. On a side note, Clark has also played minor parts in master television programs the likes of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' ("User Deadly") and 'The Twilight Zone' ("The Wall").


Now, I've abstained from using the generalization of "African American", because we have something of a rarity, an Englishwoman in our midst. Ms. Harris has appeared in the latter two 'Pirates of the Caribbean' ('06 and '07) Disney films, and even more recently in 'Ninja Assassin' (2009), but what makes her remarkable, to myself at least, is her role in the gritty epidemic scenario seen in '28 Days Later' (2002). (Personally, I don't care if you call them "infected" or "zombies". Be technically correct if you like, I call it being anal retentive.) The story doesn't pull punches and neither does she, depicting a strong woman who has had to harden herself in order to survive this nightmare. Along with 'Resident Evil's Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), I would want '28 Days Later's Selena in my survivor group.


While 'Queen of the Damned' (2002) wasn't an especially great vampire film (though I will take it any day over 'Twilight' (2008) in a heartbeat), it does have its redeeming qualities, such as Aaliyah. Alluring and seductive, her role as Akasha, queen-goddess of the vampire race, was memorable even if you put the starlet's own untimely death out of mind. When she walks into the modern day London club, exuding a feral power and stride that I can only describe as a female panther personified, she immediately grabs your attention. The only shame is that we see so little of her in this Anne Rice adaptation.


Alright, so I confess that I grew up watching the 'Ernest' movies as a kid, 'Ernest Scared Stupid' (1991) being my hands-down favorite. Aside from Jim Varney, Eartha Kitt was the most interesting character, cast as "Old Lady" Hackmore, Briarville's town recluse with a yard covered in junkyard sculptures. She fits the part perfectly, absolutely perfectly. And while 'Ernest Scared Stupid' is at its heart a comedy, it's the closest to horror that I've seen Eartha Kitt act in. And from what I hear, it's a heck of a lot better than 'Troll' (1986) or 'Troll 2' (1990). "Oh, my Goddddddd...!"


Unfortunately, I couldn't find much information about either McCall or Prescott, but if you've seen 'The Skeleton Key' (2005), you will remember them very well as Papa Justify (McCall) and Mama Cecile (Prescott). Granted, their screen time is very short, but their characters are pivotal to the plot. And while most movies with voodoo (or hoodoo, in this case) come across as either hokey or outright offensive, 'The Skeleton Key' makes it seem all too real and something to fear. Watch the ritual with Papa Justify's Conjure of Sacrifice record playing and tell me that you don't get goosebumps.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

randomness: Gay Zombie

My partner in the Darkley comic endeavor and all-around good friend Don linked me this hilarious video. Just a disclaimer: we are not prejudiced towards homosexuals nor do we support actual violence towards people with same-sex preferences. If you'll note, this comedy short pokes fun at homophobics, not so much homosexuals.

I've seen zombies shamble, run, even climb on ceilings ('Day of the Dead' 2008),
but never skip, before. That's a new one.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A.D. teaser

this looks epic -- please let it be

The details seem to be vague right now, but from what I can gather this is the teaser for either a potential or upcoming computer-animated zombie film. The names attached to 'A.D.' are script writer Haylar Garcia ("Freddy vs. Ghostbusters"), animator/director Ben Hibon ("Codehunters"), and producer Bernie Goldmann ('Land of the Dead'). What does A.D. stand for? My guess: After Death. Just keep away from a zombie Jesus and we'll be kosher.