"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

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Well, here's yours truly. The name's Drew, in case you were wondering. The Niche is my personal site, while the comic-in-progress is a partnered effort with Don, a lifelong friend of mine. We collaborate on the stories, but my partner's the writer in the outfit while I am the illustrator. This is currently little more than a side project, but we hope to make something of it.

artwork by yours truly

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Supernatural: Children shouldn't play with Dead Things

For the past few weeks, I've begun watching Eric Kripke's paranormal drama television series, Supernatural. Needless to say, I'm loving this show. Perhaps if Darkly collaborator and good friend of mine, Don, is willing, he'll also give it a watch and share his input. -- I won't lie, part of the appeal to give Supernatural a try was Gilmore Girls' Jared Padalecki (Sam Winchester). I liked Gilmore Girls, so sue me. In Jared's defense, he has made cameo appearances in his fair share of horror films. Though after getting my feet wet in the series, I'd have to say that I happen to like Jensen Ackles (Dean Winchester) more. Sure he's your atypical tough guy, but he's just so damn funny at times. The witty banter and smart alec remarks are what makes Dean a likable character.

Getting to the heart of the matter, I've wanted to write a review on at least one of the episodes that I've seen thus far. After finishing the first season yesterday, and subsequently starting the second season as well, this fourth episode compelled me to write, today. Giving a nod to two personal favorites of mine within the horror genre, namely zombies (The episode title itself was a big tip-off. -- Refer to the film of the same name.) and author Stephen King, "Children shouldn't play with Dead Things" gives us something old and something new. (WARNING: spoilers ahead)

Hmmm. Must've been one hell of a small UFO.
With their father's death still green in memory, the Winchester brothers pay a long-overdue visit to their mother's grave. Already we're beginning to see parallels to zombie cinema, namely Night of the Living Dead. (Recall siblings Barbara and Johnny, who likewise visit a parent's grave.) While Sam buries their father's dog tags in a shallow hole beside the stone marker, Dean takes notice of a dead tree nearby in the cemetery. His curiosity is only further piqued when he notices that the tree touches a perfect circle of dead grass, encompassing the site of another grave. Dean suspects that it might be unholy ground and so the next paranormal hunt begins.

After some initial inquiry and talking to the survivors of the deceased, Angela Mason, the brothers learn that the young woman had recently died in a car crash. Everyone has a good word for Angela and protest that nothing but happiness and promise were present in her hastily-shortened life. This puts Dean's gut suspicion of Angela returning as a vengeful spirit into doubt. That is, until the Winchesters talk to Neil, Angela's male (heterosexual, by the way) BFF. It turns out that Angela's boyfriend had been fooling around behind her back with another girl, then was caught in the act. Said boyfriend, Matt, also apparently slit his throat later during their investigation, before either have the opportunity to question him. Neil claims that it was a guilty conscience that drove Matt to suicide, feeling personally responsible for Angela's death.

As is customary in their line of work, Dean and Sam visit Angela Mason's grave under the cover of darkness to burn her bones. Pouring rock salt on the remains as well, the combined acts are part of a purification ritual that permanently expels vengeful spirits. (Rock salt is even used as ammunition in their firearms, acting akin to silver bullets with werewolves, but only work as a temporary solution in this instance.) However, upon opening the unearthed coffin they find that the corpse is missing. Baffled, the brothers then catch sight of a strange inscription at the head of the casket interior. Dean recognizes the symbols from Dr. Mason's office, Angela's father and a college professor of Ancient Greek.

an Ancient Greek text in Dr. Mason's office
handwritten copy of the coffin inscription
Having done some homework at the library (because libraries are great receptacles of occult knowledge...), Dean and Sam learn that the inscription is part of an Ancient Greek divination ritual, namely a form of necromancy used for bringing a corpse back to life, "full-on zombie action," as Dean so eloquently puts it. Revisiting Dr. Mason at his house, Dean angrily accuses the professor of using this to resurrect his dead daughter. "I get it. There are people that I would give anything to see again, but what gives you the right? What's dead should stay dead!" This echoes Jud Crandall's sentiment from Stephen King's story, which is driven home when Dean adds, "I mean, come on! Haven't you seen Pet Sematary?"

"Sometimes dead is better." -Jud Crandall, Pet Sematary
As it turns out, however, Professor Mason isn't responsible. While any grieving parent would certainly have motive, the living, healthy green houseplants inside indicate otherwise. Like in the cemetery, her mere presence causes vegetation within the vicinity to wither and decay. It's an interesting contribution to zombie lore that hasn't been used in any film that I'm familiar with. As Dean describes it, the zombie "rots the ground around them."

It doesn't take long for Dean to finger the real culprit. Neil, who also happened to be Dr. Mason's teacher aide, had access to the same Ancient Greek, divination texts. As for motive, well, it comes as no surprise that a single, male friend might have alternative reasons to be a shoulder to cry on, other than just out of simple friendship. (That, and reading out of Angela's diary provided insight into Neil's "unrequited duckie love.") A little cliche? Sure, but it does happen. Although resurrecting a dead girl and keeping her locked in the basement makes Neil unique enough from the much-tried, typical archetype. I imagine that most can't make the same claim.

Can you say "necrophilia?"
The real problem lies in how to dispose of zombie Angela. Seems simple enough, right? "We can't just waste her with a headshot?" asks Dean, to which Sam replies, "Dude, you've been watching way too many Romero flicks. [...] I'm telling you that there's too much [lore]. I mean, there's a hundred legends on the walking dead, but they all have different methods for killing them." Everything from setting the zombie on fire to cutting out the heart and feeding it to wild dogs, Sam and Dean haven't the slightest clue on what to do. A few legends, though, suggest using silver to put down the zombie. It's a start at least, although personally I wouldn't rule out Dean's headshot idea just yet. Just saying, it couldn't hurt. (Well, them at least. Not so much Angela.)

"Hello? Neil? It's your grief counselors. We've come to hug." -Dean
Breaking and entering into Neil's house, the Winchester brothers find the residence empty, but also discover Angela's "zombie pen," which is likewise vacant. Deducing that the boyfriend's suicide was in fact a murder, Dean suspects that the adulteress in Matt's philandering is next in Angela's intended victims. Furthermore Lindsay, Angela's roommate, was unusually broken up over Matt's death, making her the likely target. Ouch, that has to hurt. No small wonder Angela was so frantic earlier, having walked in on her boyfriend whilst nailing her roomie. But before zombie Angela can learn how many painful ways there are to use a pair of scissors on Lindsay, Sam and Dean come to the rescue. Firing several silver bullets into her, the projectiles have some effect on the zombie, albeit very mild, and Angela escapes.

It's like Karen Cooper (Night of the Living Dead), if she was a catfighting, college girl.
It's alright, Miss, you're safe now. You will live to skank another day.
During the drive from Lindsay's house, Sam reads aloud that another solution might be "nailing the dead back into their gravebed," which he suggests is why staking vampires became a common notion. I can already imagine hardcore zombie fans and vampire fans having conniptions over this, but let's roll with it and move along. (Fun fact: Staking a vampire has no effect in Supernatural. The only sure-fire way of vampire disposal is decapitation.)

Arriving at Dr. Mason's office that same night, the Winchester brothers find Neil apparently sorting papers or performing some other arbitrary, teacher aide work. Despite their combined confrontation, which tends to mimic "Good Cop, Bad Cop," Neil plays dumb to the accusations. Part of this is from loving protection for Angela, we assume. But given that she was also hiding within earshot, odds are that the denials were made more from the fear of what she might do to him, otherwise. We never do see whether or not if he ultimately remained loyal, since his neck is violently broken out of pure suspicion. Chances are he probably would have left her, but it's not verified for us.

Before leaving Neil to his grisly fate, Dean fabricates a story of how they will perform a bogus ritual at her grave to eradicate zombie Angela. She takes the bait and eventually follows them back into the cemetery. While setting up the bogus ritual, Sam investigates a noise, which, surprise, turns out to be Angela. She makes crocodile tears to Sam, who keeps his firearm fixed on her. The plea doesn't convince him and conceding to Dean's earlier suggestion shoots her squarely in the forehead. Unfortunately, all that manages to accomplish is angering Angela. A chase ensues and Sam runs toward her grave, where Dean lies in wait and ambushes the zombie. Nailing her into the coffin with a silver stake, this method actually proves to have merit, and Dean finishes the job.

Would've wagered money on this one actually working. Guess not.
Dean nailing Angela. -- Wait, bad choice of words.
So was this my favorite interpretation of the zombie mythos? No. Did I find it to be an interesting interpretation? Yes. Like good storytellers, the original molds were still recognized, even outright citing Stephen King and George Romero within the episode, while the subject matter itself went in a direction that differentiated enough from its predecessors. This is the very reason why I was so impressed by Stephen King's novel, Cell, just to use an example. So I have to give Supernatural props for taking its own stance on the iconic zombie. I give it three-and-a-half out of five Deans. Why Dean? The real question ought to be, why not?

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