Chillin' with the villains: Batman villain anthologies Part 1

Whoo, not that IMDb's Batman-related boards have ever been a source for calm, friendly discussion, but the poo has flown faster than ever with the recent announcements of Bane(to be played by Tom Hardy) & Catwoman(Anne Hathaway) as the villains, as well as the resulting controversy among fans over the actors chosen and possible roles for rumored actors Joseph Gordon Levitt & Robin Williams(seriously, he's so desperate to play a Batman villain I kinda feel sorry for him.).
 I'm pretty neutral towards the matter, Bane is an interesting and pivotal character from what I've seen, but he came around in comics published after my time, so I can't really judge Tom Hardy's casting. Catwoman is a character who never really did much for me in a non-TnA way. Personally, I always felt the femme fatales of Will Eisner's The Spirit were much more interesting than her. Anyway, I'm interested in how Anne Hathaway will interpret the role. Who knows, it may be her chance to break with her good girl image.

 Anyway, this has inspired me to pull out a few TPB anthologies collecting the appearences of the various Bat rogues. Besides, I've wanted to do some comics reviews for a while. First up, may as well start with Batman's most famous foe; The Joker. 

 The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told: 

My copy.

 The Joker must have personally picked out this collection, and it's later follow up Joker: The Greatest Stories Ever Told, because it seems to have been someone's idea of a joke. The first collection, published to coincide with the 1989 film's release, seems to eschew recent appearences of the character in favor of predominantly older comics, meaning a good chunk of the contents is made up of goofy stories from the mid 40's-late 60's, where the villain was primarily a harmless prankster, while I prefer him in a more sinister light. In either case, this collection must have come off as bizarre to newcomers who picked up the book after seeing the film. 
Standard edition.

 The newer volume, while recognizing modern achievements, and thus, mostly stories which portray the Joker as a psychotic killer, seems to have chosen the stories completely at random, and one doesn't really get a taste of each era. 

 The strange thing? I much prefer the first volume, simply because it reprints some of my favorite stories featuring the character. Standouts include his first appearence from Batman #1, an eerie horror story whose only weak element, in fact, is the appearence of Batman himself! Up until then, it feels like something straight out of an old dark house murder mystery, drawing a clear inspiration from films like The Gorilla(1939) and(ironically) The Bat(1926). What's fascinating is how much of the story remained intact in the film The Dark Knight. Then there's The Great Clayface-Joker Feud from Batman #159, which is so silly you can't help but love it. This is the good kind of camp that fans who prefer more lioght-hearted takes on Batman often wax poetically about. The odd thing? With it's attempts at character bits, the story seems to have been intended to be taken seriously. Sometimes you really gotta question the "purity" of the "good 'ol days". 

 Then there's The Joker's Five-Way Revenge from Batman #251, which could be described simply as "The Joker kills people one-by-one, then Batman chases him, gets put in a death trap, then catches him and beats him up" without missing a beat. But you know what? Thanks to Neal Adam's magnificent artwork and some mood-setting captions by Denny O' Neil, this comes off as a genuinely chilling read at times. It would be easy to call this an overrated story because it's so simple plotwise, because it's mostly famous for returning the Joker to his homicidal roots, because this one shot of Batman pursuing the Joker on a beach is often swiped by other artists, and because most of my positive feelings about it come from reading it as a kid, having nightmares for a week and then bragging to all my friends about how I'd found one of the scariest comics ever, but somehow this story just hits the spot.
 It also has a shark in it. Everything's better with sharks.
 Speaking of fish, another standout is The Laughing Fish storyline from Detective Comics #475-6, which draws heavily from the Joker's first appearence for several bits in issue 476. The Joker is actually a peripheral character in the story, with most of it centering on Batman's conflicts with his girlfriend Silver St. Cloud, and the conflict between villains Rupert Thorne and Hugo Strange, which is taken straight out of the ending of Robert Wise's masterpiece, The Body Snatcher. Nevertheless, the Joker dominates the story with only a few on-panel appearences, where he launches one of the most truly nonsensical but oddly clever schemes in comic book history, and manages to actually be quite funny while doing so. While moody and ultimately bittersweet, this story nevertheless boasts some clever in-jokes, such as a silhouette cameo by Popeye, and a tombstone marked "Denny Colt". Come to think of it, there is a lot of pouring rain and satirical humor in the story, suggesting a big Eisner influence.

 So while this early volume is bogged down by some crap, there's still a lot of goodies to round it out. The second volume boasts some gems like Slayride from Detective Comics #826, and the New Year's Eve chapter from Jeph Loeb's overrated, bloated and self-indulgent The Long Halloween. This New Year's Eve chapter is one of the stronger bits, and boasts some clever moments of black humor, such as when the Joker tells a dead flight attendant that smoking is hazardous to her health. Otherwise, the volume's contents are real headscratchers for inclusion.

 One story, from Batman #66, seems to have been reprinted solely because of it's online infamy for overruse of the word "Boner". Reprinting something simply because of a lame internet meme? Real classy DC.
 Batman: Tales of the Demon:
 Oh boy, is this collection a primer on how overrated some creative teams and characters get. This isn't a "best of" collection showcasing Ras Al Ghul, but his first appearences. Al Ghul was odd in that he was fairly subtly introduced through a name drop and then made cameos over various issues before taking center stage as a major villain. This gives the collection a disjointed feel, but it was unique in it's day and doesn't really detract from the entertainment value. As for the stories themselves?

 The first story, with Batman in Asia on the trail of a criminal named Dr. Darrk and his encounter with Al Ghul's daughter Talia, has a great pulp atmosphere, so too does the first appearence of Al Ghul in the second, which is justly celebrated as a classic. Well-plotted, beautifully drawn, building up layer and layer of intrigue about Ras Al Ghul and his daughter, and best of all, giving Batman an actual chance to act as a detective, this one's a keeper. Only problem is, it's too good, so good that it's humorous ending seems abrupt and unsatisfying.

 Al Ghul and Talia continued to appear for several issues as wild card supporting charatcers who may or may not be evil. Ultimately, writer Denny O' Neil appeared to lose interest in developing the characters, and their characterization become spotty, with Batman unarguably considering the Al Ghul's allies, but treating them curtly and attacking their henchmen even though they fight for the same cause. Then, when Batman finally becomes aware of their villainy, it comes across as extremely unconvincing.
 Batman has no trouble with the shady and sinister actions the two have taken, many for frivolous purposes, such as seeing whether Batman is a suitable boyfriend for Talia by kidnapping Robin and threatening to expose Batman's secret identity, and he surprisingly doesn't seem too disatisfied with both of them killing, either. 

 What alerts him to Ra's villainy? Because Ras harvests a murder vicitm's brain to probe it. Okay, that is pretty disturbing, but it's only to obtain essential information for solving a case. Batman blows a gasket, and immediately decides that Ras is his "arch-enemy" and sets out to destroy him. Now, probing dead brains isn't exactly something a good guy would do, but look at some of the things Batman himself has done to interrogate criminals! To be fair, the brain is depicted in agony, and Batman puts it out of it's misery, but just because someone is inhumane doesn't automatically make them "a modern-day Hitler"(a term Batman uses repeatedly to describe Al Ghul). Possibly Batman concluded that Al Ghul had comitted the murder to obtain the brain himself, but we never actually see him make that conclusion or learn if that's the case.

 So basically Batman's entire reason for concluding Al Ghul is an evil monster who has supplanted the Joker and Adolf Hitler was based on jumping to a conclusion. He also misconstrues a line Ras delivers about making the world a better place to mean he intends to conquer it and forge it into a utopia, without any proof Ras means such a thing. Yeah, we're expected to believe that Batman has never made a similar statement or heard it from one of his superhero buddies, but when the creepy foreign dude with a hot asian-looking daughter makes it, he's a megalomaniac that has to be put down at all costs.

 Really, really, unfortunate implications going on here.

 So what does Batman do to take down these sinister, inhumane, untrustworthy former allies of his? He...hires sinister, inhumane, untrustworthy people as allies. Makes wait it doesn't. Batman's team is made up of a whiny, reluctant professor who pretty much proves useless, a gangster named "Matches" Malone who shoots himself accidentally and whom Batman then impersonates from thereon, a member of Ras Al Ghul's cult who Batman recruits with absolutely no reason to believe he's trustworthy and who spends two issues attempting to either back out or kill him. Why, why would Batman hire these worthless, untrustworthy, squabbling fools? If Ras is such a potential threat, why not ask his Justice League buddies for help? Okay, that would seem to obvious or too anticlimactic. So why not recruit some obscure heroes like the Creeper? Or since O' Neil apparently wanted to make Batman's anti-Ras team interesting and edgy, why not recruit some of his more sympathetic villains like Catwoman, Two-Face or Man-Bat? Nope. The storyline goes downhill from there, although Batman's sword-fight with Ras at the conclusion of the 'saga" is one of the best art jobs of Neal Adam's career. 

 The rest of the book's contents are made up of random stories where Ras pops up, the best of which is a one-issue story illustrated by Michael Golden where Ras marries off Talia to Batman while he loots the city. It works as a frivoulous adventure, nothing more.

 All in all, while I appreciate the obvious pulpish influences that went into the concept of Ras, making him equal parts Fu Manchu, John Sunlight and the Hammer films version of Dracula, and while the character has been used to much greater effect by other writers, here in these original stories(up until that marriage story), we never get a sense or even confirmation of him being much of a threat, and certainly not a great threat worthy of usurping the Joker as Batman's archfoe. 

 At best this "saga" comes off as an occasionally entertaining story about a stupid Batman misjudging a man and turning out to be right by the dumbest of coincidences. At worst, it come soff as a an attempt to create a great villain that tries waaaay too hard at times, and waaaay too little at others. And while it sounds like I'm being too harsh on Batman's characterization, really, if he was real it's his own damn fault for trusting a guy whose name translates as "The Demon's Head" then realizing the guy is bad news over something so stupid. Still, get this collection for the artwork alone. Neal Adams, Bob Brown, Michael Golden, Don Newton. How could you go wrong?

 And I have to admit for all my problems with the story, I do like it.

The Book of Sea Monsters: The Art of Bob Eggleton

While it certainly isn't going to be recommended by Loren Coleman any time soon, this book kicks ass. I've always been a fan of Bob Eggleton's artwork from his Godzilla picture books(why yes, I do indeed reads da kiddie books), and this was a must have. And at only $4 used on Amazon, why not buy two? Worth every penny. It may not be an academic work on the subject, but who really cares? The book is meant to be a showcase for Eggleton's artwork, and it delivers. The text portions by Nigel Suckling are also enjoyable, and mention some bits of myth I'd never heard of before.

 If there's any problem, it's that Eggleton's work is so meticulously detailed that it kinda loses some of it's magic in painted form. His bold, gritty style(similar to comics artist Doug Mahnke) looks better inked in black and white, or embellished with watercolors.
 The book also focuses more on sea serpents than other kinds of monsters. Nothing wrong with that, since dragons/serpents are obviously a specialty of Eggleton's, it's just that so many take up the book that some illustrations seem a bit repetitive. What's worse is that he seemed to want to show off his skill for drawing real animals at the start of the book, so most of his sea serpents pretty much all look like giant garden snakes with mildly monstrous features like feathers or gills. Why go for realism when you let your imagination run free? Eggleton apparently came to the same conclusion himself, and later goes wild with his depictions of lake monsters. 

 Still, there's some great stuff here. I just wished there was a little more variety of the types of sea monsters included. 


Pleasant Dreams: Nightmares by Robert Bloch

Now there's a contender for awkwardest title in anthology publishing history. At least The Opener of the Way, while taken from a story, had some thematic significance as a title because it was Bloch's first anthology and thus, the "Opener" to his career(Bloch evidently thought along similar lines, as he would use the title for a semi-autobiographical story called The Closer of the Way). And dig that cover, is this a horror anthology or an encyclopedia for young intellectuals?

 Well, don't judge a book by it's cover, because this is yet another superb Bloch anthology. While he'd still do some good stuff later on, it's my opinion that the 40s- early 50s was his peak. Ironically, this seemed to end with the success of Psycho, which is what catapulted him to superstardom. Did success spoil Robert Bloch? Maybe, because only heavy pruning would keep his future anthologies from being mixed bags. Enough complaining though, this is still a superb collection. While Opener was fun for seeing Bloch experiment with different writing styles and developing his own voice("A portrait of the artist as a young Monster" he once said in an interview), with Pleasant Dreams, you have the pleasure of reading the master's work in it's fully realized form.

 The volume gets off to a strong start with Sweets to the Sweet, the Weird Tales classic about a lawyer who reluctantly investigates his brother's treatment of his daughter at the behest of her nanny, only to realize that the insults his brother has hurled at his daughter, calling her a witch, have proven to be a formative experience for her...

 It's not perfect, and the adaption in 1971's The House that Dripped Blood improves upon it indefinitely by humanizing the characters(Christopher Lee & Chloe Franks star as father and daughter), but the sheer visceral punch of the ending makes it work, and you have to love a story that begins "Irma didn't look like a witch."

 Next is one of Bloch's many stories about Hollywood, The Dream Makers, about what really happens to those old movie stars who dropped out of sight with their entire careers ahead of them. Some wickedly funny satirical bits as well as a truly jaw-dropping visual pun the story offers up for the twist ending helps knock this one into semi-masterpiece territory. The highlight, however, is the opening, where Bloch recreates the fateful trip to the movies to see The Phantom of the Opera when he was a kid that started it all. I'd rather read this as an excerpt any day than the waste of space "memories" in Cemetery Dance's bloated October Dreams anthology(god I hate that book).

 The next story, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, is an awesome chiller told from the point of view of a mentally handicapped young man named Hugo, who becomes the pawn of a scheming magician's wife. The definitive Bloch story, not in that it's great mind you(though it certainly is a compelling page-turner that easily deserves 4 out of 5 stars), but because it boasts all the fiendishly clever logic and gruesome twists you could want from a story, and it's the kind of stuff which made ravenous fans out of people like me. It was memorably adapted with Diana Dors for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock presents, maybe a bit too memorably for some people, as it was banned for being too intense for television. 

 I Kiss your Shadow is a bit more problematic, it starts off as a strong supernatural thriller similar to Bloch's earliest stuff, takes a twist into Psycho territory, and then ends with a what the hell?-inducing ending that seems like a precursor to the sexually charged horror of later writers like Clive Barker. Oh yeah, and Bloch apparently has no idea about what a "succubus" is for a guy who prided himself on his knowledge of horror motifs. Shadow's plot is fairly standard stuff involving a murdered spouse's ghost taking revenge, but the stylistic mishmash of the story makes it unsatisfying, like it's several stories woven together. It does explore a concept(that of a living shadow) that Bloch mined previously(and more effectively) in Black Bargain, but sometimes stuff doesn't need to be rehashed. Then again, maybe he was just ahead of his time again; "shadow people" have recently experienced a resurgence in popularity thanks to internet memes like the Slender Man.

 Much more ambitious, and much more outrageous, is the infamous story Mr. Steinway. A hilariously bitchy woman(the narrator) latches onto a meek pianist and soon finds herself competing for him against...a piano. Once more, the Bloch motif of the oppressive mother appears, and in the 1967 film adaption of this story in Torture Garden, that's apparently the driving force for the piano to come to life and try to kill the narrator. Yeah, you read that right.
 In the original though, we instead get a truly bizzare, rambling ''scientific'' explanation(based off of someone's truly screwed up understanding of quantum physics, metaphysics, the tree-hugger mentality that everything is alive, and just plain old fashioned bullshit) for why the piano comes to life. Bloch's characterization is a hoot, and the attempt to ground the story in scientific explanations needs to be read to be believed, but really, it's hard to be deep and metaphysical when you have a friggin' killer piano as the central point of a story. Very entertaining though, just for it's sheer illogic. Why this was adapted to film I'll never know. It just had to have been chosen as some kind of joke.

Fear Me!

 Much better than Steinway because it's intentionally funny, but also touches on pop occultism in a similar way, is The Proper Spirit, a bawdy comedy story about a loveable old miser named Ronald Cavendish whose even greedier family tries to do him in by using his obsession with seances to get him committed. This being a horror story(albeit a comedic one), how much do you want to bet who's right? With some great dialogue, hilariously eccentric characters, and a genuinely clever twist which gives multiple meanings to the title, this is one of Bloch's best comedic efforts, very similar to Thorne Smith's Topper stories, but much better, as well as a whole lot darker. I would not have minded seeing a series based around Mr. Cavendish just like Bloch did with Lefty Feep.

 While the next story, Catnip, is also chock full of black humor(as well as the single most jaw droppingly silly ending line I've ever read), it's much, much more sinister. A ruthless middle school bully with his eyes on becoming a gangster(he runs his school's class president campaign like a mafia don manipulating an election, and has people do his homework for him as a kind of protection racket) runs afoul of an old lady and her black cat, and ends up accidentally killing her. Slowly, this asshole of assholes is reduced to a blubbering sissy as the cat seeks retribution. Inspite of our thoroughly vile protagonist being the cat's target, Bloch generates some moments of genuine terror as the cat closes in for the kill. While the black cat acting as an agent of vengeance originates with Poe and Stoker, elements from this particular story seem to have also worked their way into other works. Shadow of the Cat(1961) is an obscure early Hammer film with a similar idea, as is Eye of the Cat(1969) and a segment of the anthology The Uncanny(1977). It also has a connection to another Bloch film adaption...but that would be telling. 

 Next comes The Cheaters, a story with a marvelously circular structure about a pair of glasses that allow it's users to see the truth about those around them, or do they? It ends badly for all involved. Of all people, Dave Chapelle actually seemed to have drawn inspiration from this story for a sketch on his show. Cheaters is followed by Hungarian Rhapsody, which, well guess, just guess what this is about. Nevertheless, the well-defined characters and yet another outrageously silly pun at the end keep this story fresh when it should come off as cliche.

 You can't fault Bloch with originality though for his next tale, then again, maybe you can, because he's finishing another author's story which only had four pages finished(and in this book, that equals up to one and a half pages). This story is called The Light House, and is a fine tale about a misanthropic man who takes a job operating a lighthouse, and slowly  starts going mad from lonelines, then discovers a special talent of his that ends his loneliness. Like I said it's Bloch finishing another writer's work. No biggy, told in extremely brief journal entries, all the original author did was just establish the setting and that's it.

 Thing is, the author in question died before he could get the plot going, even more shocking is that this author was no less an icon than Edgar Allan Poe! Anyone trying to complete a Poe story has to be admired for their guts alone. Bloch is more than up to the task, in fact, the brief, concise and straight to the point opening lines by Poe read like work by a modern author, and not Poe's usual word salad prose. In contrast, Bloch's story(a good 97% of the story is his) actually reads more like Poe than the actual Poe bits! No one has ever done a better stylistic imitation than this.

 Other stories include the unnerving haunted house/study in vanity stopry The Hungry House, and the atmospheric Sleeping Beauty, which manages to be both romantic and sleazy in it's story about a tourist searching for "the real New Orleans" who ends up experiencing a supernatural blast from the past courtesy of an old pimp(Hmm, that sounds awkward). These stories are followed up by Sweet Sixteen, a story that attempts to give an explanation for juvenille delinquency, and lands on a supernatural scapegoat which would sadly be picked up by real life fundies decades later and result in the late 1980's Satanism scare. It's a good story, but the real fun lies in Bloch's condemnation of other then-popular explanations for delinquency at the time. Particularly interesting is his mention of Dr. Wertham. Several of Bloch's other stories showed a rather contemptuous attitude towards comic books, and Bloch's lone contribution to the medium, a meanderingly simplistic, awful Flash story(that still somehow wound up in a collection of the greatest Flash stories ever told, solely because of Bloch's name) showed how much credibility he gave the average comics reader: None. So it's refreshing to see Bloch to offer up a comparatively sympathetic view towards comics considering his track record.

 The book saves the best for last with the short stories That Hell-Bound Train and Enoch. Hell Bound Train is a whimsically dark story about a bum who makes a deal with the devil, and the result is one of the most complex, moving, and brilliantly plotted stories I've ever read. Easily my favorite deal-with-the-devil story. Along with The Scarf, it ranks as Bloch's very best work. It has been rightfully honored as the masterpiece it is, winning a Hugo award and continually being anthologized ever since. I'm not saying anymore about it except that it's a masterpiece, and my favorite short-story of all time.
 Following Train is Enoch, which is much trashier, but so much fun it easily holds up following such a masterpiece. In many ways, it's the true precursor to Psycho, as it features a simple-minded man who kills travellers and disposes of them in the bog, and wrestles with a split personality which comes courtesy of his mother. But ah, this has a twist. Our protagonist, Seth, is fully aware of his crimes, it's just that, you see, he thinks he committs the murders at the behest of his invisible pet demon Enoch, which lives in his hair and rewards and punishes him depending on how well he complies with it's murderous needs(Enoch was a birthday present from his mother, a witch). Or does it? When it comes to stories dealing with whether the supernatural is involved or whether it is psychological, few remain as successfully ambiguous as Enoch does. Every time you get settled on another interpretation, another plot point pops up to lend credence to the other.

  Barring that, it's such a well-told tale that you can't help but like Seth, and view the sinister ending as a happy one. Kids love seeing this story told on camping trips for some reason, with or without the "and it happened in these very woods" twist ending that every campfire storyteller adds. I dunno, maybe kids just relate to the good-natured, befuddled Seth. One online review said it was a story "that will delight children but horrify their parents". Good call. In fact, in his anthology The Early Fears, Bloch mentions in the introduction a case where Enoch was banned from a classroom in Pennsylvania. I would love to hear more about that, but can find no info anywhere. 

 Oddly enough, in the film Torture Garden, the plot of this story is altered considerably despite the original being so beloved. The Seth character is changed to a scheming heir who murders his uncle, whose servant was Enoch, who rather than being invisible, is a cat, and several scenes come right from Catnip. This combination of stories leads me to believe Pleasant Dreams was on producer Milton Subotsky's shelf and he felt that the stories should be fused together to make a more satisfying whole.

 Speaking of the Early Fears anthology, it reprints the full, original edition of Opener of the Way as well as all of Pleasant Dreams: Nightmares as well as 3 other stories. It's tragically out of print, but easier to find than the original Opener and Dreams, and since not everyone can be a rare book collector like me, I'd suggest finding it. Despite it's hefty original price tag, I've seen it sold online fairly cheaply. It's worth every penny, despite having a bunch of typos and rather confusing cover art. Anyway, it's worth it to get your hands on this stuff somehow.

Films I have seen recently:

Late 2010-2011 is actually shaping up to be a really promising year for genre films, and the upcoming Green Lantern movie doesn't look too shabby either, hell, I'm even excited for Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch! So far I've seen... 

 Black Swan:

 I was a bit apprehensive about this after being thoroughly unimpressed with Aronofsky's previous work and Natalie Portman's dreary performances in the Star Wars prequels and the botched adaption of V for Vendetta, but something about the combination of ballet and horror really caught my attention(Suspiria flashbacks, I reckon), and whaddya know, this is easily one of the best films of the post 2000-era.
 Think of it as a Robert Bloch novel adapted to screen by William Castle(with the dialogue written with Joan Crawford in mind), directed by Ken Russell and crossed with a sleazy tabloid/Showgirls sensibility. It's basically about a ballerina who may or may not be going insane, but the treatment is so fantastically bizzare it elevates itself beyond the usual "Main character is losing it" films.

 Featuring some of the most blatantly over-the-top symbolism since Tommy, and several scenes used to build tension that are hilarious one minute and truly terrifying the next, as well as a genuinely daring lesbian sequence, Black Swan isn't the type of film you'd expect to garner the praise of the mainstream as well as the arthouse, but it has, garnering more award nominations than any film in history!!! The thing people seem to miss about it though, is that it's essentially a satire. I toss that word around a lot, but that seems to really be the case here. Aronofsky is making a statement about how "high" forms of art such as ballet etc are just as trashy, corruptive, morally bankrupt and dehumanizing as "low" art forms like movies and porn. I for one, couldn't agree more with that message, and we all know how fucked up I am. Like I said, it's not the kind of message I'd have expected so many people to take to(even without fully comprehending it), but they have. Maybe this world is becoming more in line with my sensibilities.
 Anyway, it's hard to hate a movie that has an old man jacking off on the subway who looks like the dancing guy in those commercials for Six Flags. 

 Season of the Witch:

Man, what did poor Nic Cage do to get such a rabid base of haters? Sure The Wicker Man remake blew ass, but I've rarely seen him be in anything that wasn't watchable. Anyway, I was really anxious to see this film after it got pushed back so much, the fact that it has Christopher Lee in it and is one of the few period era horror films to be released in modern times also got me hyped.

 And you know what? It delivers! It's basically a cross between The Seventh Seal(as far as it involves disillusioned ex-crusaders in a plague-infested europe who encounter the supernatural) with Fritz Leiber's old Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser stories, with a dash of Hammer horror thrown in. No masterpiece, but the type of film I live for. Oh yeah, it also has some of the most awesome looking demons ever filmed. The beautiful cinematography and gorgeous european settings don't hurt this film either. It's not any more scary than things like the Harry Potter movies, but it doesn't really try to be.
 I also can't help but Love with a capital L the irony about the hate the film is recieving because of the title. Trolls all over the internet are up in arms and crying for the director's blood for "copying" the title of the third Halloween movie with the usual "Rape my childhood", "How dare they desecrate a classic!" and "Worst crime since the Holocaust" comments.
Thing is, just about everyone despised Halloween 3: Season of the Witch for not involving Michael Myers and regularly put it on "Worst films of all time" lists. Now it's being called a classic that everyone loves and has always loved. First The Good Son, now Halloween 3. What's next? Rover Dangerfield? Gigli? Maybe *shudder* Jonah Hex? H3 always had a small cult following, and I myself love it and was part of that small cult following, but how come when I and my buddies used to defend the film we got either flat out ignored or relentlessly mocked? Where were these rabid H3 fans the past twenty fucking years when I and about thirteen other guys were the only fans? 

Clearly, the apex of artistry.

 Now H3 is everyone's darling and I'm having to point out it's flaws. What a crazy world this really is.
 Oh, and the biggest irony? H3 wasn't even the first film to use that title. DoHoHoHo. 

 The Green Hornet:

 For a Seth Rogen spoof/tribute to an almost forgotten radio/pulp hero, this was pretty damn good. I'm not one of those assholes who complains about darkness in superhero-related media, but I kinda like how the success of 2010's Kick Ass is inspiring people to have more fun with the genre. Green Hornet manages to combine the laughs with some tolerably deep human drama and character development, as well as some suprisingly brutal but casually handled slaughter from both the heroes and villains that felt more akin to The Spider than Green Hornet.
 Oh, and you have to love a film where the most exciting and intense fight is between the hero and his ostensible sidekick rather than the showdown with the baddies. Iron Man 2 went that direction but, well, watching that movie didn't turn out too well for me as I covered in a past post. Christoph Waltz also shines as the villain. That man just keeps knockin' em out of the park. My only beef against the movie? It's not really worth seeing in 3D except for the credit sequences(though I still enjoyed those more than Avatar).

 Overall, not a bad start for the year.

It's Christmas Eve...

I'd like to say I hate Christmas, but really it's not so much the Holiday itself so much as it is the office parties and family get togethers. Thankfully, I have no family to ruin things for me this year. As for the office party(what kind of people hold office parties on Christmas Eve?) I have the perfect solution, the ultimate excuse for going and spending most of your time in the bathroom, just take one swig o' this concoction and no one will fault you for spending most of the party on the crapper. You'll just need:



Put it all in a blender, add some crushed ice and there you have it, the perfect excuse. May as well have some fun on this holiday.

To all a good night.

It's the one-year anniversary of the Death of Mature Cinema!

Yep, today is the one year anniversary of Space Dances with Wolves. Aspies, whiggers and James Cameron fanboys(sorry, that was redundant, we all know that aspies, whiggers, and Cameron fanboys are the same thing) everywhere are all furiously masturbating in praise of their fuhrer for introducing such stunning and original concepts like CGI effects, 3-D and a cheap anti-military message that even Michael Moore would roll his eyes at.

 *Oooh* How badass and deep! And Dark! And Mature! What rebels! What a glorious statement about man's inhumanity to..uh..aliens. What a great environmental message! What a stand against our facist goverment! 

 What fucking dumbasses. Oh well, at least cinema went out on a high note with Inglourius Basterds and Inception

*SNIFF* Good night sweet prince.

Mysteries of the Worm by Robert Bloch:

What? Me? Reviewing a Robert Bloch book? *GASP* Well, I wouldn't love the guy's stuff so much if it wasn't for a reason, and Mysteries of the Worm is as fine a reason as any. In fact, if I was asked to show a newcomer what all the fuss was about, or to demonstrate that there was more to the guy than Psycho, it would be this volume, partly because it shows Bloch treading a realm of supernatural horror that would later be all but forgotten by the public, partly because it reprints some of his earliest stuff.

 I've had several copies, and the most recent one(the one I'm reviewing right now) is the most interesting for several reasons. One, the original Mysteries was a collection of Bloch's stories featuring the fictitious book Mysteries of the Worm or Der Vermis Mysteriis, a Necronomicon-style book which would be much referenced in Cthulhu mythos stories from then on(remember, Bloch was one of H.P. Lovecraft's circle).

This collection goes even farther, because rather than just featuring stories which mention the fictitious tome, this edition goes out and features every single story Bloch ever did with even the vaguest references toward the Cthulhu mythos. The other odd thing? This book was published by Chaosium Inc., which is not a fiction publisher, but a role-playing game guidebook publisher. They apparently have reprinted these stories solely for the benefit of people who enjoy the Call of Cthulhu RPG. As much as I often defend the more stereotypical aspects of geekiness, RPGs have always been where I draw the line, but since it was an RPG that led to this volume getting published, I can't complain. For length's sake, I won't be reviewing any of the stories collected in here that were also in other anthology books that I've reviewed. 

 Other, earlier editions.

 The book kicks off with The Secret in the Tomb, which was his second published story. It's a fairly standard story involving a cursed family and a zombie, but is made memorable by Bloch's ludicrously over-the-top attempts to emulate Lovecraft in terms of prose("Terrors not of the flesh might lurk among cedar-shrouded sepulchers"). Bloch would become known for his frequent injections of humor into his horror stories, but you really have to wonder how intentional some of this early stuff was. Nevertheless, it works inspite of itself.

 More interesting is The Suicide in the Study, featuring a sorcerer who literally unleashes his evil side by seperating both sides of his natures into two seperate bodies, both alive at the same time. The ending is predictable and rushed, hell, even the introduction to this story mentions how much better it could have been handled! Still, it's hard to hate a story where the good side takes the form of a wizened midget(because the sorcerer was never a good man, his good side is thus stunted) and the evil side takes the form of a giant ape who has a rotted skull with fangs for a head! Part of me wants to imagine that the evil side later decided to put a diving helmet on and then renamed himself Ro-Man.
 Much more well-structured is The Shambler from the Stars, the famous story where Bloch killed off an expy of Lovecraft in the story(with Lovecraft's permission) and a fake feud began between them, featuring sequel stories that were being published as late as 1951(with The Shadow from the Steeple, also included here, which was the first horror story I ever read). It really is a fun little story, with Bloch describing the pains his character(a writer) goes through in order to come up with inspiration for an original type of horror story, before getting ahold of Der Vermis Mysteriis and deciding to try it's spells out with the help of his friend(the Lovecraft expy), which has the unfortunate effect of calling down the titular entity, which is invisible until after it has had a meal, preferrably blood. Man, that has to be one of the coolest monsters ever. Just imagine walking home one night with a friend and then your friend drops dead and starts being drained, and all the blood then takes shape out of nowhere into the form of a giant monster. Now, that's a way to go, and would make a killer special effect, like a cross between the Id monster from Forbidden Planet and The Blob.

 Bloch takes a nosedive however, with the disappointing The Grinning Ghoul, which I had high hopes for because of the title. Some of the mental imagery this leaves you with is rather silly, like a passageway under a gravestone. Not a giant tomb cavern in a foggy, mist-enshrouded cemetery, just beneath a normal tombstone. Combine this with the rather silly image of the protagonists travelling into the bowels of the earth with a candle attached to the top of their helmets(which I always thought looked rather silly in old mining pictures from the 1800s) and it just makes it harder and harder to take seriously.

 Taking a 180 degree turn upwards in quality, however, is The Brood of Bubastis, which is my favorite of Bloch's early tales. A man is called to his eccentric friend's home in Cornwall(already this story has special significance to me) and slowly he learns the secrets of his pal's latest occult research. What follows is a magnificently creepy story tying in the Cthulhu mythos, egyptian cults, the legends of fairies and the little people and some genuinely disgusting moments of beastiality/necrophilia. Featuring some of Bloch's most poetic prose("I was enchanted with the cornish countryside; a region of mystic mountains, cloud-haunted hilltops, and purple peaks that towered over wild forest glens and green-grottoed swamplands. Here was a region rich in romance- the dark land of Irish, Saxon, Roman and primitive pagan gods. Witches could walk in these woods, sorcerers sweep across these sullen skies on their satanic steeds."), this tale is a masterpiece from beginning to end. It was also one of the last stories Lovecraft saw Bloch write before his death, so I like to think HPL went out knowing his young pupil had learned well. Anyway, this story is horror heaven.

 Not so is The Creeper in the Crypt, a rather standard story about some gangsters who trespass on haunted ground and get their just desserts. The backstory about the vicinity is more interesting than the story itself. The Secret of Sebek, however, is a noticeable improvement. While somewhat obviously patterned after Poe's Masque of the Red Death, this story comes with some fantastically creepy moments when the protagonist begins noticing things no one else does and keeps trying to rationalize them every step of the way until it's too late.

 Up next is another Egyptian-themed story, Fane of the Black Pharaoh. This is an interesting one, with some great scenes involving living, prophetic hieroglyphics in an egyptian tomb that had to have inspired a similar sequence in Clive Barker's Coldheart Canyon. The introduction for this story is also interesting in that the editor draws paralells with several Warren magazine stories in Creepy and Eerie. Oddly enough, I agree, several of Bloch's stories had a clear influence on various Warren stories, including one entire series in Eerie, but this is not only never mentioned again, but I have to admit that the paralells with this story to the Steve Ditko story in Creepy they're comparing it to are really stretching it.

 The story I'm talking about(which really did influence Warren) is the next story, Eyes of the Mummy, which is a sequel to The Secret of Sebek, involving one of the villains and the narrator. Earlier, Bloch had done a story called The Opener of the Way, which gave the name to his first(and in some ways best) anthology. It involved an archaeologist who transfers his mind into a statue of Anubis. This story features a man who transfers his mind with that of a mummy and ends up subsequently crumbling into dust. Warren magazines re-used this concept extremely early on for a story published in Creepy #2 called Wardrobe of Monsters, although it featured a variety of Monster forms the protagonist could transfer his mind into rather than just a mummy, and did not feature the same ending, as the forms were not as decayed as the one the protagonist of Eyes uses. Warren later created an entire series based around this concept(involving only one mummy/monster form) called The Mummy Walks for Eerie. Really, I could do a whole essay on horror stories involving people transferring their minds into monsters, and Warren stories that ripped off both that and other Bloch concepts.
 Bloch wasn't above borrowing ideas himself though, his next story, The Sorcerer's Jewel, is a pretty transparent variation on The Hounds of Tindalos, made memorable by the eccentric characters and the humorous pains the protagonists go through(before they discover the jewel)to create trick photography depicting monsters.

 No one can fault Bloch for originality with his next tale, Black Bargain, though. This is a perfect blend of the two styles Bloch wrote in; Heavy-handed shit-yourself horror and smart aleck, street-wise humor. An obnoxious pharmacist makes the accquaintance of a meek little man practicing black magic, and soon both find themselves swept into one of the most genuinely frightening ideas for a horror story ever done. While it has elements of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and tons of various deal with the devil stories, you can't fault how well Bloch makes something teriffying out iof something as simple, as everyday, as normal as a....well, read it yourself. It starts off humorously, with the pharmacist's mean-spirited descriptions of his annoying customers, and in fact, arguably the whole story is one big visual pun, but when it gets scary, it gets scary.

 Another high-point is Notebook Found in a Deserted House, which is one of those "writing at the last minute as the monsters attack" stories, told this time by a child. It's fairly standard, but contains some excellent moments of terror, such as a cousin who is not what he seems and a race on a carriage away from shoggoths on a dark and stormy night while evil forces gather all around to watch. Up next is Terror in Cut-Throat Cove, which starts as a rousing story of treasure hunters and a love triangle, then becomes a monster story, and then comes to a genuinely surprising twist that turns it into one of the most frightening depictions of a monster appocalypse ever written. Clive Barker seems to have based a character in Rawhead Rex after this story's narrator. The book ends with the disappointing Philtre-Tip, one of Bloch's sorriest humorous stories, but even it can't lessen the high points of the good stories in this volume. A must-read for all horror fans.

Hunger for Horror: A surprisingly good anthology

Oh man, with my marking down Halloween, Guy Fawkes night and Veterans Day, I was on a holiday roll! Then I went and missed Thanksgiving! Ah well, silly me. Still, it's never too late to make a Thanksgiving-themed post, especially considering that I *still* can feel the food from that day trying(and failing) to digest itself in my stomach. 

 So what better book to review than this obscure horror anthology devoted to the real reason we celebrate Thanksgiving? Hunger for Horror, edited by Robert and Pamela Adams, as well as anthology editing king Martin H. Greenberg, if you can't tell by the title, is an anthology devoted to horror stories involving food and eating. That in itself is pretty "Uhhh...okay"-inducing for most people, but the book just keeps piling on the outrageousness with it's tagline("A taste of terror, a feast of fear-in these shivery excursions into the dark side of the imagination") and one of the most sickeningly (pardon the pun)tasteless covers I've ever seen since the heyday of Eerie Publications. 

 The silliness doesn't stop there either, the introduction by Pamela Adams ends with the phrase(and I swear I'm not making this up) "Dinner, anyone?". Classy, this book ain't. Even worse, a lot of the stories don't really involve food, but are just typical "monsters eating people" stories or have even less justification for inclusion. For example, one of the stories; the Lovecraft classic Pickman's Model, is about flesh-eating ghouls, but doesn't involve any flesh-eating in the story itself. Too bad.

 So far it sounds like I hate this book, but do you want the truth? Hunger for Horror is actually one of the very best anthology books in my entire collection! It's certainly the best of the many "gimmick"-themed books I own that doesn't revolve around a common genre subject like vampires, etc. So without further ado, let the feast begin!

 Feast is right, the first story up is Robert Bloch's The Feast in the Abbey. Anyone who has even glanced at this LJ knows how much I love me some Robert Bloch, so I might be biased, but this is a great way to start the book off nonetheless. What's even more remarkable was that Bloch was seventeen when he wrote this! In turn-of-the-century France, a young adventurer trying to find his missing clergyman brother in another town is lost in the woods and finds his way towards an ancient monastery, where he is invited in by a strange, silent order of monks, with only the kindly Abbot Henricus communicating with him. Our hero is ordered to dress in black and is then invited to the Monk's feast, where he is taken aback by the Monks' ribald behavior and gluttony. Slowly, ever so slowly, the truth is revealed as the main course is served. Not hard to figure out where this is going, especially considering the title of this anthology, but the eeriness of the ending leaves an unforgettable impression. Tightly paced, written in lucious prose(you can just taste the wine in your mouth and smell the black candles in the abbey hallways), and featuring no dialogue(which allows us to flesh out and participate in the story in our minds), one can already tell that even from his young age that Bloch was a very visual and inventive writer. Many of his early stories are bogged down by juvenille humor, heavyhanded references to the Cthulhu mythos and often laughably overwrought prose(stemming from his desire to imitate Lovecraft), but I encountered no such problems with this story. Sometimes you really do get it right the first time. 

 Speaking of Lovecraft, the next story is his much beloved Pickman's Model, about an art critic who investigates an artist well known for his frighteningly lifelike depictions of ghouls, and learns the secret of his success. As I said, this story doesn't really belong here, as the ghoul's flesh-eating habits play no role in the story. Still, this classic is always a pleasure to read, and just the chance of seeing a more humorous side to Lovecraft is worth it. They still should have gone with The Rats in the Wall or The Lurking Fear, both of which contain terrifying scenes of flesh-eating.

 Following these two Weird Tales masterpieces, we have editor Robert Adams's own Shaggy Vengeance. This needlessly lengthy story involves a young married couple who work as teachers who move to a small mountain-town in South Dakota known for it's population of german immigrants and the local legend of ghost buffalo. Adams does a nice job creating likeable characters and capturing a small-town atmosphere, and the faux-german dialect is delightful. Unfortunately, the story takes too long to unfold and none of the characters who end up victims of the buffalo really deserve their fate, though that's why they call it 'horror" I guess. In any case, the meagre eating-related portions of the story(apparently some of the victims were eaten, though they could just as easily have been trampled/gored) don't justify it's inclusion in this book. The main characters do spend a lot of time having dinner at their friend's houses though. All in all, it's fun. Still won't talk me out of having buffalo burgers.

 The next story, Anthony Boucher's They Bite puts us back in Lovecraft territory because it involves an inbred family of cannibal monsters who were once human, similar to The Lurking Fear's Martense clan. The setup however, involving a blackmail victim who murders his blackmailer and tries to pin his crime on the monsters, is classic EC Comics stuff. What makes it effective is how Boucher actually has the monsters appear throughout the story very early on, but always just out of sight. Reading this late at night, when your eyes are tired but you can't quite fall asleep and you keep thinking you see something out of the corner of your eye, really enhances the story's effectiveness.

 Up next is Jerome Bixby's Share Alike, an oddly touching tale of two shipwreck survivors in a lifeboat, a human and a vampire. The bizzarely symbiotic(and filled with some surprisingly overt homoeroticism) bond they come to share enhances an otherwise standard vampire story(albeit with an unusual setting) to near masterpiece status. Worth getting the book for on it's own. In sharp contrast to Share Alike's sombre romance is Ambrose Bierce's charmingly hilarious Oil of Dog, about a young boy whose parents find a way of combining their businesses(the mom aborts babies and the dad kills dogs and boils them so he can sell their melted body fat as a medicinal oil, just guess how they combine the two jobs) and their ensuing misadventures. Genuinely hilarious, shockingly tasteless and morbid for it's era, this story would be fascinating even if it was terrible just for the sheer balls it must have took to publish this. Reminds me a lot of George MacDonald Frasier's Flashman novels.

 Up next is Tom Reamy's jaw-droppingly fucked up Beyond the Cleft, which is about a bunch of kids in a small town who start going apeshit at the exact same time on the exact same day and killing and eating adults for reasons that never are made clear even after the ending. Other than some asides showing the adult's reactions, that's literally all the story is; just anectdotes of kids eating people for pages and pages. Just when it doesn't seem it could be more screwed up(baby biting off it's mothers tits) it gets worse. I can't tell if this is the worst horror story ever written or the greatest. It's screwed up enough to be both. Just read it to believe it.

 Not quite approaching Cleft's tastelessness, but easily measuring up to it in in terms of grisliness, is Gladys's Gregory by John Anthony West. A woman named Gladys is depressed because her husband Gregory couldn't be worse: He's kind, considerate, faithful, energetic, handsome, intelligent and in perfect shape, the asshole. Too bad he can't be a fat slob like any other husband, so Gladys starts doing her best to fatten him up. Why? While the answer should be obvious, the reasons for her doing so(besides the obvious), and the twist-ending totally made me drop this book in shock the first time I read it. Damn. Just, damn. Easily the best story in the book if shock value and sick humor is your thing.

 Up next is Bill Pronzini's The Same Old Grind, a favorite of Greenberg's apparently, because he also uses it in 100 Hair Raising Little Horror Stories. Come to think of it, that volume had it's fair share of culinary horrors too, especially Gary Raisor's Making Friends and F. Paul Wilson's grossout masterpiece Topsy. The next story is Ramsey Campbell's The Enchanted Fruit, which is well written, and involves a fairly clever twist, but which just bores me to tears every time I read it. I have no idea why.

 Much better is Stephen Vincent Benet's The Elementals, which is a fascinating precursor both to Clive Barker's Dread and the endless Saw franchise. Get around the trite explanation for how the story's villain manages to get away with all this(He's a corporate businessman, they can do anything because they're EEEEEVIL! MWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!) and you are in for one hell of an intense horror story which will make you race for the fridge to eat something, anything, after you are finished reading. No writer before or since has captured the intense feeling of starvation as Benet does here.

 There are still some fine stories in this volume, but they all sort of veer off from hereon. Anyway, this is book is surprisingly consistent and good inspite of how lurid it's theme is. If you see it, get it.

 Man, that was a long recap. You know what? I still haven't finished digesting my Thanksgiving food. This is gonna be a long winter.

Black Sabbath(1963):

Today is November 23rd, birthday of the King of Horror, Boris Karloff.

Rather than review one of Karloff's acknowledged acting triumphs like Bride of Frankenstein, The Body Snatcher, Targets, or one of the A-movies where he has a small role like Scarface, The Lost Patrol or Danny Kaye Makes an Ass of Himself For Almost Three Hours, or even stoop so low as to watch one of his crappy movies like Voodoo Island, I thought I'd chill with Mario Bava's 1963 anthology film Black Sabbath, which of course, also inspired the name for some band you may have heard of.

 Chill is right. This film, out of all the many horror movies I've seen, captures the cold of the grave like no other, and it creepy theme of abuse and domineering doesn't lessen it any. The film, being a product of our old friend Mario Bava, was shot in Italy and thus was extensively dubbed for the US release. Most of the time I prefer subtitles to dubbing, but in this case I prefer the American dub simply because we get to hear Karloff's actual voice and Les Baxter's great musical score, which veers from broodingly eerie to what one person called "pratfall music", but it never misses a beat.

 The first two segments of the film are fairly moody, but are so short you never really care about them, although stills of the undead hag in one segment got reprinted a lot back in various monster magazines. Karloff acts as a host for these first two stories, in a manner not dissimilar to his then popular Tv show Thriller, but it's the third story that's the reason I'm reviewing this movie, the story called The Wurdulak, based on a Tolstoy story. Major spoilers abound. 

 In a snowy european mountain region, travelling nobleman Count Vladimir Defae(Mark Damon, playing a role not dissimilar to his role in House of Usher) discovers several hoofprints and hears a horse whinnying loudly in the distance. Nothing unusual, except that next to the prints are bloodstains! Vlad gives chase and finds a corpse with an oddly-shaped dagger in it's back. He attempts to get a look at the face, the only problem is that there's no head! Now this is how you start a horror film!....I mean, segment. My only beef with this scene is how on the poster this part is depicted as a headless horseman scenario, when it's really not.

Our hero scours the countryside and finds an ominous, fog-enshrouded farm house. No one answers the door so he enters, finding a surprisingly well-furnished house. One thing gets his eye, on the dust-covered walls, there is a dagger identical to the one he found! Next to it is the outline of a dagger similar to it, meaning that he's found where the dagger came from. Vlad then recieves an odd welcome from the inhabitants, who promptly point a gun in his face. All is well though, when one of the men identifies the headless corpse as Alabeck, an Ottoman bandit who was also believed to be a Wurdulak, or as we westerners call it, a vampire. It seems the household patriarch, Gorca, after losing one of his herds to Alabec, set out to stop him. Gorca warned however, not to let him in after five days have passed, for if he had not returned by then, he would have also become a Wurdulak. 

 Suddenly, the dogs start howling, and an ominous figure approaches the house, wrapped in a black, furry cloak that looks like a grim reaper's cloak made out of raven wings. He gathers in front of the house and demands he be let in. It's Gorca, and guess who's playing him? 

 Vlad is warned not to stay, but unfortunately, he's developed an attraction to Sdenja(Suzy Anderson), Gorca's beautiful daughter. Our hero is in for a world of hurt. You see, Gorca is a rather territorial man, and worst of all, a wurdulak is known(like the werewolves in Werewolf of London) to instinctively target it's loved ones and their loved ones. Vlad had better watch it.

 You can probably guess how this all ends, it's the typical "We escaped from the monsters! Oh no! Now my girlfriend is a monster!" stuff. What makes it fascinating is the little details Bava has thrown in, not the least of which being his trademark visual flair, as well as that this segment dwarfs the others by an entire hour, making it a movie in of itself.

 As for what also makes this segment great? For one, and the reason I'm doing this post, is just how perfectly Karloff is used in the role of Gorca. Karloff could be many things; sympathetic, charming, unhinged, gentle and even humorous. But for an actor known for horror films, what he rarely was was scary. Karloff was so endearing as the Monster in the Frankenstein movies that, no matter what part, to me and a lot of horror fans, he was always the good guy. Creepy at times, but never scary. In this segment, he shows he can be, and the result is one of the most genuinely unsettling villains ever put to film.

 The key is that Karloff doesn't play Gorca as a vampire, but as the worst possible human being you can imagine, every creepy, negative quality a person can posess, totally oblivious to how he affects others. He doesn't even show Mr. Hyde-style relish in his evil deeds. They're jsut the way he is now, and all the aspects of his human life be damned! There's a scene where he eyes his grandson and begins cuddling him in the creepiest possible voice, then kissing him. His abrupt reply, "Can't I fondle my own grandson?", when taken out of context, sounds really dirty and awkward, even unintentionally humorous. But it doesn't matter, because it could be either way. Is it just an awkwardly worded phrase? Or is it pedophilia? Or is it his vampire instincts kicking in? Each option is more unsettling than the last, and Karloff sells each possible interpretation with just a glare. Wurdulak or not, this guy is dangerous. 

 What makes this even more creepy is how clear it is that Gorca was a manipulative, abusive monster long before he ever became a vampire. One of his sons mentions(long before we even meet Gorca) that Gorca had set out to single-handedly kill Alabec just for killing his herd, taking no warnings because of how stubborn and nasty he is, and clearly he suceeded! Even in life this guy was a hardass who would kill even an infamous monster/criminal over trivial bullshit! This interpretation is further fleshed out when he orders his son to kill one of his dogs because it can sense how he's changed. 'Do I ever give an order twice?" he shouts. This man is used to being obeyed. Even more unsettling is how his family accepts it, they are so under his thumb that even knowing he's a dangerous vampire does not deter them from obeying him, and thus each seals their death warrant. He even manipulates them by using the child to drive a wedge between one of his sons and his wife so that they too become vampires. Forget being a vampire, being this guy's kids is a fate worse than death.

 Put simply, this is one of the most frightening portrayals of an abusive father ever expressed on film. Karloff is simply amazing. How ironic that the guy famous for playing Frankenstein's Monster; the poster child for those abused by a bad father, would suceed so well at playing a bad father? Anyone who thinks Karloff has no range as an actor needs to see this movie.

 Oh, and one other thing about this film that I must mention: Traditionally in vampire stories, the noble heroes are peasants or lower class noblemen whose daughter is taken by an evil nobleman vampire, who is often titled: Count Dracula, Lord Ruthven, Sir Francis Varney, etc. The horror of the traditional vampire story is of how family is broken up; basically, vampires are homewreckers. 

 Here, the titled nobleman intrudes upon a peasant family and seduces their daughter away, but he is the noble human hero. It is the family who are (rapidly becoming) vampires. Interesting inversion, huh? But there's more to it than simple role-reversal, and my theory about what more there is to it pushes the film into genius territory if it's true. 

 Given the ending, where Vlad gives into the bite of Sdenja, he clearly will become a vampire, and given his nobleman roots, he clearly isn't going to stay with these hicks for very long. Also consider his name again: Count Vladimir Defae. Count Vlad D.

 Doesn't that name sound a, horror fans?

Mark Damon: Dracula?

Bava never mentions it, or even jokingly implies it(the film ends with Vlad submitting to Sdenja), but this segment could very well be considered an origin story for Dracula!(with Vlad picking up all of his evil qualities from tutoring from Gorca)There's even the prescence of an evil Ottoman, and we all know that the real Dracula's enemies were too! If this was intentional on Bava's part, and considering how subtle it is expressed, then that makes this even more of a masterpiece than it already is! I've never read the Tolstoy story this is based on(I think), but I'm going to track it down now!

The Many Versions of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde:

There are tons of horror concepts that I find fascinating; vampires, werewolves, mad scientists, old dark houses with crazy families, average people willing to make a stand against a society that can dish it but can't take it, cosmic horror, demonic posession, crafty murderers. I love 'em all. 

But I think the one single concept that fascinates me the most is the concept of The Monster From Within. The Creature from Planet Id. The Man in the Mirror. Today happens to be the birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson, who penned the greatest of all stories about the duality of man; The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. As a tribute, here's my recap of the many different film versions. Although the book is quite different from the film adaptations, I don't really think the plot needs to be described in any great detail, do you? So here's a run-down of every version I've seen. Spoofs included. No in-depth commentary as per my style, just quick and to-the-point. There's some versions which deserve to walk among respectable victorian society, and some which deserve to be flogged to death with a cane. 

 1) Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde(1913):
The first Universal horror movie, and believe it or not, it still exists. Too bad it's only so-so as a film. Film as a medium was still developing, but come on. The acting is comparable to the kind you see in most high school plays. Worth seeing though, as a curio. 

 2) Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde(1920):

In it's own way, this has dated even worse than the 1913 version, but John Barrymore saves it with his utterly creepy portrayal of Mr. Hyde. While the infamous publicity story about how he didn't require any makeup for the role has long been proven to be a lie, he really does compensate for it with his sheer acting ability. 

 He doesn't play Hyde as the embodiment of the evil in Jekyll's soul, but as Jekyll devoid of any good; twisted, oily and decrepit. His creepy smile, oddly-shaped head, long oily hair, awful fang-like teeth and long fingernails would clearly be an influence on other film monsters of the twenties, notably Count Orlok from Nosferatu and The Man in the Beaver Hat from London after Midnight. The film itself is a crashing bore whenever Barrymore is offscreen, but that doesn't happen too much, thankfully. 

 3) Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde(1931):
The definitive version as far as I'm concerned. Fredric March is absolutely outstanding. His portrayal of Jekyll is neither a good man who wants an outlet for his evil side, or an evil man who is forced to wear a mask of goodness and finds a way to take it off, instead he's just a normal guy who has been so warped by the priggish moral absurdities of society that normal human behavior has become taboo for him, and when it's unleashed as Hyde, such behavior really does become as evil and twisted as society says it is, but that's no one's fault except for the people around him. This version of Hyde is basically a product of his environment.

 As for March's performance as Hyde, he's so perverted and repulsive in the role that it truly is shocking to watch even by today's standards. Nevertheless, you can't help but root for Hyde when he commits his various atrocities because he's obviously having the time of his life, and his joy is infectious. Unlike other movie villains who get pegged as encouraging bad behavior like Clockwork Orange's Alex De Large, Hyde really is a character whose evil deeds the audience is asked to enjoy and vicariously participate in. But doing so comes with a cost, as Jekyll's life soon comes crashing down on all sides, so too is the audience made to feel guilty for the crimes they have just vicariously participated in. In other words, the audience is forced to become Jekyll and Hyde and experience life as they do. This is technique is established with the early POV shots from Jekyll''s viewpoint and the dizzying transformation scene. 

 March rightly won an oscar for his performance, but he's not the only good actor here. Miriam Hopkins is outstanding as Ivy, a prostitute who falls victim to Hyde. Holmes Herbert is wonderfully nasty as Jekyll''s backstabbing "friend" Lanyon, Edgar Norton also gives a touching performance as Jekyll''s devoted butler. The actor who really makes an impression though, is Halliwell Hobbes as the real villain of the piece; General Carewe. Hobbes makes Carewe such a loathsome asshole that you wonder why they didn't have HIM play Mr. Hyde. You really gotta wonder too if he wasn't the inspiration for the Character of General ''Thunderbolt'' Ross in the Incredible Hulk comics. Both are generals, both have the same mustache and both keep cockblocking the hero. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were both horror fans, so it could be possible. 

 In any case, this movie is a masterpiece, and the oscars it won were well-deserved. The definitive version as of now. 

 4) Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde(1941):

It's the same as the 1931 version!......just that it's devoid of any directorial flourishes, good acting and characters you actually give a rat's ass about. Worst of all, it's fucking boring. But because it doesn't use any elaborate monster makeup for Hyde, and because some of the scenes can be interpreted as a jab at Spencer Tracy himself, those things make this version a masterpiece that's not only superior to the 1931 version, but also the greatest thing since sex and a film that only 'true" film fans can appreciate. It can also cure cancer and spin straw into gold too. Yeah. 

 Seriously, fuck this movie and it's elitist fanbase. They've been crying about how the film is an "unappreciated masterpiece" for decades even though it's been being ''appreciated'' for about 40 freaking years. God Damn. You won people. Shut up. I used to be relatively indifferent to this version, but the fanboys make me hate it more each day.

 5) Black Friday(1940): 

Finally, a version that has a different title! This isn't really a version of J & H to be honest. It's been considered everything from a loose adaption of Donovan's Brain(it's script was written by the same guy) to a precursor to the Hammer Frankenstein movies because of it's emphasis on brain transplants.

In this version, the doctor and Jekyll/Hyde figures are seperated into two distinct characters. Boris Karloff is a doctor who partially transplants the brain of a gangster named "Red Cannon" into the head of college teacher friend George Kingsley (Stanley Ridges). Kingsley soon finds himself being posessed by Cannon's brain and going on rampages against his former gang members who betrayed him.

 If you are going to do a version of J&H where there's no makeup used to signify the transformation, like the Spencer Tracy version, then this is the way to go. Ridges is so good in the role that you really won't believe you are watching the same actor when he swithes personas back and forth, even though the only physical difference between Kingsley and Cannon is that Cannon slicks his hair back and glares.

 Of the horror subgenre about executed/dead criminals(innocent or guilty) who come back to kill the gangsters who framed/killed them, such as The Walking Dead, Indestructable Man, The Monster and the Girl, Maniac Cop, etc, this is my favorite. The film is frequently trashed by fans because Bela Lugosi gets top billing and is wasted in a minor role, but who really cares? This is still a fascinating variation on J&H and worth seeing. 

 6) Abbott & Costello meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde(1953):

I liked the part where the fat one sees something scary and the skinny one doesn't believe him. Hurr hurr. Oh well, at least Boris Karloff makes for a wonderfully sinister Dr. Jekyll. 

 7) Son of Dr. Jekyll(1951): 

This is an interesting one, although it will really only appeal to hardcore fans of the book.

 This isn't so much a sequel to the previous films, but a sequel to the actual novel, utilizing several characters and plot holes to use as clues. While it seems to be just one of the many entries in the ''Son of a famous monster/killer carries on the family business " genre at first, it isn't, and is actually quite clever in it's denouement. Only problem? It isn't very good. Nice transformation scene though. 

 8) Daughter of Dr. Jekyll(1957):

I'm just going to quote a sypnopsis I read online: "Gloria Talbott stars as the Daughter of Dr. Jekyll; the famous werewolf".

 Do I need to say anymore? Oh, and it was directed by my old pal, Edgar G. Ulmer. It's as awful as it sounds. 

 9) Atom Age Vampire(1960):

While it sounds like cheesy fun rom the title, this is actually one of the sleazier films on the list. A mad scientist injects himself with cancer cells to turn into a tumor-monster so he can kill women and use their glands to repair the face of a disfigured stripper.

 So yeah, it's J&H crossed with Eyes without a Face and The Black Sleep, but without the class of either three. Nonsensical dialogue, scenes which occur for absolutely no concieveable reason, some outrageously offensive moments and bad acting abound, not the least being a bit where the doctor dubs his alter ego "Seddok" for no reason. The film would have turned out just as well without the "turning into a monster subplot". Still, it moves fairly briskly, and Albert Lupo manages some moments of pathos as the doctor. 

 10) The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll(1960):
While previous versions skimped on the makeup, this was the first version to try and do something thematical with using less makeup, by going back to the original book and it's concept of Jekyll being middle-aged and Hyde young.

 Basically, this is a version that features an ugly, old Jekyll and a handsome young Hyde. I applaud that idea, but this version is just lame.

 Actor Paul Massie is terrible as Jekyll/Hyde. He's far from a handsome actor, in fact, he looks more apelike than Fredric March's Hyde makeup, but without makeup! As Jekyll, where he's supposed to be ugly, he actually looks more attractive because the beard, sagging eyelids and graying hair makes him look somewhat scholarly and respectable. Too bad his performance sags just as badly as his eyelids.

 His Hyde, who is supposed to be a deceptively charming womanizer who manipulates society with his good looks, comes off instead as a naive idiot who ends up being mocked more than anything, even getting mugged at one point! If Hyde is a young version of Jekyll, then it's no wonder that the current Jekyll is an alienated sad sack who never interacts with people, the guy must have gotten picked on all the time as a youth if he was as clumsy then as he is now in his attempts to be charming and suave. At one point, he tells someone to "Go to Hades" as an insult. Oooh, tough guy, eh? HaHa.

 The film does come up with a clever plot twist where Hyde frames Jekyll for murder so that he won't come back, but then transforms back into Jekyll while in a police station, but that's as good as the film gets, right at the end. Otherwise, it blows. Not a single good performance in the entire film either, even from Christopher Lee. There's more laughs than anything else to be had in this film, and in fact, Hammer studios had first discovered that a year earlier in 1959, when they made a comedy called The Ugly Duckling with Bernard Bresslaw that utilized the same concept. Sadly, Duckling is a lost film. Still, it wouldn't be the last comedy to utilize this concept... 

 11) The Nutty Professor(1963): 

I liked the part where he did something wacky. Hurr hurr. 

 12) Carry on Screaming(1966): 

Not a spoof of J&H, but it's worth mentioning because it features a Mr. Hyde serum that the villain claims was given to him directly by Dr. Jekyll(who apparently used to bully him along with Dr. Frankenstein at Mad Scientist school), and it figures prominently into the plot. One of my favorite horror spoofs, this charming and witty little film deserves a review all it's own. 

 13) Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde(1971):
As dumb as it sounds, it's actually one of the last films to come out of Hammer Studios in the '70's that can really be called great. While it does throw away a lot of potential for sociological satire about gender roles, it's still a lot of tasteless fun. Ralph Bates and Martine Beswick's near perfect resemblance to each other(with some er....rather obvious differences, of course) is used well by the film. Surprisingly true to the book at some points. Also deserves a review all it's own. 

 14) I, Monster(1971):

My second favorite film version of the story. Yes, it's dull, drab and very low-key, but believe it or not, it's also the most faithful version! Yes, it changes the names of J & H, yes it makes the ending more action-packed, yes it eliminates the mystery aspect, but who cares? 
I love the sleazy, gas-lit feel of the film. I love how Dr. Marlowe(the Jekyll character) experiments with the serum before using it on himself by testing the serum on his patients, and gets some very funny results. I even love the minimal, but effective makeup for Mr. Blake(the Hyde character). Christopher Lee gives a great performance as Marlowe/Blake, and even actually manages to make Blake fairly sympathetic compared to the other versions of Hyde we've seen. 

 Peter Cushing is also on hand as Utterson, and he's just as good in the role as Lee is in his. The film's ending is appropriately sombre and leaves poor Utterson in just as bad a situation as his late friend. This film is an accquired taste to be sure, and the slow-pacing is a big turn-off, but it's a taste well worth accquiring. See it. 

 15) Dr. Jekyll & Ms. Hyde(1995):

Unlike 1971's Sister Hyde, this does explore the battle of the sexes as a theme, but it's hard to appreciate it with all the groan-inducing jokes. Still, I have to admit that this is one of my favorite guilty pleasure comedies along with Jingle all the Way. I also have to admit that I find it funnier than any of the other comedic versions. 

 16) The Nutty Professor(1995): 

I like the part where they all farted. Hurr hurr. 


 So that's it. I know there are a lot of versions and variations I missed like Mary Reilly, Satanik, The Testament of Dr. Cordelier, Jekyll & Hyde: Together Again(which I have seen, and REFUSE to ever watch again), the 1986 version of The Fly, the musical, films which feature Hyde in a supporting roles like The Page Master, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the Mark Redfield version, but these are the ones I've seen.

 All in all, I have to say that Robert Louis Stevenson would be impressed by his character(s)'s durability throughout the centuries. Just goes to show that a compelling theme can be timeless.