Friday, September 29, 2006

Real Estate: A unique fixer-upper opportunity on Elm Street.

Though the address 1428 North Genesee Ave might not ring a bell, you may recognize the house as 1428 Elm Street, home of several of Freddy's many victims. For the horror buff with truly deep pockets, the house is for sale. It comes with a pool and living room fireplace.

Thanks for hulver regular ad hoc for giving me the link on this.

Comics: Dead tired.

Wednesday was new comic day. Baring weather or national holiday, your local comic purveyors stock all the new junk on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

The particular Wednesday, there were four significant zombie-related titles hitting the racks. First, a new issue of IDW's Zombies, featuring a group of criminals as prison guards fighting off hordes of zombies. We also got the first issue of Marvel's Zombie, featuring criminals and civies and National Guardsmen fighting off hordes of zombies. The fifth volume of Image's The Walking Dead came out. This features criminals, civies, and cops fighting off hordes of zombies. Finally, there was the Marvel Essentials collection of the 70s cult classic Tales of the Zombie which featured the on-going adventures of Simon Garth, zombie hero.

This list doesn't cover the recently released Recess Pieces, which is Day of the Dead in a grade school, or Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse, a continuing series about a zombified monster-hunter. Or the recent Marvel Zombies mini-series (no relation to the Marvel series mentioned above). Or Dark Horse's Zombie World. Or the two Romero series: the comic adaptation of his Land of the Dead and the original Toe Tags. Or the deadite filled Army of Darkness series. Or . . . well, enough already, you get the idea.

Like the zombies that fill all these comics, the titles them selves just keep coming and coming. And, unfortunately for readers, just like zombies, the titles also tend to be an un-individuated mindless mass. Certainly there are small differences – these guys are US Army while those guys are National Guardsmen – but, for the most part, they follow the standard plot: group of individuals who cannot work together get trapped and surrounded by zombies. Can they pull together before they are literally pulled apart? (This is when the books have a plot. Some, like the Marvel mini-series, simply roll on the strength of the fact that we'll pay money to watch super-powered ex-hero zombies feed on one another.)

Here's the deal. I'm getting tired of zombies.

Let's step back for a moment and look at horror comics in general. After several decades of limping along as a minor sideline to the dominant superhero franchises, horror comics are back in a big way. I'm going to go out on a limb and some credit to Steve Niles's 30 Days of Night, a mini-series involving a gang of vampires attacking an isolated Alaska town during their long and sunless winter. This comic (soon to be adapted into a flick as all comics are now required by law to be) helped revive the funny book horror market. Other, more general trends, played important an important as well: a sudden surge in quality horror films, the growth and mainstreaming of Goth subculture, the rise in popularity of manga horror titles, the aging of the comic buying demographic etc. The end result, regardless of the precipitating factors, is that horror comics are now a sizable market trend for the first time since the 1950s.

Let's peg the start of this revival to the late 90s. This is us just talking, so there's no need to be militant about the exact dates. In the late 90s, we had fewer titles, but, I'd argue, more variety. Horror comics, twitching back to life after their long slumber, were all over the map. The work of Steve Niles is emblematic in this regard. In his short career, Niles has cranked out vampire stories, a noir detective camp horror series, a 70s-style splatter-fest featuring a gang of biker Satanists, a mini-series featuring a Japanese-style giant monster fighting a enormous Nazi robot, a Bigfoot story, and so on. None of these was so original that we couldn't find prior examples of the idea in the larger genre of horror, but most of them were creative and horrific enough to satisfy. More to the point, they showed a sort of love for the genre in general, a restless need to range over the entire variety of the horrific.

But these days, everybody is rushing to crank out zombie books and the scary section of the funny book shop is beginning to look like a production still from a Romero film: zombies as far as the eye can see. This isn't to say that there aren't good zombie books out there. The Walking Dead is exception not only for its excellent zombie action, but also for taking the zombie genre in directions it could only go in a long-series comic format. And sure you can still find non-zombie related titles (like the vampire/pirate series Sea of Red or Marvel's House of Poe mini-series). But increasing amounts of shelf space are taken up by monotonously mediocre zombie books, all of which come from this sort of high concept horror hell where they take Night of the Living Dead and simply swap characters or setting. You can almost imagine a sort a Mad-Libs style zombie comic book plot generator: Zombies attacking [demographic group] who are trapped in a/on a [set].

Seriously, try it:
Zombies attacking cheerleaders who are trapped in a football stadium.
Zombies attacking hack sci-fi writers who are trapped in a convention hall.
Zombies attacking elderly retired insurance executives who are trapped on a cruise ship.
Zombies attacking people dressed like zombies who are trapped on a movie set.
Zombies attacking the rock group Alabama who are trapped on a rollercoaster.
Zombies attacking the Latvian Football Federation who are trapped in a Pink Taco just outside of Orem, Utah.

Actually, that's kind of fun, and might explain why people are so drawn to create zombie stories. But imagine that we went on through a couple hundred more iterations. It would get monotonous. It also builds up until you feel it is simply unnecessary. Most of these zombie projects are short mini-series that could, one feels, be better done as a movie (perhaps that's the goal of the creators, not to make a great comic, but to make something a movie producer would pay to adapt). Few really take advantage of the things comics can do. The Walking Dead, for example, uses the distinct format of a monthly series to tell stories your standard two-hour film could not. It is the zombie story that can only be done in comics, and therefore feels vital to the medium.

Now I dig zombies as much as the next guy. Some of my friends and co-workers seem to be zombies. But I think the market is getting zombied out. Let's bench the corpses for a while. They've done good, let 'em rest. Call in the werewolves or the giant insects or Martian invaders. When was the last really good body snatcher-style Martian invasion?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Candy: Wonderful Halloween Peep sculptures from Frankford.

Please forgive the low quality of the photo, but I was unable to find a higher quality product shot on the Web. These out of focus characters are the Halloween edition Frankford Marshmallow Pals. Basically, they're Peeps. But these cats are more like Super-Peeps, Ultra-Peeps, Peeps to the Nth Degree. Instead of being vaguely formed uni- or duo-colored marshmallow lumps, Frankford uses icing to decorate their candies, creating cartoonishly detailed figures. There are stitches on the forehead and bolts in the neck of Frankenstein's Monster. You can clearly make out the fangs on Dracula. Even the witch's hair has texture to it. I've seen toy figurines with less detail than Frankfort put into these little candies. And all this for $1.99. Even if you don't like Peeps, they're worth buying to give to some little monster on H-day.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Comics: No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks.

Bob Figerman's latest, a Dark Horse hardcover release called Recess Pieces, can be summarized quickly: it is Dawn of the Dead in a grade school. This short summary does capture the overall concept. A group of pre-pubescent kids must battle their way out of a zombie-filled school, dispatching former classmates and teachers along the way.

What the summary doesn't catch is the gore-stained humor Fingerman brings to the whole work. This work feels more like Shaun of the Dead and Dead Alive than "straight" horror fare like Night of the Living Dead. The kids drop one-liners, make bad puns, traffic in ethnic humor so broad it is difficult to find offense in it, and turn zombies into pulpy messes with gym equipment.

Though it is mostly played for laughs, Fingerman works from a simple and effective theme. In Recess, the narrative device used to kick-off the zombie holocaust is a toxic cloud released in a high school science lab, but the real reason people become zombies is that they grow up. Only teens and adults become zombies. Children must fight for their lives or be eaten by the forces of zombie/adulthood. It is this theme that ultimately elevates the humor. How can a satire of adulthood, the stage of life when seriousness is paramount, not be played for laughs?

Though some horror fans might find the gags distracting and some of Fingerman's fans might find it lightweight next to his famed Minimum Wage series, I think the book is an anarchic tribute the freedom that most purely exists in childhood. It is also a bloody good time.

For more info, check out the Fingerman interview at Comic Book Resources.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Music: Hearsin' around with the Ghastly Ones.

The Ghastly Ones refer to their music as "haunted garage and cemetery surf." Think Dick Dale by way of Coffin Joe. Check out for the video for their tune "Haulin' Hearse."

Now that the Ghastly Ones have provided you with a precious two minutes and 25 seconds of joy, be a mench and visit their
official site. If you're looking for a soundtrack for this year's Halloween shindig, you could do a lot worse than picking up a copy of their latest album: Target: Draculon.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Movies: "I think somebody needs a massage."

Last night was one of my girlfriend's late shifts, so, in accordance with the traditions of my people, part of the evening was spent watching B-grade horror flicks. Last night's masterpiece: Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory.

This movie was simultaneously disappointing and surprisingly good.

First, the disappointment. Any film with the words "Girls' Dormitory" in the title instantly conjures up certain expectations. These include, but are not limited too: skimpy negligee, pillow fights, shower scenes, and at least one pair of "friends" who express their closeness through massages and communal showers. While I understand the constraints placed on filmmakers working in a certain budgetary range, these elements are neither costly nor effects-heavy. Furthermore, they are easily integrated into just about any standard B-movie plot.

See below:

"Shame about Mary. Do you think there are really aliens in those woods?"
"Don't be silly. It's just a story. I think somebody needs a massage."

"Shame about Mary. Do you think there are really zombies in those woods?"
"Don't be silly. It's just a story. I think somebody needs a massage."

"Shame about Mary. Do you think there are really alien zombies in those woods?"
"Don't be silly. It's just a story. I think somebody needs a massage."

It's that simple. However, the director of Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory, despite the gratuitous use of the word "girls" and "dormitory," included none of these things. His girls, while all quite cute, wear something like OR scrubs made out of old sail canvas to bed. The spend their time in class or investigating the horrific murders of their classmates, instead of focusing on pillow fights, kissing practice, and any other crucial aspects of the all-girl educational experience. Finally, if the makers of this film are to be believed, these girls never bathe. Ever. Sure, there are hints that the girls bathe. Film is a visual medium: show don't tell. You owe it to the viewer.

Now the surprisingly good part: for all its heightened cheese-factor, the film is an enjoyable flick with a dual plot and a mystery-thriller structure that is better than it needed to be (or would have needed to be, if the completely lack of "girl dorm" genre trappings didn't put extra pressure on the film to be entertaining).

This Italian produced flick takes place in a Mediterranean villa in the English mountains. The arrival of a new teacher, Professor Blond Hero, sends the girls into a tizzy, especially a pretty and shy student named Female Lead. The Creepy Groundskeeper leads Hero to the school's main office where he meets Sir Stick-Up-the-Butt, the schools prim and proper headmaster, and his assistant, Icy McFrigida. Hero and Stick talk around Hero's past – he was accused of murder and acquitted for lack of evidence. Stick explains that this school is a place for new beginnings. All the girls have had trouble with the law and are here because the school's benefactors believe they deserve a second chance.

That night, a wayward student named Victima One, heads out into the woods. She crosses the Creepy Groundskeeper, whom she tells to get lost. Eventually, she runs into another teacher from the school, a man by the name of Sir Pedo. It is clear that Victima is blackmailing Pedo. They leave on a unresolved note and Victima heads back to the school. However, as happens in such flicks, she is brutally murdered and left in a shallow stream.

The police, as they can be depended on to do in such cases, declare it the work of a wild animal. However, the curious and headstrong Female Lead is not so sure. She finds evidence that a blackmailing plot was underway, but she doesn’t know who Victima was blackmailing.

Who is the murderer? Hero, with his dark past? The Creepy Groundskeeper, because he's creepy and the groundskeeper, which is really evidence enough in a film like this? Pedo, the only guy with a motive? Can the Female Lead trust Professor Blond Hero and, perhaps more importantly, isn't the obvious chemistry between creepy given she's supposed to be his student?

Eventually both bodies and contrivances pile up. The werewolf plot and murder mystery run side by side, with the characters bouncing back and forth between the two, unable at first to distinguish the main plot from the subplot.

All in all, a good time despite the teasing title. Using the ever popular Champions of the Moorilla Hobart International film ranking system, I'd give this flicker three Alicia Moliks and one Mana Endo.