Monday, October 31, 2011

2011 Halloween Film Festival: The Resident

Happy Halloween from the Catacombs!

The little ghosts, ghouls and goblins will be out in force tonight to relieve you of the burden of some sugary treats, unless you’re planning a slate of nifty tricks to offset their cravings. Here is the last of my 2011 Halloween Film Festival reviews, and of this years grouping, this surprisingly turned out to be my personal favorite. Remember, I chose a handful of genre films, both old and new, that I had never actually seen before.

When a beautiful young doctor, newly estranged from her unfaithful boyfriend, suspects that something is just not right in her new Brooklyn loft, she discovers that her landlord has formed a frightening obsession with her. The Resident, from the reconstituted Hammer Films studio banner, is co-written by Finnish director Antti Jokinen and stars Hilary Swank, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Christopher Lee. Although it was shot in New York City, New Mexico and New Jersey in 2009, The Resident was only given a limited worldwide release in 2011, primarily going direct to DVD. That’s a shame, since although the movie has received a primarily negative response from some critics; others have praised Swank’s performance in a taut, slow-simmering thriller.
I would have to agree with the latter. This film marks a reunion for Swank and Morgan, who previously starred in the romantic comedy-drama "P.S. I Love You" in 2007. Morgan too, is particularly strong as a disarmingly charming, but ultimately gonzo psycho-killer opposite the – let’s face it – sultry, slim and sexy Swank (who's also a two-time Academy Award winner). Charges that The Resident is too generic and rife with plot holes and lack of originality ring false as well, the voyeuristic film is still an effective, atmospheric edge-of-your-seat experience with topnotch camera work and great performances by both leads, plus for genre geeks, it’s nice to see Hammer veteran Christopher Lee featured in a prominent supporting role.
Yes, movie-goers have seen stuff like this before, but The Resident is perhaps so good, that jaded critics simply don’t want to give it a pass based on familiarity alone. Hey, dipshits go watch Halloween 5 or Friday the 13th VII or A Nightmare on Elm Street (whatever) or just waste even more time suffering through their various recent memory reboots. The Resident is highly recommended by the Catacombs. To the friendly folks at the revived Hammer Films, if you guys ever make anymore throwback cave woman thrillers, and stand in need of a suitable replacement for pin-up queen Raquel Welch; please consider giving Swank a call. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Gal" Friday! Anneka Vasta

As I struggled to choose an appropriate "gal" this week, things took a turn into the eerie & bizarre as a notable celebrity cold case murder/suicide/death from January 2011 reared its head in the form of a new public appeal by police charged with investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of the 1975 Penthouse Pet of the Year. Born Marjorie Lee Thoreson, Anneka Vasta (aka Anneka di Lorenzo) was a 70s & 80s pin-up model and actress. She portrayed Messalina in the infamous softcore-porn film, Caligula in 1980.
Vasta & Penthouse Pet Lori Wagner in "Caligula" (1980)

Nine months after her death, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is asking for public help as they continue to probe her death. Vasta's body washed up in San Diego County, and authorities want to know if anyone say Anneka Vasta before joggers found her naked body on a Marine training beach at Camp Pendleton on January 4 this year. She was apparently in such good physical shape that they initially believed her to be a teenage victim. The 58 year old was discovered with a broken neck and back, although she had wounds in her neck - possibly from a steak knife in her car (which was later found at a popular scenic overlook). Vasta was know to be a fragile personality type and was believed to suffer from paranoia, but her family insists that she was not suicidal. Federal agents are not able to say how Vasta got from a vantage point 60 feet above sea level, to the rocky sand below, more than a mile south.

Investigators believe that if Vasta had jumped from the bluffs below her car, her body would not have hit the water, because the tide is not high enough at the location. Although I truly hope that a solution to her unfortunate death can ultimately be determined, lets all take a moment to recall a lovely, vibrant and sexy woman, no matter what name she went by during her brief career.

"I Hunted Gazonga'a The Thing That Grew!" (AC Comics;1999)

"Hallow-weekend" is upon us and I thought that another black & white story from Wild Women #1 (1999 one-shot); originally published by AC Comics, might be in order as a bonus. "I Hunted Gazonga'a The Thing That Grew" was written by Bill Black & illustrated by Larnei Deeda (who I've actually never heard of before). There is a bit of cheesecake/nudity in this little three page snippet, so avert your eyes if lines drawn on paper offends you. The Catacombs is grateful to Don "Zu-Gogo" Falkos for providing the scans for this story. Note: The copyright for this issue, its contents and artwork, belong to the original publisher and/or creators, and is reproduced here solely for entertainment purposes.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

2011 Halloween Film Festival: Black Christmas (1974)

Olivia Hussey as "Jess" in Black Christmas
Notable for being one of the first slasher films, director Bob Clark’s 1974 Black Christmas starring Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, Marian Waldman, and John Saxon, is largely based on a series of murders that occurred in Quebec, Canada around Christmas time. The film which follows a group of college students who must face a deranged serial killer lurking in their sorority house, has achieved a devoted cult following in the years since its release, and inspired other films such as Friday the 13th and John Carpenter's Halloween.
Margot Kidder (left) as "Barb" in Black Christmas
Cameraman, Albert J. Dunk, created the POV camera shot by mounting a camera onto his back and creeping around the house. He crawled up the housing trellis in the beginning of the film as well. According to Bob Clark, due to the surprisingly light snowfall, most of the snow scenes outside of the sorority house were made of foam material provided by a local fire department. The role of Mrs. MacHenry (the alcoholic house mother) was offered to Bette Davis. The role of Peter (Hussey’s boyfriend) was originally offered to Malcolm McDowell, but he turned it down. The role of Lieutenant Fuller was supposed to have been played by Edmond O'Brien, but due to failing health he had to be replaced. John Saxon was brought in as a last minute replacement. Gilda Radner was offered the role of Phyllis Carlson. She was attached, but dropped out one month before filming began owing to Saturday Night Live commitments. Future ‘Not-Ready-for-Primetime Player’ Andrea Martin got the part instead. With so many subsequent films borrowing elements from it, the original Black Christmas might mistakenly seem outdated, cliched and plodding, but this is merely due to its age and overall low-production values. The film still does some things surprisingly well, by effective use of music, skilled editing and nice camera work, Black Christmas builds suspense by suggestion and tension minus gratuitous amounts of gore; and if nothing else, the obscene and disturbing phone calls that the girls receive throughout the picture have lost none of the punch. They are really weird!

A seemingly disoriented man enters the sorority house through an open attic window during a Christmas party and then begins picking off the girl’s one at a time. After each death, and before the other girls are aware of the danger, they receive increasingly bizarre and suggestive telephone calls. The local police are initially dismissive of the first victim’s disappearance, believing instead that she is probably shacking up with a lover, but this coincides with a local mother’s report that her young daughter, Janice, is missing as well.The sorority girls, friends and family present a joint plea to Lt. Fuller and a search is mounted. The search party finds Janice's dead body near the park; Jess returns home and receives another obscene phone call. Later, Jess and Peter argue about her decision to have an abortion. Peter becomes frustrated and leaves after Lt. Fuller arrives to discuss the phone calls with Jess. A technician places a tap "bug tracer" onto the sorority house phone to trace the phone calls and an officer is stationed outside the house.

The deaths continue, with the house mother and more girls succumbing to the unseen killer, but circumstances lead the police to suspect Peter as the culprit, though Jess doesn’t agree. Eventually the phone tap traces the calls to the same sorority house, and with Lt. Fuller en route to the scene, Jess fails to heed Sgt. Nash’s urgent instructions to put down the phone and leave the building. The terrified Jess is attacked by the real killer, but manages to lock herself in the basement, when Peter shows up and kicks out a window to enter. As Fuller arrives, her screams are heard and as the police enter the basement they discover Peter dead, having just been bludgeoned to death by Jess with a fire poker in self-defense. Later, the films memorably ambiguous ending shows Jess in drug-induced sleep in her bed as Fuller and the officers discuss how and why Peter must have been the killer. They also mention the fact that the first victims body still hasn't been found, revealing that they neglected to look in the attic (where both Clare and the house mother were taken). The officers leave Jess asleep in her bed, stating that a man will be right outside the front door. However, once the house is quiet, the phone starts to ring and the audience is shown the attic, with Clare and Mrs. MacHenry's bodies still undisturbed as the killer whispers to himself.

I enjoyed Black Christmas, with only a couple of performances leaving me a bit cold. Frankly, I’ve never liked Margot Kidder as an actress. Her performance as the caustic, boozy “Barb”; is seemingly there solely to make some crude and humorous sexual references, but why any of the sorority girls would actually like Barb is beyond me. The over the top Mrs. MacHenry (played by Marian Waldman) belongs elsewhere too, both women were simply irritating and I was glad to see them fall victim to the slasher.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

INNER SANCTUM: Tales of Mystery, Horror and Suspense from NBM!

The 2011 Halloween Film Festival review of Black Christmas (1974) that I had planned to run today, will instead be posted tomorrow. For this weeks Halloween "hump day" featurette, take a look at a new pet project of veteran comics creator Ernie Colón

Inner Sanctum was an original 1941-1952 American radio program, with related film and television productions that many fans of mystery and horror fondly recall. The revered Colón brings to comics life striking black & white tales based on one of the most popular radio shows in history. The Horla: A man is haunted by a mysterious, grotesque being only he can see. Its true intent; to enslave and destroy him! Death of a Doll: An unidentified corpse in the morgue intrigues a reporter, who sets out to identify her and how she died. A doll which was found on her, cries "Kara Nana", which is another name for the devil! The Undead: A young woman discovers an obituary for her still living husband! Alive in the Grave: Seeing a man collapse in an alley, a good Samaritan rushes to help only to find that the man is dead. Jobless and desperate, he takes the mans wallet, only to find out later that he may not have been dead. He rushes back only to find that the man has been removed and buried, perhaps alive!

Inner Sanctum, a 112 page, B & W, jacketed hardcover by Ernie Colón from NBM is available for $16.99. Thanks to Stefan Blitz for the sneak peek!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Paragon in "Blood Love" (AC Comics;1999)

And now for something completely different ...... here's a seasonal "spook-tacular" superhero yarn from AC Comics. The longtime AC Comics mainstay Captain Paragon finds himself up against sultry vampires in "Blood Love", by AC founder Bill Black (serving as both writer & artist) on a nice black & white story that was originally published in Wild Women #1 (a 1999 one-shot). I'm also including "Savage Women" a photo essay/article from the very same issue that depicts some of the "gals" who have portrayed luscious, yet savage, jungle queens, princesses and the like over the years onscreen. The Catacombs is grateful to Don "Zu-Gogo" Falkos for providing the scans for this story. Note: The copyright for this issue, its contents and artwork, belong to the original publisher and/or creators, and is reproduced here solely for entertainment purposes. Enjoy!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Gray Morrow's "Orion" from Hermes Press!

Gray Morrow burst into comics in the late 1950s, bringing his classic Alex Raymond-inspired style to everything from paperback covers to newspaper strips. Morrow's work graced several issues of various Warren magazines, Classics Illustrated, and westerns for DC Comics such as "El Diablo" with writer Robert Kanigher. Morrow also served as editor of Archie Comics Red Circle horror line in the 1970s, which included art by his contemporaries Alex Toth and Angelo Torres. As a comic strip artist, he drew the late 1970s incarnation of Buck Rogers, plus and eighteen year stint on the Sunday Tarzan strip.

Hermes Press is now reprinting the entirety of legendary artist Gray Morrow's "Orion" from the pages of Heavy Metal magazine. The project has been a passion of Hermes Press Christopher Irving for a decade, starting with his friendship with the late artists widow, Pocho Morrow. Morrow passed away in 2001 after succumbing to Parkinson's and general failing health.

Most of Gray Morrow's "Orion" will be shot directly from Morrow's original hand-colored artwork, and reproduced in full color. The story was a 1978 sword and sorcery masterpiece about an Errol Flynn-like swashbuckling hero who battles evil on a strange and mystical world. Gray Morrow's Orion will be published in mid-2012, with proceeds going to his wife. Included in Orion will be a biographical essay of the late illustrator by Christopher Irving as well as more samples of Morrow's inimitable artwork and storytelling.

Highly recommended!!

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Gal" Friday! Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead is best known for her scream queen roles in horror films such as Final Destination 3, Black Christmas (2006), Death Proof and The Thing. I should have done a review for the last of those films, since it is still fresh at the box office. The Thing (2011) is actually a prequel to director John Carpenters 1982 version, which itself was an updated take on the 1951 sci-fi classic, The Thing From Another World (all based on writer John W. Campbell, Jr.'s original 1948 short story, "Who Goes There?" ).

Winstead is also a native of my own home state of North Carolina and you've just gotta support the home town crowd. While she has become a solid genre girl, her other film credits include Sky High, The Ring 2, Live Free or Die Hard, and she will be featured as Mary Todd Lincoln in the upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (based on the alternate-history fantasy novel). Plus, she is now inducted into the Catacombs as this weeks "gal" Friday choice.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Perils of Nyoka: "Ru Tu's Eye" (Fawcett;1946)

"Ru Tu's Eye" is a taut adventure starring Nyoka the Jungle Girl from the long-running "Perils of Nyoka" strip, specifically from Master Comics #67 (Apr.1946); originally published by Fawcett Comics. I wish that I could tell you the names of the creators, but I just don't have it to tell. Nyoka effectively snags herself in a fatal death trap, and then escapes in an ingenious manner with a little help from her friends. The Catacombs is grateful to Don "Zu-Gogo" Falkos for providing the scans for this story. Note: The copyright for this issue, its contents and artwork, belong to the original publisher and/or creators, and is reproduced here solely for entertainment purposes.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

2011 Halloween Film Festival: I Spit On Your Grave (2010)

In the history of exploitation films, perhaps no other movie is as notorious as writer-director Meir Zarchi's 1978 grind house classic, "I Spit On Your Grave" (aka "Day of the Woman"). Even if you've never seen the original, you may have heard of the sheer brutality of the gang rape that the film includes, depicted onscreen for an extended portion of the movies ninety some odd minutes. In actuality, actress Camille Keaton is molested several times in that flick and the films depravity makes if very difficult to watch, despite the somewhat over the top acting.

Jump ahead to 2010 and director Steven Monroe's unnecessary remake, which follows the original release like an outline, but  also incorporates significant changes. Although I personally fail to understand why this particular movie even needed to merit a remake, I actually think that the latest version is superior in a number of respects to the original, none of which actually resulted in a healthier box office haul. I Spit On Your Grave (2010) starring Sarah Butler, Jeff Branson, Andrew Howard, Chad Lindberg, Daniel Franzese, Rodney Eastman and Tracey Walter was a huge flop upon release.

Just as Camille Keaton did in the 1978 film, actress Sarah Butler really puts herself out there in the role of Jennifer Hills, a short story writer who rents a cabin in a remote area for some quiet time to work on a novel, only to run afoul of a handful of testosterone-fueled rednecks who want to teach this uppity city gal a lesson, when she rebuffs their unwanted attentions. In both films, a mentally-challenged young man named Matthew inadvertently initiates the horrific attacks to come, by exaggerating his own interaction with Jennifer to the others, in order to ingratiate himself to their group. The names of the four rapists remains unaltered from the first film, but director Monroe splits off an aspect of the original gang leader, gas station operator Johnny (who was a married man in the first film), to create a new character for the 2010 version in County Sheriff Storch (portrayed by Andrew Howard). 
The groups initial assault on Butler's character is akin to a home invasion and this portion of the film is its most effective, as she endures layers of humiliation at the hands of the men who will ultimately gang rape her. For instance, she is forced to pull back her lips to show her teeth before being forced to perform fellatio on a gun barrel, and one of the goons videotapes stuff like Jennifer being forced to drink alcohol and again when she is later made to dance for the group. Jennifer acts quickly during a moment of inattention and succeeds in escaping only to run into Sheriff Storch, who then accompanies her back to the cabin to arrest her attackers. After discovering her marijuana joint in an ash tray, and her supply of liquor, plus no attackers present at the scene, the Sheriff seemingly finds her story of assault implausible; but as he begins to pat her down, it is obvious that his own physical interests are disturbing. Suddenly the gang returns and we realize that the Sheriff runs these guys like his own little squad. If there was a way to make the gang rape even worse than the original version, this is it, as Storch is truly one evil bastard.

The explicit nature of the rape is downplayed to a far greater extent than in the original, there is nudity of course, but it is not as prominent this time out. Butler deserves high marks for her willingness to be in this flick, but for exploitation alone, the 2010 Grave falls short (and that's not a bad thing). Where this version excels is in its depictions of the attackers. No longer simply one-note caricatures, the "bad guys" are completely fleshed out as characters. They are goons none the less, but you see, we've all known men like this. We've all seen these guys before. The dopey lummox, the conflicted retard who just wants to be accepted, the depraved bully, the toady and the sadistic prick are all stereotypes culled from real life. We see guys like this at sporting events, at the local bar, in the workplace, and hell yes, some of them wear badges. The thing is, that just as in real life, these men don't think that they are doing anything wrong. In their minds, Jennifer deserves what she gets. Yes, that's all so much bullshit, but for me it made the films premise more believable than the cartoonish analogues of the original.
Butler's nightmarish revenge on her attackers is also much more naturalistic and believable in this version. You can accept how a slender, feminine young woman can pull off what she physically does to these guys. Trust me as bad as it gets, they deserve it, and it is also in this part of the movie where her acting talents are most effective. Jennifer is a destroyed person, and whether you want to debate female empowerment or the motivations of the audience for watching something like this, is irrelevant. I Spit On Your Grave (2010) is a watchable (but cringe-worthy) experience, and certainly far better than torture-porn stuff like Saw or Hostel.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fantomah, Daughter of the Pharaohs in "The Spotted Men" (Fiction House; 1942)

Although she began her golden age career as a super-powered, frighteningly-visaged "Mystery Woman of the Jungle", Fantomah later changed her appellation to "Daughter of the Pharaohs." It is in this role that she stars today in an untitled tale that I've dubbed "The Spotted Men" from Jungle Comics #29 (May 1942); originally published by Fiction House, written by W.B. Hovious and illustrated by George Appel. This neat story features mummies, the aforementioned spotted men, plus a vengeful priestess; which adds up to a cool Halloween-style jungle adventure.

The Catacombs is grateful to Don "Zu-Gogo" Falkos for providing the scans for this story. Note: The copyright for this issue, its contents and artwork belong to the original publisher and/or creators, and is reproduced here solely for entertainment purposes.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Tabu, Wizard of the Jungle in "Land of Mystery" (Fiction House; 1942)

I almost posted my next Halloween Horror Festival review today, but since I skipped a classic golden age comics story post on Thursday, I feel like I owe you guys an extra jungle adventure this week. Look for my review of "I Spit On Your Grave" (2010) on Wednesday; as a remake, it's actually pretty good. Today's tale starring Tabu, Wizard of the Jungle is from Jungle Comics #30 (June 1942); originally published by Fiction House. In just a few pages "Land of Mystery", written and illustrated by George Carl Wilhelms, weaves a story of black magic juju, monkey transformation and murder. The Catacombs is grateful to Don "Zu-Gogo" Falkos for providing the scans for this story. Note: The copyright for this issue, its contents and artwork belong to the original publisher and/or creators, and is reproduced here solely for entertainment purposes. Enjoy!