Eurocomics Spotlight : Zane Zlemesa’s “Fenix”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Latvian publisher Kus! didn’t need to look too terribly far ( probably just a few towns over, if that ) to find a Zane Zlemesa, the painter/cartoonist who produced the fourth title in their idiosyncratic and consistently-interesting Kus! Mono line — bearing the curious but intriguing title of Fenix — so credit goes to them for introducing a local talent to an international audience, but a “big break” is only what you make of it, I suppose, and the proof, as the saying goes, is always in the pudding. Or, as the case may be, on the pages.

For their part, these pages are certainly visually arresting — Zlemesa’s masterful use of paint is imbued with a fair amount of confidence throughout, and her intuitive understanding of sequential narrative is strong, with her larger-than-normal panels giving her colorful artwork plenty of room to “breathe” while simultaneously allowing for nicely-paced story progression…

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Horror on TV: Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.1 “The Ripper” (dir by Alan Baron)

For tonight’s excursion into the horrific side of television, we have the very first episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker!

The Kolchak of the title was a reporter named Carl Kolchak (played by Darren McGavin).  Kolchak was kind of a nervous fellow because every story that he reported on seemed to involve some sort of terrible supernatural creature!  Seriously, that would make anyone anxious.

In his first episode, Kolchak investigates a series of murders and comes to suspect that Jack the Ripper might be haunting the streets of 1970s Chicago.

This episode originally aired on September 13th, 1974.


The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Eyes of a Stranger (dir by Ken Wiederhorn)

In this 1981 slasher film, bad things are happening in the city of Miami.

There’s a serial killer on the loose.  He’s chopping off heads and leaving bodies on the beach and basically just making a huge mess of things.  Local new anchorwoman Jane (Lauren Tewes) is upset that there’s a killer roaming the streets of her hometown.  She even talks about how upset she is during a local newscast, which takes everyone at the station by surprise.  I don’t know why they’re so shocked.  Don’t they know that Jane has a younger sister named Tracy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and that Tracy’s been blind, deaf, and mute ever since she was attacked by a maniac?

One day, Jane is returning to the apartment that she shares with her sister.  As she’s parking her car, she sees her neighbor, Stanley (John DiSanti), stuffing what appears to be a bloody shirt in a trash can.  Oh my God, could he be the murderer!?

Well, yes, he is.  The film actually makes no attempt to hide the fact that Stanley is the murderer.  Stanley is one of those movie murderers who is either hyper competent or totally oblivious, depending on what the scene demands.  For instance, despite being a rather heavyset, middle-aged man, he can still sneak up behind people without them ever hearing and chop off their head with one wave of a meat cleaver.  On the other hand, when he kills a couple on the beach, his car ends up getting stuck in the sand.

Anyway, Jane is pretty much instantly convinced that Stanley is the killer and she immediately starts doing stuff like taunting him over the telephone.  (Despite the fact that she’s on TV every night and her voice is apparently heard by everyone in Miami, she makes no effort to disguise her voice whenever she calls Stanley.)  She also breaks into his apartment to look for clues.

As I watched this film, I found myself thinking about how much more interesting it would have been if Stanley hadn’t been the killer and if Jane felt so guilty about what happened to her sister that she ended up harassing a totally innocent bystander.  But no, Stanley is the murderer so naturally all of this leads to an extended sequence where Stanley breaks into and then follows Tracy around Jane’s apartment.

So, Eyes of a Stranger is a fairly mediocre film, one that would probably be totally forgotten if not for the fact that it’s also the debut film of Jennifer Jason Leigh.  While the film is obviously meant to showcase Lauren Tewes (a TV actress who gives a rather wooden performance), Jennifer Jason Leigh steals every scene in which she appears.  Her total commitment to her character shines through and she even manages to sell a rather implausible plot twist that occurs towards the end of the film.  John DiSanti also deserves some credit for his performance as Stanley.  Again, it’s hard not to feel that the film would have worked better if it had tried to keep us guessing as to the question of Stanley’s guilt.

Eyes of a Stranger was directed by Ken Wiederhorn, who also did the far superior zombie movie, Shock Waves.  It’s interesting to note that both Lauren Tewes and Jennifer Jason Leigh would subsequently appear in Twin Peaks: The Return, though Leigh’s role was significantly larger.


Halloween Havoc!: BLACK FRIDAY (Universal 1940)

cracked rear viewer

The Twin Titans of Terror, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, reteamed for their fifth film together in 1940’s BLACK FRIDAY. Horror fans must’ve been salivating at the chance to see the duo reunited after the success of the previous year’s SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, but left the theaters let down upon discovering Boris and Bela share no scenes together, and the bulk of the action is carried by character actor Stanley Ridges in a dual role.

The movie’s a variation on the old Jekyll & Hyde theme, with a twist: instead of a secret formula, the change occurs via brain transplantation! The preposterous premise finds Karloff on death row as Dr. Ernst Sovac, walking that last mile to his fate in the electric chair. Sovac hands his notes and records to a sympathetic newspaper reporter, and our film begins in earnest. Flashbacks relate the tale of kindly old English literature Professor…

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Griffith Gets Serious: Winter Kill (1974, directed by Jud Taylor)

Eagle Lake, a mountain resort town in California, has a problem.  It’s almost tourist season and there is a sniper stalking through the night, using his rifle to pick off citizens and painting messages like “The First” and “The Second” in the snow.  It’s up to police chief Sam McNeill (Andy Griffith) to figure out the killer’s motives and capture him before the vacation season begins!  To catch the killer, McNeill is going to have to investigate his friends and neighbors, all of whom have secrets that they don’t want to have revealed.

1974 was a busy year for Andy Griffith.  Best-known for playing the folksy and reassuring Sheriff Taylor for over ten years on The Andy Griffith Show, Griffith tried to change his image by appearing in three unexpectedly dark made-to-TV movies.  In Pray For The Wildcats and Savages, Griffith played the villain.  In Winter Kill, he’s back in a more familiar role.  He is once again playing a lawman, though this one carries a gun and doesn’t have time to sit on his porch and play the guitar while Aunt Bea makes dinner.  Instead, he’s getting pressure from all sides to capture a psycho sniper who, at the start of the movie, shoots an old woman after throwing pebbles at her bedroom window.  Eventually, the sniper even ends up kidnapping Chief McNeill’s girlfriend!  This never happened in Mayberry!

Winter Kill is a pretty good mystery.  It’s not strictly a horror film but the sight of the masked sniper, making his way through the night and coldy gunning down unsuspecting victims is scary enough that it might as well be.  Andy Griffith was surprisingly tough and gritty as Chief McNeill.  He might be a good guy in this movie but you still know better than to mess with him.  The rest of the cast is made up of television regulars but keep an eye out for a youngish Nick Notle playing a cocky ski instructor.

Winter Kill was actually meant to be a backdoor pilot for a show where Chief McNeill would battle crime on a weekly basis.  Though that didn’t happen, the concept was later retooled and became a short-lived series called Adams of Eagle Lake.

Horror Scenes That I Love: Carrie Destroys The Prom

Today’s horror scene that I love comes from 1976’s Carrie.

This scene starts out on a note of happiness with Carrie (Sissy Spacek) and Tommy (William Katt) being named as Queen and King of the Prom.  Things, however, get a bit ominous when Sue (Amy Irving) notices that bucket of pig’s blood and Nancy Allen and John Travolta hanging out underneath the stage.  Things get even worse when the coach (Betty Buckley) refuses to listen to Sue and tosses her out of the gym.

And then suddenly, there’s blood everywhere and Piper Laurie’s chanting, “They’re all going to laugh at you …. they’re all going to laugh at you….”

Is everyone really laughing at Carrie?  I believe some of them are.  Norma is definitely laughing because I think the shot of the coach laughing is included to let us know that some of the laughter is strictly in Carrie’s mind.  Nothing about the character would lead us to suspect that the coach would laugh.  In fact, seeing as how the coach just threw out Sue, it’s debatable whether she would even be back among the crowd by the time the pig’s blood came down.

(Plus, would everyone be laughing even with Tommy, the most popular kid in school, lying dead on the stage?)

Anyway, regardless of whether they were all laughing or not, we all know what happens next!

Horror Trailer: Glass


Yes, I think next year’s film from M. Night Shyamalan is a horror to a certain degree. It’s what one may call a horror-thriller with superhero aspects. It helps that one of the returning characters for the film is The Beast played by James McAvoy from M. Night Shyamalan’s 2016 psychological horror film Split.

With Glass still set for a January 19, 2019 release it’s time we got a new trailer that gives a bit of a look at the basic premise of the film’s story. From this trailer it looks like Mr. Glass will not just team-up with The Beast but do so in order to prove to the rest of the world that superheroes and supervillains do exist and that they’re not just a mental disorder.

There’s definitely some creepy beats in this trailer that hopefully will lend itself for some disturbing sequences in the film. It’s the horror aspect of Split that made it quite popular with audiences. Now time to see whether it’ll combine well with the superhero journey narrative of David Dunn (played by Bruce Willis).

Book Review: ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

The town of Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine has two new arrivals.

One is Ben Mears, a successful writer who, we’re told, even has his own FBI file.  (Apparently, it only consists of a report that he once attended an anti-war rally.)  Ben spent part of his childhood is Jerusalem’s Lot and, upon returning, he discovers a small but friendly town.  Sure, there’s some drama going on behind closed doors.  There’s the sleazy real estate agent, for instance.  And then there’s the Catholic priest who, naturally, has lost his faith.  And then there’s the unhappy teenage mother and, of course, there’s the usual collection of alcoholics, adulterers, and cranky bus drivers.  Maybe Jerusalem’s Lot isn’t that friendly after all….

The other new arrival is Kurt Barlow.  Barlow’s from Austria and he’s moved into the old Marsten House.  (The Marsten House, like most old houses that you come across in Stephen King novels, used to belong to a notorious gangster.)  Barlow’s going to be opening up an antique store.  Interestingly enough, hardly anyone ever seems to see Barlow.  His business partner, Richard Straker, claims that Barlow is often away on buying trips.

Anyway, the townspeople have a lot more to worry about than what’s going on with Kurt Barlow.  For instance, a lot of people are disappearing.  And even those who aren’t vanishing are growing ill and having a bad reaction to sunlight.  Hmmm …. what could possibly be going on?

First published in 1975, ‘Salem’s Lot was Stephen King’s second published novel and it actually holds up better than most of his recent work.  It’s interesting to read ‘Salem’s Lot after Carrie, just to see how much King grew as a writer in between the two books.  Whereas King often seemed uncomfortable with the plot of his first novel and tended to hold Carrie White at a distance, he dives right into ‘Salem’s Lot.  It’s not just that King is obviously more comfortable writing about a male writer than a teenage girl.  It’s also that King creates a town that seems so real that we feel as if we could find it on a map.  King tells his story with such enthusiasm and confidence that it doesn’t matter that ‘Salem’s Lot is a fairly predictable and traditional vampire story.

Clocking in at a briskly paced 440 pages, ‘Salem’s Lot is quite a bit longer and more detailed than Carrie without, at the same time, getting bogged down in the type of stylistic self-indulgence that has come to typify a lot of King’s recent work.  (One gets the feeling that if King wrote ‘Salem’s Lot today, it would be a 1,200 page novel and that Barlow wouldn’t show up until page 900.)  King does a good job of offering up little snippets of life in Jerusalem’s Lot, just enough to make sure we have enough knowledge to mourn the eventual death of the town.  ‘Salem’s Lot takes Dracula, drops him in the middle of a small town melodrama, and the results are still entertaining to this very day.

Italian Horror Showcase: Aenigma (dir by Lucio Fulci)

If there’s anything be learned from 1988’s Aenigma …. well, actually, that might be giving the film too much credit.  There’s probably nothing to learn from Aenigma.  The film does start with a pretty cruel prank and that prank leads to some snail-related mayhem but really, you should have already learned the truth about pranks after Carrie burned down the prom.

The prank involves the cruel girls at St. Mary’s boarding school tricking their classmate, Kathy (Milijana Zirojevic), into thinking that she’s on a date with a gym teacher (Riccardo Acerbi) and then jumping out of the shadows and surprising her when Kathy and the teacher start making out in his car.  This leads to a humiliated Kathy running out into the middle of traffic, where she’s promptly hit by a car and goes into a coma.  While everyone agrees that sucks for Kathy, at least it means that no one will ever know the truth about the prank.

Then people start dying.

They die in a variety of weird ways and since only the people involved with the prank are the ones being targeted, it doesn’t take much effort to guess that the comatose Kathy is probably involved.  It also doesn’t take much effort to guess that the newest student at the school, Eva (Lara Lamberti), has been possessed by Kathy and is mostly just hanging around to make sure that everyone’s dead.

What’s weird is that, in her coma, Kathy has so many different powers that you have to wonder why exactly she needed to possess Eva.  For instance, the gym teacher is strangled when his own reflection jumps out of a mirror.  One of the girls is killed when a statue in a museum suddenly comes to life and attacks her.  Yet another girl is somehow killed by snails.

Yes, you read that right.  She wakes up to discover that she’s covered in snails and this leads to her dying.  Aenigma is regularly criticized for the scene with snails.  “Why didn’t she just get out of bed and take a shower or something?” many a commentator has asked.  I guess they have a point but, honestly, if I woke up and there were a few hundred snails on me, I would totally freak out.

Apparently, the main reason that Eva’s there is so she can try to seduce Kathy’s handsome doctor (Jared Martin) but the doctor is more interested in Jenny Clark (Ulli Reinthaler), who was involved in the prank but who, unlike everyone else, felt really bad about it afterward.  I’m sure that would lead to any complications….

There’s kind of a sad story behind this rather forgettable if occasionally entertaining horror film.  After making horror history by directing films like Zombi 2 and The Beyond, director Lucio Fulci entered into a career decline.  Struggling with ill-health and having had a falling out with some of his former collaborators, Fulci found himself working with lower budgets and less interesting premises.  That’s certainly the case with Aenigma, which was shot in Sarajevo with a largely unknown cast and which blatantly ripped off the plots of Carrie and Patrick.

Aenigma has got a terrible reputation among fans of Italian horror.  Personally, I think it’s a very flawed film but I also think that it’s not quite as bad as some have made it out to be.  I mean, the snails are ludicrous but they’re also so weird that you can’t help but kind of love it when they show up.  For that matter, the coach being killed by his own reflection and the scene where the statue come to life are clever ideas, even if their execution leaves something to be desired.  Even in his later years, Fulci still had his talent.  Unfortunately, when it came to films like Aenigma, he rarely had the resources necessary to truly make his vision come to life.

4 Shots From 4 Mind Bending Films: Carrie, The Fury, Patrick Still Lives, Scanners

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

For today’s edition of 4 Shots From 4 Films, we celebrate films that demonstrate what the human mind can do when it’s angry and there’s stuff around that can explode.  These are….

4 Shots From 4 Mind Bending Films

Carrie (1976, dir by Brian DePalma)

The Fury (1979, dir by Brian DePalma)

Patrick Lives Again (1980, dir by Mario Landi)

Scanners (1981, dir by David Cronenberg)