Dysfunction Junction : Carta Monir’s “Lara Croft Was My Family”


Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

When you can construct a fully-formed, emotionally resonant, deeply poignant comics memoir in just 40 pages, you’re probably an extraordinary cartoonist. When you can do it in 40 panels? Then take a well-deserved bow, because you’re downright otherworldly.

Now, before you mention it, rest assured  that I’m fully aware that it’s considered bad form for a critic to “give away the game” in the opening paragraph of a review like I just did, but fuck it — Carta Monir doesn’t mess around in Lara Croft Was My Family, and I intend to follow her lead. To that end, I’m going to be uncharacteristically short, sweet, and to the point here, because this is a work that seems to demand exactly that sort of analysis, given that it’s deliberately structured (and magnificently, at that) to achieve maximum impact with minimal bells and whistles — but please don’t take…

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The Haunting of Hill House, S1E1, Steven Sees a Ghost, Review By Case Wright


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Happy Horrorthon! Hill House came early this year.  Here we go!

Hill House has been remade many different ways.  This time it’s done by Mike Flanagan of Gerald’s Game (Netflix).  The show splits its time between then and now.  It opens “Then” with Timothy Hutton in a very big and creepy house with a bunch of kids.  We learn through A LOT of exposition that Steven has grown up to be paranormal writer.  The cuts between then and now aren’t too bad, but it does diffuse the tension.

The kids handled the trauma of growing up in a haunted house with varied acceptance.  Steven is a paranormal investigator.  The oldest sister works at funeral home. Luke grew up to be an alcoholic. Nellie grew up to be disturbed.  There’s another sister who’s a sex addict.  I’m halfway into the episode and I am kinda bored.  They try to sell the show as the next Stranger Things, but I’m not sure if this show is even the next Whitney.  This show is a lot of things, but it is not worthy at this point of being in the same sentence as Season 1 Stranger Things.  

This show has 20 minutes left to get good and my hopes are low.

Nellie is one of the many family members who has grown up all messed up.  She is drawn back to Hill House I suppose because she wants to do some lawn maintenance.

The story, once again, shifts to the past and Steven and the dad need to escape the house because they are being pursued by a ghost.  Apparently, their mom was possessed by a ghost and they have to flee and leave mom behind (awkward mother’s day coming up).  Funny how divorce can just creep up on a couple after 20 years of marriage; you look over and realize that you and your spouse are different people; in that, you are a person and she is possessed by a demon.

Nellie has returned to Hill House literally and starts dancing around.  It’s weird.  The show jump cuts to Steven to an explaining session that her house is not haunted, but he’ll make it seem haunted in the book and the lady looks at him with contempt because he’s a fraud.  We learn that Steven is a failed novelist who cashed in on the family drama by writing the Haunting of Hill House.  This caused Steven and his sister to become estranged.

The show flashes back and actually does a good job at showing why Luke is so traumatized.  Apparently, one of the Hill House ghosts was harassing him when he was young and that trauma triggered his lifelong addiction.

The show flashes to Steven again as an adult.  He catches his brother with the substance abuse problem leaving his apartment with all of his electronics.  Steven gets the brother to give him his stuff back.  When he finally goes inside, he finds Nell at his home and the first scary thing happens in the whole show: Steve’s dad calls and says that Nell went to the hill house and she’s dead.  So……the Nell that is in Steve’s house is a GHOOOOOOOST.  BOO!  Nell does some ghosty stuff that’s kinda spooooky.

I don’t know if there will be second review of this show.  I will definitely watch another episode, but I’m not ready to get married to it yet.  I think it could have some potential, but Stranger Things had me the first murder in the first 30 seconds.  So far, this is more slow exposition than slow burn, but I will give it a fair shot.

Cheers!

Horror on TV: Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.2 “The Zombie” (dir by Alexander Grasshoff)


Tonight, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker:

Chicago gangsters are turning up dead!  Is it a mob war or is it something else?  Kolchak suspects the latter and, as you can guess from this episode’s title, he’s right.  This episode features gangsters, numbers runners, and voodoo!

It originally aired on September 20th, 1974!

Enjoy!

Horror Film Review: I Married A Monster From Outer Space (dir by Gene Fowler, Jr)


The 1958 film I Married A Monster From Outer Space tells the story of Marge (Gloria Talbott) and Bill Farrell (Tom Tryon).

Just one year ago, they seemed like the perfect couple.  They were newlyweds, looking forward to starting a family and living in a nice house in the suburbs.  Bill seemed like the perfect guy, warm, friendly, humorous, and loving.

However, things have changed.  On their one-year anniversary, Bill is cold and distant.  He certainly seems to have little interest in romance or anything like that.  When Marge gives Bill a new dog as his anniversary present, he doesn’t seem to be sure how to react to it.  When the dog later ends up dead, Bill gives her an implausible excuse.

Bill has changed but he’s not the only one.  Marge notices that all of her friend’s husbands are acting strange as well.  It’s as if something has magically turned every man into the neighborhood into a stiff, humorless jerk.

(Either that or it’s the 50s!)

One night, Marge decides to follow Bill into the forest and she sees something that challenges everything that she previously thought she knew about her husband.  What does she discover?  Well, it’s right there in the title.  Marge has married a monster from outer space!

I imagine that most people’s natural instinct with a film like this is to make fun of the title and just go on from there but actually, I Married A Monster From Outer Space is an intelligent and well-done sci-fi film.  Gloria Talbott does a great job in the lead role and Tom Tryon’s rather stiff screen presence is perfectly suited for the role of Alien-Bill.  Gene Fowler, Jr. directs the film as if it were a film noir where the usual gangsters and bank robbers have been replaced by humanoid aliens who don’t like dogs.

Since this movie is from 1958, there’s all sorts of subtext creeping around.  The most obvious, of course, is that America is being invaded from within.  You don’t think your husband could be an alien?  Well, Alger Hiss’s mother probably didn’t think her son was a communist spy!  You think it’s a silly idea that normal seeming humans would be working to conquer the world?  Have you not heard of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg?  When Bill and the other men turn cold and impersonal, it’s easy to see that they’ve embraced an ideology opposed to individual freedom and we all know what that means.

However, for me, this film works because it strikes at a very primal fear.  How well do you really know the people who you love?  Is he always going to be as perfect as he seems when you first start going out or is he going to totally change once he’s sure that you’re not going to leave him?  Like many women who have tried to escape from abusive boyfriends and spouses, Marge discovers that no one believes her.  She lives in a world controlled by men and all of the men have been taken over by the same thing that’s taken over Bill.  Even if you’ve never married a monster from outer space, you know what Marge is going through.

So, don’t dismiss this film because of the melodramatic title.  I Married A Monster From Outer Space is an intelligent sci-fi horror film, one that’s still relevant today.

Feeling the Burn: Death Spa (1989, directed by Michael Fischa)


Michael (William Bumiller) owns the hottest health club in Los Angeles but that may not stay true if he can’t do something about all the guests dying.  Members get baked alive in the sauna.  Another is killed when a malfunctioning workout machine pulls back his arms and causes a rib to burst out of one side of his body.  Shower tiles fly off the wall and panic a bunch of naked women.  A woman loses her arm in a blender and a man is somehow killed by a frozen fish.  Strangely, all of the deaths don’t seem to hurt business as people still keep coming to the gym.  Surely, there are other, safer health clubs in Los Angeles.

Michael suspects that his brother-in-law, David (Merritt Butrick), might be to blame for all of the trouble.  David is good with computers and since this movie is from 1989, that means that he can do anything.  (David is described as being a “hacker,” which may be the first time that overused term was used in a film.)  Michael feels that David has never forgiven him for the suicide of his sister.  Two useless cops show up to investigate the murders while the spa gets ready for Mardi Gras night.

This incredibly cheesy horror movie used to be a mainstay on HBO, where young viewers like me appreciated all of the gore and slightly older viewers appreciated all of the nudity.  Viewed today, Death Spa is a real nostalgia trip.  From the leg warmers to the bulky computers to the choreographed workout routines, this is a movie that could only have been made in the 80s.  The plot is beyond stupid but some of the gore effects were well-executed and that scene where the frozen fish comes to life continues to amaze.  Sadly, this was Merritt Butrick’s last film.  The actor, who was best known for playing Captain’s Kirk’s son in The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, died the same year that Death Spa was released.

Horror Review: “One for the Road” (by Stephen King)


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Stephen King is a name in horror literature that pretty much everyone has heard of. Some would say he’s the most important horror writer of the 20th-century. Others would say that his work has been a mixed bag with his earlier novels being his strongest run as an author and the second-half of his career being just ok.

One thing he cannot be accused of is taking his time between books early in his career. This man was as prolific a writer as George R.R. Martin is glacial with his own literary turn-out. Even before he was finally able to publish his first novel with Carrie, Stephen King had written hundreds of short stories with some of them being published under a pseudonym in men’s magazines of the time or later on in his career as the public clamored for more Stephen King tales.

One such short story would be included in Night Shift. This collection would be the first of many. It would be in this collection that he pens a very quick, but very frightening tale of events that occurred after the end of his second published novel, ‘Salem’s Lot (recently reviewed by our very own Lisa).

“One for the Road” occurs many years after a huge fire tore through the town of ‘Salem’s Lot, Maine. The short story is told by one of the elder fixtures of Falmouth, Maine. A town that straddles the town of Jerusalem’s Lot. While the surrounding and neighboring towns and it’s residents never outright say what continues to haunt and stalk the burnt and abandoned town of ‘Salem’s Lot, they silently acknowledge to themselves just what happened to it’s people.

The story’s told first-person through elder Falmouth native Booth as he sits in the local bar owned by his friend Herb Tookey. Set in the depths of a hard, New England winter, we see the third character in this narrative arrive near-to-death freezing in family man Gerald Lumley whose family car broke down some miles from the bar in the driving snow.

Soon enough Booth and Herb hear this family man’s sad tale of leaving his wife and daughter in the broke down car while he went for help. It’s only when Gerald Lumley mentions having his car break down near the outskirts of a town called Jerusalem’s Lot that the two elderly patron and proprietor reluctantly help the distraught father in trying to get back to his family.

The rest of the story is a master-class in Stephen King building up the tension and dread at what the two Falmouth natives think they might find once they get back to the Lumley car. King allows the mood and unspoken horrors that these locals know to drive the mounting danger both physical and spiritual that these men have awaiting them at the outskirts of what the locals call The Lot.

For his later predilection to being too focused on world building the settings of his later novels, King shows that he’s still a master at maximizing the limited time a short story format allows a writer to create an experience for the reader as rich and satisfying as his massive epic novels.

“One for the Road” is a terrifying quick tale that gives readers of his ‘Salem’s Lot novel to find out what happened to the area once that novel ended. While the protagonists of both the novel and this short story do end up doing the right thing when presented with evil it also shows that both stories buy into King pointing out that evil never goes away. One could only contain it and once in awhile it creeps out to stalk and frighten.

Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From the stories of Stephen King, Battleground, Review by Case Wright


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Happy Horrorthon!!! I decided to do a bit of a hybrid review of one of my favorite stories:  “Battleground” by Stephen King.  This book is part of a short story anthology in Night Shift.  Battleground was written in 1972 by King.  This was back in the days when he wasn’t just hungry, he was starving.  He was working in laundries, substitute teaching, maybe even a paper route.  This particular work was published in Cavalier, which was a low-rent Playboy.  In those days, he would sell stories to Swank – a low-rent Penthouse as well.  Many of these stories were real gems or at least gems in the rough.  For example, Night Surf (Cavalier and Night Shift) evolved into his opus The Stand about a decade later.  Battleground was made into a 52 minute long episode of the above short-lived series (watch them on youtube before they are taken down!!!).

This episode starred William Hurt and like the short-story there is ZERO dialogue, giving the episode a silent movie feel that is very compelling.  Throughout the episode, you only hear ambient noise or grunts or yells, but no spoken dialogue.  In fact, even when a newscaster is announcing that a murder has taken place, it’s done with subtitles.  This is as close to genius television as it gets.  I was truly saddened that it was not renewed.

The episode depicts William Hurt as a nameless hitman who is taskered to kill a toymaker.  He does.  When Hurt goes back home to his San Francisco condo, he receives a package.  Inside the package is compilation of army men and “additional surprises”.  These aren’t your grandpa’s plastic army men; however, they are alive and they have cruel intentions for Mr. Hurt!

Within moments of opening the package, the army men attack William Hurt in very Army like fashion. They take a covered position under Hurt’s couch and open fire, forcing William to flee to the bathroom.  This solace is short-lived because they have mini-howitzers.  Yes, I was primed to like this one.  There are even mini-helicopters that attack Hurt and they send nasty notes to one another demanding and refusing surrender.

The battle to avenge the toy maker’s death continues even out to the ledge of the building, which is likely an Easter Egg to another King story “The Ledge”.  Hurt prevails against the army men, but there are two more “Additional Surprises” 1) a commando who very resourceful and 2) a mini thermonuclear device.  The mini thermonuclear device is the only dumb part of the story because there is no such thing as a tiny Thermonuclear reaction – these are atoms we’re fusing or splitting afterall.  If detonated (regardless of its “mini” nature) , it would’ve destroyed all of San Francisco, but let’s give King- a liberal arts major- a break on that one because it’s still a fun story.

I will review a few more of these stories that were in Night Shift or episodes from this show.

Happy Halloween!!!!