Horror Hits Home : Harry Nordlinger’s “Softer Than Sunshine”


Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

None of the strips in cartoonist Harry Nordlinger’s 2019 self-published “solo creator” horror anthology comic Softer Than Sunshine run more than four pages — hell, a good many of them are only a single page long — but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth contemplating. Absorbing. Soaking in. Examining your reactions to.

Yes, they’re punchy and precisely-timed by design, not unlike the classic EC horror tales of yesteryear, but they don’t  necessarily resort to tight-form narrative — or even narrative at all — to achieve their desired effect. “The kind of thing that crawls under your skin” is an overused term to be sure, but Nordlinger takes it a step further — or maybe that should be a step, or better yet an inch, deeper. These are horror shorts — some “tales,” sure, others more accurately described as scenarios — that burrow under your skin, that take hold and…

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Six Pages That Will Blow Your Mind : Andrew Alexander’s “Twenty One Fifty Fiverr”


Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Okay, if you want to be absolutely technical about things, Andrew Alexander’s 2018 magazine-sized (printed on heavy gray cardstock paper, in garish blue ink) comic Twenty One Fifty Fiverr is eight pages long, but that’s including front and back covers, which is kinda fudging the numbers a bit, even though I do like to do everything I can to “upsell” quality self-published works like this one. Either way you slice it, though, there’s no denying this comic is short — but, just as inarguable is the fact that it packs one hell of a punch.

How to describe this visceral experience? Well, on the one hand it reminds one of Gary Panter in a pinch, sure, but on the other it’s far more concerned with the utterly grotesque and revels in its place in the gutter. I can’t see Alexander’s work being allowed through the hallowed gates of the “fine”…

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Fatal Instinct (1993, directed by Carl Reiner)


Ned Ravine (Armand Assante) is a cop who is also a lawyer.  His shtick is to make an arrest and then defend that person in court.  He’s married to Lana (Kate Nelligan), who is having an affair with a mechanic named Frank (Christopher McDonald).  Lana has taken out a life insurance policy on Ned, one that has a triple indemnity clause.  If he’s shot on a northbound train and then falls off and drowns in a nearby stream, Lana and Frank will make a lot of money.  However, Lana and Frank are not the only people who want to kill Ned Ravine.  One of Ned’s former clients, Max Shady (James Remar), has just been released from prison and is seeking revenge.  The main reason why Ned hasn’t figured out that everyone is trying to kill him is because he’s been distracted by the seductive Lola (Sean Young), a client who asked him to look over some legal papers and who has an improbable connection to Lana.

As you might guess by the plot and Carl Reiner’s directorial credit, Fatal Instinct is a spoof of detective movies, with the majority of the jokes being inspired by Basic Instinct, the remake of Cape Fear, Double Indemnity, and Body Heat.  How much you laugh will depend on how well you know those films.  There’s a scene in Ned’s office where Ned notices that Lola isn’t wearing panties.  He helpfully produces a pair from inside his desk and hand them to her.  In 1994, that scene was funny because Basic Instinct and whether or not Sharon Stone was aware of how her famous interrogation scene was being filmed were still a huge part of the pop cultural conversation.  Today, it might just seem weird.

Carl Reiner has always been an uneven filmmaker and that trend continues in Fatal Instinct, where he tries to do to erotic thrillers what Mel Brooks did to westerns and Airplane! did to disaster films.  Unfortunately, Reiner often gets bogged down by the film’s plot, which should really be the last thing anyone should be worried about when it comes to a spoof like this.  Some of the jokes are funny and some of them aren’t but, because Reiner doesn’t duplicate the joke-every-minute style of a film like Airplane!, there’s a lot more time to think about the jokes that fall flat.

Fatal Instinct does have a good cast, featuring a lot of actors who probably should have become bigger stars than they did.  I especially liked Kate Nelligan’s and Christopher McDonald’s performances as the two triple indemnity conspirators.  Sherilyn Fenn plays Ned’s loyal secretary and seeing her give such a fresh and likable performance in this otherwise uneven film makes me regret even more that, outside of Twin Peaks, she never really got the roles that she deserved.

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #7: The Roaring Twenties (dir by Raoul Walsh)


The 1939 gangster epic, The Roaring Twenties opens with newsreel footage of men like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Adolf Hitler.  We watch as they give speeches and as armed soldiers march across Europe.  For those of us watching in the present, these are figures from the past.  For audiences in 1939, though, these were the men who were shaping both their present and their future.

A narrator informs us that the world has changed much over the past few years and that it’s on the verge of changing again.  The world is preparing for war and who knows what society is going to look like afterwards.  (Interestingly enough, at the time that The Roaring Twenties was released, the U.S. was officially neutral when it came to the war in Europe, with many politicians arguing that the U.S. should pursue an isolationist foreign policy.  Though the film seems to be speaking to a nation that was already committed to war but that was actually not the case.)  The narrator goes on to say that it’s easy to forget what America was like just 20 years ago.  World War I was ending.  Soldiers were returning home.  Prohibition has just become the law of the land and, as a result, there was now a whole new way to make illicit cash.  It was a different era, the narrator tells us, one that is running the risk of being forgotten.

With that narration, it’s made obvious that The Roaring Twenties is designed to be more than just a gangster film.  It’s also a history lesson.  With Americans aware that another war might be coming, perhaps they needed to be reminded of what happened during and after the previous one.  By that same token, with people across the world already dying in the fight for freedom, perhaps Americans needed to be reminded of what happened the last time they allowed the government to take those freedoms away.

The Roaring Twenties tells the story of three men who first met in 1918, while they were all hiding out in a foxhole while a bloody and violent war rages all around them.  (The narrator somewhat archly notes that the three men — like all the men who fought and died in World War I — had been told that they were making “the world safe for democracy.”)  The three of them become friend while under fire and they remain friends when they return home to a war-weary nation that refuses to take care of its veterans.  Unfortunately, that friendship doesn’t survive the roaring 20s.

George Holly (Humphrey Bogart) is a former saloon keeper who becomes a major bootlegger after the passage of prohibition.  George is the type who takes pleasure in gunning down a 15 year-old during World War I.  (“He’ll never make 16,” George says after pulling the trigger.)  He doesn’t improve once he returns home but he does find a lot of success as a bootlegger.  Soon, he’s got a mansion.  He’s got bodyguards.  He goes to the best clubs and owns the best clothes.  Prohibition may have been meant to put George Holly out-of-business but instead it’s made him a rich and influential man.

Lloyd Hart (Jeffrey Lynn) is a college-educated idealist, one who becomes a lawyer once he returns home.  Even the most successful of bootleggers needs a good lawyer but Lloyd refuses to compromise his belief in the law, even when it comes to helping out his friends.  Lloyd will eventually end up working out of the district attorney’s office, where he builds cases against men like George Holly.

And finally, there’s Eddie Bartlett (James Cagney).  Eddie is the film’s main character.  He’s a criminal but, unlike George, he’s not totally corrupt.  In many ways, he’s an idealist but he’s never as self-righteous as Lloyd.  While his friends worry about their place and their role in society, Eddie is just trying to survive.  Before he went off to war, Eddie was a mechanic but, once he returns, he discovers that his job has been filled.  With no other work available, Eddie is finally hired to drive a cab.  What is those cabs could be used to smuggle alcohol?  Eddie finds himself working with Panama Smith (Gladys George) while, at the same time, going to war with Nick Brown (Paul Kelly).  In between making and losing a fortune (due to both the end of prohibition and the 1929 stock market crash), Eddie falls in love with singer Jean Sherman (Priscilla Lane).  Because Eddie can’t leave the rackets, Jean ends up married to Lloyd instead.

The film follows these characters, from 1918 to 1933.  Along the way, it also provides a critique of prohibition.  Prohibition is presented as being a bad law, one that led to men like George Holly getting rich and which destroyed the lives of countless people.  By making liquor illegal, the film argues, it also made it appealing to people who would have otherwise never had a drink.  There’s a definite appeal to the forbidden.  Interestingly enough, Eddie never takes a drink while he’s getting rich smuggling the stuff.  It’s only after prohibition is repealed and Eddie finds himself once again reduced to driving a cab for a living that he becomes a drunk.  Rich George and educated Lloyd might survive the end of prohibition by Eddie — who was as much a foot soldier during prohibition as he was during World War I — against finds himself cast out by a society that wants to forget about the national trauma that it’s just gone through.  Eddie, however, isn’t going to go down without a fight.  He’s played by James Cagney, after all.

The Roaring Twenties is a true classic.  It works as a gangster movie, a historical epic, and a portrait of the side effects of out-of-control regulation.  It tells the story about what happens when society becomes more interested in governing people than in helping them.  Indeed, the film asks, what were men like Eddie Bartlett supposed to do when, after risking their lives for their country, they returned home to discover that their jobs were gone, rent had gone up, and the government wouldn’t even allow them to commiserate their sorrows over a cold beer?  Who can blame America for rebelling?  Who can blame the Eddie Barletts of the world for doing what they had to do to survive?

Finally, not only does The Roaring Twenties feature brilliant performances from genre veterans like Bogart and Cagney (in fact, this is a probably Cagney’s best gangster performance) but it also recreates the 20s with such skill that you can’t help but wish that you could have been a part of it.  It all ends with a brilliant final scene on the steps of a church.  “He used to be a big shot!”  Yes, he was.

This is definitely an offer not to refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 

Music Video of the Day: If You Leave by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (1986, directed by ????)


The year was 1986 and director John Hughes had a problem.

Test screenings for his latest film, Pretty in Pink, indicated that his target teen audience loved the film up until the final scene, which featured Molly Ringwald going to prom with her geeky best friend, Jon Cryer.  Audiences booed when they saw Ringwald dancing with Cryer instead of with Andrew McCarthy.  Realizing that he would have to refilm that entire final scene in order to give the audience what they wanted, Hughes also realized that he would need a new song to fit the mood.

As OMD’s Andy McCluskey later told Songfacts:

“We were delighted to be asked by John, and went to the set where Molly and John Cryer were shooting. Unfortunately, the original song that we wrote didn’t fit after they changed the whole ending. We had 2 days to write a new track at Larabee Studios in L.A. We worked until 4 a.m. writing a rough version and sent a motorbike to Paramount. John heard it, liked it, and our manager phoned us at 8 a.m. and told us to go back in and mix it. That’s how ‘If You Leave’ Happened! The song had to be 120 BPM cos that’s the tempo of ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me),‘ which is the track they actually shot the prom scene to. Unfortunately, the editor obviously had no sense of rhythm because they are all dancing out of time in the final film.”

The popularity of Pretty in Pink led to If You Leave becoming OMD’s biggest hit in the United States.  As a band, OMD was always more popular in the UK than in the US.  Interestingly enough, just as none of OMD’s UK hits were big in the U.S., If You Leave was not a hit in the UK.

The video is typically 80s, made up of footage of the band performing intercut with a few scenes from Pretty In Pink.  About halfway through the video, the lead singer starts to knock out pieces of a pink wall, as if they’re showing Roger Walters that tearing down a wall isn’t anywhere near as difficult as he made it sound.

Enjoy!