Monday, October 27, 2014

The Alphabet Game: Spooktakular Edition

Hello, and welcome to The Alphabet Game, where I take a look at 26 different things in one common category. This edition is a very special haunted edition. The Spooktakular edition, if you will. Have fun..

A is for Adventure Into Fear - Adventure Into Fear was an anthology series put out by Marvel Comics back in the early 1970's. The series ran for 31 issues, and started life as a sci-fi monster anthology, reprinting several stories from Marvel's pre-superhero Silver Age horror and fantasy comics. With issue #10, the series began to feature Man-Thing (a character who appeared just one month before DC debuted Swamp Thing - so neither one is really a rip-off of the other!!) and then with issue #20, switched over to Morbius, The Living Vampire (who had already appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man) as the main star. The big news though, at least in my mind, comes with issue #19. In this issue we are given the debut of Howard the Duck. And despite that rather lame 1986 movie, or maybe in spite of that damn movie, Howard is one of the best comic book characters out there. Don't let that damn movie make you think otherwise.

B is for the Bates Motel - As a teenager, my mother went to the drive-in to see Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. She would have been about thirteen or fourteen at the time. Ever since then, the woman will not take a shower if she is alone in the house. Nowadays, TV viewers know The Bates Motel as a creepy Twin Peaks-esque show on A&E, but back in the day, it was the home of Norman Bates (and his mother) in the film that is firmly ensconced in my personal top five films of all-time. Yeah, the show is actually quite good, but the film is a true masterpiece. After all, fifty some years later, and my mother is still afraid of the damn movie. See, it must be good.

C is for Cat People - It is quite a rare thing when a remake can live up to its original source, and even though I do personally prefer the 1942 Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur version to the 1982 Paul Schrader edition, I believe both films to be what one would call near masterpieces. From the original's shadowy brilliance to the latter's slick hubris, oh and both Simone Simon and Nastassja Kinski in the lead roles (how can that not be a great thing!?), the two versions of the moody horror classic are both worth watching. Maybe as a double bill some night. Sounds fun.

D is for Dark Shadows - This supernatural soap opera ran from 1966 to 1971, a rather short run by soap opera standards, but I remember it from its syndicated run during the mid-1970's. But more than the soap opera storylines involving vampires, or even head bloodsucker, Barnabas Collins, it is the board game that I most fondly remember. Seriously, that game was awesomesauce!

E is for Edward Gorey - Fitting in quite suitably with the Alphabet Game, Mr. Gorey, writer/artist and purveyor of the cutely macabre (he and Chas. Addams are the unwitting godfathers of the Goth movement), has written and drawn a lot of books, but his most famous, the one with the biggest cult following, has got to be "The Gashlycrumb Tinies," wherein the author tells the tale of 26 unlucky children, and the 26 different ways, each corresponding to a letter of the alphabet (see, quite suitably indeed), whereupon they meet their untimely deaths. Yup. A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears. My favourite though is poor little Neville, who died of ennui. Yup.

F is for Final Girl - Any self-respecting horror fan knows perfectly well what a Final Girl is, but just in case you don't happen to be one of these aforementioned self-respecting horror fan, let me 'splain this to ya. The Final Girl is just what it sounds like, or just what she sounds like. At the end of many a horror film, only one character is left standing, and more oft than not, this is a female character. This survivor is, of course, known as the Final Girl. End of story. Huzzah for the Final Girl!!

G is for Giallo Horror - Much like both Universal and Hammer Horror (both coming up later in the game) the Italian based Giallo Horror cycle is considered some of the best of the genre from horror aficionados. Some of these films, involving ones directed by Mario Bava and Dario Argento (among others), are the scariest things you will ever dare watch. So much so that I don't even think I want to go on with this entry. Let's move on, shall we.

H is for Hammer Horror - Back in the early 1930's, Universal Horror was the first big studio horror line to get off the ground (more on them over at the letter U) and it was great...and classic. Then in the 1950's came Hammer Horror. Spewing forth from the UK, and featuring regulars like Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Veronica Carlson, these newer films, thanks a lot were more visceral than the Universal lot. Bloodthirsty as Hell...and fun as Hell too!

I is for It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown - Debuting in 1966, just one year after the Charlie Brown Christmas Special had its own debut, this is the annual Fall TV tradition that tells of Linus' obsession with the mysterious deity known as the Great Pumpkin. Pagan at its very core, the story of the Great Pumpkin is one of devotion and standing by your beliefs no matter the consequences. After the somewhat Christian-themed X-Mas special from the year before, it's nice to see good ole Chuck Schulz embrace his Pagan roots.

J is for J-Horror - Okay, so far we have discussed Italian horror and the UK's Hammer Horror series. Now it's about time we talk a bit about those highly stylized horror films from the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan. Many of these J-Horror films have been remade, most often poorly, by Hollywood, so even if you have never seen a Japanese horror film, you probably know most of the stories from the mostly inferior US remakes. But just like the Italian horror films above, these are extra scary (I hate when little girls become possessed and do that damn crabwalk thing across the ceiling - hate it!!) so before I creep myself out, I'm gjust going to move on to the letter K...and no, it is not going to be for the K-Horror of Korea.

K is for Kevin - No, not me. My name is spelled better than that. The Kevin I'm talking about is from the film, Cabin in the Woods. For those who've seen the film, please read on. For those who have not, none of the following will make much sense, so sorry 'bout that. Oh yeah, and there might be spoilers ahead, so maybe ya wanna skip ahead to the letter L. Anyhoo, when the behind the scene guys are taking best on the upcoming monsters, we see a wipe board behind them with a list of potential monsters. One of these simply reads...Kevin. Later on in the batshitcrazy finale, we see a murderous unicorn. I like to believe that this unicorn is the aforementioned Kevin. Yup.

L is for Lon Chaney - The Man of A Thousand Faces was the king of the silent horror film. The guy played The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera, making over a hundred films in a career that spanned just 18 years, before the actor's death in 1930. And he did all of this as the most independent of artists, donning his own make-up and pretty much putting his face and body through hell with his crazy make-up and costumes. My favourite film of Chaney's is the 1927 film, The Unknown, where Chaney plays Alonzo the Armless, a circus freak who falls in love with the beautiful Nanon, played by the beautiful Joan Crawford, and she with him. There is an O Henry-esque second act, but we won't get into all that. So yeah, that's Lon Chaney, and hey, his son would eventually become the Wolfman.

M is for the Monster Mash - Halloween has never had the kind of musical legacy that Christmas has. I don't think there's any doubt about that. Still though, All Hallows Eve does have one carol we can all sing together. Performed by Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the Crypt Kickers, it was, and still is, a graveyard smash.

N is for Night of the Living Dead - Thanks to The Walking Dead, zombies are definitely the it monster these days, even if the Z-word is never ever uttered on the show. But there would be no Walking Dead, nor any 28 Days Later, nor any Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake (duh!) without George A. Romero and his 1968 cult classic, Night of the Living Dead. Sure, there were zombie movies before this, and some of them quite enjoyable (I Walked With A Zombie, White Zombie), but it was Romero's super low budget indie flick that started the zombie we all know and love today. Filmed in the countryside around Romero's home base of Pittsburgh, Pa, this little film that could is, in my not-so-humble opinion, one of the best horror films ever made. Hell, it's one of the best films, period.

O is for Oona Goosepimple -  In the 1920's, cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller created a comic called Fritzi Ritz. Eventually this strip would morph into Nancy (Fritzi's precocious niece) and would become one of the most Zen comic strips ever put out there. Eventually, in the 1950's, Nancy would be made into a comic book to go along with Bushmiller's genius strip. Many of these comic books were written by John Stanley of Little Lulu fame. During Stanley's tenure, the character of Oona Goosepimple popped into existence. Oona was a creepy little girl who lived in a haunted house and who would force Nancy to be her friend through magic spells and her monster buddies. Granted, Oona's kind of a rip-off of Wednesday Addams, who predates Oona by a couple of decades, but we like her around here.

P is for Pennywise the Clown - There are many out there who are deathly afraid of clowns. The evil-version of the circus performer has been a stalwart in horror cinema for many many years. I personally have no fear of clowns, finding them more annoying than frightening, but if one must pick and choose their favourite horror movie clown, I suppose one could do no better than Pennywise, from Stephen King's It, as played wonderfully by Tim Curry. Of course, Mr. Curry is better known for his lead role in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but more on that a couple letters down.

Q is for Q - The Winged Serpent - This 1982 fantasy/horror film is about the Aztec God Quetzalcoatl taking up residence on the top of the Chrysler Building. The film is not really all that great, but Michael Moriarty's lead performance stands out. One story goes that when Rex Reed met the film's producer, Samuel Z. Arkoff, he said of the film, "What a surprise! All that dreck, and right in the middle of it, a great method performance by Michael Moriarty!" Arkoff replied, "The dreck was my idea."

R is for The Rocky Horror Picture Show - When asked which movie I have seen more than any other, my answer must invariably be The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Sure, there are other films that I have seen dozens of times (Star Wars, Breakfast Club, Pulp Fiction, The Princess Bride, Goodfellas), but none of those can compete with a film I have seen more than a thousand times. Yeah, that's right, more than a thousand times. As I am sure most of you know, Rocky Horror, or RHPS if you will, is a bit of a cult film. Perhaps not as much these days as back in the 1980's, but still a cult classic it most definitely be. As one of those who acted out the film in front of a live audience every Friday and Saturday night, first as part of a 1986 cast then later as part of a wholly different 1991-92 cast, the film has played behind me hundreds of times. Not to mention all the times I watched the film so I could practice my moves. And speaking of those moves, at one time or another, I have played every character, but more often than not, I was Riff-Raff. I loved playing Riff, but I also quite enjoyed playing Frank and especially Columbia. I loved her dance number. Oh, and yes, every performance was in full costume.

S is for Steele, Barbara Steele - Yeah, Jamie Lee Curtis may be called the Scream Queen, but long before the actress began her screaming in 1978's Halloween, there was Barbara Steele, the Queen of Horror. In such classic horror films as Mario Bava's Black Sunday and Roger Corman's The Pit and the Pendulum, the beautiful and enigmatic Miss Steele was the epitome of classy (and sexy) horror.

T is for The Tomb of Dracula - Even though the so-called House of Ideas was known for its wide array of superhero comic books, one of the best books Marvel Comics ever put out wasn't even a superhero comic at all. In 1971, the Comics Code Authority relaxed some of its rules regarding horror comics, and Marvel Comics leapt at the opportunity, releasing Tomb of Dracula #1 in 1972. Written (mostly) by Marv Wolfman and drawn by the late great Gene Colan, the series ran for 70 issues, ending in 1979, making it the longest running comic book series to be headlined by a villain. The series was groundbreaking with great storylines and some of the best art to ever be seen in a comic book. And there was even a black and white magazine format too.

U is for Universal Horror - I toldjya we would be getting to Universal Horror eventually. Although these classic 1930's and 1940's horror films involved many an actor and/or character, the most remembered gang included Dracula, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Wolfman, Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein's Monster and his Bride, and The Creature From the Black Lagoon. These films were more than mere horror though. Many of these films involved production staff (directors, writers, cinematographers) that came out of the German Expressionist movement, and it showed in the look and feel of many of these films. Classic and moody. Yeah. And hey, there were lots of cool toys to go along with these guys as well.

V is for Vampires, When They Were Cool - Remember when vampires were cool? Back before they twinkled and sparkled in the evening sun, vampires were the kings of the horror scene. From Dracula to Nosferatu to the goddamn Lost Boys, vampires used to be cool dammit!! Now we get these Twilight mamby-pambies with their sensitive souls and all that crap. Thanks a lot Stephenie Meyer. Thanks a lot for ruining the coolness of vampires. Fucking bitch!!

W is for Wednesday Addams - She is creepy and kooky. In fact she is altogether ooky. But this is why Wednesday Addams was the coolest thing this side of Cousin Itt. But little Miss Addams is more than a mere little girl who decapitated her dolls. She would eventually become a sex symbol. Well, kinda. It's not as creepy as it sounds...or maybe it is. Granted, it is kind of a strange thing that the image of a creepy preteen girl from a comic strip and later TV show, would become one of the hottest (and I do mean hottest in every aspect of the word) Halloween costume ideas of modern times. I suppose the dark long pigtails, knee highs and severed dolls head on a string, is the goth/nerd's version of the Catholic school girl outfit. And yes, I have pics of my lovely wife all Wednesday'd out for Halloween, but I'm not showing them to any of you!

X is for The X-Files - So, I was trying, somewhat desperately, to come up with the final few entries for this here Spooktakular Edition of the good ole Alphabet Game, and I decided to ask the lovely little missus if she had any bright ideas. When I asked about the letter X, she looked at me like I was an idiot, and said, "Um...The X-Files!?" So yeah, then I felt like the idiot she was looking at. Anyhoo, so here is my entry on The X-Files. But back to the lovely little missus. One time, my wife, and let's call her Amy (that is her name, after all), fell asleep while watching TV. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, long after the sitcom to which she had fallen asleep, she woke up to the sounds of The X-Files, and Scully saying that the severed head just blinked at her. Groggy, and without her glasses, poor Amy was a bit freaked out. But enough about The X-Files. Oh yeah, we didn't really talk about the show anyway, did we?

Y is for Yorick - Alas poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio. Yeah yeah, I know, this Shakespearean character may not be your typical horror staple, but Hamlet does talk to poor Yorick's skull, so there's that. Now let's get on with our final entry...

Z is for Zombie Apocalypse - It's coming. We all know it, even if most of us won't admit it. Then again, maybe it's just me. Sometimes, as I'm walking down my dark street, toward the corner store, or walking through the mall or the supermarket, I find myself going through scenarios in my head. Scenarios involving life after the Zombie Apocalypse happens. And yes, it is when the Zombie Apocalypse happens, not if it does. When...not if. Are you ready?

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web. Now run, run from the Zombie Apocalypse!


  1. Man-Thing was great, Howard the Duck (the comic) was great... The movie was ridiculous.

    Ever see the sequel to Cat People? Fantastic!

    I was a fan of Dark Shadows during its original run. Lots of fun!

    Tim Curry was spooky indeed in the role of Pennywise. Much scarier than that rubber monster at the end of It.

    Tomb of Dracula... *sigh*... Marvel had a pretty good handle on the spooky stuff during the early '70s.

    I still fondly remember collecting all the 1960s Aurora models of the Universal Monsters!

    Thanks for not writing "Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well." Always hated that error.

    Great post!

  2. Yeah. Poor Howard gets a bad rap because of that goddamn movie. And come on, I know my Shakespeare dammit!!

    Thanx for stopping by. See ya 'round the web.

  3. Glad you mentioned Barbara Steele-She is so forgotten. Twilight and all the rest must be burned-it's dreck. Lon Chaney is just downright cool even if he has been dead for 84 years. I have been gone for a few days and I picked up Cat People and the sequel-can't wait to revisit both as I have not seen them since I was a kid. Loved the X-files even the one where incest took on a whole new level and has since been banned (I saw it and why censor it-it does happen). I am sick of zombies

  4. Sick of zombies!!? Sick of zombies!!??? Are you crazy!!? Oh yeah, I guess I can see that. They are kind of everywhere, huh? Oh well. You are REALLY gonna be sick of 'em once the Zombie Apocalypse comes.

    Thanx for stopping by. See ya 'round the web.