Friday, November 4, 2011

The Great Pumpkin Giveth

Around here, Halloween comes with presents. The bride and I have been exchanging gifts in honor of the dark season since we first got together -- truth be told, my novel Dark Harvest started off as a short story that I was going to give Tia for Halloween one year. And while it was hard to find appropriate wrapping paper when we first started exchanging October-y gifts, it seems to be getting easier these days. Who knows, maybe a couple more flips of the calendar and I'll wander into a store and find Universal Monsters gift wrap. That would be cool. In the meantime, so is the swag I found this year under the twisted branches of the Halloween tree:

Creepy Presents Bernie Wrightson: As a teenager in the seventies, I loved horror comics. Wrightson and Mike Ploog were my favorite horror artists, and I'm proud to say I bought Wrightson's Swamp Thing comics off the rack down at the local bottle shop back in the day. This Dark Horse collection of Wrightson's work for Creepy and Eerie is a bang-up knockout of a book, and what surprised me most is how many of these stories I missed the first time around. While creepy nasties like "Jenifer" and "Country Pie" have long been favorites and sharp examples of the kind of Warren mag story that pushed the sex 'n' horror envelope in ways fifties EC comics rarely managed to touch, it's the stories I never read that have me slowly rationing this collection to my inner monsterkid. In other words, I'm working my way up to Wrightson's adaptation of Lovecraft's "Cool Air," and I'm doing the job slowly. Hey... that's called anticipation, and I'm lovin' it.

Call of Cthulhu (2005): I caught this modern-day silent a few years ago, and I've got to say it's the only Lovecraft adaptation I've ever seen that truly does justice to HPL. Hitting the creative wayback button and reimagining the story as a 1920s feature film was a genius idea. For my $, the gents who made this one pretty much got everything right, and viewers have the added pleasure of watching a film made by folks smart enough to make a dark fantasy fly solely on the power of a (black) wing and a (darker) prayer (i.e. the effects here are driven by imagination and old-school silent-era ingenuity... not an easy trick to manage). I especially enjoyed the bayou scenes, and that ending? Wow. It really sang with a strange magic that was one part Lovecraft Mythos and one part Willis O'Brien's King Kong. If you haven't seen this one, don't miss it.

Island of Lost Souls (1932): I've been waiting years for a reissue of this one -- it's far and away my favorite adaptation of H. G. Wells' Island of Dr. Moreau. As above, there's a little bit of King Kong jungle magic going on here, but it's mixed up with a vibe straight out of Tod Browning's Freaks. Charles Laughton knocks the ball out of the park as Moreau, while Island itself serves as a poster child for everything that made thirties horror great. In other words, you've got 70 minutes, and every one of 'em counts. Plus, you've got BELA LUGOSI as the Sayer of the Law. And finally: no CGI, only shadows, mood, and plenty of style. Need I say more? Anyway, Criterion has served up what I'm sure will be the definitive presentation of this film -- I haven't peeled the shrinkwrap on my copy yet, but I'll make like a vivisectionist and do the job soon. No doubt.

A Sci-Fi Swarm and a Horror Horde by Tom Weaver: This is the kind of book that makes me feel like a sixties kid with a brand new issue of Famous Monsters in my hands... only Weaver's the kind of writer that sinks his fangs much deeper than the gang at that classic mag ever managed. He knows his stuff, and that pays off both for his interview subjects and his audience. This latest volume features 62 interviews, and along the way you'll enjoy listening in on conversations with folks who worked with Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney, Jr. (who apparently made great chili but could be kind of a jerk). Great bits on lots of fifties frights, too, including The Undead, The Screaming Skull, and Monster on the Campus. Plus, a cool section focusing on TV's Wild Wild West, with insights from Richard Kiel and stuntman Whitey Hughes. Lots of great stories there. According to Hughes, he and Robert Conrad went toe-to-toe one night in a club on the Sunset Strip, and what the beef boiled down to was an argument over Hughes' brother's Nehru jacket... stirred up by a bunch of Chicago cops who were in town investigating Ramon Navarro's murder (!). Crazy. Anyway, it sounds like there was usually just as much action behind the scenes on WWW as there was onscreen, and I'd love to read more about it. What a wild ride it must have been.